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Friday, September 22, 2023

Learning How to Be a Great Grandparent

Grandparenting can be the most rewarding role you ever have. Here’s how to be marvelous at it.

From that sweet little newborn to a young adult, grandchildren are the apple of every grandparent’s eye. But what, exactly, is our place in this relationship? Should we be shepherding the new mom and dad since we are seasoned parents? What about spoiling the grandkids? How can we get the most out of long-distance visits? Are our expectations in line with reality?

Doing More Than Giving

It’s fun to be the one who can give a grandchild the latest toy or gizmo. It’s instant gratification when the child looks at you, beaming with pleasure. But remember that your superpower is to give time spent making memories. A model rocket kit is nice, but having Grandma and Grandpa help with construction and be there for the launch: priceless. Modeling clay makes a great craft, but watching a child work the clay and paint it, then admiring the finished product, is the best part of the gift. 

Making a Book with Your Grandchild

It’s easy to send photos out and have a softcover or hardcover book made. You can include age-appropriate text, or have your grandchild help with a story or captions. The book can be a compilation of photos from a trip you took, or a story that you create and illustrate together. One option is to choose an offering from Walmart. The company has a variety of sizes, materials, and prices, and will ship or you can pick up your book at the store. 
Have you considered giving an adventure instead of something in a box? One grandma knew her grandson loved trains, so she bought tickets on Amtrak for an overnight ride. The two of you could try paddle boarding together, or mini golf, camping at a national park, tea at a hotel, horseback riding, or a trip to a water park. Grandparents can decorate a room to look like a cave, a scene under the ocean or a rainforest. 

Make a photo book of your adventure and give it to the child. The two of you will be able to relive your time together again and again.

Parents of a baby usually leap at the chance to drop off their little one with the grandparents. Singing or reading to the child, playing pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, are wonderful gifts that cost nothing and make the baby feel loved and content. 

Get Messy

You may have forgotten how dirty and messy children are. Expect it. If you like to keep your house neat, put reasonable limits on what they can do, then embrace their enthusiasm and joy. Shoes? Take them off when you come in. Finger painting? Only outside on the picnic table or patio. Toys? Put one away before you get out another one or pick them all up before you go. 

It’s fine to set boundaries, but don’t turn into the kid police. Napoleon’s mother had a room in the house where her kids could run riot and coloring on the walls was encouraged. Let your grandchildren be kids. Have a place where they can make a mess.

Don’t Burden Your Children

Keep your expectations of your grandchild’s parents in check. You may not be invited back if you criticize their parenting or tell them they need to vacuum. Ditto for pointing out bad behavior in their children. Try to lead by example, and ask what you can do to help them during your visit. Ask how they do things, rather than telling them how things should be done. 

Just like when they were your little kids, take every opportunity to compliment their cooking, decorating, parenting and anything else you can find. Offer to host them, or let them know that you can pick up dinner. Tell them that you just want to spend time with the grandkids, and would they like a night out? 

The Other Grandparents Are Not Your Rivals

Don’t try to be equal to or better than the other set of grandparents. Graciousness will get you everywhere. If your grandson loves playing with a toy from the other grandparents best, go with it. You can join in the game or compliment their choice. If the other grandparents can spend more time with the kids, be happy your grandchildren are loved. Think of your grandchildren first and bite your tongue whenever needed. 

Love Equally

You may feel especially close to one grandchild but not another. Or you could enjoy the ones who are preschool age and hold your nose around the teenagers. You could like your daughter’s children much more than your son’s. Nonetheless, all grandchildren should be treated equally. Find a connection with each and make the most of your time together. 

One smart move is to spend time with grandchildren individually, rather than always with their sibling(s). Do activities based on the child’s interests to create special memories for the two of you. If she loves trucks, take her to a construction site. If he’s into rocks, go hiking to collect specimens. 

"Kids are really smart. If you only seem to like them when they're on their best behavior or in an 'easy' phase, they'll know this and be wary. It's the grandparent version of the fair-weather friend," says Amy Goyer, multigenerational family expert for the AARP and author of Things to Do Now That You're a Grandparent.

Lead the Way

Don’t expect your grandchildren to call or write to you, and don’t expect their parents to initiate calls. It’s normal that kids don’t think about staying in touch. Write short letters to your grandchildren if they like the novelty of snail mail. FaceTime regularly, even if your calls sometimes go unanswered. Make it your job to reach out.

Don’t forget birthdays and send cards for other holidays. Make up your own special holidays. Look, it’s national Emma day! Now it’s Send Your Grandson a Card day! Have fun celebrating occasions that you decide on together. National Have a Picnic In the Backyard Day? Why not! National Face Painting Day? Of course! 

Be Supportive

Encourage your grandchildren at every opportunity. Attend events, admire their work, praise their efforts. Ask about their likes, their best friend, the fight they got in at school and then listen to their answers. Listen some more. You can be a safe sounding board, someone with a different perspective from their parents. Let them know that failure is okay, that you will always love them. 

Write down notes from conversations to help keep track of a new doll’s name, or their favorite flavor of ice cream, the book they’re reading or what joys and worries they have. Then ask for updates during your next call. 

Share Family Traditions and Memories

Kids want to know what their parents were like when they were growing up, and grandparents are in a great position to offer funny stories and show pictures of Mom and Dad when they were small. Offer stories of family adventures, mistakes, success … and be sure to relate them to what the grandchildren are doing. Bring out old photos; just make sure to keep it short and sweet so you’re not like the neighbor showing 300 slides of their trip to Niagara Falls!


Friday, September 15, 2023

How to Dispose of Old Electronics

Computers, phones, tablets, televisions, printers, chargers … all that old hardware may contain sensitive information and/or heavy metals. Here’s how to easily and safely repurpose or dispose of it.

It’s surprisingly easy to properly dispose of your electronic waste. In addition to computing devices, this includes everything from electric toothbrushes to kitchen mixers. Many of the components, such as plastic, glass, metal and aluminum, can be recovered and reused (Apple’s MacBook Air contains up to 40% recycled content). And 25 states have laws about how to dispose of electronics that contain toxins such as lead, mercury, and cadmium.

Wipe Your Device

If your device contains sensitive information, the first thing you’ll want to do is wipe it clean. Here’s how to remove data from a computer or phone. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, you can make an appointment to take the device to a computer store such as Best Buy where a Geek Squad agent will wipe the hard drive for you.

Repurpose Your Old Phone or Tablet

You may decide to trade in, recycle or donate retired hardware, or to give it to a family member who shares your wireless carrier account. But there are more options. You can turn it into an extra TV by downloading the app for your service (such as Netflix) and using your account. If the battery is shot, just keep it plugged in or park it in a speaker cradle. It can become a universal remote for your smart home by using the relevant apps. It can become a game controller. Or you can always use it to entertain and educate a child by wiping it and downloading kid-friendly content after erasing your own information.

For more information on how to make any of these conversions, go here.

Will your phone company automatically clear your personal information if you trade it in or offer it for recycling? Verizon says it will automatically wipe data off your phone before recycling but follows with the caveat that “you shouldn’t rely on this” and you should wipe the data yourself.  Phone carrier T-Mobile clarifies that while its recycling partners clear data, the company itself is not responsible for your privacy and offers instruction on how to protect your information.

Recycle It

There are plenty of ways to keep as much as possible of your devices out of a landfill. Call2Recycle is a national group that offers drop-off sites for batteries and cell phones, or you can ship devices to them. Earth911 that covers the country. FreeCycle is a grassroots organization that lists items people are willing to give away in their hometown. If your device has some life left in it, this is a good way to help someone in your community. 

You may also be able to trade in your old device and get credit. Check with your phone carrier before you buy a new device. Apple will recycle any of their own hardware for free, or you may also be able to get credit toward a new device. Other phone manufacturers such as Samsung have their own recycling programs. 

Donate It

There is likely a charity that will take working (or non-working) devices from you at no cost. Get a tax receipt and deduct your donation at tax time. 
  • Goodwill accepts computers and anything that can be connected to one, such as a monitor, charger or drive, in any condition.
  • ARC thrift stores will accept a wide range of electronics, including computers and phones. However, they will not accept TVs more than five years old or any of the items listed here.
  • Savers will accept a wide variety of items but they must be in working condition.

Best Buy is in a league of its own. The retailer takes in about 400 pounds of unwanted electronic goods every minute. Your local store will take most electronic devices in any condition, no matter where or when you bought them. They also have an appliance recycling program for a fee, including a haul-away service that removes one or two appliances from your home. 

And, as we mentioned above, the store’s Geek Squad will wipe devices with sensitive data clean for a nominal fee so you can unload all the electronics you’ve got shoved in drawers and closets at once. Headache gone!

Discarding your unwanted electronic devices responsibly is good for our kids and grandkids. Thanks to a strong network of nonprofits and for-profit companies, it’s easier than ever to do. 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Personality Changes Can Be Real in Older Adults

The circumstances associated with growing older often lead to personality changes. 

There’s an old trope that seniors get crankier with age, spending their days sitting at the front window so they can shout at kids to get off the lawn. Although that image is patently false, scientists have found that the circumstances of aging affect the personality of those over 60 in the same proportion as life events alter the personality of those under 30.  

What to Look for When an Older Adult’s Personality Changes  

Many personality changes in older adults are in response to life circumstances or health conditions that are fairly immutable. But it’s important to first rule out changes, especially those with a swift onset, that may be improved by health care or a change of environment. These personality changes include agitation, anxiety, nervousness, impulsiveness, and an increase in reckless behavior. Following is a list of factors and what to know.

Cognitive Decline. Many older adults with dementia will experience severe personality changes over the course of the disease. Anxiety, agitation, mood swings, depression, and listlessness may all occur.  However, it’s important to have a health care professional diagnose the disease. Sudden changes may be indicative of another, similar or totally unrelated, underlying condition. 
Depression. Good mental health is essential to reinforcing a positive outlook. Many medicines and treatments can help to lift the fog of sadness. Family and friends can offer support. Visit a doctor who specializes in depression for an assessment and care plan. 
Medication Side Effects. Seniors fill, on average, 14 to 18 prescriptions every year without counting any over-the-counter medications. It’s quite common for medications to interact, or for doctors to prescribe a dose that is unnecessarily high. Have your pharmacist double-check drug combinations and dosing, and don’t hesitate to have the doctor revisit medication and dosing if you see negative changes after starting a new medication.
Unresolved Worries. Seniors may keep anxiety and worry inside so they don’t bother their family and friends. They may not know who to talk to or feel that family members will be on their side, for instance, if driving is beginning to deteriorate or they are falling at home. Financial worries can be all-consuming, or seniors can be despondent over the loss of spouse and friends. Find a professional or family member who can listen without judgment and come up with a reasonable solution.
Loss of Hearing. Older adults may quit going out or disengage from family conversations because their hearing is poor, but they don’t want the expense or look of a hearing aid. A doctor may find impacted wax, while a hearing specialist can evaluate each ear and make recommendations. Plus, FDA-approved devices are now available over-the-counter at affordable prices. 
Loss of Vision. Obscured eyesight can happen suddenly or over a long period of time, leading to fear of falling, a reluctance to drive and inability to enjoy printed or screen material. See a vision specialist; it could be that corrective lenses or surgery could restore eyesight. 
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). An unexpected but common cause of personality changes is an untreated UTI. A UTI can cause mood swings, agitation, forgetfulness and/or confusion, leading to misdiagnosis. UTIs can be cleared up with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

What is Personality?

Five measurable personality traits are commonly used by psychologists: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, openness to experience, and neuroticism. In particular, conscientiousness, extroversion, and openness to experience have been found to fall after age 60, while neuroticism climbs. 

Personality isn’t a set thing but evolves in response to external or internal circumstances. Dementia, for example, can affect personality from within, while moving away from friends or experiencing the death of a spouse are outside factors. 

Seniors are coping with major changes such as retirement, which might be a positive influence for someone with a deep social well and many activities, but a blow to another person whose friends and self-image lie with their office job. 

“What you really want to know,” Wiebke Bleidorn, a personality psychologist at the University of Zurich, told me, “is What are people’s lives like?” Did illness cause him to lose his driver’s license and keep him from getting out to see friends? Did a near-fall make her afraid to move around the house?

“We construct our world to avoid” personality change, says Brent Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When our world begins to change in ways that we can’t control, we tend to alter our personality to adapt. But the news is not entirely grim. People can react to similar events in very different ways.

Focus on What You Can Do

As they age, many older adults will begin to change their goals. They focus on what is important to them, and drill down on doing those things. They may not need more friends, just more time with those they already have. The death of a spouse may be eased by the cessation of caregiving duties. 

Loneliness, which affects 43% of Americans 60 and above, can be difficult to suspend in a population frequently dealing with the death of friends, forced changes in housing situations, and multiple health conditions. Extroversion and agreeableness can plummet when someone sits at home alone all day, with no means to change their situation. 

Senior housing, where older adults live near each other and can share social services as well as interact daily, may help shape personality in positive ways. “To the extent that we can create communities for older individuals,” Roberts says, “they would probably show a more healthy pattern of personality change.”

As we near the year (2040) when one out of five Americans will be at least age 65, we need to remember that affecting a senior’s life in a positive way can have a remarkable impact on how they view, and react to, their world. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

September 12 - Wilfred Benítez, boxer 

The youngest boxing world champion ever is Wilfred Benítez, who earned his first title at the age of 17. Born in New York to a boxing family, he practically grew up in the ring. Benítez was managed by his father, who also oversaw the careers of Wilfred’s two brothers. 

Benítez was known for his extraordinary defensive skills in the ring, earning the nickname El Radar (the radar) for his ability to anticipate and avoid hits from his opponents. He fought at three different weights, earning a world title in each. The boy turned pro at 15 and fought in Puerto Rico, the Netherlands Antilles, and back home in the Big Apple. He had surprising punching power and speed for such a youngster and became world-ranked by the two recognized boxing organizations at the time, the WBA and WBC.

His first title bout was against 30-year-old Antonio Cervantes, who had a record of 35 knockouts in 74 victories, 9 ties and one loss. Benítez was declared victor in a split decision while his high school friends watched. Benítez defended the light welterweight title three times, then moved up to welterweight. He challenged the WBC world champion and won a 15-round split decision on January 14, 1979. 

In November of that year, he fought the famous Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas. The fight was stopped in the fifteenth round when Benítez went down for a second time. Benítez then went up a weight class and became the youngest three-time world champion in May of 1981 when he knocked out welterweight Maurice Hope, again in Las Vegas, at the age of 22. He won a couple of fights after that over big names Carlos Santos and Roberto Durán, but he was on the decline in 1982. 

Benítez went to Argentina for a fight that he lost. By then, the physical toll from the blows to his head were becoming evident. The promoter stole his fight money along with his passports and documents, and he had to stay in the country for a year until things got sorted out. Today, Benítez lives in Chicago, provided for by donations from a loving Puerto Rican community.

Image Source: Wikipedia

September 16 - Orel Hershiser, pitcher and baseball analyst

The scouting report for the pitching prospect noted that he had poor control, a weak fastball, and he couldn’t throw a curveball the right way. Oh, and he got rattled all too easily. Who was this sorry kid wanting to make the major leagues in 1979? None other than Orel Hershiser, the same man who became a three-time All Star and was voted in the top five for the Cy Young Award four times. 

Hershiser loved baseball early on, garnering third place at the age of eight in a national hit, run and throw contest. He had success in high school and went all-conference his senior year. He went to the Dodgers in the 1979 draft as a round 17 pick and was promptly sent to their Class A farm team for a year before moving up to Class AA. Hershiser’s performance was up and down, and he describes it as the roughest period of his life. 

Called up to pitch for the Dodgers in 1982, Hershiser was inconsistent again and got coaching for his pitches. But during one particularly bad game, manager Tommy Lasorda strode onto the field to berate him loudly, an incident thereafter referred to as the “Sermon on the Mound”. Lasorda berated Hershiser for being timid, then gave him the nickname “The Bulldog” to help the young player feel more powerful. 

It worked. He became a starter, and the next year (1985) led the National League in winning percentage, finishing third in voting for the Cy Young Award. Hershiser went on to have a long pitching career, then became a color commentator for ESPN. Of note, he has had success at the poker table and won $54,570 by finishing ninth place in the 2008 Pokerstars World Champion of Online Poker event.  

Image Source: Wikipedia

September 22 - Andrea Bocelli, tenor

Italian Andrea Bocelli has sold more than 75 million records worldwide. His music ranges from opera to pop, and he appeals to a wide audience. Stars like Celine Dion have recorded with him and praised his voice. Elizabeth Taylor gushed, "My mind, my soul were transported by his beauty, his voice, his inner being. God has kissed this man and I thank God for it." Check out his album “Romanza”, or try “Sacred Arias” for classical compositions.

Bocelli is famously blind. He was born with limited eyesight due to congenital glaucoma. At age 12, he was playing goalkeeper in a soccer game and was hit in the eye with the ball, causing him to lose all vision. But that didn’t stop him from learning to play piano, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, and drums. He won his first singing competition at age 14. No slouch as a scholar, Bocelli finished law school and practiced for a year before turning to music full time. 

Although Bocelli has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has sung all over the world and received countless accolades, not everyone is a fan of his famous voice. Opera critics, in particular, have pronounced his vocals sub-par. "The tone is rasping, thin and, in general, poorly supported,” said Bernard Holland, music critic for The New York Times. “Even the most modest upward movement thins it even more, signaling what appears to be the onset of strangulation. To his credit, Mr. Bocelli sings mostly in tune. But his phrasing tends toward carelessness and rhythmic jumble... The diction is not clear."

Whatever his gifts, Bocelli continues to charm audiences. His most recent outing was on May 7 for the BBC Coronation Concert when he performed “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with Bryn Terfel for the new king himself. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

September 27 - Shaun Cassidy, singer and actor

The offspring of Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy was a verifiable teenage heartthrob. Yes, ladies, remember the posters that would come in Tiger Beat magazine? Maybe you had one of Shaun or his half-brother, David Cassidy, on your bedroom wall. But Shaun Cassidy is much more than a pretty face.

Cassidy began recording music in high school and signed with an offshoot of Warner Brothers. His first hit single was “Da Doo Ron Ron” in 1977, the same year “The Hardy Boys Series” hit TV screens with Cassidy as a co-star. But audiences are fickle, and after a few years his songs and the television series went stale. Cassidy continued working by switching to the stage, including on Broadway and in Los Angeles. “Blood Brothers”, where he co-starred with brother David, ran for more than a year and garnered him a third cover on People magazine. 

Cassidy reinvented himself again when he began writing and producing top hits such as “American Gothic” and, most recently, “Amsterdam”, for network and cable audiences. Cassidy has been married three times and has eight children.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Best Health Habits That Doctors Use for Self Care

What are the habits of doctors when it comes to their own health? These simple habits used by physicians help their minds and bodies thrive.

Did you ever wonder what doctors do to stay healthy? Are they running marathons and downing supplements? Do they devote two hours to the gym every day? Are they vegans? We wondered the same things, so we checked up on our learned friends and found the answers to all our questions. So what healthy habits do docs use?


“Every morning I pray, meditate, and stretch before I eat breakfast. For me, this helps to center me and sets the tone of the day,” says family physician Michele C. Reed. Meditation relieves stress, which in turn helps every aspect of your health. “Every morning I start the day off with meditation for 15 minutes,” says dermatologist Anna D. Guanche. Deep breathing and a mantra repetition or intention-setting for the day is key to reducing stress and staying focused. Don’t skip it! Personally, it is the most important and cherished part of my day.”

Physician Advice for Eye Health  

Don’t forget your eyeballs when you’re thinking about overall health. Ophthalmologist Vincent Hau says you should wear sunglasses daily. “Choose sunglasses that protect against 100 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, which can cause all sorts of eye damage and problems. Even on a cloudy day, UV lights still shine through and will hit and damage your eyes. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better protection. You can get drugstore sunglasses with just as good of protection or better than designer ones.” And fellow ophthalmologist Brian Boxer Wachler agrees UV protection is crucial. “One healthy habit is putting a 99 percent UV blocking film on my car side windows. This is based on a study I did with one of my daughters that found poor protection of most car side windows increases risk of left-sided cataracts and skin cancer on the left side of the face.”

Physical Activity

"I do some kind of exercise almost every morning," says Alex McDonald, a family and sports medicine physician. "It helps me handle stress and roll with the punches throughout the day." Dr. Subbarao Myla swears by parking far from the entrance wherever you’re going. “This helps me to add 3,000 steps just finding the car!” And if you’re really serious about your exercise, you can be like cardiac surgeon Steven Bolling, who says, “I practice what I preach. I have actually run to work basically every day for 30 years. That’s my zen moment. I really take that time out. Some of my patients know I run to work every day, and they think it’s fascinating that I’m actually doing cardio every day.” Exercising may be hard work for many when they’re just getting started, but it pays off. 

Practicing Gratitude

How in the world can giving thanks translate to better health? Negative thoughts can lead to stress and anxiety, which can have a big impact on physical health. "Every night, my family and I discuss what went well that day, and why," says family physician Brian Linh Nguyen. "Sharing what went well — and what we’re grateful for — helps us stay grounded in the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. And exploring how our actions helped those things go well helps us invite more positivity into our lives. So the more we practice gratitude, the more we have to be grateful for."

Sleeping Enough

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. “I make sleep a priority, making sure I get at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night,” says pediatrician Eric Ball. “I wake up very early (4:30 am) to exercise, so I usually am in bed by 8:30 pm or 9:00 pm.” 

Journaling Thoughts

Research studies show that writing down anxieties, joys and everything in between can relieve stress, alleviate depression and increase resilience to everything life throws at you. Cardiologist Columbus Batiste likes to write down a plan every day. "I write out what I’m seeking to accomplish that day. When and how will I exercise? What will I eat? What needs to get done at work? Physically creating this list and crossing things off helps me stay positive and productive."

Eating Well

It’s no surprise that doctors try to eat well since it’s proven to have an impact on every aspect of health, including mental health. Endocrinologist Joel Zonszein likes to eat at home rather than going out. “Eating and talking at the table with my wife and children without our cell phones, the television, or computer is important.” But doctors are picky about supplements. Cardiologist Sarah Samaan says that “doctors who strongly recommend certain supplements are often the ones selling them in their office. For primary prevention, if you’re not eating fish two to three times a week, then fish oil is probably a good idea. I also recommend vitamin D because 80 percent of U.S. adults are deficient. Those are the only two I take.” 


That’s right – doctors know they are never going to be perfect. Like eating well. You should eat a plant-based diet with plenty of fruit, veggies, fish, and olive oil. “If your health is generally good, there’s no reason for any foods to be strictly off-limits,” says McDonald. “My personal goal is to eat healthy 90 percent of the time."

Monday, August 28, 2023

Make Your Giving Tax-Efficient

Don’t wait until tax season to find ways to benefit both yourself and your favorite charities. 

If you are charitably inclined, you may send a check to organizations you support or give money via monthly automatic deductions. But did you know that there is a better way to give, one that will benefit you by reducing your taxes and possibly send a larger chunk of money to the charitable institution as well? Let’s look at five tax-savvy strategies for giving that you may want to implement now or put on your calendar for future donations.

2023 Tax Brackets and Standard Deduction

Marginal Rates: For tax year 2023, the top tax rate remains 37% for individual single taxpayers with incomes greater than $578,125 ($693,750 for married couples filing jointly).

The other rates are:
  • 35% for incomes over $231,250 ($462,500 for married couples filing jointly)
  • 32% for incomes over $182,100 ($364,200 for married couples filing jointly)
  • 24% for incomes over $95,375 ($190,750 for married couples filing jointly)
  • 22% for incomes over $44,725 ($89,450 for married couples filing jointly)
  • 12% for incomes over $11,000 ($22,000 for married couples filing jointly)
The lowest rate is 10% for single individuals with incomes of $11,000 or less ($22,000 for married couples filing jointly).

The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly for tax year 2023 rises to $27,700, up $1,800 from the prior year. For single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately, the standard deduction rises to $13,850 for 2023, up $900, and for heads of households, the standard deduction will be $20,800 for tax year 2023, up $1,400 from the amount for tax year 2022.

  1. Itemize. If you have more itemized deductions than the current standard deduction, itemizing is worth it. You can deduct charitable contributions of money or property made to qualified organizations. In general, the IRS allows you to deduct up to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI), although lower percentages apply in some cases. If you struggle to meet the threshold for itemizing, you can bundle, or bunch, donations from two or more years into one year so that you qualify. 
  2. Donate stocks or bonds. If you normally make cash donations or pull out a credit card, consider the benefits of donating appreciated securities directly to your chosen charities. Neither you nor the charity will have to pay capital gains tax, and you’ll be eligible for an income tax deduction equal to the fair market value of the stock or bond, up to 30 percent of your AGI.
  3. Qualified Charitable Distributions. You may want to donate directly from your traditional IRA. As a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), the gift will count toward meeting your RMD for the year. While the money won’t qualify as a charitable deduction, it reduces your taxable income, potentially lowering Medicare premiums as well as overall taxes. It also counts toward meeting your required minimum distribution. You must be at least 70 ½ to use a QCD and meet other requirements.
  4. Donor-Advised Funds. If you are a substantial giver, you may want to create your own charitable giving fund. Using a donor-advised fund (DAF), you can claim the tax deduction that year and then distribute the money over the coming years. Assets in the fund can be invested, and any resulting growth is tax-free. You can even use appreciated securities to make the initial investment.
  5. Charitable Gift Annuities. Large institutions and charities often offer charitable gift annuities to donors with as little as $5,000 to give. You make a donation, which is kept in an account where it is invested. This funds a monthly or quarterly payout to you, the annuitant, for as long as you live. Upon your death, the charity gets whatever is left in the account. Your initial donation can be made in the form of cash, securities, or personal property. Annuitants may be able to deduct a portion of the original gift, and a portion of the payments they receive may be tax-free, based upon life expectancy.

Be sure to sit down with your financial consultant or tax advisor now to strategize your giving for years to come. One plan may be right for you now, while another could be most beneficial in the future. It’s worth consulting a professional to make sure you are meeting all requirements while still getting the maximum return for your giving.


This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional financial advice from a qualified financial advisor.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Pre-Paying for (or just Planning) Burial and Cremation

You want to make it easy for your family when you die. But is it wise to pre-pay for a funeral or cremation?

We’re all going to die, and many of us prefer to have everything in order before we go, including a service and arrangements for burial or cremation. Paying for it all may seem like a no-brainer. But there is actually quite a lot to consider before handing over your credit card or check.

To Plan, to Pay or Both?

The Funeral Consumers Alliance is a strong advocate for planning your service without paying for it unless you must do so to qualify for Medicaid. They warn that many states still lack laws to protect funds in pre-paid plans, putting the money at risk. 

How to Obtain an Economical Burial or Cremation

The average funeral runs between $7,000 and $10,000 these days. For many people, that is more than they are willing to spend. But how can you cut costs? We consulted the Cremation Institute for their best ideas.

First, they suggest that you shop around when using a funeral home. They are not all the same, nor do they charge the same prices for the same services. You can also get a feel for the individual homes to determine which one might be a good fit. Establish a budget before you go and negotiate costs. Some homes are willing to work with you on price, and having a predetermined budget will keep you from getting “upsells”, such as buying the mahogany coffin instead of the perfectly fine pine one. 

You can also elect to skip embalming, which is not only bad for the environment but drives up funeral costs. Burying or cremating right after death eliminates the need to embalm. You might consider direct cremation, when your body is cremated upon death and returned as ashes. They can be scattered or kept in an urn, which you can shop for online. 

Caskets can be very pricey. Save money by renting a casket for a viewing or funeral, or by using a simple, eco-friendly casket. Finally, you can also consider direct burial and hold a memorial service at home.

Veterans’ Benefits

Veterans are entitled to many benefits on death, including a plot in a national cemetery  without charge for a gravesite or marker if they meet certain requirements. Someone will still need to foot the bill for embalming, burial and transporting the body. But even if they choose to be buried elsewhere, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will provide death benefits, including:
  • Up to $2,000 in burial costs for a service-related death.
  • Up to $807 for a plot and $300 in burial expenses if the death was not service-related.
  • Up to $807 in burial costs and $807 for a plot if the death was not service-related but the death happened while the veteran was in a VA hospital.
Be sure to check the VA website for details on benefits. You can also check if you are eligible for military funeral honors.

Ask These Questions Before You Buy

If you are still considering pre-paying funeral costs after reading this article, make sure to get answers to each of these questions first:
  1. Do the payments seem reasonable?
  2. How long will I be making payments?
  3. What if I die before I have paid in full?
  4. What exactly does the plan cover?
  5. What will happen if I move?
  6. What will happen if the cost of my funeral goes up before I die?
  7. Who gets the interest earned on my payments?
  8. If I change my mind, can I cancel and get a full refund?
  9. If there is money left over, who will get it?
However, go ahead and prearrange by comparing prices from different funeral homes – there are often wide variations in cost for what are essentially the same services. Visit several to see which one you like the best. Some will let you fill out a form, specifying what you’d like at your service without paying a dime in advance. 

Economical cremations can be pre-arranged as well, although loved ones can also make a phone call upon death to contract the service. These range in cost from about $500 to $1,200 for what seems to be the same service. 

Then tell your family what you have chosen. Give them a copy of your plan or contract. Do not put your plan in a file or lockbox. Do not just say, “Everything is taken care of”. People can forget what you have told them, forget where to look for important papers, and even forget if you wanted burial or cremation, especially in the emotionally-charged time surrounding your death. 

Make sure your plans are carried out by providing written instructions to your siblings, children, a member of the clergy, your financial planner … whoever may need to help guide the process after your death. If having a religious ceremony is important to you, make that clear. 

Prepayment Pros and Cons

Why might you want to prepay? Sometimes, the funeral home will give you a discount. You can avoid inflation (although your money is tied up). You may be able to pay in installments, avoiding a large lump sum. Prepaying can give you peace of mind and ensure that you are in control of your exit. 

However, you should first consider why prepayment may be a bad idea. If the service provider loses your agreement, your plans will go awry. You can be overcharged if you don’t compare prices. Your chosen provider may be out of business, overbooked, or refuse to honor your agreement for any number of reasons, leaving no recourse for family members. The provider’s services could change over time, making them unable to fulfill your wishes. Or you may forget to adequately inform family members of your agreement, leading them to make different arrangements that they pay for. 

How to Prepay

You may think that by setting money for your funeral aside in your will, you have avoided many potential pitfalls. Since wills must go through probate, your body likely will have already been dealt with long before a will goes into effect. There are other ways to prepay that may be better.

A payable on death (POD) bank account, sometimes called a Totten trust, is an account held solely by you until your death, when the named beneficiary presents a death certificate to the bank and immediately gains access to the funds without waiting for probate. It works well if your beneficiary does not predecease you, and if that person can be trusted to spend the money as you wish, not on a one-way ticket to Hawaii. 

A regular savings account will also work if you set it up as a joint account with a trusted individual. When you die, this person will automatically own the account and can use the money to pay for your funeral. Again, this person must have your complete trust. As an account co-owner, he or she could withdraw funds at any time and use them for anything.

Three kinds of insurance may be used to cover funeral expenses. A life insurance policy may pay a lump sum upon death. Burial insurance can pay death-related costs, and pre-need insurance will cover a set amount for a funeral. It’s important to note that the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a watchdog group, does not recommend burial or pre-need insurances. 

Planning your funeral is a smart move, as long as you let several people know what your plans are in writing. But the benefits of paying in advance is a much more nuanced topic, and one you would do well to explore thoroughly. You want to make sure that the money is available as soon as you die to a trustworthy individual who will follow your plans to the letter. That done, you can check it off your list and concentrate on getting the most out of life.


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Should a Robot Do Your Surgery?

Robotic surgery does have advantages, but they may not be the ones you think it has.

As more and more medical centers are investing the $2 million or so needed for a robotic surgery system in an operating room, patients are often faced with a choice: Should I have my surgery done by a surgeon alone, or in concert with a robot?

A common misconception is that “robotic surgery” involves allowing a pre-programmed robot to carry out a surgical procedure. In fact, a trained surgeon is in control at all times, using a high-definition, 3D camera and miniaturized instruments inserted via one or more small incisions to make intricate moves guided by the surgeon’s hands at a console. The robotic equipment does not “think” on its own at any time. 

While robotic technology is not currently used in every situation, it can be employed in the following types of surgery:
  • Colorectal 
  • General
  • Gynecologic
  • Heart
  • Endometriosis
  • Head and Neck
  • Thoracic
  • Urologic

Traditional surgery is either laparoscopic, performed through small incisions, or open, performed through one large incision. Either way, the surgeon needs room to manipulate instruments with his or her hands. Robotic instruments take up less space, reducing the need to push muscle and tissue aside.


Surgical centers cite a long list of advantages to using a robot, starting with more precise surgery due to the enhanced visualization the camera provides, and the range of motion achieved in tight spaces. Surgeons can perform more steps of an operation inside your body, when traditional surgery would have them making a larger incision to work outside of your body. Benefits also include:
  • Fewer complications during surgery
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Fewer blood transfusions and less blood loss
  • Reduced pain during recovery
  • Quicker recovery
  • Smaller scars


The equipment to perform robotic surgery is very expensive, in part because it is dominated in the US by a single company, Intuitive Surgical. Surgeons need special training on the equipment, and robotic surgery fellowships are becoming more common, but these surgeons are limited in number. There are also dangers to the patient, which include:
  • Your surgeon may need to switch to a large incision and traditional surgery if there are complications. This can include scar tissue from previous surgery. 
  • Nerve damage and compression. 
  • Longer time spent in surgery.
  • Robotic malfunction. This is extremely rare. There are a variety of safety measures - to prevent this from occurring. 

Another downside to robotic surgery is the higher cost. One recent study found an average total hospital cost of $15,319 for patients in a robotic surgery group versus $8,955 for patients getting traditional laparoscopic surgery. However, patients may benefit financially from the reduced cost associated with a shorter hospital stay.

Surgical Outcomes

Robotic surgery is often perceived as “better” than traditional methods. Surgeons often assume that the shorter recovery time and other benefits result in a better outcome for patients. However, according to a recent review of 50 randomized control trials for abdominal and pelvic procedures published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, outcomes for both are nearly identical. 

For instance, eight of the reviewed studies listed long-term outcomes of two years or more. Patients died in up to 3 percent of robotic surgeries, up to 5 percent of open procedures, and there were no deaths listed from laparoscopic surgeries. Looking at 39 studies that reported the number of surgeries that required further surgical intervention due to complications, the report found they were needed in up to 9 percent of laparoscopic procedures and in up to 8 percent of robotic surgeries. 

“Just because something’s new and fancy doesn’t mean it’s the better technique,” says lead author Naila H. Dhanani, a surgical resident at UC Health in Houston. “Yes, robotic is safe, we’ve proven that. But we haven’t proven it’s better. There were four studies that showed a benefit with robotic surgery, so that’s quite modest. Forty-six showed no difference at all.”

The study may highlight a truism that has long been held. James A. Eastham, chief of urology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and not involved in the study, noted that “it is far more important to select an experienced surgeon with specialization in a particular field rather than picking a technique.”

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Are You Shrinking?

Yes, we really do get shorter as we get older. Read on for why this happens and what you can do about it.

Maybe you’ve noticed that when you get measured in the doctor’s office, you’re shorter than you were in your 20s and 30s. No, nothing has changed on the measuring tape … you really are losing height. Along with worsening eyesight and less hair, loss of height is pretty inevitable as we grow older. 

At about age 40, men lose about an inch before turning 70 and women drop twice that amount. Men have more muscle mass and their bones are stronger, while women are more subject to osteoporosis. But why do we get shorter at all?  

“A little bit of shrinking is a normal part of aging, and it happens because of three things, basically,” explains Dr. Roshini Raj. To start, as we get older, the discs between the bones in our back lose fluid, so our vertebrae "simply come together, so your spine is actually shrinking a little bit." Another thing that happens with age is the flattening of the arches in our feet. Finally, we lose muscle, causing flabbier abdomens that lead to slumping posture. 

While some of this shrinkage is inevitable, there are some things you can do to lessen the effect. They are good for your overall health, too. 

Check What You Eat
While we can’t build bone as older adults, we can do our utmost to keep what we have. Your bones and teeth hold 99% of the calcium in your body. They need calcium and vitamin D to stay strong. Eat plenty of dairy (fortified milk, yogurt, and cheeses), almonds, broccoli, kale, wild salmon and soy products like tofu.

“Research has shown that a good diet in your later years reduces your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease and certain cancers,” UAMS neurosurgeon Dr. T. Glenn Pait says. “Even though you might need less energy as you get older, you still need just as many nutrients from food.”

Vitamin D helps retain that calcium, and it’s lacking in most American meals. Get it via wild mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna, and egg yolks. Fortified milk has a good amount, and UVB rays from the sun deliver vitamin D. A half hour in the sunshine is plenty, though, since you don’t want to burn your skin. 

Vitamins C and K are also essential to bone health. Eat citrus, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, and parsley for the former, and leafy green veggies, parsley, prunes, avocados and kiwi for the latter. 

If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages bones and keeps you from healing quickly after a bone injury. Chronic alcohol use interferes with calcium absorption. Keep alcohol to a maximum of a drink per day. 

Work Out

Hanging upside down is not going to restore your height, unfortunately! But keeping active, especially with activities that make your legs and feet support your weight, will help keep your bones strong. Try running, jumping, going up stairs, hiking, brisk walking, jumping rope, weight training, dancing, and tennis (think pickleball). Research found that those who continued to do moderate aerobic activity all their life lost less height than those who sat around. 

Stretch Your Back

We’re not suggesting that you can stretch your back to get taller, but stretching exercises will improve strength and lead to better posture. Yoga and pilates are excellent choices for increasing flexibility, or use a stability ball. There are plenty of great back exercise videos on YouTube, or check out exercises  recommended by the Spine Health Institute. 

We can’t reverse our shrinkage, but we sure can get active and eat right to improve our future height and health!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

August 16 - Madonna Louise Ciccone, singer, songwriter and actress 

The “Queen of Pop” moved to the Big Apple in 1978 for a career in dance and became a cult figure for feminism while eliciting accolades and admonitions for her social, political, sexual, and religious themes. Every time it looked like she was going down, she reinvented herself and popped right back up at the top of her game.

Remember Madonna in "Desperately Seeking Susan", "A League of Their Own", or "Evita"? Which songs of hers are your favs? “Like a Virgin”, “Vogue”, “Hung Up”, or “4 Minutes”? Her work spans more than four decades, and there are exemplary performances from beginning to end. She is the top female recording artist ever, having sold more than 300 million records across the globe. She retained control of her music, started fashion brands, paved the way for the resurgence of strong female lead singers, and inspired university studies. But what drove her success?

Some say it was the death of her mother in 1963 from breast cancer. Others think it was an incident in NYC when she was assaulted at knifepoint by a pair of men. Madonna was left with a fierce desire to manage her own career, to not be beholden to anybody, and to reinvent herself whenever and however she wanted. 

In her youth, Madonna says she was that "lonely girl who was searching for something. I wasn't rebellious in a certain way. I cared about being good at something. I didn't shave my underarms and I didn't wear make-up like normal girls do. But I studied and I got good grades... I wanted to be somebody." 

Image Source: Wikipedia

August 25 - Tim Burton, director

We may never know what inspired the dark streak in Tim Burton’s films, however, his mother owned a cat-themed gift shop. We can say young Burton was a quiet, mediocre student who liked artwork and watching films. Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl influenced the boy, who found his direction early and studied character animation after high school.

Burton’s first short, “Stalk of the Celery Monster”, turned heads at Walt Disney Productions, and soon he was working for them while also developing some of his own projects. It was after one of these, “Frankenweenie”, was released that Disney fired Burton for using company money to make a film too frightening for children to see. The short centers on a boy trying to revive his dog after it has been run over.

However, that was Burton’s big break as others not so squeamish as Disney noticed the film. Burton went on to put his darkly personal, yet extremely sensitive, mark on epics such as “Beetlejuice”, “Batman” and “Edward Scissorhands“. The filmmaker returned to children’s works with a musical fantasy of Roald Dahl’s “James and the Giant Peach”. While it failed at the box office, it was hailed by critics and won an Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score. 
Burton returned to the small screen in 2021 with a series for Netflix based on an Addams Family character, “Wednesday”. He directed four episodes during the first season and won critical accolades.  

Image Source: Wikipedia

August 28 - Scott Hamilton, skater and commentator

Figure skater Scott Hamilton embodies the classic American dream: the child who has a rough start but perseveres, and through his own determination and hard work succeeds brilliantly while being an all-around good guy. 

Adopted as a six-week-old baby, Hamilton quit growing at age two. Medical professionals were mystified, and some misdiagnosed him or put him on strange diets. Finally, he was told everything was fine and to go home and live a normal life. (Hamilton did, but he was 5’2 ½” tall and tipped the scales at 108 pounds during his amateur career, topping out at 5’4” when he reached his full height.) Much later, doctors found a congenital tumor was the culprit.

You may remember Hamilton for his gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, or for his signature move, a crowd-pleasing backflip on ice that went counter to U.S. Figure Skating and Olympic rules. The man dominated skating from 1981 to 1984, winning four consecutive U.S. and World championships. He also is the creator of Stars on Ice, in which he performed for 15 years. 

Hamilton also distinguished himself as a skating commentator on CBS for many years. Throughout his working years, Hamilton worked with Special Olympics. He founded the Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation for cancer patient support and was the inaugural Celebrity Wish Granter of the Year for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He has also assisted St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors