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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Can a Sniff Test Rule out Alzheimer’s?

Researchers have discovered that a simple sniff test, when combined with brief cognitive exams, can help predict a low likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.

Scientists have known for years that the olfactory bulb, responsible for transmitting smell information from the nose to the brain, is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. That’s why people with early-stage Alzheimer’s often lose the ability to distinguish odors before memory symptoms get noticed.

A new study from Columbia University Irving Medical Center has found that performing well on a sniff test can help predict which patients with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer’s. While clinicians currently use cognitive exams to screen for dementia, patients with mild cognitive impairment often follow up with difficult and costly diagnostic procedures. However, combining a simple cognitive screening with the odor test was highly predictive of which individuals developed Alzheimer’s later on.

"No one has looked previously at whether performing well on both the odor identification test and global cognitive performance tests is better at predicting a low risk of cognitive decline or development of Alzheimer's disease," says D. P. Devanand, MBBS, MD, lead author of the paper, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. "If we could accurately identify individuals who are unlikely to experience cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease, we would reduce the need for unnecessary diagnostic investigation with PET imaging and lumbar puncture, which can be cumbersome and expensive, and improve selection of patients for clinical trials, including possibly prevention trials."

Study Framework

Participants in the study had mild cognitive impairment without dementia. The 749 older adults finished a brief cognitive screening test and a smell identification test of 40 items. Follow-up occurred over a four-year period when they were monitored for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementias. During that time, 109 individuals were diagnosed with a dementia, mostly Alzheimer’s.

Take the Smell Test at Home

You can take the complete 40-item Smell Identification Test at home for under $30. Sensonics International offers the test with a scoring key and “norms from nearly 4,000 men and women spanning the entire age range” to provide a comparison basis.

The company notes the test can be self-administered in only 10-15 minutes. The kit itself is made up of four booklets, each with 10 micro-encapsulated (scratch and sniff) odors. This is the authentic test developed at the University of Pennsylvania with funding from the National Institutes of Health. The minimum quantity to order is seven, but at a cost of $26.95 you could share with friends and family. Each kit is guaranteed accurate within six months of manufacturing.

20 or More Employees

An overwhelming 96.5% of the participants who performed well on both tests failed to develop dementia during the follow-up period. The findings indicate that older adults into their mid-80s who are unimpaired on the two brief tests are very unlikely to develop dementia.

Currently, Alzheimer’s can only be detected in its later stages of development, when significant damage has already occurred. PET scans to detect beta amyloid plaque buildup in the brain are expensive. Beta amyloid can also be detected in cerebrospinal fluid via a lumbar puncture.

“Using other biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease to detect the disease at an earlier stage—which have the potential to be lower-cost and non-invasive—could lead to dramatic improvements in early detection and management of the disease,” says Heather Snyder, Ph.D., director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Smell Test

Researchers have administered smell tests with as little as five odors. In that test of nearly 3,000 adults, participants had to identify the odors of peppermint (easiest), fish, orange, rose and leather (hardest). Five years later, the results found that older adults with “olfactory dysfunction” (those unable to correctly identify at least 4 out of 5 odors at baseline) had double the chance of developing dementia within the five years following the test.

“We think a decline in the ability to smell, specifically, but also sensory function more broadly, may be an important early sign, marking people at greater risk for dementia,” says senior author Jayant M. Pinto, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago. “These results show that the sense of smell is closely connected with brain function and health.”

Predicting memory loss is still an obscure science. The smell test can help predict an individual’s risk of cognitive decline, but unlike other methods, it can’t say whether that loss is from Alzheimer’s or another neurodegenerative disease. Family history and genetic factors may weigh in on the need for further evaluations. Even something like smoking can alter test results.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Can You Roll Over Your IRA to Avoid Tax?

A little-known provision often allows those working past 72 to delay required minimum distributions. 

More and more Americans are working later in life, either because they have to or choose to do so. Perhaps you would like a little extra pocket money. Maybe you just got bored with retirement, or missed the intellectual and social stimulation of being on the job. Or it could be that you find Social Security doesn’t stretch as far as you thought it would. Whatever the reason for being employed, you may benefit from rolling your traditional individual retirement account (IRA) into your employer’s 401(k) to delay required minimum distributions (RMDs).

The information below is not intended as tax or retirement fund advice. Please speak to a professional advisor before taking any action with money in a retirement plan. He or she may have a different or better strategy for your particular situation.

How to Roll Over Your IRA

When you are playing with money the IRS is interested in, you have to play by the rules. There are strict provisions governing how you can roll over an IRA to another account, and you want to make sure and follow them. If your IRA is at a custodial firm (such as a brokerage), people there should be able to help you. Ideally, the transfer can be made directly over to the new plan and you will not have to touch the money or have your name on the check.

That said, here are the five steps for a rollover:

  1. Decide which account the money is going to.
  2. Make sure the account is set up to accept your funds.
  3. Contact the institution that is holding your funds.
  4. Confirm the procedure to transfer the money. 
  5. Remember you only have 60 days to complete the transfer.

For a more complete transfer explanation, go here.

Required Minimum Distributions

Normally, when you turn 72 (prior to 2020, the age was 70.5) you are required to take RMDs from your traditional IRA or face stiff penalties from Uncle Sam. But if you are working at that age and there is a 401(k) plan available, you can likely put off those withdrawals. Most plans allow you to roll over your traditional IRA (you have already paid taxes on a Roth IRA so they are not subject to RMDs) into the 401(k). Be sure to check if your plan allows a rollover.

You may wonder how much required distributions will be. There is a somewhat complicated formula for determining the amount, but it is easy to use an RMD calculator to figure out what yours will be. The calculator works even if you are not retired yet, and it displays numbers for even the longest-lived among us.

The government has waited years, or often decades, while money that you invested tax-free has accumulated in a traditional IRA. To boost your retirement nest egg, the IRS looks the other way while your money gathers dividends, interest, capital gains and the like. Nice! But the downside is that later on the government expects to get a payoff in the form of ordinary taxes. And woe unto you if you don’t pay up!

Miss an RMD and the government will remind you the penalty is an extra 50% on that shortfall. Maybe you forgot to take it in time, or you got the math wrong, or perhaps you took your RMD out of your spouse’s account. It is a big hit. However, if it is an honest mistake and you move to correct it immediately, the IRS may smile down on you and waive the fee. Read this tutorial and file form 5329.

Delaying RMDs

The IRS allows those with 401(k) and other qualified retirement plans such as a 403(b) or 457 to put off RMDs while they are working. If you do not need the full RMD amount for expenses, this allows you to delay taking funds out of a tax-advantaged account and paying taxes on that money as regular income. You can also roll the money back into an IRA later on if you would like.

It can also be a sweet deal for those who want to do a mega backdoor Roth IRA conversion as well. You may be able to avoid complexities and potential tax events by eliminating any money in a traditional, SIMPLE or SEP IRA before converting. Go here to learn more about this strategy to pay tax on your retirement funds once and then never again.

One caveat to remember is that you should evaluate the expenses in your 401(k) plan offerings. Some 401(k) investments may be so expensive that the benefit of avoiding tax may be nullified or even present a better alternative. It is essential to have a competent professional review your plan to make sure you are following the best alternative.

Finally, if you own at least 5% of the company that you are working for, you will not be able to roll your money into the 401(k) plan. That is just what the IRS says.

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


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Five Warm Spots to Go to Now!

When the thermometer drops, sunny spots beckon.

Brrrrr! Every February can feel colder than the one before when you are an older adult. Thoughts of sunny skies, warm breezes and going barefoot dance in your head as you dread the thought of stepping out into the snowy, wind-whipped outdoors where you actually are. Why not get away somewhere truly warm this year?

There are plenty of spots in the U.S. that offer pleasing temperatures and plenty to do, even if that is sitting in a hammock reading a good book as far as you are concerned. And it does not need to cost a bundle, either. Find an Airbnb retreat, or use Uber instead of renting a car. Better yet, stay where the amenities are within walking distance.

Even seasoned travelers can find a new destination to explore on this list of assorted spots that kick up the temperature at the end of winter!

Best Low-Cost Airlines in North America

If you are looking to get a good deal on airfare (and who isn’t?), be sure to check out these carriers ranked the best on World Airline Awards.
  1. Southwest Airlines
  2. WestJet
  3. Air Canada Rouge
  4. Spirit Airlines
  5. Frontier Airlines
  6. Volaris
  7. Interjet
  8. Sun Country Airlines
  9. Allegiant Air
  10. Viva Aerobus

1.  Orlando, Florida

You may think Orlando is only for kids, but you’re mistaken. Places like Disney World cater to baby boomers with entertainment and a variety of cultural food choices. Check out the World Showcase exhibit at Epcot park for international shows, then fill yourself with French cuisine at Be Our Guest, or indulge your German taste buds (and save a bundle!) by downing a bratwurst from a cart.

An hour north, 13 miles of toasty white sand are waiting for you at uncrowded New Smyrna Beach. Not far away, the Kennedy Space Center will appeal to NASA fans and history buffs.

2.  Phoenix, Arizona

Golf enthusiasts can take their pick of more than 200 courses in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, where you can spend big bucks for luxury amenities at the Raven Golf Club or take advantage of a public course. Even newbies get a kick out of hitting a bucket of balls at one of many local ranges.

When you tire of the links, visit the Heard Museum to learn about the local tribal community, or explore the flowered paths at the Desert Botanical Garden.

3.  Palm Springs, California

A top getaway for Hollywood stars in its heyday, Palm Springs still hints at its luxurious past. Indulge in a game of golf, order another drink brought to you poolside at a historic inn or stretch your legs on a quiet desert hiking trail. Average February temperatures are a balmy 75 degrees.

And if you choose to stay on iconic Palm Canyon Drive, the main drag through town, you won’t even need to rent a car since everything — shopping, dining and sightseeing — will be in walking distance. Dial up an Uber if you want to visit the historic Palm Springs Aerial Tramway or drive down to Palm Desert.

4.  Maui, Hawaii

Airfare to the islands is expected to drop about 30 percent now that Southwest has dipped a wing in routes to Hawaii, so why not go? You could land in the bustling city of Honolulu in Oahu, or travel to the naturalist’s paradise of Kauai, but Maui is a wonderful spot between the two, literally and figuratively. You can make a day trip to Haleakalā National Park, site of a dormant volcano with amazing sunrises and sunsets. Or you are perfectly free to plop on the beach, perhaps interrupting nap time with a snorkel tour of ocean turtles and native fish. December through March is whale season, so listen for humpbacks singing underwater as you paddle about.

Those with a historic bent may want to stop by the Whaler’s Village Museum. The Hāna Highway is famous for its views of waterfalls, seashore vistas (you may catch a whale jumping out of the water) and bamboo forests.

5.  Charleston, South Carolina

Relax with some Southern charm in the city Southern Living magazine dubs the best in the region. It’s a bargain, too, with senior discounts at Fort Sumter National Monument and Gibbes Museum of Art. The average temperature of 64 degrees in February makes strolling the waterfront while passing historic mansions a delightful experience.

Walk down Rainbow Row, where you will find whimsical Georgian houses, which legend says were painted distinctive colors to help intoxicated sailors find their way home. Visit the Citadel, where cadets have trained since 1842, or look for a ghost in the reportedly haunted Battery Carriage House Inn. All of these experiences and many more are free, making Charleston an affordable getaway.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Home Security Systems

Does every older adult need to see who is at the front door? Is an alarm enough? How do the different systems rank?

We thought technology was supposed to make life simpler. Vacuum cleaners and washing machines were an easy yes. Cars have improved in reliability and safety with each passing year. Wi-Fi now is a necessity and not an option. So why is a seemingly simple thing like home security so complicated?

Part of the issue is that different companies are developing technology that may or may not play well with each other. Many older adults have welcomed a voice assistant into their home, but they may balk at learning another system. With more and more baby boomers choosing to age in place, they and their adult children may find a home security system can provide a lot of peace of mind.

Your Needs

There are a slew of systems out there. Google reviews for the various options and you will find adherents of each … and likely wind up more confused than ever. Relax. All of the systems are adequate, so it is nearly impossible to make a bad choice. Read the basics below, then check out your leading contenders online or call the company to verify specifics and ask questions regarding your needs. Here is a sample list:

  • How complicated or easy is it to install?
  • What will the basic version get me?
  • Does it “talk” to the brand of voice assistant I have?
  • Does it require a subscription?
  • How good is the camera?
  • Does it have night vision?
  • How loud is the alarm?
  • Can I talk to people at my door when I’m not at home?
  • Will it work if Wi-Fi is disabled?
  • How much does it cost for the hardware?
  • How much does it cost monthly?
  • Does it integrate with my smart home system?

Most systems have a basic version and a few upgraded models. You will have to decide how many features you want or need. Do you want every main floor window protected, or do you really just want to know if a package has been dropped off? Do you need to be able to review film from the camera, or is it enough to be able to see what is going on in real time? Do you want to be able to control the system with an Echo or other smart speaker, or will you be willing and able to download an app to access control?

Half the battle is to identify what you think you want before you start shopping. Then, you will be able to separate needs from wants and decide if you would like to incorporate any or all of the many add-ons. If you are buying the system for a parent who is quite old or has some cognitive decline, remember to consider what that person may be able to handle over the next few years or check if you can monitor the system remotely.


Google Nest. Originally a smart thermostat, Nest was acquired by Google.  The security doorbell has sharp styling and a high-definition camera with 160 degrees of view, night vision and a microphone. What makes Nest a step above is the 4:3 format that shows visitors from head to toe, regardless of how close they are to the camera. Nest works with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. It also has great video response time and clarity. Nest Aware is the video cloud storage plan.

Ring. Sporting the standard high-def camera with added night vision and microphone, Ring differentiates itself by offering rechargeable batteries so it doesn’t have to be hard-wired to your doorbell. Voice control is available via Amazon or Google assistant, but only Alexa will give you a live video feed, talk to guests, or mimic a doorbell chime on the Ring Video 2 model. Ring Protect provides cloud storage at an extra cost.

SimpliSafe. This system is perhaps the easiest to install for any do-it-yourselfer. It also has an impressively loud 105-decibel alarm that should wake your neighbors even if you are gone. There is no contract to sign; you pay from month to month starting as low as $15. This system does not have all the bells and whistles of many others, but it could be the perfect answer for monitoring a vacation home or empty rental. And its simplicity of use may actually give it a boost with older adults.

ADT.  ADT Security has been in the business a long time and they have earned their good reputation. However, they do require a lengthy 36-month contract for their professional installation and monitoring. Landline users will like the option to integrate with the ADT system.

Vivint. With medical pendant support, Vivint may be the best option for some older adults. Mobile access is available with all plans, and the base model plan does not cost an arm and a leg. However, contracts are for long periods and you have to pony up quite a sum to get a contract-free option.

Abode. Known for having a cost-free self-monitored plan, Abode also offers no-contract professional monitoring if you will be traveling out of cell service. It also works with other devices in your smart home.

Frontpoint. This newer contender does not require a contract in spite of its reputation for great customer service. However, there is no mobile access with the base plan and you may have to pay a higher monthly cost than with some other plans.

Link Interactive. Using some of the same equipment as competitor Frontpoint, Link Interactive offers a short, one-year contract and inexpensive mobile control and video monitoring options. You can also build a custom gear package by picking out exactly the equipment you want.

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

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Monday, February 10, 2020

Older Adults Knit, Sew, and Build to Help Australia’s Wildlife After Fires

Wild animals injured in the infernos that have devastated parts of Australia are getting help from older adults around the world.

Recent bushfires in Australia have been devastating to wildlife, killing at least 24 people and an estimated one billion animals as they raged across 12.35 million acres. The island continent of Australia is home to some of the most unique wildlife in the world. Koala, kangaroo, wombat, bird and bat populations have been decimated. Some animals managed to escape the blazes, but with burn injuries. Older adults have come to their aid in a big way.

Global Effort

People from all over the world have sent in woolen paw covers, pouches, wraps and even nests to assist the animals in their recovery. Young animals that have lost their parents include many, such as possums, kangaroos, bandicoots, wallabies and gliders, which normally spend their youth in a mother’s pouch. They find comfort and a feeling of safety in handmade pouches.

Older adults often provide the knitting and sewing skills necessary for these projects. Many grandmothers and grandfathers have taken the lead to teach family members skills to enable all age groups to contribute to the cause. Their talent with needle and thread, or needles and yarn, have new meaning as people worldwide search for ways to help. Woodworkers play a role, too, as they have powered up saws to build possum boxes and transporters.

Iconic Animals Affected

Koalas, which live peacefully in gum tree forests, may have been rendered “functionally extinct” by the blazes. Many survivors have burned paws requiring mittens for comfort. Bird populations also suffered tremendous damage in the fires. Crocheted nests have arrived from around the globe to help survivors.

A group named the Animal Rescue Craft Guild has formed to offer tips and advice for the crafters, as well as providing approved patterns to make sure that donated items will be useful. The group has swelled its ranks by 100,000 members in recent weeks. The Animal Rescue Collective is the source for handymen building possum boxes and other wooden items. The Animal Rescue MacGyver Makers Guild is another craft making group assisting animals from wombats to wallabies.

How To Help

Older adults who would like to help Australian wildlife can contact one of the groups listed above. Another way to assist is to donate to the World Wildlife Foundation. The iconic organization has set up an Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund.

Older adults have seen their share of tragedy, and often have needed skill-sets to assist with recovery. This has certainly been the case during the horrific wildfires in Australia. Having the know-how and experience to craft needed items has given some older adults a sense of purpose amid the disaster, and earned admiration from younger generations.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

February 8 - John Grisham, Writer

The author of over 40 successful novels, John Grisham began life as the second of five siblings in Jonesboro, Arkansas. His father worked construction and farmed cotton, while his mother was a homemaker. It was his mom who encouraged the youngster to read and go to college, but Grisham had his heart set on a career in baseball until a pitcher intentionally aimed a pitch at his head that narrowly missed its target.

After a series of dead-end jobs, Grisham drifted among three colleges before earning a degree in accounting. He enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law to become a tax attorney, but switched to civil litigation and practiced for ten years before getting elected to the state House of Representatives for six years. His first book, A Time To Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers before a small press agreed to a tiny run of 5,000 copies. He immediately started work on his second book, The Firm, which remained on The New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year. Several movies have been made from his novels.

Grisham married in 1981 and the couple have two children. He is a devout Christian and avid philanthropist. The author is on the board of directors for the Innocence Project, which works to free prisoners on the basis of DNA evidence. He holds that wrongful convictions, far from being rare or isolated cases, are plentiful and arise from defects in the system.

Febraury 10 - Greg Norman, Golfer

Born in Queensland, Australia, “The Shark” learned to play golf from his mother although he had aspirations to be a professional surfer. Norman dominated pro golf in the 80s and 90s, spending 331 weeks at the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings. He beat the field in 88 tournaments, including two majors.

Norman is no slouch in the business arena, presiding over global corporations with interests in apparel, interior design, real estate, private equity, golf course design and more. He’s also proven himself a generous philanthropist, having established and donated to a bevy of charities championing such causes as finding a cure for childhood cancer to environmental concerns.

February 10 - Jim Cramer, Television Personality

And what personality he has! If you’ve ever watched Mad Money you can’t forget Cramer’s liberal use of sound props or his exuberant style. In a financial world dominated by pressed suits and decorum, the host’s rolled-up sleeves and sometimes-frantic style has won converts (and the opposite) from across the country. One thing’s for sure: he has brought the world of stock trading to the common man.

Cramer began studying stocks in fourth grade, and was magna cum laude at Harvard College before going into journalism. But he didn’t have it easy; he still remembers sleeping in his car for 9 months and using the migrants’ health care to get treatment because that’s all he could afford after getting robbed. Cramer went back to get a law degree from Harvard and started investing in stocks and offering picks on his answering machine. He went on to work at Goldman Sachs and ran his own hedge fund from 1987 to 2001, where he reportedly exhibited a violent temper.

Cramer launched TheStreet, a financial news and literacy site, where he is still the chief commentator although it was purchased in 2019 for 16.5 million. He is famous for his “They know nothing!” rant criticizing the fed just before the 2008 market crash, for sleeping only four hours per night, his hectic work schedule and stock picking expertise. He also formerly partnered with Larry Kudlow, currently serving as the Director of the National Economic Council under President Trump.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors