You’re Not Ready to Retire Until You’ve Answered This Key Question

So you think you’re ready for retirement? You have your financial plan in place and you’re pretty certain you know what you need to know about Medicare and Social Security? That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. This recent article on the financial website Kiplinger tells us that no one is really ready to retire until they’ve asked and answered this key question: “What do I want the next chapter of my life to look like?”

We like this article, written by financial expert Barbara Shapiro, because it echoes something we tell our clients, seminar guests and radio listeners repeatedly: you’ll never achieve the type of retirement you’ve dreamed about unless you have a plan. What’s more, the kind of planning that will get you where you want to go takes time and careful thought. As Shapiro writes, “The majority of clients who are happily retired spent a great deal of time thinking and planning for it.” She says she asks her clients who are in their 60’s if they have given retirement any thought. “Most of them have,” says Shapiro, “but are having difficulty formulating a plan.”

Part of the planning problem, the Kiplinger article suggests, is that many people concentrate on the “mechanics” of retirement (typically financial) without spending enough time thinking and talking about the “emotions” of retirement. Most of us are so used to working at our regular jobs that it’s a challenge to imagine what life will be like when we no longer have to pick up the briefcase or punch the time clock. That’s why when Barbara Shapiro’s clients want to know when they can “afford to retire” – the question on the lips of many retirees – she first has them discuss and answer some fairly “touchy-feely” questions, such as:

  • Describe what you envision yourself doing the first week of retirement. How does it make you feel?
  • If you’re married, how does your spouse feel about retiring?
  • Do you want to stay in your home or move?
  • Do you want to live in warm weather or cold?
  • How’s your current health?
  • Do you want to leave a legacy to your loved ones or spend all of your money?

Why does Shapiro put them through this emotional exercise? In our opinion, it’s because she recognizes an essential truth about retirement. “Before we even discuss whether they can afford to retire,” Shapiro says, “I want to see where they are psychologically and emotionally. If they’re not ready mentally, then all the money in the world won’t buy them a fulfilling retirement.” We concur wholeheartedly.

Writing in the Kiplinger article, Shapiro says that retirement – which used to last a few years but now can last two decades or more – comes in stages. The first stage is when new retirees act like they’re on what she calls “a long-term vacation.” They go back to school, take fun and interesting courses just because they can, and may even take a stab at a new profession. “Most new retirees increase their travel, dine out more and attend the movies, theater or symphony more frequently than they did prior to retirement,” says Shapiro. “They are redefining themselves and their new lifestyle.”

During the second stage of retirement, after the novelty wears off, many retirees settle down into “a slower, more mundane lifestyle,” still going out but also enjoying their time at home. During this phase, “Physical issues may start to present themselves,” says Shapiro. “For example, they may not feel comfortable driving at night and switch to meeting friends for lunch instead of dinner.” Finally in the third stage of retirement most seniors are no longer able to live independently. Some age in place with in-home help, while others move to various types of senior living and senior care facilities. In our view, the point here is to think and plan ahead for all three phases of retirement and make certain your loved ones understand and support your wishes. That way you’re far more likely to protect your assets, avoid become a burden, and guard against one day being moved into a nursing home against your will.

Is money important? Absolutely – but it’s no panacea. “Clearly, the amount of available money influences how, when, and where someone retires,” Shapiro concludes. “The greater the resources, the more options one might have; however, every potential retiree needs to have a well-thought-out game plan in place that makes sense for them both financially and emotionally.” At AgingOptions, our term for that kind of plan is a LifePlan. It includes all the elements you need to make sure your plan will see you through each phase of a happy and successful retirement. An AgingOptions LifePlan incorporates a financial plan, a legal plan, a housing plan, a medical plan and a family plan. It helps you ask and answer the types of questions suggested in the Kiplinger article. Best of all, it becomes your road map to get you where you want to go in your retirement years.

Why not invest a few hours and find out more about this dramatically different approach to retirement planning? Come join us at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events take place at convenient locations throughout the region, so click here for all the details, and then sign up online or call us during the week. Let us help you achieve the retirement of your dreams with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

Defying Stereotypes: Today 40 Percent of U.S. Caregivers are Men

You’ve read the articles and heard the discussions about how difficult it is these days for family caregivers – those spouses and adult children who are responsible for the daily care of a loved one in declining physical or mental health. Most of those discussions seem to assume that most caregivers are wives and daughters. So it may surprise you, as it surprised us, to learn that 16 million unpaid caregivers in America aren’t wives and daughters, but husbands and sons. An estimated 40 percent of the 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. are men.

The implications of this shift are significant, which is why we suggest you read this highly informative article from the website NextAvenue. The article talks about an advertising campaign produced by the AARP and the Ad Council showing famous tough guy actors who in real life have served as caregivers to their aging mothers. Stars including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Patrick Dempsey and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler have appeared in these stereotype-defying video spots describing how being a real-life caregiver was the toughest role of their careers. The goal of these spots is to let the public know that the life-changing burdens of taking care of loved ones are being experienced by a growing number of men – and that providing support to those male caregivers presents a unique set of challenges.

According to the AARP, the growth in the percentage of male caregivers “reflects the changing demographics in our country, shrinking family sizes and an evolution of gender roles.” In the words of the NextAvenue article, “Just as more men have increasingly become primary caregivers for children as their wives assume the family breadwinner role, now they are also becoming primary family caregivers for an aging or ill loved one.” But the stereotype that caregivers are almost all women persists, which means men get too little recognition, support and training for their caregiving role.

In the past, whenever people thought about male caregivers, they usually envisioned those men filling what might be considered “typical” male roles: helping with finances, driving loved ones to doctor’s appointments, handling a loved one’s yard work and shoveling a snowy driveway. But this is far from the case these days. “Caregiving crosses gender lines,” says the AARP in a report issued last March. “Today (these men) are performing tasks that help their loved one with activities of daily living — bathing, grooming, feeding.” In other words, they’re serving in much the same way as their female counterparts.

But experts are discovering that providing training and guidance to men isn’t the same as providing that assistance to women. In 2012 an international home care agency called Homewatch Caregivers started the first online support community for male caregivers. But four years later “they found men did not want to share their experiences and talk to other men online,” writes NextAvenue. Instead of emotional support, these male caregivers needed more practical help, learning how to manage caregiving tasks and how to find community resources. As a spokesperson for Homewatch Caregivers said, “What we found is that caregiving was not a discussion they wanted to have ‘over the virtual fence’ with other men.”

It turns out that the kind of support men were asking for was information specific to their loved one’s condition — whether it was Parkinson’s disease, cancer or multiple sclerosis. To meet this need, Homewatch Caregivers has worked with various organizations to provide disease-specific videos and training materials. Because male caregivers said they felt unprepared for some of the tasks they would be called upon to perform, AARP has also created educational videos to help train all caregivers, especially men. “Over half of the men in the study were helping with what we would term ‘nursing care,’ such as wound care — but they were not prepared to do so,” explained the AARP. “This is a common thing we see with all caregivers, but the request for more training was higher for men.”

“Caregiving has long been seen as a role women take on — wives, adult daughters and sisters,” writes NextAvenue. “But now that two out of five caregivers are men, it was important to demonstrate that more men are playing this role.” In the new celebrity video spots, being a caregiver is depicted in a manner analogous to “being a warrior” in the battle for a healthier society and stronger family. But if there’s a warning in this article, it’s a warning to male caregivers not to try to go it alone. “Although most male caregivers agree that caregiving is stressful,” says one of the creators of the video spots, “very few reach out for help; they often avoid talking about their situation with others and don’t feel comfortable discussing the emotional challenges of caregiving.” The bottom line: “Caregiving is a tough job, but AARP can help you be prepared.”

Speaking of preparation, what about being prepared for your retirement? Do you feel prepared for decisions you’ll need to be making in the years ahead? Trying to retire without a plan is like trying to sail around the world without a chart – you’ll quickly lose your bearings, make bad decisions and never reach your destination. And don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on finances. Too many seniors think a financial plan alone will guide them, only to have their plans and dreams fall apart when a medical, legal or housing crisis looms. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a plan that takes into account all these elements? Thanks to AgingOptions, there is such a plan: a LifePlan. Your personalized AgingOptions LifePlan blends financial, legal, housing and medical plans into a seamless whole. It also helps you communicate your wishes to your family, in order to make certain they will support those wishes. It’s truly a revolutionary approach to retirement planning.

We encourage you to find out more by attending an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events are offered throughout the area, at no cost. Invest a few hours and you’ll come away with a fresh new perspective on planning for your future. Choose your seminar here and register online, or contact us for assistance during the week. We’ll look forward to seeing you soon.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

 

Looking to Maximize Medicare Benefits? Here are Five Ways to Do It

It’s no secret that healthcare costs in America are on the rise – so much so that the price tag for health-related expenses now makes up 17 percent of the entire U.S. gross domestic product. With so much money on the line, managing our own healthcare expense is critical, especially for the 58 million Americans who are enrolled in Medicare.

Any program that affects 1 in 5 of our citizens, like Medicare does, ought to demand special attention if enrollees want to minimize costs and maximize benefits. That’s why our eye was drawn to this just-published article on the popular financial website Motley Fool called “5 Ways to Maximize Your Medicare.” The article says that “These five ways to maximize your Medicare can help you keep costs down while getting good care. They might even help you live longer and better.” Any article that promises results like that is worth bringing to the attention of our AgingOptions radio listeners – although there are a few caveats we’ll mention at the end.

The first suggestion from Motley Fool seems to be the most basic, but many seniors overlook it – with consequences that can turn out to be expensive. The first way to maximize your Medicare benefits and minimize your costs is simply to enroll on time. “If you’re late enrolling in Medicare,” warns Motley Fool, “your part B premiums (which cover medical services, but not hospital services) can rise by 10 percent for each year that you were eligible for Medicare and didn’t enroll. Yikes!” We say “yikes indeed.” Put off enrollment for three years, for instance, and you could see a 30 percent Part B premium hike. The law says the time to enroll (and to avoid a penalty) is any time within three months before your 65th birthday or within the three months immediately following. But there are a few exceptions to this “must-enroll” rule: first, if you’re already drawing Social Security benefits at age 65, you will likely be enrolled in Medicare automatically. Second, if you’re still working and receiving an employer’s health benefits, you can generally qualify for a waiver. We urge you to contact us at AgingOptions if you’re not 100 percent clear about your situation and we’ll get you the information you need.

The second point of the Motley Fool article is to choose wisely between original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. Original Medicare, sometimes referred to as traditional Medicare, includes Part A (covering hospital expenses) and Part B (for medical expenses). Part D, which many enrollees add, covers prescription drugs. The alternative to these three “parts” is to buy what is called a Medicare Advantage Plan, offered by private insurers. The “advantage” to these Medicare Advantage plans is generally better benefits at lower cost. The downside: most private plans limit your choice of physicians, although many Medicare Advantage networks are pretty large (and just to add to the confusion, some clinics and other providers only accept Medicare Advantage and not traditional Medicare). The Motley Fool article contains much more comparative information that will influence your decision, and there are some excellent online tools to help you buy wisely. (Click on this link to access the government’s Medicare Plan Finder to help you compare plans side by side and evaluate your options.)

Here are three more ways to maximize your Medicare, according to Motley Fool – suggestions that will help you once your coverage has begun:

  • Get screened – most Medicare plans offer a wide range of health care screenings at no out of pocket cost. Take advantage of them! Screening tests and other free services generally covered under Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans include alcohol counseling, screening for cardiovascular disease, flu shots, mammograms and smoking-cessation programs, plus dozens of others. Discover health problems early and treatment is often simpler, more successful and far less invasive.
  • Use telehealth services – If you’ve ever used Skype or another similar video connection, telehealth should feel familiar. These services, offered by many plans, allow patients to consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals electronically, often via a Skype-like video connection. Telehealth consultations save time and money, and keep you from driving to the doctor’s office and spending hours reading magazines in a waiting room. Scheduling a teleconsultation often takes hours instead of days or weeks.
  • Take advantage of wellness benefits under your plan – The best way to get healthy is generally to stay healthy, and that’s why your plan’s wellness benefits are so important. Instead of seeing your doctor when you’re sick, a wellness visit, says Motley Fool, “gives your doctor a chance to discuss ways to get you healthier instead of just ways to treat the illness or injury you walked in with.” One of the benefits we talked about recently on the AgingOptions radio program includes discounted (or even free) gym membership – another wellness perk in many plans. Wellness benefits should become part of your Medicare plan evaluation process.

In our view this article, while helpfully addressing some common Medicare-related issues, misses one of the most important points. As Rajiv Nagaich says, “Insurance should be there to allow you to access care through the providers you choose – not providers chosen for you by the insurance carrier.” Rajiv also emphasizes the need for insurance to cover preventive care, not merely acute care. “This means that you should be able to gain access to nutritionists and geriatric specialists, plus benefits like gym membership, without having to jump through complicated hoops. You have to do your homework before you ever settle on a medical policy!”

Helping you make wise choices in retirement is what we’re all about at AgingOptions. If you know where you want to go and how you want to live in retirement, planning for your future becomes less complicated – if you have the right guide to help you. At AgingOptions we’ll work with you to craft a comprehensive retirement plan called a LifePlan, a retirement strategy in which all the key elements of retirement fit together: financial, health, legal, housing and family. The very best way to learn more about this holistic approach to retirement is by attending a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar, offered at locations throughout the Puget Sound area. We invite you to join us! Click here for all the seminar dates, times and locations in the next few weeks, then register online. Or if you prefer, give us a call during the week. It will be our pleasure to answer your questions and to help you see how an AgingOptions LifePlan will be the perfect solution to your retirement dreams.

(originally reported at www.fool.com)

 

Study Reveals Best Combination of Diet and Exercise for Obese Seniors

If someone you love is a senior with a weight problem, your loved one is facing a dilemma – and it’s probably making your role as a caregiver more difficult. Your loved one needs to lose weight, but dieting can have the adverse effect of making them even more frail. But now there’s a new study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine that answers the question, “What’s the best combination of diet and exercise for older adults who are overweight?”

We ran across this very helpful article on the website HealthDay. This study, conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, demonstrated that a combination of two different types of exercise along with dieting to lose weight produced the best outcomes for overweight seniors. The key appears to be a combination of aerobic exercise and what health scientists call “resistance” exercise. “Engaging in aerobic and resistance exercise while losing weight,” says HealthDay writer Kathleen Doheny, “enabled study participants to maintain more muscle mass and bone density compared to folks who did just one type of exercise or none at all, the researchers found.” The research leaders described this method as “the best way” to improve function and reverse the problems of physical frailty.

First, how severe is the problem of overweight seniors? Sadly, weight problems among the elderly have reached epidemic proportions. Doheny writes that “More than one-third of people age 65 and older in the United States are obese, according to the study authors.” But simply losing weight is not the answer. “Obesity worsens the typical age-related decline in physical functioning and causes frailty, while weight loss can lead to harmful declines in muscle mass and bone density.” That’s why this research by Baylor is so important: doctors wanted to determine the combination of diet and exercise that produces the best outcomes among seniors.

To design the study, they took 160 adults age 65-plus, all of whom were described as obese and sedentary, and divided them into four groups. One did a combination of weight loss and aerobic training (including treadmill walking, stationary cycling and stair climbing). The second group combined weight loss and resistance training (involving upper-body and lower-body exercises on weight-lifting machines). The third group combined weight loss with both types of exercise while the fourth group – the control group – neither dieted nor exercised. The results, say the study authors were clear. After six months, the group who combined both types of exercise saw an increase of more than 20 percent in their physical performance test scores, compared with 14 percent improvement for the segment who only engaged in one form of exercise. The combination group also enjoyed better bone density and lean body mass than their counterparts. (Study participants exercised three times per week for 75-90 minutes per session.)

Experts in aging were quick to praise the study because it showed a clear comparison among several different health regimens. As one doctor observed, while many studies of obese or overweight older adults focus only on exercise and weight loss, this study concentrated on what really matters: living a healthy lifestyle that allows seniors to function the way they want to for as long as they want to. “Health in aging is really [about] functioning,” said Miriam Nelson from the University of New Hampshire. If a senior wants to remain active, mobile and functional, he or she needs to maintain muscle strength and bone density, and to take off excess weight. “All these multiple factors are what dictate to a large extent somebody’s ability to be independent, healthy and to live life to its fullest as they age,” Nelson added.

Here at AgingOptions we would add our “amen” to these words. If you want to avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, it only makes sense to do all you can to preserve your health to the maximum extent possible. No, we can’t control every contingency – but there are somethings you and I can control, and making healthy choices when it comes to diet and exercise is one of them. If you are a senior dealing with the health consequences of being overweight, or if that describes someone in your family, it’s never too late to start regaining your health, but as this article suggests, diet alone cannot be the answer. There’s a right way and a wrong way for seniors to exercise and lose weight, so we suggest you read the HealthDay article and take its recommendations to heart. Better still, contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a geriatrician in your area – a health care professional trained in the unique needs of senior adults. It’s the best way we know of to make sure you’re getting health care advice that’s right for you.

The best way we know to get retirement advice that’s right for you is by attending one of our AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars. Here you’ll discover the unique power of the type of retirement plan we call a LifePlan – one that combines all aspects of retirement living into one comprehensive blueprint: financial planning, medical protection, housing options, legal safeguards and family communication. There’s nothing like a LifePlan from AgingOptions to help you enjoy a retirement that is safe, secure and fruitful. And here’s even better news: you can find out about the power of a LifePlan absolutely free, simply by investing a few hours and attending a LifePlanning Seminar near you. Click here for dates, times, and locations. Then you can register online or contact us for assistance during the week. Get the facts, and build the retirement of your dreams, with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

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

More U.S. Seniors Working Today Than Any Time Since JFK Was President

You’re 65 or older and still going to work every day? Congratulations – you’re part of a growing club. According to this article just published in USA Today, more Americans in your age group are working today than at any time since John F. Kennedy was President more than 55 years ago.  As USA Today puts it, “Retire by your mid-60s? How 1960’s.”

Last month, says USA Today, more than 19 percent of American adults 65 and older were still punching the time clock, figuratively speaking, and going to work. That’s according to data just released by the U.S. government. That’s the highest percentage of seniors working since 1962, according to the report. Back in 1985, the number of 65-plus men and women in the U.S. actively employed reached its modern-day low point at just 10 percent, and it has been on the rise ever since, so labor experts predict those of you seniors still heading out to the workplace on a regular basis will continue having plenty of company.

Overall we at AgingOptions tend to think is a good thing, since studies repeatedly show how adults of retirement age generally stay healthier, mentally and physically, if they can keep on being actively employed.  Recently we published this article on our AgingOptions Blog touting the benefits of what experts call a “phased retirement.” The old idea of hanging up your tool belt or briefcase at 65 and then sitting around all day is generally a thing of the past. However, our philosophy revolves around senior adults being empowered to make decisions that work best for them, not for someone else, so this statistic about men and women age 65 and older staying actively employed is something of a mixed bag.

Our concern is stated well in the USA Today article which says, “As America grows older and as life expectancy gets longer, some workers keep heading to the office because they like it and still feel engaged. But many others are continuing to work for a simpler, darker reason: they can’t afford not to.” According to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than 25 percent of those 55 and older report having saved less than $10,000 in retirement plans, savings and investments. For that reason, one-third of folks in that age group expect to retire at age 70 or older, if they ever retire at all. This sounds less like a choice and more like an emotional burden and a financial trap.

Ironically, on paper things are looking pretty good for senior workers these days, the USA Today article suggests, with an official unemployment rate for workers 65 and older of less than 4 percent. But we suspect that figure hides the grim reality that many seniors may have given up looking for work after months or years of discouraging rejection.  “Older workers still heading for jobs may be the lucky ones,” says USA Today, with a growing number of seniors reporting that they want to work but can’t get hired by employers who want younger (and often lower-paid) employees.

It’s also frustrating to see that many of the retraining programs and other job-related education initiatives put in place by government and private industry to help workers qualify for new types of work are passing seniors by.  A few years ago the Washington Post published this article on seniors and unemployment which included a grim assessment. “The remedies for unemployment among older workers are different from the things that help younger workers: While vocational programs and access to higher education are seen as the ticket to a better job for those just starting out, those who’ve already spent decades in the workforce have less to gain from a training course that will only benefit them for the few years it takes to get to retirement. That’s why avoiding job loss in the first place is so important.”

In short, we can’t overemphasize the importance of planning and preparation. The best way for most of you to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to those you love is to start now to build a retirement plan that will allow you – within reason – to live as you wish, working or not, with your health care needs covered, your housing choices carefully planned out, and your family fully supportive of your wishes. Perhaps it’s time for you to take a fresh look at what “retirement” will look like for you. Here at AgingOptions, we can offer you a brand new perspective on this dynamic and exciting time of life. No matter what the retirement journey looks like for you, you’ll need both a good map and a qualified guide to get you where you want to go.  That “map” is a type of retirement plan we call a LifePlan.

Unlike other forms of piecemeal “planning,” an AgingOptions LifePlan takes all the critical facets of retirement into account: financial security, housing options, legal preparation, health care needs and family communication. Your LifePlan is the best method we’ve ever discovered to help turn your retirement hopes and dreams into reality. Your first step on the road to discovering a new approach to retirement is a simple one: plan to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. These information-packed sessions will open your eyes to a world of possibilities while answering many of your questions about practical issues related to retirement planning. Click here to go directly to our Upcoming Events page where you’ll find dates, times and online registration. It will be our pleasure to meet you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!  Meanwhile, as we say at AgingOptions, “Age On!”

(originally reported at www.usatoday.com)

 

 

 

People Think They Know about Retirement Finances – but Do They?

How knowledgeable are you about retirement-related finances? Odds are you aren’t as well-informed as you think. That’s the message in this recent article from Time Magazine’s “Money” website. Written by retirement expert Walter Updegrave, the article suggests that even people who think they know their stuff when it comes to money questions in retirement don’t know as much as they think they know.

According to the article, the American College of Financial Services just released the results of its Retirement Income Literacy Quiz. The scores weren’t exactly stellar. Of 1,244 adults between the ages of 60 and 75 who took the 38-question online quiz, almost three-fourths flunked, scoring 60 percent or less. Only a tiny handful of participants scored an A or B (91 percent or better).  Author Updegrave writes that he’s not surprised at this poor showing since previous surveys “have revealed some pretty disconcerting gaps in people’s knowledge of retirement planning.” Based on our experience here at AgingOptions, we think he’s right: there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there, and many people are making dangerous and reckless financial decisions as a result.

What’s in this test, which one expert calls “the most comprehensive retirement literacy quiz out there”? As we said, it consists of 38 multiple choice questions covering a variety of financial topics, some basic and some more complex. In Walter Updegrave’s assessment, “For the most part, I felt the questions pretty well covered the main topics you’d want to have a handle on to plan for a secure retirement.” Some examples of general questions include these:

  • What’s the maximum amount you can safely draw from your nest egg if you want it to last 30 years?
  • What’s the right age to claim Social Security if you expect to live a long life?
  • Which expenses are covered by Medicare and long-term-care insurance?
  • What are the odds that at some point in life you might need assistance with activities of daily living?

But Updegrave also cautioned that some of the questions demanded “a level of technical knowledge even well-informed individuals aren’t likely to possess.” These questions dealt with topics like payout rates for annuities, the types of stocks that generate the highest returns, and ratings of different types of bonds. When asked why these tougher questions were included, one of the officials from the American College of Financial Services said he agreed many of the questions, especially the two about annuities, were difficult. Indeed, fewer than 20% of respondents correctly answered either one. But “they were included because a lot of people in the age group surveyed are buying or have already purchased annuities, so they should understand how they work and have an idea of what they cost.” The same logic holds true for investments: if you’re going to buy stock, you had better have some basic facts at your disposal.

The good news, said Walter Updegrave, is that those who do well on the quiz appear to do better in retirement. “(They) are more likely to plan better and have more confidence in their ability to manage their finances” including having a plan in place to deal with the cost of long-term care and believing that they’re better able to manage their investments throughout retirement.” The bad news is that about sixty percent of test-takers went into the quiz with what they thought was a high level of knowledge – but two-thirds of that group flunked. The message is that over-confidence is no substitute for good information.

So you think you’re ready to give this quiz a try? Here’s the link to the Retirement Income Literacy Quiz. How long it takes is up to you, so allow plenty of time. You’ll get an automatic score at the end. And if you get an A, congratulations – only one percent managed that feat! But if you’re like most people, you may be surprised (and not in a good way) by your score.

Let us offer two big caveats. First, no single test can tell the whole story when it comes to financial literacy. Second, when it comes to planning for retirement, here at AgingOptions we urge all our clients, radio listeners and seminar attendees to remember this important fact: money isn’t everything. Yes, financial planning is critically important, but it’s only one part of a strong retirement plan, and yet far too many retirees think a financial plan is all they need. This is a dangerous misconception. Your financial plan has to work in close harmony with a fully developed legal strategy so that your assets will be fully protected. Since lack of preparation for a medical crisis is one of the biggest causes of financial catastrophe, your medical plan has to be airtight. All of these interconnect with your housing plan, so that you can maintain your independence and avoid being forced into unplanned institutional care. Finally, unless your family knows and understands your wishes – and supports them – your retirement plan can become chaotic. You need a better, more comprehensive strategy to link finance, legal, medical, housing and family together.

The only retirement plan that accomplishes this is an AgingOptions LifePlan. With your personalized LifePlan in place you’ll look ahead to your retirement with security and confidence. But don’t take our word for it: find out for yourself at a free LifePlanning Seminar, where in just a few short, fast-paced hours you’ll learn about this revolutionary approach to developing a blueprint for your retirement. We invite you to come join us soon at a location near you. Simply click here for dates, locations and online registration,  or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you. Age On!

(originally reported at http://time.com/money)

If You’re Confused About How to Eat Healthy, You’re Not Alone

Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking down the supermarket aisle and you pick up a product labeled “Healthy.” But as you read the list of ingredients, something doesn’t quite add up. Or you’ve done some reading about healthy eating and you decide on a food regimen that seems right for you, only to read a new study a week later that contradicts everything you thought was true. Suddenly your healthy eating choices don’t seem so healthy after all!

Confusion and misinformation about what does and does not constitute “healthy eating” are widespread. That’s the conclusion from the Food Information Council Foundation’s annual Food and Health survey which was released just a few days ago, and which was the subject of this interesting article that appeared on the website of CNN. The headline says it all: “‘Healthy’ Foods Have Most of Us Confused.” In other words, if you’re baffled by conflicting claims about what types of foods make up a healthy diet, you’re not alone. Fully 80 percent of people responding to this survey say they have found conflicting information about what foods to eat and what foods to avoid.

What’s even more revealing, according to CNN, is that, because of all the so-called facts that seem to contradict each other, more than half of us are finding ourselves second-guessing the food choices we’re making. All that barrage of information and misinformation is creating skepticism, so much so that even reputable sources of nutritional information are suspect. According to one of the survey’s co-authors, “Americans rely on many different sources for their information when it comes to what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Not all of these sources are really highly trusted, and it is likely that these sources share inconsistent information.”

The survey involved just over 1,000 adults and asked questions about healthy eating habits and basic nutritional facts. The research showed that, even though most people think dietitians and health care professionals are the best source of reliable nutritional information, most of us still turn to friends and family for guidance on our food choices. This reliance on untrained and biased sources, the study suggests, has the effect of perpetuating misinformation, especially in this day and age of websites and talk shows touting their own food-related recommendations. “Trusted nutrition information is hard to find,” said one doctor quoted by CNN, “and the public is inundated with conflicting messages, including from dubious sources.”

Some healthcare professionals think all this biased information and conflicting recommendations about food might be contributing to America’s twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes, including prediabetes.  One doctor from the Cleveland Clinic said bluntly, “Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese.” Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Fifty percent of Americans have either diabetes or prediabetes by age 65.” She adds, “That means that whatever we’re doing, it’s really not working. So it’s proof that, yes, people are confused.” In spite of their best efforts, she says, we consumers are not making good food choices that will allow us to live healthier, longer lives.

Even the word “healthy” is itself part of the confusion. According to CNN, in 2016 the FDA tried to narrow the definition of the word “healthy” when used on food labels. “For a food product to be marketed as healthy,” says the article, “it should have low levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and have at least 10% of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients, according to the FDA’s current criteria.” Unfortunately, nutritionists claim, this definition leaves such a broad loophole that some highly processed foods have been labeled as “healthy” when in fact they are not.  Eating too much processed food, especially with added sugar, and skipping healthy whole grains, vegetables and fruits can be a recipe for a health crisis later in life, which explains why we see so many unhealthy, overweight seniors these days.

So here are a few recommendations from your friends at AgingOptions. First, avoid “food fads” and stick to common sense. When it comes to eating right, do your homework, getting your facts from reputable sources and not from your untrained friends and relatives. (The dietary guidelines on this government website are a good place to start.)   When you shop for groceries, spend more time on the outer areas of the store, buying fresh produce, whole grain baked goods, fresh eggs and healthy, lean meats, and avoid the processed foods down every aisle. Finally, as Rajiv strongly recommends, make sure your insurance carrier provides access to a nutritionist. “Not all carriers allow you to self-refer to a nutritionist,” he says, “but some do. Pick a company that will give you access to good nutritional advice and also membership in a health club. Don’t just pick the cheapest premium! Good health involves healthy eating, regular exercise, and plenty of socializing. Your insurance carrier can be part of the solution.”

When it comes to retirement planning, AgingOptions can definitely be part of your solution. Come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminars and you’ll see firsthand how your health needs, your housing choices, your legal protection and your financial security are all interrelated. You’ll also learn the importance of involving family members early on to help make certain your loved ones will support your retirement wishes. Don’t base your future on misinformation or incomplete and inadequate planning! Spend a few hours with us at a LifePlanning Seminar and you’ll never look at retirement the same way again. For dates, times and online registration, click here, or contact us during the week. We’ll see you soon!

(originally reported at www.cnn.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Another Benefit of Volunteering: It Can Reduce Risk of Dementia

There is a long list of benefits to being a volunteer as we age. Volunteers stay more active. They derive great satisfaction from giving back to the organizations they care about.  Volunteers generally report having a deeper sense of purpose in life. And now here’s another reason you may have never expected: regular volunteering can actually reduce your risk of developing dementia.

That’s the remarkable conclusion from a recent study conducted by the University of Calgary. We read about this groundbreaking research in this article on the website MedicalXpress (although it was also published in several newspapers, magazines and websites). The study tracked 1,001 Swedish citizens who had retired in 2010. These subjects were studied for a five-year period as researchers checked for any signs of cognitive impairment. Using personal questionnaires along with the reports from doctors, the cognitive health of all the survey subjects was evaluated in 2010, 2012 and 2014, analyzing memory, powers of concentration, and decision-making abilities.

In order to evaluate the effects of volunteering on mental health, researchers divided the subjects into three groups based on how engaged they were in volunteering.  As the article describes it, “One group is made up of individuals who consistently volunteered in their respective communities for at least one hour per week. The second group consists of those who sporadically engaged in volunteering. In the third group are retired workers who never engaged in volunteering.” The results were striking.

University of Calgary psychology professor Yannick Griep, author of the study, reported the findings. “We found that the people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer,” he said.  What’s more, the researchers found that those who only volunteered sporadically derived no particular benefit. “For this group, there are no differences than with the group that never volunteered,” Professor Griep reported.

Just to clarify the definition, the study authors defined “volunteer work” as something we do purely of our own free will, and for no financial compensation.  The activity has to benefit others – people outside of our core family.  Common places people volunteer range all over the board, from churches to seniors centers, from libraries to schools, from homeless shelters to outdoor camps. No matter where we live, there are opportunities galore to put our skills to work on a volunteer basis. The question is, why does regular volunteering have a positive impact on our cognitive health?

One reason suggested by the researchers is that regular volunteering brings with it “the latent benefits of work.” This may also help explain why sporadic volunteers never experience the same benefits of the “regulars” – they never settle into a regular schedule. “Work has many benefits beyond just a paycheck,” theorizes Professor Griep. “It brings a structure to the day…(and) it offers social contact with people outside of our family.” Regular volunteering also carries with it a social status, often even a job title, that is analogous to a regular job, combined with the sense that we’re making a meaningful contribution to society.” Being a regular volunteer also gets people up and moving, which doctors know helps mitigate cognitive decline.

Finally, the article alludes to something we’ve read about in multiple articles: the more you use your mind in social settings, the better your cognitive health. In the words of the the MedicalXpress article, “those in the regular volunteering camp stay sharper cognitively because they are continuing to engage their minds in these key ways.” Talking with others, solving problems, and learning new skills are all excellent ways to stay mentally sharper longer.  That’s why the scientists from the University of Calgary strongly recommend that retired seniors do volunteer work at least once a week. “As a senior,” says Professor Griep, “your risk of dementia goes up substantially every year. Anything you can do that’s low cost and easy to implement that will reduce the likelihood of developing dementia is invaluable.”

So if you’re retired or about to retire, planning how to spend your newly-rediscovered free time, the lesson from this article is clear: devote regular time to giving back through volunteerism. If you’re the adult child of a retiree, urge your loved one to get out of the house or apartment and reengage through volunteering. And when it comes to planning all the other aspects of retirement, AgingOptions can help you with the power of a LifePlan – a comprehensive plan that weaves together all the vital elements you must include in your plan for the future. A LifePlan is a seamless strategy linking your financial, legal, medical, and housing plans, and including an essential element often overlooked: a family communications plan to make certain your loved ones understand and support your wishes.

The next step is up to you: invest a few hours and discover just how powerful a LifePlan can be. We offer free LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the region, and we invite you to attend. You’ll come away with a wealth of valuable information and a clear understanding of the next steps. For dates, times and online registration click here, or call us during the week. It will be a pleasure to meet you at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar soon.

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

 

 

 

Observing Memorial Day by Honoring and Helping Our Service Members

By Kirk Larson, Social Security Washington State Public Affairs Specialist

On Memorial Day, we honor the soldiers and service members who have given their lives for our nation. Social Security respects the heroism and courage of our military service members, and we remember those who have given their lives in defense of freedom. Part of how we honor service members is the way we provide Social Security benefits.

The unexpected loss of a family member is a difficult experience for anyone. Social Security helps by providing benefits to protect service members’ dependents. Widows, widowers, and their dependent children may be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits. You can learn more about Social Security survivors benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors.

It’s also important to recognize those service members who are still with us, especially those who have been wounded. Just as they served us, we have the obligation to serve them. Social Security has benefits to assist veterans when an injury prevents them from returning to active duty.

Wounded military service members can also receive expedited processing of their Social Security disability claims. For example, Social Security will provide expedited processing of disability claims filed by veterans who have a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent & Total (P&T). Depending on the situation, some family members of military personnel, including dependent children and, in some cases, spouses, may be eligible to receive benefits. You can get answers to commonly asked questions and find useful information about the application process at www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

Service members can also receive Social Security in addition to military retirement benefits. The good news is that your military retirement benefit does not reduce your Social Security retirement benefit. Learn more about Social Security retirement benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/retirement. You may also want to visit the Military Service page of our Retirement Planner, available at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/veterans.html.

Service members are also eligible for Medicare at age 65. If you have health insurance from the VA or under the TRICARE or CHAMPVA programs, your health benefits may change, or end, when you become eligible for Medicare. Learn more about Medicare benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicare.

In acknowledgment of those who died for our country, those who served, and those who serve today, we at Social Security honor and thank you.

Reverse Mortgages: the “Misunderstood” Financial Tool That Could Rescue Your Retirement

There’s a crisis looming in America when it comes to retirement. No doubt you’ve read the articles and heard the news stories about this oncoming tidal wave of challenges for retirees, especially aging boomers. We’ve written about this issue several times on the AgingOptions Blog. As baby boomers retire – now at the rate of about 10,000 every day – they simply don’t have enough money set aside. “Many of them,” say the experts, “are woefully underfunded for their future retirement needs.”

So is it possible that one of the most misunderstood financial tools in America could be the very thing that saves retirement for a growing number of aging boomers? According to this article from Yahoo News, reprinted from US News & World Report, the answer is a definite yes. And what is this mystery tool? It’s none other than the reverse mortgage, which one expert, Jamie Hopkins, professor of finance at the John E. Simon School of Business, calls “one of the most misunderstood financial products in existence.”

The Yahoo News article points out, as most people know, that reverse mortgages (known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECMs) have gotten a “bad rap” over the past decade or two because of the way these instruments were designed and marketed when they first appeared. Reverse mortgages were associated with late night television ads featuring endorsements by aging celebrities – and the earlier ones also carried far less protection for borrowers and their families. Horror stories of spouses left out in the cold – literally – because of reverse mortgages gone bad were frequent features on the news. As a result, many financial planners were skeptical of the HECM at best.

But that was in a much different time. Unbeknownst to many uninformed Americans who still view these financial instruments with unwarranted disdain and suspicion, the reverse mortgage has changed dramatically in recent years, with a host of new regulations and safeguards. As a result, says the article, “Reverse mortgages are now gaining a lot of attention as a viable option for retirement income.” Most of the skeptics have now become enthusiastic advocates. One expert quoted in the Yahoo News article stated flatly, “Reverse mortgages deserve a second look today.”

This fresh new look at the HECM couldn’t come at a better time for retiring boomers, the majority of whom are moving into their “golden years” with far fewer resources than they’ll need in the future. This lack of savings is compounded by an anticipated longer lifespan, which means today’s boomers will probably be facing an increasing number of age-related health issues. According to Professor Hopkins, “This retirement income shortfall is nothing less than a crisis facing the United States.” But the crisis could be averted for many by the power of a reverse mortgage which will allow homeowners to stay securely in their homes while tapping into the largest single “cash reserve” most of them possess – their home equity.

How might an HECM benefit a retiree? There are several ways. One popular option is to take out a line of credit, which allows the homeowner to supplement his or her income when needed. Not only is this a protected source of ready funds, but the available credit amount grows the longer the HECM is in force. Another option is to use the proceeds from the reverse mortgage to pay off the original loan, leaving a retiree with no house payment – a saving which would make a dramatic difference in retirement lifestyle for most of us.

Some retirees use income from their reverse mortgage to allow them to delay claiming Social Security benefits, a tactic which can boost monthly payments by more than 30% if, for instance, a retiree can hold off until age 70 instead of drawing benefits at 66. Other retirees have found that drawing on their HECM during times when the stock market is down and the value of their stock-based assets is depressed gives those balances time to recover. The HECM provides an excellent cushion, protecting retirees from having to sell when prices are low.

So we encourage you to read the Yahoo News article for yourself. You can also search the AgingOptions Blog for past articles on reverse mortgages. But without a doubt the most important step you can take is to talk with an expert to get all your questions answered and to find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you. We are well acquainted with several highly qualified professionals in the reverse mortgage field, including regular radio guest Laura Kiel, and can recommend them with complete confidence. Don’t let your preconceived notions and other people’s opinions keep you from discovering the power of a reverse mortgage! You just may find, as others are discovering, that a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage could save your retirement.

When it comes to all aspects of retirement planning, we at AgingOptions stand ready to assist you with a full range of strategic services designed to help you enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement. Our approach, called LifePlanning, encompasses all aspects of retirement – finances, medical care, housing options, legal protection and family communications – weaving these into a well-crafted plan that protects your assets while helping you avoid becoming a burden to those you love. To learn more about this powerful approach to planning for your future, join us – without obligation or cost – at a future LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find all current dates, times and seminar locations here on our Upcoming Events tab. You can register there, or contact us during the week, and we’ll gladly assist you.

(originally reported at http://finance.yahoo.com)