Medicaid Coverage of Nursing Home Care: Who Qualifies, Who Doesn’t

On our radio program and in our seminars, one of categories of questions we receive most frequently involves Medicaid.  This social health care program for individuals and families with limited means has been around since 1965, and it’s true that many changes have been enacted through the years. Yet the level of misunderstanding and misinformation about Medicaid continues to surprise us.

For a good, straightforward primer on Medicaid, we suggest this recently updated article on the website Caring.com. It explains some of the basics of the Medicaid program including what it covers and who qualifies. But be advised that this article is not specific to Washington State, and since Medicaid is a state-administered program, each state has its own set of rules. (We found plenty of detailed information about Washington’s regulations here on the website of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.)

Before we dive into this topic, let us remind you from the outset that here at AgingOptions our professional staff members have many, many years of experience in dealing with the twists and turns of Medicaid. Once you’ve read the Caring.com article we’re certain you’ll still have questions, because this is a complex subject. We urge you to contact us, or to attend one of our LifePlanning Seminars so we can answer more of your Medicaid questions in person. You’ll find seminar information at the end of this article.

First, let’s consider the bare bones of Medicaid – what it is and what it does. It’s a federal program, administered by each state, which pays long-term nursing home costs for people with low income and almost no assets. In order to qualify for Medicaid, a person has to be unable to care for himself or herself at home, and he or she has to meet the state’s stringent income and asset requirements. These requirements differ significantly depending on whether the person seeking Medicaid coverage is single or married. Under Medicaid, a person can move into any level of nursing home that will accept them – but as you’ll discover when you start searching, the availability of Medicaid beds is sometimes strictly limited, and you may find far fewer options open to you or your loved one that you had expected.

Some people get confused because they have heard that Medicare also covers nursing home care. This is a misunderstanding based on a partial truth. Medicare does cover some forms of rehabilitative care in a skilled nursing center – for example, if you need to be in a nursing home for a short stay while recovering from surgery. But this coverage is strictly limited, with plenty of restrictions: it typically kicks in only after hospitalization and generally can last no longer than 100 days. By contrast, with Medicaid (unlike Medicare) the patient is not required to have come from a hospital stay in order to qualify, and he or she is not required to be housed in a skilled nursing center. With Medicaid, once a person qualifies and assuming their circumstances remain unchanged, there’s no limit to how long his or her coverage will continue. Medicaid pays the full costs of room and board plus any therapies that are part of resident care, along with other personal services. There are no co-payments to make. For many people who lack other options, the Medicaid program is the only program that allows them to live securely, in relative safety with some degree of dignity, albeit with new frills.

What often disqualifies a person from Medicaid coverage is the simple fact that they have too much money. The rules can get complex, so we encourage you to contact us to review your specific circumstances, but the basic requirement for a single person is that you have no more than $2,000 in total assets to your name in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage. For married people the rules are different: the spouse of the person needing care can have a home, a car, clothing and personal effects and a higher amount of savings on hand.  A decade ago when one of our own family members needed to go on Medicaid, her husband was permitted $40,000 in savings and he retained his own Social Security and pension income, but his wife’s Social Security check went straight to the nursing home to help pay for her care. As we said, each situation can be unique and the rules can change from year to year.

If the asset requirements are so stringent, some people still ask, why can’t I simply give my money and other possessions away before claiming Medicaid coverage? The answer is what’s called the Five-Year Lookback. Medicaid will examine your finances once you apply, and if they discover that you have transferred assets any time within five years of your application, coverage will be denied or delayed.  The short answer is, you need to prepare ahead of time.

So, will Medicaid be the right solution for you? The answer is, “perhaps” – but with Medicaid, as with all aspects of retirement, it is absolutely essential that you plan ahead. Waiting until you need the coverage before getting your financial affairs in order is a serious and costly mistake. This is yet another area of retirement where you need expert advice – the kind you can count on from the professional staff at AgingOptions.  Your best bet is to plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars where we go over all aspects of retirement planning: medical needs, including long-term care coverage; financial plans to protect your assets; housing options, to make sure you are never a burden to those you love; the legal protection your estate requires; and how best to communicate your wishes to your family. To register online for the seminar of your choice, click here, or contact us during the week.

Don’t let fear or confusion about Medicaid – or any other aspect of retirement – make you fearful or discouraged. Contact AgingOptions today. You’ll be very glad you did.

(originally reported at www.caring.com)

It’s Official: Doctors Admit that Drugs Can’t Fix Most People’s Back Pain

Do you suffer from lower back pain? If you do, you’re definitely not alone. Medical studies have shown that nearly seven out of eight adults suffer periodically with this painful condition, and for about 23 percent of adults lower back pain is considered “chronic” which means it lasts 12 weeks or more. Lower back pain is one of the top reasons people see their doctor and one of the main causes for people missing work.

Because we’re no strangers to lower back pain ourselves, we were intrigued by this recent article on the news website Vox that presented a stark fact: not only are physicians still in the dark about what causes nonspecific lower back pain, but they’re finally admitting that the drug treatments and painkillers they’ve been prescribing all these years don’t work. The article is called “Doctors finally admit drugs can’t fix most cases of back pain,” and it refers to a recently released set of recommendations from the American College of Physicians.  “America’s doctors have finally admitted it,” says Vox. “Their pharmaceutical tools to treat one of their patients’ most common ailments don’t work.” In fact, the article suggests, “drugs should often be the last line of treatment” for nonspecific lower back pain.

Before we dive further into this article, let us be clear up front that our purpose here at AgingOptions is not to impart medical information particular to your situation. For that you definitely need the advice of a qualified physician who knows you and your physiology well. We highly recommend you seek out and hire a geriatrician to be your medical “quarterback,” someone who understands the medical realities of senior adults. Contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a qualified geriatric physician in your area. It could be one of the most important calls you ever make. Instead, this article talks about the kind of common back pain that periodically nails just about everybody.

According to Vox, nonspecific lower back pain is the type that has no discernible cause such as tumors, pinched nerves, osteoporosis and fractures – just a few of the detectable triggers for back pain. Most lower back pain sufferers can’t point to a specific cause – they just know they hurt. Doctors have theorized about several possible contributing links to lower back pain, including obesity and smoking, but the actual cause is both complicated and elusive. Doctors are now increasingly realizing that a big part of the underlying cause is seldom just physical – it’s often psychological and emotional, aggravated by depression, anxiety and stress.

Here’s a tidbit of information we found particularly revealing. Sometimes a sufferer with lower back pain is sent to get an MRI, and the scan seems to reveal a physiological problem, but it may not be that simple.  “In patients who have nearly identical results from an imaging test like an MRI, those who are depressed or unsatisfied with their jobs tend to have worse back pain than people who aren’t.” For this reason, says the Vox article, doctors don’t generally recommend an MRI for cases of lower back pain because they can lead to misdiagnosis and overtreatment, often with drugs that can be addictive (such as opioids).

So what does work? Anyone who has suffered with lower back can tell you that relief is hard to come by. But the American College of Physicians does have some recommendations, starting with heat therapy as what they call “a first line of defense.” After that, you might want to try massage therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic manipulation, but as Vox puts it “the evidence isn’t as strong for these alternatives.”  The best outcomes appear to result from a combination of exercise and stress-reduction. If you feel you need a painkiller, ibuprofen seems to work best, but you’ll want to check with your physician since too much ibuprofen can create health problems in some people. Also, for most people, lower back pain tends to resolve over time, so it may be best, if you can, to go about your normal routine and have patience. Typically the discomfort tends to subside – gradually

Here at AgingOptions our goal is to help seniors enjoy a happy, healthy, fulfilling retirement. Getting the right health care, staying active, controlling your weight and avoiding injury are obvious steps you can take to keep you on the right track medically. But planning for your retirement means far more than meeting your medical needs with good health and the right insurance. Your financial plan has to be well crafted to make sure your assets are protected in your retirement. You’ll need to make certain you’re fully protected with the right legal preparation. You’ll want to plan ahead to ensure you choose the right housing options to match your needs and preferences. You’ll want to know that your family is completely on board with your wishes, too. Is there a retirement plan that weaves these elements together?

Happily the answer is yes – with an AgingOptions LifePlan. You owe it to yourself to find out more about this breakthrough in comprehensive retirement planning, and you can do that with no obligation. Simply take a few hours and attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Click here to select and register for the seminar of your choice,  or contact us and we’ll be glad to assist you.

(originally reported at www.vox.com)

Secret to Weight Loss: Try These 10 Simple Tips and Stick With It!

So the New Year, 2017, isn’t so “new” anymore, is it? February is more than half gone already – and we suspect some of your New Year’s Resolutions have faded away by now as well. But if one of your resolutions was to lose weight, don’t be discouraged. We have some good news for you: one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off is to make modest, healthy changes in your eating habits and then stick with them over time. The results may not be quick, but for most of us the weight will come off – and best of all, it will tend to stay off.

So if your weight loss goals are still elusive, don’t give up. Instead, we invite you to click on this link for a very recent, very helpful article we found on the website of Time magazine. It’s called “10 Easy Ways to Slash Calories,” and since almost everyone we know is trying to do just that, we expect you’ll find it helpful. In the words of the Time article, “Cutting a few calories here and there won’t show up on the scale immediately, but making consistent changes will.” Best of all, you can implement these ten tips and “sidestep excess calories throughout your day—without missing them at all.” Let’s take a look at what Time recommends.

Tip number one makes sense but might require some adjustment: get into the habit of drinking your coffee or tea plain. The journal Public Health recently reported that leaving out the cream, sugar and other flavorings from your coffee saves about 69 calories a day, and over time that can add up, especially in combination with these other suggestions.

The second tip also begins in the morning: switch to a high fiber breakfast cereal. For starters, fiber makes you feel fuller faster so you’ll eat less. But the benefit lasts way past breakfast: a 2015 study (sponsored, of course, by Quaker Oats) showed that people who ate oatmeal for breakfast consumed almost one-third fewer calories at lunch than those who ate sugary cereal.

What about soda? Nutrition experts are sounding the alarm with ever greater urgency that the calories in those sugary drinks, combined with the effect of the sugar itself, can be a nutritional disaster for those trying to lose weight. Some studies suggest that diet soda isn’t much better. Instead, if plain water isn’t satisfying enough, Time says to try sparkling water (unsweetened). It’s a great choice, refreshing and calorie-free.

Are you getting the idea? Small changes, especially combined with other small changes, can produce big results. Here are a few more. If you eat protein throughout the day, you’re not only less likely to get hungry but you’re also less likely to succumb to the temptation to indulge in mid-afternoon sweets like a candy bar or other sugary snack. Some great sources of protein include nuts, seeds, lean meat, soy and dairy. But be careful with so-called “healthy” snacks like flavored yogurt which – even in low-fat form – is usually loaded with sugar. And when you decide to “go healthy” by having a salad for lunch, beware of the last several items on the salad bar: the bacon bits, croutons, extra cheese and fat-filled dressings.  These add-ons can quickly turn your wise choice into a dietary disaster.

We won’t go through all ten diet tips – once again, the link to the Time article is here – but let us summarize a few more that all have to do with cooking meals at home. Did you know, for example, that a cleaner kitchen can cause you to eat less? “When it feels like everything around you is cluttered and chaotic,” Time magazine writes, “keeping your diet under control may seem like less of a priority.”  Instead, researchers at Cornell University discovered in a 2016 study that “women who spent 10 minutes in a messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies”  than women who spent time in a kitchen that was clean and organized. And speaking of cooking at home, this is one habit that helps you cut calories. “A 2015 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that people who cooked dinner six or seven nights a week consumed about 150 calories fewer per day than those who cooked once a week or less, says Time. When you eat at home you not only consume fewer calories but you tend to make healthier eating choices.

So if losing weight remains high on your To Do list, read the Time article and try some of these tips. But maybe your hopes for 2017 are more substantial. Maybe this is the year you’ve decided you need to finally get your retirement plan in place. If that’s the case we have the perfect solution for you: there’s no better way to get started with the process of retirement planning that to attend one of our free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars.

LifePlanning is the term we use to describe our truly comprehensive approach to this complex topic. Too many so-called experts think a financial plan is all you need, but they’re wrong. Finances are vitally important in retirement, but so is your need for legal preparation. So is your decision about the right housing choice for you as you age. Your medical coverage is a critical issue, both for the short term and the long term. And what about your family? You need to know that those closest to you are aware and supportive of your wishes as you age. These five facets of retirement – financial, legal, housing, medical and family – need to work together for your plan to be successful, and with a LifePlan they will.

To find out more about LifePlanning, take a few hours and attend an upcoming seminar. There’s no obligation whatsoever.  For upcoming dates, times, locations and online registration, simply click here, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to seeing you!

(originally reported at www.time.com)

Some Helpful Tips for Daily Life with a Loved One Who Has Dementia

Are you living with loved one who is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia? If you are, then you are suffering, too. Living with a parent or spouse whose mental capacity is deteriorating is one of the most painful, stressful, frustrating things a person can do. Besides the personal family experience we’ve had with this struggle, we hear many times each week from caregivers asking us for suggestions on what to do when the person they love is in severe cognitive decline. Because this is such an important topic, we were drawn to this recent article on an Australian website called Starts at 60. It’s titled “Living with a Loved One Who Has Dementia,” and while the article is pretty basic, it does contain a few valuable suggestions that might help you overcome some of the frustration you feel as a caregiver.

The article quotes aging expert Lisa Hee who suggests that it’s probably not so important to try to get your loved one to get their facts straight when communicating with them. Constantly correcting them about names, places and dates may only provoke more confusion and irritation. What’s worse, she writes, every time you try to correct your loved one it will seem to them like they’re hearing this information for the first time. Chances are that’s only going to compound the communication problem.

Instead, the best way to cope may be to “leave your loved one in their happy place” by going with the flow of their thoughts. For example, she states, “If they remember their life from ten years ago, then talk about life as it was then.”   This may calm them down and reassure them, and you’re more likely to keep them talking if you try to meet them, not in the reality of the moment, but in the reality of their own perception.

Another good idea from the article is to surround your loved one with personal items from various times in their lives.  This not only gives you something to talk about, but it also helps other caregivers and nursing home staff learn more about your loved one so their lives take on color, meaning and significance. A chronological photo album is a great tool to accomplish this, especially one that includes pictures of things your loved one might recognize – an old car, for example – or houses where they lived, or familiar landmarks from their home town.

We wanted to know more about this topic so we went to this extremely helpful page on the information-rich website of the Alzheimer’s Association. The heading on this particular page is “Tips for Daily Life,” and it takes a unique perspective: these tips are written for the person with dementia. We think caregivers will find it extremely helpful, too. As promised it lists many insightful ideas, including some “coping strategies” from people who are actually living with Alzheimer’s. We strongly suggest you visit this page if you need fresh encouragement and inspiration in your role as a caregiver. Here are just a few of the ideas on how those with dementia can better cope with challenges of daily living.

First, someone with dementia needs to set realistic daily goals, and this is where you as a caregiver can help. Your loved one should focus only on what he or she can accomplish and be willing to ask for help when they require it. Keep expectations realistic.

Second, someone with dementia needs a daily routine. Again, as a caregiver you can help give their day greater predictability by assisting them in deciding what needs to be done each day and how long it should take. Then do those things in sequence. For someone with dementia, predictability is reassuring – they can tend to become fearful or uneasy when faced with sudden changes or surprises.

Third, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests those with dementia need to learn to approach one task at a time. Don’t get stuck, they say, if a task is too difficult – take a break and try again later. As a caregiver you can help redirect your loved one’s attention away from a frustrating task and toward something where they can succeed. Every small victory builds confidence.

There are more valuable ideas, but we like this final suggestion: “Use your sources of strength.” If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, you are certainly one of those sources of strength for your loved one, but there are others, including family, friends, prayer, even a beloved pet. As a caregiver, help your loved one see that he or she is not going through this journey alone. At AgingOptions we always say that aging is a family affair, and nowhere is that more true than when dealing with the effects of dementia.

Of course, the most important thing all of us need to remember as we age is that we need a solid plan for the future if we’re going to have the type of retirement we’ve always hoped for. Like most people, we’re certain you want to protect your assets in retirement. You don’t want to be forced into institutional care against your will, and you don’t want to become a burden to those you love. Is there a way to plan ahead so that your wishes will be fulfilled? Fortunately, the answer is a confident “yes.” We call our unique concept for retirement planning “LifePlanning.” LifePlanning is uniquely comprehensive because it takes into account all the critical aspects of your retirement future – your financial security, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical needs and your family support. A LifePlan is your blueprint to help you build the retirement of your dreams.

It’s easy to learn more, so we invite you to invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll find a list of current seminar dates and locations here. Once you’ve made your choice of locations, you can register online or contact us for further details and assistance. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to help guide you into a more secure and fruitful future.

(originally reported at www.alz.org and https://startsat60.com)

 

Study Shows Seniors Face Health Decline When They Stop Driving

Among the “hot button” issues that create conflicts between seniors and their family members, one of the hottest can involve driving. Older adults generally want to keep on driving as long as they can, enjoying the benefits of freedom and mobility. Meanwhile their adult children worry about slower reflexes, cognitive decline or increased reaction time, all potentially dangerous when Mom or Dad gets behind the wheel. (We wrote about the issue of cognitive decline and its effect on driving safety here on the AgingOptions Blog in this article we published just a few weeks ago.)  The topic of when and how to take away the car keys comes up frequently in conversations with clients and radio listeners.

But there’s another side to this issue. We’ve just discovered this recent article on a website called Knowridge Science Report that presents a side of the driving story we frankly hadn’t heard much about.  The article is based on an extensive research project conducted by Columbia University. The study found an unfortunate side effect to giving up driving: for many seniors it marks the beginning of rapid physical and emotional decline. The article is called “Health goes downhill when older adults stop driving.”

This is important information for any loved one involved in persuading a parent to give up their car. While you may be improving their physical safety and that of others by getting them off the road, you had better prepare yourself for some potentially negative consequences.

According to the Knowridge article, there are more than 29 million American adults 65 and older, and about 80 percent of those are still licensed, active drivers. From our teenage years, Americans are conditioned to equate driving with freedom, independence and control. So when a senior has to give up driving privileges, their sense of control over their life can diminish or disappear along with the driver’s license. As the Knowridge article states, Columbia University researchers surveyed the results of16 separate studies of adults 55 and older and made a stark discovery:  “Data showed that older adults experienced faster declines in cognitive function and physical health after stopping driving.”

As if these negative effects weren’t bad enough, researchers also noted that, when older adults stopped driving their own vehicle, the size of their social network – friends and relatives with whom they stay in close face to face contact – shrinks by roughly 50 percent. At a time of life when socializing is particularly important, seniors find they are losing their ability to engage with others as their circle of friends shrinks.  Researchers even found that those who have been forced to give up their driving privileges are nearly five times more likely as current drivers to be institutionalized, even after adjusting the data to compensate for marital status and other factors.

Why does the loss of driving privileges trigger faster emotional and physical decline?  One Columbia professor who co-authored the study explained that losing the ability to drive means seniors become less mobile and potentially more house-bound. “As older ex-drivers begin substituting outside activities with indoor activities around the home, these activities may not be as beneficial to physical functioning as working or volunteering on the outside.” This means that those closest to a senior who can no longer drive need to pay special attention to keeping their aging loved one active and engaged.

Is your parent or loved one showing signs of age-related physical or cognitive decline? Are you worried whenever they get behind the wheel and take to the road? It is certainly time for a heart to heart conversation about your concerns for their safety and the safety of others. But as the Knowridge article demonstrates, this difficult issue is fraught with conflicting considerations. As part of our services here at AgingOptions, we can offer to host a family conference in our office where everyone involved can gather in a neutral setting with our trained professional staff as moderators and facilitators. We strongly recommend this type of family conference as a means of clearing the air regarding a whole host of issues that have the potential to create family conflict in the future. After all, aging is a family affair, and the sooner you all get on the same page, the better.

We would also add that the sooner you get a fully-developed retirement plan in place, the better – and that’s why we urge you to investigate the service we call LifePlanning. A LifePlan is a unique and comprehensive type of retirement plan in which all aspects of your retirement living – financial security, legal affairs, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication – fit together like pieces of a puzzle. We invite you to learn just how powerful LifePlanning can be for you and those you love. Invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, scheduled in locations throughout the area. For dates, times, locations and online registration, click the link, or contact us during the week. Let us be your guide as you chart the course for the retirement future you’ve dreamed of. We’ll see you soon!

(originally reported at https://knowridge.com)

Is Sitting in a Sauna Good for Seniors? Experts say “It Depends”

Almost everything these days seems to come with “good news, bad news” warnings. Red wine is good for you but too much can lead to alcohol abuse. Dark chocolate is good for you but too much sugar ruins your metabolism. And it seems as though every week there’s a new study out about either the wonderful benefits or the frightful risks of caffeine consumption. It almost makes you afraid to order that double tall latte!

Now comes another mixed report about something many seniors – especially Scandinavians – enjoy: sitting in a sauna. First, let’s look at the good news. No less an authority than health and wellness guru Dr. Oz has just published a related article on his website which suggests that using a sauna can actually lower one’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The article describes a comprehensive study just completed that tracked 2,300 respondents, all males, for over 20 years. Researchers from a university in Finland, a nation where sauna use is a national pastime, began with men who were in the age range of 42 to 60 at the start of the study and monitored their health for more than two decades. These researchers discovered that those Finnish men who visited a sauna four to seven times per week were at least 66 percent less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, than their counterparts in the study who used a sauna only once per week.

That’s a huge difference in outcomes. But why should it be so, researchers wondered? Or as the Dr. Oz article stated it, “What does sweating in a sauna have to do with our brains?” According to one of the senior researchers on the study, sitting in a super-hot sauna causes your heart rate to rise much like it does when you exercise. This doctor told Reuters News Service, “After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases.”

So that means all of us aging boomers should head for the nearest sauna and sweat our way to better health, right? Not so fast. The Dr. Oz article didn’t mention some of the potential downside – the bad news – that can be linked to using a sauna, especially for seniors and for those not used to spending time in such an enclosed, heated place. For the rest of the story we turned to this article published back in 2015 on the health website Livestrong.com.  The article lists some of the risks of both saunas and steam rooms, and applies to all adults and not just seniors. But some of the cautions are particularly relevant to older adults.

The Livestrong article begins by listing some of the obvious benefits of sitting in the heat, including stress reduction, pain relief and muscle relaxation. But the article warns people not to overdo it –  you should spend 15 to 20 minutes in a sauna or steam room at most, and leave immediately if you start to feel dizzy or nauseous. Also, because dehydration is a particular risk, people using a sauna should drink at least two to four glasses of water right after leaving the sauna to replace lost body fluids.

According to the Livestrong article, there are a host of very real, potential cardiovascular dangers linked with using a sauna.  According to the American Heart Association, those with high blood pressure should be careful about using a sauna or steam room. “The sauna’s heat causes your heart rate to go up and makes your blood vessels dilate,” says the article, “which can cause chest pain or shortness of breath.” Heart experts say it’s generally safe to use a steam room if your blood pressure is under control, but you should get out immediately if you start to feel uncomfortable. However, the Heart Association warns that if you’ve recently suffered a heart attack, you should skip using steam rooms or saunas altogether, and anyone with cardiac or blood pressure risks should avoid the extreme heat/extreme cold regimen some sauna advocates like to employ – like those Finns who leave the sauna and jump into the snow!

Seniors also need to pay special attention to the effects of alcohol or prescription drugs when using a sauna or steam room. Never spend time in a sauna when drugs or alcohol might make you drowsy or otherwise impair your judgment. It could be a fatal mistake.

Our bottom line when it comes to deciding whether a sauna session is right for you is to check with your geriatric specialist and ask him or her for their advice. A geriatrician is an expert in senior health and is the medical specialist best equipped to give you medical advice that is right for someone in your age group. Contact us here at AgingOptions if you would like a referral to a geriatrician in your area.

Medical questions such as those we’ve just discussed are important when planning for your retirement. In fact, maintaining your physical health through proper medical care, and making sure you have the right kind of medical insurance, is a critical component of good retirement planning. But it’s not the only factor you need to consider. What about your finances – do you have a sound financial plan in place? Are your legal affairs completely in order? Have you considered the housing options that are best for you? Are your family members fully informed and supportive of your retirement wishes? We know of only one type of retirement plan that encompasses all these elements, and that is a LifePlan from AgingOptions. With your LifePlan in place, you can face your retirement future with confidence and peace of mind. We’ve made it especially easy to learn more about LifePlanning and that’s by attending one of our highly popular LifePlanning Seminars, offered absolutely free in locations throughout the area. Won’t you join us for a seminar near you? Simply click here for seminar dates, times and locations and register online, or call us and we’ll be glad to assist you.

(originally reported at www.livestrong.com and www.drozthegoodlife.com)

Study Shows Sedentary Lifestyle Greatly Increases Dementia Risk

When considering the causes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, which is more to blame – genetics or lifestyle? A new Canadian study from McMaster University seems to indicate that both can play a major role, and this study sounds a loud warning for seniors who have settled into a sedentary lifestyle. The message is simple: you need to get moving.

We found this very interesting article here, on the website Science Daily. The title should get the attention of any and all seniors (and their loved ones) who want to maintain their cognitive health as long as possible as they age. The headline warns, “Couch potatoes face the same chance of dementia as those with genetic risk factors.” In the article, we learn of a major research study that tracked 1,600 Canadian adults for a five year period. The study, whose findings were recently published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, “shed new light on the relationship between genes, lifestyle risk factors, and dementia.”

Doctors conducting the study compared adults with a known genetic predisposition for dementia to adults with no genetic risks but whose lifestyle was sedentary, marked by a general lack of physical activity. The outcome was striking. Scientists found that, while certain genetic markers can increase dementia risk, if you’re living an inactive life it might not matter whether you have healthy genes or not.  “The important message here is that being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes,” says Jennifer Heisz, an assistant professor McMaster University and co-author of the study.

According to the Science Daily article, the number of adults living with some form of dementia is large and increasing – from almost 48 million worldwide today to more than 150 million in the next 25 years. Anyone who has cared for a loved one with dementia knows the terrible toll this affliction exacts on spouses, adult children and other family members. Prevention of dementia ranks near the top of the priority list, not only for seniors and their families but also for society at large. According to a RAND Corporation study conducted a few years ago, the estimated annual cost to society of dementia care in the U.S. ranges between $160 billion and $215 billion, making the disease more costly than either heart disease or cancer. Everyone has a stake in reducing the incidence and severity of dementia.

“With no known cure,” says the article, “there is an urgent need to explore, identify and change lifestyle factors that can reduce dementia risk, say researchers.” But part of the problem is that investigators have not yet determined what types of exercise and other activity might be most effective in keeping the brain healthy. As Barbara Fenesi of McMaster University, lead author of the dementia study, explained, “A physically active lifestyle helps the brain operate more effectively. However, if a physician were to ask us today what type of exercise to prescribe for a patient to reduce the risk of dementia, the honest answer is ‘we really don’t know’.”

But perhaps the specifics aren’t the important thing. If you’re interested in keeping your own mind working as well as possible for as long as possible, or if it’s your spouse or aging loved one you’re concerned about, you have nothing to lose and potentially a great deal to gain by staying physically active. You may need to check with a physician – hopefully a geriatrician – before you embark on any exercise regimen, but the important thing is to get moving. Research seems to demonstrate that a combination of physical activity and social engagement is a good prescription for a healthier mind and a healthier body. So the moral of this story is: get up and get going. Don’t be a couch potato!

There’s another kind of inactivity we see all too often, and that’s the lack of action on the part of too many seniors when it comes to retirement planning. Complacency is almost always a recipe for retirement catastrophe, yet many people enter their retirement years having done no planning whatsoever, almost guaranteeing that their retirement years will be filled with stress and disappointment. Do you want to protect your assets in retirement? Do you want to avoid unplanned institutional care? Are you determined never to be a burden to your loved ones? If the answer is “yes,” then a good, solid, comprehensive retirement plan is the solution.

We have the answer – an approach to retirement planning we call LifePlanning. With your LifePlan in place, you can enter retirement with a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that all aspects of retirement – finances, legal affairs, medical needs, housing choices, and family relationships – have been included in your plan. A LifePlan is the blueprint you’ll need to build the retirement of your dreams. If you’re interested in finding out more, let us invite you to join us for a free LifePlanning Seminar, an information-packed session offered without obligation in locations throughout the region. For dates, times, locations and online registration, simply click here – or contact us for assistance during the week.

We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!

(originally reported at https://sciencedaily.com)

Study Shows Even Mild Cognitive Impairment Makes Driving Dangerous

As if the discussion about when an aging adult needs to stop driving weren’t difficult enough, along comes a new Canadian research study showing the added dangers of driving with even mild cognitive impairment. Everyone knows that seniors with signs of significant memory loss should never get behind the wheel. Now it appears even those whose cognitive impairment is in its earliest stages may also pose a risk to themselves and other motorists – a risk they’re probably not even aware of.

We found this current article on a website called The Oldish (www.theoldish.com). It points to a relatively small yet significant study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto which compared the driving skills of 20 healthy seniors against 24 seniors with what researchers called “mild” cognitive impairment – those displaying early signs of memory loss.  The results were sobering. According to the web article, “Those with mild impairment made more than twice as many driving errors than the healthy group.” The most common mistakes included “turning left with oncoming traffic and crossing the center line or straying from the legal driving lane,” all potentially dangerous, even disastrous driving blunders.

“Driving requires quick thinking, careful attention, memory and decision making which can be impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” writes the author. However, and surprisingly, “there are (currently) no recognized means of assessing the safety of people driving with mild cognitive impairment.” This seems to put the onus on families to decide when it’s time for Mom or Dad to turn in their keys – a challenging conversation under the best of circumstances.

Based on our years of experience here at AgingOptions, this decision regarding older people continuing to drive seems especially hard here in America, where for a century we have had a prolonged love affair with the automobile. Getting your driver’s license is the ultimate rite of passage for most American teens. Driving is associated with freedom and independence – so being forced to stop driving is seen by most seniors as the ultimate proof of their decline, dependence and approaching end of life. No wonder many hold onto this privilege tenaciously.

In the words of the article on The Oldish website, “When seniors should stop driving or be forced to stop driving is a complex question that often polarizes older adults and their families or caregivers.” This issue is exacerbated in many communities by a shortage of viable alternatives to driving. “Reliable, affordable transportation is one of the most pressing concerns of seniors aging in place who wish to remain active members of their community without becoming socially isolated.” For that reason, if your parent or loved one needs to stop driving themselves around, you may need to help them come up with other options. “Family or friends can assist seniors in developing a list of alternative transportation options to help alleviate some of the fears and frustration surrounding stopping driving.”

Finally, this helpful article includes a link to the Dementia and Driving Resource Center on the website of the Alzheimer’s Association (for your convenience we’re also providing a link here). This site can help you determine how and when to approach a loved one whose cognitive impairment is adding to the danger when they take to the road. There’s a complete list of specific warning signs the Alzheimer’s Association website, but here’s a taste:  when driving, does your parent or loved one sometimes forget their destination or how to get there? Do they seem confused, making slow decisions, driving at inappropriate speeds, or using poor lane control? Do they become unusually angry when driving? Do they ever confuse the brake and gas pedal? Do they frequently hit curbs or make errors at intersections? Any of these, singly or in combination, should trigger a warning.

Here at AgingOptions our commitment is to help you with all the decisions you need to make as you plan for a healthy and fruitful retirement. If you need to hold a family discussion about issues such as the ones set forth in this article, we can advise you. Aging, as we always say, is a family affair, and that means part of the planning process entails making certain those closest to you understand and support your wishes in retirement. What’s more, thanks to a strategy we call LifePlanning, we can help you navigate virtually all the challenges of retirement, including your health care planning, your optimum choices for housing, your path to financial security, and your need for legal safeguards to maximize the protection of your estate. LifePlanning is the best way we know to enjoy the kind of retirement you’ve always hoped for.

It’s easy to take the next step and find out more: simply invest a few hours and attend a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar in your area. You’ll come away with a brand new perspective on the power of a solid LifePlan for your future. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or contact us during the week. We’re looking forward to seeing you at a seminar soon.

(originally reported at www.theoldish.com)

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)