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Saturday, August 6, 2022

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

August 9 - Melanie Griffith, actress and film producer

The daughter of an actress mother and child actor father, Melanie Griffith was practically predestined to become an actress herself. She was a film extra and all of 14 years old in 1973 when she met 22-year-old Don Johnson and began dating him. The pair married three years later; it lasted six months. 

Griffith’s film career had considerably greater longevity, although it was a roller coaster of ups and downs. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won a Golden Globe for 1988’s Working Girl and garnered a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for her work in 1992’s Shining Through. Her best work may have been in the ‘80s when she won critical acclaim for her roles in Body Double, Something Wild, and the aforementioned Working Girl.

Interestingly, Griffith appeared with her mother in 1981 in a movie, Roar, which was one of the most dangerous productions ever filmed. Directed by her then stepfather, the film’s plot features a pair of animal keepers and their daughter when the animals turn on them. Griffith was mauled by a lion and had to have facial surgery to repair the damage. If you want proof, the mauling damage is shown in the movie.

Griffith admits to having had a cocaine and liquor problem after splitting from her second husband, actor Steven Bauer, in 1989. “What I did was drink myself to sleep at night,” she said. “If I wasn’t with someone, I was an unhappy girl.” She soon reunited with Johnson and had a second go at marriage to him. This time around, it lasted seven years. She was with Antonio Banderas before the divorce was final and sustained a 19-year marriage with the actor. Griffith has three children, including actress Dakota Johnson.


Image Source: Wikipedia

August 19 - Darby Hinton, actor

Hinton and his sisters were actors from childhood, and he appeared on (hold on to your nostalgia hats!) Mister Ed, Route 66, Wagon Train, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. But he is best known for playing Israel Boone on Daniel Boone. 

The crazy thing was that getting the role was a total fluke. His busy mom dropped him off at 20th-Century Fox and told him to go stand in line. He had a good voice, and she thought he would be great in a role for The Sound of Music, which was auditioning for the Trapp family parts. She sped off to park the car, and young Hinton got in the wrong line. He auditioned for Israel in Daniel Boone and impressed the casting department to such an extent that they changed the role to that of a younger boy so he could play the part, which he did from 1964 to 1970.

It turned out to be the perfect part. Hinton’s father had died when he was just a year old, and Fess Parker, who played Boone, took the boy under his wing and served as a father figure to the boy. 

Hinton continued acting sporadically. His last role was in 2015, as David Burnet in Texas Rising, shown on the History channel. He married twice and has four children.

Image Source: Wikipedia

August 26 - Rick Hansen, Paralympian

Some people rise above their circumstances and remind us that so much in life is our mental attitude. One such person is Canada’s Rick Hansen. He grew up in British Columbia, an outdoorsy kid who loved to fish with his father and grandfather when he wasn’t playing volleyball, baseball, softball, or basketball. When he was 15, he and a friend were riding in the bed of a pickup when the driver veered off the road and crashed. Hansen flew through the air and landed hard, sustaining a spinal injury that paralyzed him below the waist.

He wasn’t down long. Enduring rigorous rehabilitation, Hansen finished high school and went on to get a degree in Physical Education from the University of British Columbia, the first disabled person to ever do that. Then he won national championships playing on wheelchair volleyball and basketball teams. Next, he pushed himself to compete on the global stage in wheelchair marathons, winning three gold, two silver, and a bronze medal in wheelchair racing at the 1980 and 1984 Summer Paralympics. He also won 19 international wheelchair marathons (26 miles!), three of which were world championships. And he found time to coach basketball and volleyball at the local high school.

Holy smokes, Batman! Most people would rest on their laurels at that point, but not Hansen. Inspired by fellow Canadian Terry Fox, who had lost a leg to bone cancer and set out to run across Canada to raise awareness for cancer research but had to quit midway when the cancer returned, Hansen created the Man in Motion World Tour. He was going to circle the globe in his wheelchair. 

Few paid attention when he set out on March 21, 1985 in Vancouver. But he began to attract press as he continued his 26-month odyssey across four continents, averaging eight hours of wheeling every day. When he finally arrived back in Vancouver to cheering crowds of thousands of admirers, he had raised $26 million for research on spinal cords and initiatives to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Hansen continues the work he started, advocating for those with disabilities. He has also honored those days fishing with family members. He contributed money from his book Tale of the Great White Fish to the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society and he also donates to the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund. Hansen and his wife of 35 years have three children.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Hidden Drawbacks of Medicare Advantage

Insurers offering Advantage plans have an enormous financial interest in your Medicare choice, but what they won’t tell you can make a huge difference in your pocketbook and treatment options. 

If you are nearing 65, you’ve doubtless heard about the many benefits of choosing a Medicare Advantage plan. Medicare Advantage is administered by private insurance companies, not the federal government, and they want you to join. This is not for altruistic reasons; they get paid enormous sums for their efforts. And they are quite successful; more than 40% of seniors 65 and older are on a Medicare Advantage plan.

Chumming the Water

“Chumming” is the practice of throwing cheap baitfish and fish guts into the water to attract big, high-value gamefish. Medicare Advantage lures in customers with low or no additional premiums (everyone pays a premium for Part B) and a variety of benefits not offered through Medicare. You may see dental, vision, or hearing assistance, but caveat emptor. Buyer beware, indeed. The vision benefit may be $100 every other year for eyeglasses, and dental may only cover routine cleanings. 

Advantage plans also might cover gym membership, home improvements such as wheelchair ramps, transportation to doctors’ offices, and even meal delivery. These are all valuable services to you and to your Advantage plan insurer. In this case, both of you have a common goal of keeping you healthy and able to continue living in your residence. The benefits are obvious for you, and all about financial gain for your insurer.

Advantage May Destroy Medicare

Medicare Advantage plans are not Medicare. These private health insurance plans proliferated after the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, and they operate on much looser rules than those required for Medicare. The companies operating them do not get paid on a person-by-person, procedure-by-procedure basis, but instead get a huge lump sum based on the aggregate risk score of all their enrollees. They are thus incentivized to deny authorizations and procedures while making clients look sicker on paper. 

A 2014 report by the Center for Public Integrity entitled, “Why Medicare Advantage Costs Taxpayers Billions More Than It Should” found that risk scores rose twice as fast for people who joined a Medicare Advantage health plan as for those who didn’t, costing taxpayers an estimated $36 billion between 2007 and 2011. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently found that “Medicare Advantage insurer revenues are 30 percent higher than their healthcare spending. Healthcare spending for enrollees in MA is 25 percent lower than for enrollees in [traditional Medicare] in the same county and [with the same] risk score.”

However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is doing virtually nothing to stop these abuses, auditing few cases and settling five of them in 2007 for a paltry $1.3 million. Why? Their employees know that plum jobs await at for-profit insurers if they don’t rock the boat. Presidential administrations are aware that health insurance executives are known to be generous contributors to political campaigns. 

Read more about these abuses.

Some Advantage plans have created a service dubbed “Papa Pals,” wherein the insurer sends a worker to a plan member’s home to “mop floors, clean dishes and help with computer problems” for two hours a week. Sound like a dream benefit? Yep, that is what the insurer thought. And while it can counteract social isolation, these workers are also trained to collect more funds from Medicare by urging members to get annual wellness exams, fill out health risk assessments, and obtain health screenings. What’s so bad about that?

Nothing, except members may self-report issues that get the insurance companies higher reimbursement rates from Medicare. The companies may also be able to lift their star ratings based on performance measures to get bonuses from Medicare. These bonus payments have been rising, from about $5.8 billion in 2017 to double that in 2021. The self-reported health risks also contribute billions to company coffers via extra Medicare payments.

Insurance Agent Premiums

Insurance brokers can get higher initial commissions for selling a Medicare Advantage plan than for traditional Medicare. For instance, broker Stephen O’Brien in Augusta, Maine is paid $573 for selling an Advantage plan versus about half that for original Medicare. He says it does not influence how he presents the options. 


Medicare Advantage plans are based in a specific area. They may have providers only in your state, only in your county, or only, in some rural areas, 100 miles away from you. It is extremely important to ask where providers are located for both basic and specialty care. You will have to use doctors in the network, which may vastly limit your options. Many people buy a particular Advantage plan not realizing that doctors with whom they’ve established long relationships are not available in that network. And if you travel much or have a second home, your network does not travel with you; you will pay out-of-network charges. When you are outside of the US, Advantage plans offer zero coverage, and do not include a provision for paying some of the costs to get you back to the US for treatment as original Medicare plus Medigap do.

Furthermore, Advantage plans are health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or preferred provider organizations (PPOs). You will likely be required to get a referral to see a specialist, and treatment can be denied. In addition, you must pay a copay each time you see a doctor or specialist. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report in April that found Advantage plans inappropriately deny required care to tens of thousands of enrollees every year.

An American Medical Association survey in 2021 discovered that 34% of doctors contacted reported that a prior authorization led to hospitalization, medical intervention to prevent permanent impairment, or even the disability or death of at least one of their patients. This has led to legislation aimed at streamlining Advantage programs in California.

“It has become common practice for health insurance companies to create obstacles for patients, in hopes of not having to pay for essential health care,” says California Medical Association President Robert E. Wailes, M.D. “The reason for these types of obstacles is simple: Fewer procedures performed translates to larger insurance company profits.”

Check Every Year

Your Medicare Advantage plan can change services and costs every year, so be prepared to run the numbers annually versus other plans. The yearly enrollment period (Oct. 15 to Dec. 7) is homework time. And while you can change Advantage plans every year, woe be to you if you want to switch to original Medicare.

When you first sign up for Medicare, you can get a Supplement (Medigap) policy regardless of preexisting conditions. But that is a one-time offer. After that initial pass, you can be denied based on your health forever after. 

Let’s say you are in good health at age 65 and opt for an inexpensive Advantage plan. Then, a few years later, you are diagnosed with cancer. You would like to be treated at a specialized facility, but none in your area is covered by your Advantage insurance. And every test, every treatment, every doctor requires a copay. You quickly hit the $7,550 maximum out-of-pocket for your plan, but that starts over in January when you find out you need additional treatment. Why not switch to original Medicare with a Supplement that will cover nearly all your costs? You can’t because your cancer diagnosis gets you rejected.


Advantage plans are less expensive than original Medicare with a Medigap policy. When you’re 65, that alone can be enough to make your decision. Who doesn’t want cheaper health care? But Advantage plans come with a vast array of copays that can make you feel nickel-and-dimed and may even keep you from seeing a doctor when you should. 

For people who stay relatively healthy throughout their life, Advantage plans can save money and provide good care. But for those who travel throughout the US, who get a devastating diagnosis, who want to choose their own doctors and specialists in a timely manner, who want to buy one policy that will stay the same — original Medicare and a Supplement are hard to beat.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Do You Buy or Do You Rent?

Retirees considering downsizing or moving may decide that renting is a better choice than home ownership.

Older adults are attached to their homes. People aged 55 to 75 with at least $100,000 in investable assets and the same amount in home equity overwhelmingly (83%) want to continue living in their current home, according to a 2016 survey by The American College of Financial Services. For those who thought they’d move, only 5% planned to rent. 

However, according to a 2016 report from Trulia, renting was the less expensive option in 98 out of 100 large cities with a significant population of those 65 and older. Renting is cheaper than buying on the East and West Coasts generally, says Nicolas Retsinas, real estate lecturer at Harvard Business School. So why do seniors hang on to their homes? 

“There is a negative stigma to renting,” says David Blanchett, head of retirement research for Morningstar, the investment research and management company. “Even if the numbers don’t make sense, you would buy because you don’t want to be perceived as a renter.” 
“Very few homeowners ever showed a desire to rent, but if they did, it was related to their overall wealth,” says Jamie Hopkins, retirement program co-director at American College. “Lower-wealth individuals were more likely to consider renting in retirement.”

Advantages of Renting

But rentals can be as posh as you can afford and they have many benefits that a house can’t offer. Flexibility is one of them. If you’re thinking of moving near the children, consider renting nearby to see how you like living there. If they move, you can easily follow them to their new location. You can also live in Santa Fe for six months, then Anchorage, then Miami … it’s up to you and your budget. 

In a rental, someone else shovels the walk, replaces the roof, cleans the gutters, repairs the leaky faucet, and deals with termites. Yes, you can hire those things done, but they are entirely off your plate if you rent. You can also move into housing that has only one floor and a shower with grab bars when you need to.

Making It Easier on Heirs

Estate headaches are often solved when the home is sold before Mom and Dad are gone. Selling the home is stressful for whoever inherits it, says real estate investor Brian Davis. It takes a lot of time and energy, and children may argue over whether one should move in or if they should sell at all. “Retirees should consider offering to sell their home to any of their children and if none bite, then selling it themselves,” Davis says. 

Echoing this sentiment is Leasha West, president of West Insurance and Financial Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She says that moving out of the family home forces seniors to deal with clutter and give away possessions, thus reducing the burden on the family later on. 

Renting Downside

Of course, there are downsides to renting as well. You can’t knock out walls or change the paint at will. The monthly rent can (and probably will) go up, and you are locked into a lease. You may have to pay extra for Fido, too, or pass up the places that don’t allow pets. 

Financial Repercussions

You may think that it is just better to own a home than to rent. After all, you can always do a reverse mortgage or take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC). But those are seldom the best option, according to experts.

You can compare the cost of renting to owning, says Thomas W Watts IV, a financial planner with Watts Capital Partners in New York. For example, if you own a home that nets $500,000 after it is sold, that money can be invested. At an annual return of 5% you would have $25,000 per year to spend on a rental, or $2,083 per month. While Watts includes taxes in his calculations with clients, the general idea is the same. 

AARP offers a handy Rent vs. Buy a House Tool to help you understand the financial implications. Don’t forget that a married couple gets $500,000 worth of capital gains taxes dismissed on a principal residence, and a single person receives half of that number. 

Another thing to consider nowadays is mortgage rates. If you are still paying on your home, hopefully you have low-cost financing. If you go to buy another home and need to get a mortgage, you’ll find that rates have increased substantially. For renters, inflation and rising home prices serve to send rent rates higher as well. Know your numbers and run them by a financial professional before you make any changes. Keep in mind that property taxes, insurance and the cost of improvements will rise over time in a home, and rent goes up over time.

Renting Is Becoming Popular 

Most (80%) people 65 and older own their own home, according to research of Census Bureau data by RentCafe, which hosts apartments for rent on its website. But that number is slowly changing. Renter households where the head was 60 or older grew 43% from 2007 to 2017. 

Where are most older adults choosing to rent? Hello, sunbelt! Austin, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, Ft. Worth, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida had the biggest influx of renters nationally, in that order. 

Whether you are following children or seeking out sunny skies, renting can be a practical alternative to buying a home. It can increase your cash flow, offer greater flexibility, and simplify your life when you prefer playing with the grandchildren to mowing the lawn.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

How To Choose an Assisted Living Facility or Nursing Home

Finding the right place for Mom or Dad is both an art and a science. You have to do your research and trust your gut.  

Assisted living facilities are widely available to help take care of older adults who need help with bathing, dressing, or other daily activities. When that is no longer enough, a nursing home can give 24/7 health care. Either way, it is important to research facilities to determine which one seems to give the best care.


Before deciding on a live-in facility, make sure that is the option you want to pursue. Include the older adult when considering other care options. A major factor can be cost. In 2020, the Genworth Cost of Care Survey documented median annual costs for five options. Remember that the Genworth numbers are not reflective of higher costs in more expensive areas, and that costs in your neck of the woods may be much more than those listed:
Nursing home (private room) $105,852
Nursing home (semi-private room) $93,072
Assisted living $51,600
Home health aide (full time) $54,912
Adult day care $19,236

Check if your parent has long-term care insurance. Generally, it will cover assisted living, but most health insurance plans, including Medicare, do not. It may not cover the full cost of care, either. Read the policy carefully. Medicaid may be an option for those with limited assets, or your state may offer some other assistance. Contact your state’s Medicaid Agency to find out more.

Veterans may be able to get help through the Aid and Attendance benefit, but there are specific criteria that must be met. While it won’t cover room and board at an assisted living facility, the VA health care plan may pay for additional services. Check with your VA pension management center.


Facilities may have just a few patients, or house more than a hundred residents. Each has benefits and drawbacks. A small group home can have a great staff-to-patient ratio where caregivers know every person’s preferences well. They are often located in neighborhoods. 

Where to Get a List of Facilities

Trying to determine what your options are can be daunting. Here are options you can check out to locate facilities in your area:

Remember to ask neighbors, friends, doctors, and other professionals for recommendations.

Larger facilities can offer more amenities such as libraries, music rooms, gyms, and swimming pools. They are sometimes set up to care for residents who start off in independent living and then transition to assisted living and/or memory care units that specialize in people with advanced dementia. They may also have a van or bus to provide transport to shop or obtain health care. Some may have doctors who make house calls and an in-house hair and nail salon.


Basic services usually include housekeeping, laundry, medication management support, wellness programs, and meals. Some facilities may even offer specialized care for those with health conditions.

Consider your mother or father and what activities she or he may be interested in doing. Does the facility have an area for gardening? A year-round art program? Musical outlets? Church services? Reading material? Activities for those with impaired sight or hearing? Will hospice come take care of your parent there if needed?

Also, check to make sure that the facility will give additional help to your parent as their needs increase over time. “This is a really important question and it has to be clearly delineated in writing,” says Nancy Avitabile, owner of Urban Eldercare, a geriatric care management practice in New York City. “So, they may bring someone a tray but they might not be sitting there helping somebody to eat.”

The Facility

AARP has developed a comprehensive, printable checklist of what to look for in a care facility. Here is a modified list of the basics to ask about and verify when you visit:
An emergency generator or alternative power source in case of an outage
Enough common areas, such as dens and living rooms
A floor plan that is logical and easy to follow
Large enough rooms for your family member’s needs
Rooms and bathrooms with handrails and call buttons
Safety locks on doors and windows
Security and fire safety systems
Services such as banking, a beauty salon or a café
Well-lit stairs and hallways with well-marked exits

You will want to visit prospective facilities several times before making a final decision. Be sure to visit on the weekend when it is likely to be busier. Eat a meal - or two or three - to see if Mom or Dad likes the food and to observe if residents in the dining room appear happy. Do staff members address them by their names? Are they chatting over lunch and dinner? Are meals served without excessive waiting? 

Tips From a Caregiver

One former caregiver wrote her thoughts about how to get past the fancy salesperson giving you the tour and ask the people who really know how well the facility is run: the certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who take care of residents. 

She recommends finding out the average salary of the CNAs and comparing it to other places you are considering. The higher the salary, the happier the help, and the better care the residents receive. Also ask about staffing ratios. Do all staff usually show up for every shift? How many residents are they usually caring for on a shift? Do they like working for the facility?

You will have to talk to CNAs without any supervisors around to get honest answers. You might try scheduling a meal at the facility and finding someone assisting a resident who can talk. Or check the area where they take breaks outside. 

The Contract

Don’t sign anything without taking it home and giving the contract a close review. Highlight any parts you don’t understand or have questions about. You can hire an Elder Law Attorney to review it. It may be helpful to have other family members go over the document as well. Be sure to check for an arbitration clause, which Consumer Reports found in many assisted living contracts. It requires you to give up your right to sue, mandating disputes to be settled outside the legal system.

No facility is perfect, but there are better and worse homes for assisted living, and better and worse situations for each prospective resident. Do your research, visit, ask plenty of questions and then make your decision based on a combination of all those factors combined with your gut feeling about a place. Do residents and staff seem happy? Stressed? Do people say hello when you walk by? Does the place smell good? What does your parent think? Can you afford it? The answers to these questions will ultimately help you find the best facility for your needs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Birdwatching Gadgets for Older Adults

Boomers are flocking to birdwatching. What are the best apps and techie equipment? 

Maybe it was the pandemic, when so many of us spent a lot of time at home. Maybe it’s because we are retiring and finding ourselves with more time on our hands. Maybe it’s due to an increased awareness of the natural world and the wonders it holds. Whatever the reason, baby boomers (and younger generations) are spending money and hours observing wild birds. 

A whole industry has sprung up to accommodate the needs and desires of this expanding group, from the newbie putting up their first backyard feeder to the seasoned pro with $2,000 binoculars. It is a wonderful pastime that can lead to new friends and adventures both close to home and in far-flung destinations. You’ll want to know some of the best apps and tech equipment to enhance your hobby. 

Biggest Threat to Birds? Cats.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service catalogs threats to wild birds across the country. Loss of habitat, collision, electrocution, and poisoning (herbicides) all contribute to a toll of just under a trillion feathered animals per year. But by far the biggest culprit is the domestic house cat, which kills more than two trillion birds in this country annually. It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you own a cat, keep your pet indoors. Do you feel like he needs a taste of the outdoors? Build your friend a “catio” like this one made of chicken wire and wooden supports. It will keep your cat and our feathered friends alike safe and secure. Check out the American Bird Conservancy for more information on cats and birds.

Free Apps

We like free, so let’s start with a couple of marvelous apps that many birders don’t know exist:
  • Merlin Bird ID works on seven continents to help identify birds, common or not, that you spot. Just answer three questions and it will provide a list of possible matches. Included on Merlin is Save My Bird, where the app automatically keeps a list of birds you identify using Merlin. Merlin can even provide you with lists of birds you are likely to see wherever you go. 
  • Sound ID can listen to birdsong in the US, Canada, and Europe to help verify your Merlin identification. It is also useful for those feathered friends you can hear but don’t see. More regions are coming soon for those who love to birdwatch on their travels. Sound ID is part of Merlin.
  • Photo ID is yet another cool feature of Merlin ID. This one will use a photo you take of a bird to provide a list of likely matches. Wondering how to use all these remarkable features of the Cornell Labs Merlin app? Get help with tips and tricks
  • eBird Mobile lets you report birds that you see anywhere in the world and contribute to a global online database that is open source for scientific research, education, and conservation.


The only tool you really need to expand your hobby is a pair of binoculars so you can see the sparrow over in the hedge and distinguish if it is indeed a downy woodpecker or a hairy woodpecker at your suet. The only problem is how to choose a pair from the array of choices. For this, we’ve gone to the Audubon binocular guide, rated by attendees at a recent birdwatching convention and chosen from almost 50 models. Here are their top models in three price categories:
  • Get In the Game for less than $150 with the Nikon Prostate 3S 8x42. They earned best in class for clarity, brightness, and color retention and weigh just over a pound. Check here for other contenders and their ratings in the economy class.
  • Lower Mid-Range binoculars will set you back between $300 to $500 but most have extra-low dispersion (ED) glass to minimize color distortion and improve your view. Taking the lead by a slim margin was the Zeiss Terra ED 8x42. Go here for a list of all the contenders with their ratings.
  • Top of the Line binoculars are for those with at least $2,000 to blow. It may seem absurd at first, but this could be where you want to put your cash since it is all the equipment you really need. All four competitors performed very well, but the top spot went to the Swarovski EL 8.5x42 with a suggested retail price of $2,410.

Here is some sound advice from Chris, an African safari guide at Audley Travel. “If you’re planning to spend time walking, you’ll want to keep your daypack as light as possible. However, small pocket binoculars capture far less light than larger ones, so look for the sweet spot of 8x40 or 10x42 in a good brand such as Hawke, Vortex Diamondback, or at the higher end, Swarovski, Leica, or Zeiss. I don’t recommend image stabilization, which adds weight and doesn’t deliver the best results optically.”

Audubon Bird Counts

You’ve downloaded the apps and perhaps invested in a pair of binoculars. Consider participating in one or both of two Audubon bird counts next winter. A custom at Christmas during the 1800s was the “side hunt,” wherein holiday hunters would form two opposing sides and go out to see who could slaughter the most animals, whether furred or feathered. The era of conservation dawned as bird populations were declining, and ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed a new tradition: the Christmas Bird Census to count, rather than kill, birds. 

The tradition took hold, and tens of thousands of volunteers in the Americas now brave the winter weather every year to participate. The count now takes place from December 14 through January 5. Their efforts provide data that organizations use to check on the health of bird populations and direct conservation action. To sign up in November, click here.

It is also easy to help the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Birds Canada to learn more about birds and help protect them by being one of more than 300,000 participants in the Great Backyard Bird Count on February 17-20, 2023. No matter where you are, complete novices and professionals alike can spend as little as 15 minutes counting birds and submitting their results. Find out how at the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Traveling to See Birds

Like many, you may become so enamored with your new pastime that you want to travel to see new species. If you want to plan your own trip in the US, go here for a guide to the top birding hotspots in all 50 states. For a short list of birdwatching tour companies with worldwide portfolios, start with this Birdwatching Bliss blog

If you’re looking for a travel buddy, searching out a local birdwatching group may be a good first step. You can get to know each other on local forays to see if you might be a fit for traveling together on a longer trip. The Audubon Society has more than 450 local chapters and it is a great place to start. 

Birding Pal can help you explore no matter where in the world you are. It’s only $10 to join, and they will hook you up safely and securely with a birding expert at your destination. While these pros don’t charge a fee, you will be expected to pay for their transportation, entrance costs, and meals.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

12 Ways to Save Money During Inflation

Seniors on fixed incomes are struggling while inflation soars, but there are still many ways to stretch a dollar.

Rent, gas, groceries: they’ve all skyrocketed in price. Those of us on fixed incomes are hurt the most. It does not help that the stock market is in bear territory and bonds pay next to nothing. In fact, a quarter of older adults are putting off retirement for just those reasons, according to the BMO Real Financial Progress Index. 

This, too, shall pass. In the meantime, we can do what Americans have always done, which is to tighten our belts and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. How? Senior Spirit decided to list some very doable adjustments we all can make to get us through these tougher times. Whether you are soon to retire, newly retired, or well into retirement, these tips can make all the difference.

  1. Make a budget. Old-school types can take out a pen and paper to write down a budget and keep track of spending monthly. Computer users can take advantage of Mint or You Need A Budget (YNAB) apps that input spending for you. Go here for specific app recommendations. Sometimes, all you need to reduce your spending is to see, in black and white, how much it really is.
  2. Delay Social Security. If there is any way possible, delay taking Social Security as late as possible up to age 70. To see how much it can help you, create a My Social Security account. It will tell you exactly how much more you’ll be paid for waiting. Divorced women, who typically get low payments, can research the site and potentially increase the size of their checks by filing on the record of their previous spouse. 
  3. Reduce your debt. Wipe out credit card and other high-interest debt by either earning more or spending less and using the windfall to pay it down. Credit card interest is increasing, and what you owe will snowball. To understand how important this is, read this article. Check here for tips on reducing your debt.
  4. Get a housemate. If you own a home, you can bring in some extra income by getting a renter. You can go for a Golden Girls scenario by searching for a retiree, or if you’d like the place to yourself more often, find someone who is working. Be discerning and make sure you do a background check and get a signed lease, as well as a month’s deposit. See this article for tips on getting started.
  5. Consider a reverse mortgage. If you have substantial equity in your home, a reverse mortgage may allow you to stay put and fund your cost of living at the same time. They are sold by many companies at different prices, so it is imperative that you do your homework, understand the framework, and shop around. For more on reverse mortgages, see this article.
  6. Check your insurance coverage and rates. Car and home insurers often hike rates on their loyal customers since it is easy to keep your policies with the same company year after year. But you may save hundreds of dollars by shopping around. Pour a glass of your favorite beverage and get online or on the phone with the goal of comparing coverage from five or ten companies. To get a look at some of the best potential rates, check here
  7. Use a rewards credit card. If your credit score is good enough AND you pay off your balance every month like clockwork, you should be using a rewards credit card for every possible purchase. It will literally give you a discount on everything you buy. While savvy consumers can research various cards with rotating high-refund categories, a great basic choice is Citi’s Double Cash card. It offers two percent on every purchase with an annual fee of $0. If your current card offers less, consider upgrading. Wells Fargo has a similar product, and the bank will give you $200 if you spend $1,000 in the first three months. 
  8. Find part-time work. Look for work you’ll enjoy; the good news about inflation is that salaries have gone up too. You may be able to find employment in a field where you have expertise, or perhaps you would prefer to have a job in retail that is near your home and has flexible hours. Get some social interaction by driving for Uber or Lyft, or keep your own hours by shopping and delivering goods for Instacart. 
  9. Sell your excess stuff. Make a little extra money by putting items on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, or other online sellers. You can even make a little business by thrifting and reselling. Just be sure to thoroughly research your market and know what will sell before you buy up your local Goodwill or Savers. Most reselling apps allow you to look up items to see what they’ve sold for so you know their approximate worth and how much you want to pay.
  10. Cut vacation costs. It is a lot cheaper to travel in America than to go abroad. Remember there are plenty of people all over the world coming here to see the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and hundreds of other scenic and memorable places unique to the US. Remarkable cities close to you offer distinct experiences. Consider taking a road trip in a rented RV or choosing an Airbnb  instead of a fancy hotel for your stay. 
  11. Downsize your home. Nothing saves money like reducing or eliminating your mortgage payment, or even getting a pile of cash from the sale of a larger home. Uncle Sam gives you a tax break when you sell your primary residence, and a smaller abode can reduce utility bills, time spent cleaning, and more. Consider the pros and cons and then move if it makes sense in your situation.  
  12. Get healthy. There is nothing you can do to improve your financial situation more than to take care of your body. Preventive care can help you avoid a host of medical expenses down the road. A side benefit is the way you will feel as you get stronger and closer to a healthy weight. Your Medicare plan may well offer free gym membership, but almost anyone can start healthier habits by walking out their front door. Try these easy ways to get healthier.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 9 - Kelly McGillis, actress

Top Gun is all the rage again, and Kelly McGillis appeared in the original 1986 movie as “Charlie,” the no-nonsense flight instructor. She wasn’t just a pretty face; McGillis earned her chops at New York’s Julliard School where she was a class of 1983 graduate. You may remember her from the 1983 film Witness, where McGillis earned nominations for both a Golden Globe and BAFTA award in her role as an Amish mother.

McGillis has acted in a slew of films (including Made In Heaven, The House on Carroll Street, and The Babe) and TV productions, as well as on the stage, including acting the part of Mrs. Robinson in a production of The Graduate that toured the US in 2004. More recently, she has appeared in several thrillers on the big screen and An Uncommon Grace for Hallmark television.

McGillis has been married twice and has two children, Kelsey and Sonora. She has spent time working with drug addicts and alcoholics, as well as teaching acting in Asheville, NC.


Image Source: Wikipedia

July 13 - Cameron Crowe, journalist, film director, screenwriter

A precocious youngster, Cameron Crowe skipped not only kindergarten but an additional two grades in elementary school and graduated from high school in San Diego at the tender age of 15. By then, he had already been writing reviews on the local music scene for an underground publication as well as a couple of national print publications. He soon met the editor of Rolling Stone and got a job writing for the magazine, scoring interviews with such greats as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, the Eagles, and Neil Young as a teen.

Crowe not only liked the hard rock groups shunned by older editors, he was easygoing, eager to learn, and professional. The new kid could manage interviews that were difficult for longtime pros. The senior editor remarked, "He was the guy we sent out after some difficult customers. He covered the bands that hated Rolling Stone.”

But when the publication packed up for the East Coast, Crowe remained in California. While continuing to freelance for Rolling Stone, he began to pick up other interests, appearing in American Hot Wax and then going undercover as a high school student. He was still only 22 when he moved back in with his parents to enroll at Clairemont High School for the senior year he’d never really had at 13. The result was his book, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was then made into a successful film, despite no marketing or big-name stars. A series of movies followed, most notably Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire. Crowe continues to write and create. A marriage to rock band Heart’s Nancy Wilson lasted from 1986 to their separation in 2008.

Image Source: Wikipedia

July 18 - Nick Faldo, golfer

Born in England, pro golfer Nick Faldo was at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for 97 weeks altogether, and he has 41 pro wins to his credit, including three wins at the US Open. He has garnered a following as a golf analyst, most recently for CBS Sports.

Faldo enjoyed school as a child, but watching Jack Nicklaus at the 1971 Masters on the family’s new TV was a revelation that eclipsed all else. Over the next three years, the teen practiced enough to win the 1974 English Amateur, and then the English Amateur again in 1975 along with the British Youths Open Amateur Championship. The rest, as they say, is history.

Faldo turned pro in 1976 and began a string of wins in the European Tour, including two consecutive Sun Alliance PGA Championships. In the mid-1980s, he hired David Leadbetter to change his swing from a “beautiful” move that “hid many faults” to one that could win more major championships. Although very controversial, modern players including Tiger Woods have done the same thing. By 1987, Faldo was winning again and in July held the trophy for his first major win at The Open Championship. 

Fanatical about practice, Faldo’s work ethic “was quite unbelievable,” according to contemporary Gary Player. Leadbetter has said that Faldo would hit “five hundred to eight hundred balls a day, every day” while keeping up with his short game. But other players were not so complimentary of his personality. “He wasn't the most popular guy with all the players, that's for sure,” says Leadbetter. “He didn't go out to win friends and influence people. Very seldom does he call people by name. He was very difficult to get close to.”

Faldo is married to wife number four and has four children. Professionally, he has a course-design business, runs The Faldo Golf Institute, and created the Faldo Series for youth, which has encouraged such players as Rory McElroy, Yani Tseng and Nick Dougherty. He splits his time between homes in Orlando, Florida and the UK.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, June 27, 2022

Are Probiotics Worth the Money for Older Adults?

Seniors can benefit from a healthier gut microbiome, but it remains to be seen if probiotic pills beat out yogurt with a side of sauerkraut. 

Bacteria can have a wide range of health benefits for adults over 60. That’s right, bacteria. After all, some bacteria produce vitamins, assist with food digestion and attack cells that cause disease. Studies show that these “good” bacteria, or probiotics, are often significantly reduced in elderly people. It may be helpful to take probiotics to help reverse this trend.

The use of probiotics by adult Americans increased four-fold between 2007 and 2012. Most of these were taken in the form of over-the-counter pills, powders, and liquids. However, since many of these are sold as dietary supplements, they do not need FDA approval before they are sold. In addition, the label can contain claims about how the product affects the structure or function of the body without getting FDA approval. If you choose to take probiotics by pill, research the company offering them.

Common Issues of Over 60s Helped by Probiotics

No one knows why older adults have a reduced diversity and balance of microbiota compared to younger people and other adults. It may be a result of increased medication use, malnutrition, or a general decline in health. However, studies have shown that probiotics can shorten the length of cold and flu and may result in fewer instances of such illness. In addition, they can reduce the frequency and duration of both antibiotic-induced diarrhea and constipation. 

Probiotics May Relieve Stress, Anxiety

Stress upsets the balance of intestinal microbiota. Recent studies demonstrate that the right probiotics can alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression in adults when compared to placebos. Which probiotics do the trick? Special microorganisms known as psychobiotics confer mental health benefits via interactions with gut bacteria. In particular, Bifidobacterium (B.) and Lactobacillus (L.) have proven effective. However, the way they work to affect the gut-brain axis is still being studied. 

But there are many more conditions that are helped by the ingestion of probiotics. Research shows, for example, that certain probiotics improve the immune system. Bloating and flatulance may also be due to an imbalance in the gut bacteria of seniors. There is even evidence that dementia may be related to poor gut health that leads to neuroinflammation.

Specific Strains Remedy Different Problems

Although the science of which strain and how much of it can help remedy what issue is still obscure, researchers agree that various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most helpful. For a complete list of strains and what they are used for, go to Web MD.

For example, you will find that L. plantarum stimulates vitamin production and your digestive system. If you have a weakened immune system or upper respiratory infections, then you’ll want to stock up on L. fermentum. Need a boost for your digestive and immune systems? Some B. bifidum may be in order. 

Food Containing Probiotics

Plenty of foods contain beneficial probiotics. The list is long, but some of the most common are: 
  • Yogurt, as long as it contains active (live) cultures.
  • Kefir, a dairy drink.
  • Sauerkraut.
  • Pickles that don’t contain vinegar.
  • Kombucha, a fermented black or green tea.

Plain Greek yogurt is a good choice for Bifidobacteria. It can be a good choice for people with lactose intolerance, because the bacteria it contains convert some of the lactose into lactic acid. It also doesn’t contain sugar, which is often the case with flavored yogurts.

Interestingly, a host of non-fermented foods also provide probiotics. Try dried beans, garlic, asparagus, onions, leeks, green bananas, and wheat for a boost to your immune system.

Who Should Avoid Probiotics?

Everyone considering taking a supplement should consult their physician. People with severe acute pancreatitis should avoid probiotics, according to Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, a gastroenterologist and gut health expert. He also recommends that some people with severe brain fog, gas, and bloating are not good candidates. However, he is more concerned about the blow to pocketbooks.

"This may sound scary but consider the millions of people taking a probiotic on a daily basis for decades now, and that these possibilities are at the most extremely rare. To me, the main question with probiotics is not their safety,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “The main question is whether the benefit of the probiotic is worth the cost, which frequently runs $40 to $60 per month.”
He adds: "The bottom line is that you want and should expect results from your probiotic. Unfortunately, many do not get results and are left confused and frustrated that they spent so much money. To increase the odds of success with a probiotic, you should opt for the strain and quantity that has been proven in study to work for whatever medical condition you are trying to address.”

Saturday, June 25, 2022

How to Reduce Your Medicare Bills

Seniors with original Medicare need to ask two questions before receiving healthcare that could save them a lot of money.  

Eight in 10 Americans are more worried about running out of money than dying, according to a recent study. Yet many older adults aren’t aware of two Medicare provisions that could have a big impact on how much they pay for healthcare. 

New Out-of-Network Bill Protection

In January, patients with individual or employer-sponsored health plans using an in-network emergency facility finally got federal protection from out-of-network billing. The No Surprises Act prevents out-of-network providers from billing patients for ancillary care, including care provided by an anesthesiologist or assistant surgeon. It also prevents surprise billing for air ambulance services, although ground ambulance service is exempt. 

“This new law will make sure that you won't get a bill that looks any different than the one you would have gotten if you were using an in-network provider,” says Jack Hoadley, research professor emeritus at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
Now, even people who get routine care at in-network facilities cannot be billed out-of-network rates by providers who were involved in their care without their knowledge. For example, someone at an ambulatory surgical center cannot be billed more than the in-network rate by someone who put them to sleep or read their X-rays. If you suspect you are being billed incorrectly, read this article or call the No Surprises Helpdesk at 800-985-3059.

Paying Off Medical Debt

Hospital costs can add up in spite of our best efforts. If you get hit with a big bill, there are steps you can take to minimize the impact. First, check to make sure all the charges are accurate. Second, try to negotiate the bill with the hospital. See this article for more tips on reducing medical debt.

New Law Bars Medical Debt on Credit Score

Changes are coming that will soon lessen the impact of medical debt on credit scores. Two-thirds of such debts are the result of a one-time or short-term acute medical need. Together, the changes will wipe out more than $60 billion of medical collection debt from existing reports at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting agencies.
  • As of July 1, 2022, all medical debt that has been paid will not be included in credit reports.
  • People will have 12 months, increased from six, to settle their medical bills before the unpaid debt will show up on credit reports.
  • As of the first half of 2023, medical collection debt less than $500 will not appear on credit reports.

Medicare Assignment

Once you have opted for original Medicare, you may think that all doctors who accept it are created equal as far as how much you will pay for their services. After all, only 3% of doctors don’t take Medicare at all. But you’d be mistaken. There are doctors who accept Medicare, and then there are doctors who accept Medicare assignment. What’s the difference?

A doctor who accepts Medicare assignment has agreed to take the government-approved amount as payment for covered services provided to his or her Medicare patients. This doctor sends the bill to Medicare, which then pays 80% of the cost that it has determined is appropriate. The patient is responsible for paying the remaining 20% or the patient’s Medicare supplement will cover the 20%.

A doctor who does not accept Medicare assignment but still accepts Medicare can charge the patient up to an additional 15% over the Medicare-approved amount for services provided. The patient owes the additional charge.

The lowdown: Ask every doctor if he or she accepts Medicare assignment, and only go to those who do for the lowest cost.

Outpatient (Under Observation) vs. Inpatient (Admitted)

You may be surprised to learn that you can spend the night in the hospital and yet be considered an outpatient. Of course it is not that simple. The types of procedures and tests you undergo can overlap between inpatient and outpatient status.

Outpatient status applies when you’re getting tests and services (even for urgent care) and the doctor has not written an order to admit you to the hospital. If you are “under observation” then you are an outpatient.

Inpatient status starts when your doctor writes a formal order to admit you to the hospital.

Why should you care which status you are? Money. 

As an inpatient, you are covered under Medicare Part A, where you pay a deductible of $1,556 in 2022 for the first 60 days of covered care.

As an outpatient, you are covered under Medicare Part B, where you will pay your annual deductible (if you haven’t already) plus a copayment or coinsurance for every covered service and 20% coinsurance for doctor services.

The difference can be substantial, especially if you go on to enter a skilled nursing facility (which includes rehab) within 30 days of discharge. If you have had a “qualifying stay” of at least three consecutive midnights, then Medicare will cover the cost. Your time as an outpatient, even if you were in the same hospital for the same problem, does not count. If you did not have a qualifying stay, nursing facility daily coinsurance through Medicare runs $194.50 per day in 2022.

The lowdown: Ask your doctor to which status you are assigned and consider how that will affect costs. Your doctor must formally request inpatient status. Head to for more information on how cost is affected between inpatient and outpatient status.


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