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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Normal Memory Loss or Dementia?

As you get older, forgetfulness becomes more common and you may ask yourself if it’s normal or the start of a slide into dementia.

You can’t remember where you put the car keys … again. You start to introduce a friend and, embarrassingly, can’t remember her name. You begin to tell someone about that fun movie you watched last night, but you’ve forgotten its title. Argh! Not only is it frustrating, but a thought wiggles into the back of your head: Is this how dementia starts? Am I getting Alzheimer’s?

Memory lapses commonly start in your 50s or 60s, but experts say you can relax: It’s very unlikely to be dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that less than 5% of people get the early-onset type of the disease. In fact, recent studies show that the overall rate of dementia actually went down over the past 10 years.

The primary sign that your age-related memory loss is not dementia is that it is not disabling, according to Amy Ehrlich, associate chief of geriatrics at Montefiore Health System in New York City. “It’s very typical as you age that you have trouble remembering a name, then it will just pop into your head,” says Ehrlich. “That is not a sign of impending dementia.”

Still, it’s true that the risk of getting Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after you turn 65. You can reduce your risk by 30% to 50% when you avoid or treat these four problems:

  • Depression
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity 

All of the above conditions are treatable, so don’t hesitate to visit your doctor for advice or referrals if one or more pertain to you.

Who’s Qualified to Diagnose Dementia?

Most patients who suspect they may have a form of dementia go to a family doctor for their initial appointment. If they see changes in thinking, movement or behavior, a visit to a neurologist — a doctor who specializes in the disorders of the brain and nervous system — may be the next logical step. Geriatric psychiatrists, neuropsychologists and geriatricians can also specialize in diagnosing dementia. If there is no such specialist in your community, check with the neurology department of the nearest medical school. An affiliated hospital may also have a dementia disorders clinic where expert evaluation can be found.

Types of Dementia

Dementia actually covers a variety of cognitive disorders, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common, making up 60% to 70% of cases. Another kind is Lewy body dementia, which happens when tiny deposits damage brain cells. Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain due to heart disease or stroke. 

Getting some baseline testing is a good idea if you think you, or someone you know, is beginning to show signs of dementia. Two assessments can be better than one using practitioners in complementary disciplines, such as a geriatric psychiatrist/psychologist and a neuropsychologist.

Dementia and Drugs

The effects of certain drugs on older adults can mimic early dementia, causing confusion, disorientation and memory loss. These medications include antihistamines and those used to treat Parkinson’s, and belong to a class called anticholinergic drugs. Even some doctors are fooled into thinking patients exhibiting symptoms of mild cognitive impairment have early dementia, and treat them accordingly by mistake. Health care professionals should assess patients for use of anticholinergic drugs before beginning therapy for cognitive decline.

Heavy alcohol use can also interfere with memory and make someone appear to have dementia. And urinary tract infections are often associated with temporarily decreased cognition. Blood clots, brain tumors, vitamin deficiencies, head trauma … the list of causes for problems that resemble dementia is quite long. Rule out any of these possibilities before deciding you may have dementia.

Dementia and Sleep

Recently, sleep apnea has been linked with an increased risk of dementia. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when the sides of the throat relax, narrowing the airway and impeding the flow of oxygen. A recent study found that older adults should be routinely screened for the condition, since the chances of having it increase with age. Low oxygen levels have been linked to reduced thickness in portions of the brain vital for memory. These brain areas change with the onset of dementia. 

Normal Signs of Aging

Ehrlich talks about what she looks for when she’s evaluating patients for signs of dementia. First, she’ll check if they can still learn new technology. It’s normal if it takes a little longer to get the hang of your recently purchased smartphone, but if you can learn an unfamiliar task, you likely don’t have dementia. Multitasking may have become more of a challenge, but semantic memory, or memory involving facts and concepts, tends to remain at the same level or dip slightly with age. And some women find themselves forgetful and distracted while the hormones of menopause rage, then improve dramatically when the hormones flatten back out. 

However, episodic memory, which affects your ability to recall an appointment or remember your favorite new book author, is a hallmark sign of dementia. However, a host of other causes having nothing to do with aging can affect episodic memory as well. 

Certainly, if you suspect that you or a loved one may have dementia, or you just want some assurance that you don’t have the disease, call your doctor. After ruling out a physical cause, they can run a combination of cognitive and neuropsychological tests to assess mental functioning. But odds are, you are just getting older. 

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Will Coronavirus Ruin Your Retirement?

The economy took a sharp stumble when the pandemic hit; some businesses aren’t getting back up. Older adults worry about retirement in the aftermath.

The unemployment rate caused by COVID-19 precautions has hit older Americans harder than any other group except the youngest workers. Older adults may not return to the workforce, or they may take a long time to do so. An April 2020 survey showed 32% of baby boomers had lost confidence in their ability to retire due to the pandemic. And while they’re waiting it out, they could be reducing funds intended for retirement or making a decision to start Social Security earlier than they’d planned.

Unemployment High

Why is it that the old are becoming unemployed at a greater rate than most? The jobs they primarily occupied were in industries that got slammed: education and health care fields unrelated to COVID-19 care such as dentist offices, optometrist offices, and home health care. Older women were more affected than older men.

These aging workers are unlikely to be hired back as readily as younger cohorts. Age discrimination could rear its ugly head as employers fear having to make special accommodations for a population most vulnerable to the coronavirus. They may worry about liability if they cannot provide a safe work environment for older adults. 

What to Do When the Market Falls

Nothing. That’s right, the best thing to do is simply hold tight. Don’t sell! The market goes up and the market goes down, but mostly over time, it goes up. If you buy and hold low-cost index funds, you can pretty much ignore the market gyrations. Of course, when the market is down the stock of great American companies is on sale — recently, by as much as 40%! If you had extra cash, it was a great time to add to market holdings.

Bonds can give you some peace of mind when the market is declining. They tend to go up when stocks are sliding down. Finally, the dividend payout of stocks naturally rises when the value of the stock falls, as long as the company doesn’t cut dividends. If you find yourself hyperventilating during a market downturn, watch this 2-minute video of legend Warren Buffett and financial professionals for reassurance.

Fraud Increasing

Even before the coronavirus appeared, 9.2% of older Americans fell below poverty thresholds in 2017. They were going to have to continue working, according to Anna Maria Chavez of the National Council on Aging. 

All of these vulnerable adults are looking for a way out of their predicament, and it’s spawned a new wave of scammers targeting them for whatever savings they have left. “We call it ‘fake friends,’” says Chavez. These cheats offer “financial services” or pitch get-rich-quick schemes involving retirement or investment ideas. The Federal Trade Commission has responded with a scam bingo card to educate older consumers about the fraud. 

Use Assistance

Financial experts urge those who qualify to sign up for state and federal programs aimed to help them through hard times. You may qualify for SNAP (you may remember it as food stamps) or unemployment insurance. Ask your landlord for rent reduction or call your lender and see if you can negotiate forbearance on mortgage payments that will then be tacked on to the end of your mortgage term. 

If a job with a low payout would enable you to manage but you can’t find anything locally, try contacting the Retired and Senior Volunteer Programs (RSVP).  These programs connect people age 55 and up with rewarding work that may pay a small hourly rate.


In the meantime, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has several provisions covering retirement accounts:

  • If you’re younger than 59-and-a-half, there is normally a 10% penalty on withdrawals from IRAs and defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. The CARES Act waives the penalty if you’ve experienced hardship due to the pandemic for withdrawals up to $100,000 made from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. The CARES Act also allows up to three years to pay taxes on the withdrawal, and you can repay all or part of the distribution within three years and they won’t be counted toward annual contribution limits. 
  • Some employers allow loans from employer-sponsored retirement plans for those impacted by the coronavirus. The limit is $50,000 to $100,000 if your employer is participating. You may also borrow up to 100% of your vested amount, with the possible limit temporarily bumped up to $100,000 from $50,000. Loan payments due from now until December 31 on an existing loan may be deferred for a year. However, interest will continue to accrue. Contact your human resources office for details where you work.

Whether or not you should take a loan or make a withdrawal from your retirement plan is a different question. If you can avoid it and get by on other savings or assistance, you probably should. But if you’re facing an inability to pay your mortgage or buy food, it may be your only option. 

Finally, the CARES Act allows people subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs) to forego them without penalty for 2020. People 72 and older with an IRA, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA or other retirement plan such as a 401(k) can waive payments. If you can make do without the withdrawal, it may be a good idea, but be sure to consult your tax advisor first.

Thankfully, many sectors of the economy appear to be recovering faster than was expected. But a crisis can occur at any time. The best offense is a good defense: In this case, having emergency funds so you don’t need to tap retirement accounts. But if you must, there is leeway through the CARES Act to make that a little less painful.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Travel in the Time of COVID-19

Is it Safe to Travel? Here’s what the experts are saying.

Cabin fever: everybody’s got it. But there is much debate as to whether it is safe to go to your favorite local restaurant, much less across the country. You may really need to travel somewhere, such as to help aging parents relocate. Or it could be you’ve heard that a cruise you’ve always wanted to do is half off if you buy tickets now. Should you? Find out what experts are saying about travel today. 

What About Airbnb Stays?

Lodging is a whole other can of worms. Many families are looking to the comfort of whole-house rental for a safe stay, while others eye cabins. In late April, Airbnb announced its Enhanced Cleaning Initiative to standardize cleaning and sanitation among its members. It gives hosts three options for cleaning their rentals:

  1. Most rigorous. Hosts enroll in the Cleaning Protocol learning and certification program. Only approved disinfectant can be used, and rentals maintain 24-hour periods between hosting to mitigate the risk of airborne particles being shared among guests. 
  2. Booking Buffer. In this level, the rental remains vacant for 24 hours after a guest leaves. It is then cleaned, and another 48 hours must pass before another guest enters. This protocol works for hosts who cannot obtain the required cleaning products of the Cleaning Protocol or can’t use them because they outsource a cleaning provider. 
  3. Nothing new. The third option is business as usual, but there is going to be serious market pressure to follow option 1 or 2. 
These guidelines are expected to roll out in June. Watch the space for changes and ask potential hosts what they are doing to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus before you book.


Which airline you take, and which aircraft from their fleet, has a direct bearing on your safety in the skies. Since there are no national protocols at the time of this writing, it is only wise to dial the airline and ask a few questions. How many passengers are they seating to a row? Will alternate rows be empty? What are their sanitation procedures? Does the aircraft you will be in have a HEPA filter? Are they seating the middle row?

Most airlines are fogging the aircraft with disinfectant, but you still may want to wipe down the most germ-filled surfaces, which are the tray in front of you, arm rests and buttons, plus the lavatory door and sink handles. Avoid using the bathroom if you can. Wear a mask, and use gloves throughout your trip. The HEPA filter contained in most planes today is the same filter used in hospital ICUs. You can turn on the overhead air flow and adjust it to just in front of your face, helping to whisk away any virus that may be headed your way.

Additionally, be careful in the airport to maintain at least six feet in the security line and terminal. Hanging out in a crowd can increase your risk of getting the disease. Bring sanitizer and/or wipes and use them whenever you must touch something that could be exposed to the virus. Recent travelers report overall positive experiences in the air and at the nation’s airports; however, TSA personnel cuts may mean that the special clearance you paid for has no dedicated line, and you will be taking your shoes off in security like everyone else. On the bonus side, most airlines are currently offering free changes up to, or even including, the day of travel, and flights are picking up daily, increasing your odds of a direct route.

Bus and Train Travel

Again, a call to the company you are riding with will tell you a lot about the safety factor. Are passengers seated in alternating rows? What happens to passengers with a fever? What sanitation protocols are in place?


Cruise ships have been referred to as “floating petri dishes,” so why would anyone book a cruise now? Price, my friend, low price. But would you be crazy to get on a boat at this stage in the game? Currently, the CDC’s answer is “yes.” Visit this travel site for updated details.

Although cruise lines are working out how to ensure safer travel onboard, it is currently quite risky to be at sea with a thousand of your closest friends. There is just no way to isolate in a cruise vessel, where mingling is normally encouraged and unavoidable. If you must go on a cruise, do your best to maintain a six-foot clear radius around you (those German pool noodle-wearers might bear imitation). Also, consider taking meals in your cabin, wiping surfaces employees may have touched. And, as in all public areas, avoid public restrooms if at all possible.


Everybody you know has hopped in their RV for a safe travel adventure … but is it? Actually, RV’ing is not a bad way to go if you take a few simple precautions. Use the bathroom in the RV, not public restrooms, along the way. Gas up with gloves or use sanitizer or wipes at the pump. Wear a mask in public areas, such as when you stop for gas or groceries. Stock up with food and water at home, if possible. Remember that restaurants may be closed. If you are renting an RV, follow the CDC’s guidance on cleaning and disinfecting. Finally, check on state or local health restrictions along the way and at your destination.


Now there’s an idea: it’s cheap, it’s in the great outdoors, and it’s easy to stay away from other people when camping, right? Well, the answer is mostly yes. A recent study found the virus dies quickly on surfaces and in the air when exposed to direct sunlight, and other research notes that wind carries it away outdoors. These factors, plus a tendency to isolate at your campsite and in your group on the trail, make car camping or erecting a tent an excellent choice. Just remember that public restrooms can gather the virus, so you may want to invest $20 in a Luggable Loo portable toilet before you go. Wear a mask if you are around others and maintain a six-foot radius on the trail.

Other Considerations

Planning and preparation is always a part of travel, but there are more things to consider now that COVID-19 is in the world. You may be so used to going to a favorite restaurant at your destination that you forget to call and make sure they are open, but that’s important nowadays, especially if you’ve planned to eat out. If the place is open for business, it is okay to ask what they are doing to keep customers (and staff) safe. It is also better to be seated outdoors on a patio instead of inside.

Another thing that may never have crossed your mind is to carry an advance healthcare directive with you, particularly if you will be cruising. It is a legal document about what actions you would like taken for your health in the event you can no longer make those decisions because of illness or incapacity.

If you can, it is safest to stay at home. But if you need to travel, remember that the virus is still out there, and people are still getting sick and going to the hospital. We are all tired of hanging out at home, but it is a lot better than lying in bed in an ICU, and that should be top of mind when making the decision to travel.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Telemedicine Is on the Rise for Older Adults

With the advent of COVID-19, telemedicine has come into its own. But how does it work? What will you pay? Is it as good as seeing your doctor in person?

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, older adults are isolating at home and in care facilities for safety. Problem is, the vast majority of them need health care, either for chronic conditions or acute issues. With the health care system strained, the Trump administration recently cleared the way for a temporary increase in the use of telemedicine.

Telemedicine is “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status,” according to the American Telemedicine Association. Simply put, it involves having provider visits via computer or phone, and monitoring patient health remotely with sensors. A steady stream of vital signs can be automatically recorded and shared while the patient stays comfortably at home.

“Having a feed of information that tracks vitals over time is much more comprehensive than the snapshot assessment that’s obtained during an in-office doctor’s visit,” says Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology and executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST). “Doctors can prescribe appropriate treatments and interventions, as well as detect the early onset of disease, without patients even leaving their homes.” More than half of hospitals use telemedicine in some way to monitor patient health.

Coverage Increases

On March 17, the White House announced an expansion of benefits under Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered ... and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a prepared statement.

Telemedicine may be as simple as a call from an older adult to a health provider to report symptoms from a new medication and ask for guidance. But older adults who are not as able can benefit as well by having a caretaker give updates or detail an issue. And automatic monitors — such as fall alerts or heart monitors — can send critical information without the need for human intervention.

Many providers are hopeful that the new guidelines will endure beyond the pandemic. As lawmakers realize the cost savings and patients experience the convenience and accessibility of the technology, virtual care could become the new norm.

How Does It Work?

Telemedicine can’t mend a broken bone, but it’s amazing how many services can be delivered virtually. Doctors, Physician’s Assistants and other professionals can Skype or FaceTime clients and hear how they are doing with a new medication, if they may benefit from an antidepressant, ask about a rash that the patient can “show” them with a phone or computer camera, or recommend virtual mental health therapy. They can also go over prescribed exercises, ask how a patient is eating or get a report on vital signs.

The health care worker benefits by being able to handle a larger number of patients without the expense of upkeep in the waiting room or exam rooms. (Some providers offer their services exclusively via electronic communication, eschewing a brick-and-mortar office completely). Providers are also protected from catching any bacteria or virus the patient may have, and vice-versa.

While anyone can benefit from the ease of picking up the phone for a visit with the doctor, some groups are particularly grateful for the option. Older adults with mobility issues, those in rural areas where health care is geographically far away, and those who lack transportation all find a major problem fixed. In addition, patients with diabetes, heart issues or lung problems may be treated without the worry of exposure to someone carrying the coronavirus.

What Is Covered?

Currently, Medicare will cover three types of virtual services:

  • Check-ins. Medicare beneficiaries can message their care provider to cut down on trips to the office. This service may be included for chronically ill people who need to check in on a set basis.
  • Telehealth visits. Patients can consult with a professional over the phone instead of in person. This works for mental health care as well.
  • E-visits. Non-urgent communication is initiated by the patient via email, and follow-up is provided by the health care professional. 

Show Me the Numbers

  • Those casting a jaundiced eye at the novel technology may be swayed by numbers emerging from an ever-growing body of research. Consider the following:
  • At a chain of skilled nursing homes in Illinois, telemedicine is in use to cut down on both emergency visits and readmissions to hospitals. Nearly 81% of patients using the technology could be treated on site.
  • In Pennsylvania, a nonprofit running senior living communities managed to reduce the percentage of older adults moving into nursing homes from 20% to 12% just by having frail patients wear a monitoring device that could alert nurses to a fall.
  • The cost of starting a telemedicine program in nursing homes can be balanced by a reduction in costs of transferring patients to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. 

And it’s not just patients who benefit. Caregivers find that telemedicine can be a lifeline, reducing the need to take Mom to appointments. They are also able to stay involved in the care protocol for their loved one, since they can ask questions and make reports electronically.

Veterans with limited mobility or chronic illness may also take advantage of telemedicine. The hope is that these services can avoid a move into a skilled nursing facility.

The future for telemedicine looks promising as more and more innovations in monitoring equipment hit the market, and older adults adapt to electronic visits. The population will become more device-savvy over time, and telemedicine, like online banking, is likely to play an ever-larger role in delivering a vital service.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Robot Pets for Lonely Older Adults

Facing isolation from pandemic-induced quarantines and worry about the safety of their health, older adults turn to tech devices to relieve loneliness. 

Wagging his tail, big brown eyes softly shining, the dog lies patiently in the lap of an older adult. When he’s petted behind his ears, he leans in for more. And he never soils the carpet or needs to be walked. That’s because he is a Tombot, a robotic puppy in development for older adults with dementia. These companion “animals” are increasingly being considered for use with older adults who have limited human interaction due to fears of COVID-19 contamination.

As adults age, the problem of loneliness increases; a 2018 study found that a third of adults over 45 felt lonely. And those who are lonely and isolated socially tend to have more health problems. Pets have been proven to be valuable companions, but many older adults lack the ability to provide necessary care for an animal. Enter technology.

Robots to the Rescue

Robotic cats, dogs and even seals have been created to respond to touch, motion and sound. Studies show that they reduce stress and provide increased engagement with both the older adult and their environment.

“What we saw from the robotic, interactive pets project is that it appeared to provide our day care participants with a companion that prompted them to speak to the pet often as well as share their feelings,” said one researcher. “Participants seemed to believe that the pet was responding to their statements through meowing, turning their head, or blinking their eyes, and that they were ‘having a conversation’ with the pet.”

You can watch older adults interacting with the pets in a YouTube news report about a care service that offers a robotic pet on visits.


One limiting factor can be the cost of the robotic pets, some of which are quite advanced. Sony’s Aibo robot dog arrives complete with facial recognition and internet connectivity for $2,900. Paro the seal sports five types of sensors and can learn to behave in a way the user prefers. But you will have to part with several thousand dollars for the privilege.

A pair of companies recognized the need for a less expensive version that wasn’t overly simplistic. Tombot’s pup retails for $500, and Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All cats and dogs, although marginally less realistic, can be had for $100. They focus on a smaller set of realistic behaviors: head movements, facial expressions, and tail wagging.

While the love and attention of caregivers and others cannot be replaced, the robotic companions are a boon for older adults who spend time alone. Even those who have never owned an animal often react positively when the “pet” is introduced. In these trying times, it is nice to have another option to help Mom or Dad feel like they have a friend.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, July 3, 2020

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 9 - Jimmy Smits, actor

Brooklyn-born Jimmy Smits may be best known for playing attorney Victor Sifuentes on the legal drama L.A. Law, or you might have caught him on NYPD Blue as Detective Bobby Simone. More recently, he played the part of Matt Santos on the political drama West Wing.

The handsome star was born to working-class parents. His father was from Suriname and his mother was born in Puerto Rico, where Smits spent time as a child. The family was devoutly Roman Catholic, and Smits still returns to Puerto Rico often.

No slouch at academics, Smits earned a bachelor’s from Brooklyn College and a Master of Fine Arts from Cornell University. He appeared in many plays at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York. His screen acting career began with a role in Miami Vice (remember that show?!) back in 1984 when he played the part of Sony Crockett’s original partner, shot to death in a sting that backfired. Smits identifies as Puerto Rican and has won the HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.

After a short marriage to his high school sweetheart that produced two children, Smits has partnered with actress Wanda De Jesus. The couple live in Los Angeles and support a number of charities, including the Red Cross and Stand up to Cancer.

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 13 - Chris White, saxophonist for Dire Straits 

It’s every kid’s dream: start playing an instrument at the age of 13 and wind up touring with a world-famous band. White did exactly that, playing with other famous artists such as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger over the decades. The saxophone was his instrument of choice as a teen, and he quickly became so skilled that he was playing in the United Kingdom’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

White is also competent on flute and tambourine, and can switch from jazz to Celtic rock, country or blues. His one solo album, released in 1991, is Shadowdance. A motorcycle accident two years later prevented him form a planned tour with Pink Floyd. White performed at the Live Aid concert and Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert, both in 1988, as well as the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in 2007.

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 17 - Paul Stamets, mycologist and environmentalist 

This American icon has made his name as an expert on, and promoter of, the lowly mushroom. In fact, the character Lieutenant Commander Paul Stamets on the Star Trek: Discovery series on CBS was named after the real-life Stamets.

Holding only a bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Stamets became a logger but learned mycology (the study of fungi) on his own after his late brother stoked an interest in the field. Stamets has written five books on the subject of mushrooms. The latest, penned in 2019, is titled, Fantastic Fungi: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness & Save the Planet.

In 2014, Stamets garnered the Invention Ambassador Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is currently married and has two children from a previous marriage, one of which bears the name of a hallucinogenic mushroom.

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 18 - Bernd Fasching, painter and sculptor

Austrian Bernd Fasching works and lives in Vienna. He is perhaps best known for a series of pieces he created when he lived and worked in galleries around the world, creating each piece over 12 days and 12 nights while living in the gallery. For this period, he would engage with visitors, using their talks to inspire themes. A soundtrack composed for each location would play during the entire 288 hours for each project, set in Vienna (1987), Amsterdam (1980), Cologne (1991), Zurich (1992), Jerusalem (1994), New York (1997), and returning to Vienna again in 2006. The piece would be created in front of the eyes of gallery visitors, who could return throughout the process to watch the work evolve. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 25 - Iman, model, actress and entrepreneur  

Iman (born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid) was born in Mogadishu, Somalia and lived most of her first four years with her grandparents before heading to boarding school in Egypt. She returned to Somalia in her teen years, then moved to Kenya at the urging of her ambassador father. While studying political science at the University of Nairobi she was “discovered” by an American photographer and moved to the U.S. to start a modeling career.

After debuting in prestigious Vogue magazine, Iman’s image wound up on the covers of every important fashion journal in America, establishing her as a supermodel. Her lanky, tall body and impossibly slim neck, copper skin and exotic air made her the muse of designers such as Halston, Versace, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. A darling of Yves Saint-Laurent, she was described by him as his “dream woman.”

After dominating the fashion world, Iman took on an acting career as well, including stints hosting Project Runway Canada and The Fashion Show. She also took on film roles, including the thriller No Way Out with Kevin Costner and the comedy The Linguini Incident. After mixing her own makeup for nearly 20 years, Iman founded a cosmetics firm that is still a top foundation brand.

Her philanthropic endeavors are legendary, centering around children and poverty. She is a global advocate for CARE, an ambassador for Save the Children and works for the Children’s Defense Fund, among other roles.

After a pair of marriages that ended in divorce, Iman wed David Bowie in 1992. Their daughter was born in 2000 in New York City, and the pair resided primarily in Manhattan and London. Iman became a widow in 2016 when Bowie succumbed to liver cancer.

Click below for the other articles in the July 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, June 29, 2020

Sleep and Alzheimer’s Linked

New studies show a relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and a lack of deep sleep. Nap habits are a key.

Decades before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is made, those likely to get the disease show disruptions in sleep patterns, in particular, a lack of deep sleep. So says Ruth Benca, a psychiatrist at the University of California Irvine. Her work has followed the parallels between rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep and the development of Alzheimer’s. Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that people who have less slow-wave sleep also have higher levels of the brain protein tau, an indicator for Alzheimer’s. 

Track Your Sleep

Both Fitbit and the Apple Watch can help monitor your sleep habits. However, the battery life of Ionic, Versa and Charge 3 Fitbits can be measured in days, not hours, encouraging users to wear it at night, encouraging sleep tracking. “Our typical user is viewing sleep as being really important to their general wellness and mental health and how they handle stress and fatigue,” says Dr. Conor Heneghan, head of innovation and research at Fitbit

Not that the Apple Watch isn’t a stellar health device. It can track sleep by using the heart rate monitor, but its 18-hour battery life means you need to take it off to charge it up. It also requires a third-party app to download data so that users can visualize the results. Fitbit sleep tracking is built into the device, just like step tracking, and you don’t have to set up or install anything additional. 

“We’re very interested in using the sleep tracking to then provide an additional service to alert people to a sleep apnea risk,” Heneghan said. “That’s where the battery life is important, because if you’re charging your device, you can’t be screening or detecting your sleep problems.” 

One way to avoid battery issues is to get a device specifically for sleep. The Oura ring slides on a finger at night and measures REM sleep, deep sleep, restlessness and other factors. However, some might be discouraged by its $299 and up price tag on a device that only measures sleep habits. 

Another downside to sleep tracking is that anxiety over results may actually make your sleep worse, not better. And while you may learn that sleep worsens after a glass or two of wine and improves on days you exercised, what do you do with the rest of the data? Experts recommend writing down your mood when you awaken, but before taking a look at device results, to better assess how your night’s rest has made you feel.

Sleep Adaptogens: Botanicals To Relieve Stress 

Adaptogens have long been used in Chinese medicine to help “balance” the body. They have to meet three criteria: 

  1. They must be nonspecific and assist the body in a range of adverse conditions (physical, chemical and/or biological stress).
  2. They must offset or resist physical disorders caused by external stress. 
  3. They must not harm the normal functions of the body. 

"The stress hormone, called cortisol, is our primary fight-or-flight hormone, and its release triggers an adrenal response causing physiological changes such as spikes in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar,” according to Steven Zen, founder and CEO of Lokai, which has a line of adaptogen tonics. A spike in cortisol can lead to sleep disruption.

Some of the better-known adaptogens for sleep include ashwagandaha, prized in Ayurvedic medicine for its healing power, and Holy Basil, which is thought to bestow tranquility. They are available in tablets, teas and more. 

It’s long been known that people with Alzheimer’s tend to have poor sleep. But scientists now think that that a lack of deep sleep may be a sign of the disease that appears long before cognitive symptoms are apparent.

"What's interesting is that we saw this inverse relationship between decreased slow-wave sleep and more tau protein in people who were either cognitively normal or very mildly impaired, meaning that reduced slow-wave activity may be a marker for the transition between normal and impaired," said first author Brendan Lucey, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center. "Measuring how people sleep may be a noninvasive way to screen for Alzheimer's disease before or just as people begin to develop problems with memory and thinking.”

Studies show that amyloid beta protein starts to build plaque in the brain well before memory loss and confusion are evident. Tangles of tau appear after the plaque, but in advance of brain atrophy. While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are medicines that can slow its progression if it is discovered early. 


"The key is that it wasn't the total amount of sleep that was linked to tau, it was the slow-wave sleep, which reflects quality of sleep," says Lucey. "The people with increased tau pathology were actually sleeping more at night and napping more in the day, but they weren't getting as good quality sleep.” 

In fact, daytime resting in itself was “significantly” tied to high tau levels, meaning that nappers might want to seek further testing. But nap habits alone, or even impaired sleep, don’t mean you’ll get Alzheimer’s.

"I don't expect sleep monitoring to replace brain scans or cerebrospinal fluid analysis for identifying early signs of Alzheimer's disease, but it could supplement them," Lucey said. "It's something that could be easily followed over time, and if someone's sleep habits start changing, that could be a sign for doctors to take a closer look at what might be going on in their brains."

The Chicken or the Egg?

One thing that researchers don’t yet understand is if poor sleep is allowing buildups of amyloid and tau, or if amyloid and tau deposits inhibit deep sleep. However, healthy research subjects who consented to being awakened every hour (!) showed increased levels of amyloid the day after in a study from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

While none of us is likely to get a good night’s sleep every time we lay our head on a pillow, it’s worth the effort. Aim for seven hours. Think of it like you do other health initiatives — getting enough exercise, eating well, keeping alcohol consumption moderate, and not smoking. You may not always meet your goals, but aiming for them is a good thing in itself.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Quotes From Famous People Will Influence Your Money Decisions

Follow these nuggets of wisdom to better money management and your ultimate worth.

No matter where we are in our financial journey, there’s always something we can learn. Maybe our priorities aren’t quite where we want them to be, or problems at home or work have upended our finances. The following quotes are useful to anyone, and come from some of the best minds on the subject. There are bound to be at least a couple that can inspire us to improve the way we manage our money, our time, and our priorities.

  • “A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.” — Dave Ramsey 
Finance guru Ramsey knows that being in control of your money starts with a plan. Having a budget allows you to first see where you’re spending. It’s an essential step before deciding where you can make changes. Divide your expenses into needs (such as rent, utilities and health coverage) vs. wants (such as new clothes, eating out and game tickets) to find your base expenses and identify areas where you can save. Try the free Mint or Personal Capital budget trackers.

  • “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” — Colin Powell
Whether you have a dream to run your own business or retire early, it’s not going to be easy. Forget about winning the lottery (the odds are about one in 300 million). You need to have a vision and then work hard and consistently toward your goal.

  • “Every time you borrow money, you’re robbing your future self.” — Nathan W. Morris
Bad debt, such as balances on credit cards, can make it impossible to get ahead. Never ever carry a balance on a credit card; the interest rate will kill your savings and the balance will hurt your credit score. Payday loans are another bad idea. 

  • “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau
Think about your spending in terms of lifespan instead of money. Is that big new car worth a year of stress and being tied to the office? And what about the increased cost for insurance, tires, registration and servicing? Did you buy it with a loan? Then you’re also giving up many, many future hours of your life. To put this in perspective, read “Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.” 

  • “I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.” — Benjamin Disraeli
Insurance helps you to be prepared for the worst. Life insurance, homeowners insurance, umbrella insurance and disability insurance are some that you’ll want to at least consider. Making a will and having a health care directive are two more ways to prepare for what may come. 

  • “It’s how you deal with failure that determines how you achieve success.” — David Feherty
If you can manage to go through the worst times with grace, keeping your ethics and attitude high, it’s fairly certain that you’ll maintain them when luck and hard work lead to success. It’s not always easy, but having an even keel really can help you navigate the toughest storms. The same goes for investing, where panic and greed never lead to a good end. Stay the course with sound, diversified investments and time is your friend.

  • “The stock market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient.” — Warren Buffett
Take it from the Oracle of Omaha, sound investing requires time and faith. Faith in the companies or indexes you have chosen. Studies prove, over and over, that much more money is lost by people trying to time the market (selling at highs, buying at lows) than by those who simply stay the course, investing over time. It’s easier said than done. Human nature works against us, urging us to sell in a panic at market lows and buy at the top when everything looks rosy. Listen to Buffett.

  • “When buying shares, ask yourself, would you buy the whole company?” — Rene Rivkin
You are buying the company, at least a piece of it, when you buy a share of stock. (Bonds, on the other hand, are loans you make to companies). So before you become an owner, you should make sure that you believe this is the best company in its class, the best investment you could make with that money. Otherwise, keep looking.

  • “Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack.” — John Bogle
Even though Bogle is no longer with us, the proclaimed father of the index fund at Vanguard still inspires an army of proud Bogleheads who invest, not in individual companies, but in baskets of stocks that follow the S&P 500 or some other major index. Research shows that even supposed “expert” managers underperform the market most of the time. An added bonus is that index investors don’t have to worry about market ups and downs, thus having more hours to spend in life pursuits, whatever they may be.

  • “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” — Benjamin Franklin
Franklin’s sage advice is as true today as it was in his time. The more skilled you can be in your career, the more you’re likely to get paid and the more autonomy you will have. Find a niche, and strive to be the very best one in it. Go to seminars, read books (like Bill Gates!), hire a coach and seek out a mentor. No matter what your field, from app development to bartending, knowledge is the key to success.

  • “The amount of money you have has got nothing to do with what you earn. People earning a million dollars a year can have no money. People earning $35,000 a year can be quite well off. It’s not what you earn; it’s what you spend.” — Paul Clitheroe
In “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” the authors reveal that most millionaires are ordinary people with run-of-the-mill jobs who invested their savings and lived below their means. No, they didn’t win the lottery, inherit a fortune or become a CEO in the vast majority of cases. They drive an older car that has long been paid off. They don’t buy fancy clothes. Their home is likely to be in a nondescript neighborhood. When you hear about the secretary who left $8 million to her alma mater, it isn’t because her paycheck was exceptional, but her habit of saving and investing was.

  • “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” — Unknown
Indeed, Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in America, says he measures his success by how much he is loved by the people who matter to him. We all want financial security, but putting the spotlight on making money without paying attention to how we treat others and what we are teaching them leads to an empty life. Ask yourself if you are helping those below you to improve their position, if you are a benefit to your community and if you are contributing to goals that are bigger than you are. There’s no better time than right now to start.

Click below for the other articles in the June 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Relief for Cancer Patients in One Dose

Anxiety, depression and dread in cancer patients was substantially reduced with a single dose of this popular drug combined with therapy.

When someone has cancer, the weight of the world can be on their shoulders. Will I die? How will I ever pay the medical bills? How will my family survive? How can I work when I feel so awful? These terrible anxieties can impair healing and quality of life for the time that is left.

But what if a single dose of a drug could alleviate those symptoms for years? That is exactly what researchers found when they gave cancer patients psilocybin, a compound found in “magic” mushrooms. Once looked at as a dangerous recreational drug class, psychedelics are being studied extensively for their ability to make quick, profound changes in patients with a variety of ailments, including cancer.

Meaningful Experience

“Three out of four of our participants said the therapy was the singular or in the top five most spiritually meaningful experiences of their lives, and they continue to remember them,” says researcher Stephen Ross at NYU Langone and senior study author. “These experiences rapidly changed their relationship to cancer, changes which this long-term follow-up study suggests endure for years.” Researchers speculate that the mechanism of action in psilocybin is related to a common class of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), a group that includes Prozac and Zoloft, commonly used to treat depression and other issues.

These new results build on a 2016 study of 29 cancer patients who were divided into two groups. One received a single dose of psilocybin and participated in nine psychotherapy sessions. The other group got a placebo (Niacin), which produces a flush similar to that of psilocybin and also took part in nine psychotherapy sessions. After seven weeks, researchers switched the group that got the real drug and the one that got the placebo.

Patients recorded how they felt. Psilocybin produced “immediate, substantial and sustained improvements” in anxiety and depression in 100% of participants, researchers noted. “One day after getting psilocybin, 80% of the participants no longer met criteria for depression related to cancer,” Ross says. These effects were “immediate and clinically meaningful.” However, since the study wasn’t blind, there remains the question of a placebo effect.

Success Over Time

But no one knew if or how long the effects would last. The team performed a follow-up with 15 of the original participants (nine had since died). No further treatment was given, but the participants filled out a questionnaire at 3.2 and 4.5 years after the first study. It asked open-ended questions about life since the psilocybin and therapy experience. 

The majority reported a reduction in anxiety, depression, hopelessness, demoralization and death anxiety. Furthermore, scientists determined that 60% to 80% demonstrated signs of having eliminated clinical depression and anxiety at each time period.

A full 71% to 100% of participants attributed these uplifting changes to the psilocybin-assisted therapy and judged it to be one of the most meaningful and spiritual life experiences they had ever had. None of the participants reported long-term negative effects from the sessions. 

My experience during the dosing was profound,” said one participant during a teleconference to discuss the research. “I experienced first-grade anxiety and then that turned to great compassion for the suffering on Earth, in all different modalities. Then, that turned into a profound spiritual awareness of how connected we all are. That has lasted and opened me enormously.”

Pathways in the brain appear to open with the use of psilocybin, although scientists don’t know exactly how it works. “The brain appears to be more interconnected when you use psilocybin,” Ross said. “Parts of the brain that don't normally speak to each other communicate with each other.”


While we may be years away from routinely using psilocybin to treat people with cancer-related psychological issues, many parts of the country are beginning to recognize that the drug is not as dangerous as once thought, at least by the government. Denver, Colorado led the way with a May 2019 vote to decriminalize magic mushrooms. The policy change at the Colorado capitol has inspired a grassroots movement throughout the country. 

Oakland and Santa Cruz decriminalized a wider range of psychedelic substances, and Oregonians will face a statewide ballot to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use in November. Activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in similar changes. 

Psychedelics Research Center

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University announced in September that more than $17 million in private funds had been donated to open the nation’s first center for the exclusive study of psychedelic drugs. A prestigious team is currently conducting studies on an array of drugs, which they hope will make inroads in the treatment of opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Conversely, the National Drug Intelligence Center states, “Yes, psilocybin is illegal. Psilocybin is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I drugs, which include heroin and LSD, have a high potential for abuse and serve no legitimate medical purpose in the United States.” While the drug is still classified Schedule I, as it has been since Nixon was president, the page lists a caveat: “ARCHIVED January 1, 2006. This document may contain dated information. It remains available to provide access to historical materials.”

Only time will tell if the results of these initial studies hold up. But it is worth following scientific efforts to see if that is the case, especially as some entities push to not only legalize but medicalize psilocybin and similar drugs. The thought is to treat them similar to marijuana, which is now widely available in controlled, state-approved shops with specified strengths and dosing. As with marijuana, researchers need to evaluate how psilocybin interacts with other medications to determine possible contraindications for its use. At this juncture, it appears the benefit may outweigh the risk for the population being treated.

Click below for the other articles in the June 2020 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, June 22, 2020

Robot Dog Patrols Park

In Singapore, Google’s “dog” robot marches through a large park, making sure people socially distance. 

Visitors to the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park have been unnerved to find a headless, robotic dog purposely treading along the asphalt paths. “Spot,” the yellow and black canine (sort of) spawn of Boston Robotics, is programmed to walk at human speed, occasionally playing a recording in a soft, female voice that encourages people to stay apart.

“Let’s keep Singapore healthy,” says the voice. “For your own safety, and those around you, please stand at least one meter apart. Thank you.”

Not a bad use for the dog-size robot, which is race- and gender-neutral. However, its presence does appear to scare the pants off some park-goers in videos that follow its movement through the grassy space. 

Spot the Robot

The quadruped is a sensation on YouTube, where videos show it walking up and down stairs, blithely operating across precarious terrain, moving through rain and dust, and avoiding obstacles in the dark. It can right itself if it falls over and assume a lowered position on the floor when it is not in use.

You might wonder about getting a Spot of your own, so what does one of these little guys cost?

Boston Dynamics is evasive on the answer. To be certain, it depends on what sort of add-ons your Spot would come with, and how much support the company would provide. Both can vary considerably. But alas, Boston Dynamics is not currently offering its doggy robot for personal use. Instead, businesses can apply to get one by first filling out a questionnaire about what tasks they want the robot to perform. Not only does Boston Dynamics want to make sure expectations are not unrealistic, the company also encourages industry operators to come up with innovative uses for the steel “animal” that the company itself hasn’t yet pondered. In that way, the robot will be tested for unusual jobs that may broaden its sales appeal. However, Boston Dynamics does give a hint about the price: it’s slightly less than the cost of a car. Hmmm, would that be a Land Rover or a Mini Cooper? The company isn’t saying.

One danger in using the robot to maintain social distancing is that people may become blasé about the mechanical canine. How long will it be until people just look at the robot and go on with inappropriately close chatting? 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors