Monthly Social Security Benefit Increase for 2017 and Medicare Part B is going up.

By Kirk Larson

Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 0.3 percent in 2017.  The 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2017. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2016. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

The standard Part B premium amount in 2017 will be $134 (or higher depending on your income). However, most people who get Social Security benefits will pay less than this amount. This is because the Part B premium increased more than the cost-of-living increase for 2017 Social Security benefits. If you pay your Part B premium from your monthly Social Security payment, your monthly premium can go no higher than the increase you receive to your monthly Social Security benefit. Social Security will tell you the exact amount you will pay for Part B in 2017. You’ll pay the standard premium amount if:

  • You enroll in Part B for the first time in 2017.
  • You don’t get Social Security benefits.
  • You’re directly billed for your Part B premiums.
  • You have Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicaid pays your premiums. (Your state will pay the standard premium amount of $134.)
  • Your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple filing a joint tax return amount. If so, you’ll pay the standard premium amount plus an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). IRMAA is an extra charge added to your premium.

Most Social Security beneficiaries will not see a reduction in their 2016 monthly benefit amount because of the increase in the Medicare Part B premium. This is because the Social Security Act contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects most beneficiaries. The amount of the benefit payable between 2016 and 2017 will stay the same even though the Medicare Part B premium increases.

To learn more about Medicare Part B costs go to https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs/part-b-costs.html at the Medicare webpage.

Want to Reach 100 Years Old? There’s More Than One Way to Do It!

Here’s a statistic that grabbed our attention recently: an estimated one in 26 baby boomers – roughly four percent – is expected to live to be 100 or older. If they do, they’ll be adding to an already swelling group of centenarians: statistics tell us that there are presently more than 53,000 people in the U.S. who are at least 100 years old, and more and more people can reasonably expect to reach that milestone in the future.

This recent article on the website Next Avenue is called “What Inspiring Centenarians Teach Us About Health.” As the article points out, all the advances in medical knowledge and greater wisdom about the importance of a good diet may play a role in helping some people reach their 10th decade of life. But for tens of thousands of centenarians, food, exercise and better medical care are only part of the picture. Things like attitude and involvement matter, too.

According to Next Avenue author Dr. Sameer Ather, you may think that the only way to reach 100 is to hit the jackpot in the gene pool and avoid major illness – but that’s not so.  “There are three basic types of centenarians: survivors, delayers and escapers.”  The Escapers, writes Ather, “are those who simply never developed the symptoms of the most common age-related diseases, such as dementia, heart problems or cancer.” These are indeed the ones who seem to have dodged the medical bullet, but in fact the Escapers are by far the smallest group of centenarians. Most centenarians fall into the first two categories, Survivors and Delayers. “Survivors are those who developed these (serious) diseases before the age of 80 but continued to live on in spite of them. And Delayers developed the symptoms after the age of 80.” What interests researchers is that many people are able to live on for years even with these major illnesses. “That just goes to show that many of these diseases can be overcome and that there’s something more at play here,” Dr. Ather writes.

So what are some of the ways we might help ourselves live to 100? Eat a healthy diet, for one thing. “The benefits of a healthy diet are praised left and right, and you’re most likely tired of hearing how important it is to eat right and avoid processed food, but this is one of the things most centenarians have in common,” Dr. Ather states. “Most of them cite their healthy diets as part of the reason why they’ve managed to live such a long and healthy life.” However, the actual ingredients people choose vary from place to place, and so do choices about things like alcohol consumption. Moderation seems to be the key, the article states. Whatever diet you choose, be wise and don’t overdo it.

Another piece of advice from centenarians is to “stop counting the years” and enjoy your age. A positive mental attitude works wonders in helping people age well – in fact, it seems to be something virtually all the centenarians have in common. The Next Avenue article points out that the benefits of positive thinking go beyond the purely psychological. “Mood and environmental factors can affect the way in which genes behave,” writes Dr. Ather. “In other words, living life to the fullest, regardless of the number on paper, can have tremendous health benefits.” This is one of those cases where the old saying “You’re as young as you feel” is true.

It wasn’t that long ago that the experts on aging seemed to focus on simplicity and stress avoidance as the secrets to a longer life, but for today’s 100-year-olds avoiding stress doesn’t seem to be the answer. “It was long believed that people who avoid stress tend to live longer,” states Dr. Ather. “However, it is impossible to avoid stress all of the time, especially if you live 100 years or more.” If you consider the fact that anyone who is 100 years old today has lived through not one but two devastating world wars, plus the Great Depression and the more recent so-called “Great Recession” – not to mention all of the hardships and disappointments sprinkled throughout an average life – simply trying to avoid stress can’t be the secret formula to longevity.  The Next Avenue article suggests that people who live longer not only have a positive attitude but also something to “keep them afloat.” For example, “Many centenarians seem to have in common a firm connection with their community, friends and families. They’ve all found activities that help them focus and take their mind off their worries. And if you haven’t started living life to the fullest, it’s never too late to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.”

The final point in the Next Avenue article is one we’ve all heard before: if you want to live longer, stay active. This may mean starting a simple exercise regimen late in life, or it may mean taking on a part-time job or a volunteer gig that keeps you moving. Sadly we have all known people who have allowed themselves to grow increasingly sedentary as they have gotten older, only to develop a host of health problems that could have been avoided. It’s all part of a healthy aging process.  “Age can stop you from doing the things you enjoy only if you let it,” writes Dr. Ather. “What is remarkable about the lives of the centenarians is not just their longevity, but the fact that they’re still enjoying themselves. These two seem to go hand in hand.”

Maybe you’re not about to turn 100, but you are getting serious about planning for retirement. If that’s the case, we know a great way for you to have a positive attitude about the process: find out about LifePlanning. That’s our term for a unique, comprehensive approach to retirement planning that takes all the vital facets of your retirement into account: finances, medical care, housing choices, legal protection and family communication. You owe it to yourself to find out how LifePlanning can transform your retirement from fear and uncertainty to confidence and security. Learn more by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars offered without obligation throughout the region.  For dates, times and locations — plus online registration — click here. Or if you prefer you can call us during the week for assistance.

Planning to live to 100? We’re ready to assist you in getting ready for a wonderful journey.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

Geriatric Medical Expert to Appear on AgingOptions Radio Broadcast

One of America’s most highly respected experts on geriatric medicine, Dr. Chad Boult, will join Rajiv Nagaich as special guest in the studio for the AgingOptions live radio broadcast to air January 7, 2017.

“We continually advise our older clients and radio listeners that it’s essential to have a geriatric physician on their medical team,” says Rajiv Nagaich. “No one in America knows more about the power of geriatric medicine than Chad Boult. We’re thrilled to have him as our guest.”

Dr. Boult has extensive credentials in the field of geriatric medicine. He has served as a medical director, teacher and researcher in geriatrics and is also board-certified in the specialty. He has also authored two books and has written or co-written more than 85 articles in biomedical scientific journals. Dr. Boult served for 11 years (2001-2012) as a Professor of Health Policy and Management in the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. During that period he also spent five years as an editor for the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. An expert in government medical programs for seniors, Dr. Boult served for two years as a senior advisor for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Today Dr. Boult is medical director for geriatrics for a large health care system and continues to provide healthcare consulting services across the U.S. and internationally.

“Chad Boult is one of the nation’s leaders in developing new models of health care to improve the health of older persons,” said David Reuben, MD, director of the UCLA Multicampus Program in Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology.  “The care models he has developed have reinvented traditional healthcare to ensure that we can better meet the wide range of health care needs of older adults.”

Always seeking new ways to improve geriatric care, Dr. Boult conducted several research studies examining how best to care for seniors with multiple chronic conditions using a multidisciplinary model of primary care. With a better health care delivery system, seniors can experience better health outcomes and in cooperation with their families learn better ways to manage their health care needs. Part of the study also explored how to make sure seniors get better access to the community services they need.

This comprehensive approach pioneered by Dr. Boult is called Guided Care. To find out more, click here to read a related article about Guided Care. It appeared recently on the website of the Commonwealth Fund.

As a retiree, you can take better control over your health care if you have someone one your medical team who is trained as a geriatric specialist. We encourage you to tune in this Saturday to hear Dr. Chad Boult explain more about the importance of relying on a board-certified geriatric physician. You can also listen to the archived program if you’re reading this after January 7, 2017. Then contact us at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a geriatrician in your area. It could be the most important call you’ll ever make.

Speaking of decisions that are truly important, is this the year you finally take a proactive approach to retirement planning? A safe, secure and fruitful retirement plan doesn’t just happen – it demands a comprehensive strategy, like the one we have pioneered here at AgingOptions. For a truly complete and comprehensive approach to your retirement, we urge you to start the New Year right by attending one of our LifePlanning Seminars. These highly popular information-packed seminars are offered free of charge. In just a few short hours, you’ll discover how to prepare for all the key elements of your retirement in a way that makes the pieces fit together: your financial plans, your legal preparation, your medical coverage, your housing choices, even your family communications.

If that sounds like a fresh approach to retirement planning, it is. The next step is simple: come and learn with other retirees at one of these unique and thoroughly enjoyable events. Click here for dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, and then join us soon. You’ll be very, very glad you did.

Recent Study Reveals Seniors at High Risk of Opioid Addiction

The story has been all over the news in recent months, headline after headline declaring that America is in the midst of a severe epidemic of addiction to painkillers. “From wonder drug to abuse epidemic,” says CNN. “The worst drug crisis in American history,” says PBS’s Frontline. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, during 2014 (the most recent year available), “more people died from drug overdoses…than in any year on record, and the majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involved an opioid.

With this sobering backdrop we were interested to hear this story just a few weeks ago on National Public Radio that warns of the danger of opioids among seniors – many of whom find themselves hooked on painkillers after undergoing medical procedures. “As the nation grapples with a devastating opioid epidemic,” says NPR, “concerns have primarily focused on young people buying drugs on the street. But many elderly people in America also have a drug problem.”

This is important news to all seniors and their families, because senior patients may tend to be more trusting of their physicians and less likely to ask tough questions about the dangers of prescription drug overdoses. In the words of the NPR story, “Over the past several decades, physicians have increasingly prescribed older patients medication to address chronic pain from arthritis, cancer, neurological diseases and other illnesses that become more common in later life. And sometimes those opioids hurt more than they help.”

The NPR article references a recent study of Medicare recipients. In this study, about 15 percent of respondents had been prescribed an opioid painkiller upon their discharge from the hospital. But in a troubling finding, three months later more than 40 percent of these patients were still taking these highly addictive drugs. In the National Public Radio feature we meet one such patient, a retired 70-year-old man in Arizona who had undergone surgery to fix a painful, debilitating ear problem. But after the surgery the pain got worse. His doctors prescribed Oxycontin, a common opioid, which helped with the pain at first, but over time had less and less effect. He kept increasing his dosage and ended up “confused, depressed, and still in pain.”

“I was effectively housebound,” he says in the NPR article. “I couldn’t play golf anymore. I couldn’t go to social events with my friends or my wife.” He says he began to obsess about when he could take his next dose – and when this happened he knew he was in trouble. The irony is that this patient was not an abuser: he had followed all the rules and done exactly what his doctor told him to do. He finally and reluctantly entered a rehab program where it took him a week to get over the intense flu-like symptoms that come with opioid withdrawal, symptoms that can hit seniors with particular severity.

Ironically, back in 2009 (according to NPR) the American Geriatric Society came out strongly in favor of opioids for seniors, believing that the risk of addiction among elderly patients was low. Today those guidelines are no longer in use, “but opioid medications remain a crucial tool to treat pain in older people. And most people are able to take opioids in small doses for short periods of time without a problem.” Doctors say the important thing is to try non-addictive pain solutions first, and to keep any opioid dosages to an absolute minimum. There is real urgency to this situation, says NPR, because the problem is only getting worse: the rate of hospitalization related to opioid overuse among seniors has quintupled in the past two decades.

Here at AgingOptions we find this rate of over-prescription of dangerous drugs truly deplorable. It’s just one more reason why it is essential for senior patients that you put yourself in the capable hands of a board-certified geriatrician who understands the particular health needs and vulnerabilities of older adults. Contact our office during the business week and let us provide you with some recommended geriatric physicians in your area. This is one of the most important steps you can take toward comprehensive health care planning.

When it comes to retirement planning, we also have the ideal solution: our LifePlanning Seminars. These free information-packed sessions are highly popular, and there’s a good reason why. At a LifePlanning Seminar you’ll learn not only how to plan for your health care needs but also your financial security, your legal protection, your family communication and your ideal housing choices. These components of a good plan all fit together like pieces of a puzzle – but with the AgingOptions team as your guide, the process is neither puzzling nor confusing. Having a LifePlan in place and following it is the single most important thing you can do to secure a fruitful and happy retirement.

Ready to take the next step? We’ll see you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon. Click here for dates, times, locations and online registration or contact us during the week and we’ll assist you.

(originally reported at www.npr.org)

Monthly Social Security Benefit Increase for 2017 and Medicare Part B is going up.

By Kirk Larson Social Security Western Washington Public Affairs Specialist

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 0.3 percent in 2017.  The 0.3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2017. Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2016. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.

The standard Part B premium amount in 2017 will be $134 (or higher depending on your income). However, most people who get Social Security benefits will pay less than this amount. This is because the Part B premium increased more than the cost-of-living increase for 2017 Social Security benefits. If you pay your Part B premium from your monthly Social Security payment, your monthly premium can go no higher than the increase you receive to your monthly Social Security benefit. Social Security will tell you the exact amount you will pay for Part B in 2017. You’ll pay the standard premium amount if:

  • You enroll in Part B for the first time in 2017.
  • You don’t get Social Security benefits.
  • You’re directly billed for your Part B premiums.
  • You have Medicare and Medicaid, and Medicaid pays your premiums. (Your state will pay the standard premium amount of $134.)
  • Your modified adjusted gross income as reported on your IRS tax return from 2 years ago is above $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple filing a joint tax return amount. If so, you’ll pay the standard premium amount plus an Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA). IRMAA is an extra charge added to your premium.

Most Social Security beneficiaries will not see a reduction in their 2016 monthly benefit amount because of the increase in the Medicare Part B premium. This is because the Social Security Act contains a “hold harmless” provision that protects most beneficiaries. The amount of the benefit payable between 2016 and 2017 will stay the same even though the Medicare Part B premium increases.

To learn more about Medicare Part B costs go to https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs/part-b-costs.html at the Medicare webpage.

Making Family Gatherings More Enjoyable for Those with Alzheimer’s

Christmas festivities may be winding down, but family gatherings aren’t limited to the waning days of December. Holiday get-togethers are bound to continue for several more days, and other family parties and celebrations happen all year long. That’s why we were eager to share with our readers and radio listeners this helpful and timely article from the Mayo Clinic website concerning a topic faced by many, many people: how can you make family gatherings during the holidays – or at any time, for that matter – more enjoyable and less stressful for your loved one who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease?

If someone in your family has dementia, odds are you’ve faced this dilemma before. You desperately want your loved one to enjoy getting together with family and friends just like he or she used to do, but you’ve seen first-hand how expectations can be dashed because of diminished mental capacity. Your loved one can suffer from emotional outbursts including tears or anger, or become fearful. Unprepared family members who haven’t seen this person in a long time don’t know how to handle the decline that is taking place, so they become uneasy. Meanwhile you as the caregiver end up exhausted and stressed out. Fortunately, there are some specific things you can do, and some to avoid doing, that can make any family gathering less of a heartache for you and much more pleasant for the one with Alzheimer’s disease. It just requires good communication, careful preparation, and maybe a healthy dose of adjusted expectations.

So what does the Mayo Clinic article recommend? For starters – and maybe it’s too late to do this for Christmas 2016 but you can always incorporate this strategy for other family events in 2017 – find ways to involve your loved one in the process of preparing for the gathering. Making preparations together is a wonderful way to engage someone with dementia, focusing less on the outcome and more on the process. If mom or dad can still help with the baking, preparing Christmas cookies or a birthday cake, or setting out the hors d’oeuvres plate, let them do it. Helping you open and display holiday or birthday cards can be another good activity. Ideas like these work for any season of the year, not just Christmas.

Another suggestion: tone down the decorations and try to make your gatherings quieter and more slow-paced. This can be hard if you’re used to the “cast of thousands” holiday party with your house filled with big lighted displays, lots of people, and candles galore, but all those blinking lights and the noise of loud conversation can be very disorienting for someone with dementia. Gatherings need to be smaller, if possible, and you need to adhere to your loved one’s daily routine as much as you can. Remember, the dementia sufferer also needs time to rest and disengage from the crowd.

The experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that holiday celebrations – or any time of celebration, for that matter – take place in the most familiar setting possible. “For many people who have Alzheimer’s,” says the Mayo Clinic article, “a change of environment — even a visit home — can cause anxiety. To avoid disruption, consider holding a small family celebration at the facility (where your loved one lives). You might also participate in holiday activities planned for the residents.” Again, this means a change of holiday ritual for you, but it can make all the difference for the one you love who is dealing with reduced mental capacity. Mayo experts also urge you to pick and choose which gatherings are most important, and to be selective, only taking your loved one to the parties and get-togethers that really matter most.

If your loved one lives in a memory care facility and you’re the “gate-keeper” who decides when family members should visit, it’s a very good idea, say the Mayo Clinic authors, to minimize visitor traffic and to schedule visits at your loved one’s best time of day. Too many unfamiliar faces at once, even in a familiar setting, can prove overwhelming to the person you love, so it’s better to spread those visits by inviting two or three at once. It’s also important to prepare other family members who might not have seen your loved one in quite a long time, so they will know what to expect and not be caught off guard during their visit.

There are more excellent tips in this Mayo Clinic article and we encourage you to read it either for yourself or for someone close to you. And for those of you who are serious about starting the New Year with a well-crafted retirement plan in place, we here at AgingOptions are ready to be of help. If it’s your goal to protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the fate of being institutionalized against your wishes, you need to start now to plan for the rest of your life. In short, you need a LifePlan – a comprehensive retirement plan that encompasses your financial protection, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical insurance coverage, even communication with your family. If you’ll work with us to create and follow a well-crafted LifePlan, the odds of fulfilling your retirement dreams increase exponentially.

Why not take the next step, invest just a few hours and find out more? We offer free LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region. You can click here for information about upcoming seminars and also register online for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us during the week and we’ll assist you in registration. Your dreams of a fulfilling and genuinely satisfying retirement can come true, if you plan! It will be our pleasure to help you do just that.

(originally reported at www.mayoclinic.org)

Hoping for a Longer, Healthier Life? Try Improving Your Outlook

Just about everybody knows that having an optimistic outlook tends to make life more enjoyable than when one is wallowing in pessimism. You could say – generally speaking – that optimists have more fun. But there’s more to being a positive person than simply enjoying life. Now we have evidence that optimistic people actually live longer! This is according to an article that appeared on National Public Radio a few weeks ago. You can click here to read this encouraging article. It just might improve your outlook.

The NPR piece is based on an article recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and it’s just the latest in a series of studies that have shown linkage between optimism and longevity. In this study, researchers tracked a group of more than 70,000 women whose average age was 70. These women had been surveyed back in 2004 to determine their average level of optimism, based on their degree of agreement with such statements as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” With this assessment in mind, researchers then tracked the death rates of these women in the years between 2006 and 2012.

The results were convincing. “(Researchers) found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29 percent less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic.” No matter which of the major causes of death was analyzed, the results were similar: the optimists had a reduced rate of death for cancer (16 percent lower), heart disease (38 percent), stroke (39 percent), respiratory disease (37 percent) and infection (52 percent). In almost every instance the correlation between a positive outlook and longer lifespan showed up in the survey results.

According to NPR, other studies have shown that optimistic people tend to have better cardiovascular health, suffering lower rates of heart disease, which is still the number one cause of death among American adults. But the study cited in the NPR article, analysts say, is significant because of its large sample size and also because researchers made the effort to control for a wide variety of factors, adding credibility to the results.

Why does this linkage exist between attitude and health? Researchers including study author Eric Kim of Harvard point out several possible connections. “First,” says NPR, “people who are more optimistic also tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise and tobacco use.” But even when these variables are taken into account, optimistic people live longer. According to Kim, this may be because optimistic people have better coping skills. “When they face life challenges, they create contingency plans, plan for future challenges and accept what can’t be changed,” he says. There’s also the very real possibility of a physiological correlation in which an optimistic outlook helps the body enjoy “better immune function or lower levels of inflammation.”

But here are two big questions. First – can optimism be taught? If someone is basically pessimistic, psychologists disagree about whether that person’s outlook can be re-wired to make them habitually see the brighter side. The second question, one that doctors can’t answer, is this: will changing your outlook and becoming more optimistic make you healthier? This, says NPR, requires further study.

Here at AgingOptions, one thing we’ve seen time and time again is the positive impact a good plan can have on a person’s perception of the future. As we counsel people on the radio, in our office and in seminars, we have repeatedly observed how fear and trepidation concerning the future are replaced by confidence and eager anticipation once a solid plan begins to take shape. The unknown, especially where our retirement is concerned, can be frightening! In our experience the very best way to brighten your outlook about your retirement future is with a LifePlan – a thorough retirement strategy than will guide you into a secure and fulfilling future as you age.

No matter what you’re apprehensive about as you contemplate your future, your LifePlan will provide the answers. Your financial security will be assured. Your legal preparation will be thorough. Your medical care will be provided for. Your housing choices will be mapped out well in advance. On top of all this, your family will be completely informed of your wishes. It’s tough to be optimistic when you’re fearful – but by contrast, you’re far less likely to be afraid about the future when you have a personalized LifePlan in place.

Why not take the next step? Invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held in locations throughout the area. Click here for dates, locations and online registration, or contact us during the week. We’re eager to help you improve your outlook about the future with the power of LifePlanning.

(originally reported at www.npr.org)

Are These Common Symptoms Part of Aging – or Something Worse?

We recently found an article on the website Kaiser Health News that we think every senior – and those who love and care for a senior – should read. This important article is called “You’re Not Just Growing Old if This Happens to You.” The gist of the article is that many of the so-called symptoms of aging that people tend to put up with as they get older may not be part of “normal aging” at all, but may instead indicate a physical condition, one your doctor can probably treat if you allow him or her to deal with it promptly.

The Kaiser article quotes a physician from the Center for Aging Research at Indiana University, Dr. Christopher Callahan, who says that he often hears a similar refrain from his older patients. They tell him, “I’m tired, doctor. It’s hard to get up and about. I’ve been feeling kind of down, but I know I’m getting old and I just have to live with it.” Callahan calls this a “fatalistic stance” that is based on “widely-held but mistaken assumptions about what constitutes ‘normal aging.’” Too many seniors are convinced that conditions like fatigue, weakness and depression are just normal consequences of growing older, said Callahan, but they’re not. “Instead, they’re a signal that something is wrong and a medical evaluation is in order.”

In our culture, people have the misperception that aging equals decline, but that definitely doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, it’s true, says the Kaiser article, “people’s bodies do change as they get on in years. But this is a gradual process. If you suddenly find your thinking is cloudy and your memory unreliable, if you’re overcome by dizziness and your balance is out of whack, if you find yourself tossing and turning at night and running urgently to the bathroom, don’t chalk it up to normal aging.” Instead, it’s definitely time to see your physician, who (as we always remind our readers, radio listeners and clients) should be a board-certified geriatrician, someone who knows all about the medical and emotional needs of their senior patients.

Here are four familiar conditions that should definitely not be considered “just part of growing older.” When it comes to these common complaints, the sooner you seek diagnosis and treatment, the better.

The first familiar ailment discussed in the Kaiser article is fatigue. Some older people complain that they’re always tired and have no energy. This is hardly unusual: the American Geriatrics Society says just over half of all adults age 51 and older suffer from fatigue at least some of the time. The problem, however, is that being chronically weary only tends to become worse, leading (if untreated) to a loss of independence and a state of social isolation. Don’t assume being tired all the time is just part of aging, because it’s not. Instead, your geriatrician can evaluate possible causes like medication side effects, sleep patterns, blood pressure, and medical conditions such as thyroid problems, and help you regain your vim, vigor and vitality.

Next on the list is loss of appetite. Appetite loss should be a warning sign, not just something you passively accept, especially if you used to enjoy eating. Kaiser Health News says that “between 15 and 30 percent of older adults are believed to have what’s known as the ‘anorexia of aging,’” where appetite deficit leads to unwanted weight loss and a host of other problems. If you feel like you’ve lost interest in eating, see your physician – there may be underlying causes including the effects of medication, dental problems, or even emotional challenges including isolation and depression. One key to restoring your appetite: don’t eat alone. In your younger years, meals were a family affair – so find a way to share your meal times with others.

The third condition some people erroneously accept as a “normal” part of aging is depression. As a society we have tended to think that people tend to become more melancholy as they grow older, but actually the opposite is true: surveys show seniors are happier than their younger peers. Only about 15 percent of seniors in fact suffer from true depression or one of its variants, says Kaiser Health News. Again, depression left untreated can have catastrophic consequences, so if you or a loved one is experiencing chronic sadness or apathy, or grief that never seems to lift, it’s time to see your geriatrician and take positive action.

The final condition too many people simply accept is physical weakness. It’s true that muscle mass gradually decreases with age – but a sudden onset of weakness, when you find you can’t get out of your chair or open a jar lid, is not a normal part of this process. Something else may be going on: culprits can include medication side effects, inflammation, improper diet and a host of other possibilities. But left untreated, weakness only gets worse, often resulting in serious medical injury from falls. Your geriatric physician will help diagnose the cause of your weakness and recommend an appropriate regimen of diet and exercise that will improve your strength, and your outlook on life.

If you want to improve your outlook on retirement, we have the solution: come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminars where you’ll discover the power of a LifePlan – the most thorough and comprehensive approach to retirement planning you’ll find. Your LifePlan prepares you for every facet of retirement, ensuring your financial security, your legal preparedness, your housing choices, your medical insurance coverage, and effective communication with those closest to you. You’ll find, as thousands of our clients, seminar attendees and radio listeners have discovered, that a LifePlan allows you to face the future with optimism and confidence.

Find out more, without cost or obligation, by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar in your area. Click here for dates, times and locations, and register online, or contact us for assistance during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to do all we can to serve your retirement needs.

(originally reported at  www.khn.org)

“Internet of Caring Things” Enhances Security, Raises Privacy Issues

Have you heard the term “the Internet of Things”? If you haven’t, you will. The phrase Internet of Things refers to the growing practice of developing networked devices, so-called “smart devices” that are linked through the Internet. This kind of technology is becoming universal: experts predict that we could be surrounded by as many as 50 billion linked objects by 2020. One article we read in Forbes magazine said that almost any device with an on/off switch can be linked to other devices through the Internet, and this has the potential to change how we live. Driverless cars, for example, are made possible by the Internet of Things. In the future, your office copier might “know” that it’s running low on supplies and order them automatically. Your alarm clock, after waking you up, might send a signal to your coffee maker to start brewing. It all sounds convenient – and maybe a little eerie!

The reason we bring this up, and why it affects our clients and radio listeners here at AgingOptions, is that it’s considered inevitable that the Internet of Things will be applied to health care, especially as it pertains to seniors. In fact, it’s already happening.  And there’s a name for all the health care devices that are wirelessly connected to “the Cloud” – it’s called the Internet of Caring Things. We found an extremely interesting article about this topic on the website Next Avenue, and the title raises what we think is a central issue in the application of this new age of technology. The article is called, “Home Technology for Older Adults: Safety or Intrusion?” Click here for the link.

The Next Avenue feature which appeared last spring puts the idea this way. “Imagine a home where hidden sensors in the walls can predict a fall weeks before the event occurs, the front door can be unlocked by someone who is immobilized upstairs and a cup can call the ambulance if an elderly person with congestive heart failure or chronic kidney disease is in severe danger of becoming dehydrated or malnourished. Welcome to the Internet of Caring Things.” Next Avenue says that a few products representing the leading edge of this technology have already hit the marketplace, including the Fitbit wearable fitness tracker and the Nest smart thermostat. But these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interactive technology. If you’re a senior, or are caring for an aging loved one, you’re going to be seeing more and more of this technology in the years ahead. The Internet of Caring Things “represents a revolution in how health care is managed,” say the experts.

As with most technology, these new advances also represent a double-edged sword. On the upside, these linked devices, when properly designed, can let caregivers continuously and unobtrusively monitor a senior’s daily routine to be able to watch for any potentially ominous changes. For example, in one specially designed senior community in Missouri where some of this technology is being evaluated, “Sensors include one placed under a patient’s mattress to detect restlessness, as well as abnormal breathing and pulse rates when sleeping, and another to monitor a patient’s gait to help predict falls. A smart carpet is under development for recognizing falls.” According to the facility’s executive director, the bed sensors are able to predict a resident’s illness up to a month ahead of time. The system can also predict falls two to four weeks before they happen. Other applications are being developed especially for seniors, such as a system that automatically turns on the bathroom light at night when a resident gets out of bed, or even a special cup that monitors how much a person drinks each day to prevent dehydration. The list of applications is exploding almost week by week.

But there are downsides, of course, chief among them being loss of privacy. Some seniors will fear that these devices essentially allow 24/7 eavesdropping, robbing them of their dignity and autonomy. After all, when everything from your sleeping habits to how much water you drink can be observed, where’s your sense of independence? By the same token, there will also likely be many seniors who will reject the use of monitoring technology because to them these systems evoke a sense of frailty and dependence. Even if these systems are designed to be unobtrusive, some seniors will refuse to employ them because of what they represent: weakness and decline.  And who’s going to keep track of all that information? As these monitoring systems come into widespread use, one might question how caregivers in an institutional setting will react to what will become a flood of data pouring in from every one of the residents in their care. All this monitored data on movements, sleep patterns and so forth are pouring into the monitoring stations like an “avalanche,” says Brown University gerontologist Clara Berridge. “In nursing homes, certified nurse assistants often report alert burnout.” In other words, “they reasonably stop responding after so many nonsignificant alerts have needlessly disrupted their work.” There’s just too much data bombarding them for it to be of much use!

As we do with everything retirement-related, we’ll keep you posted here at AgingOptions on developing trends in the Internet of Caring Things. Meanwhile, when it comes to developing trends in all aspects of retirement, we’re ready to be your authoritative guide. We’ll assist you in preparing a comprehensive plan, called a LifePlan that helps ensure you’ll enjoy the type of retirement you’ve dreamed of, one where your assets are well-protected and you’ll never have to worry about becoming a burden to those you love. Your LifePlan encompasses your financial protection, your legal preparation, your medical coverage, your housing options and your family communications in one well-crafted document. It’s easy to find out more about the LifePlanning process, without cost or obligation: simply plan to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars in your area. You’ll find the link to our Upcoming Events page here. Select the seminar of your choice and register online, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon – and bring your questions!

(originally reported at http://www.nextavenue.org)

Study Shows that Our Perception of Aging Will Affect Our Experience

What are your perceptions about getting older? Are you one of the many who associate aging with negative stereotypes, including physical frailty and mental confusion? Is “getting older” linked in your mind with inevitable decline? Or do you see aging as a positive experience, in which you’ll enjoy prolonged good health and the chance to savor new experiences? In short, is aging “bad news” or “good news?”

A recent study shows that, if you buy into all the negative stereotypes about aging, you could very likely be preparing yourself for a shorter, less productive life. Those who dread growing older may be setting themselves up for the very type of bleak future they’re so afraid of!

Most of us understand the idea that our thoughts and perceptions have a powerful effect on how we live and how we feel. This idea that our mind and body are inextricably connected is hardly new – in fact, several thousand years ago, the Old Testament’s King Solomon had it right when in Proverbs 23 he wrote, “As a man thinks within himself, so is he.” In other words, the power of self-talk is often greater than we care to admit. Now researchers from Yale University and the National Institute on Aging have released a study, reported last month on the website Next Avenue, that corroborates the idea that, when it comes to aging, we tend to get what we expect to get, especially if our expectations are mostly negative.

For example, when the Yale researchers examined nearly four decades of data on aging, they made the startling discovery that “people who held negative stereotypes about aging had a 30 percent greater decline in memory as they aged, compared to persons who did not.” In the assessment of the NextAvenue author, “That’s huge. It shows how the power of our prevailing thoughts about age impact our personal experience of aging.” In other words, as a man thinks within himself, so is he.

This phenomenon goes way beyond its effects on memory. Older men and women who see aging primarily as a time of mental and physical decline “have higher levels of arthritis, heart disease and hearing loss than those who don’t.” The data was so clear that the NextAvenue article states, “Generally speaking, older adults who hold negative beliefs about aging have worse health outcomes across the board.” This idea that our preconceptions affect our health even goes so far as to determine – at least partially – how long we will live. The Yale survey suggests that “older adults who believe that to be old means to be ill…are twice as likely to die sooner” compared with their peers who have a positive outlook on aging. All this suggests that we tend to experience what we expect as we age, the bad along with the good. “What you believe,” says NextAvenue, “ends up being what you live.”

There are other studies referenced in the NextAvenue piece that reinforce this idea. One survey compared memory performance of Chinese seniors versus their American counterparts. The Chinese seniors, coming from a culture whose view of aging is much more positive than that in the United States, out-performed the American seniors. This would suggest that American pessimism about aging tends to become self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here at AgingOptions we agree with this assessment. Our retirement years ought to be – for most of us, anyway – a time of new discoveries and new experiences. Maybe it’s time to examine your own self-talk and stop casting aging in such a negative light. NextAvenue suggests, “Notice the older people around you who are living happily, who think of age merely as passage through time — those who expect to continue to enjoy good health, enough energy to do what pleases them, who figure life is meant to be lived fully, until the day their expiration date comes due. Use them as your benchmark of what life can be like for you as you travel through your 60s, 70s and beyond.” This is how our senior years were meant to be lived.

Of course, living a healthy and fruitful retirement demands a solid plan. All the self-talk in the world won’t help if we fail to prepare, which is why we’re so excited here at AgingOptions to offer a type of retirement plan, called a LifePlan that is unique in its scope and completeness. Your LifePlan helps you answer the key questions a truly comprehensive plan must address. Are your finances secure? Have you prepared your estate with all necessary legal requirements? Have you considered your housing options? Have you made a good decision regarding your medical insurance needs, both immediate and long-term? Is your family aware of and supportive of your plans and wishes? Imagine the peace of mind you’ll experience when your answer to all these questions is a confident “yes”!

There’s a quick, easy way to find out more about LifePlanning, and that’s by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar – an information-packed few hours that will open your eyes to the power of a LifePlan. For dates, times, locations and online registration, click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website – or call us during the week, and we can assist you by phone. Are you ready to change your perception of aging and retirement? A LifePlanning Seminar is the perfect next step! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)