Social Security Making a Difference in Communities

By Kirk Larson, Social Security Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Social Security is a critical federal program that promotes income stability among millions of households in the United States. Social Security is always evolving to meet the needs of the American public. We’re optimistic about the future and the limitless possibilities for progress.

Much of the progress we’ve made together, as a nation, is through the shared responsibility of paying Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax. This federal payroll tax funds Social Security— programs that provide benefits for retirees, the disabled, and children of deceased workers. You help us keep millions of hard working Americans out of poverty.

Without your contribution, wounded warriors wouldn’t receive the benefits they deserve. Children who have lost parents would have no social safety net. Millions of elderly people would be destitute. In the same way that we take great pride in helping people who need it, you should take pride in making this country stronger. You can see the many ways our retirement benefits help your loved ones and neighbors at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire.

Right here in the Washington Social Security is at work providing support.

In King County alone there are over 300,000 people (about 1 out of 6) collecting monthly payments totaling over 5 billion dollars per year.

When you look at Washington State the economic impact in small and large communities is undeniable. There are close to 1.3 million people receiving monthly payments worth more than 20.4 billion dollars per year.

The case is similar in other state. Take Idaho, there are over 326,000 people receiving payments. That is about one out of every five people. That represents over 4.8 billion dollars per year.

Social Security money is an important driver of local commerce.

If you want to learn about your own Social Security benefits, visit www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to empower your future, for today and tomorrow.

 

The Best Way for Seniors to Prevent Dangerous Falls? Get Stronger!

Here’s a startling statistic: more than 800 Americans break a hip every single day. Most of those are seniors, and the overwhelming majority of those injuries – which can prove devastating, even life-threatening – are caused by falling down. For many years doctors have concentrated chiefly on treating the after-effects of falls. But now a physician out of Penn State University is advocating a different and far more effective strategy: preventing falls from ever happening in the first place. The best way to do that, he believes, is strength training for seniors.

This brief article on the website Healthday explains the idea behind this powerful approach, being pioneered by Dr. Richard Sciamanna. Everyone knows that older people are at greater risk of falling, due to diminished muscle mass and greater physical weakness. This is made worse by the fact that as we age our bone density also diminishes, making us far more prone to serious injury – such as a hip fracture – when we do take a tumble. But simply treating the injury isn’t enough: Dr. Sciamanna says it’s time for the medical community’s focus to “shift from fall treatment to fall prevention” through the power of exercise.

“Walking and other aerobic activities can boost heart health,” says the Healthday article. “Strength-training programs can also help older people gain muscle mass and improve their balance.” Penn State’s Dr. Sciamanna explained that “it doesn’t matter whether you go to a gym and work with weight machines or stay home and use resistance bands or other equipment. What matters most is that the exercise works different body parts, and that it’s progressive,” adding more weight and more resistance over time.

Just how serious is the danger of seniors falling? We discovered this sobering statistical information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some figures that should get your attention if you’re a senior or are caring for one.

  • Each year local emergency rooms treat 2.8 million people for injuries related to falls
  • Twenty percent of falls cause serious injury, including head injuries or broken bones
  • Falls are the cause of more than 95 percent of hip fractures, an injury from which many seniors never fully recover
  • And if you think it can’t happen to you, note that 300,000 seniors every year are hospitalized for hip fractures.

It seems that the CDC agrees with Dr. Sciamanna. Among the recommendations from the CDC: talk to your doctor, make your home as safe as possible, and exercise to build strength and balance.

Back at Penn State, researchers quoted in the Healthday article cite earlier studies that have shown that older people who participate in strength-training can build up their muscle mass to the tune of three additional pounds of muscle tissue each year. That may not sound like much but it can make a huge difference between feeling frail and unsteady and feeling stronger and more confident. According to Dr. Sciamanna, quoted in the Healthday article, “Even people in their 80s can increase their muscle strength by up to 100 percent after one year of strength-training with gradually increasing resistance.” In other words, it’s never too late to start.

Here at AgingOptions, we meet with people frequently in our seminars and at our offices who have settled into a sedentary lifestyle as they have grown older. In our view many of these people are literally growing older before their time, and it’s completely unnecessary, especially when they could improve their lives so much with a few changes in their exercise habits. According to the CDC, the positive effects of exercise on seniors are dramatic and far-reaching. Strengthening the body reduces pain, cuts down the risk of dangerous falls, builds confidence, reduces depression, and even improves sleep. The CDC goes so far as to state that “Successful aging is largely determined by individual lifestyle choices and not by genetic inheritance.” The CDC goes on to add, “Few factors contribute as much to successful aging as having a physically active lifestyle.” So we urge you, for your own sake and the sake of those caring for you, to get started now with a carefully managed, medically supervised strengthening program. The benefits will amaze you.

Our goal at AgingOptions is not merely to help you have a stronger body, but to build strength in every aspect of your retirement planning. Taking care of your health is important, of course, but unless you have also put a well-conceived financial plan in place you’ve missed a vital step. In the same way, even with plans in place to protect your assets and your health, you may be vulnerable to legal challenges that could have been prevented with wise preparation. Planning ahead can help you be ready to make the housing choices that are best for your situation instead of waiting until you’re forced into a decision that leaves you trapped in a lifestyle you never desired.

The only way we know of to weave all these strands together into a truly comprehensive retirement plan is the LifePlanning process from AgingOptions. We invite you to learn more about this revolutionary approach to retirement planning. Make plans now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. In just a few hours, we’re confident you’ll begin to see your own retirement as you never have before. Simply click here for dates, times and online registration, or contact us during the week and we’ll be glad to assist you.

Physical strength is important, but it’s not enough. You need a comprehensive “retirement fitness plan” with the help of AgingOptions!

(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)

Millions Won’t Take their Medicine – and the Costs are Staggering

What if you heard of an epidemic that was causing up to 125,000 deaths each year in the U.S.? What if this epidemic was also responsible for 10 percent of all hospitalizations in the country, and was costing the American health care system well over $100 billion annually? And what if you discovered that this epidemic was almost entirely preventable?

We suspect you’d be shocked, and so were we when we read this very recent article in the New York Times. Written by nationally known health columnist Jane E. Brody, the article is titled “The Cost of Not Taking Your Medicine,” and it reveals that this serious national health epidemic has a name: nonadherence to prescribed medications. Yes, that’s correct, all those deaths, hospitalizations and horrendous costs are the result of people who refuse to do what their doctors tell them to do, often with devastating consequences.

“The numbers are staggering,” Brody writes in the New York Times. “Studies have consistently shown that 20 percent to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled, and that approximately 50 percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed.” That, she says, is according to a review in Annals of Internal Medicine. Brody adds, “People who do take prescription medications — whether it’s for a simple infection or a life-threatening condition — typically take only about half the prescribed doses.”

(By the way, before you think more-compliant seniors are better at following doctors’ orders, think again. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 55 percent of the elderly are what’s called “non-compliant” with their prescription instructions, which simply means they’re not doing what their doctors tell them to when it comes to prescribed medications.)

This refusal to comply with prescription regimens applies across a full spectrum of patients and conditions. Brody writes, “Studies have shown that a third of kidney transplant patients don’t take their anti-rejection medications, 41 percent of heart attack patients don’t take their blood pressure medications, and half of children with asthma either don’t use their inhalers at all or use them inconsistently.” The article goes on to quote one expert, Denver physician Dr. Bruce Bender, who states bluntly, “When people don’t take the medications prescribed for them, emergency department visits and hospitalizations increase and more people die.” He calls prescription nonadherence “a huge problem, and there’s no one solution because there are many different reasons why it happens.”

So that brings up the question, “Why does it happen?” The reasons some people stop taking prescriptions, or never start in the first place, are varied. Among seniors, DSHS says factors such as mental decline, confusion about instructions, or isolation that leads to self-neglect can all play a part. But for the general population, people have plenty of different excuses. High cost, either direct cost or co-pays, can contribute to people stopping their medications. Some people dislike particular drug side effects, or they decide on their own to opt for a “natural” treatment instead of the physician-prescribed drug. Frequently, says Denver’s Dr. Bruce Bender, patients try their own experiment: “People often do a test, stopping their medications for a few weeks, and if they don’t feel any different, they stay off them. This is especially common for medications that treat ‘silent’ conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. Although the consequences of ignoring medication may not show up right away, it can result in serious long-term harm.”

So what’s our reaction to the Jane Brody article? We agree with the quote from former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who said “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” But we also share a certain skepticism about the argument that says one more pill or one more prescription is always the best solution to a medical problem. Our recommendation here at AgingOptions is that senior adults ought to place themselves under the care of a board-certified geriatrician, or geriatric physician, who is trained to understand the unique medical needs of older patients. We know from personal experience of geriatricians who have taken patients off of certain prescriptions when other doctors may have over-prescribed certain drugs or given their patients drugs that actually counteract each other. Please contact us during the week and let us recommend a geriatric physician in your area. (And remember, you should never stop or adjust a prescription without appropriate medical supervision – the results could be catastrophic for you or your family.)

So much for prescription drugs: now, what’s our prescription for a healthier retirement? Here at AgingOptions we prescribe a uniquely powerful and comprehensive solution to the challenge of retirement planning called a LifePlan. An AgingOptions LifePlan takes all the vital elements of your future planning and weaves them together into an interdependent whole: your finances, your legal protection, your health care needs, your housing choices, even communication with your family. With a LifePlan in place, you have the blueprint you need to build the retirement you’ve always longed for, one that’s rewarding, fruitful and secure.

There’s a simple way to find out more: attend a free LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these popular seminars at locations throughout the region, so click here for details, including online registration. You can also contact us during the week. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a fresh outlook on the process of planning for your retirement years. It will be a pleasure to meet you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Age on!

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

Industry is Pushing for a Big Change in Long-Term Care Insurance Pricing

According to an article we recently read on the website of the authoritative Forbes magazine, there may be big changes coming in the way consumers pay for long-term care (LTC) insurance. If you’re considering buying an LTC insurance policy or know someone who is, you owe it to yourself to read this timely article.

At first the change might not seem all that profound, but it marks a departure from the way in which LTC policies have been sold since their inception. To quote Forbes, “Genworth, the biggest seller of stand-alone long-term care insurance, is about to ask state insurance regulators for permission to fundamentally revise the way it structures premiums. Instead of holding premiums flat for several years followed by big double-digit rate hikes, it wants to be able to revise premiums annually.” The company has proposed this change before the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and while it may take a few years before the Association gives the go-ahead, individual states could act more quickly.

Genworth calls their new premium design the “Annual Rate Sufficiency Model.” Under this new system, consumers would probably see relatively modest single-digit rate increases in their LTC premiums every year or two. It’s even possible, says Genworth, that in a year of higher returns on investments and lower payout of benefits, the company could actually reduce premiums, although that sounds like a long-shot to us. But to the company, the bottom line is flexibility. Genworth’s CEO Thomas McInerney argues that the present model doesn’t allow companies to price their products realistically, and it infuriates policy holders who have seen level premiums for five or more years followed by huge increases. Sometimes, Genworth implies, companies facing losses have approached state insurance commissioners seeking permission to raise rates more gradually only to be denied approval. All this has contributed to a huge decline in the number of companies offering long-term care insurance, and a plummeting drop in the annual number of policies sold from roughly 700,000 a decade ago to about 100,000 today. The market seems ripe for an overhaul.

Are consumers ready for this kind of continually-changing LTC premiums? The Forbes article asks the obvious question, “How would consumers respond to seeing their premiums revised every year? This happens routinely with health, auto, and property and casualty coverage. But not with most term life insurance, where premiums may not change for decades.” Still, in a recent survey cited by the Forbes article, a whopping 71 percent of long-term care insurance buyers stated they would rather have small premium increases every few years, while only a tiny group – about 2 percent – said they would prefer large, infrequent premium hikes.

Genworth even claims that if they were allowed more pricing flexibility, initial premiums could actually be about 10 percent lower than they are at present and that over the life of the policy buyers would pay about 17 percent less for the same coverage. “Why would an insurance company propose a pricing model that might bring in fewer premium dollars per buyer over time?” asks Forbes. “It would allow carriers to more closely match prices to claims experience and interest rates, and adjust policies as necessary (and through a far simpler regulatory process). It could generate more income in the early years which could produce more investment income, assuming interest rates finally return to historic levels. And lower initial premiums might attract more, somewhat younger, buyers.” Those sound like worthwhile goals to us.

But none of this answers the question many AgingOptions clients and radio listeners ask: “Is long-term care insurance right for me?” There’s no simple answer. For many, LTC insurance is an excellent way to preserve assets and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, if you can afford it – not just today, but ten or twenty years from now. For others, the high premium cost is just too steep to justify. As with all the other complexities of retirement, the most important thing you must do is to get good, sound, unbiased advice from professionals who aren’t selling any product. Asking a long-term care insurance salesman for objective advice doesn’t really make good sense.

Why not take advantage of one of the best resources you’ll ever find – an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar? There you’ll get a solid overview of today’s long-term care landscape, along with some alternatives to LTC insurance. But more importantly, at one of these highly popular, no-cost events, you’ll learn invaluable information to help you integrate all the important aspects of your retirement plan: legal, financial, housing, medical and family. These must all mesh together like pieces of a puzzle, or else your so-called plan can become dangerously unbalanced, destined to fail you in a crisis. An AgingOptions LifePlan is the answer to a fruitful and secure retirement. All you need to do is to click here to select the seminar of your choice, then register online – or, if you prefer, call us during the week so we can assist you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon. Meanwhile, age on!

(originally reported at www.forbes.com)

Caring for a Loved One with Dementia Takes Huge Financial, Emotional Toll

Every year in late September, people around the globe observe World Alzheimer’s Day. Last fall, to mark the occasion, an organization called Caring.com released the results of a survey that showed just how burdensome caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be. The poll demonstrates what many already suspected: that caring for a loved one with dementia is far more costly and emotionally draining than any other type of care. Because we get so many questions about this issue at AgingOptions, we decided this article and the concerns it raises are worth a fresh look.

The details about this cost-of-care survey were published in this article which appeared about six months ago on the website of Time magazine. While the article is a few months old, it still makes for sobering reading, and above all it points out the need for honest conversations between family members who may be facing some vital caregiving decisions.

According to the research survey, caregivers looking after loved ones suffering from health conditions other than dementia are indeed bearing a heavy financial burden: just over 10 percent report that their out-of-pocket caregiving costs exceed $20,000 annually. But for those caring for dementia sufferers that figure is almost twice as high, as they shell out even more money for food, transportation, medical care, clothing and a host of other unreimbursed expenses. Nearly 20% are paying out $20,000 or more and at least 40% peg their costs at $5,000-plus. Of course, the financial expense is just one element of the true cost. “The disease takes an enormous toll on families, emotionally, physically, and financially,” says the Time article. “It devours their loved ones and, in the process, can swallow life savings whole.”

What’s often hardest to bear, the article explains, is the progressive worsening of the disease. In the early stages patients may retain a degree of independence, but over time – sometimes sooner than expected – “people need round-the-clock care, making it very difficult for them to remain in their homes,” says Time. This is the devastating prognosis for five million Americans presently suffering with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which has no cure and no proven lasting treatment.

Once a patient requires nursing home care, Medicaid may pay the cost depending on the individual’s financial condition. This also applies to in-home care: some people can qualify for some assistance under Medicaid regulations to cover so-called custodial costs at home – assistance related to eating, bathing, dressing and other activities of daily living. But many families, especially middle-income households, will not qualify, and are often on their own to cope with rising costs and escalating needs.

Because of the pain faced by so many families, according to another article that appeared about the same time on the website, the issue of the costs of caregiving even figured in last fall’s Presidential election. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spoke about the caregiving crisis and each offered partial solutions to help soften the burden. While the details remain unclear, President Trump’s just-announced budget and tax initiatives are reported to include some form of financial breaks for those bearing the cost of caring for loved ones – not only those caring for children, but for house-bound adults as well.

Here at AgingOptions, we have heard sad stories from a great number of radio listeners, seminar guests and clients describing just how financially devastating caregiving costs can be. Our strong advice is to make careful plans early on, and have honest conversations among family members well before a health care crisis hits. This can start with a call to our office, because at AgingOptions we frequently conduct family meetings where all aspects of retirement and health care are carefully reviewed. We can help you and your family members understand your options and plan for the future so that you minimize the likelihood of unpleasant surprises. Contact us any time and let us serve as your guides through the often perplexing array of options and strategies concerning in-home care.

And for all your retirement planning concerns, why not do what hundreds have done and choose the one approach that takes all the key facets of retirement into account? This is the strategy we call LifePlanning, encompassing housing choices, medical needs, legal affairs, family communication and financial asset management in one comprehensive document. With your LifePlan in place, you have the blueprint you need to build a secure and rewarding retirement future.

Your next step is a simple one: attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, offered at locations throughout the area. You can click here for dates, times and online registration, or contact us for assistance during the week. Don’t face retirement unprepared! Let us serve as your guide. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at www.time.com/money)

04-22-17 Aging Options (Hr 2)

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04-15-17 Aging Options (Hr 2)

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