Getting On The Bestseller Lists?? Turning 50 means many things to many busy women. To acclaimed novelist Amy Tan, shown above reading from her book Saving Fish from Drowning , it meant bringing her novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter to the stage,  with its rich narrative of life in the Chinese-American diaspora. But what her mother really wanted to know, Tan told the Times’ Amy Solomon, was why she hadn’t yet cracked #1 on the Times’ Best Seller List:

What led you to take up opera? It started
on my 50th birthday, in a way, when my friend Stewart Wallace composed
two pages based on the first three lines of the book as a birthday
present. Stewart ended up pushing me into the opera.

“The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” not unlike your other novels,
tells the story of an anxious American woman and her overbearing
Chinese mother. How much of it is autobiographical?
I had a
wonderful mother. And she was supportive of everything I did. From the
beginning, she said I could become a homeless person.

Very funny. I had a very demanding mother. I thought I
disappointed her in every single way. She wanted me to be a concert
pianist, and that would be on weekends. My day job would be brain

Was she pleased by “The Joy Luck Club,” which came out in 1989
and, in retrospect, seems to have signaled the beginning of an endless
flow of novels about the immigrant experience in America?
I was on the New York Times best-seller list, at No. 4, I told my
mother, and she said: “Wha’ happened? Who’s No. 3 and 2 and 1?”

That’s not an empty-nest kid hanging around. It’s a monkey on your back: This
week, a new survey fromt the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration showed that the number of boomer adults coming
in for treatment nearly doubled in 2006.  Many, reports the Southeast Missourian, are women with long histories of substance abuse, while others have become embroiled by addiction due to midlife’s challenges:

Dana Branson, assistant program director for the Family Counseling
Center in Cape Girardeau, said it’s common to see women in their 40s
and 50s who have a long career of substance abuse. “We call them
revolving-door clients,” says Branson. They typically do very well in
treatment and structure, but when they go back out in the world, they
relapse, she explains. “Sometimes their relapse is part of their coping
technique.” The Family Counseling Center offers drug and alcohol abuse
services to women and adolescents, including residential treatment from
30 to 120 days.

“We know that women have a lot of barriers to treatment and as
someone ages, there are many factors that decrease chances of
recovery,” says Branson. “They think, half of my life is likely over
and all I have to show for it is failure,” says Branson. “There are a
lot of psychological barriers for older people when it comes to

By the time you’re 45, you’ve probably burned a lot of support
bridges. There is a very good possibility that family and friends
aren’t involved anymore. The support addicts had when they were younger
is no longer there, Branson explains.

“We treat addiction as a disease. It’s chronic, it’s progressive,”
she says. “It’s not an issue of morality or ethics, it’s simply a
condition that requires treatment.”

…  Dr. John Cooley, a substance abuse counselor in Jackson, says
he’s seen an increase in prescription abuse, especially of painkillers
and anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax. The National Library of Medicine
reports people 65 and older consume more prescribed and
over-the-counter medications than any other age group in the United
States. Alcohol and prescription drug misuse affects as many as 17
percent of them.

While the number of older patients Cooley sees has not increased
recently, he has found that one in two people seeking counseling have a
substance abuse issue they may or may not talk about. “Lots of people
try to cover it up and keep it from family and friends and employers. Part of the illness is trying to keep it a
secret,” says Cooley. “We think of drug users as younger people but it
can be anybody. It can be someone in their 60s or their 40s. It’s
really hard to tell.”

Jeannine Clark-Ganianian, director of a private firm of geriatric care managers in San
Mateo County, worries that the strain of all that treatment could
doom our already-overburdened n
ational support systems:

According to some studies, it is expected that, by 2020, the number
of seniors with alcohol and other drug problems will leap 150 percent
to 4.4 million older people – up from only 1.7 million in 2001.
Deborah Trunzo, research coordinator for the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration), has said that, by 2020, the
number of older people who will have drug problems, and be seeking
treatment, will be “likely to swamp the system”.

It is the baby-boomer generation, or the “young old” – those born
between 1946 and 1964 – that are at the heart of this possible
epidemic. Unlike their predecessors, those in the baby-boom generation
are more comfortable taking medications for a wide range of problems,
including pain, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

In addition, the baby boomers are the first generation to widely
experiment with recreational drug use. Yet along with all of these
“firsts”, they are also the last group born before it became somewhat
permissible to admit to addiction or alcoholism, or to seek help or

From the heart to the mind: Those of us who were glued
to last week’s results on Alzheimers, seeking clues to our own
cognitive future, may have been looking in the wrong direction. Reuters
Health reports this week on a strong association between cognitive decline and heart disease:

Results of a study in the European Heart Journal indicate an
association between heart disease and lower thinking or “cognitive”
performance in middle-aged adults.

Using data from the Whitehall
II study, Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux, of INSERM, Cedex, France, and
colleagues examined the association between heart disease and cognition
in 10,308 subjects who were 35 to 55 years of age when the study began
in the late 1980s. Heart attacks and other related heart problems were
recorded up to 2004, at which point 5837 subjects had completed six
cognitive tests.

Men and women who developed heart disease
scored lower on a number of cognitive tests, particularly those
involving reasoning and vocabulary, than did their peers without heart
disease. Moreover, there was evidence, at least in men, that the longer
the heart disease was present, the greater the impairment in thinking.

results suggest that even among middle-aged individuals, heart disease
is associated with poor cognitive performance with some evidence to
suggest a stronger effect among those with longest standing (disease),”
Singh-Manoux and colleagues conclude.

However, these findings are unable to answer the question of whether heart disease leads to impaired cognition or vice versa.

By Chris Lombardi

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