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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Best Fall Prevention Technology for 2018

Best Fall Prevention Technology for 2018

New cell phone apps have just been developed that not only claim to predict the likelihood of a fall, but can also help prevent the chances of future falls.

More than 47 million Americans are age 65 or older, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Center for Disease Control data finds a third of that group will suffer a fall each year. Falls in this population can lead to serious injury, a loss of independence and even death.

Hospitals have searched for ways to prevent falls, particularly after 2008 when Medicare began refusing to pay for the cost of treating a fall with injury that might occur in the hospital when a patient, for example, tries to stand up and falls off a bed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services deem such falls preventable, and state they therefore “should not occur after admission to the hospital.” Even so, million such falls occur in hospitals each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Patient Sitters

Previous fall prevention strategies have centered on the use of a patient sitter. Patient sitters are people employed, often in a hospital setting, to sit in a room and observe a patient at high risk of a fall. A recent study that analyzed data from 75 hospitals participating in the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania Hospital Engagement Network Falls Reduction and Prevention Collaboration found a correlation between low rates of falls with harm and the use of sitter programs.

However, three components made a vital difference in the success of a specific sitter program: defining criteria for sitter qualifications, using a consistent training program for sitters and having a pool of sitters available. Hospital administrators were reluctant to hire a patient sitter for each at-risk client. Administrators found it difficult to justify the expense, especially when a training program had to be implemented to achieve results.

Virtual Sitters

A few years ago, video monitoring improved the cost effectiveness of watching each patient in a hospital setting. Monitors allowed a single trained employee to watch several rooms at a time. TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas introduced the AvaSys TeleSitter video monitoring system in 2014. (Monitoring equipment is also available from Cisco and Nexus.

The monitors are portable, wireless units with two-way audio, and they have reduced falls 8.6 percent. Ten patients can be monitored by a single, trained employee. However, TIRR still uses patient sitters for new patients until they are “stepped down” to the telesitter. A side benefit of the system is the 54 percent reduction in injuries to staff since the introduction of remote monitoring.

2018 Fall Prevention Apps Work Anywhere

Technology for fall prevention has recently taken a giant step forward with phone apps that can be used at home or anywhere. We’ll take a look at two, Agewell’s Equilibrium and Kinesis QTUG. Developed by a physical therapist, Equilibrium uses a smartphone or wearable device to detect older adults likely to have a fall, and then determines the best treatment to reduce the risk. With minimal training, a family member or caregiver can make the assessment using either a smartphone for periodic testing, or a wearable sensor for continuous monitoring of physical function. The device can also be used by physical or occupational therapists, care workers, doctors and nurses.

Currently, the Equilibrium prototype operates on an Android platform and has been tested in assisted living, outpatient physical therapy, home health and community settings. A pilot program can be accessed on the Equilibrium website.

“Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in older adults and can lead to social isolation, depression, lack of independence, hip fracture and sadly, even death,” according to the Equilibrium website. “Many who fear falling limit their activity and engagement in enjoyable activities leading to loss of strength. Ironically, these are the two main reasons people have falls.” But how can you tell if you are at risk?

Equilibrium: Simple Test and Immediate Results

Using the app sounds easy. All you have to do is the hold the app to your body (or to whomever you want to assess) or put it in your pocket. Then, you perform a series of movements such as walking across a room or sitting in and getting out of a chair. The movements take about a minute to complete. The Equilibrium system analyzes your results and sends them to your phone.

Equilibrium lets anyone monitor, measure and score falling risk, and it alerts you to a change in physical status. The app uses predictive analytics to tell you if you might need changes to your medical regime (Is your medication causing you to feel woozy?), diet (Did that huge sugary snack affect your balance?), exercises (Are your quadriceps muscles getting weak?), or environment (Is it time to take the rugs off the floor?).

After determining the likely best course of preventive action, Equilibrium can document objective outcome measures that comply with Medicare. Equilibrium can integrate with electronic health records to provide objective measurement and outcome reporting.

QTUG Falls and Frailty Score

Kinesis QTUG (Quantitative Timed Up and Go) is another cell phone app, but it works using a pair of sensors tucked into elastic and wrapped around the subject’s calves. In less than five minutes, QTUG claims to measure not only the risk of falling, but also frailty. According to Kinesis, the scores are validated with nine years of extensive research.

Best Balance Exercises for Seniors

Get the New Year off to a good start with these quick and easy exercises you can do at home! All you need is a kitchen chair and five minutes to be on your way to better strength and balance.

The older adult stands, walks and turns, and the QTUG program compares the person’s gait and mobility to average values for the same age and gender. Results are color-coded for easy visibility.

QTUG will analyze how an older adult responds to intervention, therapy or medication when scores are reassessed at regular intervals. It’s possible to trend risk of falls, frailty measurements and test data over time. The app uses responses to a fall history questionnaire based on the American Geriatric Society/British Geriatric Society (AGS/BGS) guidelines for fall prevention as well as information that it gathers from sensor data to create an accurate and objective fall-risk profile.

The company touts its user-friendly design and intuitive display. The program is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, compliant, with back-up to the cloud, and patient results can be exported in Excel format.

Competitors with Equilibrium and QTUG include Intel-GE Quietcare and Healthsense. Both require installing hardware at the older adult’s home and using motion sensors to assess risk and falls. Phillips Lifeline fall alert pendant sends an alarm only after a fall is detected. Jitterbug’s GreatCall services-apps offers a line of cell phones that include fall detection and also a support line for health issues.


Patient sitters found effective in reducing falls,” AHC Media LLC.

Equilibrium: Preventing Falls in the Elderly,” MedStartr, inc.

Video monitoring reduces falls as well as cutting costs for hospitals,” AHC Media LLC.

Patient sitters effective in reducing falls,” AHC Media LLC.

Six Elements Key to Patient Sitter Program,” AHC Media LLC.

Medicare Nonpayment, Hospital Falls, and Unintended Consequences,” New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, December 8, 2017

Transitioning to a Senior Care Facility

Transitioning to a Senior Care Facility

Ideas for helping older adults mentally and physically make the move from home to assisted living.

There are few changes in an older adult’s life as frightening and impactful as moving from home to a senior living situation. All of the old, familiar habits are suddenly obsolete, and waking up in a strange bedroom can be an alarming experience. Neighbors and friends are no longer nearby, and routines change abruptly.

How can family and caregivers make this difficult transition easier and smoother?

Use a Referral Specialist

A referral specialist, also known as a referral professional, can take much of the burden off the shoulders of family members navigating uncharted waters. This professional can often assist in evaluating the older adult’s need for services, including their safety at home, and give the family or caregiver options for addressing those needs.

A referral specialist should be able to point you to senior caregiving services that have a good reputation and solid licensure record with minimal care violations or citations, something that might be covered up by a lovely building and vivacious salesperson. The referral professional can evaluate your budget and give you options in your community that you can afford, whether for part-time help at home or for a move into assisted living, an adult family home, or a memory care community. The specialist is trained to anticipate future needs as well, and can discuss continuance of care for the duration of your life.

Additionally, a referral professional can point you to competent service people in the community who understand the needs of older adults and their family. You may require the services of a realtor, an elder law attorney (for a power of attorney or advanced directives), or even someone to manage downsizing or moving.

The referral company, often known as a placement agency, should employ personnel who hold accredited credentials, such as the Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® designation, to ensure they act in a capable and ethical manner. Ask if they have additional certifications with a state or local organization. How long have they been in business? Check online reviews, or ask for references.

Moving Out Before You Move On

Once the decision has been made to move out of the home, a lot of work has to be done. It won’t be easy. Fifty years of accumulations may require sorting and winnowing, sometimes quickly if Mom or Dad is moving out of state to be near a family member. Decisions about what to keep, what to give away, what to sell and what to take to the dump, can be wrenching.

Is It Time for Assisted Living?

Making the decision to move out of your home is never an easy one. Your emotions may continue to tell you to stay long after other signs all point to leaving. To help you figure out what the right decision might be for you or a loved one, consider these questions:

  • Are you eating well, or do you subsist on simple foods like soda crackers and chips?

  • Are you tripping or falling and covering up the bruises when visitors come over?

  • Are you able to bathe regularly, do the laundry and dress in clean clothes every day?

  • Can you take care of the yard and house by yourself?

  • Are you able to take your medications as prescribed, in the right dose?

  • Can you operate all of the appliances safely, remembering to turn off the oven and stove?

  • Does your home have grab bars and emergency response systems if needed?

  • Is there a plan in place in case of an emergency?

  • Is your driving up to snuff? Do you have an alternate way to get around?

  • Are you paying your bills on time?

  • Are your finances in order?

  • Are friends still coming over, or have they largely left the neighborhood or passed away, making home seem more like solitary confinement than the happy place it once was?

It may be time to seek out some help for an hour a day, or a day a week. But if you or your loved one is in danger of hurting yourself or others, a move may be in order.

Keep precious objects for their new home. Consult with the older adult about which furniture will fit in their new space, and what will be comfortable. Take cherished jewelry or memorabilia that will is filled with memories. Familiar artwork, kitchen tools and clothing all ease the move. For families, this is usually not the time to decorate in your own style, replace Mom’s outdated clothing or lay claim to her jewelry.

Expect your loved one to make negative comments. These may be about the decision to move, the way you pack, the new place or you. Take a deep breath and just listen. It could be that Mom or Dad simply needs to vent, or they may be trying to maintain decision-making power over some small thing when they feel they’ve lost it in bigger ways. Use this as an opportunity to make the situation better, if possible. Allow yourself some bad days.

Usually, transitions are smoother when you know what to expect and how to make your loved one feel more at home. We’ve compiled a list of tips and suggestions for making the move go smoothly.

Before Your Loved One Moves In

As a caregiver or family member, you can make a great deal of difference in how comfortable and personal your loved one’s new home is. Most facilities allow several visits before your loved one actually moves. Enjoy some meals together, and get to know some of the staff by name. Find the dining room, library, or game room. Show your parent the outdoor walking path, beauty salon, movie theater and anywhere else they may need to go. Many senior communities maintain an active online presence where you’ll find photos of residents enjoying daily activities.

Bring things your parent has made or collected to put in their room. Keep the feel of their old home using photographs, color scheme, furniture and paintings. Family photos and crafts are particularly welcome. Stimulate the senses with scented candles, soft fabrics and the use of color.

Seasonal reminders such as colorful leaves or a timely bouquet can make the room cheerful. Decorate for the holidays, preferably with the person’s own ornaments. Magazines, books or audio books, music and newspapers can be welcome additions.

The First Day in a Senior Care Facility

Expect your loved one to be tired and even short-tempered on moving day. Transition days are physically and emotionally taxing for everyone. Ask your loved one where they’d like furniture and artwork. Look for ways to say “yes” to requests such as putting artwork in odd places. This is their home, not yours.

Take time to sit and talk about a move they remember, an outing you two have planned or what’s on the menu for dinner. Walk your loved one from their room to the dining area, noting how to find the way back. Discuss the routine, including when meals are served. Write it down if necessary.

The First Week

It’s a good time to rally friends and family, especially if Mom or Dad has moved from out-of-state to be near you. Put some subtle pressure on siblings to get on a calling or visiting schedule, and let everyone know Grandma would welcome cards, letters, texts, emails, phone calls … whatever your loved one has access to. Encourage faraway friends to initiate contact as well.

Your loved one may express a desire to go home. Your reply could be, “I know, Mom. I wish you could, too. What’s hard for you today?” Listen, then listen some more. Listening is a powerful solution of its own. Offer comfort and hugs. Later, you could say something such as, “I think we make a great team. Let’s go get some coffee together.”

You might wonder if you’re visiting too much. Call and visit as often as you want to. Especially while your loved one hasn’t yet made friends or developed a routine, it can be soothing to you both. Set up a comforting routine, or call your loved one ahead of time to let her know you’re coming. Avoid meal times, nap time, and therapy or other treatment time. Check with staff if your loved one isn’t sure about the schedule, and let other visitors know what works too.

Knock on the door before entering your loved one’s room. Think about what activities your parent enjoys. Are there favorite movies, games or music? Would your loved one enjoy telling you family stories while you take a video or write them down? Elicit stories by asking about past events or milestones.

Take advantage of opportunities to keep your loved one involved with your family. Sharing photos, FaceTime, Skype or home videos can spark memories and make new ones. Record events such as graduation ceremonies, sports games and school plays and concerts, then share the footage.

Your loved one may enjoy a manicure or pedicure, or help writing a letter. Bring a board game, deck of cards, puzzle or bakery treat. Take a leisurely stroll. Don’t be afraid to bring children. Youngsters rarely react negatively, and teens can be an asset if they understand the assisted living environment. But do remove tired children or unwilling teens.

If you have young children, bring simple games like tic-tac-toe or dominoes, or some coloring materials. Ask your parent about games they played in their childhood. Bring a small gift for the child to open or present. Start new family traditions with a shared treat or holiday celebration. Have children create a living history by asking about firsthand experiences.

The First Month

In some ways, this time will go by in a blur, and in other ways, it may drag. You may second-guess your decision many times, and other days you’ll feel confident you did the right thing.

Evaluate the number, length and quality of your visits. Does your loved one have a steady flow of visitors that still allows time for them to become involved in the community? Are you happy about how your role has changed?

Outings can give you and your loved one a chance to connect. Get an ice cream cone, go out to a show, take a walk in a park or find an event at your local library. Your parent may enjoy going to happy hour, visiting a microbrewery, attending a religious service or taking a short shopping trip. Bring your loved one home and cook dinner, or show them the garden.

If negative comments continue, remember to pay attention to your loved one’s opinions. Treat them as an equal in the conversation. They may be using negative comments to voice uncertainty or fear. If you are concerned there is a problem with the staff or facility, make an appointment to speak with an approachable staff member or the administration. Follow the facility’s complaint procedure. Dissatisfaction may be expressed as depression, anxiety, hostility, withdrawal or unresponsiveness. If you’re not satisfied with the response, each state has an ombudsman program to help family members resolve complaints.

Many assisted living facilities report that it can take between one and three months for a new resident to become comfortable. Don’t expect immediate results, especially if your loved one is getting over the death of a spouse or adjusting to a health issue. However, time and love are the key ingredients for helping anyone adjust to life in a senior care facility.


Signs That Tell You It's Time for Assisted Living,”

Helping Elderly Parents Transition to Assisted Living,”

Transition to Care,” American Health Care Association.

Making The Transition to Senior Living: One Family’s Story,” A Place for Mom, Inc.

5 Ways to Help Your Loved One Transition to Senior Living,” Christian Care Communities.

“11/10/2017 Interview with Steve Steve Garrett, CSA on Transitioning to a Senior Care Facility,” CarePatrol Pacific Northwest.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Encouraging Older Entrepreneurs

Paul Tasner wants to encourage and connect older entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. and around the globe, as he explains in this TED talk. He started his own business at age 68 after a lifetime working for others, but he had a hard time finding role models who were like himself. It shouldn’t be so, he asserts with humor. Businesses started by older adults like himself succeed at twice the rate of those led by Silicon Valley hipsters.


Paul Tasner - How I became an entrepreneur at 66,” TED Talks.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Easy Ways to Start Exercising

Easy Ways to Start Exercising

We’ve found the best, most this-doesn’t-feel-like-exercise ways to get your muscles moving for a happier you in the New Year.

Does reading about “active seniors” drive you to the freezer for your last pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Do you roll your eyeballs when you drive by buildings with the word “recreation” or “fitness” in the name? Then this article is for you!

Everyone Has to Start Somewhere

Many older adults bemoan the annual January tradition to start an exercise program as a New Year resolution. There are plenty of excuses: It’s too cold. My knees hurt. I tried it once and I hated the class/instructor/music. I’ve always been fat. I’ll look like an idiot. It’s easier to stay the way I am. By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity.


You’ve probably heard of SilverSneakers but you may not know it’s a comprehensive program to encourage older adults to participate in physical activity and stay social. The free program is available across the country to adults 65 and older.

Original Medicare Part A and Part B won’t cover SilverSneakers, but your Medicare Advantage plan might. To find out if your plan covers the program, contact your health plan provider or check online. SilverSneakers online health plan finder If you want to switch to a plan that includes SilverSneakers, use the eHealthMedicare comparison tool to find one in your area.

Membership grants access to any participating gym or recreation center. You get unlimited access to more than 13,000 locations. Weights, treadmills, and pools are included, as well as fitness classes for all abilities led by certified instructors. The new FLEX addition offers yoga, dance, and other classes outside of the usual network.

Every location that offers SilverSneakers has an advisor to help you get started. You can track your progress with, and you’ll be invited to health education seminars and fitness events.

But ask yourself: If you could buy a new body, toned and strong, how much would it be worth? Would you pay $50 a month for it? How about if it were free? What would it feel like to wake up every day full of energy? What If exercise was fun?

We’ve searched to find the best, most innovative ways to get you moving. No two people will tread exactly the same path to better health. The only thing fit people have in common is that they don’t quit working out, whether they are salsa dancing or swimming. So find something on the list that looks interesting and give it a try.

Exercise Has Side Benefits

Are you hoping to age in place? There’s nothing like good health to help you stay at home. Regular exercise reduces your risk of falling and breaking bones. Do you struggle with depression? Exercise improves mental well-being, and relieve your stress.

Older adults can benefit from aerobic endurance activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities that can stabilize joints and your body’s core. Amazingly, exercise reduces your risk of dying from coronary heart disease or getting high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. If that’s not enough, exercise helps control the pain and swelling associated with arthritis.

In addition, exercising as part of a group can give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Working out on your own leaves you with time to think, listen to a podcast, or enjoy your favorite music.

It Doesn’t Take a Lot

It’s surprising how a small amount of daily exercise can make a big difference in your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that more intense activity, such as climbing stairs, can be shorter than less intense activity, such as walking on a flat surface, for a similar benefit. However, more benefit can be gained by exercising longer, more intensely, or more often.

Consult with your doctor before increasing your activity level. If you’ve been sedentary, start with short intervals of activity five to ten minutes long, and work up to longer sessions gradually. Now, find something on the list and get started!

  • Spy on your neighbors. Take a stroll around the neighborhood and check on who hasn’t taken their holiday decorations down (tut-tut), whose car is pulling into the Smith’s driveway, and pet Mr. Brown’s new dog out for a walk. This is especially fun when dusk has fallen and you can be a secret voyeur, using lit interiors to critique interior decorating. It’s worth a drive to the toney part of town to see how the other half (one percent!) live.

  • Embrace the great outdoors. Make it a goal to walk every inch of every trail in your suburb, town, or county. You could change it to irrigation ditches in farm country, or it may be easier to hit the sidewalks on city streets. How about walking through historic cemeteries, or logging miles at a local high school track?

  • Make tracks in the snow. The white stuff is a built-in shock absorber when you snowshoe or ski cross country. Rent equipment and try it out before you decide to buy. Make your own trails or find a Nordic center for groomed paths. You can learn the basics in minutes; no expertise required.

  • Square dance. Promenade and allemande left. You can wear a short, bouncy skirt or bolero tie just like the real cowboys and cowgirls with no pushback! Get the basics down with a video lesson, then sashay on over to your local club to get started.

  • Go window shopping. Hit the local mall and check out window displays as you walk your way to better health. Bring your cell phone for a podcast or music that will make the time fly by. Many malls cater to senior walkers by opening the doors to them before shops are open, so there’s no fighting crowds.

  • Find your splash zone. Many recreation centers have modern lap lanes that are not meat-locker cold, and waist-deep lazy river lanes for walking against the artificial current. That’s right: you can exercise in a pool even if you don’t know how to swim. Snap on a flotation device (you may be able to borrow one from the facility) and hold on to the edge all you want.

  • Become a biker chick or guy. No, a motorcycle is not going to raise your heartrate unless maybe you’re oogling the latest model from Harley. Quit the drooling and get your hands on a real bike! Take your pick from sleek road bikes, rugged mountain bikes, city-slicker cruisers, or low-slung recumbents. You can find a bike made just for the beach or one that will take you home on a country road, all in return for a little leg power.

  • Plant your own plot of paradise. Does the thought of a ripe heirloom tomato make you smile? Do your daydreams wander to an iris the color of a summer sunset? Make a raised bed garden to get your heart rate up, then tend it. Weeding, watering, and mulching are all exercise in disguise.

  • Volunteer at an athletic event. Local races need people to hand out packets, dispense water and cheer on competitors. Being around athletic people encourages you to picture yourself as part of an active group. You’ll see that these athletes are old and young, fast and slow, first-timers and veterans of the sport.

  • Give Yourself a Reward. Walk a thousand steps every day for a month, and rent a VRBO in the mountains for a hike. Bike twenty-five miles a week for three months, and join a local cycling group for special weekend rides. Snowshoe a mile a day for three weeks, and treat yourself to a cup of extraordinary hot chocolate goodness at the local coffee shop.

  • Tai Chi your way to health. It’s okay if you don’t know what it is. Tai Chi, Taekwondo, yoga… all are Eastern practices are great for improving your balance. Brain research during yoga shows reduced stress and enhanced cognition. Chair yoga modifications make it accessible to just about anyone.

  • Make your favorite room the ballroom. Dancing, that is. Tango, foxtrot, and waltz your way to better balance, rhythm, and new friends. You don’t need a partner to start classes. Get a little intro lesson before your first class and impress the teacher.

  • Lurk in the alley. The bowling alley, that is. Most bowling alleys are not the smoky habitats of yore, but family-friendly lanes where you can practice your strikes. Lift one of those bowling balls a few times and you’ll know it’s a workout! Join a league and get social benefits, too.

  • Play with a bucket. Golf has decreased in popularity, but it’s still a lot of fun to hit a bucket of balls, even if you’re not a good shot. Some ranges have heated stalls to make it a year ‘round activity. If the thought is just too intimidating, head to your local minigolf course for some fun.

  • Get in touch with your inner child. And what better way than to play with the grandkids? Wear clothes that can get dirty, then build a fort, go on a treasure hunt, or save Moby Dick (times have changed!). Jump rope for aerobic fun that is roaring back as a popular competitive event.

  • Play Wii Fit. Novices can review this Wii Fit primer before starting their first game with this Nintendo gaming console that promotes movement. You can try virtual tennis, bowling, yoga, skiing or more, and the device will track your weight and general fitness level.

  • Donate time at a shelter, rescue, or equine therapy barn. Whether you’re walking dogs, scooping poop, or leading a horse with a disabled rider, you’ll be getting more than you’re giving when you offer the gift of your time. Each of these options will get you moving and socializing. There’s no research study to prove it, but rumor says your heart muscle will grow bigger, too.

Did you notice that not one of the options listed above requires you to go to the dreaded gym? Woohoo! And we didn’t even get into summer activities like croquet, snorkeling, or beachcombing. Or Midwestern favorites like corn hole! Once you get into active mode, you’ll realize how many activities are doable.

Your exercise plan is easy. Start now, and do something every day for the rest of your life. Happy moving!


5 Fun Ways For Seniors To Stay Active,” Alert1.

11 Fun Ways Older Adults Can Get in Shape,” Everyday Health.

Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What Yoga Does to Your Brain,” NBC News.

What is SilverSneakers™? Does Medicare cover this program?,” eHealthInsurance Services, Inc.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Avoid These 20 Top Tax Mistakes

Top 20 Tax Mistakes

We’ve compiled a list of common tax mistakes to ensure you don’t pay more than you need to on your 2017 returns.

There are more than 1,000 different forms to choose from when filing your 2017 tax return. No wonder it’s easy to make a mistake! But some of the most common errors are deceptively simple. Make sure to sidestep the following pitfalls:

  1. Incorrect names and Social Security numbers. Take a minute to make sure you spell names exactly as they appear on Social Security cards, and don’t transpose numbers. If you recently changed your name but you haven’t had a chance to file an update with the Social Security Administration, you’ll need to use your old name on your return.

  2. Wrong birth dates. It’s tempting to guess at a child’s or spouse’s birthdate, or even to write in one without double checking. But much of the tax code is based on age, and you cast doubt on a claim if the name and birthdate don’t match up.

  3. Tax Relief for Special Cases

    Penalty Abatement for Quarterly Payers

    If you just entered the so-called gig economy and messed up your payments or filing, you may have an out. According to the IRS:

    You may qualify for administrative relief from penalties for failing to file a tax return, pay on time, and/or to deposit taxes when due under the Service's First Time Penalty Abatement policy if the following are true:

    • You didn’t previously have to file a return or you have no penalties for the 3 tax years prior to the tax year in which you received a penalty.
    • You filed all currently required returns or filed an extension of time to file.
    • You have paid, or arranged to pay, any tax due.

    Check your eligibility for a first time penalty abatement here.

    Hurricane Tax Relief

    Those living in areas affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Maria (check here to see if you qualify) get special tax treatment. Taxpayers who had filed for an extension on their 2016 taxes have until Jan. 31, 2018 to turn in their forms. Call the phone number on your late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS to correct an error. Taxpayers should be identified automatically based on address, but affected individuals and businesses outside the area can call the IRS disaster hotline at (866) 562-5227 to request tax relief.

    Hurricane victims may also be able to claim a personal casualty loss write-off. However, the law is complicated and you won’t be able to claim the full amount. (Businesses are treated differently and can claim the full write-off.) To find out what you may be eligible to deduct, check IRS Publication 547 (Casualties, Disasters, and Thefts).

  4. Wrong filing status. What if you got married or divorced in 2017? Your status is what is accurate as of December 31, so if you married on New Year’s Eve, you’re married for your tax return. Additionally, you could qualify as head of household if you were single at the end of the year, pony up at least half the cost of running your home and have a child or parent who is a dependent.

  5. Not carrying the one. The IRS found more than 2 million math errors in 2014 returns. Some of these were in taxpayers’ favor. To reduce the chance of mistakes in arithmetic, use tax software or hire a qualified preparer.

  6. Transposing numbers. Your software doesn’t know if you earned $1,600 in interest or $6,100, and it will keep using the wrong information throughout your return if you don’t catch the error.

  7. Funding someone else’s bank account. Direct deposit is the fastest, best way to get your refund. But it can be very difficult to retrieve if you accidentally provide the wrong routing or account number. Check them twice before sending off your return.

  8. Missing forms. Besides a W-2, you may need to include brokerage forms (1099s) for investments, and for 2017, you still need to provide proof of health insurance (1095).

  9. Forgetting online donations to charity. It’s easy to omit charitable deductions if the receipt was emailed. Search your inbox for “gift,” “donation” or “charity” before you file.

  10. Forgetting to sign. The IRS won’t accept a return that is not signed, and they’ll treat it like you haven’t filed. Penalties and fines could follow, and you’ll leave yourself open to an audit.

  11. Not claiming all your income. If you hopped into the gig economy and earned at least $600 as a contractor, or if you earned interest or dividends of at least that much, you’ll get a 1099 and so will the IRS. If you fail to report this income, expect to hear from the IRS.

  12. Forgetting to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Holders of a traditional IRA or 401(k) must make minimum withdrawals after age 70 and a half. The penalty for not doing so is a hefty 50 percent tax. If you messed up, file a Form 5329 with an explanation and what you’ve done to correct your error. The agency may waive the tax, especially if it’s your first time taking the distributions.

  13. Missing the deadline. If April 18, 2018 blows by and you realize your return is late, file as soon as you can or face up to a 5 percent penalty on the amount due every month, up to 25 percent, until the IRS gets your return. You’ll also owe interest on your outstanding tax burden, usually 0.5 percent per month.

  14. Misunderstanding the extension. The IRS will grant you six months to file your return if you request an extension (Form 4868) by April 18, 2018. Some people assume this gives them another six months to pay taxes owed. Not! Make a payment by the April deadline or face a late-payment penalty.

  15. Sending your return to the wrong address. Many taxpayers still use a paper return, and mailing it to the right processing center is tricky. Returns with payments go to one place, while those without payments go to another. Check for the proper address here.

  16. Watch Out for Tax Scams

    Most tax professionals will help you file accurate returns. Tax preparation services can be essential for older adults with a complex financial situation. But a few are dishonest or inept. Check out the IRS webpage to find tips on how to select a tax preparer and examine their credentials.

    Don’t fall prey to someone who calls or emails and claims to be from the IRS, saying you owe hundreds or thousands of dollars in back taxes. They may pressure you by saying agents are on their way to take you into custody. Whatever their method, they will demand payment via wire transfer or credit card. Hang up the phone or delete the email. The IRS never calls or emails to initiate contact; they always send a letter through the U.S. mail. Report any tax collection scam to the U.S. Department of the Treasury here.

  17. Making a statement with your check. The IRS probably won’t cash that check made out to “International Rat Society” or “Infernal Robbers and Scoundrels.” You may feel better, but your payment will be considered late and you’ll get hit with a penalty. Pay online with IRS Direct Pay and hit the buttons as hard as you want while cussing profusely for free.

  18. Saving money on postage. It’s not a good idea to see if your thick return will be delivered with just one stamp. The U.S. Postal Service sends back mail without adequate postage, possibly making your return late and certainly costing you another couple of stamps. Avoid the whole expense by e-filing, or drive down to your local post office for the correct postage.

  19. Messing up and giving up. If you need to fix your return, you are not alone. Get it done fast with a form 1040X and any corrected schedules or forms, all of which must be mailed. If you now owe more taxes, the IRS will assess interest and penalties from the original due date.

  20. Not filing. You may decide you can’t pay what you owe, so you’ll put off the pain by not filing a tax return. Bad idea. The penalty for failing to file is more than the penalty for not paying. File your return with as much as you can pay, and work out a payment option with the IRS for the rest.

  21. Waiting until the last minute. Some tax preparation services cost more if you request service near the filing deadline. Rushing to get your taxes done can cause you to miss deductions or make mistakes. Why not take advantage of IRS online filing? It’s free if you meet generous income guidelines.

  22. Claiming a deduction you can’t prove. Nasty fines and penalties await if you’re audited and you can’t substantiate the deductions you took. Save copies of your return, plus receipts and any other documentation used to prepare your taxes.


Common Mistakes When Filing Your Taxes,”

10 Common Tax-Filing Mistakes to Avoid,” AARP.

IRS penalizes more earners for mistakes, underpayment in estimated tax filings,” USA Today.

The Costliest Tax Scams and Mistakes of 2017,” Legal shield.

Avoid These Common Tax Mistakes,”

11 Big Tax Mistakes to Avoid,” Nerd Wallet.

Penalty Relief Due to First Time Penalty Abatement or Other Administrative Waiver,”

IRS extends tax relief to Hurricane Maria victims,” Accounting Today.

See if you can write off your Hurricane Harvey and Irma losses on your taxes,” Market Watch.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Famous & 65

Look Who’s Turning 65

December 2 – George Meegan

George Meegan

This incredible British adventurer walked all the way from the southern tip of South America to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Completing the walk at age 31, Meegan took his last step and “fell to his knees and wept”. That’s an astounding journey of 19,019 miles from bottom to top of the Western Hemisphere. It lasted 2,425 days and is documented in his book, The Longest Walk (1988).

His famous walk led Meegan to a lasting interest in indigenous cultures and how to teach them to thrive in modern society while retaining their unique identity. This interest led Meegan in 2014 to author Democracy Reaches the Kids, a free-thinking manifesto against compulsory education.

Meegan’s numerous records include:

  • First and only journey on foot crossing South and Central America

  • First and only journey on foot crossing all Latin America

  • First and only journey on foot crossing from Tropic of Capricorn, through the Equator, to the Tropic of Cancer

  • First and only journey on foot crossing between Equator and the Arctic Circle

  • First and only journey on foot crossing entire Western Hemisphere

  • Most degrees of latitude ever covered on foot (125° 08')

  • First and only journey on foot connecting the Southern Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans

  • ‘Longest Unbroken March of All Time’

December 2 – Carol Shea-Porter

Carol Shea-Porter

Shea-Porter is a representative of New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district, after losing and then regaining the seat several times since 2006. Currently, she serves on the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on Armed Services. She’s also a member of the Progressive Congressional Caucus, but has announced she won’t run again in 2018.

Born in New York City, Shea-Porter grew up on the New Hampshire seacoast, earning a bachelor’s in social services and a master’s in public administration from the University of New Hampshire. She worked for the Wesley Clark campaign for president and volunteered for John Kerry’s presidential run.

Among her notable achievements in office, she co-sponsored a bill to protect U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from toxic smoke created by the disposal of waste in open-air burn pits. Shea-Porter voted for the Affordable Care Act and supports a U.S. move away from oil as a primary energy source. She supports emissions trading measures and voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

December 3 – Don Barnes

Don Barnes

You may not recognize his name, but you probably remember the songs such as “Hold On Loosely,” “Rockin’ into the Night,” and “Caught Up in You.” Don Barnes is the rock vocalist and guitarist who was one of the founding members of the Southern rock band 38 Special.

Barnes was the lead vocalist on the hits listed above, as well as “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” and “Like No Other Night.” In 1987, Barnes left the band after recording “Back to Paradise” that was featured in the forgettable movie Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. The band replaced him with Max Carl. Barnes rejoined 38 Special in 1992 and has been with the band ever since.

A brief solo career produced the 1989 album Ride the Storm. It wasn’t released at the time because the record label was sold, but a lot of the top session musicians such as Jeff Porcaro and Dann Huff were featured on it, and singer-songwriter Martin Briley co-produced it. The album finally got its debut in June 2017 on MelodicRock Records.

December 6 – Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark

What would life be like without the ad-free web marketplace known as Craigslist? It’s the brainchild of Newmark, whose father died when Craig was 13, putting the family into a precarious financial position. Scholarships funded a bachelor’s and master’s degree of science, and Newmark landed a job with IBM.

After programming for 17 years, he moved to San Francisco for a job where he was introduced to the internet, which at the time had no advertising. Newmark developed Craigslist as an “internet commune” where people could come together to exchange information and use a free marketplace.

The general got a top-notch start at the United States Military Academy, graduating in the top 5 percent of his class in 1974. He then won the General George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983. Petraeus went on to earn both an M.P.A. (in 1985) and a 1987 Ph. D. in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.

Now a billionaire, Newmark is still active in Craigslist customer service, outing spammers and scammers. He’s also a devoted philanthropist, operating Craigconnects to publish charitable organizations. Newmark has a special interest in services for military veterans and teachers.

December 7 – Susan Collins

Susan Collins

Susan Collins currently serves as the senior U.S. Senator from Maine. She is considered a moderate Republican and made headlines in July when she refused to support the American Health Care Act, the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Collins has served as Chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging since 2015. She’s known for her long voting streak, reaching 6,000 consecutive votes in September 2015. Collins is also the only Republican in the Senate currently representing a state in New England.

According to third quarter 2017 senator approval rankings by Morning Consult, Collins is fourth-highest with 62% giving her a thumbs-up. (Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont ranks first). Collins has voted across party lines on many issues, including restrictions on travel to Cuba, harsher punishment for drug users, and an amendment to the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. She also joined Democrats to support campaign finance reform laws.

In August 2016 Collins announced that she would not cast a vote for Donald Trump, stating that he is unsuitable for office, “based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics.”

December 12 – Cathy Rigby McCoy

Cathy Rigby McCoy

The diminutive Rigby made history as the highest-scoring gymnast on the U.S. team at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. The apple-cheeked blonde with the quick smile helped to popularize gymnastics as a sport with American television audiences. Rigby was the U.S. national champion in 1970 and 1972, but injury held her back at the 1972 Olympics and she retired after not medaling at that competition.

Rigby was 20 years old and had been retired from competition for a year when she auditioned for the role of Peter Pan, which she wound up playing for more than 30 years. Her Broadway performance got her nominated for a Tony award. Rigby starred in stage and television productions.

The 99 lb. actress also hit the talk show circuit and became a public speaker about eating disorders, which she overcame after a long struggle.

Rigby’s image is included on the Voyager Golden Record in space.

December 27 – David Knopfler

David Knopfler

Knopfler is a co-founder of the rock band Dire Straits, where he was rhythm guitarist and his older brother Mark played lead guitar.

However, Knopfler felt stressed by the constant album production and tour demands when Dire Straits became popular. He quit the band after three years to set out on a solo career, initially creating smaller record labels, publishing companies and indie labels.

Knopfler was ahead of his time, encouraging the purchase of online music sales as early as 1995. His book Bluffers Guide to the Rock Music Business was published a year later. A poetry anthology, “Bloodstones and Rhythmic Beasts”, followed in 2005.

Source: Wikipedia

FAMOUS & 65 is a featured article in the Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Warning Signs to Watch for During a Holiday Visit

aging parent dementia warning signs noticed at holidays

Infrequent visits can reveal subtle changes in older adults. How can family members or friends tell if it’s something to be worried about? And is it time for a move?

A holiday visit often gives you a chance to spend time with loved ones you haven’t seen in awhile. These happy occasions can provoke worry if family members notice changes that weren’t there the last time they visited. How does someone tell if it’s normal aging, or the beginning of dementia or even Alzheimer’s? Is it time to contact a care professional?

Many of the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s overlap. We’ve provided a list of each, with behaviors that are typical in older adults, countered with behaviors that might be found in someone beginning to show signs of disease.

Early Indications of Dementia

It’s hard to diagnose dementia in the beginning stages, because the signs are subtle and vary from person to person. However, common symptoms are:

  • Reduced ability to concentrate. Anyone can struggle with managing finances. Someone with dementia might not understand what numbers mean or how to use them.

  • Personality or behavior changes. Anyone can get tired of an activity. Someone with dementia totally loses interest in activities they used to enjoy, or needs prompting to get involved.

  • Loss of ability to do everyday tasks. Anyone can get distracted and burn a meal. Someone with dementia has trouble remembering all the steps involved in preparing a meal.

  • Increased confusion and disorientation. Anyone can get lost. Someone with dementia may have difficulty finding their way on a familiar route or be confused about where they are.

  • Difficulty remembering recent events. Anyone might forget an appointment. Someone with dementia forgets them more often or never remembers making them at all.

  • Depression or apathy. Anyone can be down or depressed. Someone with dementia may become confused, suspicious, or apathetic, or have wild mood swings.

  • Loss of language ability. Anyone might forget a word occasionally. Someone with dementia may forget simple words and substitute inappropriate ones, making the person hard to understand.

  • Poor judgement. Anyone can miscalculate the weather. Someone with dementia can see snow outside without thinking a jacket is needed to go for a walk.

  • Misplacing objects. Anyone can misplace the car keys. Someone with dementia might forget what the keys are for.

Be aware that many conditions, some of them temporary, can mimic dementia. Don’t think your loved one has dementia when the warning signs may be due to a stroke, depression, infection, nutritional deficiency, hormonal disorder, long-term alcohol overuse or even a brain tumor. Many of these conditions are treatable. Only a doctor can diagnose dementia. An early diagnosis is critical for treatment, support and making plans.

Is It Alzheimer’s Disease?

No one wants to discover that a loved one has Alzheimer’s, a brain disease that slowly degrades memory, thought and reason. But early diagnosis is crucial for treating the disease to get some relief from symptoms and maintain a longer period of independence. Read on for a list of 10 warning signs and symptoms, adapted from the Alzheimer’s Association’s version. A person may experience these signs at varying levels. If you notice any of the signs in a loved one, have them see a doctor for further evaluation.

Five Warning Signs of Abuse or Neglect

As many as 5 million older adults are abused every year, according to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and yet that abuse remains significantly underreported. Elder abuse often originates with someone in a position of trust, including family members and caregivers. Here are five warning signs to watch out for:

  1. Physical abuse. Look for burns, abrasions, pressure marks and bruises. Does your loved one have a history of sprains, dislocations or even broken bones? Sudden hair or tooth loss can also indicate abuse. Beware of odd explanations such as “She ran into a wall.” Does a caregiver or family member hover, not allowing you to visit alone? Is your loved one taken to many different medical facilities for treatment? All are red flags.

  2. Neglect. If an older adult needs help due to cognitive or physical impairments, check for dirty clothes, soiled diapers, bedsores and unusual weight loss. Is their living environment neat and clean, or has it deteriorated? Are medical aids such as hearing aids, canes and glasses clean and available, or nowhere to be found? The neglect may be intentional, or it could be passive as the result of an untrained or overly burdened caretaker.

  3. Verbal or emotional abuse. Does your loved one seem withdrawn, or exhibit odd behavior like biting or rocking? Are there signs of fear, stress or tension around the caretaker? Does the caretaker snap or yell at the older adult? Is there forced isolation of the older adult by a member of the family or a caretaker? Emotional abuse can be tricky to spot, because it ranges from an insult to an outright verbal attack, and the older adult is often unable to fight back or even recognize the problem. A caregiver may say, “I can’t wait until you die so I get my life back!” or curse. The abuser may also isolate the older adult so no one knows what is happening.

  4. Sexual abuse. Age is no armor against a sexual predator, who may see an older adult as easy prey. Look for bruises around breasts or in the genital area, venereal disease, and vaginal or rectal bleeding. Your loved one may have difficulty walking or standing, and exhibit depression or withdrawal. Be suspicious if the caregiver acts flirty or seems to touch the older adult excessively or intimately when it is not warranted.

  5. Financial abuse. Are there unpaid bills piling up? Has money “disappeared”? Does a caregiver suddenly have an unexplained purchase that seems beyond their means, such as a new car, cell phone or clothing? Does a caregiver take money to make a purchase that never arrives? Has someone new been added to bank accounts or credit cards? Is credit card use increasing? Are cash withdrawals becoming more frequent? Family members and caregivers have the greatest access to older adults’ accounts, and are often in the position of greatest trust to steal from seniors.

If you suspect severe elder abuse, call 911 to report immediate, life-threatening danger. Otherwise, report the abuse to a local adult protective services agency, the police or a long-term care ombudsman. Find a local resource at the National Center on Elder Abuse.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Anyone forgets names or appointments, but remembers them later. Someone with Alzheimer’s forgets important dates or events, asks for the same information again and again, and has difficulty remembering recently learned information.

  • Difficulty solving problems or planning. Anyone makes an error now and then balancing a checkbook. Someone with Alzheimer’s has trouble following a familiar recipe or paying bills.

  • Confusion of time or place. Anyone might forget what day of the week it is, but be able to figure it out later. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of seasons or the passing of time, where they are or how they arrived.

  • Difficulty with spatial cues and visual images. Anyone might have reduced vision due to cataracts or macular degeneration. Someone with Alzheimer’s has vision problems leading to issues reading, judging distance and seeing color contrast, which might lead to difficulty driving.

  • Problems with written or spoken words. Anyone can struggle to find the right word now and then. Someone with Alzheimer’s struggles with vocabulary, and has trouble following or joining a conversation, repeating what was just said or failing to continue the thread.

  • Misplacing objects. Anyone can forget where they put something and have to retrace steps to find it. People with Alzheimer’s put things in unusual places, like leaving car keys in the freezer. They may be unable to retrace their steps to relocate an object, or accuse others of stealing it. This behavior typically accelerates over time.

  • Poor judgment. Anyone can make a crummy decision once in a while. People with Alzheimer’s may use poor judgment with money, giving large sums to people they meet over the phone. They may quit taking care of their appearance and cleanliness.

  • Withdrawing from work or social occasions. Anyone may feel like being alone sometimes. Someone with Alzheimer’s might quit hobbies, social outings, sports or work activities. This could be because they’ve forgotten how to complete the hobby or because of other changes from the disease.

  • Mood and personality changes. Anyone can get in a particular pattern and feel irritated when it is disrupted. People with Alzheimer’s can easily be upset at home or work, especially in situations where they don’t feel comfortable. They can become confused, suspicious, fearful, anxious or depressed.

Increasing the Level of Care

Perhaps your concern for your loved one isn’t about cognition at all. You may notice that Grandma prepared a delicious turkey, but she didn’t have the strength to carry it to the table. Maybe her house is dirtier than usual because her eyesight is failing, or she can’t physically sweep like she used to. There are a host of issues you may need to address while you are there or shortly afterward.

Have a conversation with the older adult about what you notice. How does the older adult feel about it? Is Grandma adamant about aging in place, or is she feeling lonely and thinking it might be time for a move to assisted living? Would she like help doing certain tasks around the house, or with errands? Is it time to stop driving?

If you decide to bring in home help, determine if the neighbor down the street would be a good fit, or if you should contact a professional caregiving service that screens and trains all of its employees. Do you simply need a cleaning service, or is your loved one ready for help with meals and shopping? What are her needs likely to be going forward, and is there someone, such as a family member or friend, who can help you assess them? Do you need to talk to her doctor to review medications and recommend changes in Grandma’s home so she can get around more easily?

Homecoming is full of nostalgia. It can be hard to face the point when you realize that your loved ones need your help, especially when they might not be willing to admit it yet. Tread gently and seek their input, then consult with professionals if you need further guidance. Above all, accept the changes with a loving spirit and the most positive attitude you can muster for the challenges ahead.


10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's,” Alzheimer's Association.

Dementia - early signs,” Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia.

5 Signs of Elder Abuse,”

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, November 6, 2017

Equifax Breach: Protecting Personal Information

Protecting Personal Information

Anyone can end up with their identity stolen, but there’s plenty you can do to help protect yourself from becoming a victim.

When a company you trust fails to secure your data, you can feel helpless and unsure of how to help protect yourself. After all, credit rating agencies take your most vital information without your permission. Implicit in this siphoning of your identifying information is that companies will guard your details like gold bars.

Then came the Equifax breach.

One of the big three credit agencies, Equifax should have known better. More than 145 million people had their data stolen. The barn door was closed after the cows got loose. The only thing that matters now: What can you do to help protect yourself?

First, use the tool Equifax created to check if you were affected by the breach. You’ll have to put in your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. If they say your information was stolen, it’s time to act. Even if you’re supposedly safe, following the tips below can help protect you from the next attack, although no one is completely impervious to data thieves.

According to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, a wealthy money expert with access to a bevy of top experts, victims of the attack may not notice anything out of the ordinary for months. But the thieves have everything they need to take out a line of credit, get a driver’s license or even become you. Your name could end up on a loan, along with your social security number, your birthdate, etc. His experts suggest calling your banks and creditors immediately, and adding a PIN number or secret word for an extra layer of verification. Tell them they are not authorized to create new lines of credit on your accounts without that PIN number or secret word you agree on

Expert Advice for Identity Theft Victims

Senior Spirit checked in with Mary Trapani, who became an identity theft expert after she and her husband endured years of difficulty after their own identities were stolen in April 2000.

It turns out that identity theft is common. A 2016 survey estimated 41 million Americans have had their identity stolen, making it imperative to put safeguards in place. The following tips come from Mary’s blog, where she posts advice for consumers.

What to Do Right Away:

  • Change every password. Look below for tips from Mary on how to develop a quick system that makes all your passwords easier to formulate and remember. There are also tips from the experts at on making your passwords as strong as possible.

  • Mary’s harrowing experience with ID theft led her to endorse IDShield. She offers information about the service at The service costs about $10 monthly for one person, or $20 for a family. IDShield claims to be unique in having private investigators on staff. The company says it monitors every scrap of data with your name on it. “In the event of a compromise, your personal IDShield licensed private investigator will work to uncover evidence, restore your identity and clear your record back to its pre-theft status,” according to the website.

  • Protect your computer and other devices with appropriate software.

  • Only visit websites that are safe. Your personal malware may have an option to only allow sites it deems safe. An easy guide is to check the URL: If a site starts with “https” instead of “http,” your data is secure.

  • Never give out your personal information over the phone or online, unless you initiated the contact.

  • Do not open suspicious emails, even on your phone. Never click on links or attachments in them, even when they make tempting offers. Even hitting “unsubscribe” could land you in trouble. Send them to spam.

  • Buy a basic shredder and use it for every document with your name on it.

Report the Problem

If you know that you have been affected in the breach, you’ll need to do more. You should report the theft to all of the following:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): 877-ID-THEFT (877-43-84338)

  • The Social Security Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271

  • The Internal Revenue Service Tax Fraud Hotline: 800-829-0433

  • Your local post office

  • All of your financial institutions, including banks, creditors, mortgage companies and credit card companies

Do Your Homework

Finally, Mary reminds us there are some things we all should be doing as a matter of course.

  • Review your credit reports. This has gotten a lot easier with credit scores available from many banks, credit card issuers and money management services such as Mint. You can still get a free report straight from Equifax, Transunion and Experian once a year by requesting it.

  • Check credit card and bank statements every month for fees that look odd. It could be a small charge that appears every month, money going overseas or a charge to a company you’ve never heard of.

  • Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement yearly to make sure no one else is collecting benefits using your number. Mary knows from experience that if that happens, you may need a lawyer. Even with professional help, it is still a lot of work to undo.

  • Protect your Social Security number from being used fraudulently on a tax return. Get an IP PIN that you or your tax preparer will use on your tax return. Note that once you use it, you must continue to use it every time you file.

Create a Username and Password Scheme

You can benefit from Mary’s way to create and remember usernames and passwords. We’ve summarized the information from her blog on the topic.

Mary labels it “Nom de Persona,” which involves using the name and information of a figure other than yourself, whether real or fictional. It might be a public figure or someone from a movie. It’s quite handy if the person appears in Wikipedia, since you can use their middle name, mother’s maiden name, birth date, names of pets, favorite food … virtually anything to create usernames and passwords.

“My Persona is someone with whom I went to grammar school,” Mary says. “I have not seen her since eighth grade. But, coincidentally, later in life she became friends with someone I know through business. I keep up-to-date on events in her life and things she likes through that mutual friend. She has no idea I base my usernames and passwords on her and I have been doing it for about 15 years.”

One of the beauties of this scheme is that you can keep track of usernames and passwords in an Excel spreadsheet. Just remember that you don’t want to put, say, GeorgeWashington Martha1789CherryTree.

Instead, you’d put FirstnameLastname Wifefirstname Yearelected FamousActivity. That way, if the Excel csheet is accessed, the thieves will still be in the dark. Mary further suggests not labeling columns “Username” and “Password,” and only hinting at the website they unlock. Then they are safe enough to keep on a piece of paper in your purse or wallet.

Oh, and if everyone knows you are a huge fan of Paul McCartney, go with someone like Ozzy Osbourne or Big Bird.

Password Tips From the Pros

The computer geeks at WIRED contacted their favorite pros and came up with some great tips for password security. Some of them go against everything we thought we knew.

These quick changes are simple enough for anyone to do (unlike the 39 steps one site suggested). Knock off your most sensitive sites first, maybe one a day. In a week or a month, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

A Clever Password is Not Enough

Nowadays, you know how vulnerable your information is on the internet. It’s just not enough to have the best passwords out there, especially for financial accounts, your email or anywhere else you access sensitive data.

Enter two-factor authentication. It’s a simple feature that demands more information than just your password. It requires both something you know, such as a password, and something you have, like your phone.

You enter your username and password as usual, and then it will ask for a code sent to your phone. The site denies account access until you enter the code. This is considerably more secure than a password alone, but not every site is enabled for two-factor authentication. Click here for a list of the most popular sites that offer two-factor authentication and how to set it up.

1. Longer, not more complex

“A longer password is usually better than a more random password,” says Mark Burnett, author of Perfect Passwords, “as long as the password is at least 12-15 characters long.” Mark says adding two letters to a password is the equivalent of mixing it up with alphanumeric nonsense. So you can forget the password that looks like you let a monkey loose on the top keys and just add two simple letters instead.

2. Mix it up

Looking at you, “11111111111.” Longer is better, but not if you only use a couple of characters. “We have seen an effort by many people to be more secure by adding characters to passwords, but if these longer passwords are based on simple patterns they will put you in just as much risk of having your identity stolen by hackers,” says Morgan Slain, CEO of SplashData, a password management company that puts out an annual list of worst passwords.

3. Let special characters be free

That’s right, quit bunching them up at the end like an afterthought, even if they were. Snuggle those pound signs and percent symbols right up next to letters and numbers somewhere in the middle of your password.

“Most people put capital letters at the beginning and digits and symbols at the end,” says Lorrie Faith Cranor, FTC Chief Technologist and Carnegie Mellon computer science professor. “If you do that, you get very little benefit from adding these special characters.”

4. No double dipping

Dang, that new password is a good one. It’s so perfect, so crack-proof that you decide to use it on more than one account. Bad idea!

“Even if you have an ‘unimportant’ password and an ‘important’ password tier, it’s very unsafe,” says Joe Siegrist, VP and GM of popular password manager LastPass. “It makes it way too easy for a hacker to attack one site and get your password to all the others.”

5. Enough with the changing

Bless the computer gods, the new decree is to stop changing your password every month or two. You never really changed them much anyway, did you? Most people put a “1” or a “2” at the end and called it good. Not!

"Frequent password changes are largely a waste of time," says Microsoft Research security expert Cormac Herley. "There’s no evidence that password changes improve outcomes.”

6. Stop worrying

If you’ve committed to best practices, the bad guys are probably going to go elsewhere.

"Ignore the stories about attackers doing billions of guesses and saying that the average password can be guessed in under a second: your bank is not going to allow an attacker to try 100 billion guesses," says Herley. "For your web passwords, you mostly have to worry about withstanding a few thousand guesses."

7. Add layers

Passwords are only one aspect of a coordinated defense.

“Don’t rely on passwords alone!” says Neil Wynne, a senior research analyst at Gartner who focuses on business security. “Passwords should not be considered sufficient for anything other than the lowest-risk applications.”

But you already knew that, didn’t you?


Here's How Many Americans Have Been Victimized by Identity Theft,”

Nom de Persona: An Ultimate Plan for Usernames and Passwords,” Mary Trapani.

A (New) Word or Two About the Equifax Breach,” Mary Trapani.

Equifax: Take It Seriously and Act Now,” Mary Trapani.

Part Four – An Identity Theft Victim’s Tale Part 4 of 4: Smooth Sailing,” Mary Trapani.

7 Password Experts on How to Lock Down Your Online Security,”

Here's Everywhere You Should Enable Two-Factor Authentication Right Now,”

Should I Buy from This Site? How to Know if a Website is Secure,” DigiCert.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, November 3, 2017

Ashton Applewhite on Ageism

Celebrating your age as you grow older has amazing benefits for yourself and the world.

Ageism isn’t a problem or disease. Aging is life. In this inspiring TED talk, author and activist Ashton Applewhite offers compelling evidence that we are likely to be every bit as vital in our old age as our younger selves. She urges us to embrace our aging bodies, and dispels many of the fears of old age we carry with us throughout life.

Did you know that happiness is statistically greater at childhood and in old age? Women in particular discriminate against themselves by trying to be younger, when their older self is not only just as good, but better in many ways.

"Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured," Applewhite says. "It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”

Thursday, November 2, 2017

De-stress the Holidays for Caregivers and Seniors

Holiday Caregiver Stress Tips

Unexpected ideas, as well as the tried-and-true, put smiles on caregivers and older adults during the holiday season.

Are you one of those people who shudder involuntarily when you think about the holidays, wishing that you could embrace the joy of the season instead? Caregivers contemplate the extra demands on their limited time and wonder how they will fit in another thing when they are already juggling family, work, volunteer activities and a social life. Older adults may dread reminders of loved ones who are no longer here, the difficulty of going nonstop on family holiday outings, or trying to afford presents on a fixed income.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Stress is often the result of unrealistic expectations that you can manage. Take a mental look at which specific issues cause you worry around the holidays, and write them down. Then peruse our comprehensive list of ideas for getting those issues under control, and jot down an action plan. We’ve included solutions for caregiver worries, as well as concerns that often crop up for older adults around this time of year. Just having a plan will make you feel better, but acting on it will put you back in control and on your way to a joyous holiday season.

  1. Give yourself permission to change your holiday routine. Just because you usually decorate a full-size fir with three boxes of ornaments, cook a complete holiday meal for 24 with all the fixings, and wrap every present for 59 extended family members doesn’t mean that you can’t let it all go. Maybe your tree will be two feet tall this year: still lovely, but decked out in a quarter of the time. Perhaps you’ll cook the main dish and go potluck for the rest of the meal. Amazon may supply your presents. Pick and choose what truly gives you joy, and what you can reasonably accomplish.

  2. Simplify meals. If you love making your grandmother’s favorite recipe but feel stressed at the thought of cooking the entire dinner, you have options. Potluck is the new normal at family gatherings, even if faraway relatives need to cook at your place or have something shipped in. Do you really need five side dishes and three desserts? If so, make some of them ahead and stick them in the freezer. Use Chinet paper plates with faux silver (plastic) utensils, and reserve the family china for serving pieces to cut down on clean-up.

  3. Set aside a quiet room. Ban the kids from one downstairs area that you or other adults can use for some R&R. Escaping to a quiet spot for a rejuvenating nap can make all the difference. Add a little aromatherapy to help make the mood relaxing. Lavender and citrus are a good mix to sprinkle on linens or in a saucer.

  4. Don’t do it all alone. When your teens whine that you didn’t get a tree this year, smile wanly and tell them how proud you are they are old enough to decorate one all by themselves if they’d like to get one. Hubby wants a full four-course meal? Remind him about the restaurant that is serving holiday meals and suggest a reservation. Or let him know his barbeque skills would come in handy this year and you’ll coach him on dessert. Communicate your needs early, and let everyone know their help is appreciated. Include older adults in your planning, with tasks that are appropriate to their ability. Mom may not be able to whip up her peach cobbler anymore, but if she stirs the crumble and pats the peaches into place, she’ll feel useful. Leave a few ornaments at eye level for her to put on the tree, or have her tie the ribbon on a Hanukkah gift or two.

  5. Three Great December Trips for Caregivers and Seniors

    Skip the hassle of the holidays this year and take a trip instead. It’s a wonderful way to avoid the shopping, cooking and relatives (shhhhh!).

    Cruising is a classic way to travel with an older adult. Pack and unpack just once, stay onboard the whole time if you like, never cook and have activities available at all times. Remain in the United States with a river trip on American Cruise Lines that will take you down the Mississippi to stay warm over the holidays, or check out one of their themed cruises, such as Lewis and Clark, Nashville Country and Blues, or Food and Wine.

    Travel the world on a budget with Road Scholar, which specializes in educational trips at a minimal price. You can explore our border with Mexico at Big Bend, take one of 222 national park trips, or fly to Cuba for a history lesson and a cigar. Thousands of offerings guarantee something that will interest you both.

    How about a trip to Costa Rica with ElderTreks, the Canadian travel company that caters to the 50-and-over crowd with exotic adventures in small groups? They make all the arrangements and you have all the fun after choosing from destinations worldwide.

    Do all of these sound far too expensive for your budget? Consider booking with a major cruise line, which often lowers prices if ships aren’t full a couple of weeks before departure. Caribbean destinations are among the most affordable for Americans. If that’s still absurdly expensive, how about dinner and a stay at a posh hotel? Remain in town or take a short drive with Mom or Dad to enjoy a modern staycation together. Even one night away makes memories that last a lifetime.

  6. Allow older adults to stick to their schedule and dietary needs. If Dad normally has lunch at 11 and dinner at 4:30, try to keep it that way while he’s visiting. It’s difficult for older adults to adjust their bodies to a different timetable. Take note of any allergies Dad has, and ask if there are foods he can’t eat anymore. It could be that old favorites are no longer digestible, or perhaps even palatable. Dental issues might create a need for soft foods only. Talk to aging parents about dietary needs well in advance of holiday meals.

  7. Take time for yourself. Set aside half an hour a day to rejuvenate. Whether it’s taking a hot bath, sipping cocoa while reading a book, or lighting a candle and meditating, you need some “me” time. Prioritize it just like you would for a family member. In the long run, it will help you to do a better job as a caregiver over the holidays.

  8. Anticipate hot-button issues and work around them. Does Aunt Amy thrive on denigrating the political party that you support? Does your sister who lives out-of-state let you know that your caregiving is not up to par? You can take evasive action. Sit at the opposite end of the table, excuse yourself from the table, politely refuse to engage in certain conversations, start the dishes or take a long walk. Have an exit strategy planned, and act on it.

  9. Focus on the positive. Fear, sadness and worry can invade your thoughts during the holidays. This is perfectly normal. But you can control many of your thoughts with mindful awareness. Focus on what your loved one can do, rather than what they can’t. Delight in the activities you’ll do this year, rather than those you can’t participate in. Appreciate the smallest bit of help you receive, instead of resenting others who are not supportive.

  10. Remember to exercise. Whether you take a long walk outside, do jumping jacks while the cookies are baking or attend a Pilates session, exercise can boost your mood. Older adults who may not be steady on their feet or want to avoid snow and ice might enjoy making the rounds at your local mall, where holiday decorations can add to a festive mood.

  11. End the gift machine already. A lot of holiday stress centers around gift giving: what to buy and how to pay for it. Older adults on a fixed income have every right to opt out of the process. Or you might limit gifts to one per person with a low price cap. You could also give the gift of time, especially welcome to seniors, without the expectation of a monetary gift in return. Expect to receive pushback from other family members, but keep in mind that you are in control of what you give.

  12. Give to charity instead of individuals. Pick a charity as a family that everyone can donate to according to their resources. The benefits are many. The charity gets a nice chunk of change, no one is obligated to spend more than what is affordable, there is no awkward display of wealth or poverty since no one knows how much anyone else gave, and you can all feel a little better for supporting a common cause. If funds aren’t an issue, or family members prefer to support different institutions, then individuals can champion a personal favorite.

  13. Use a support system. Whether it’s calling an old friend, getting together with your sister, or having a private laugh with your mom in the kitchen, use your connections. That private laugh may turn into a long cry, but you need someone to share with who will be supportive. Counselors and therapists can be vital allies to keep your mental health strong when it may be tested most.

  14. Ask for help with your loved one. Caregiving responsibilities may overwhelm you at the holidays. It’s time to call on your family members to give you a break, dial a respite care center to give you some free time, or look for a paid caregiver. Many companies offer senior companions, or a neighborhood teen may be able to come over for a few hours and go through photographs with your loved one. Consider having a helper do some laundry, clean your house or run errands. Even if you normally don’t pay for help, hiring someone to assist you over the holidays can be well worth the sense of relief you’ll feel.

  15. Start a new tradition. Instead of focusing on what you’re not doing, make a new tradition. You could invite the neighbors over for dinner, watch a holiday movie together or take your loved one on a drive to see the lights. Money isn’t the object; instead, spend time together. Enjoy some holiday music, light a holly berry candle or read a holiday book aloud to a parent or grandchildren. Have a long FaceTime or Skype chat with a loved one.

  16. Do something for others. Nothing puts us in the holiday spirit like helping others in need. Call a soup kitchen or food bank to donate your time or that of your whole family. Shop for a local child through Toys for Tots, donate to the Salvation Army or support a faith-based charity. Find an organization that needs your help with disaster relief, become a volunteer at the local animal shelter or offer to help out in your school system. Check here for tips on how to avoid charity scam artists.

  17. Take time to listen. It’s easy to skip over loved ones’ needs during this busy time of year. Depression and melancholy may make them quiet and easy to ignore with all the hustle and bustle, but they may need you more than ever. Ask them about childhood holidays, and don’t end the conversation if they get sad or angry. Your empathy is vital.

  18. Help older adults connect with their friends. Holiday cards diminish as time goes on, and seniors can feel sad and alone. The cards they do receive may bring news of illness or death. Help your loved one write cards or make calls to stay in touch with old friends and faraway family members.

  19. Thank older adults for what they’ve done for you. Take advantage of the holiday opportunity to thank your parent for teaching you how to cook, how to forgive or how to love. Tell them what a difference it’s made in your life. Acknowledge the sacrifices that person made for you. Look for ways to be grateful. A side benefit of gratitude is that it makes you happier.

  20. Connect your parent with children. A local school holiday concert, an outing to the mall or a trip to story time at the library can lift a senior’s spirits. If your parent is in a home for seniors, see if their program director can find children to visit. Perhaps a local 4-H Club could bring in small animals for residents to pet, or a class of children could visit and write about the story they hear a senior tell. If your parent has grandchildren in the area, take your mom or dad to see the child’s choir concert or holiday production.

  21. Decorate your parent’s room for the holidays. But not all at once. Bringing an ornament one day and a gift or treat on another stretches out the anticipation and surprise. Consider putting up a small tree or electric menorah in your parent’s room, or hanging a wreath on their door for other residents to see.

  22. Throw a party in the residential facility. Distribute invitations to your loved one’s friends, and bring some traditional goodies for them to enjoy together. Use a small conference room or other space with plenty of seating.

  23. Do not set a goal of perfection. So the turkey is burned. You’ll never forget the holiday you had to eat peanut butter sandwiches … but it will be a wonderful memory if everyone can laugh and talk about another dinner that didn’t go as planned. Approach “disasters” as opportunities to forgive (even if it’s yourself), laugh, and be grateful for what you have, and this really will be your best holiday ever.


Tips to Ease Holiday Stress for Caregivers,” Huffington Post.


10 Tips for Caregivers During the Holidays,” AARP.

5 Tips for helping seniors manage holiday stress,”

Reducing Loneliness in Elders around the Holidays,”

Help Seniors Overcome Holiday Stress: 4 Tips,”

Holiday Health for Seniors,”

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors