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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Connecting with Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities During COVID-19

The pandemic has left those in skilled nursing, rehabilitation facilities and assisted living feeling isolated and often sad. Here’s what you can do to help.

The pandemic has hit everyone hard as we struggle to stay safe with social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing routines. But it’s worse for older adults in long-term care facilities, where the risk of a fatal outcome from catching the coronavirus is particularly high. 

“Eight out of 10 deaths from COVID-19 have been from those age 65 or older,” according to Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix, Arizona. “The reason why is because our immune system is less effective at fighting infections as we get older. Also, having multiple other chronic diseases can complicate this virus.” So, it’s vitally important to protect this population and as a result, many facilities have banned face-to-face visits since March. 

State-by-State Guide

As of this writing, 41 states were allowing visits to nursing homes, assisted living and rehabilitation facilities. However, some facilities continue to restrict visits to ensure the safety of their residents; protocols vary widely by individual location. Check for updated information on the status of your state

What About Residents With No Family?

If you are interested in helping residents with no family to write or call them, it’s best to call the facility directly and ask about their policy. There may be a volunteer organization that is writing letters and/or making calls. Another option is to check with the Friendship Line, founded 40 years ago. It’s now national and accredited as a combined crisis line and “warmline” for callers who are just lonely. It is targeted to serve disabled adults and people age 60 and above.

Phone Chains

There are ways to mitigate the isolation. Video chat and conferencing platforms such as FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom work well to help your family member feel included and up to date. If your loved one doesn’t have a smartphone or other device to use, see if the facility has one to borrow and someone to help facilitate the call, if needed. 

Ordinary calls are welcome, too. Set up a phone schedule with other family members to ensure the resident gets a daily call, or even one in the morning and one in the evening, if possible. Family members can send photos and videos. Although it’s hard to top grandchildren, a video of a walk in the woods or elsewhere outdoors can be a welcome change from the resident’s room. 

Different Meal

Another idea is to share a virtual meal together, perhaps made with a family recipe. Some facilities will allow you to drop off a serving for the resident, so you can eat at the same time, chatting over the phone. Check if it’s okay to have food delivered from a restaurant; it can be a welcome change from the same old fare made onsite. 

Photo Album

Print off some favorite photos and staple them together to make a booklet that the resident can page through again and again. You can caption the pages to identify family and friends. A new one could be delivered every week if it’s a hit. 

Window Visit

Some residence facilities are allowing window visits. The resident stays indoors, seated near a main-floor window, and the visitor can “visit” through the glass. It may be possible to chat, and certainly you can exchange smiles. Homemade signs can be designed for special occasions like birthdays. 

Snail Mail

Older residents can enjoy the gift of a letter many times over. There’s the anticipation every time they go to the mailbox, the excitement when they see a letter, the fun of opening and reading it, and the continued comfort in reading it again and again. Keep your news cheery, with updates on family activities. Kids can add a note and/or draw a picture. Enclose a magnet or clip so the letter or pictures can stay in sight. 


You can send a recorded text message so the resident can hear your voice over and over. Consider asking about long-ago events, such as “When we lived in Texas, you had a Girl Scout troop. Do you remember some of the things your troop did?” You can then leave a silent space for the resident’s response. If the resident has dementia, it may be played repeatedly. 

Plants and Animals

Perhaps the resident would enjoy taking care of a small plant such as an orchid or succulent. Caring for something gives a sense of purpose and usefulness. Residents with dementia especially might enjoy having a stuffed dog or cat to cuddle and talk to. For about $110, you can even purchase robotic versions such as the Joy For All Companion Cat

Send a Caregiver

If you are fortunate enough to have extra funds, consider having a caregiver visit the resident. Most facilities allow CNAs to enter, and having a visitor devoted just to the resident for a couple of hours can be enormously uplifting. This person may help with exercises, dust and tidy, assist with a project such as going through photos, facilitate calls, or simply engage the resident in conversation. 


The resident may well have days, or every day, when he or she needs to vent — about the loneliness, the food, the staff, or whatever. You can help just by listening and commiserating. It’s a lousy time to be shut away, no matter how nice the facility. Elizabeth St. John, a licensed clinical social worker at Stanford Health Care, says that older adults need to talk to people who “can just listen and validate their feelings. Be the person who will bear witness to their sadness, stress, and anxiety and who will let them reminisce because this is a really sad time.”

You don’t have to bear the burden all by yourself. Residents love to hear from old friends and relatives. Spread the work around so that you don’t get caregiver burnout from afar. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Internet Satellites Providing Access

Fleets of SpaceX low-orbit satellites are beginning to bring internet service to rural U.S. locations and unserved areas around the globe.

Elon Musk may be the Michelangelo of our times. The storied entrepreneur heads electric tech and car company Tesla, infrastructure and tunnel services outfit The Boring Company, and aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX. Apart from figuring out how to land reusable rocket boosters right-side-up on a ship in the ocean, SpaceX has been working on satellite technology, dubbed “Starlink,” to span the world with internet accessibility. 

Loon Balloons

A few short years ago, Facebook had big plans to use solar-powered drones and laser-based tech to beam Wi-Fi to antennas around the world. Crazy, right? Facebook abandoned the plan in 2018, but Google’s effort to spread the internet survived. What would Google use? Giant balloons containing solar-powered units to transmit from the stratosphere. And they’re starting to be deployed. 

As of July, Kenyans might see a giant (49 feet across) white balloon floating 12 miles above the earth in the central and western part of the African country. Made of common plastic polyethylene (the same as grocery bags), the balloons are launched with the help of a crane and use predictive modeling to shift them as needed for reliable connections on the ground. 

Although speeds are slow compared to the U.S. and they only transmit in daylight, each balloon can cover an area about the size of Delaware, or a little less than 2,000 square miles.

Coverage Needed

You may think that everyone in the U.S. is already covered, but you’d be mistaken. Rural parts of the country often suffer from slow or nonexistent internet service. The pandemic has forced many schools to offer all or a portion of learning online, highlighting the need for accessibility. And there are vast swaths of Africa and other continents that also lack internet connection. 

Falcon 9, designed and manufactured by SpaceX, launched May 23, 2019 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a nosecone full of the first 60 Starlink internet satellites. According to Musk, 400 satellites would be needed to provide “minor” coverage, 800 for “moderate” coverage, and up to 12,000 for a complete network. For comparison, the 12,000 number is more than six times the count of all operational spacecraft now in orbit.

In fact, more than 700,000 individuals in the U.S. had expressed interest within a month and a half of the company allowing people to register their interest on the Starlink website.  As of August, SpaceX had launched more than 500 of the table-size satellites and had begun building the ground station network to connect consumers to the network. Beta testing began this summer.

Current Speeds Are Slow

With 540 satellites in the air in August 2020, tests conducted by Ookla (and collated by Reddit users) documented download speeds ranging from 11 Mbps (megabits per second) to 60 Mbps, with upload rates between 5 Mbps to 18 Mbps and latency ranging from 31 ms to 94 ms. These compare negatively to eventual expected download speeds reaching 1 Gbps with latency between 25 to 35 ms, but speeds are expected to increase as more satellites are put into orbit. And, the speeds are still above what most rural Americans currently receive. In fact, the average download speed across the entire U.S. is 33.88 Mbps according to mobile performance data aggregator Speedtest

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Starlink is slated to begin offering commercial service in the northern United States and southern Canada before the end of 2020, “and then will rapidly expand to near-global coverage of the populated world in 2021.” Musk has claimed the speed will rival existing services, “… so somebody could play fast-response video games at a competitive level.”

Market Potential

SpaceX plans to use revenue from Starlink to fund its Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket, designed to take people to and from Mars and other space destinations. It won’t be an easy task. SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell expects the project to cost $10 billion or more. And Musk himself has admitted that “there is a lot of new technology here. So it’s possible that some of these satellites may not work.” The billionaire added that there’s a “small possibility that all of the satellites will not work.”

However, the gamble could pay off big. SpaceX informed investors that Starlink has a $1 trillion addressable market. One hiccup? Some astrophysicists are not happy that Starlink satellites have been interfering with photographs of comets. The low orbit (341 miles above the earth’s surface) of the satellites gets in the way of stargazing, and with more than 20 times the current number of satellites expected to go up, the problem will likely get worse.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, November 12, 2020

30 Days of Change

Novelist (he wrote one in 30 days) Matt Cutts says the secret to a happier life may lie in a series of 30-day challenges, big or small, that you give yourself.

Let’s be honest. Most of us are somewhat happy with our lives, but wondering if there isn’t something more — something more we could be doing, something more we could be learning. Think back to the aspirations you had as a child or young adult. When did you let go of those goals? 

Setting 30-Day Goals

Software engineer Matt Cutts felt the same way. After creating the family filter for Google’s search engine, he reduced his work load to spend time with his wife and pursue other goals. But he went about it in a way that seemed attainable: he would give himself a goal and spend 30 days making it happen. He gave up sugar. He biked to work. He wrote a novel. He took a photograph every day. 

Eventually, some of the goals stuck. He kept biking and accomplished another goal: finishing an Iron Man race. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Other goals, such as cutting out sugar, didn’t stick completely, and that was fine. What Cutts found was that his life became more full as his memory bank filled with new experiences. 

View the Ted Talk Cutts created here

In fact, research shows that time seems to slow down when we do something novel. Our brains have to pay more attention as we perform a new activity, and the memories from the experience expand time. Time also stretches when we are emotionally engaged. You can actually experience more time than you have by exposing yourself to new things and making an effort to notice what is going on in each moment.

What to Do?

Most of us will never run an Iron Man, but there are plenty of things that an average person can aspire to do every day for a month:

  • Write a poem
  • Take a walk
  • Take a free class online
  • Quit watching the news
  • Work in the garden
  • Volunteer somewhere new
  • Perform an act of random kindness
  • Meditate for 30 minutes every morning
  • Lie on your back and look at the sky
  • Paint a picture
  • Make a meal from scratch
  • Give up criticizing, except regarding yourself
  • Exercise for half an hour
  • Learn how to lift weights
  • Reach out to a family member or friend

Cutts found that smaller goals were easier to keep as habits after the first month was done, and he often built on them to accomplish bigger things. He also noted that his self-esteem increased as time passed and he completed more of his goals. Each of us will differ in what we chose to do, but we will grow no matter what our goals are. Starting today, what will your first goal be? 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, November 9, 2020

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

November 5 - Kris Jenner, TV personality

Mama Kardashian Kris Jenner became famous promoting her large brood on reality television’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians. In doing so, she became a television personality, entertainment manager, and author. The kids from her marriage to lawyer Robert Kardashian include Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, and Robert, with an additional pair, Kendall and Kylie, from her marriage to Olympic gold medalist Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. 

Born in San Diego, Jenner’s parents divorced when she was seven. She worked in her mother’s children’s clothing store as a teen and was a flight attendant in 1976 on American Airlines. She runs her own production company, ran a children’s boutique with daughter Kourtney for several years, wrote an autobiography and a cookbook, and hosted a talk show for six weeks.

The reality show had its genesis when Jenner met with Ryan Seacrest in 2007. She knew her family was a natural for the genre, with plenty of everyday drama that wouldn’t have to be manufactured. Jenner became the executive producer, and the hit has run longer than almost any other reality show in the country, generating several spin-offs. 

Jenner’s first ex was Robert Kardashian who she remained on good terms with until his death in 2003. A month after her first divorce, Jenner married retired Olympian and heartthrob Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner, who she divorced in December of 2014 after 23 years of marriage. 

Jenner is in a long relationship with Corey Gamble and has nine grandchildren.

Image Source: Wikipedia

November 6 - Maria Shriver, American newscaster

Prolific and compassionate, Maria Shriver is a journalist, author, founder of the nonprofit The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement and served as the former First Lady of California, initiating volunteer programs, women’s awards and much more in the process. She has written six books and been honored with television Emmy Awards for her television work and Peabody Awards for journalistic endeavors. In 2017, she received the first Lifetime Achievement Award ever given by the Alzheimer’s Association.

Born into the legendary Kennedy family, Shriver’s mother was an activist and sister to late President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert Kennedy, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (all deceased) and a bevy of other accomplished siblings. Shriver’s father was a politician, and she credits her success in journalism with being sent to the back of his plane while volunteering for his 1972 U.S. vice presidential race, calling her time with the press corps “the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

A slew of anchor positions followed on top shows such as Sunday Today, NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC. Shriver had married Austrian bodybuilder and film star Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1986, and the couple had four children by 1997. In 2003, Schwarzenegger became governor of California and Shriver had a more prominent platform for promoting and supporting Special Olympics and other projects, especially for mentally challenged children and those with dementia. 

A sad end note was the public revelation, in 2011, that her husband had fathered a child 14 years earlier with a member of their household staff. The marriage of 25 years didn’t survive the “painful and heartbreaking” episode. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

November 13 - Whoopi Goldberg [Caryn Johnson], Actress

Whoopi Goldberg, née  Caryn Johnson, never finished high school. The actor, comedian author and T.V. personality didn’t need to, as she went on to be one of only 16 to have won a Tony Award, an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, and an Emmy Award. 

Her breakout role as Celie in Steven Spielberg’s period drama set in the Deep South catapulted her to fame in 1985. The roles kept on coming, and the hundreds are too many to list. She has done one-woman shows on stage, produced a comedy album, and is famed for acting the part of Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

But it hasn’t always been so easy. In the 70s, Goldberg strung together a series of odd jobs: bank teller, mortuary cosmetologist, and even bricklayer, before joining an avant-garde theatre group. She also taught comedy and acting classes; one of her pupils was future Kurt Cobain squeeze Courtney Love.

Since 2007 Goldberg has been moderator and co-host of morning show The View. You may consider her a strictly liberal voice, but she has said she is a member of the NRA, defended Mel Gibson against racist criticism and made several other eyebrow-raising comments for those on both sides of the aisle. Goldberg is nothing if not her own woman.

She has been married three times and has a daughter, Alex Martin, who is also an actress and producer. However, she has since stated that she never loved any of the men and doesn’t foresee another union. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

November 27 - Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Bill Nye has turned hundreds of thousands of kids (and their parents) on to science. He got a mechanical degree in college and connected with astronomer and guest teacher Carl Sagan. With his B.S. from Cornell, Nye went to work for Boeing, where he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on the 747. Alas, he really wanted to be an astronaut, but NASA turned him down four times. 

In an interesting turn of events Nye won a Steve Martin lookalike contest in 1978, and this would be a defining moment in his young life. He began to do Steve Martin impressions at parties, egged on by his friends, and the young engineer found he liked being in the limelight. He began to be a jet navigation systems engineer by day, and a standup comic by night. He quit the Boeing job, not comedy, and the rest is history. 

The pilot for Bill Nye the Science Guy came out in 1993. Distributed by Disney and underwritten by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy, the show ran for five years. It was a runaway hit, nominated for 23 Emmy Awards and leading to a slew of other science-themed media appearances. 

Nye’s current mission is to advocate against climate change. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, October 30, 2020

Stock Your Medicine Cabinet the Right Way

Is your medicine cabinet ready for anything? What if you get the coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know.

Most of us have medicine cabinets that still contain the last two tablets of the flu medicine we desperately needed two years ago, three pain relievers we bought because we couldn’t find the first one when we needed it, the nasal spray we never really liked … you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty. Leftovers, products that didn’t work — they’re in there. And so are items so old we don’t want to know. And maybe, just maybe if we root around long enough, we can find the thing we need when we need it. 

What to Take for COVID-19

The coronavirus is here to stay. If you think you may have it, you may wonder what to do. For the latest updates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), go here.  There has been some controversy over which pain reliever to use, and whether one might make symptoms worse. The first thing to know is that no over-the-counter medication will treat the virus itself or reduce the time you are sick; they simply relieve symptoms. 

That said, acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) all help lower a fever and reduce body aches. Acetaminophen can be taken according to the directions on the label; higher doses can cause liver damage. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Early on, there was concern that taking it might worsen outcomes for coronavirus patients, but that does not appear to be true. Make sure to take it with food, and avoid using it if you have kidney or ulcer problems. Naproxen is another NSAID that is similar to ibuprofen, but can last longer, up to 12 hours. The same caveats apply to naproxen as to ibuprofen. 

If your doctor has ever told you not to take one or all of these pain relievers, then don’t take them for coronavirus without consulting a medical professional. However, for most people, they appear to be a safe, easily available remedy when taken as recommended for body pain and fever.

Avoid Combination Products

Older folks and people with multiple chronic conditions should avoid products that combine a variety of medications to treat multiple symptoms. For example, DayQuil and NyQuil. Most of the products in these combination items are available individually, and often for less money. The individual medications, such as a pain reliever, cough suppressant, and decongestant, can then be used (or not) to target specific symptoms. 

Many of these combo products may even contain drugs that cause side effects that would be contraindicated for older adults and those with certain chronic conditions. Benadryl (diphenhydramine), for instance, which is an antihistamine, has the potential side effect of causing dizziness, drowsiness and falls. Another danger is that many of the cold/flu combination products contain additional Tylenol (acetaminophen). Many people may not realize this and will often take more Tylenol separately, leading to dangerously high levels of acetaminophen — a leading cause of liver failure. 

But this is one area where it’s not too hard, or too big a project, to clean up and prepare. First, start by emptying your cabinet completely. That’s right, take every last bottle, pill and box out so you can wipe out the area. Next step, go through and throw out everything that is past its expiration date. Yeah, maybe that aspirin is still okay if it just expired, but toss it anyway. What you’ll have when you’re done is a cabinet full of fresh products that will be ready and able to serve you for a long time. 

Next, toss anything that you don’t use. You know the products: you tried them once, and hated the taste, or how they made you feel, or the way they didn’t work. Put them in the circular file. You should be left with a small amount of products you like that are well within their use-by date. That’s a great start! Now, you can fill in the “blanks” in the small arsenal of remedies that will come to your rescue should you get sick. To make sure we got the best, we used a team of doctors, nurses and pharmacists to recommend their go-to items. Here, then, is what a well-stocked medicine cabinet might contain. Customize it for what you will use most often.

  • Tylenol Regular Strength Pain Reliever (acetaminophen). Effective for headaches and fevers, acetaminophen has the added benefit of few drug interactions and a high degree of safety. With fever being a hallmark symptom of the coronavirus, this is your first line of defense, and it works on muscle aches and pain, too. 
  • Advil Coated Tablets (ibuprofen). Unlike acetaminophen, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and works on alternate pain pathways. Dentists recommend it for a temporary toothache, and ibuprofen is even better at killing muscle and body pain than acetaminophen. But it can cause gastro-intestinal upset. For optimal results, alternate the two drugs to reduce pain.
  • Robitussin Maximum Strength Cough and Chest Congestion DM Non-Drowsy Liquid. When you get a cough, you want something that will let you sleep without being interrupted by fits of coughing and help you get rid of mucous. The dextromethorphan will help you rest while guaifenesin takes care of mucous buildup. 
  • Zyrtec 24 Hour Allergy Relief Tablets. For fast allergy relief that doesn’t make you sleepy, try these highly recommended tablets that users swear by.
  • Afrin (oxymetazoline). This topical nasal spray, used for congestion, can be a better option than taking a product such as Sudafed, especially for older adults. It has more of a local effect and less potential to aggravate heart/blood pressure issues than taking oral Sudafed. 
  • Visine Original Redness Relief Eye Drops for Red Eyes & Eye Irritation. The active ingredient, tetrahydrozoline, is an effective decongestant that will constrict blood vessels and leave you looking and feeling better fast.
  • Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops. If itchy eyes are a problem, these drops will get down to the root cause. The medicine they contain is very similar to prescription drops, and it works fast. Keep another bottle in your car if you are prone to sudden onsets during allergy season. 
  • Pepto Bismol Liquid. It’s cheap and it works. Health professionals gave it the nod because it deals with multiple symptoms: nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea. One product to treat a variety of complaints.
  • MiraLAX Laxative Powder. For a different problem, try this gentle laxative that works with your body’s natural processes. “It’s relatively inert and not absorbed by the intestines,” says gastroenterologist Austin Chiang, who likes that it doesn’t lose its effect over time. You won’t get the bloating, cramping or sudden urgency caused by some other products.
  • Tums Antacid Chewable Tablets. Heartburn goes away quickly after chewing up and swallowing these delicious tabs that come in a variety of flavors. Put a package in your purse or wallet for relief whenever and wherever you need it. 
  • Neosporin Original Antibiotic Ointment. Hands down the best germ-killer for minor cuts and scrapes. Three ingredients combine to give you protection and keep wounds moist for less scarring, and it doesn’t burn. If you’re one of the rare people with an allergy to this ointment, stick with bacitracin antibiotic alone.
  • Solimo Melatonin 3mg. Can’t sleep? Melatonin supplements are natural, mimicking the hormone activity in your body. It’s non-addictive and won’t make you overly drowsy like some medications. 

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Five Ways to Reduce Costs in Retirement

When you start living on a fixed income, you may need to cut expenses. Here are five ways to substantially lower costs.

Many of us are surprised by how many expenses have to be covered by Social Security and perhaps a small retirement account when we no longer have a paycheck. The stark reality may be that we simply can’t afford to continue our previous lifestyle. 

To add to the problem, unexpected events often carry financial penalties. Perhaps you had to quit work earlier than you’d planned, or you may have had some big medical bills hit during your last years of saving. Maybe the old car finally gave out. There are a million things that can derail retirement planning, while it’s rare to find that expenses are less than expected.

While you may no longer be able to bring in money, there are many ways to lower your costs. Some of them can add up to a substantial sum; others can find you a few hundred extra greenbacks a year. Whether you need to shave off a big chunk of expenses or just want to create some wiggle room in your budget, reviewing these five major costs can help you achieve your goal.

  • Analyze Your Spending
The first step to cutting costs is to figure out where you’re spending. That can be as simple as writing down every outflow with pen and paper for a month. Or, you could use a free app such as Personal Capital or Mint to track income and expenses automatically by connecting your banking information. The apps will keep a running tally of every expenditure, including the category (groceries, auto, entertainment, etc.). Users can set a budget for each item, and the app will signal if a budget has been exceeded. It’s a great way to figure out if your expected monthly budget is within your income.


  • Adjust Housing
Moving to a smaller home can save a bundle of cash. Emotionally, it can be tough to vacate the house where you may have raised your children and thought you’d occupy forever. But financially, downsizing may net you some cash on the sale that can pad retirement accounts. It can also result in lower taxes, utility bills and maintenance costs, and a paid-off mortgage or perhaps a lower interest rate. 

If you still have a mortgage on a home you’ll occupy for many years, check to see if refinancing would make sense. Mortgage rates are at record lows, but there are costs associated with refinancing. Check here to view associated costs and then use this refinance calculator to see if it makes sense for you.

  • Sell a Car
With both of you home, do you really need to have two cars? That second vehicle is costing you in insurance, maintenance fees and a loan payment (if it’s not paid off). Cars also lose value just sitting in your garage, since they depreciate over time. 

If you have a single vehicle now, consider getting rid of it. Public transportation may be adequate, and ride sharing has revolutionized the way we think about everyday travel. A healthy option, if you’re lucky enough to be in a walkable neighborhood, is to use your legs for transportation as much as possible.

  • Move to a Retiree-Friendly State 
Every state has its own laws regarding taxes, and that includes for retirees. Social Security income, retirement funds and even pensions are all taxed differently, depending on where you live. If you’re in a high-tax state, it’s only smart to evaluate what it’s costing you and consider going somewhere else if it would be worth the move. Check here to find how each state is ranked, from best (Florida) to worst (Kentucky).

  • Change Insurance
Most of us stay with the same insurer for years, even decades. That just doesn’t make sense. Insurance companies tend to take advantage of that fact by offering their best deal up front to entice enrollment, then raising rates over time. You can change policies at any time; not just when your policy is up for renewal. So pick a time of year (your birthday is an easy one to remember) and call around for quotes, or use PolicyGenius to automatically shop the market. 

Is your car older? In some states, liability insurance is all that is required and you can opt out of collision and comprehensive coverage. If you’re willing to risk having to replace the vehicle on your own dime if you cause an accident, then you can benefit from substantial savings. 

As for health insurance, you have options for Medicare, and policies should be reviewed every year during open enrollment. Check to see if your usual costs and health care needs would be better met by a Medicare policy (and Medigap coverage) or a Medicare Advantage plan. Here’s help on how to choose. Finally, check out GoodRx for savings on prescription drugs. The app compares prices near you and searches for coupons at no cost to you. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

In 2019, Costco warehouse shopping club sold 98.5 million memberships. But then the pandemic came, along with toilet paper shortages and fewer grocery runs. Is it still worth the $60 gold membership, or even pricier executive version?

The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes!” as a record 90% of members renewed for this year, and sales in March were 11.7% higher than in 2019.

Costco was one of the first stores to get serious about masks in the pandemic, and customers appear to love the wide aisles that make distancing a lot easier than at the local grocery store. There was never a need to put arrows in the aisles, because they are wide enough for people to pass down either side while keeping six feet between them. But what you’re really there for are the deals.


Admission to Costco comes in a few different flavors. There is a $60 business membership, but for individuals, there are two basic choices. The $60 gold star membership admits the purchaser and one additional member living at the same address for a year. A gold star executive membership commands a $120 fee, but the holder will get 2% back on qualified Costco purchases, up to $1,000. You’ll also get added benefits and discounts on select Costco services. Compare memberships here to check which might be right for you. 

Buy at Costco Without a Membership

Many readers may know that if you go to a Costco with a friend who has a membership, you can shop and the cashier will subtotal your items. You pay your friend back afterward, and you get Costco pricing. But were you aware there’s an easier way? 
Pay your friend up front and ask him or her to pick up a Costco Cash Card that comes in a variety of price points starting at $25. Use your card at any Costco in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada, or even online. It will let you in the store and no membership is required!

You can also buy prescriptions and alcohol at any time without a membership, plus get a flu shot (one of the cheapest available if you don’t have insurance). Another benefit is Costco’s optical department, where you can book an appointment with an on-site optometrist for a low-cost exam with no membership needed. Unfortunately, you can’t shop for glasses or contacts without a membership (or that great cash card!) but you can run over to the food court and chow down, maybe on the $1.50 hot dog combo. 

Costco’s Rotisserie Chicken

If you adore a good bird, perfectly spit-roasted and seasoned, with the aroma wafting out across the back of the store, then you may be able to justify your membership on this one item alone. After all, at only $4.99 for a hefty 3-pound fowl, you are getting enough meat for an entire week. Night one is the warm, toasty bird as is, perhaps with a side of mashed potatoes and green beans. Portion up the rest and put bags in the fridge and freezer, and you’ve got protein for chicken enchiladas, chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken and dumplings, chicken and you name it. Yum! 

As a loss leader that hasn’t risen in price since 2009, the bird is a brilliant ploy to get you to travel to the back of the store, impulse buying along the way. And who can resist, when a similar uncooked squawker actually sells for more than the ready-to-go version? There are only 10 ingredients in the gluten-free wonder, but Costco leaves the spices unnamed so it can’t be duplicated. Even Dr. Oz says it’s one of the “healthiest processed foods out there, especially if you remove the skin.” Oh, but don’t. It’s that good. How to know when there’s a new batch ready? Listen for the bell ringing back in the deli. Now go get one!

Cult Followings

First thing you want to do is drop off your car at the auto area outside for a set of new tires. Costco regularly features a brand at $70 or $80 off the regular price, and they’ll slap them on your vehicle while you shop. Air is always free, and they’ll remove nails as well. Oh, and the gas pump located just outside the store can save another $.10 to $.30 per gallon, so don’t forget to fill up every time you shop.

When you have a membership card in your hot little hand, a magical world opens up to you. The store brand is one of the best things about Costco. The Kirkland name adorns everything from packaged bacon to cashmere sweaters, and the quality is high across the board, while the price is low. Need a sheet cake for a birthday, wedding or other celebration? Forget about the cardboard-flavored rectangles you’ve bought from other stores. Costco delivers an amazingly tasty product you can be proud to bring anywhere.

Watch yourself back in the bakery section — they actually bake their own delicious croissants and chocolate-filled buttery wonders that will make you think you’re in Paris. Pick up a pack and freeze them, or have a socially distanced party where everyone can make their own little croissant sandwiches. 

If those sandwiches need cheese, well, you’ve come to the right place. A constantly rotating selection of stateside and world cheeses will make your eyes grow wide, especially when you see the price. At Costco, a giant hunk will be the same price as the tiny wedge your grocery store sells. Then there are the peanut butter-filled pretzels, the jars of premium nuts, the crackers and cookies and soups and condiments. Your biggest worry will be over-indulgence. 

We’ve haven’t even touched on the giant poinsettias at the holidays, or the pots of flowers that will astound neighbors in summer. How about a space heater for the back patio to accompany the smart wooden gazebo you got at Costco last summer? A new set of luggage? Pots and pans? They’re here, they’re quality, and they’re offered at a great price. 

Another perk is the full pharmacy with vitamins, supplements and make-up. The Kirkland brand is in evidence here, as are some higher-end lotions and name brand goods. Need flowers? Bouquets are fresh and ready to take home. What about the latest bestseller? Or a gift for the grandkids? 

How about coffee? There are always at least a dozen offerings at prices that will make you smile. Like your cup of Joe to be freshly ground? No problem, just go to the handy station after checking out, snip off the top of the bag, put it in the grinder and watch the beans go back into your bag minced to perfection. The coffee smell mingles with the odor of roasted chicken in your cart, making your mouth water as you head to the parking lot.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Free Library Resources

Many libraries today provide a lot more than books. Grab CDs for a road trip, download magazines and books, get advice on how to work your new phone, and much more!

You’ve always taken advantage of free book borrowing at your library. Perhaps you grew up going to story time there or visited with your own children. Maybe now you’re taking the grandchildren and continuing the pleasant pastime of choosing which new books will come home to be read at leisure. You may think there’s nothing like opening a new book, knowledge and adventure waiting for you inside. While that will always be a pleasure, there is much more that a trip to your local library, or even some apps that work with your library, can provide.

The public library was an American invention, according to William James Sidis, having had its inception in free parish libraries offered in more than 289 Anglican churches in the colonies. These were subsidized as early as 1701, later growing into the modern system through broad public support, financial contributions from wealthy philanthropists, and donations of large private collections of books. 

Many viewed the advent of the internet as a death knell for the institution. How could the library ever compete with personal computers, when so much information was right at your fingertips? Who would go to the trouble of picking out a book or magazine, when it could be delivered to you just seconds after buying it? E-books would kill the library, according to Art Brodsky in a 2013 piece for Wired. But it never happened. Libraries adapted to the times, and they are stronger than ever today. As internet cafés proliferated, libraries kept in step by offering the use of computers for free. But many people still aren’t aware of all that libraries have to offer.

Your Options in a Nutshell

Want to have some fun with the grandkids? Many libraries facilitate this wholesome treasure hunt that uses a smartphone to navigate a set of coordinates to find a container (geocache) hidden at the final location. At the Denver Public Library (DPL), patrons can learn how to play at Geocaching 101 before downloading a free app that will guide them to locations along the Denver Public Library Series GeoTrail using the DPL Geocache Passport. As geocaches are found, players sign a logbook and record a unique code on their passport before returning the geocache to its original location. The first players to complete the challenge will get a limited-edition DPL Geocoin. Check if your local library or one nearby offers geocaching.

You Can Take It With You

Road trips have been forever changed with the advent of books on CD. Check out a mystery, and you may find yourself at your destination, sitting in the car, unable to move until you find out whodunit. Enjoy a romance, humor, whatever your fancy; an abundance of titles are available and the readers are professionals, sometimes even the author. It’s a great way to enjoy yourself while painting, sewing, cooking, gardening or any other activity that pairs well with a great story. 

Step up the tech and help yourself to a downloadable book, audiobook or music. Volumes that may cost $15 to buy can be downloaded from an app. Many libraries use Libby or Hoopla to offer patrons an array of stories. It is a lifesaver if you have an older adult in your life who is no longer able to load a CD or figure out how to run the Books for the Blind machine.  The audiobooks can be played from a smartphone or voice assistant, such as Alexa. Just add audiobooks to Alexa’s skills, and your loved one can manage everything by voice. You won’t be able to find every book you want, but there is a wide selection with star ratings. The best part may be the number you can download, which is often a generous eight titles a month. 

“I share my Hoopla account with my blind mother,” said one grateful library patron. “That way, even when I haven’t been able to visit her in assisted living during the pandemic, I can download audiobooks for her from home. They are always playing in the background when I call to check in. I think it’s the one thing that’s kept her sane during this time of intense isolation.”

Libraries are pairing with other institutions for innovative offerings. In Colorado, for example, patrons can check out two passes for free for entry to any state park, complete with an activity backpack that contains binoculars, brochures and other educational materials. After the adventure, users are invited to share a photo via a special hashtag on Twitter or Instagram. The Denver library promotes cultural tours, with passes for the Butterfly Pavilion, Denver Firefighters Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Trolly, Denver Zoo, Forney Museum of Transportation, Molly Brown House and more. And you don’t have to live in Denver to take advantage of the deal; any state resident or student attending a Colorado college or university can get a free Denver Public Library card by signing up online. 

Also in Colorado, having a library card grants access to eBooks for kids through Bookflix and TumbleBooks, eMagazines with Flipster and RB Digital, music from Volume and Music Online, and Overdrive for eBooks, audio eBooks and movies. It’s always worth checking the library system in your state capital to see if you can sign up for the ability to use an expanded array of technology.

High-Tech Resources and Learning

Let’s start with the learning component. Have you been reading through this article, thinking you’d love to take advantage of some of these options but tech is a foreign language you never learned how to speak? Fear not. Libraries are a friendly place for you, often offering classes on how to operate your smartphone or computer. And if you’re interested in using one of those handy apps for magazines, say, just ask a librarian. These days, showing you how to download services and even talking you through the process is part of the job. 

What else might you find at your library? “Maker programs” are a whole new category that you may have access to. Think 3D printers, design software, virtual reality (VR) platforms, and audio and video editing software. If your local library doesn’t have a media lab, you might kindly suggest this blog on how to build one on a shoestring. Oftentimes, people living in smaller towns or areas without a strong tax base can find more services in a larger town. Look online or call to see if a nearby city has a 3D printer you can check out, or a VR headset available to try.


Remember when you waited in line to check out books? Forgot when they were due? Had to pay a late fee for overdue books — right at the checkout desk, so everyone could see you were a slacker. There was a definite element of shaming. This thinking changed, and modern technology makes it possible for the system to evolve to be much more patron friendly. Many libraries today offer an easy-to-use self-checkout scanner. The best part? The system will email reminders before books are due or alert you that a hold is available. Many libraries have given up overdue fines in favor of encouraging more borrowing, with the idea that increased reading is always a good thing, and the books they lose are out there somewhere, providing an opportunity to learn. Those libraries that do still fine often make the process of paying as painless as possible, employing discretion and a variety of ways to pay. 

What’s Ahead?

Libraries are considering adopting even more new technology. Take facial recognition. While the ethics surrounding it are controversial, some companies already use it to remember a customer’s prior order, or track concertgoers. Libraries are watching to see if it may be useful to simplify access to buildings, resources and services. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to access our local library around the clock without any need for a library card. 

So-called 5G, or fifth generation, cellular mobile communication is on its way. One use will be for virtual and augmented reality, transforming phones into VR machines with the addition of a headset. Telemedicine is also booming. Imagine a private library space where you could videoconference with your doctor, sharing health information you obtained with a MedWand.  And how about borrowing a drone from your library to fly around your neighborhood, or perhaps it could deliver your books. 

Whether you just want to be able to listen to an audiobook, or you’re ready to edit the film of your grandchild taking her first steps, your public library is a free resource. Yes, we pay taxes to fund them, but you can use your library every day of the year without paying an additional penny. They are open to all, waiting to help you toward your next adventure, whether literary or in the great outdoors! 

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Thursday, October 8, 2020

Best COVID-19 Test: Fido

Around the world, trained dogs are becoming quick and accurate testers for the coronavirus. Should there be one in every nursing home?

Move over, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp. There’s someone else that can test samples with al-most 100% accuracy, get results in just a few seconds, and works for the cost of a bowl of kibble. And he (or she) doesn’t need to stick a swab up your nose to get a sample. America’s favorite pet has the potential to be the country’s best shot at mass testing.

Dogs have odor receptors up to 10,000 times stronger and more accurate than humans. Sniffer dogs have long been able to detect diseases like cancer, malaria, and viral infections, and warn about an upcoming seizure up to 45 minutes before it happens. Now, researchers around the world are training these amazing animals to detect COVID-19.

German Saliva Tests

In Germany, a double-blind study looked at eight dogs from Germany’s Armed Forces trained for just two weeks were able to detect the coronavirus with a 94% success rate. The animals sniffed saliva from more than 1,000 people, some healthy and some positive. The samples were distributed randomly, and neither the researchers nor the handlers knew which contained the virus.

Canine Airport Testers

At Finland’s Helsinki airport, random animals (including a cocker spaniel returned to a shelter seven times) with no prior experience was trained at sniff detection for 8 to 10 weeks in a state-funded pilot project. Four dogs work in shifts of two at a time, mainly on inbound international flights. Passengers pat their skin with a wipe, which is then placed in a tube near others with control scents. If a dog detects the virus, it responds with a woof, or by pawing or laying down. The suspect passenger is treated to a free swab test. 

The dogs are not smelling the virus itself, according to Dominique Grandjean, professor at the national veterinary school of Alfort in France, who heads a study of dogs that sniff out bombs, cancer, and people who are in need of rescue. Instead, the animals can smell the volatile chemicals emitted by our bodies when the virus infects cells. In his research, which has yet to be reviewed by peers, eight dogs used sweat samples with 83% accuracy (some made accurate identifications 100% of the time). 

Mass Testing Via Dog

Canines testers are arguably superior to current lab techniques, because they only react to active viral infections, not “dead” virus that continues to circulate. Grandjean does not think it’s silly to suppose that dogs — any breed or variety — could provide mass testing. 

“We can have one dog per retirement house that is trained and this dog would be able every single morning to check everybody, just by walking by,” he said. 

“Pet owners could have their dog trained in order to search for Covid, but not only for them,” he mused. “If we had 10,000 dogs able to sniff for Covid, well, that means that every dog should be able to sniff 200 to 300 samples a day, so that means 2 to 3 million samples a day.”

Some caveats remain. Scientists are still working to teach the dogs to distinguish between different viruses, such as those which cause flu and the coronavirus. However, many researchers see tremendous potential in the project, currently being explored in the U.K., Finland, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Lebanon, and Australia.

Physician David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, expressed optimism for the effort:

“If dogs can be appropriately trained, there is a high likelihood that they will have a higher success rate than the current screening strategies, given that they will be able to pick up the scent from wherever it emanates not just for those who have Covid in their upper airways,” he said. “They could work in ports, harbors and airports to limit the risk of travelers returning with the infection.” 

Man’s best friend may be the key to safely reopening entire industries. Good boy!

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 7 - YoYo Ma, Chinese-American cellist

Child prodigy Yo-Yo Ma is an international great, born in Paris to Chinese parents and growing up in New York. At the tender age of four, he chose the cello as his instrument after playing both violin and piano. He was performing by age five, including for two U.S. presidents at age seven. A later stint on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson preceded study at the Professional Children’s School, and then Juilliard.

Ma’s fame is hard to exaggerate, as he has performed as a soloist with the greatest orchestras all over the world. His 18 Grammy Awards come from more than 90 albums, and the breadth of his ability extends far beyond classical music. Ma easily shifts to Argentinian tango, bluegrass, traditional Chinese tunes, and more. He has performed with the likes of James Taylor, Bobby McFerrin and Carlos Santana.

Ma played for the inauguration of President Barack Obama, when the weather was so cold an earlier recording was used for fear strings would snap and ruin the performance. He also performed at the funerals of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and Senator Edward Kennedy, and played a duet with Condoleezza Rice. He was the first performer to pull a bow at the first anniversary on the site of the World Trade Center attack, and he collaborated in a live performance with Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

His work doesn’t stop at the concert stage. He has served as a U.N. Peace Ambassador and was appointed to President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Ma was also tapped for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and he co-launched the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Citizen Musician Initiative. For his humanitarian work, Ma was dubbed one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Ma has been married for 42 years to arts consultant Jill Hornor. His extraordinary character and humility are legendary. A child once asked Ma if his cello had a name. No, Ma replied, but will you give it one if you let me play for you? The little girl acquiesced, and his $2.5 million instrument has been called “Petunia” ever since.

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 28 - Bill Gates, American businessman and philanthropist 

Seattle-born William Henry Gates III is the richest person in the world. He made his fortune as the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation in the 70s and 80s when personal computing was beginning its domination of the information space. Wearing many hats, Gates served as CEO, chairman, president and chief software architect of the company, as well as being the largest single shareholder through April 2014. 

Gates made waves for his anti-competitive bent, cornering the market with Microsoft products. Perhaps this predilection stemmed from an early experience where hobbyists used a leaked copy of the Microsoft Altair BASIC interpreter that he and a buddy had developed, depriving them of earnings. Gates was a firm believer that software developers should be able to get paid, rather than offering their work open-source. 

IBM adopted Microsoft’s operating system in 1980. The deal didn’t net Microsoft a lot of money, but it didn’t need to. As Gates had anticipated, others cloned IBM’s PC hardware and had to pay for the software to run on it; MS DOS became the standard and Microsoft raked in the profits. And maybe you’ve heard of something called Windows? Launched in 1985, it is still dominant today.

Gates was not an easy boss, sometimes remarking “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to a subordinate mid-presentation. When employees took longer than he wanted to complete a project, he would comment that he would “do it over the weekend.” And quite likely, he could. An Atari exec demo’ed a game, playing with Gates, whom he defeated 35 out of 37 times. Returning a month later, Gates wanted a rematch, where he won or tied every game. 

In 2006, Gates largely stepped down to work on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with assets of over $34.6 billion, that he founded with his wife. It primarily supports public health projects and is responsible for nearly eradicating polio around the world. Gates pledged $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund and another $50 million to venture companies working to treat Alzheimer’s. The Gates have pledged to leave each of their three children $10 million, giving away the rest, expected to amount to 99.96% of their fortune.

Image Source: Wikipedia

October 28 - Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO

Indian-born Indra Nooyi grew sales of the food company 80% over her tenure, landing her on the top 100 most powerful women many times, including number 13 on the Forbes list in 2014 and number 2 at Fortune in 2015. She currently serves on the board of tech giant Amazon and helps steer the state of Connecticut as it negotiates the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you might imagine, Nooyi is no intellectual slouch. She holds bachelor’s degrees in physics, chemistry and mathematics, adding a master’s in Public and Private Management from Yale after a move to the U.S. in 1978. 

She made her mark at PepsiCo early, heading the acquisition of Tropicana and then Gatorade (the latter through a merger with Quaker Oats). These products dominated competitors and propelled her to the top of the company. Her push for Performance with a Purpose tasked the company to increase growth over time while helping society and working toward a greener environment. Her classification of products as “fun for you” (chips, soda), “better for you” (diet or low-fat options) and “good for you” (oatmeal, etc.) was novel, and propelled the company toward a host of healthier offerings that sped sales past those of competitors. She also attacked waste in packaging, conserved water, switched to renewable energy and began recycling. As of 2020, U.S. facilities run on 100% renewable electricity.

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


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