John's Blog
Sing the song, Dance the dance Print E-mail
Written by Kelly McNeal  
Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Sing the song, dance the dance

Back to the drawing board Print E-mail
Written by John Hopkins  
Thursday, 31 August 2017



     The recent international conference on Alzheimer’s disease provided a nice week in London for a few thousand attendees but as for break-through news and “ah ha” moments, they might as well have stayed home.


     It puzzled me years ago that the two widely used dementia medications had nothing in common and worked on essentially completely different hypotheses.


     What they did, simply, was make enough of a small difference to be statistically useful, but barely, and have no bad side effects.


     Even with the bar set so low for drug approval, the last ten years have gone by without a single useful medication coming to market.


     In addition to touting the benefits of “good nutrition, exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle” as though that was news to anyone other than Rip Van Winkle, the field took a long step backward this week. A well-designed, longitudinal study found no effect between people who got a lot of exercise and people who got very little in terms of a risk of dementia in old age.


     Exercise is good for everybody nineteen different ways. It just has no statistical bearing on whether or not people get dementia.


     So, back to the drawing board. My money is on an inflammatory process or more likely processes. Inflammatory changes clearly underlie arthritis and other bone, soft tissue and organ diseases.


     A shift in research targets or at least a parallel track to retry some old anti-inflammatory while new drug developers continue the chase for the holy grail would be worthwhile.

The grail, of course, is also a financial blockbuster whereas a new use for an old medication available as a generic isn’t going to make anybody rich.


     And that’s the point. Or is it?

Written by Kelly McNeal  
Wednesday, 26 July 2017



     A new study done at the University of Pennsylvania added credibility to the discredited standing of the popular brain training scam Lumosity.


     For years, I have quietly ranted that the claims by Lumosity were misleading and downright mean in light of the implied benefits for delaying or even reversing memory loss associated with dementia.


     I paid for a Lumosity subscription (which was refunded as part of a federal settlement) and, briefly, got a lot more benefit from Ms. Pac Man over the years.


     If Alzheimer’s and global warming exist (and they do) then the claims for “brain training” and the experts who lend their names to the snake oil should be relegated to the bargain bin in the health food isle where the male enhancement products gather dust.


     The International Institute of False Hopes churns out products and services with a frenzy in response to PT Barnum’s famous observation, “There’s a sucker born every minute” (thanks Wiki).


     I’m particularly sensitive to false medical claims about dementia, having spent the past 40 years immersed in brain/mind work. Whether or not other “enhancements” perform as promised is not my interest.


     What I provide at the Fields is a rational, comprehensive program to prolong the preserved cognitive and physical functions which are attacked by Alzheimer’s and other disease processes. Brain and mind and spirit and physical well being were unified in theory during the Middle Ages through the work of Rene Descartes and many others during the infancy of the Scientific Revolution.


     Fast forward four hundred years and we’re not all that much father advanced in theory or practice. The human brain is being attacked by a variety of diseases most notably Alzheimer’s and it will be another hundred years before our great grandchildren can read about the solutions to the dementia puzzle.


    Be assured, the answer won’t come from the charlatans of Lumosity.


     Meanwhile, a vigorous daily program of cognitive stimulation, sociability, nutrition, physical exercise and positive attitudes contribute significantly to quality of life for people with dementia and their families.


     The descendents of Ms. Pac Man- Alexa, Siri, Google Earth, and apps galore for our tablets to strain our brains don’t need to make false claims about their miraculous powers.


They’re just fun.  We play endless mind games and we enjoy nightly 50’s dance parties. These generate neurochemicals that the lumosity munchkins can only imagine.


The Graduates Print E-mail
Written by Kelly McNeal  
Wednesday, 31 May 2017



     It’s becoming an annual rite of passage for us to thank and honor a dozen or more high school, college, nursing school and graduate school graduates who spent a year or six caring for my guests at both Fields.


     This year is special, as we send off Christina B., who came to the dietary staff in high school and left with an MSW and a job on a psychiatric unit in Manchester.


     My father loved education, having been a Depression-era coal miner’s son in Northeastern Pa. and used the GI Bill, as did a million or more of his era, to change the fabric of post-WW II America.


     After retirement, he’d ride the bus from Scranton to New York City, where he had a NYC public library card and he hung around the world-renowned Public Library. Some summers, he’d register at Oxford or Cambridge and travel to England to study Shakespeare.


     In the winters, he was a substitute teacher in the Scranton school district and for years was president of the Scranton Public Library. For him, education didn’t just mean going to school. His education was a life-time process, an endless curiosity, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge for knowledge’ sake.


     I honor him, along with our graduates, each time Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance signals the start of a graduation procession.


     My father missed the I Pad and search engine era by a decade and was probably better off as a consequence. Part of the adventure for him was the travel for education. Whether a walk to the library in Scranton or a trans-Atlantic flight to London, the journey was woven into the fabric of the knowledge.


     The internet, the search engine and the technology of the tablet and Kindle books have changed learning for the better. Soon, global access to education will break down the cultural, racial, ethnic and political biases that hold back civilization from reaching its potential.

Here comes the sun Print E-mail
Written by Kelly McNeal  
Wednesday, 12 April 2017



     They rushed for the open door in the Activities room. It was April 10 and it had been a long cold lonely winter, to borrow a phrase.

     Actually, they were quite orderly. We had announced the spring “steady on your feet” test a few hours earlier and it was their ticket to sunshine: show us how much help you need to get out to the big courtyard and we’ll plan accordingly.

     Staff from activities, nursing and administration prepared the exit strategy: we have independent walkers, people needing one or two assists and the group known as mobile but not ambulatory: mobile in wheelchairs but no longer safe on their feet. In between, there are those with ambulatory and mobile capacity but they need walkers of some sort and are safer if a staff person is within reach.

     Seventy degrees of sunshine elicits gasps of joy when it’s been 200 days or so since the last exposure. Memory is fickle- no one knows the last time we were all out like this; we just went in one afternoon, probably in late September and that was that.

     There are a lot of new faces, under the sunhats and behind the sunglasses this spring. You know what that means…we still die of pneumonia; it just takes six tries!

     You can appreciate how our palliative and hospice end of life programs at Bellamy and Watson have developed from this statistic: of the last 20 deaths among our guests, only four died in a hospital…

     The staff takes great pride in their palliative and hospice skills and we’re careful not to be seen as radical practitioners. When we get to know the residents and their families and their illnesses, we can provide comprehensive end of life care.

     If end of life care involves napping in the sun and enjoying a cool drink and a snack, then the Fields may be the place for your family.

     Bellamy has a wonderful group of male guests this spring; the most ever. We are dusting off the fishing rods and rolling the putting greens. For the Audubon crowd, the bird houses are already occupied and we have some resident warblers back for the fifth or sixth time. We’re on the take-off and landing routes for Pease Air Force base, so the crowd in the yard is treated to some daily displays of our military might.

     And finally, when the wind is right, we’ll fly some kites, reprising George Harrison’s joyful “Here Comes the Sun” with Lennon and McCartney’s obscure “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.”

     “La la la la, life goes on…”

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