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Monday, December 21, 2020

Anxiety Is on the Rise

The pandemic has brought death, illness, job loss, and job insecurity. Not surprisingly, older adults are more anxious and worried.

Everyone seems to be more stressed out these days as we continue to be impacted by social distancing and the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Health care workers and those in the restaurant and tourism industries have been hit particularly hard, but older adults account for some grim statistics of their own.

Older Adults at Risk

Close to half (46%) of older adults in a July survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) said that worry and stress related to COVID-19 was having a negative effect on their mental health, up from 31% in May. These numbers don’t include older adults in care facilities, where isolation (and the risk of infection and death) are even higher. It’s well documented through numerous studies that loneliness among older adults leads to an elevated risk of premature death, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and suicide.

The same survey found higher rates of anxiety and depression among the following groups:

  • Those who live alone (27%)
  • Women (28%)
  • Hispanics (33%)
  • Those with annual income under $25,000 (37%)
  • Those with self-reported fair or poor health (48%)

Notably, women, Hispanics and people with worse health all tend to fall into lower income categories, and of course those who live alone would be likely to have less income per household than a couple, who might at least have two Social Security checks coming in. 

Deaths of Despair

Perhaps surprisingly, although older adults account for 80% of all COVID-related deaths, they are less anxious than any other age group surveyed. This may be because retirees don’t have added fears around job loss and child care. However, bereavement is likely to be higher among older adults. 

The United Nations warns about a shadow pandemic of “deaths of despair.” In the United States, estimates show an additional 75,000 people will die due to drug and alcohol misuse, or by suicide, from effects of the virus on mental health. 

"Undeniably, policymakers must place a large focus on mitigating the effects of COVID," says Benjamin F. Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust. “However, if the country continues to ignore the collateral damage — specifically our nation's mental health — we will not come out of this stronger.”

Signs of Stress

Although anxiety, stress and declining mental health will affect people in different ways, these are some common symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increase in fear and worry about yourself or others
  • Increase in tobacco, alcohol and/or drug use
  • Increase in sadness, anger or inability to control temper

Getting Help

Fortunately, assistance is available so you don’t have to go it alone. Here are some ways you can help ward off stress:

  • Take care of your body. Stretch, meditate, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Eat healthy meals, exercise daily, and get plenty of sleep. Meditation apps such as Calm can help you relax.
  • Connect with other people. Call or FaceTime with other people to chat. 
  • Take breaks from the news, including social media. 
  • Make time to unwind. Take a walk, garden, read a book or enjoy a hot bath.
  • Connect with faith- or community-based organizations such as a church, senior center or synagogue. This may need to be online or by phone to keep socially distanced.

The good news about Medicare is that cost-sharing for mental health is finally on the same footing as that for general medical outpatient services under Part B. However, it may still be unaffordable for some. If you have traditional Medicare without supplemental coverage, or if your Medicare Advantage plan requires cost-sharing for mental health services, then low-income adults may worry about cost. 

On top of cost, it may be nearly impossible to find a provider. Psychiatrists, in particular, may limit the number of patients with Medicare or opt out entirely because they are reimbursed at a lower rate than for clients with private insurance. If you have traditional Medicare, go here for information about mental health coverage, including for low-income adults. People with Medicare Advantage plans should call their insurer for details about their plan. Fortunately, changes have been made to Medicare as a result of the pandemic. Traditional Medicare will cover Telehealth services, including for mental health. 

You can also contact:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or chat online
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline 1-800-726-4727 or here for information about where to find mental health services in your area

Times are hard, but the pandemic won’t last forever. We can all help by calling friends and family to chat and listen. Mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, any more than cancer is. Both are diseases that can be treated. Reaching out to get help, or give help, will make all of us stronger in the long run.

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Retirement Portfolios in the Age of COVID-19

While markets have recovered, many older adults are being pushed into early retirement. Here’s what you should do to protect your nest egg now.

As the stock market dipped in March and April, older Americans watched their retirement ac-counts swoon. Millions of people across the U.S. retired earlier than planned as of April, according to a 2020 study from the Becker Freidman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago. Even though investments have largely recovered, many job sectors have not. With the virus still working its way through the country, those near retirement find themselves shaken. Is it time for adjustments to your retirement account?

Don’t “make decisions based on emotion but instead be sure you’re doing a lot of research or working with a financial professional who can help you navigate through this crazy economic time,” says Christopher Magnussen, a financial services expert. He emphasizes the importance of a diversified allocation across retirement accounts. Less risky options might include annuities, bonds and high-dividend stocks, among others. Your allocations will vary based on risk tolerance, proximity to retirement and other factors.

What To Do Now

If you need money right away, consider your options carefully. Withdrawing from a retirement fund may not be your best option for the long haul. Sit down with a financial professional and evaluate the pros and cons of a home equity loan, credit card debt or reverse mortgage. Interest rates, tax consequences and your time horizon may influence your decision. Check which federal government programs are available that may offer aide. “If you can avoid tapping your retirement savings at all costs, that’d be great,” says Magnussen. “If you have other assets that you can use before turning to the retirement account, that would be a whole lot better.”

Another possibility is to borrow from your 401(k) or IRA. These can be sources of short-term loans, but you’ll want to consult with a financial advisor before making a move as the rules governing these withdrawals can be complicated, and there are penalties for (even accidentally) violating them. Many people are unaware that in any 365-day period, you can withdraw funds from one IRA account only and replenish it within 60 days without incurring any taxes or penalties. It is therefore an interest-free, short term loan. But again, we recommend using a financial advisor so you don’t run afoul of IRS rules.

Look at Your Budget

Now’s the time to review your budget and make adjustments. Many of us are working from home. If that’s true for you, what you spend on gas and clothing for the office has almost certainly decreased. How about the money you used to spend going out to eat, or to the movies? Make sure that budget allocations are in line with your new normal. Personal Capital offers a free tool to create a budget and track both spending and assets. 

When was the last time you negotiated your phone bill or checked around for a better rate on insurance? If it was more than a year ago, or if the coronavirus has changed your situation, it’s time to revisit your bills. But don’t call when you’re angry or frustrated. Instead, use this strategy for the best results. You may be surprised to learn the number of expenses that you might be able to reduce:

  • Cable or satellite television
  • Landline phones
  • Internet
  • Alarm systems
  • Storage units
  • Satellite radio
  • Gym memberships
  • Credit card rates

Home and/or car insurance is something that most of us renew automatically every year. We tend to use the same company without thinking about it. After all, the insurer makes a big deal about all the discounts we’re getting. But even if you called around and got a great deal a few years ago, companies tend to jack up rates over time (they know we’re lazy and will usually stay with the same firm). And some companies offer excellent rates for 30-somethings but are at the bottom of the pack when you get older. Call around for rates, or try Policy Genius, an app that will do the job for you for free.

Save for Your Emergency Fund

You may have drawn down your emergency fund over the last few months. If you can, start to work on building cash back up. Even if it’s a small amount per month, tuck away money for the next rainy day. Emergencies will happen when you least expect them, including when you just ran through your last dollar of rainy-day funds. Try to have something saved up that you don’t touch to cover life’s little (and big) surprises. 

Continue To Work

For those who have the choice, continuing to work may be a good option. “Near-retirees may want to reconsider moving forward with retirement during such a volatile market,” says Jeffrey Burg, president of Phoenix-based financial advisory firm AlphaTrust Advisors. “It doesn’t matter what order your portfolio returns come in when you’re saving, but it significantly impacts your port-folio’s overall value when you start withdrawing.” 

Burg is referring to the risk that sequence of return brings to your nest egg when you retire. A down market right when you start withdrawing retirement funds for income can severely affect how much you’ll have in later years, much more so than a down market earlier or later would affect that number. If negative returns occur early in your retirement, the amount of income you can withdraw over your lifetime is affected to the downside. 

We all have had to make adjustments due to the pandemic. Some of us have been hit a lot harder than others. It’s a time of adjustment and reassessment, including around our retirement portfoli-os. Staying financially stable is always a balancing act, and it may be particularly difficult now. But there are steps you can take to tighten spending and make sure your nest egg is allocated to stay the course. 

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Enjoy the (Cold) Outdoors!

When the holidays are over and winter deepens, how can we stay safe and still find fun things to do? We’ve got ideas for you!

Cabin fever. We’ve all got it. But we still want to stay safe and protect vulnerable loved ones. What can you do outside besides bury your sorrows in a party-size bag of M&M’s? As it turns out, quite a bit!

Saving Money on Winter Clothes

You can drop $300 on a full-price winter jacket at hip Patagonia, or you can comb eBay (or Craigslist, Poshmark, or Facebook Marketplace) for a preowned down coat that will set you back about $25. Snow bibs or pants will garner similar savings. Or hunt down outerwear at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store. As with any good treasure hunt, you can’t just go once and think you’ll hit the jackpot; the more visits, the better your chances of finding something that fits the bill. For greater savings, check for senior discounts and half-price deals. 

First, you’ve got to dress the part. Item No. 1: a down- or poly-filled coat with hood. For down, an 850 fill rating is amazing, but old timers in cold country know that layering is key. Avoid cotton, which will stay wet if you sweat and chill you to the bone. Instead, opt for merino wool or polyester for your first layer. Embrace long underwear for your first bottom layer. After that, you can add fleece or a wool sweater, or more layers of polyester (which will stink more than wool if you sweat, but wicks away moisture). Wear socks: wool or polyester. Two layers are fine, or get a pair of knee-high ski socks. Ski pants work well for your top layer; they’re waterproof and insulated. Don’t forget gloves and a wool or polyester hat that covers your ears! Ready, set, go:

  • Check your local restaurant scene online to find out who’s still serving outdoors in the chill. If the place has heat lamps, it’s worth a try! Bring along a fat down blanket for your legs, and tuck some hand or boot warmers in your footwear. It’s guaranteed the beverages will be frosty and delicious!
  • A walk in the woods, anyone? Lots of sports shops (such as REI) rent snowshoes. If you know how to walk, you know how to snowshoe! Pick a groomed trail for starters, where the snow will be packed down. For extra fun, wear a headlamp (about $25 at a recreation store) and hit the trail in the dark, or when the moon is full. Pack hot chocolate in a thermos and slip it into your backpack for a treat at the end of the trail or when you get back to your car. 
  • Go Nordic for a day. Cross-country skiing (also called Nordic skiing) is great exercise. Look for a trail nearby with plenty of snow, or find a Nordic ski area near you. It will have groomed trails that are rated for ease or difficulty, with tracks from skiers before you that make it a snap to follow along. The sliding motion is simple for beginners to pick up in a few minutes. Hills are just a bit trickier, but you can opt to stay on the flat. 
  • Sledding! If you thought you were too old, think again. You do not have to careen down Widowmaker Hill. All you need is enough slant to get you going in a gentle slide, perhaps with a grandchild on your lap. That hot cocoa will be waiting for you back in the car.
  • Ice skating is not just for those under 50. Many communities have a local outdoor rink or frozen pond or lake. (Make SURE you know the ice across the entire surface will support your weight; don’t take chances!) There is nothing wrong with holding on to the side all the way around, or using one of those boxes you push along to stand up. Be the cool Granny (or Grandpa!) who is willing to look silly while learning something new.
  • Stroll through the cemetery. Most towns maintain cemetery roads through the dead (pun intended) of winter. Enjoy a new view while you wind your way through the graves. Many of these now offer an app that provides a map, along with stories of the people buried there, for a personal walk through history.
  • Go on a walking tour. You may have to self-guide, but many historical societies are happy to provide a map and information about local sites (or check for an online app). It can be fun just to critique the architecture in a new part of town.
  • Check out a history park. Many cities have living history farms/homes to show the public what life looked like many years ago. Oftentimes you can stroll around, peeking in a barn or walking through a vintage home. It’s easy to see if anyone else is inside, and to turn your attention to something else outside while waiting your turn. 
  • Botanical gardens can be glorious in the winter with a dusting of fresh snow! It’s a completely different experience than in the lushness of a verdant spring or summer visit. You may find yourself preferring the quiet, when all you can hear is the crunch of snow as you make your way along paths nearly empty of other people.
  • Zoos and wildlife sanctuaries are still open, and offer an experience that is a great break from the day-to-day. Wolves, polar bears and sea lions are a few of the animals that are great fans of the cold and fun to watch in the depths of winter. Go when it opens or late in the day to catch animals at their most active. (Hot tip: Keenesburg, Colorado is home to the 789-acre Wild Animal Sanctuary with more than 600 rescued lions, tigers, bears and wolves in large, natural habitats that you view from a 1.5 mile elevated walkway - superb!).
Great stuff for all those days you are dying to get out of the house, right? But what about the friends you’d like to have over? You might be surprised to find you can entertain them outside, courtesy of the modern patio heat lamp. There are a bevy of options: gas, electric, butane and infrared. Check out this outdoor patio heater review to start your research. 

Finally, you can embrace the cold by setting up a copycat Las Vegas Ice Bar experience for your friends. Chill some glasses in the freezer and remind them that the real thing charges $35 for the experience! 

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Hands-Off at the Grocery Store

The coronavirus is pushing contactless technology forward, changing how many consumers shop for groceries — and who touches them. 

Everybody needs groceries, but we want to be able to get in and out of the store quickly. And increasingly, we’d prefer to avoid contact with anyone else, including cashiers. The coronavirus is pushing us to change the way we shop. Smart technology has been at the supermarket for a few years, but there is more adoption by customers these days. 

Contactless Payment Is on the Rise

Retailers across the product spectrum have noted an uptick in the use of contactless payment systems, including Apple Pay. Grocery purveyors Publix, Kroger and Walmart are promoting proprietary systems that avoid touch. And according to a survey conducted by Mastercard, slightly more than half of Americans are using a form of contactless payment such as tap cards that don’t have to be inserted into a machine to make payment. 

Mobile Tech

Consumers are notoriously resistant to changing their habits. That’s why using a smartphone to scan our own groceries as we toss them in the buggy has lagged, even though warehouses like Sam’s Club has had the tech in place since before COVID-19 arrived. Company execs say use of the Scan & Go app has quadrupled in recent months, as consumers seek to avoid germs and complete shopping more quickly. Meanwhile, King Sooper’s parent company, Kroger, is beefing up its Scan, Bag, Go platform. And Wegman’s has moved up the release date for its new SCAN service and plans to roll it out to more locations than originally planned. Finally, Associated Wholesale Grocers has begun to introduce scan-and-go systems at its retail warehouse stores.

The technology didn’t start off with a bang. Retailers and consumers alike gave it a lukewarm reception at its debut. In response, Kroger has let its program sit without updates for more than two years (although that’s changing now), and behemoth Walmart put the nix on its Scan & Go system back in 2018, saying it wasn’t getting much use. Shoppers thought scanning every item felt like additional work, especially those getting a big load of products. Then COVID-19 hit.

Mobile systems allow shoppers to hit the trifecta of less contact with checkout counters/clerks, less time spent indoors with other people, and more quickly completing a burdensome chore. 

Smart Carts

Cashing in on a market that is projected to grow to over $3 billion a year by 2025, Amazon has introduced a smart shopping cart to improve on the customer experience by avoiding the checkout line. Shoppers needing just a bag or two of groceries can enter the company’s Woodland Hills, California location and grab a Dash Cart. Though it looks like an ordinary small, plastic grocery cart with a display near the handle, it uses integrated cameras, sensors and a scale to automatically keep track of what customers are putting in and how much each item costs. 

“We built this predominantly as an alternative to things like express checkout, where you still end up waiting in line, or fumbling with self-checkout machines,” said Dilip Kumar, Amazon’s vice president of physical retail and technology. “The experience will be designed to be seamless, very convenient, very easy for customers to understand.”

Customers scan their Amazon app to get a Dash Cart, then load it with up to two bags’ worth of groceries. Produce has to be weighed and the 4- or 5-digit identifying number entered. The cart “knows” if something is removed and put back on a shelf. When customers are done, they exit through a special Dash Cart lane, where the credit card associated with each consumer’s account is automatically charged. 


Retailers outside of the grocery space are eyeing the carts, but there are some caveats. Highest on the list may be cost: a traditional buggy runs about $70, while smart carts set a store budget back in the neighborhood of $5,000 apiece, before maintenance. The consumer also hasn’t yet adopted this new technology, which traditionally has a lag time before it takes off. Finally, there’s the issue of information gathering. If I buy Crafty Canine dog food this week, will I get ads for Dodgy Dog Biscuits the next? It’s possible “in theory” according to Kumar, but “the focus of the cart is to be able to generate accurate receipts and make sure that we save customers time.”

The focus may also be looking at cost, in spite of that hefty price tag. The human beings who check out customers often earn pensions, 401(k) matches, sick time, vacation pay and the like. Over time, the cost of the carts will likely go down as they are widely adopted by retailers. Checkout clerks may eventually go the way of switchboard operators.

Still, a bevy of companies are vying to put their carts in American stores. Israel-based Tracxpoint started shipping its product to North America over the summer, touting a 15-minute reduction in time spent shopping when its carts are used. Veeve is another player in the smart cart space, with pilots at two grocers and ongoing talks with a pair of other retailers. 

As the pandemic subsides, will the habits of consumers have changed enough to continue to push smart cart technology forward? Only time will tell, but it’s more likely than not that large retailers will embrace this new way of shopping and consumers will become used to the carts. Can the day be far on the horizon when you toss a bag of cookies in the cart and it talks back, asking if you really want those empty calories?

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, December 7, 2020

You’re Never Too Old for Art

Chavez demonstrates for students in the Lake Tahoe area at a workshop sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Pastel Society in California

The experience of one Colorado artist shows that older adults are flocking to art classes for fun and fulfillment.

On a recent fall morning in a booming suburb located on an old settler’s trail between Pike’s Peak to the south and Denver to the north, acclaimed artist Lorenzo Chavez was outdoors, painting a demo for the scant handful of students that COVID-19 regulations would allow in his class. In spite of their masks and wide-brimmed hats to block the intense sun a mile above sea level, a lot of gray hair and wrinkles were visible in the group. 

Older Students are the Norm

“The vast majority of my students are retired,” Chavez says of his plein air, or outdoor, landscape classes that are offered through a collaboration between the local Parker Arts Center and the Art Students League of Denver. “Most of them are 60 to 70 years old. A big segment have dabbled in art in their younger years.”

Chavez began his teaching career decades ago in his early 30s. Even then, he recalls, “most of my students were older than me.” An internationally acclaimed painter of western landscapes, Chavez has an affable demeanor and admirable patience, qualities that, along with his expertise, fill his classes as soon as they open. He chats with students as they arrive, and assists with concerns over everything from how to set up pastel colors (cool colors on one side, warm on the other) to the best sources for paper and frames. 

His acolytes are from all levels and walks of life — doctors, scientists, receptionists, attorneys, the unemployed and a state senator have all come under his guidance. Once, Chavez even taught actor Gene Hackman, who had studied art before getting into acting. Hackman continued a life-long passion for painting, one that he could indulge more as he got older. 

A local artist invited Chavez to teach a class on her property in Durango, Colorado.

Which Medium Should I Pick?

Every method of painting has its adherents, and it can be confusing trying to pick one to start with. Of course, if the only instructor in your neck of the woods works in watercolor, the choice may be made for you. But if you’ve got choices, here’s a quick rundown on some pros and cons:

Acrylic paint dries fast and washes clean with water. It’s generally cheaper than oil paint, and works well with a variety of inexpensive canvases.
Pastels are about $1 to $6 apiece for the quality “soft” pieces you’ll want to buy from an art store. You can save money by purchasing them in a set. No brushes needed, but you’ll use special, textured paper that grabs and holds the color. Wear disposable gloves or wash hands with soap and water for cleanup.
Oil paint takes days to dry and can get expensive, but it’s the classic medium for gallery art. Start with just a few good brushes and moderately priced boards or canvas. Cleanup requires turpenoid, or essential oils that have come back into vogue. 

Water-soluble oils take the hassle out of cleanup: just use soap and water.
Watercolor paints run about $9 to $25 a tube, but a beginner can buy a much cheaper set of pan paints and get started. A wide array of effects are possible, since this medium is made for transparency, and is often splashed, salted and overlapped for effect.

Beginners should buy the least amount of tools needed to get started. Get advice from your instructor, or from online sources. A couple of quality brushes are better than ten bad ones. Use turpenoid or other solvents only in ventilated areas. Chelsea Classical Studio offers lavender and orange essential oil solvents as replacements through retailers such as Jerry’s Artarama Art Supplies and Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. Finally, pigment is evolving away from potentially toxic cadmiums. Although they should be quite safe if used with care, it’s easy to find cadmium-free alternatives these days. 

Just Do It

Whoever they may be, Chavez takes his students as they come. Some are already accomplished, and others are just beginning, but you can’t tell which is which by their age. “I hear a lot of, ‘Oh, I wish I’d started 20 years ago!’” Chavez says with a smile. “But you start when you start.”

Recently, Chavez got a call from a prominent local businessman who is an octogenarian. He’d “never painted in his life” but he wanted to complete a work in oils. Would Chavez come to his office and help mentor him? After getting the required materials together, Chavez drove out to meet his newest student. What was his reason for wanting to start painting now, Chavez asked the man. “I want to do this to show my grandkids that it’s never too late to do something new,” he replied. 

Chavez has made a name for himself through many years in the field. In the 80s, he began land-scape painting in oils, capturing the red cliffs and hardy junipers of his native Southwest. He switched to using pastels sometime around 1990 to distinguish himself from the herd, since there weren’t a lot of artists using them at the time. “I created my own tools,” he says. “It was an adventure into the unknown.” Then he picked up oil again after a move to misty Oregon. “Rainy days didn’t lend themselves to painting with pastels, so I switched back to oils,” he recalls. Besides, oils “opened a new door that was exciting.” 

Where to Find Classes

Chavez has taught all across the country, and he’s brimming with suggestions about where to find classes locally. Here are his suggestions:

  • Local art center
  • Local community center
  • Local art schools
  • Art societies, such as those for watercolor or oil painting
  • Local galleries may offer a workshop
  • Private local studio
  • Local art museum may sponsor an artist workshop
  • Online demo lectures
  • Online critique service

A workshop schedule and online services for Chavez can be found online.  YouTube offers innumerable free demonstrations.

The owner of an art store in Santa Fe, New Mexico invited Chavez to teach a workshop.

You Could Be Famous! (Probably Not)

Recently, Chavez ran across an old Life magazine from the 60s. On the cover was Grandma Moses, celebrating her 100th birthday. She became famous for her paintings in spite of never having touched a brush until she was 70. Moses picked up painting for fun, as a hobby. Her works are now coveted museum pieces, and in 2006 her piece entitled “Sugaring Off” sold for $1.2 million. 

Life magazine cover featuring the indelible Grandma Moses at age 100.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush began painting in 2012, at the age of 63. He set up an art studio in a former home office, a room his wife, Laura, began referring to as his “man cave.” At first, the paintings had random subjects, such as Bush’s toes sticking out over the edge of the bathtub and random dogs. But fast-forward four years later, and Bush was turning out sophisticated portraits of world leaders (the 24 portraits hang in his presidential library) and war veterans (which he promoted with a tour). Dallas artist Gail Norfleet has tutored Bush from the beginning, remarking that he wasn’t her most talented student, but he was the most persistent.

Most of us will never tour with a show of our works, and the greatest praise our art ever receives may come from adoring grandchildren with a mermaid or Spiderman painting done by Grandma or Grandpa taped to their bedroom wall. But who cares? Start when you’re old, not in spite of your age, but because of it. It’s never too late to learn something new. 

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


All photos featuring Lorenzo Chavez are the property of the artist and used with his permission.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

December 2 - Dennis Christopher, actor

Born Dennis Carrelli in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dennis Christopher gained fame through a chance encounter with famed filmmaker Frederico Fellini. Fellini was filming in Rome in 1972 when the two met by accident, leading to Fellini casting Christopher as a hippie in his film Roma. Christopher then detoured to fashion design as an assistant to the renowned Halston before earning fame as Dave Stohler in the 1979 film Breaking Away

The role earned the 24-year-old the BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer and the Youth in Film Award for Best Juvenile Actor in a Motion Picture, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. After that, the actor was inundated with offers and played in many films such as Chariots of Fire, It, Fade to Black and A Wedding, as well as many roles made for the small screen.

But it was while working with Quentin Tarantino on Django Unchained (2012) that Christopher says his career, and life, improved. He discovered that the screenplay had been rewritten specifically to include him (he plays Leonide Moguy) and that Tarantino told him he had watched every one of the 40 lifetime films Christopher had appeared in the week it was released. Such high esteem continued on set, and Christopher admits that “a lot of my idea of happiness comes from working on this film.”

Image Source: Wikipedia

December 4 - Cassandra Wilson, jazz singer

With her deep contralto vocals, Cassandra Wilson has moved successfully from blues to country with accents of folk music. Wilson took off for the bright lights of NYC in 1982 and never looked back, becoming an integral part of M-Base with Steve Coleman, who expanded her repertoire beyond jazz. She became a songwriter and later a producer while singing and touring with the likes of Henry Threadgill, Miles Davis and Ellis Marsalis. 

It’s no surprise Wilson became a musician; father Herman Fowlkes, Jr., played guitar and bass while teaching music and listening to jazz. Wilson’s mother held a PhD in education and favored Motown hits. She grew up studying piano and added clarinet in middle school before learning guitar on her own. In high school, she added acting to her talents, with a starring role in The Wizard of Oz in a newly desegregated Mississippi school system.

Wilson’s solo career began in 1986, but it really heated up when, in 1993, she signed with Blue Note Records and broke through to vastly larger audiences. Starting at this time, she recorded songs as diverse as Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow.”

Image Source: Wikipedia

December 26 - Evan Bayh, politician

A lawyer, lobbyist, and former U.S. Senator, Birch Evans Bayh III was once in contention with Joe Biden to become Barack Obama’s pick for vice president. Wildly popular in his home state of Indiana, Bayh first held public office as the Secretary of State of Indiana in 1986. A short two years later, he was elected Governor. When he was term limited out after two cycles, he briefly taught at Indiana University Bloomington before winning election to Congress as a Senator.

Young Bayh was born into politics; his father, Birch Bayh Jr., was a U.S. Senator for almost two decades before meeting defeat at the hands of future Vice President Dan Quayle. In fact, the younger Bayh grew up attending school in our nation’s capitol before graduating with a B.S. from Indiana University Bloomington. He then went to the University of Virginia School of Law and graduated with his Juris Doctor degree in 1981. 

Bayh, a democrat, had centrist leanings and, along with John McCain, was an early supporter of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq. The senator also helped bail out the banks in the aftermath of the 2008 recession when Fed chair Ben Bernanke warned “the sky would collapse if the banks weren’t rescued.”

Like most members and former members of Congress, Bayh is a multimillionaire. His financial position isn’t hurt by his wife, Susan Bayh, who was a law professor and serves on a number of corporate boards. The couple have twin sons born in 1995.

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, November 30, 2020

Iron Levels Key to Longevity and Health

A new study revealed that iron levels could be an important factor to slow aging, and more often isn’t better.

Remember when Lawrence Welk pushed Geritol during every dance and orchestra break on his TV show? The audience was led to believe that Geritol (a combination of alcohol, B vitamins and iron) would wash away fatigue and make them happy. It turns out that taking iron supplements is unnecessary unless you have anemia, and taking too much iron has serious consequences, including dangers to the heart. While the makers of Geritol got hit with the largest fine in FTC history, more recent research discloses another way iron levels affect our aging bodies.

Don’t Take Iron with These Medications

Certain drugs bind with iron in the stomach, rendering the drugs less effective or ineffective. Therefore, do not take iron two hours before or after taking these drugs. The following list may be incomplete; check with your doctor if you are taking iron supplements.

  • Antibiotics (Cipro, Penetrex, Zagam, Trovan, Raxar, and tetracyline antibiotics)
  • Biophosonates (Fosomax, Didronel, Actonel, Skelid)
  • Levodopa
  • Levothyroxine
  • Methyldopa (Aldomet)
  • Mycophenolate Mofetil (CellCept)
  • Penicillamine (Cuprimine, Depen)

Cast Iron Cookware Adds Iron

Cooking in a cast iron skillet or pot can add substantial amounts of iron to food. Acidic foods that are high in moisture, such as applesauce and spaghetti sauce, absorb the most iron. One recent study found that the iron level in spaghetti sauce was nearly ten times higher after being cooked in a cast iron pot. A longer cooking time, stirring often, and a newer iron skillet or pot all increase iron levels more with any food. 

Scientists Find Link Between Iron and Aging

A recent study, which looked at genetic information obtained from more than a million people, found that maintaining the correct levels of iron in blood could be the answer to healthier aging and a longer life. A research team of international scientists based at the University of Edinburgh and the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Germany examined a trio of measures linked to biological aging: lifespan (length of life), health span (years of disease-free life) and longevity (living a very long life). 

“We are very excited by these findings as they strongly suggest that high levels of iron in the blood reduces our healthy years of life, and keeping these levels in check could prevent age-related damage,” commented research lead Paul Timmers, Ph.D., from the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh. “We speculate that our findings on iron metabolism might also start to explain why very high levels of iron-rich red meat in the diet has been linked to age-related conditions such as heart disease.”

Iron and Genes

The results of the study pointed to three traits that were linked by genes. “Genetic correlations between publicly available health span, parental lifespan, and longevity reveal these traits share 50% or more of their underlying genetics,” the scientists said. “Ten regions are of particular interest as they associate with all three aging traits and are, as such, likely candidates to capture intrinsic aging processes, rather than extrinsic sources of aging.”

When they looked more closely, researchers discovered that gene sets linked to iron were overrepresented in all three measures of aging. They used a statistical method called Mendelian randomization (MR) to find that genes governing the metabolization of iron in the blood are partly in charge of health and longevity. “… In line with the highlighted pathways, we find a causal role for iron levels in healthy life in an MR framework,” the scientists wrote. And although the study had a number of limiting factors, the researchers concluded that “… the strong signal for heme (a compound that contains iron) metabolism, in combination with the MR results, suggests the evidence for the involvement of this pathway in human aging is reasonably robust.”

Iron Levels Affect the Body

Diet affects iron levels, and unusually high or low amounts have long been associated with Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and the ability to fight off infection. “Heme synthesis declines with age and its deficiency leads to iron accumulation, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction,” the researchers further noted. “In turn, iron accumulation helps pathogens to sustain an infection, which is in line with the known increase in infection susceptibility with age. In the brain, abnormal iron homeostasis is commonly seen in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.” In fact, other research has found a relationship between iron accumulation and early death, liver disease, osteoarthritis and systemic inflammation. 

One hope is that the study will lead to development of a drug that will improve iron metabolism by mimicking desirable genetic control to overcome certain effects of aging. Therapeutic targets that can reduce the burden of age-related diseases, extend the healthy years of life, and increase the chances of becoming long lived without long periods of morbidity,” the scientists concluded.

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, November 19, 2020

How to Talk to Parents About Their Finances

Most American families don’t like to talk about money, but as parents age it becomes a crucial conversation.

Most older adults will need some type of long-term care in their lives, but 85% of the decisions about it are made during a time of medical crisis. One in seven Americans over age 70 has dementia. One in four deaths is the result of a heart attack. And yet most adults would rather discuss sex with their children than talk about aging with their parents. 

The result is that parents can become debilitated or die without their children knowing how, or being able, to access money to pay for their care. Children may also wonder if they’ll be responsible for paying for care, with adult children contributing an average of $10,000 per year in the 50% of cases where nursing home costs are borne by families. 

It’s important for children to have conversations about money with their parents before anything happens to them so that when and if something does, everyone will be as prepared as possible. How can you start the conversation, and what should you talk about? It will be different for everyone, but here are some guidelines to get you started.


The Eldercare Locator or 800-677-1116 is the first step to finding resources for older adults in any U.S. community. It is a free national service of the Administration on Aging that provides an instant connection to resources that enable older persons to live independently in their communities and offers support for caregivers.

Another excellent resource is the book Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations With Your Parents About Their Finances by Cameron Huddleston. Or read her article for ten tips from the book about how to approach the conversation

Create a Time to Talk

Find a time that is relatively stress-free. Your parents may be very reluctant to talk about money and could even feel threatened that you want to take over the nest egg they’ve spent their lives building up. It’s better to ask when a good time would be than announce at Thanksgiving dinner that you need to know how to access their bank accounts. If siblings need to be included, either arrange a time when you can get together, have a Zoom meeting or FaceTime call, or share information later. A day after a holiday celebration is better than before or during the event. And three shorter conversations are better than one marathon session.

If you don’t know what shape their retirement savings are in, you could start by asking them how they managed to save (a 401(k) or pension?) and ask them how much they think you should be putting away. By asking for advice, you can make it more of a conversation about “us” than “them.” It’s easy to lose track of pension benefits with a job change. Check the government’s “finding a lost pension” database to make sure a benefit hasn’t been overlooked. 

Documents and Professionals

Do they have important documents drawn up and do you know where they are? You should know where to find important information such as a will, titles to property, insurance policies, powers of attorney, advanced directives such as a living will, mortgages, tax returns, financial account information, military records, and marriage and birth certificates. 

It’s best if an adult child or trusted professional or friend of the older adult has a general durable power of attorney (DPOA), which authorizes that person to handle finances, legal issues and health care on behalf of another person. The “durable” is important; the power of attorney will stay in effect if the person becomes incapacitated (verified by a doctor), such as from illness or an accident. These documents vary by state, and they’re not recognized by the Social Security Administration, which requires the establishment of a representative payee — a person or organization that receives benefits for someone who can’t manage or direct the management of their own account.

Your parents may have copies of all these documents with their attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent, accountant and/or banker. Get names and numbers for these professionals so you can access information. If your parents have a bank deposit box, the only way for someone else to access it may be with the key. Keep the key in one place, note its location on paperwork and tell family members where to find it. Having a DPOA also listed on the account can make it a lot easier if the holder is suddenly incapacitated.

Business Settlement

If your parents run a business, the family should be informed about what they’d like to have happen with it when they’re gone. This should be an ongoing discussion that takes place over many meetings and many years, especially if it’s a large company with employees. Will someone be able to take it over? Will it be sold and the proceeds divided? Is there a plan to transfer it to employees? Succession planning is complex and should involve a professional to ensure that, for example, payment will revert to a spouse upon the owner’s death. Even a much smaller concern will need discussion, i.e. how to turn off the eBay store. 

Computer Access

Depending on how computer savvy your parents are, you may need a password to the computer itself and/or financial accounts. It may be preferable to be placed on the account as a joint holder or attorney-in-fact. Discuss this with your parents and their financial professional. 

Financial Fraud

Unfortunately, scamming older adults is big business. Billions of dollars go to these thieves, who have duped even the savviest targets. Give your parents a list of common scams, or point them to the FBI’s list of top scams and crimes. If someone calls your parents saying they are a friend of the family who needs money to get their grandson out of a ticket/jam, or if someone calls to verify bank account or Social Security numbers, your parents need to know they should hang up. Let them know that you are always available to offer an opinion, and to call you first if they have the slightest suspicion. If they do get caught in a financial scam, keep calm and help them contact the Justice Department’s Consumer Fraud Division to report it and obtain resources. 

Work with Your Siblings

If you need to step in with financial help for your parents, work with your siblings to come up with a plan. Contact Medicaid to see if your parents qualify for the assistance offered by this federal health care program. The site also has information regarding a veteran’s pension. If either of your parents was in the military (even if only one was and that person has died), check to see if their income and assets qualify them for the pension. Low-income veterans may also merit help with daily activities or assisted living via the Aid and Assistance benefit. Beware of fraud against veterans; it’s unfortunately a common occurrence. 

You might also want to investigate a reverse mortgage if your parents have home equity but want to stay in their home. Check with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regarding your parents’ responsibilities before making a decision.

Perhaps the most important thing about these talks is to think of them as mutual exchanges of information. Approach them with love and calm, and don’t get upset if your parents need some time to share much of their information, or prefer to tell you, for example, that they are on sound financial footing rather than to give you specifics about each account. A tiny bit of progress with a smile is better than pushing too hard and having bad feelings.

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

State-by-State Guide

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

What About Residents With No Family?

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

Phone Chains

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

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

Different Meal

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

Photo Album

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

Window Visit

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

Snail Mail

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


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

Plants and Animals

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

Send a Caregiver

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


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

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

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors