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Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Frightening Allure of Senior Gambling

The Frightening Allure of Senior Gambling

Casinos are pandering to older adults, reliably hitting the jackpot on one in eleven who will become addicted

Gambling hotlines are lighting up with calls from Grandma and Grandpa. Consider the case of Beauford Burton, a North Carolina man who got hooked on slots in his 60s. He and his wife began making the drive to a casino a couple of hours away, where they were enticed into gambling away $50,000 in one year, about Burton’s annual salary as a senior textile manager.

The pair would often stay longer than planned when the casino offered them a free room for the weekend. They could take advantage of special perks like free drinks and food, and preferred seating in restaurants. Once, the parent company of the casino flew the couple to their Nevada operation, all expenses paid – except for their gambling.

Burton kept playing with $100,000 drained from his 401(k). When that was gone, he cashed in a life insurance policy. He gambled with cash advances on his credit cards, and with Social Security checks that were supposed to cover utility bills. At last, in 2008, he lost his home to gambling debts and was forced to confront his problems.

"As you start to lose, you think, this is a luck thing, my luck is going to change," Burton now says. "But the more you go, the more you lose. It ends up in desperation. I can see how people get so deep that it causes them to take their own lives, because it gets really, really bad."

Whichever device you choose, the time from when you press the device to when you get a live response should be measured in seconds, not minutes. About 20 to 40 seconds is typical. The base unit works hands-free, so all the caller needs to do is request help. The best devices allow the user to notify the agent whom to call, because sometimes a neighbor or family member can help, while other situations require an emergency response. Most services get your medical information upfront, including health conditions, medications, allergies and who your doctors are, so it can be relayed to emergency services.

Targeting Older Adults

Almost half of the more than 100 million annual visitors to America’s casinos are aged 50 or above, contributing to record profits of $37 billion in 2014, the last year for which numbers are available. That is more money than Americans spend on professional sports. One poll revealed that 70 percent of older adults had gambled in the previous year.

Slots Encourage Addictive Behavior

Slot machines are the cocaine of the gambling world. Slots produced 70 percent of revenue for the industry in 2010, according to the American Gaming Association. And that number has been climbing.

Years ago, “one-armed bandits” featured three physical reels that spun when a lever was pulled. Each reel might have 11 different symbols and 11 blank spaces to combine for 22 “stops” capable of 10,648 total possible combinations. If the reels stopped with the same symbol lined up on all three, the player won a jackpot according to which symbol was displayed.

Modern machines feature virtual reel mapping where a computer chip in the machine selects a result using “virtual” reels which can include different amounts of the symbols, such as more blank spaces and fewer symbols that pay out big jackpots. The reels don’t spin until they run out of momentum, but stop when the chip tells them to. This way, computer game designers have decreased the odds of a big payoff from 1 in 10,648 to 1 in 137 million. But it’s impossible for someone sitting at the machine to have any inkling of their chances to win, whether large or small.

Most problem gamblers are glued to the slot machines. Three out of four adults in the 65-and-over crowd say slots and video poker are their favorite gambling games, according to a survey by Harrah’s.

Game designers were able to insert another feature that keeps gamblers playing. Called the “near miss”, it’s when the icon for a jackpot shows up just above or below the payline. It gives players the feeling that they almost won, when the reality is that they were no closer to winning than if the symbol didn’t appear. The psychological impact can be a powerful inducement to continue.

Once upon a time, there were two gambling meccas in the United States: Las Vegas and Atlantic City. But the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act legalized gaming on Native American land, and since then casinos have proliferated. More than 1400 casinos in 40 states provide a range of amenities designed to fill seats, often in off-peak hours, with retired adults.

The longer people stay, the more money the casino makes. According to author Natasha Dow Schüll, a professor at NYU who studied the industry for more than 15 years, 70 percent of patrons have loyalty cards which casinos use to gather information about how often they visit, which games they prefer, how long they play, how often they win and lose, how much they wager, what time of day they prefer, etc. Such sophisticated information-gathering easily allows casinos to pinpoint their top spenders.

Disability is no barrier at the casino. Parking lots feature more handicapped spots than a hospital. Many offer free scooters or wheelchairs to get around wide gaming aisles that are easy to navigate. In the bathroom, older adults might find free oxygen, adult diapers, and a receptacle for the used needles of diabetics. Free or low-cost food and drinks abound, and ergonomically-designed seating encourages long spans of sitting. Daytime entertainment includes magic shows, polka dancing, and golden oldies performers.

But the coup de grace that keeps many seniors returning is the “personal” attention delivered through birthday cards and “We’ve Missed You!” notices from the casino when the player has been absent. Weekly mailings deliver vouchers for free play, and ticket deals on shows.

Many older adults see the casino as a place to relieve social isolation, loneliness, and grief, according to 2011 research from the Journal of Gambling Studies. Casinos even assign hosts to bigger gamblers in an attempt to squeeze more money out of them by seeming to fill these voids. One such host called Burton at home to tell him about specials, ask about his health, and remind him to take medications. At the casino, the host sometimes sat with him at meals.

But the care and concern are just a pretext to encourage return visits and prolonged stays that lead to more losses.

"The whole premise of a host is to extract as much money from that player as possible," says ex-host John Talmage-Mathis. "For older people, the host becomes their friend, giving them attention they may not be getting from their children or friends."

Seniors are Especially Vulnerable to Addiction

Addiction experts worry about the tactics casinos use to attract older gamblers. They fear that seniors are at greater risk of developing a problem gambling habit as they age. A troubling 2005 study by David Oslin, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, revealed that 1 in 11 adults more than65 years old had bet more than they could afford to lose in the preceding year. Those results indicate that at least four million older Americans could be problem gamblers.

“That’s a higher rate than we have for most diseases,” Oslin says.

Aging comes with increased risk factors for addictive behavior. One study found that a common theme of isolation triggered problem gambling among seniors. Older adults turned to gambling to deal with unresolved grief, complicated by preexisting impulsivity and habit formation that led to addiction. In addition to social isolation, loneliness, or the loss of a spouse, age-related cognitive decline plays a role.

Changes in brain anatomy and chemistry, especially at the frontal area in charge of executive functioning "may render older adults particularly vulnerable to the stimulation provided by the slot machine," according to clinical geropsychologist Dennis McNeilly of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Surveys show that dementia affects nearly 14 percent of Americans more than 70 years old. Almost half of that population are underdiagnosed. In fact, the senior herself often doesn’t realize she is affected. A person with mild dementia might appear fine on the surface and have normal scores on standard neuropsychological tasks, so the condition is impossible to detect.

"With both the reward system and impulse controls impaired, that creates the perfect storm for someone to develop problems with gambling," says Michael Hornberger, a neuroscientist at the University of East Anglia in England. Problems with cognition may impair the affected person’s ability to understand the worth of money, while dementia sufferers often repeat a behavior, such as pushing a button on a slot machine, over and over.

Medication can play a role in compulsive gambling. One neurologist was surprised to hear that several of his Parkinson’s disease patients began to have problems limiting their gambling after their doses of dopamine agonists, used to inhibit motor dysfunction, were increased. When the drug was stopped, the behavior ended.

Finally, an older adult with a gambling problem may worry that sharing it with a family member could lead to a loss of autonomy. Seniors (and compulsive gamblers of all ages) may become masters at disguising their habit, especially if family lives out of town.

Another Perspective

Still, many older adults are able to make the occasional trip to a casino and confine their losses to manageable amounts while enjoying socialization. Industry advocates defend the right of seniors to enjoy what casinos offer.

“If seniors are enjoying the entertainment product we provide, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to enjoy that in a responsible manner,” according to Chris Moyer, senior director of public affairs for the American Gaming Association.

Moyer points to the pamphlets on addiction provided by casinos to educate patrons. The educational materials give a toll-free help number for gamblers to call (800-522-4700), and tell players about a self-exclusion list they can voluntarily add their name to.

"The casino gaming industry takes extraordinary measures to spot those who need help and connect them to treatment," Moyer says.

Burton could only quit after declaring bankruptcy. He now lives with his wife in a modest apartment, and speaks out often on the dangers of gambling while taking responsibility for his old habit.

"I can't put total blame on those people because I was the one ignorant about it," Burton says. "But the casinos do try to make things as exciting for you as they can."


The Casino Trap,” AARP.

How the gambling industry preys on senior citizens,” Salon.

Frontotemporal dementia presenting as pathological gambling.,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Pathways to Late-Life Problematic Gambling in Seniors: A Grounded Theory Approach,” The Gerontologist, Volume 54, Issue 6, 1 December 2014, Pages 1035–1048.

It’s Not Just a Penny Slot Machine: Gambling Addiction in Seniors,” A Place For Mom.

How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts,” The Atlantic.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stem Cell Treatment in Older Adults Shows Promise PLUS Nine Things to Know About Stem Cells

Stem Cell Treatment in Older Adults Shows Promise PLUS Nine Things to Know About Stem Cells

The latest research treating frailty in older adults makes significant headway, using a type of stem cell scientists are studying to treat a variety of diseases

Is stem cell treatment the wave of the future? A pair of recently completed studies certainly seem to point in that direction.

The Phase I and Phase II research aimed to prove the safety of stem cell treatment for older adults with frailty, a geriatric condition characterized by lowered energy levels, weakness, and loss of muscle mass. The condition increases the odds of catastrophic injury, and is found in nearly 10 percent of 50 million older Americans.

Study results were surprisingly encouraging. The stem cell therapy was not only safe, but quite effective in reversing age-related frailty, according to researchers at the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for aging frailty.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells

The trials involved mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), which are also being studied to fight a range of conditions from cancer to heart disease. All adult stem cells can self-regenerate and form progeny of many different types of cells, but this ability is reduced as people get older. That’s why the studies used stem cells from the bone marrow of donors between the ages of 20 and 45.

Phase I and Phase II Trials

The average age of trial participants was 76, all with age-related frailty. None of the injections produced adverse health effects.

In the first trial, 15 patients got one intravenous injection of MSC infusion from a younger donor. Every patient showed improved fitness and tumor necrosis levels, and a better overall quality of life when tested six months later.

The second trial was bumped up to a randomized, double blind (neither the patients nor the administrators knew which injections contained MSC and which were placebos) study. Once again, no negative effects were reported.

Nine Facts about Stem Cell Treatment You Should Know

Stem cell treatments have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, injuries, and other health conditions. However, many clinics may make unfounded claims that are not backed by science to lure in customers who pay thousands of dollars for “therapy”. Here are nine facts from the International Society for Stem Cell Research to help you and your healthcare team understand both the potential and limitations of stem cell treatment to make a decision about what is right for you.

1. Few current stem cell treatments have been proven safe and effective.

Certain bone, skin and outer-eye injuries and diseases use stem cells with implanted tissue to aid the healing process. Some blood and immune system disorders can successfully be treated, and stem cells may be used to rebuild the blood system after certain cancer treatment regimens. This list is relatively short. Other purported therapies offered without regulatory approval should be considered highly experimental. Thoroughly check any other applications of stem cells and demand proof of legitimate and registered clinical trials.

2. An unproven treatment can cause damage.

Serious health, personal and financial problems can result from risky treatments. It may be tempting to try a novel treatment when so many trumpet unproven benefits, but a variety of negative consequences can result. These therapies may create new symptoms, or worsen your condition. They can render you ineligible for other treatment options. Costs related to treatment, accommodation, travel and other fees can be enormous. Talk to your doctor and loved ones before embarking on experimental treatment.

3. Different kinds of stem cells do different things.

Stem cells from different parts of your body have different functions you can learn about here. These different stem cell types have specific and limited capabilities. For instance, the blood-forming stem cells from bone marrow regenerate blood cells, and neural stem cells in brain tissue make brain cells. It’s unlikely a blood stem cell can be used to treat a brain condition, and vice-versa. Be skeptical of clinics that purport to treat you with stem cells originating in a different part of your body from your disease or condition.

4. It’s unlikely the same stem cell treatment will work for different diseases or conditions.

Scientists can make certain specialized cell types with the potential to form any kind of cell in the body using a complicated lab process starting with pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. These cells are promising in the development of new treatment strategies. However, along with embryonic stem cells, iPS cells don’t currently make good candidates. They require exact instruction to develop into the specific cells needed in the diseased or damaged part of the body. If the lab procedure goes even a tiny bit awry, these stem cells have the potential to overgrow and cause tumors when injected. Therefore, you should be wary about clinics that use the same cell treatment for a wide variety of conditions.

5. Know the science behind your condition.

If you understand what causes your condition or disease, you can better evaluate your options for treatment. For example, if you have a type of blood cancer, treatment with blood-forming stem cells is logical. But if you have diabetes, that treatment doesn’t make sense. Diabetes originates in the pancreas and blood sugar levels are only a symptom of the disease itself.

6. Don’t assume that treatments using cells from your own body are automatically safe.

Using a patient’s own cells in treatment is called an autologous transplant. It seems safer to use your own cells, since your immune system recognizes them. But there is a risk of contamination with viruses, bacteria or other pathogens capable of causing disease when the cells are reintroduced. The way the cells are manipulated before they’re returned to you can interfere with their normal function. Finally, how and where the cells are injected matters.

7. Don’t rely on patient testimonials or marketing.

The difference between doctors conducting clinical trials and clinics selling dubious treatment can become blurred when marketing materials tell you what you want to hear, and the legitimate doctors offer mostly caveats and caution.

Specialists usually get their patients via referrals, while stem cell clinics peddle directly to patients, using persuasive language on T.V. and the internet. Clinics have a financial interest in pushing their product. Furthermore, a patient may make a testimonial that is unintentionally misleading. The patient may perceive a benefit that is due to factors other than treatment, such as healthy lifestyle changes, an intense belief in the treatment, and natural fluctuations in the disease or condition. Learn more about the importance of clinical trials here.

8. Clinical trials are different than experimental treatment.

Just because a treatment is experimental doesn’t mean that it is part of a research study or clinical trial. Clinical trials have the following traits in common:

  • Clinical trials build on lab-based research that indicate the treatment is likely to be safe and effective.
  • Clinical trials have oversight form an independent medical ethics committee to protect the rights of participants.
  • Clinical trials conform to regulatory requirements and are listed in a recognized registry.
  • Clinical trials are designed to answer specific questions about a new treatment or use of a current treatment, and results are often compared to a control group.
  • The cost of a clinical trial and monitoring is not borne by the participant.

Before you pay for expensive treatment, ask to see the clinical trials that it has successfully been through.

9. The scientific process to responsibly convert a hypothetical treatment into a safe and effective procedure is long and contains many steps that can’t be bypassed.

At any juncture, scientists may discover that a process deemed viable in the lab fails to work in animals, or one that worked in animals doesn’t translate to humans. Or it may work well for certain symptoms, but carry unacceptable risks. Beware of clinics that don’t follow the accepted scientific process from lab to treatment. Learn how science becomes medicine here.

Stem cell researchers continue to make advances understanding how they can help patients with a variety of conditions and diseases, but the science is young. Safe and effective treatments for most conditions are still in the future.


“These trials represent potential landmarks in the treatment of frailty,” notes Le Couter. “Both studies are early-phase trials of a small number of participants, designed primarily to assess safety, so conclusions about efficacy need to be treated with caution. Even so the results are striking and, at a minimum, pave the way for large, randomized Phase III clinical trials.”

The researchers plan to conduct a larger clinical trial phase, including 120 patients from 10 locations. If that proves successful, a final Phase III randomized trial would ensue.

“With the aging of the population, stem cells hold great promise to treat aging-related disability and frailty, improving physical capacity and quality of life,” according to Joshua M. Hare, a scientist working on the project and director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “There is no FDA approved treatment for aging frailty, and an enormous amount of unmet need that will only increase with the changing demographics.”


Potential and pitfalls of stem cell therapy in old age,” Disease Models & Mechanisms.

Stem cell therapy in the elderly osteoarthritis patient. Too little stem cells? Too late? Not so,” Caring Medical Regenerative Medicine Clinics.

A New Stem Cell Treatment Had “Striking” Anti-Aging Results,” Futurism.

Anti-aging stem cell treatment proves successful in early human trials,” New Atlas.

3 Women Blinded By Unproven Stem Cell Treatments,” NPR.

Anti-aging stem cell therapy shows "remarkable" results in human trials,” Big Think.

Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem Cells Ameliorate Aging Frailty: A Phase II Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

AllogeneiC Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (hMSC) in Patients With Aging FRAilTy Via IntravenoUS Delivery.,”National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Nine Things To Know About Stem Cell Treatmentss,” International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR).

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Famous & 65

Look Who’s Turning 65

February 1 - Andy Mill
Skier and former husband of Chris Evert

February 1 - Andy Mill
Skier Andy Mill lived in Laramie, Wyoming before his family moved to the glitzy Colorado ski town of Aspen in the early 60s. Mill soon became a star junior racer, competing with U.S. Ski Team by 1971, and then at the World Championships in Switzerland in 1974.
He was America’s top downhill racer for the next seven years, culminating in a sixth place finish at the 1976 Winter Olympics, the best result by an American man in downhill in 24 years. To achieve this, Mill had to numb his lower right leg in snow minutes before entering the starting gate due to a training run injury that hurt so much he could hardly stand. Mill finished 16th in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, and then suffered a serious crash the next year that ended his career.
You may have seen Mills as a ski racing commentator on several major networks, or on his show, Ski with Andy Mill. A lifelong angler, Mill became a champion tarpon fisherman and was a triple crown winner in the sport.
Mill was divorced from his first wife, a former Miss California, when he met tennis phenomenon Chris Evert. The pair married and had three sons. After 18 years together, they divorced in 2006 and Evert paired with their friend and famous golfer Greg Norman. Mill got a $7 million settlement and their $4 million dollar house, proposed to Aspenite Debra Harvick after three dates, and now enjoys biking, skiing, fishing and bow hunting with his wife.

February 18 – Robin Bachman

Robin Bachman
If you ever listened to Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Roll on Down the Highway”, you’ve heard a song that Robbie Bachman co-wrote. It became one of the popular band’s biggest hits, along with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”. Robbie was the original drummer for BTO.
Hailing from Winnipeg, Canada, the Bachman brothers were all musical. As a kid, Robbie often practiced drumming with older brother Randy on guitar and lead vocals. The two first performed in the band Brave Belt, which morphed in to BTO in 1973.
Robbie stayed with BTO, recording and touring, until the tour to support their 1979 album Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights was over. He rejoined the group from 1988 until 1991. He’s now semi-retired and lives with his wife.

February 23 – Sallie Baliunas
Astrophysicist and climate change skeptic

Sallie Baliunas
Baliunas earned a PH.D. in astrophysics from Harvard University in 1980. Her original research focus was astrophysics, a branch of space science that applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth, life and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe.
Although not active in recent years, Baliunas gained notoriety in the early 90s when her work stirred controversy in the global warming debate. She was the third author in a 1992 paper published in Nature that proposed greater variability in the historical brightness of the sun than was generally thought. By 1995, she had written a paper for the conservative Marshall Institute think tank asserting that “predictions of an anthropogenic global warming have been greatly exaggerated.” Baliunas concluded that solar variability has a stronger correlation with variations in air temperature than any other factor, including carbon dioxide concentrations.
In a 2001 paper, Baliunas speculated that financial considerations were a major influence on those linking climate change to human causes, however failing to account for funding received by some of her collaborators from energy companies. One such collaborator, Willie Soon, put more than $1 million in the bank from coal and petroleum companies. Baliunas (and Soon) incorrectly asserted that atmospheric data showed no warming trend, when satellite temperature records proved otherwise.
Baliunas and Soon coauthored a 2003 paper published in Climate Research. It concluded that the 20th century was probably not the warmest on record and uniquely extreme. Instead, they speculated that periods of increased sunspots in the Earth’s history corresponded with warmer periods such as one that preceded the Little Ice Age. However, the publisher’s review process for the paper came under such debate that half of the editors eventually resigned, and the publisher was forced to make a statement that the paper’s conclusions were not possible from the evidence provided and the journal “should have requested appropriate revisions prior to publication.”

February 26 – Michael Bolton
Rock vocalist

Michael Bolton
Born Michael Bolotin, he began recording in 1975 and released his first album under that name. You might be surprised that the crooner’s early years were spent performing hard rock and heavy metal, including a stint as the band Blackjack’s frontman. He even tried out for lead vocalist of Black Sabbath in 1983, but he didn’t get the job and instead changed his style and met with wild success as a pop rock balladeer after anglicizing his name to Bolton.
Bolton has sold more than 75 million records. His singing and songwriting has earned him six American Music Awards and a pair of Grammys. His success started when he co-wrote “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”, and continued with covers of soul and Motown classics like “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay”, “Georgia on My Mind”, and “When a Man Loves a Woman”.
Bolton also put in some cameo appearances on television and in feature films, often playing himself. You may have seen him on Dancing with the Stars in September of 2010, where his team was the second to be eliminated. In January 2013, Bolton published an autobiography titled The Soul of it All: My Music, My Life.

Bolton has worked on behalf of many charitable causes, including poverty, domestic violence, and cancer research. He established The Michael Bolton Charities to help women and children living in poverty and suffering the effects of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Bolton has received numerous awards for his charitable contributions.

Source: Wikipedia
FAMOUS & 65 is a featured article in the Senior Spirit newsletter.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, February 5, 2018

How the New Tax Law Affects Older Adults

How the New Tax Law Affects Older Adults

Broad takeaways on how the law will affect seniors, plus drilldowns on individual situations such as gig economy workers

Older adults have heard everything from how wonderful the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is going to be for them, to headlines assuring them a trip to tax Armageddon. The answer depends on your own circumstances, but there are ramifications for older adults as a group. Several key provisions of the bill shed light on how seniors will be affected.

First, the positives:

  • Tax Brackets are Mostly Lower. Seniors who have taxable income will still find seven tax brackets, but they are generally a couple of percentage points lower than before. Like most of the tax cuts for individuals, these expire at the end of 2025. Click here for more detail.

  • Deductions Climb. The new standard deduction is $12,000, up from the current $6,350 for single filers. Married couples have a $24,000 deduction, previously $12,700. However, filers can no longer claim a personal exemption of $4,050. The effect is to reduce the number of people filing itemized deductions, since they must meet the higher limit.

    Importantly, the new tax bill keeps the additional $1,600 deduction for single filers who are over 65 or blind. A married couple who both qualify earns a $2,600 deduction.

  • Deduction for Medical Expenses Stays. The bill retains the Medical Expense Deduction used by almost 5 million taxpayers age 65 and over with high health costs. In addition, it reduces the cutoff from 10 percent to 7.5 percent for the first two years, 2018 and 2019, and grants the 7.5 percent level retroactively to 2017 filers.

  • Gig Economy Members Benefit. If you have a pass-through business such as a sole proprietorship or LLC, the standard income deduction is now 20 percent. This includes Uber drivers, dog sitters, freelancers, and the like. If you don’t already have a side business, now may be a good time to start one. But there are income limits, and the deduction ends after 2025. Check the calculators here to see if you’ll benefit. Businesses can also deduct the cost of appreciable assets purchased before 2023 in one year, instead of amortizing them.

  • Lower Corporate Taxes Should Boost Stocks. The official corporate tax rate has permanently changed from 35 percent to 21 percent, and international corporations have a chance to bring back cash socked away overseas for an even lower amount. While some companies are doling out one-time bonuses to employees, a few are lifting starting wages. If you’re a senior thinking about becoming a greeter at Walmart, for example, you’ll now make $11 an hour.

    Furthermore, older Americans with retirement accounts invested in the stock market may see their money compounding faster than before if the country’s GDP increases, and earnings follow suit. The tax bill was designed to juice up the third-longest bull market on record. Theoretically, dividends will increase, corporate buybacks will increase scarcity, and stocks will shoot higher.

Now, let’s take a look at the negative effects:

  • Cuts Expire. Most tax cuts for individual filers expire in 2025 (although corporate cuts are permanent). If the cuts are extended in the future, the deficit will rise accordingly.

  • Deductions Climb. The new standard deduction is $12,000, up from the current $6,350 for single filers. Married couples have a $24,000 deduction, previously $12,700. However, filers can no longer claim a personal exemption of $4,050. The effect is to reduce the number of people filing itemized deductions, since they must meet the higher limit.

    Importantly, the new tax bill keeps the additional $1,600 deduction for single filers who are over 65 or blind. A married couple who both qualify earns a $2,600 deduction.

  • Federal Deficit Increases. The federal deficit is money the government must borrow (and pay interest on) to cover its debts. The nonpartisan scorekeeper Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that even with increases in economic growth attributable to the tax law, the deficit will increase by $1.1 trillion. Republicans (who currently control Congress) have said that their plan to counteract deficit increases would include cutting programs to make up for it. Medicaid, Medicare, the Older Americans Act (OAA) and Social Security are all on the table. The budget outline passed last fall proposed $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and another $473 billion to Medicare, while $800 billion is to come out of non-defense discretionary programs such as the OAA.

  • Cost of Health Insurance Rises.The bill eliminates the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual mandate, which taxed filers (mostly young and healthy) without health insurance. If you are one of the approximately 3.3 million Americans aged 55-64 who gets their health care under the ACA, you’ll be paying premium hikes of about $1,000 per year. This provision is likely to cause 13 million Americans to lose their health insurance.

  • Program Cuts Likely. Increased deficit and budget sequestration rules, known as PAYGO, mandate budget cuts if the deficit increases. The tax cuts are predicted to cause a deficit increase that would trigger $136 billion in program cuts next year, including $25 billion in Medicare.

  • Tax Bracket Indexing Slows. Every year, the income level in each tax bracket is adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index. The new law will squeeze about $130 billion more out of taxpayers over 10 years by changing how inflation is measured. By using a lower “chained” measurement, taxpayers (especially those in the lower brackets) will find themselves pushed into higher brackets more quickly. A 2013 study by the Tax Policy Center found taxpayers in the second income quintile (those making about $25,000 to $50,000) would see a tax increase of about 0.4 percent after 15 years. Those in the top 0.1 percent of income would see no effective increase at all.

    Chained indexing may be more accurate than prior measurements, and it’s had bipartisan support in the past. However, it is a regressive tax that is now permanently in the code, and advocates for older adults speculate there is now a smoother path to use it for Social Security cost of living adjustments.

  • Charitable Tax Deductions in Jeopardy. Although the new law keeps charitable tax deductions, the higher per-person standard deduction of $12,000 reduces the number of itemizers who can deduct charitable contributions from 40.7 million to 9.4 million, according to the JCT, and it’s likely some of those $95.8 billion in contributions might fall.

    In addition, the estate tax exemption is doubled under the new law, escalating from $5.5 million to $11 million per person. Whereas last year Jane Richperson would be incentivized to give away $2 million of her $7.5 million fortune in lieu of paying the government, she now can pass that money down to lucky heirs. This may impact private sponsorship of programs for seniors, such as the art gallery profiled in this month’s Coffee Break, that are fully or partly funded by wealthy donors.

    Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD) are still legal, and can be a way for those at least 70 and a half (who must take a Required Minimum Distribution) to distribute up to $100,000 to 501(c)(3) charities without taking a tax hit. The money must flow from an IRA account directly to the charitable organization. Instead of paying ten percent or more if you made the same gift from ordinary income, you can fund that charity completely tax-free. There are strict rules surrounding the donation; check here for specific information.

  • Beer, Wine, Liquor Cheaper. The new law snips taxes on beer, wine, and liquor. What’s wrong with that, you ask? The Brookings Institute found that reduced prices on alcohol correlate directly with increased purchases and a higher death toll.

How the New Tax Law Affects Older Adults


The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduces taxes by approximately $1,600 on average this year. But the biggest cuts go to households making between $308,000 and $733,000, an analysis by the Tax Policy Center found. Middle income households can expect an average $900 cut, while lower earners will see less. Older Americans looking for work should benefit from new jobs it’s hoped will be created from company tax savings.

High income households benefit primarily from five of the law’s changes. Wealthy households are the most likely to own stock, and thus reap greater market returns on their investments that corporate tax cuts are expected to generate. A more generous alternative minimum tax allows them to keep more of their earnings, and the 20 percent income deduction for pass-through businesses is most beneficial to larger entities. The decreased rate of the maximum tax bracket and doubling of the estate tax exemption only benefit high earners.

In fact, the top one percent of households will put a cool $50,000 or more into their pockets, while middle earners can pay for a couple months’ worth of groceries. And in 2025 when the individual tax cuts expire, it’s only the wealthy who will still benefit from the plan.

What does this mean for America’s seniors? The median income (half above and half below) from all sources for people age 65 and above was $35,107 in 2011. That amount is less than half the median income of Americans aged 45 to 64, an analysis of the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data by found. Nearly a quarter of older married couples and almost half of single seniors relied on social security for 90 percent or more of their income in 2017, according to the Social Security Administration.

These individuals pay little or nothing in income tax, so why are groups representing older adults, like the AARP, up in arms over the new law? First, they criticize the temporary nature of individual tax cuts. Second, the changing inflation index gets a thumbs-down. Third, there are worries that seniors in high-tax states will be hurt by capped deductions. But these pale in comparison to what may be the law’s greatest impacts on health insurance and government programs.

Advocates for seniors worry that future effects, potentially the most harmful to older adults, will be glossed over by relatively small paycheck increases this year. Their biggest concerns are changes to Medicare and Medicaid that could be triggered by the higher federal deficit, and the erosion of health care coverage and increased premiums resulting from the elimination of the individual mandate.

"The large increase in the deficit will inevitably lead to calls for greater spending cuts, which are likely to include dramatic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other important programs serving older Americans," according to a letter sent by the AARP to Congress.

These cuts would all be hardest on the most vulnerable population of seniors who make do with social security and little else. Thus, the overarching effect of the new tax law is to transfer wealth from the poor to the affluent. Senior advocacy groups remain vigilant as the effects of the tax law unfold.


What The GOP Tax Cut Will Mean For Older Adults,” Forbes.

The GOP tax overhaul kept this $1,300 tax break for seniors,” CNBC.

In Updated Charts, What 8 Seniors’ Tax Bills Will Be With Tax Reform,” The Daily Signal.

Why AARP doesn't like the tax bill,” CNN Money.

Straight Talk for Seniors®: The Final Tax Reform Bill,” NCOA.

TaxVox: Campaigns, Proposals, and Reforms,” Tax Policy Center.

The Big, Permanent Tax Increase Inside the Tax Cut Act,” Bloomberg.

Trump's Tax Plan and How It Affects You,” The Balance.

The GOP’s Tax Reform Is Great for Gig-Economy Workers,” National Review.

Preliminary Details and Analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Tax Foundation.

Senior Income Statistics,” National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare.

Fact Sheet SOCIAL SECURITY,” The United States Social Security Administration.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How to Choose a Medical Alert System

How to Choose a Medical Alert System

Having your loved one wear an alert system can prolong aging in place, but picking a device can be a headache with so many companies offering similar products

Older adults, particularly those who live alone, often welcome the idea of wearing a medical alert device to call for help from their home and yard. They may be at increased risk for falls due to poor eyesight or memory changes. Adult children and friends rest easier knowing that they’ll be called if help is needed any time of the day or night. It can be the difference between moving to a facility, and being able to stay in the home you know like the back of your hand.

Inexpensive Personal Security for All

You don’t have to be an older adult to need a personal safety device. Assault is on the rise across the country. Maybe you’d just like to feel someone’s got your back in an emergency. Or you could be an older adult who can’t afford $30 a month for a safety monitoring system. If you have a smartphone, Revolar may be the answer.

For about $60 (for the Instinct model) and no ongoing fee whatsoever, tech startup Revolar will send you a small pendant you can wear on your wrist or neck, or slip in a pocket. The device will send an alert message to friends and family with your location and instructions about what to do.

Company cofounder Jacqueline Ros was driven to action after her sister was assaulted twice before she turned 17. Both times, her sister was unable to get to her cellphone and call for help. This inspired Ros to create a discreet button that would be fast and simple to activate, and Revolar was born.

The device pairs with your smartphone via Bluetooth. Select the emergency contacts you want notified. With one push of the button, an “I’m okay” gives your location. Two presses triggers a “yellow alert” that tells your contacts exactly where you are and that you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Three presses, and a “red alert” lets contacts know you need immediate assistance. Your contacts will know to dial 911, whether it’s for a medical emergency, a threatening stranger or acquaintance, or some other dangerous situation.

“We’ve realized our impact could be even greater than we originally anticipated,” says Megan Espeland, chief marketing officer for Revolar. “For example, a group of visually- and hearing-impaired individuals reached out because our technology could change their lives. We’ve heard from women who faced stalkers and felt like they had no recourse. And both male and female survivors of assault have told us that our intervention would have made a difference.”

However, choosing a system can be a daunting task, especially when you see advertisements at every turn. Finding the right device becomes a lot easier if you understand how the systems work, what features you need, and what you should expect to pay. Finally, we offer options about where to find one that works in your area.

Two Basic Types of Systems

The simplest medical alert unit works with a landline telephone connection. The base unit plugs into your phone jack, then you plug your phone into the unit. An LED light turns green to indicate the system is on, and you can do a test run by pressing the portable help button on your wristband or neck. The button signals the unit to automatically dial an agent who will ask if you need help. (Some systems may dial emergency services directly so check first).

Such an in-home system is ideal for someone who rarely leaves home, or who goes out to public areas where other people could offer help if needed. But if you have an active lifestyle (one that includes walks out on trails, say, or jaunts around a quiet neighborhood), consider a mobile alert system.

Mobile models employ GPS technology to track your location while a cellular system connects you to a response center. While the mobile models are often a little larger than a basic model, the device you wear offers two-way communication with a call center. An optional fall-detection sensor can alert the center if you take a spill, although it typically comes with an additional monthly fee. Mobile systems can be paired with a landline, or a base with cellular circuitry. Both are very easy to install.

Whichever device you choose, the time from when you press the device to when you get a live response should be measured in seconds, not minutes. About 20 to 40 seconds is typical. The base unit works hands-free, so all the caller needs to do is request help. The best devices allow the user to notify the agent whom to call, because sometimes a neighbor or family member can help, while other situations require an emergency response. Most services get your medical information upfront, including health conditions, medications, allergies and who your doctors are, so it can be relayed to emergency services.


Choosing the Right Features

  • Handle the portable wrist band or pendant necklace to make sure it’s comfortable, since the wearer will ideally have it on 24/7.

  • Consider the fall alert option. One in three adults over age 65 falls every year, and we’ve all seen the TV commercial where the senior can’t get back up.

  • Medical monitoring provides medication reminders and remote monitoring for health vitals.

  • Activity monitoring automatically tracks movement at home.

  • Daily check-in service prompts a live call or electronic check-in request.

  • Fitness tracking can include a daily health prompt or give information.

  • What is the signal range? The connection may reach anywhere from 600 to 1500 feet. Test it out in your house and around the yard to make sure you have adequate coverage.

  • Is it waterproof? This ought to be a given, since many accidents occur in the bathroom.

  • How long does the battery hold a charge, and what is the battery life? Five days is about average for holding a charge. Is it easy to tell when the battery needs to be replaced?

  • Will it need technology updates that may be too complicated/confusing for the wearer to master?

  • Is a lockbox included? A lockbox with a code can be placed on the front door. In the event of an emergency, responders are given the access code for a house key to avoid breaking a door or window.

  • Is the call center in the U.S.? Some companies contract call center operators, and they can be overseas. How are dispatchers trained, and will your loved one be able to use their first language? Can they be contacted from the wearable device, or only from the base unit?

  • Can family members check in? Some systems allow friends or family to check in using a smartphone or other computer.


What About Cost?

  • Avoid a long contract. Cost should range between $25 and $35 a month for a land-based system, or $35 to $45 a month for a cellular unit. Avoid a company that requires a multi-year commitment. Check if there’s a discount for prepaying a few months ahead, but keep in mind that you may need to stop the service (for a hospitalization, for example).

  • Beware extra fees. Look for a plan with no extra cost for shipping, installation, activation, or service and repair.

  • Read the fine print. Make sure you have a guarantee, or at least a trial period when you can make sure you’re happy with the service. Can you cancel at will with a refund for unused months?

  • Ask for a discount. Check if the company offers a discount for veterans, AARP or other membership organization, or multiple users in the same home. In general, Medicare and private insurance won’t cover a medical alert device, but Medicaid may cover all or a portion of the expense. If the home is already covered by security system, you may get a discount by adding a personal device

Narrowing Down the Search

There are literally hundreds of companies nationally that offer medical alert services. The best choice for you may be a local player, a home security company, or a nationwide business that does nothing but personal emergency response systems. Where in the world do you start?

Your local agency on aging can supply a list of companies in your area. Check with the community senior center to get leads. Enter “medical alert system” or “urgent response device” and the name of your town into your computer. Be sure to get online ratings and read reviews. Watch out for advertisements that only look like reviews. Ask friends and family members if they can recommend a system. Journalists offer a good source of impartial ratings for national companies; check out this 2018 review in PC Magazine.


Medical Alert Comparison,” Google.

Revolar is a wearable panic button made for women, but usable by everyone,” Digital Trends.

2018 Best Medical Alert Systems,” Best Company.

What to look for in a medical alert system,” Consumer Reports.

12 Medication Management Tips That May Save Your Life,” A Place For Mom.

The Best Medical Alert Systems of 2018,” PC Magazine.

How to Choose a Medical Alert System,” AARP.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Friday, February 2, 2018

NYC Gallery for Artists 60+ Years Old

This NYC gallery is only for artists who are at least 60 years old

This NYC gallery is only for artists who are at least 60 years old

The Carter Burden Gallery in Chelsea occupies a chic, modern space. Works that rotate on a monthly basis sell in a range from $200 to $9,000. An opening is held for each new exhibit of two or three artists working in a variety of media. The kicker is that every artist here has lived a minimum of six decades.

"Older adults do not stop being who they are because they hit a particular age," says gallery director Marlena Vaccaro. "Professional artists never stop doing what we do, and in many cases we get better at it as we go along."

Not many galleries are showing professional artists as they get older, unless they’re famous enough to command high prices, Vaccaro says. “Galleries are a business. They need to show artists that are going to bring in big bucks.”

But that doesn’t mean that older artists aren’t producing relevant, fresh work, and that’s where the Carter Burden steps in. The gallery is a nonprofit that originally sprang from the Carter Burden Center for the Aging, founded in 1971 to provide services, advocacy and volunteer programs. The gallery is funded by a corporate sponsor and various philanthropists. That way, they can choose artists without regard to how much their work might sell for.

Exhibitor Nieves Saab, 67, has painted since she was a child in Spain. She recalls her first show in SoHo where a few sales led to more than a dozen more gallery shows in one year. But interest waned as the decades passed. One day, she heard about the Carter Burden. A month after she applied, her fanciful, bright oil paintings graced the gallery walls.

The Carter Burden is only available for artists who live in New York. Up to 500 people may attend an opening, where wine, chocolate and pretzels accompany the visual feast. It’s a chance for artists to meet and visitors to munch and buy.

“It is community,” says Long Island artist Elisabeth Jacobsen, 68. For people who do most of their work alone in a studio or at home, it’s a chance to mingle and support each other. Jacobsen got a rejection letter the first time she applied to exhibit at the Carter Burden, but she tried again. These days, she’s a regular at the gallery with many sales under her belt.

Sculpture artist Werner Bargsten, 69, loves the camaraderie. “Most of the artists that I’ve met here seemed like they missed that memo that they were getting old,” he says. “Most of them have the brains of a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old or something. So they haven't really aged in terms of their spirit."

But is a gallery that bars everyone under 60 ageist in its own way?

"I think it's more a defense against ageism,” says director Vaccaro. “I think it's giving an opportunity to a group of people that have had the opportunity removed simply because of their age. Opportunities are few and far between at any gallery for any artist of any age, so I think we're trying to just right a wrong, rather than get in the way of anyone else having an opportunity."


Carter Burden Gallery,” Carter Burden Gallery.

This New York Gallery Has An Unusual Age Limit: No Artists Younger Than 60,” NPR.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors