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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Right Stress Can Lengthen Your Life

If there’s one thing we think we know, it’s that stress is bad for us. But what if that just isn’t true?

The startling truth gleaned from recent studies is that some forms of stress are very good for us. It appears that Nietzsche was right when he said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Our biggest problem is a lack of stress. However, the type and quality of stress we are under defines whether it will help or hurt us.

Human beings evolved over millennia in a world that bears little resemblance to the one we inhabit today. Food shortages and changes in temperature were common as our species evolved, and daily physical exercise was a given. Today, most of us have an abundance of food that we eat in climate-controlled environments. We can limit our movement from bed, to the refrigerator and onto the lounge chair.

This modern utopia created in the name of progress has spawned an explosion of health problems. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are the rewards of our cushy lifestyle. We have managed to remove the stressors that ensured optimal health.

Stressed Cells are Healthier

A team of researchers at the Salk Institute have found a way to remodel mitochondria via short-term stress in order to generate fewer toxic byproducts. These byproducts cause the mitochondria to deteriorate over time, so lessening their number should enable scientists to find new approaches to fight aging on a cellular level.

"The novelty of this study is that we've generated a model in which we can turn off antioxidant production in mitochondria but in a reversible way," says Salk Professor Gerald Shadel, the senior author of the paper. "So we were able to induce this stress for specific time windows and see how cells responded.”

Mitochondria power cells by converting food into chemical energy. In the process, a chemical known as superoxide is created. Superoxide is critical to cellular function, but too much of it can be toxic. So mitochondria also produce an enzyme known as superoxide dismutase (SOD) to convert the superoxide to a less toxic substance.

A group of mice whose SOD enzyme had been turned off briefly to trigger stress in mitochondria looked the same as genetically identical mice at four weeks of age. But researchers discovered a surprising difference. The stressed mice had more mitochondria with less superoxide buildup and higher levels of antioxidants than the control mice. In other words, the stressed mice were healthier, at least from a cellular point of view.

The team found that the stressed mice had developed unexpected molecular pathways that reprogrammed the mitochondria to produce fewer toxic molecules, while at the same time stimulating the cells’ antioxidant capacity.

Shadel, who holds the Audrey Geisel Chair in Biomedical Science, adds, "We are excited to test if the unique mitohormesis signaling pathways we will elucidate in this new mouse model can be targeted to prevent common age-related disease like cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease.”

Hunger Games Aside, Calorie Restriction is Good for You

Does anyone recall this dialogue from the movie Sleeper, where doctors of the future are discussing a patient?

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."

Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible.

Alas, current scientific studies are not supporting banana splits for breakfast.

We’ve known for decades that restricting calories in mammals leads to a longer lifespan. Now, the results of the first trial with healthy humans starting at a normal weight are in. Cutting calories by 15 percent over two years slowed down aging and metabolism. Consuming fewer calories cut down on oxidative stress, which is linked to cancer and diabetes as well as several neurological conditions that tend to crop up in old age, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

"Restricting calories can slow your basal metabolism, and if by-products of metabolism accelerate aging processes, calorie restriction sustained over several years may help to decrease risk for chronic disease and prolong life," says lead author Leanne M. Redman, associate professor of Clinical Sciences at Pennington Biomedical Research in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

While the study had a fairly small sample of 53 men and women aged 21 to 50, the results were true regardless of what they ate. Subjects lost an average of nearly 20 pounds, but noted no adverse effects, including anemia, excessive bone loss or cessation of menstruation. Conversely, participants enjoyed improved moods and health-related quality of life.

"We found that even people who are already healthy and lean may benefit from a calorie restriction regimen," Redman says.

Several factors influence metabolism, but current theory supports that slower metabolism provides the most benefit for healthful aging. Slowing down metabolism through calorie restriction leads to more efficient use of energy and a longer lifespan.

If restricting calories for a longer life interests you, check out the Calorie Restriction Society. The rest of us may have to resign ourselves to a shorter life.

Good Stressors

On a more practical level, several stressors have been identified that can help you live a better life today. These are specific and short in duration rather than the chronic, all-encompassing stressors associated with negative outcomes.

The best way to extend an animal’s lifespan (including that of humans) is by calorie restriction. (See sidebar). Reduce food intake, and not only does lifespan lengthen, but it triggers a cellular response that increases resistance to chronic diseases and inhibits the aging process. One way this works is by reducing inflammation. Science has found that inflammation accompanies the early stages of many chronic conditions.

The inflammation induced by exercise would seem to indicate that it’s better to be sedentary. But in spite of this short-term effect, the more enduring result of exercise is a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Interestingly, when you take the antioxidants vitamin E and C before a workout, the beneficial effects go away. The body needs the mild irritation caused by exercise to derive therapeutic benefits.

Like people, plants also have had to adapt to the environment. Unlike humans, a plant can’t move to get away from stress. Dangers are many, including UV radiation from the sun, hungry bugs and herbivores, and fluctuations in temperature, rainfall and soil nutrients. Plants have had much longer than humans to adapt differing responses to these stressors we have in common.

It’s no coincidence that about half of all drugs approved during the last 30 years are sourced directly or indirectly from plants. Morphine (1826) and aspirin (1899) are a pair of plant-based remedies still in use today. Consuming plant foods can help us resist disease, but our modern diets contain far fewer plants than those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Furthermore, instead of wild food, we eat an abundance of factory-farmed produce with the resistance bred out or genetically modified.

Add Good Stress

Make sure your doctor approves any changes before you switch up your routine. There are several ways to kick-start your mitochondria. Try one or several to find out what works for you.
  • Decrease the number of calories you consume. Studies show that stretching out the time you don’t eat can be helpful. Instead of breakfast at 7 a.m. and a late-night snack, you could try eating dinner at 6 p.m. and then fasting until breakfast.
  • Put more vegetables and fruit in your diet. Organic produce is preferred for low pesticide levels, and look for non-GMO produce.
  • Do something physical every day. Hunter-gatherers traveled long periods at a slow pace, interspersed with short intervals of intense exertion. Mimic this stressor with exercise, such as a long walk with sprint intervals. Also, take your vitamins any time except before you exercise.
  • Turn down the heat, or run some cold water at the beginning or end of your shower. Spend time outdoors no matter the season. 

Click below for the other articles in the December 2018 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

The Free Tax Prep Service Millions Don’t Know About

The IRS partnered with tax preparation specialists to provide an outlet for free services to people with low and moderate incomes. Few use it, and companies such as Intuit and H&R Block are profiting from their involvement. 

Americans spend more than $1 billion a year in tax filing fees that they don’t need to. That’s a conservative estimate from independent nonprofit ProPublica after it delved into the Free File system  supported by the IRS. And the very companies that offer their services gratis may be making a killing by up-selling and obfuscation due to lack of oversight. Even so, Congress appears poised to codify the system.

In the Beginning

As the internet age dawned at the turn of the century, the IRS created a no-cost electronic filing system for taxpayers with moderate incomes ($66,000 for 2018) or less at the request of the Office of Management and Budget. With its hands full trying to convert to an online system of its own, the IRS appealed to the tax-prep industry for help. Soon, it had an agreement with heavyweights H&R Block, Intuit (developer of TurboTax), and 10 others to form the Free File Alliance (FFA). 

Members of the Alliance (aka the Consortium) would offer free tax preparation services to about 70 percent of Americans at no cost, and the IRS vowed to “not compete with the Consortium in providing free, online tax return preparation and filing services to taxpayers.”

Fifty million tax returns have been processed through the system since its inception in 2003, saving users close to $1.5 billion in fees. That sounds substantial until you do the math and realize that represents about 3 percent of eligible returns. 

Many taxpayers are simply unaware the program exists. 

“I don’t have an advertising budget,” said Tim Hugo, executive director of the FFA, who agrees the program needs more awareness. He argued that it’s the IRS’ responsibility to publicize the program. “The companies are already donating the services. It’s a philanthropic endeavor.”

Critics counter that low participation is exactly what the FFA is hoping for. The agreement keeps the IRS from developing a direct filing option or a return-free option such as those available in many other countries, which the FFA has lobbied against

Deceptive Practices

But it’s well documented that FFA companies use the service as a “free-to-fee” gateway for paid services. Indeed, less than half of those who used the service in 2014 and qualified for it in 2015 took advantage of it. 

That figure may reflect negative experiences with the Free File program. But the data indicates otherwise. Of 2014 users of the software who then didn’t use Free File (but were eligible) in 2015, more than half used the non-Free File version of the same software they’d used to file the preceding year. This pattern appears to reflect the practice of software companies marketing a paid version of their program to taxpayers who filed with them using Free File the previous year. 

In fact, FFA companies routinely email taxpayers a year after they filed with them using Free File. The email says the preparer has their information on file and the taxpayer can click a link to use their services again. But the link routes the client to software they must pay to use. 

Worse yet is how the companies appear to violate privacy laws. 

Federal law requires tax preparers to solicit and receive “knowing and voluntary” taxpayer consent prior to disclosing or using their tax return information for any reason, including marketing paid services unrelated to that return. 

When users select “Turbo Tax All Free” from the IRS Free File homepage, they land on Intuit’s “Turbo Tax Freedom Edition” website. After as little as a single question regarding income, the user is switched to a “Create your account” page to input their email and phone number. They may ignore the tiny, faint lettering below that says by pressing the button to create an account, they agree to terms of use that strip them of the right to file a lawsuit, seek a trial by jury or group claims in a class action suit. All this before they have input the information for their return.

Practical Considerations

You may still want to save some money and take advantage of the free software. If you do, start here. Just be aware that “Trying to navigate the Free File sites, is a bit like living in the Wild, Wild West,” according to taxpayer advocate Nina Olson. 

Sometimes, tax prep companies throw a wrench in the works by using very similar names for different (but similar) products. Intuit offers a “Free Edition” of TurboTax that takes care of federal 1040EZ or 1040A forms at no charge, but charges for state returns. However, you can get the Freedom File version dubbed “Freedom Edition” that does both federal and state returns gratis. And you won’t find Freedom Edition on TurboTax’s homepage.

Then there are the different eligibility requirements among the various providers. They vary according to income, age and state of residence. In theory, the alliance coordinates the requirements in a way that will cover 70 percent of taxpayers under at least one company’s plan. For example, this year TurboTax offers Free File to anyone who earns less than $33,000 or qualifies for the earned income tax credit. You might need to use H&R Block’s plan that allows for an AGI of $66,000 or less … but only for those 50 or younger. 

Visit their website to find other IRS programs offering free tax returns.

Congressional Support

Congress found one thing it could get behind in a bipartisan way. The “Taxpayer First Act,” which includes various provisions to assist consumers—and a provision to make Free File permanent—passed the House in April 414-0.

“It’s a great program that helps save the government money and do free tax filings for people who can’t afford it,” said a spokesperson for Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill.

Intuit and H&R Block are standing by the program. They can trumpet the millions of dollars their companies have spent supporting and promoting Free File, as well as programs such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Intuit recently began promoting no-cost filing known as Tax Time Allies

The old adage of “buyer beware” doesn’t quite fit these free-at-the-outset services. But it’s a good idea to navigate the internet carefully and use the IRS site, not an email from a tax prep provider, to file each year.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

When Seniors Argue: Finding the Cause

When an older adult becomes argumentative, you may think they're just getting irritable, but we now know there could be underlying factors that need to be addressed.

Jean finds herself arguing with her mother all the time. They had always had a good relationship, but since her mother was hospitalized following a fall, that bond has deteriorated. Jean has to help her mother more now, which only seems to make her resentful. Her mother refuses to let Jean help her bathe, and when Jean tried to clean out her kitchen cupboards, her mother got hostile. Her siblings, who live elsewhere, can’t figure out why Jean is having problems when Mom is always so nice to them. 

Age can bring about many challenges, including more arguments. There can be a variety of root causes, including physical and mental conditions. If you are a caretaker or spouse, you will probably be the first to notice these symptoms.

Sometimes, it’s a change in tone. An older adult’s comments contain more sting than they used to, or a couple who has spent decades in relative harmony starts to have regular disagreements. Perhaps a senior who has enjoyed a good argument in the past becomes louder and loses the reasoning they used to have. 

Therapists and others working with older adults say the first step is to find where the problem originates. 

Cognition Influences Mood 

Increased anger could be one of the first signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor of dementia or Alzheimer’s, says Dr. Lisa Gwyther, director of the Duke Center for Aging Family Support Program and an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. 

Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics at the University of Chicago Geriatrics Medicine, concurs. Pay attention if someone says, “‘Gee, Mom seems more argumentative or withdrawn than the last time I saw her,'” Dr. Dale cautions. “There is good evidence that the earliest signs of cognitive impairment are often emotional changes”—anger, anxiety, depression—“rather than cognitive ones”—memory, abstract thought.

It’s a diagnosis that is more and more common. In fact, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime, according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention. 

Suspicion and paranoia are hallmarks of mild cognitive decline. They lead to feelings of distrust and accusations that may be far from the truth. Jean’s mother may suspect her daughter is trying to remove food from her house, or take away her clothes while she bathes. The most rational adult can imagine similar scenarios if they are under the influence of cognitive decline. 

Dr. Gwyther recalls another dispute where a wife was angry that her husband didn’t want to participate in the holidays, and declared he was being stubborn and lazy. But the truth was quite different. Aware of his slipping memory, he was anxious about remembering names and faces. Out of embarrassment and fear, he was trying to hide his potential failures. 

Hoarding can be a sign of cognitive impairment, too. The hoarder may fear running out of money, or having everything taken away. 

It doesn’t make the diagnosis any easier when MCI can come and go. “There are good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours,” says Dr. Gwyther. “Alzheimer’s and dementia don’t start on Tuesday—it’s a slow insidious onset.”

How to Fight Fair

A caretaker’s relationship with their client can be difficult when mental or physical fitness decline. If you’re the child as well, old hurts may come back to haunt you. How can you move past raw emotion to bring your best self to the situation?

Put the past in the past. You learned how to argue when you were young, and those patterns stick with us over time. Take note of how you react to your parent, and work to be the adult in the room. “Fake it until you make it” is a good way to start. Play the part of the calm, confident child whose feathers can’t be ruffled.

Focus on the present. Declaring, “You’ve always liked Larry more than me!” is not going to resolve the problem at hand. Neither will it solve old grievances, so let it go. Much better to say, “I know Larry visits more than I do, but that’s because I’m paying your bills and making your doctor appointments. I love you just as much.”

Address the specific problem. “I can’t believe you’re treating Dad so badly. How can you do that? What’s wrong with you?!” These remarks are no way to solve a problem. Instead, explore causes and solutions. “Are you worried about being able to stay in your home? Let’s talk about bringing in some help for you and Dad so you can stay here. Is there anything else worrying you?”

Offer a solution. “Mom, you never take your pills when you’re supposed to!” Exclamations such as that only assign blame. It’s much more helpful to say, “Mom, I see it’s getting hard to remember to take your pills. Can I set alerts on your phone to help you remember? Or would it be easier if I put a note on your breakfast table and another one on the bathroom mirror? What do you think?”

Physical Changes Alter Disposition

At the start of this article, we mentioned that Jean’s mother had recently been hospitalized. Physical ailments of any sort can upset emotional equilibrium. 

“Most men get angry at what’s happened to them when they get ill, spouses get angry and scared when he’s not what he used to be—so they fight,” explains Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg, professor emerita of counseling psychology at the University of Maryland and author of “Overwhelmed: Coping With Life’s Ups and Downs.” Chronic diseases can lead to chronic mood changes. In fact, some doctors argue that diabetes is so often accompanied by depression that it is part of the disease. 

Other changes in circumstances can bring on depression or anger. Retirement, a move, loss of autonomy and shifting roles can trigger fear that is expressed as hostility.

How to React

It can be much easier to blame an older adult for these changes than to understand them. 

“Part of the trap for the caregiver is the idea that you have to do it all, and the guilt you feel when you cannot live up to it,” says Dr. Gordon Herz, a psychologist in private practice in Madison, Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, resentment can soon follow, Dr. Herz adds, because it is hard to acknowledge that, “‘this is too much for me.’”

One way to improve the relationship is to get an ally on your side. A friend, doctor or pastor can give you perspective and perhaps intervene with your parent. Because you will always be the child no matter how old you are, your parent may listen better to someone else. A doctor can “prescribe” in-home help, and a friend can wield gentle influence. 

Talking it over with a parent can lead to compromise and a successful outcome. Your parent may balk at the idea of something as personal as help in the bath, but agree to have someone make meals or clean the house. Once she realizes that getting help isn’t the end of her independence, she may be willing to allow more intimate assistance. 

Hiring household help can take some of the burden off of you and enhance your relationship with your parent. If you are not spending every moment filling pillboxes, cleaning and scheduling appointments, there’s suddenly time to enjoy a meal together or listen to stories from your mom’s childhood. The result can put both the senior and caretaker at ease.

Click below for the other articles in the December 2018 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Working Past 100: Anthony Mancinelli

The oldest barber in the world still goes to work 40 hours a week. He started his career when Warren Harding occupied the White House.

Anthony Mancinelli began working as a barber when he was 11 years old, and a haircut cost a quarter. The year was 1922, and Mancinelli had emigrated with rest of his family three years earlier from Naples, Italy. 

“I have some customers, I cut their father, grandfather and great-grandfather — four generations,” said Mancinelli, who has six great-great-grandchildren and charges $19 for a haircut nowadays. 

He still shops for himself, does his own laundry, and pays his bills. When the shop he was working at cut his hours several years ago, he switched to another local salon where he could put in a full week. At first, the receptionist ignored his application because of his age, but he applied again. Owner Jane Dinezza was impressed with his ability.

He has adapted to a wide range of hairstyles over the years. “I cut them all,’’ he says, “long hair, short hair, whatever was in style — the shag, the Buster Brown, straight bangs, permanents.”

Mancinelli lives on his own since his wife of 70 years died 14 years ago. He visits her grave every day before coming in to work. He drives in to work, where “He won’t even let anyone sweep up his hair clippings,” says his son, Bob Mancinelli, 81. “Some of his older customers, he helps them in the chair. He’ll say to an 80-year-old guy, ‘Listen, when you get to be my age. ...’ They love hearing that.”

A veteran of World War II, Mancinelli has belonged to American Legion Post 1976 for 75 years, where he typically orders a whiskey sour. He’s been the choice for grand marshal of the New Windsor Memorial Day Parade more times than he can count.

“He never calls in sick,” Dinezza says. “I have young people with knee and back problems, but he just keeps going. He can do more haircuts than a 20-year-old kid. They’re sitting there looking at their phones, texting or whatever, and he’s working.”

Since being recognized as the oldest working barber by Guinness World Records in 2007, he has been asked many times what his secret is for his steady hand, trim build and health that allows him to still trim the bushes in his front yard. 

Mancinelli avows that he’s never smoked or been a heavy drinker. However, longevity does not run in his family and he’s never been a fan of exercise. “I eat thin spaghetti, so I don’t get fat,” he jokes. Somehow, he has never needed glasses and takes no regular medication. 

“I only go to the doctor because people tell me to, but even he can’t understand it,” he said. “I tell him I have no aches, no pains, no nothing. Nothing hurts me.”

“It’s just amazing that he still works full time,” says stylist Jen Sullivan, 20, who works next to Mancinelli. “Weekends here can get crazy — even I get tired of being on my feet — but he just keeps going.”

Schedule a cut with Mancinelli at Fantastic Cuts in New Windsor, N.Y., about an hour north of New York City.

Click below for the other articles in the December 2018 Senior Spirit


Older Adults Need Newer Cars to Continue Driving

Many adult children worry about their parents’ capacity to drive. New car technology may be the answer. 

One of the hardest decisions any adult child has to make is telling a parent they shouldn’t drive anymore. For the senior, the loss of independence and inability to get to social functions, doctor visits and grocery shopping can lead to depression and isolation. It is a major blow on the list of small indignities that aging often brings.

Adult children may take the keys in good faith when all Mom really needs is as low-tech as a new prescription for her glasses. Recent innovations in driving technology are game changers. Carmakers know that the population of older drivers is growing, and they are designing vehicles to help seniors stay behind the wheel longer.

Statistics on Older Drivers

Consternation over the ability of seniors as a whole to drive may be over-hyped.

By 2025, a quarter of drivers will be 65 and older. A recent study found these older drivers to be 16 percent likelier than drivers 25 to 64 years old to cause an accident, so there is increased concern as parents age. (However, it’s important to note that drivers under 25 are 188 percent more likely than adult drivers to cause an accident.) Additionally, older drivers are several times more likely to suffer a fatal injury when they are in an accident.

Interestingly, one of the reasons older drivers tended to be so much safer than their much younger cohorts was that they change their driving habits to make up for diminished competence. This self-regulation included not driving at night, staying off the road during peak traffic hours and sticking to familiar streets. Many older drivers voluntarily removed themselves from the driving pool, thus leaving more competent seniors as drivers.

Furthermore, drivers’ risk declined as seniors got older. The group over 70 was the least likely of any age group to cause a crash, and half as likely as the group over 55. The study concluded that the pool of drivers becomes more competent with age due to the least capable taking themselves off the road. 

Finally, the study concludes that “because older drivers drive comparatively little, the risk they pose to overall traffic safety is actually much lower than that of other drivers, even though they are likelier to cause an accident when they do drive.”

Determining Driver Safety

While the above numbers may put a few minds to rest, there is plenty of cause for concern if Mom drifts into neighboring lanes, or Dad starts running stop signs. 

Driving involves a complicated mix of physical, mental and sensory skills. The risk involved in poor driving is not only to oneself, but to others as well. The Commission on Law and Aging, in partnership with the American Psychological Association, has produced a trio of books on capacity assessment—one for lawyers, one for judges and another for psychologists. 

The psychologists’ handbook addresses the functional component of driving ability, with an emphasis on finding supports and accommodations. Never ask if the person “has capacity,” but rather ask “does the person have capacity with support.” Would a higher seat or pillow, pedal modifications or a new set of eyeglasses fix the problem? Only then can an assessment be made for flexibility, strength and knowledge of the rules of the road.

Another piece of the driving puzzle is health. Does the driver have muscular or skeletal problems, a possibility of strokes or psychiatric disorders? Dementia can impact not only memory, but also spatial concepts and the judgment needed to safely drive. Family members need to investigate if the problem is temporary, or reversible with the right medication or therapy.

Finally, any assessment must address cognitive ability, which includes attention and processing speed, but also peripheral vision and the ability to multi-task. Reduced cognition may be temporary and/or reversible. Cognitive abilities can be influenced by poor sleep, prescription medications and substance abuse. Resolving these issues may return the person to many years of safe driving.

Is a New Car the Answer?

There are plenty of technologies in the newest crop of cars that could help many seniors stay on the road. The same modifications that make driving easier for all of us can be a particular boon to older adults.

The following six features in particular are designed to cut down on accidents:

  1. Rearview camera with guidelines. All models 2018 and later have to come equipped with a rearview camera, but some come with guidelines to gauge how close you are to an obstacle. For added security, consider a system with a birds-eye view of the car that uses multiple cameras for a 360-degree picture.
  2. Lane departure warning. This feature triggers a warning beep to alert you when you’ve strayed out of your lane. Upgrade the option to include lane-keeping assist, which nudges the steering wheel back toward the appropriate lane.
  3. Blind spot monitoring. Every car has a blind spot on its right rear side.  With blind spot monitoring, your car will alert you when a vehicle approaches on either side. Small lights on the sideview mirrors turn on to warn if there is a car in your blind spot.
  4. Curve speed warning. Modern traction and stability control systems are enhanced with this addition, which automatically slows the car’s speed by up to 10 mph if it detects that the car is taking a curve too fast.
  5. Automatic and adaptive headlights. Modern cars turn headlights on automatically depending on exterior lighting conditions. Adaptive headlights take it to the next level by extending visibility on curves or going up hills. The light beam swivels left and right, up or down to maximize your line of sight.
  6. Crash mitigation. An upgrade of standard cruise control to adaptive cruise control allows sensors on the car to detect vehicles in your path and adjust your car’s speed to maintain a safe distance between vehicles. Some systems include warnings when you are getting too close to another car, and use automatic braking to bring your car to a halt if you don’t react quickly enough.

Evaluating Senior Driving

With so many factors affecting driver safety, it can be difficult or impossible to know if it’s time for Dad to give up the keys. Sometimes the sibling who sees a parent most is the first to realize there are problems. Dad might insist that his driving is perfectly fine. Brothers and sisters might back up Dad, and tension among family members may escalate.

Relinquishing the right to drive is a whole lot easier if the senior agrees that it’s time. But that’s a lot easier said than done. Luckily, there is somewhere to turn for help.

Keeping Us Safe is a nationally recognized “enhanced self-assessment program” for older drivers to evaluate road safety. The company offers a three-hour session performed in the senior’s home that includes an on-road driving exercise and a variety of written exercises for cognition and memory, according to the website.

The driving portion is done in the older adult’s own car, on streets they are familiar with. In addition, the administrator is trained in how to calmly discuss their observations in what is termed a “learning conversation” that includes input from family and friends, as well as the senior.

Results are not shared with the DMV, but are given to family members in a written report. Such a program could be the missing link between the family and the older adult, helping the senior to evaluate his own skills in a low-pressure environment where family members are not present.

Another path is the Smart Driver course offered by AARP. For a reasonable cost ($25 in Colorado), drivers can brush up on safe driving practices, skills and strategies. Defensive driving and local traffic laws are covered. Plus, you can learn proper vehicle maintenance and safety checks.

Even better, adults over 50 who complete the course are eligible for a reduction on their auto insurance premium in most states. The course is offered in certain regions and online, with more than 90 percent who have finished it saying they would recommend it to a friend.

Which Car is Right?

“It’s not about taking away the keys based on age, it’s about function,” according to Elin Schold Davis, coordinator of the Older Driver Initiative of the American Occupational Therapy Association. The current approach is “to support people to enable them to drive as long as possible.” For seniors who just need some adaptations, she recommends a $400 consultation with an occupational therapy driving rehabilitation specialist. 

“There’s no such thing as the best car for an older person,” says Jacob Nelson, the director of traffic safety advocacy and research at AAA. “What matters are the features, and the features appropriate for one older driver are not necessarily appropriate for another.”

AAA offers help for seniors shopping for a new car by offering a site that categorizes makes and models of vehicles in a variety of price ranges.  The site outlines vehicles that can help older adults with different needs.  

Drivers with vision problems can search for a high-contrast instrument panel with large number and letter displays, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and side mirrors with glare reduction. 

Schold Davis counsels people to “plan to spend time choosing a car and select the latest built-in safety features you can afford.” While “not all safety features are alike car-to-car,” she says finding the right car is different for each person. Her top goal for seniors: “Decrease the likelihood of a crash and cushion against serious injury should a crash occur.”

Barring some dementias or serious conditions like advanced vision loss, “the diagnosis of a medical condition should not determine whether it’s safe for someone to drive,” Mr. Nelson said. “What does matter is how you manage your condition—whether, for example, you have diabetes and keep your blood sugar under control to prevent a blackout.” 

By getting Mom a new car, maybe you can put off questions about her driving for years. Who knows, by then a self-driving car may make the discussion about taking away car keys a thing of the past.

Click below for the other articles in the December 2018 Senior Spirit


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Famous & 65

December 6 Thomas Hulce, American actor

An unlikely actor, Tom Hulce was born in Detroit to a father who worked for Ford Motor Company (although his mother was briefly employed as a singer). Hulce knew he wanted to act from an early age, and attended the Interlochen Arts Academy and North Carolina School of the Arts.

He debuted opposite Anthony Perkins in Equus on Broadway in 1975, but he’s best-known for his film roles. He took the part of student Lawrence “Pinto” Kroger in the 1978 classic Animal House.

But his most acclaimed role came in the early 1980s when he beat out the likes of David Bowie, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sennett Branagh to play Mozart in the film version of Amadeus. His performance earned a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards, where he was beat out by none other than his co-star, F. Murray Abraham.

Hulce got a second Best Actor nomination in 1989 for his role as an intellectually challenged garbage collector in Dominick and Eugene. He went on to play numerous parts for television and film, in addition to maintaining a presence on the stage. In 1996, he was cast in his first animated venture, speaking the title role of Quasimodo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Shortly afterward, he retired from acting and turned to producing, where his two epic efforts include The Cider House Rules and Talking Heads, the latter of which won a slew of awards. His most recent effort is The Seagull.

December 8 Kim Basinger, American Actress

You’d never guess that Kim Basinger was so shy as a child, she would faint if asked to speak in class! Luckily, she was able to overcome her insecurity by her teens, when she became the Athens, Georgia Junior Miss. The daughter of a model, Basinger starred with her mom in a Breck shampoo ad before enrolling at the University of Georgia.

She soon decided to take up an offer from Ford Modeling Agency, leaving for the Big Apple, where she made $1,000 a day as a top model. In spite of the big cash payout, she says she never enjoyed modeling. “It was hard to go from one booking to another and always have to deal with the way I looked. I couldn’t stand it, I felt myself choking.”

Basinger has had so many starring roles, it’s hard to chose her best. She was a Bond girl in Never Say Never Again, and starred in the erotic 9 1/2 Weeks. Her performance in The Natural garnered a Golden Globe, but the film with the most commercial success was Tim Burton’s Batman, where Basinger played photojournalist Vicki Vale.

More recently, Basinger took on “passion project” I Dream of Africa in 2000, saying she “cried for hours” when she left Kenya. Unfortunately, moviegoers cried foul after seeing the film, awarding it a miserable 10 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. But the indomitable actress followed that bomb with an acclaimed performance in 8 Mile opposite Eminem and Brittany Murphy.

Bassinger has been married twice, to her makeup artist and then to Alec Baldwin, but she’s been single since 2002. A vegetarian and animal rights supporter, she filmed anti-fur ads for animal welfare group PETA and has lobbied against the Asian dog meat trade.

December 9 John Malkovich, Actor and director

Malkovich is a founding member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and sooo much more! He won an Obie in 1980 when he appeared in True West, then nabbed an Emmy for his Broadway debut as Biff in Death of a Salesman a few years later. Critical acclaim has followed Malkovich throughout his career, continuing with an Academy Award nomination for his feature film debut with Sally Fields in Places in the Heart.

Malkovich portrayed the sinister and sexy Valmont in 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, where a fling with Michelle Pfeiffer on the set put an end to his marriage of six years to Glenne Headly. But Pfeiffer didn’t last; Malkovich met longterm partner Nicoletta Peyran in 1989.

Malkovich went on to act or direct in a plethora of films such as Ripley’s Game, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Being John Malkovich, but many people have no idea he spent 10 years working in southern France (he speaks fluent French), or that he lost millions of dollars in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme in 2008.

Finally, as a true Renaissance man, Malkovich created his own fashion company, Mrs. Mudd, which has released two collections designed by the actor/director.

December 13 Ben Bernanke, Economist 

As chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006 to 2014, Ben Bernanke was a central figure in the America’s Great Recession and its recovery.

As a youngster, Ben taught himself calculus (his school didn’t offer it) and scored a jaw-dropping 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT. Not surprisingly, he was valedictorian of his high school and a National Merit Scholar. Bernanke enrolled in Harvard for undergrad and got a Ph.D. from MIT in 1979. His dissertation (Long-Term Commitments, Dynamic Optimization, and the Business Cycle) sounds like the perfect subject matter to prepare him for his future role.

Bernanke landed in a pot of hot water for his failure to anticipate the financial crisis of 2008. The New York Times noted that Bernanke "has been attacked for failing to foresee the financial crisis, for bailing out Wall Street, and, most recently, for injecting an additional $600 billion into the banking system to give the slow recovery a boost.” Stock guru Jim Cramer nailed the Feds with his famous rant that the economy was on the verge of a nosedive and “they know nothing!”

A whistleblower provided documents in 2010 that Bernanke overruled staff recommendations not to bail out insurance giant AIG. However, senators from both sides of the aisle claimed the move averted even worse problems. What is less controversial is the role Bernanke played in the subsequent economic recovery, using quantitative easing to slowly boost the market, over a period of years, back to its former highs.

Click below for the other articles in the December 2018 Senior Spirit


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