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)

UCLA Hospital Trains Volunteers to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation

On a recent morning we heard an interesting story on National Public Radio that caught our attention. It spoke of the dangers of loneliness and isolation for seniors – a danger made even worse when older adults face hospitalization.  Now the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California, is training volunteer companions to spend time engaging with older patients. So far the results from this trial program seem very encouraging, and the program is expanding.

Click here for the NPR story which explains how this program is improving outcomes for senior patients at UCLA’s Santa Monica facility.

For years medical professionals have recognized the adverse effects of loneliness on seniors. Older men and women in isolation face not only a pattern of social decline but also physical and psychological problems related to lack of stimulus from other people. (In fact we wrote about this last summer in this article from the AgingOptions blog about the effect of loneliness on the heart.)  When seniors spend time in the hospital, the problem of loneliness is often amplified: adult children may live far away, and the patient’s spouse and friends may either have passed away or be too frail to make the visit.

Seeing the problem, officials at UCLA Medical Center’s geriatric unit decided to try a different approach. They recruited volunteers, provided them with training, and assigned them to visit regularly with elderly patients.  (The program is described in detail on the UCLA Medical Center website here.) The program, called Companion Care, was launched over one year ago and presently has 45 trained volunteers, with a goal of having 200 men and women who will each agree to spend at least one 4-hour shift per week.

The website describes the need this way. “Poor nutrition and feelings of loneliness, depression and isolation are prevalent in the geriatric population, and the program seeks to counter these and reduce patient stress by providing one-on-one companionship, assistance and access to activities.” Companion Care volunteers wear distinctive bright green polo shirts, and when they visit, they “often read to patients, play games with them, assist with feeding and perform other tasks, such as accompanying patients on walks under a nurse’s supervision.” Even for patients who do have visiting friends and family, volunteer companions can provide respite care to give a spouse or adult child a break from staying with the patient.

The NPR story explains the importance of volunteer training by telling what happened when one patient’s heart monitor alarm sounded.  “When that heart monitor suddenly began beeping, (the volunteer) was out of the room like a shot. She returned seconds later with a nurse who solved the problem with the push of a button.”  UCLA officials explain that these trained companions “aren’t just candy stripers, bringing snacks and magazines.”  According to NPR, “Volunteers learn about medical confidentiality, what to do in an emergency, and how to interact with patients, including patients with dementia.” UCLA describes this as a “vigorous training process and vetting process” that is required before they can be with patients.

We applaud this idea and hope the concept of well-trained volunteer companions spreads to other hospitals throughout the country. This kind of “high-touch” hands-on personal care stands in stark contrast to the highly technical approach to modern medicine that too many doctors rely on. It also reminds us of the critical need for seniors to have someone in charge of their medical care who understands their unique social, physical and psychological needs. A geriatric physician, or geriatrician, is that medical professional you need, and if you’ll contact us here at AgingOptions we’ll provide you with a referral to a geriatrician practicing in your area. Selecting a geriatrician as the “quarterback” of your medical team will be one of the most important decisions you can make to help safeguard your health as you age.

When it comes to safeguarding all other aspects of your retirement, we at AgingOptions stand ready to assist you. Retirement planning can seem daunting, especially if you attempt to do it alone. By contrast, as with any journey, a trained, professional guide makes all the difference. The type of retirement plan we will prepare for you, called a LifePlan, covers every vital aspect of retirement including financial security, legal preparation, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication. The goals of LifePlanning are to help you enjoy the type of secure and fruitful retirement you’ve dreamed of while protecting your assets and ensuring that you will never become a burden to those you love.

To find out more about this exciting breakthrough in retirement planning, make plans now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. In just a few short hours, you’ll get many of your questions answered, and you’ll discover a new sense of confidence about your retirement future. Click on the Upcoming Events tab for online registration, or contact us.

(originally reported at www.npr.org)

New York Times Article Asks, “Where Are the Geriatricians?”

Here at AgingOptions, we are always interested to read about new services and new products geared toward seniors. In some ways our society seems to have finally awakened to the fact that our nation is aging. Marketers in particular have finally figured out that, by the year 2030, about 31 million Americans will be older than 75 – the largest number ever in U.S. history. Aging baby boomers with their disposable income and desire to keep active represent a powerful market for advertisers with products and services to sell.

However, we’ve noticed one glaring exception to this trend of accommodating seniors, and that is in the specialty of geriatric medicine. An article we discovered earlier this year in the New York Times asks a question we’ve been repeating with increasing urgency: “As the population ages, where are the geriatricians?” This compelling article shines a spotlight on one of the real paradoxes in today’s medical landscape, namely that the market is increasing but the number of providers is decreasing. Or as the Times puts it, “Geriatrics is one of the few medical specialties in the United States that is contracting even as the need increases, ranking at the bottom of the list of specialties that internal medicine residents choose to pursue.”

Here at AgingOptions we always advise our clients, radio listeners and seminar attendees of the critical importance of having a geriatric specialist as quarterback of their medical team. That’s because, when it comes to dealing with aging patients, no one understands the special needs of seniors better.  “A geriatrician,” to quote the Times, “is a physician already certified in internal or family medicine who has completed additional training in the care of older adults.” Besides clinical care, “geriatricians are skilled in navigating the labyrinth of psychological and social problems that often arise in the aging population.” While some traditional physicians want to claim that having a geriatric specialist is unnecessary, those in geriatric practice assert just the opposite. The special needs of seniors, they emphasize, absolutely dictate the requirement for special training and certification to properly care for older patients.

According to statistics in the Times article, there are about 7,000 geriatricians in practice today in the United States.  In the next 14 years the U.S. is going to need almost twice that many to meet the need. But because geriatricians earn less than other specialists, and because other specialties may offer more prestige, not enough medical students are gravitating toward geriatrics. Nevertheless there are encouraging signs that this trend may be slowly changing as medical schools are beginning to do a better job of training their students “to see older patients through a geriatrics lens.”

If this issue is important to you – and we hope it is – we urge you to contact us here at AgingOptions. Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re fortunate to have some excellent geriatric clinics and well-qualified geriatricians to whom we can refer you. These are trusted providers we can recommend with complete confidence. As you approach your retirement years, and begin planning for all the various facets of retirement, don’t overlook the most important factor of all: preserving your health. Finding and consulting with a good geriatric physician can be an essential first step.

When it comes to the first step in planning for a rewarding and secure retirement, you need to seek out some good advice, and that’s precisely why we’re here. There is much more to this type of planning, which we call LifePlanning, than your medical needs alone.  Your LifePlan will also encompass your financial protection, your legal preparation, your housing options, and your family communication, all in one comprehensive document. Interested in learning more about this powerful and unique approach to retirement planning? The perfect way to discover the power of the LifePlanning process for yourself is to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. These are information-packed sessions that will provide you with a wealth of valuable insights to help launch you on the road to a secure and fruitful retirement.

You can simply click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website for dates, times and locations, and then register online for the seminar of your choice. You can also call our office during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. It will be a pleasure to meet with you and to introduce to the power of LifePlanning.

(Originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

Insurance Giant John Hancock Says It’s Getting Out of the LTC Business

If any of us needed any more evidence that the long-term care (LTC) insurance industry is in upheaval, this surprising article from the Forbes website provides it.  Forbes magazine reports that insurance giant John Hancock is leaving the LTC insurance business effective in December 2016. Policies presently in force, estimated at 1.2 million, will remain valid, but no new policies will be sold.

According to Forbes, “The move comes after years of premium increases” and “flat consumer demand” for these important but expensive policies.  “This withdrawal,” says the article ominously, “signals what many financial planners, government officials, and financial service firms have known for years – that the United States is nearing a long-term care planning crisis.”

The roots of this crisis are easy to see. Here at AgingOptions we’ve been talking about it for years in our seminars, on our radio programs, and in consultation with our clients. As the population ages, and as medical costs soar ever higher, most people approaching their retirement years simply find it impossible to save enough to self-insure for the costs of long-term care. The Forbes article reports that more than 70% of adults over 65 will need some type of long-term care during their lives – care that typically involves assistance with the activities of daily living, either in one’s own home or in a care facility of one type or another. Generally, for most seniors, these costs are not covered by Medicare.

The warning about a long-term care crisis is hardly new. In the aftermath of the John Hancock announcement we here at AgingOptions did a little digging and found this article from the Time magazine website published a few years ago. The article, titled “The Retirement Crisis Nobody Talks About,” sounded the same alarm bells as the recent Forbes analysis. Time reported back in 2014 that, when it comes to seniors facing skyrocketing long-term care costs, “Planning ahead can help, but unfortunately there are few solutions to the long-term care dilemma.” The article called long-term care insurance “something that nobody wants to buy and the insurance industry doesn’t want to sell.”  Time said “many insurance companies have raised premiums on long-term care policies” while “other insurers have gotten out of the business” because they’re losing money on them. Hancock, it would seem, is the latest casualty.

According to the Forbes article, with companies leaving the LTC insurance business, “Americans are quickly finding themselves with fewer options to fund their long-term care expenses.” Some rely on family caregivers, but this may not be a viable choice. The need for care will likely drive more seniors to rely on Medicaid, or Veterans benefits offered through the VA for those who qualify. Both these programs carry a host of severe financial conditions, which can come as a shock to seniors who are unprepared.

So what’s your best course of action? When it comes to long-term care planning, we urge you to let AgingOptions be your guide. This is one area where careful planning and preparation are absolutely essential.  We will help you evaluate your assets and assess your options: self-insurance, long-term care insurance, reliance on your family, or Medicaid or VA benefits. If Medicaid is your best option, you need to start now to prepare, making decisions that will allow you to qualify for aid while protecting your assets.  It can be done – but having a good “navigator” in the long-term care storm is imperative. Let us be that guide for you.

There’s an excellent, no-obligation way to learn more – not just about long-term care but about every aspect of retirement. Sign up now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held at locations throughout the region. Our website lists all the currently scheduled dates and locations on the Upcoming Events tab, and lets you register online for the seminar of your choice. You can also call us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. Can you protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones? Can you avoid being forced into institutional care against your will? The answer is an emphatic “yes” – if you start planning now. We’ll look forward to meeting you and assisting you on this journey of a lifetime.

(originally reported at www.forbes.com)

With Open Enrollment Well Underway, Beware of the Scam Artists

As certain as the changing of the seasons, whenever they smell opportunity the “scam artists” come out of hiding to prey upon their innocent victims. Sadly, seniors tend to be relatively easy targets, and Medicare open enrollment period provides, as the military people say, a “target-rich environment.” Our advice to you, echoed in this recent and very timely article from USA Today, is to beware of some common scams that identity thieves will try during Medicare open enrollment period which runs through December 7, 2016.

As you know if you’re already on Medicare or are newly Medicare-eligible, open enrollment (which began in mid-October) is the only time during the year, under most circumstances, when people on Medicare can change their Medicare coverage including prescription drug plans.  “By now,” says USA Today, “people already enrolled in Medicare should have received an Annual Notice of Change from their health insurance providers.  These notices describe any changes to their plans such as the dropping of particular drugs from their prescription drug plan, premium changes and deductibles.” The article reminds readers that, if they are satisfied with their plans, no action is required – although we often advise our clients and radio listeners to get some objective advice before they decide their coverage is really fine “as is.”

USA Today warns readers that “scammers and identity thieves view the open enrollment period as senior citizen hunting season.” This is because seniors, who are generally more trusting and less tech savvy than their younger counterparts, are often trying to make complicated decisions with insufficient information, so anyone calling on the phone claiming to represent the victim’s insurance company, or a caller pretending to be from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will probably command the senior’s attention.

What types of scams are prevalent during open enrollment? One of the most common, says USA Today, is the phone call or email from someone who says they are from CMS telling you that the government is issuing new identification cards. USA Today describes the plot this way: “In order for you to continue receiving benefits, the scam goes, you need to obtain a new card, And to do this, you must provide your Medicare number, which is the same as your Social Security number.” Is this legitimate? Absolutely not.  “This is a total scam,” says the article, “and if you provide your Medicare/ Social Security number to the scammer, you will end up becoming a victim of identity theft.” (The USA Today article does explain that Medicare is in the process of doing away with the practice of using Social Security numbers as Medicare account numbers. However, this process is expected to take several years to complete. Medicare will never call or email their beneficiaries asking for this type of account information, even if the caller ID on your phone shows otherwise. Scam artists know how to create fake caller ID information.)

There are other ways identity thieves will try to steal your personal information during open enrollment. Sometimes they pretend to be from your insurance company asking you to “verify information.”  But once again this is nothing more than a common tactic of identity thieves.  As USA Today reminds us, “Your real insurance company will not be calling you to verify information. However, if you have the slightest concern that the call might be legitimate, you should merely hang up and call your real insurance company.” Use the customer service number that appears on the back of your insurance card. They will confirm whether the initial call was a scam. Also, seniors need to be wary of scammers trying to sell bogus insurance policies or offering free supplies or other services in exchange for your personal information. These are very likely identity thieves in disguise.

At AgingOptions we often tell our clients and radio listeners that the best protection is good information. When it comes to Medicare decisions, we urge you to contact our office and let us recommend an unbiased broker who will evaluate your situation and advise you of your best options. You can be assured that random phone calls or emails asking for personal information or promising offers that seem too good to be true are scams. Hang up or hit “Delete.”

In the same way, when it comes to planning for your retirement, good information is essential. That’s why we hope you’ll take us up on our invitation to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, designed to introduce you to the most comprehensive and thorough approach to retirement planning that we know of: the LifePlan. As we work with you to develop your personal, unique LifePlan, we consider not only your medical coverage but also your financial plans, your legal affairs, your housing choices, even communication with your family members to make certain they understand and support your wishes.  Our seminars are offered in locations throughout the region, and you can attend without obligation. For dates, times and locations, click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website – then register online or call us during the week. Your retirement choices, like your Medicare choices, have consequences. Let us help you make the right ones!

(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)

One in Four Americans Avoids the Most Important Conversation of All

Your loved ones may know how you want to live, but do they have a clue how you want to die someday? You may have a clear understand of how you wish to end your life when that time comes, but according to this recent article on the website HealthDay, more than one-quarter of American seniors have never discussed end of life care with those closest to them. In other words, one senior in four is avoiding the most important conversation any of us should be having!

This was the conclusion from a recent study of more than 2,100 Medicare recipients age 65 and older. Lead author Krista Harrison of the University of California, San Francisco, said that “Despite decades of work to improve advance care planning, over a quarter of older adults have still not engaged in any type of discussion or planning for their end-of-life preferences or plans.”  Here at AgingOptions, we find this statistic sadly predictable. As we always tell our clients, radio listeners and seminar attendees, letting your family members and your health care team know about your wishes is a critical step in retirement planning. If you fail to do so, you place great pressure on your loved ones who have to make decisions under extreme emotional stress without knowing what you would have wanted them to do in such difficult circumstances. You also place yourself in very real danger of having your wishes completely circumvented, perhaps with disastrous consequences. Nevertheless, people avoid the topic.

(We discovered other data that showed even greater levels of avoidance of the subject of end of life wishes. One study said that, while 90% of people agree that this subject is important to discuss among loved ones, barely one quarter have actually done so. What’s worse, said another, while 80% want their doctors to know their end of life wishes in the face of terminal illness, fewer than one in ten have actually had this conversation with their health care team.)

This article about people’s reluctance to discuss their end of life wishes made us wonder how the medical profession views this subject. We found many answers in this highly interesting and relevant article on the website Today’s Geriatric Medicine. While describing the need to talk with patients about end of life care as “critical,” the article revealed how few physicians are actually having this essential conversation with their patients. In spite of national guidelines that urge physicians to conduct regular conversations about end-of-life care planning with seniors and with terminally ill patients, “research suggests that physicians often avoid the subject with patients.” The article cites a 2014 study which found that “only 12% of health care providers reported having end-of-life care conversations with heart failure patients at routine annual visits.” The same is true for cancer patients: the majority of doctors “put off discussion of end-of-life care preferences with terminally ill patients as long as the patients were feeling well.” Instead these physicians tend to wait “until patients became symptomatic or until treatment options were exhausted.” This does a “disservice” to patients and their families.

This paragraph from the Geriatric Medicine web article couldn’t be clearer.  “If patients don’t establish their care preferences and communicate them to health care providers, the default is that patients will receive every available medical intervention as they approach death. This includes interventions that are burdensome to the patient, some of which have a very small chance of making a meaningful difference in the patient’s health. Many patients don’t actually want all such interventions.” The conclusion: “To ensure that a patient’s treatment is consistent with his or her goals for care, it’s critical for physicians to communicate in advance with patients about their care preferences.” The web article strongly suggests these conversations take place months, even years in advance, not when patients “are on the brink of death.” We heartily endorse this idea and believe families should also be more open, honest and proactive about discussing Mom and Dad’s desires concerning end-of-life issues.

Finally, one more note on this topic: the Geriatric Medicine article included a link to a website called The Conversation Project. Its entire purpose is to get people talking about their wishes for end of life care.  The website includes a step-by-step guide to discussing this important yet sensitive topic, an approach you might find helpful. Here at AgingOptions we can also assist in planning a family conference during which the full range of age-related topics is addressed.

So much for planning how to die. What about planning how to live? When it comes to enjoying the retirement you’ve dreamed of, we at AgingOptions are ready to be your guide with a planning process we call LifePlanning. Your LifePlan encompasses medical needs, financial strategies, housing preferences, legal protection and family communication, all in one carefully planned and comprehensive document. Don’t face your retirement years unprepared! Instead, why not take the next step and attend an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar near you? There’s no cost or obligation. In just a few brief hours you’ll gain valuable insight that will help you understand how powerful the LifePlanning concept can be for your future security and enjoyment. For information and online registration click on the Upcoming Events tab, or call us at AgingOptions. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

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

Take the Assessment of Chronic Care to see if your Primary Care Physician is Meeting Your Needs

Many of you know that we, at AgingOptions, encourage you to create a retirement LifePlan that includes health, housing, finances, legal, and family. Good health is an imperative part of having a happy, fulfilling retirement. Although it may be a surprising suggestion, we strongly encourage our clients to search for a “board certified” geriatrician (after they’ve reached the age of 65), or geriatric care clinic, because board certified geriatricians are significantly better at:

  • spotting age-related illnesses
  • managing medications to protect patients from medications that may have adverse effects for those over 65
  • can better coordinate care (not only with regards to specialists, but also for transportation, equipment repairs, and care management providers).

 

Dr. Marty Levine, a board certified geriatrician in Seattle, Washington, is the Medical Director at Iora Primary Care. Iora (www.ioraprimarycare.com) provides centralized services for the needs of people 65 and older on Medicare. Iora has clinics in Central Seattle, Renton, Shoreline, and Federal Way. Their clinics meet the needs of many patients looking for:

  • more time with their doctor
  • providers aware of the specific needs of older adults
  • comprehensive, quality, centralized healthcare

Dr. Levine has provided us with a document to help you discern if your primary care physician is meeting your healthcare needs. By taking this Assessment of Chronic Care, you will be able to identify the areas in which you may need to change your healthcare provider and the areas in which you are sufficiently cared for. If you find that your doctor rarely or never asks appropriate questions or shows little interest in your healthcare goals, it may be time to search for a new physician. This opens the opportunity to search for a “board certified” geriatrician or geriatric care clinic in your area. If you have questions, or want to learn more about why a geriatrician (or geriatric care clinic) is the most effective way to preserve your health, call us. We’ll be happy to assist you to a plan that truly provides the kind of long-term assurance you been seeking for your retirement. Assessment of Chronic Care Questionnaire

To Avoid Devastating Hip Fractures, Seniors Need to Take Precautions

More than 300,000 Americans 65 and older are hospitalized each year for hip fractures. It’s a statistic many of us take for granted. However, because this type of injury is so common among seniors, we might be surprised to learn just how life-changing a hip fracture can be. Tragically, seniors and their families often fail to take proper precautions until it’s too late.

That’s the sobering conclusion from this newly-published article on the website HealthDay. The harsh reality, according to research just released, is that at least half of hip-fracture sufferers “will never return to their former levels of independence and physical activity,” HealthDay reported – in spite of the best hopes of patients and their loved ones. For older seniors (those 85 or older) or seniors suffering from other conditions including dementia, the recovery rate is even lower.

According to Dr. Victoria Tang of the University of California San Francisco, understanding this low recovery rate from hip fracture is important to seniors and those who care for them. “By being able to set realistic expectations of the likelihood of recovery, as family members, we can take steps to plan and prepare for future care needs of the patient,” Tang said. We would add the important fact that the dangers of hip fracture, even for otherwise healthy seniors, makes it imperative that people take preventive steps now in their homes and in their health care to minimize the risk of this devastating injury. More on that in a moment.

In conducting the study, Dr. Tang and her colleagues examined 730 adults over 65 who had sustained a hip fracture. The study evaluated their health before and after the injury. For example, could the patient walk around the block or climb stairs before their hip fracture? Afterwards, could they function independently and perform all the normal activities of daily living? The results were not encouraging. “The researchers found that the likelihood of recovery to the pre-fracture level of function was less than 50 percent regardless of previous ability level,” HealthDay reported. “Even for those who were very physically active before their injury, outcomes were only slightly better.” In other words, being physically healthy is no guarantee that you will avoid long-lasting effects of a fractured hip.

The reasons older adults are at greater risk of a hip fracture are generally well-understood. As we age, our gait (how we walk) changes. Our muscles tend to weaken and we tend to lose bone mass which in turn contributes to osteoporosis. As bones become weaker and more brittle, the hip bone is at greater risk for fracture. Three-fourths of hip fractures happen to women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For us here at AgingOptions, as we advise seniors and their families, there are two major take-aways from an article like this, both of which revolve around the idea of prevention. The first idea is to make sure you or your loved one is staying healthy. Maintaining your strength, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and taking the right supplements can help greatly to reduce your risk of falling, which is the cause of 95 percent of hip fractures. We always recommend as emphatically as possible that seniors consult regularly with a geriatric physician (or geriatrician), a specialist who understands better than any regular doctor the medical needs of aging adults. This type of specialist will be immeasurably helpful as the “quarterback” of your medical team, helping you avoid the pain of unplanned institutional care – something that all too often can be the result from after-effects of a fractured hip. If you’ll call our office we will gladly refer you to a geriatrician in your area.

The second take-away from the HealthDay article is that you as a senior (or as someone caring for an elder adult) need to make certain your home is a safe environment for you to age in place. Improvements can include installation of grab bars, elimination of area rugs that can be trip hazards, and replacement of entry stairs with ramps. Once again, prevention of hip fractures is the key. If you will contact our office we can provide helpful information that will guide you into making your home, or the home of your loved one, safer and more aging-ready.

Guiding you in your retirement planning is our passion here at AgingOptions. As important as your housing choices are, they represent only one facet of a well-rounded retirement plan. If you wish to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to those you love, you’ll need to answer other important questions beyond those pertaining to housing. Are your financial plans fully prepared? Have you taken your legal needs into account? Is your family aware of your wishes? Do you have the right amount and type of medical insurance? All of these become part of what we call a LifePlan, designed to help you enter retirement with confidence. There’s a simple way to explore this concept further: register today to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. In just a few hours you’ll learn valuable information that we promise will help you prepare for retirement in a brand new and more comprehensive way. Register online by clicking the Upcoming Events tab, or call us during the week. It will be a pleasure meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.

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

 

Aging Healthily !

Author: Attorney Julie Hines

It’s common knowledge, even a cliché, to say that staying active is an important part of aging well. We understand that at every point in life, but especially in our later years, it’s healthy to have responsibilities and relationships that keep us going. But self-direction and autonomy may play an even greater role in long-term health and well-being than most people realize.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer has been studying human health and behavior for over 40 years. A prolific researcher with more than 200 published studies to her name, Langer has conducted a number of experiments on factors related to aging. Her findings suggest that treating yourself as healthy and capable, and assuming responsibilities accordingly, counts a great deal toward actually being those things.

In 1976, Langer published a landmark study whose implications still haven’t quite sunk into the public consciousness. She and her team identified two comparable groups of residents in a Connecticut nursing home. Both groups were offered small houseplants as gifts. One group was invited to care for the houseplants themselves, and also encouraged to take advantage of resources, programs, and other opportunities available to them in the nursing home. The other group was told that the staff would take care of their plants for them, and was not invited to seek out opportunities in the nursing home. The idea was to give the first group more responsibilities and control over their environment than the second, and then to examine whether these conditions had any impact on the residents’ health.

The outcomes were striking. According to both self-evaluations and assessments by nursing home staff, the “responsibility-induced” residents felt happier, more active, and more in control of their lives than the comparison group. Three weeks after the start of the experiment, 71% of the non-decision-making group had become more debilitated and infirm—they had aged in the way we traditionally understand aging, namely, as a synonym for ailing and losing control. But in an illuminating contrast, 93% of the decision-making group had either remained in the same condition or actually become healthier. This group had aged, too, of course, but they hadn’t experienced a decline in their quality of life. It seems caring for their plants and taking part in community activities may have made the difference.

What is clear from the houseplant experiment, then, is that having the responsibility and independence to make decisions can significantly improve overall health and well-being. Aging may be inevitable, but trusting oneself to engage in positive activities can make the process smoother and more dignified.

USA Today Offers Step-by-Step Guide to Open Enrollment

As you know if you’re on Medicare (or if this is your first year of being Medicare eligible), the open enrollment period has begun. This is the annual time period (through December 7) when enrollees can change Medicare plans and move between basic Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, with some restrictions. But as we said in a recent Blog article, the options are confusing, which means many people who should consider making changes in their plans decide to leave things the way they are, simply to avoid the hassle of evaluating their choices.

If this describes you, you may find this just-published article from USA Today helpful. It provides a step-by-step method of analyzing Medicare Advantage plans. Medicare Advantage plans are the privately-run insurance policies which a growing number of seniors are purchasing instead of relying on traditional Medicare. While Medicare remains the choice of more than two-thirds of eligible seniors, Medicare Advantage plans now attract more than 17.5 million policy holders, drawn by what seems to be better coverage at lower cost. If you’re considering the options available to you through various Medicare Advantage plans and carriers, the USA Today article may be a good place to start. Even if you think you’re happy with the plan you have, says the article, “knowing all your options can’t hurt.”

(And as always, if you’d like to talk with us about your options, please contact us during the week. Deciding between medical plans is an important decision – and a confusing one. We can assist you with the evaluation process and refer you to Medicare experts who will provide advice that is unbiased, objective and professional.)

The place to begin, says USA Today, is on Medicare’s official Medicare Plan Finder. You’ll start your search simply by entering your zip code, which allows the site to list plans in your area. Here’s an important suggestion from the article: in your initial search, says Patricia Barry of AARP, skip the prescription drug listing which the site will ask you for. Barry explains that entering drugs first can “distort the results” by showing the “best” plans as those with lowest drug costs, even if they charge more for doctor’s visits and hospital stays.  Instead, go ahead with your search and enter your prescriptions at the end of the process.

Second, compare costs and benefits side by side. The site will show all the plans available in your area with detailed charges. You’ll also be able to zero in on plans that offer dental, hearing and vision coverage if those are important to you. You’ll want to pay special attention to the choice between a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). The HMO, says USA Today, is the choice of 64 percent of enrollees, partly because coverage costs less, but most HMO’s have more restrictions on the doctors covered under the plan. Some HMO’s will refuse to pay for any out-of-network doctor’s visits, except for emergencies. One big question to ask: Is your doctor covered under the plan you’re considering? The quickest way to find out is to call his or her office. Remember, plans change from year to year, so it’s worth double checking.

Now you’ve probably narrowed your choices to a relative few, so enter your prescriptions into your search. The remaining plans listed are your finalists, says USA Today. Medicare uses a one-to-five star rating system which evaluates policies “based on several measures, such as benefits, customer satisfaction, and how well the plan manages chronic conditions.” According to Medicare consultant Kip Piper, quoted in USA Today, “the rating system is new and isn’t perfect,” but nevertheless Piper recommends shooting for a plan with at least a 3.5 star rating. Should you decide to enroll, there’s an “ENROLL” button right next to each policy choice. USA Today says that Medicare (or your current company if you’re changing coverage) will be notified automatically of your new plan. It’s that simple and straightforward.

Believe it or not, planning for your retirement can be simple and straightforward, if you have the right guide helping you through the process. That’s our specialty at AgingOptions, and we are eager to assist you as you prepare for the retirement future you’ve always hoped for. Can you protect your assets, avoid unplanned institutional care, and never find yourself becoming a burden to those you love? With the right plan – a LifePlan – in place, the answer is yes. Your LifePlan, prepared with our guidance and assistance, helps ensure that your finances are sound, your legal affairs are in order, your housing choices are right for you, your health insurance is in place and your family is supportive of your wishes. Imagine the peace of mind such a plan will bring!

No doubt you’ve thought about retirement planning. Now isn’t it time to take the next step? To find out more about LifePlanning, register today for a free LifePlanning Seminar, held in locations throughout the Puget Sound area. Click on the Upcoming Events tab, where you’ll find dates, times, locations and online registration. Or call our office and we’ll be glad to assist you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar in your community.

(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)