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Monday, August 5, 2013

Senior-Proofing Your Home

Although you can’t turn back time, you can help an aging loved one by providing them with a safe place to call home.  If your parent is moving in with you and your family, there are several quick fixes to senior-proof your home.
First, take a look at your floor plan.  If all your bedrooms are upstairs, you might want to consider turning a living area into a room, especially because stairs grow difficult with age.  Try to have everything they need accessible on one floor - a bed, full bathroom, and kitchen.  If it’s not possible to keep everything on the same floor, have railings installed on both sides of the staircases for support.
Check the hallways and floors second.  You want to remove all possible tripping hazards, like throw rugs or toys, and add nightlights to dark hallways.  Also install handrails anywhere the extra support might be needed, especially in the bathrooms.  Handlebars in the showers and by the toilets are essential for senior safety and to prevent falls, as are traction strips in the shower.
Finally, when talking with elderly clients, something they often mention are chairs.  Big, puffy chairs and couches make it difficult for seniors to stand and sit.  They need cushions that offer support and stable handlebars to help with standing and sitting.
Before your parents move in, do one last run through of the house, and try seeing everything through their eyes to see what can be further improved.  And if you want more information, try contacting a local nursing home, home caregivers, or even an office of aging.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Preparing for the Start of School... and Emergencies

School will be starting up again soon, and while our kids may not be excited for it, it is coming.  When school starts again, every family should have a clear plan in case an emergency occurs during school hours.  With just a few simple steps, you can make sure that your child is taken care of if tragedy strikes.
First, you should name temporary guardians, people you give permission to care for your children should you and/or your spouse be unable to do so.  This individual should be someone who lives nearby and can comfort and aid your children in an emergency.  You can name a temporary guardian by completing a temporary guardianship agreement or authorization.
Make sure the temporary guardians are named on school emergency cards.  Some schools have these, authorizing certain people to pick up your child from school.  This way a guardian can take over immediately in the event of a true emergency.  Otherwise, your children may wind up in the custody of social services until a legal guardian or parent can be located.
Finally, make sure that your babysitter knows the plan if you don’t return home.  We don’t like thinking about it, but make sure you leave the information of who to call or what to do in case you are unexpectedly absent.  Without this information, babysitters will typically panic and call the police.
In time of tragedy, you don’t want your little ones to end up in social services, asking questions without answers.  Instead, leave them in the arms of a trusted friend by taking these simple steps.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Two New Alzheimer's Drugs

This past Sunday was the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, and at this conference two new drugs were presented.  These drugs have shown a bit of promise in early tests and will likely be tested in the next round of clinical trials.  Researchers are hopeful that these drugs will advance farther than others have, making to the marketplace, but aren't holding their breaths for it.  To read more about these two drugs, check out this article in Everyday Health.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Teaching Kids to Save

As an adult, you know that saving money is important.  Whether you are saving to pay for college for your children, saving for the next vacation, or simply saving in case you need the money in the future, you have learned the value of a dollar.
However, a staff members recent trip to Spain made me think about children and how they view money.  She came back from Spain saying that after a month, the euro still seemed a bit like monopoly money since it has a different value than the US dollar.  Although she understood that she was spending her money, she didn’t see the value in dollars and never really knew how much things were costing her.  Our children are like that.  They don’t know how much that green dollar bill with a number 1 in the corner is really worth.  And with today’s age of apps and computers, buying things online is making it harder for them to realize the money’s value and that they are spending it.
So how can we teach our children these valuable lessons?  Well first, I’d recommend not letting them make in-app purchases or other digital purchases until they gain some mental and financial maturity.  Additionally, encourage your children to save their money for some easily attainable items.  If you are trying to explain saving to them in terms of saving for college, kids won’t grasp the idea (I wasn’t thinking about college at 6 years old).  But if they’re saving for a toy, they can watch the money add up until they reach their goal.  And then, when they’ve reached their goal, let them spend the money on their toy.  They will see that they’ve reached their goal, but they will also see an empty piggy bank, giving them incentive to start saving again.

Monday, July 22, 2013

States Still not Solving the Problem of Elderly Drivers

This past week, AOL posted an interesting article on senior driving.  Ten years ago, an 86 year old man drove through a farmer's market in California, killing 10 people and injuring 63 others in less than a minute.  Although thankfully these accidents are rare, AOL reported that the United States still hasn't found a way to handle the problem of aging drivers.  And this problem could get much worse as the baby boomers get older and keep driving.

In the U.S., the issue is dealt with on a state level or on a grassroots basis, and while there has been a big increase in the number of people fixing the problem, there is still a lot of work to be done.  One of the biggest issues is deciding when someone should no longer drive.  People age differently, for example one 80 year old might be vibrant and active while another suffers from dementia, so banning drivers after a certain age would simply be unfair.  However there still needs to be a solution.

Until the U.S., or each individual state, develops a solution, we must continue to rely on self-regulating.  This includes children monitoring their parents driving.  Although this can be a tough topic to start a conversation about, having one may prevent an accident.  If you are looking for a way to start this conversation, visit an older blog post of ours, Hanging up the Keys, for tips and advice on how to have this conversation.  Be gentle with your delivery, and be prepared to offer alternatives.  Start by planting the seed and seeing if they make small decisions that show they are thinking about not driving.  Your parents may be open to this change, but remember that driving is a symbol of independence for them.  Be gentle to start, but if that doesn't work you may have to lay down the law and let them know it is a matter of life or death.

To read the complete article on AOL, click here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Concussions and Alzheimer's

Today's topic will take a break from estate planning and instead focus on new Alzheimer's research.
According to a recent study, damage from concussions and the deterioration due to Alzheimer’s look similar on brain scans and produce similar symptoms.  Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh looked at 64 patients who experienced concussions and compared their MRI scans after the injury to the scans of 15 healthy patients over the same time period.  The images picked up damage to the white matter, which facilitates connections between different regions of the brain and is responsible for functions such as memory, planning and reasoning.  The damage revealed in concussion patients was similar to that of Alzheimer’s patients.  The study also showed that the sleep disturbances Alzheimer’s patients suffer from also are present in concussion patients, making cognitive issues worse in both groups.
The connection between these two could lead to a better understanding of concussions, but also of Alzheimer’s.  Only time will tell how future researchers will use this information.
To read the full article, published by Time on June 19, 2013, click here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How to help your Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis (or to just live longer)

While there are promising new treatments to add to the life of a patient suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there are also a few simple lifestyle changes that will improve health and increase their chances of a longer life.  If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, try out these life tips.  If you don’t suffer from arthritis, you still might want to follow some of these tips for a healthier lifestyle.

  • Sleep well.  Not getting enough sleep causes the hormones leptin (hunger) and ghrelin (fullness) be off-balanced.  This means you will eat more and gain weight, which can cause the pain and inflammation from your RA to become worse.  Sleep also boosts the immune system, which will defend your body from the illnesses you don’t want to deal with while handling your arthritis diagnosis.
  • Lift weights.  Research from Great Britain shows that strength training as many long-term benefits for people with RA.  Fit strength training into your schedule for a half hour two or three times a week for a better prognosis.  It is recommended to start with a qualified trainer so as to not hurt yourself.
  • Eat more fish.  Improving your diet as a part of your treatment can help tremendously.  For example, eating fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut) twice a week will provide you with a good source of protein, relatively low saturated fats, and lots of omega-3 fatty acids.  These omega-3 acids have been shown to reduce the risk heart disease and cancer, and a number of studies have found that fish oil reduces rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  • Quit smoking.  Smoking not only increases your risk of heart disease and lung cancer, but a recent Swedish study found that RA patients who smoke are less likely to respond to their treatment.
  • Get regular check-ups.  You may have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but don’t forget about the things you usually do to stay healthy.  Take the time to get a flu shot and other necessary immunizations to add years to your life and to improve your RA prognosis.  Continue following the recommended schedule for cancer scans, and check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
  • Be kind to your mouth.  Taking care of your teeth and gums will improve your longevity, as researchers have found links between oral bacteria and a number of deadly health issues like stroke and diabetes.  Brush and floss regularly to keep bacteria and dental plaque from building up, and make sure to get regular dental check-ups and cleanings.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.  Being overweight can put additional stress on your joints, something you don’t want while undergoing RA treatment.  It can also put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.
  • Stay out of the sun.  Several medications for RA treatment may make you more sensitive to the sun, so when you’re outside take care to keep the sun’s rays from reaching your skin and causing skin cancer.  For better health in general, where sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen if you’ll be outside for more than 15 minutes.
  • Laugh!  Laughter is the best medicine for people with rheumatoid arthritis because it can help you relax muscles and reduce the stress of your RA diagnosis.  It can also relieve pain and strengthen your immune system, so go sit down with your favorite joke book!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Does it hurt to collect Social Security early?

Financial experts almost always advise us to wait until full retirement age or longer before collecting Social Security benefits, age 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954.  And these advisors have good reasons for this recommendation.

Social Security provides a guaranteed monthly income for the rest of your life, which you are eligible to start receiving as early as age 62.  However, if you start at 62, you suffer a penalty.  Likewise, waiting until 70 years of age gives you a bonus on this monthly income.  In both cases, the penalty and bonus are about 7% a year.  Doing the math, if your benefit at age 66 is the average of $1,268, then starting benefits at 62 will give you only about $913 per month.  Postponing the benefits til age 70 will cause it to expand by nearly a third, to about $1,660, for the rest of your life.

So if you get so much more by waiting, why would you grab Social Security when it’s first offered?  Well, there are four good reasons:

  1. You need the money.  Getting a 7% increase per year on Social Security benefits only helps if you can afford to wait, but if you need the Social Security to pay rent and buy groceries, then you should start drawing benefits as soon as you can.  Besides, most people start drawing benefits before full retirement age.  And you’ve earned the money, if you need it, it is available.
  2. You’re in poor health.  If you don’t expect to live into your 80s or 90s, then it makes sense to start your benefits at a younger age.  Although you’ll be getting less, in the long run you might be earning more.  You are betting against your own longevity, but if you know your medical history (for example, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, and have suffered a heart attack), you can probably make an educated guess on how much longer you’ll live, and decide from there.
  3. You’re a financial genius.  If you’re the next Warren Buffet, or have a sure-fire investment opportunity, then you can start taking Social Security early and investing it on your own.  It is perfectly legal to start benefits at age 62 and stash the money in your private investment account, and you don’t even have to be retired to collect these benefits.  However, remember these two things.  One, if you are still working while you start receiving benefits, you may have to pay income tax on your benefits.  And two, by waiting you get a risk-free 7% return from the government.  If you can’t do that well by yourself, you should wait.
  4. If benefits change.  Social Security was put in place by politicians of the 20th Century, and future benefits depend on the 21st Century politicians.  Economists have begun to worry that the government can’t afford all the promised payments, especially as the baby boomers retire, and there’s nothing stopping Congress from either lowering benefits or taxing away benefits from people affluent enough to postpone pay outs.  If the risk of a lower benefits outweighs the benefit of the bonus, then it might make sense to take the money while it’s available.

Remember, Social Security decisions should be made based on your individual situation.  What is right for some might not work for you.  The Social Security Administration provides a retirement planner that can help, but a financial planner might offer more advice.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

While most older adults live on fixed income, they generally find that their property taxes or rent keeps increasing.  Fortunately, Pennsylvania has a program that can help offset these expenses.  The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue's Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program aims to help reduce the expenses that those living on fixed incomes cannot afford.  Those who are 65 years of age or older, as well as widows/widowers age 50 or older and disabled individuals 18 and older, may qualify for a property tax rebate, but only if they earn up to $35,000 a year.  Please note that this amount is excluding half of their Social Security income.  Renters are able to receive a rebate check if they earn up to $15,000 a year, again excluding half of their Social Security income.

The deadline to apply to this program is June 30, as checks will be issued beginning July 1.  If you need an application, you should call the Revenue Department at 1-888-222-9190 or go to www.revenue.state.pa.us.  Applications can be downloaded at this website.  If you need help completing the application, please call the Lancaster County Office of Aging at 717-299-7979.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Phone Scams: What You Should Know

With smart phones growing to be more popular, they are becoming a common target for ID theft attacks.  Here are a few things you should know to avoid any attacks.

  • Your smart phone holds a lot of data, maybe even more than you computer does.  From saved passwords, to GPS tracking data, to contact lists, all the information that is valuable to you is even more valuable to criminals.
  • Four in ten users will follow an unsafe link on a mobile deice this year, allowing a suspicious download or giving information too scammers.  If it's too good to be true, its a hoax.
         The most common scam is a text, supposedly from you bank, claiming something is wrong with your credit card.  They
         give you a number to call and ask for account information, but that number isn't going to be your bank, it'll be the bad
  • Scammers use QR codes (bar codes that direct you to a website when scanned by your phone) or shortened URLs (tinyurl and bitly) to make it even harder to identify suspicious links.
  • Be wary of texts claiming you've just won a gift card from a popular store.  Clicking on the link could install malware which then takes over your phone.  Last year, up to 120,000 phone users fell victim to Droid DreamLight, a malware concealed in up to 24 apps in the Android Market.
  • The most common scam worldwide could be on its way to the US.  Toll fraud is a malicious code that prompts your phone to order ring tones and wallpapers without your permission.  Your carrier charges you for the purchase, and the scammers collect the money.  Early detection is key, so check your phone bill for unusual charges.
  • You can fight back! If you've received unwanted messages or suspect fraud, register your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov).  If you receive a fraudulent text, forward it to 7726 (which spells SPAM).  You can also download free anti-malware protection, but your best bet is to use your street smarts and ignore unsolicited downloads and text messages.  And if you're not sure whether a message is real, contact the sender independently before clicking through or giving away information.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Getting through the Holidays when You've Lost a Loved One

The holiday season is normally a joyous time of year, but if you've recently lost a loved one, it can be hard to celebrate.  Here are a few ways to try and make the season a little more cheerful.

  • Offer yourself some grace.  Remember that you are grieving and be realistic about what you expect.  You don’t have to do certain things for this holiday to be “normal” and the word ought should be left out of the season this year.  Decide what is important this year and do only that.  The other things can always be added back in the years to come.  Finally, plan ahead so that you aren’t overburdened with last minute responsibilities.
  • Be kind to yourself and acknowledge limits.  Get the rest and nutrition you need.  Take care of yourself physically, as grief can be a great source of stress on the body.  Don’t numb your pain by overindulging on sweets, but also don’t deny yourself the pleasure of good food and companionship. Your loved one would want you to be smiling.  Exercise is an important stress reliever and a mood elevator.  Don’t feel obligated to accept every invitation and responsibility thrown your way; only do what feels right to you.  Follow what your heart and body are telling you, and the holidays will pass much more peacefully.
  • Keep and adapt cherished traditions.  Keep traditions alive in a way that makes sense with your new reality; the possibilities are endless, whether it’s a new twist on an old tradition or a completely new one.  Do whatever feels right for you and your family.  If you are alone this year because of your loss, find a way to share the holidays with others; you may find yourself forging new bonds over shared losses.  Don’t compare your holidays to others; embrace what you still have.
  • Look for joy in the tears.  Understand that when unpacking decorations, you will be unpacking both loving memories and heartaches.  Don’t deny yourself the gift of healing tears for these heartaches, and don’t be surprised if the tears come when you least expect it.  You will be remembering both the pain and the wonderful moments of your loved one’s life; celebrate these joys and the joys they brought you.  And remember, you will survive this season.

We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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