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Friday, February 26, 2021

Nine Ways the Coronavirus Is Speeding Change in Health Care

The pandemic has forced rapid change and altered opinions regarding health care in the U.S., and we’re not going back.

COVID-19 has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of job in America alone, while initiating some deep introspection within the health care industry. Deeply held beliefs about how health care should be provided and paid for have been shaken, and experts say we will never go back to the way it used to be. 

Pepsi Launches Nighttime Drink

The pandemic is affecting much more than just health care. Not surprisingly, stress is up, and Pepsi may have found the perfect opening to launch its first beverage to help consumers relax before bed. Each blue can of Driftwell contains 200 milligrams of L-theanine and 10% of the daily value of magnesium. 

“I think we’re launching this at a time when there’s more consumer interest than there previously was, given everything that’s going on from a macro perspective,” says Emily Silver, vice president of innovation and capabilities at Pepsi’s North American beverages unit.

The enhanced water drink contains an amino acid, L-theanine, that’s found in green and black teas, as well as certain mushrooms. The 7.5-ounce mini cans in blackberry lavender flavor are, according to Silver, just the right size to offer hydration without making you get up in the middle of the night. 

Millions of unemployed people have suddenly lost health insurance, and others have been forced to delay noncritical treatment as hospitals were overwhelmed with pandemic patients. Telemedicine, considered a novelty in pre-pandemic times, has leapt in to fill gaps and maintain social distancing for services ranging from checkups to addiction counseling. 

One of the biggest changes that may occur is an end to the distinctly American custom that has bound health care coverage to employment. It could also force a reluctant nation to examine why Black people and other historically marginalized minorities have been disproportionately susceptible, not just to the coronavirus, but to many common health conditions. And it could foretell the end of the era for nursing homes and assisted living facilities as older adults have been forced into isolation.

Here are nine ways the pandemic is changing U.S. health care:

  1. Telemedicine. Virtual doctor visits have been possible for years, but prior to the pandemic, services were little used. Now, the health care community has embraced telemedicine as being safer, quicker and easier than in-person visits. Medicare has even signed on as it saw cost reductions. Patients like the convenience and affordability, too. Primary care visits were the first to go virtual, but more and more specialists have realized they can operate over a video feed as well. As one former health care adviser to two presidential administrations put it: The technology “has probably been accelerated by a decade.”
  2. Health Insurance. Typically, health care coverage has been tied to employment in this country. The Affordable Care Act sought to make coverage available whether someone was working or not, but it has been under attack. Some think the time is now right for universal coverage, or Medicare for all. Others are pushing health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), which allow employers to reimburse workers for a set dollar amount per year, while the workers are responsible for finding coverage. HRAs allow employers to have control over cost. 
  3. Group Homes for Seniors. Older Americans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities account for over one-third of pandemic deaths in some states as the disease passed like wildfire in the close living conditions. Older adults “don’t want to be in what’s basically a nursing-home prison, as some have called it,” says Grace Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a conservative health policy research group. This may lead to a wave of need for home health aides as seniors stay at home. 
  4. Racial Reckoning. COVID-19 kills people of color, in particular Black people, at much higher rates. For example, although Black people represent a mere 6% of the Wisconsin population, they represent nearly half of the state’s coronavirus deaths. “The stark disparities in COVID-19 infection rates and outcomes among different populations and different parts of the country has been hard to ignore,” says Risa Lavizzo-Mouraey, professor of health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “While there’s a rich body of work that has demonstrated this in the past, it’s a unique moment where it’s happening all at once, and you can see it in real time.” Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association, agrees, noting “We need a plan now to make sure that those existing disparities are not exacerbated by inadequate access to treatment or access to vaccines.” 
  5. Big Pharma. Are pharmaceutical companies saviors or villains? For years, they’ve been reviled for profiting off of sick Americans, but they’ve ridden white horses into the pandemic fray with surprisingly effective vaccines delivered more quickly than anyone thought possible. Will lawmakers and the public still have an appetite for assaulting them over drug pricing? Only time will tell.
  6. American Manufacturing. Pandemic drug and vaccine manufacturing has found a home in the U.S., and that’s fine with former Rep. Donna Shalala, who was, until recently, a congresswoman from Florida and former health secretary. “We have to look at the supply chain,” she says. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in a global market, but it does mean that we have to be able to ramp up production here quickly.” 
  7. Preparation. The public watched as governors and frontline health care workers begged for personal protective equipment and ventilators at the start of the crisis, and they waited for testing and contact tracing. COVID-19 has highlighted the need for emergency preparedness, infrastructure, supplies and health care professionals. Some have proposed networks of retired doctors and/or medical students to be at the ready: the medical counterpart of a National Guard. 
  8. Non-physician Health Care Workers. Massive pressure was exerted on emergency rooms and intensive care units while many health care workers were out with the virus or in quarantine. More care to more patients at a lower cost could be provided by nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants already on the payroll, particularly in rural hospitals and clinics. Shalala says, “Frankly, 70% of primary care could be handled by advanced practice nurses.” Billy Tauzin, former Republican congressman from Louisiana and former president of PhRMA, adds that skilled nursing demand will increase because there will be “a major shift to decentralize health care, and toward preventive care and home care.”
  9. Money. Doctors’ and hospitals’ revenue has been hit hard because demand for services outside of COVID-19 treatment has nearly dried up. The fee-for-service medicine model may die, in favor of lump-sum payment for caring for a group of patients or compensation for keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital. “We’ve seen physician offices that live off fee-for-service just get freakin’ killed,” says Chris Jennings, policy consultant. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Does Your Money Need To Last ’Til You’re 100?

Some financial advisers say your nest egg should be large enough to last until you’re 100, but is that realistic?

You know that Americans are living longer. In fact, they expect to live longer than their parents by a 4-to-1 ratio, according to a report by the Longevity Project, formed by the Stanford Center on Longevity. The group interviewed 2,200 adults in preparation for its new report, “Planning for the 30+ Year Retirement.” One finding is that the move from defined-benefit (pension) plans to defined-contribution (401(k)) plans has left older adults wondering how much they need to save before they can retire. Adding years to their lifespan only increases their worry, especially when financial planners are often plugging in 95, and even 100, as common default end-of-life ages.

That’s not going to be the reality for most people. The typical man in the U.S. who is 65 can expect to live 18 more years. The typical woman, about 20. But many financial planners feel they need to cover their bases by making every client save as though we’ll all wind up centenarians. 

Professionals React

When adviser Carolyn McClanahan heard the 100-years-old number mentioned at a financial planning conference, she reacted with disbelief. “Even when you have a 350-pound guy
 who smokes?” she asked the speaker. McClanahan has cred: she is a medical doctor as well as a certified financial planner, and she contends that medical advances “aren’t happening that fast.” 

“You come into the emergency room and you die, or I’m telling you that you have cancer,” says McClanahan, who has worked both in emergency rooms and pathology labs. “That makes it really hard for me to tell people to save, save, save.”

Of course, brokerages want as much of our money as they can get, so they are complicit in the idea that we should aim high and save the maximum possible. And financial advisers have a real fear of getting sued by older clients or their children when the retirement money river has run dry.

"I definitely have concerns that many advisers are being way too conservative," says Michael Kitces, a certified financial planner and well respected blogger. “Most of our improvements in life expectancy are coming from the decline in child mortality. The actual survival rate of people in their 80s and 90s is not increasing very fast.”  He points out that actuarial tables reveal there is a 70% chance of one or both members of a married couple making it to 85, but the odds are only 20% either of them will see 95, and less that they may live to 100.

The 4% Rule

Another factor is the safe withdrawal rate that is often used to forecast how long a nest egg will last. Research shows that the 4% rule works well over past markets, but some advisers warn that economic growth is slowing and we should only count on 3.5%, or perhaps even 3%. But financial planning industry consultant Bob Veres says that even the 4% number may be too conservative in most market situations. And most of us will spend less as we age, so we might want to take out a bit more in early retirement, when we can still travel, indulge hobbies and otherwise kick up our heels.

“I think only the client knows whether the inconvenience of spending less in retirement is more or less painful than the risk of cutting back drastically later in retirement if the markets don’t cooperate,” Veres says.

Will You Have Enough?

But if you are one of the few who outlive your fellow men (or women), how much do you need to retire? With all of this uncertainty, it can help to run the numbers. A retirement calculator can help you estimate what amount you’re comfortable with. Try the retirement calculator at NewRetirement or use the FIRECalc retirement calculator to see how your money would have fared historically. 

If you are beginning to wonder whether you’ll ever be able to retire, check out these strategies:
  • Wait to claim Social Security until you reach 70. Sure, you can claim as early as age 62, but if you wait until your full retirement age (depending on when you were born) your check will grow by 30%. Put off claiming until the top age of 70, and your benefits will be 75% more. 
  • Continue to work. You can either push back your retirement date, or quit the job you’re doing now and get a retirement job so you can delay using as much of your retirement savings. 
  • Consider an annuity. Carefully evaluate this option, which will give you lifetime income (like a pension) for a lump sum.
  • Consider a reverse mortgage. If you own a home, it may be able to fund a portion of your retirement. A reverse mortgage pays you while reducing your equity. 
  • Decrease expenses. You may be able to downsize or move to a state with lower taxes and/or home prices. 

Most Americans are not saving enough for retirement, according to many studies. While that is certainly true in many cases, you need to examine your situation closely to see if you may be sacrificing unnecessarily. We all want a comfortable retirement, but there is a balance in enjoying our early retirement years and sacrificing for the future. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Pets in the Pandemic

Pets are helping people cope during one of the most isolating events mankind has ever known.

Fallout from the coronavirus has led to loss of routine, loss of socialization, and for some, the loss of a dear friend or family member. There’s never been a time when we needed a buddy more. For many of us, a pet has filled that void. Adoptions have soared as the demand for dogs has skyrocketed. “Within my circle of friends, there are at least five people who have gotten a puppy,” says Tess Karaskevicus, a schoolteacher. She got a boxer pup in late May and has been inviting friends over to play with her new canine while staying socially distant. “They’re getting a puppy dosage of happiness,” she says. “It’s been really amazing.”

Neighbors are making dates to walk their dogs. It’s an opportunity to get together safely outside on a regular basis. Everybody gets fresh air and exercise along with some human (and doggy) interaction.

Pets Bring Health Benefits

Interacting with our pets during the pandemic has benefits rooted in science, according to Megan Mueller, co-director of Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction and a senior fellow at Tisch College. She says that studies show “contact with pets helps reduce stress and anxiety, particularly when you are experiencing a stressful situation.”

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Often, they’ve lost friends and/or a spouse, and they no longer have co-workers. They may also be isolated due to transportation limitations or health issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the following benefits pets can provide:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Lowered cholesterol levels
  • Reduced levels of triglycerides, a type of body fat
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Improved opportunities for social connection

“Pets can motivate you to do things that are good for your own mental health,” said Mueller. “And activities with animals that you enjoy or that are part of your routine help bring back some degree of normalcy.”

Survey Confirms Positive Interactions

A recent survey by the British Kennel Club confirms the benefits of a canine companion during the pandemic. Strikingly, almost two-thirds of the 2,622 owners surveyed said their pet was a “lifeline” during the nation’s lockdown, while nearly half said their pet helped them feel less lonely. Having a dog reduced the anxiety of more than one-third of respondents. 

Pets don’t judge, so perhaps it’s not surprising that 61% of owners found more comfort in their dog than in their fellow human beings. Nearly one in three said their dog was there for them when no one else was. Survey respondent Tracey Ison credits her dog, Scout, with pulling her through a breakdown. “Scout has been a great support to me during lockdown. He gives me a reason to get up every morning and stick to a routine whilst I am furloughed from work,” she says. “He really is the best buddy I could have asked for.”


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Is It Time To Get an Electric Car?

Electric vehicles have enough advantages over their gas-powered counterparts that it may be time to make the switch.

A former BMW owner, Ed Adler, recently bought a Tesla Model 3. “I think the world of the car,” he says, although the center-mounted screen and lack of gauges in front of the driver took some getting used to. The electric vehicle (EV) won him over for its low maintenance costs, but there are many other advantages. “I don’t think I’ll ever get another combustion engine car,” he says.

If you thought that EVs were only for environmentalists or early adopters, consider that GMC is putting out an all-electric version of its military-inspired Hummer. Or that Tesla has its own futuristic version of the pickup for sale. Let’s dig in to why so many people are making the switch.

  • Variety. As we noted above, pickups are part of today’s EV fleet. But so are compacts, sports cars and SUVs. Toyota, Kia and Ford are making EVs, but so are Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz. It’s not just a Tesla world anymore, although the company puts out a great sedan in a variety of price points. 
  • Low maintenance. Say goodbye to oil changes. EVs have fewer moving parts and require less servicing overall than gas cars.
  • Performance. EVs have immediate response and great acceleration, particularly where you need it most, in the 0-30 mph range. Handling is improved because the heavy battery sits low, improving the center of gravity. There’s no “shift-shock” from a transmission. There’s almost no noise except for the wind and the tires. 
  • Lower cost. The initial outlay is a bit higher, but government programs (see below) and lower maintenance and “fueling” charges improve the bottom line. 
  • Range. As batteries improve and more charging stations are added, EVs are going from the around-the-town car to true long-distance vehicles. Currently, most can travel over 200 miles on a single charge, and even the low-cost Chevrolet Bolt can go 259 miles before running out of juice. 
  • Perks. Many states offer incentives to own EVs, such as access to a carpool lane, free parking or other advantages. 
  • No guilt. Electric cars reduce emissions by an average of 70% depending on where you live, according to a recent study. And you can charge at night, when most electricity would otherwise go unused. 

VW Bus Reborn as EV

If you get nostalgic thinking about the iconic Volkswagen Microbus, you’re not alone. Starting in 2022, you’ll be able to get an electric version called the ID.Buzz. Aging hippies can relive their glory days, while others can enjoy one of the best road-tripping cars ever for the first time. And although the gas-powered Bus suffered from a legendary lack of power, the new EV model boasts twin electric motors that put out 369 horsepower with an all-wheel-drive powertrain. Sporting 300 miles of range and a recharge to 80% of storage in about half an hour, the new Bus is a viable RV alternative. “We want to reignite America’s love for VW,” says Herbert Diess, chairman of the board of management for the brand. Peace, everyone!

Electric Batteries Go 2 Million Miles

Tesla battery researcher and developer Jeff Dahn has developed and tested a lithium-ion battery that the scientist believes is capable of lasting 2 million miles in EVs. The batteries show little to no degradation when discharged between a quarter and a half of their capacity - exactly how most people use their cars. The question is, does anyone need a battery that will outlast the rest of their car? Actually, the answer is yes. Here are some reasons:
  • Vehicle to grid. Developers expect that soon, you’ll be able to sell extra capacity back to your electric company. While your car is parked in your garage, you can be earning energy credit.
  • Avoid waste. No more dead batteries going into landfills every few years. Put your old battery in your new car.
  • Special uses. Ferries and hybrid aircraft (large drones) need to be able to work all day, for years. 
  • Grid energy storage. Electric companies will be able to store energy for decades in a single battery.


The number of public charging stations varies across the country, with more along the coasts. Drivers can choose from 112,000 gas stations, but currently are limited to about 28,000 charging stations. However, most EV owners have a charging station at home.

You can use a 120v outlet, although it will take longer to charge. Most homeowners have a 250v outlet installed for between $200 and $800, then plug in a home charging station that will work with virtually every EV (even Tesla, for the cost of a $95 adapter) for about $600. Many utilities offer price breaks for the equipment, and the federal government may extend the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Property Credit that bestows a federal tax credit of up to $1,000 to property owners who install a home charging station. You can even tell Alexa to charge your car in the middle of the night when costs are lower.

Cost of Gas vs. Electric Fuel and Maintenance

The cost per mile is less in an EV than a traditional gas-powered vehicle. Rates for electricity and gas vary depending on where you live, but in general you can expect to spend half of what it would cost for gas to keep your EV going, studies say. While it will set you back about $1,117 to keep your gas-guzzling vehicle on the road for a year, its electric equivalent will only require $485 on average. 

Due to their low-maintenance electric motors, EVs don’t need to be serviced as often as vehicles with combustion engines. They will never need an oil change, and the shop won’t be able to upcharge you if you’re not there. Consumer Reports estimates average savings of $4,600 over the life of the car. 

Rebates and Incentives

There are a slew of rebates and incentives for buying (not leasing) a new EV. The biggest is the federal tax credit of up to $7,500, which offsets tax liability for that year. If your tax liability is only $5,000, for example, your credit will only be $5,000 and the remainder cannot be carried forward. 

Not all EVs qualify for the credit, which phases out when a company has sold 200,000 qualifying vehicles. GM and Tesla have met this limit for EVs. Also, most vehicles don’t qualify for the full $7,500, which is based on the power storage capability of the battery. For a full list of eligible electric vehicles, go here.  For a list of eligible hybrids and EVs with the maximum credit for each, go here

Many states also offer tax credits, incentives and rebates. You may find charging station installation incentives, vehicle tax credits, electricity discounts or even driving perks. To find out what your state is offering, go here.
Is it time for you to go electric? It may well be, considering that electric cars drive farther, charge faster and come in more models and price ranges than ever before. If you’re looking for a new car, make sure to consider the array of EVs offered by a host of companies getting in on this growing trend.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Turning Back Time

After centuries of searching, the Fountain of Youth may have been discovered at last by a Harvard researcher.

Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth and wound up discovering Florida, ironically the place where older people often spend their final years. The human race has never quit hoping for an elixir that would turn back the clock. It’s possible that one scientist is finally getting close.

Regenerating Youthful Tissue

David Sinclair, professor in the Department of Genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School, is the senior author of a recent study which reprogrammed the expression of a trio of genes to induce mature nerve cells in mouse eyes to revert to a youthful state. The treatment not only reversed glaucoma in the animals, but also reversed age-related sight loss in elderly rodents. Further studies will be needed to prove the concept, but there is a possibility the therapy could be used to repair age-related damage and diseases in other organs, including those of humans.

“Our study demonstrates that it's possible to safely reverse the age of complex tissues such as the retina and restore its youthful biological function,” Sinclair said. If affirmed through further studies, these findings could be transformative for the care of age-related vision diseases like glaucoma and to the fields of biology and medical therapeutics for disease at large.”

Potential to Combat Many Diseases

In essence, Sinclair is working to reverse genetic changes, specifically DNA methylation and demethylation, that are the hallmarks of aging. Methylation can be seen on cells as a sort of crust, according to Sinclair, and scientists can tell how old you are biologically within a few years by observing the degree of methylation on your cells. 

The biggest risk factor for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, dementia and many other ailments is aging. Medicine is generally focused on treating each disease separately; but Sinclair hypothesizes that by reversing the effects of aging, all of the diseases could be reduced or eliminated. Others agree.

“We are on the verge of a public health breakthrough of the kind we have never seen before,” says S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health who studies demographics and aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It is not trivial. This is bigtime.”

Sinclair is the author of Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To, which took just over a week to reach number 11 on the New York Times bestseller list last September. He has also started 17 companies, had countless discoveries documented in prestigious scientific journals and has been awarded a plethora of scientific honors and prizes. 


The smooth-talking native Australian is also a controversial figure. “He’s a superb scientist, as well as a superb salesman,” says his friend Steven Austad, a professor of biology who studies aging at the University of Alabama. “You talk to him about science and you won’t find many more knowledgeable, incisive experimentalists as David. And then you can listen to the stuff he says on TV and be like, What the hell is he talking about? ”

Even fellow scientists have their doubts. “He does do research and he gets it published in peer-reviewed journals, and if he just did that, it’d be fine,” says a Harvard Medical School professor who asked to remain anonymous. “But then he speaks out about how he makes himself young and says stuff that would be embarrassing for any normal scientist to say.”

Sinclair claims to have turned back his own biological clock a full decade, from his true age 50 to a more youthful 40. To do this, he restricts calories and doesn’t eat until the afternoon, exercises, and takes a handful of pills, some of which are formulated based on his own research.

Many years ago, Sinclair published papers documenting groundbreaking discoveries on the life-prolonging (for yeast) properties of resveratrol, a component of red wine. His company, Sirtris, went public in 2007 then got bought out for an astounding $720 million by GlaxoSmithKline. Then the research got debunked by scientists at Pfizer. In response, Sinclair claimed the researchers “don’t know how to make a molecule right” and published more of his own research. In the end, GlaxoSmithKline shuttered Sirtris a mere five years after buying it.

When his book came out, some colleagues were offended by its title. “What is wrong with the guy that he is compelled to do this?” asks the unnamed Harvard Medical School professor. “Seen in the best possible way, he is totally convinced that he is the savior of mankind developing the fountain of youth. But you don’t have to hype to do that. Just let the facts play out.”

How Sinclair Stays Young

Whatever the results of his recent research, Sinclair maintains some practices that he believes help him stay young. He practices calorie restriction, rarely eats meat, and avoids sugar and carbohydrates. Weekends find him at the gym. He follows his workout with a hot sauna and then a plunge into a freezing cold pool — he says that temperature extremes ignite survival instincts in our cells. Sinclair takes vitamin D, vitamin K2, and aspirin. He also consumes resveratrol, NMN and metformin, a diabetes drug being studied for its anti-aging properties. 

The scientist is not a medical doctor and does not recommend that anyone follow his regimen. However, many people try. “I like David a lot. We’re very good friends. However, I don’t think that what he’s doing is right,” says Felipe Sierra, the director of the aging biology division at the National Institute of Aging. “I don’t think that people should try it on themselves. And if they do, they shouldn’t publicize it. Researchers do have a responsibility toward the public, and we should be careful about what we tell the public.”

The jury is out on Sinclair’s regime for youth. But he’s definitely someone to watch as the medical community continues to discover ways in which we may all one day be able to turn back time.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Famous and 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

February 12 - Arsenio Hall, comedian

The son of a Baptist minister, Arsenio Hall was born in Ohio and attended Kent State University. Hall moved to Chicago, and then Los Angeles, in pursuit of a career in comedy.

Hall had a smattering of success, appearing on two episodes of Soul Train before becoming the announcer for Alan Thicke on Thicke of the Night, a talk show that didn’t last long. In fall of 1987, Hall was chosen to host The Late Show for a time and proved so popular that he eventually got his own program. The Arsenio Hall Show had a five-year run from 1989 to 1994, then another stint from 2013 to 2014.

In 2012, Hall appeared on the fifth season of The Apprentice and won more than $250,000 for the charity of his choice, the Magic Johnson Foundation, which advances economic and social equality. Hall has had other notable appearances on The Jay Leno Show, Lopez Tonight, Real Time with Bill Maher and Piers Morgan Tonight.

Hall filed a $5 million dollar defamation suit against Irish singer/songwriter SinĂ©ad O'Connor in 2016 after she accused him of spiking her drink during a party at Eddie Murphy’s house and of supplying singer Prince with drugs. O’Connor walked back her accusations and Hall dropped the suit. He is father to one son born in 1998.

Image Source: Wikipedia

February 14 - Dave Dravecky, baseball player, speaker, author

Dave Dravecky had a lot going for him when he started pitching for the San Diego Padres in 1982. A lefty, Dravecky represented his team at the All-Star game in his second season, in which he won 14 games. His career looked solid; he excelled as a relief pitcher and a starter and was instrumental in a pennant win for the Padres in 1984.

Dravecky’s strong Christian values and beliefs led him to support the John Birch Society, a far-right political organization. He recruited two fellow team pitchers to promote the society. The three handed out Birch literature at the June 1984 Del Mar, California, fair. The trio made quite a stir in the press, and after a 60-55 win-loss record following six seasons, the Associated Press wrote that the pitcher was better-known for his John Birch Society affiliation than for his work on the mound.

In July 1987, Dravecky was acquired by the San Francisco Giants in their pennant drive. While most of his new teammates partied in their off time, Dravecky and three others would gather for bible study in their hotel room, earning them the “God Squad” moniker. Dravecky went 7-5 during the stretch, then pitched a shutout in Game 2 against the St. Louis Cardinals, who won in seven games. 

The next season, a tumor appeared in Dravecky’s pitching arm. Doctors had to remove half of his deltoid muscle and freeze the upper arm bone in an attempt to obliterate the cancer. They warned him not to play until 1990, but by July 1989 he was pitching in the minors. On August 10 he returned to the major leagues and won his first start. A few days later, his second start was going well, but he felt tingling in his left arm. He allowed a home run, then hit the next batter. The third batter of the inning stepped up to the plate, and as Dravecky pitched the entire stadium could hear his humerus bone break.

His cancer had returned, and after two attempts to save the arm, it was amputated with the shoulder. Dravecky, who had written Comeback after his first bout with cancer, published When You Can’t Come Back after the amputation, in 1992. He became a motivational speaker and wrote a Christian motivational book, Called Up, in 2004.

Image Source: Wikipedia

February 19 - Roderick MacKinnon, biologist and Nobel laureate

Born in Massachusetts, Roderick MacKinnon earned a bachelor’s in biochemistry from Brandeis University, where he studied calcium transport through the membrane of cells. He received a medical degree from Tufts University before training in internal medicine at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. In 1989, he became an assistant professor at Harvard University.

At Harvard, MacKinnon used a toxin derived from scorpion venom to study its interaction with the potassium channel. In 1996, he switched to Rockefeller University and began to study the potassium channel, which are crucial to the nervous system and heart. Oddly, they permit larger potassium ions to pass through but stop smaller sodium ions. In 1998, MacKinnon and his colleagues discovered the three-dimensional structure of the channel which had hitherto eluded scientists for decades. In 2003, MacKinnon was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Image Source: Wikipedia

February 19 - Jeffrey Immelt, former chairman of General Electric

Born in Cincinnati, Jeffrey Immelt played offensive tackle in college and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College, where he was president of his fraternity. He went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1982.

Immelt started at General Electric (GE) after business school, tackling positions in plastics, appliances and healthcare divisions of the huge company. He beat out some tough competition to inherit the CEO position from the legendary Jack Welch, who had benefitted by the strong economy of the Clinton years. In contrast, Immelt took the role four days before 9/11, when two employees were killed in the terrorist attacks and the company’s insurance division suffered a $600 million setback. 

Welch had preferred internal growth, but Immelt spun off several businesses while increasing core operations in overseas markets, focusing on China and Europe. Immelt’s compensation, which varied over the years from more than $5 million to over $20 million, coincided with the stock value of GE plummeting 30% while the S&P rose nearly 134%. When it was revealed that Immelt had an empty private jet always follow his own private jet, just in case it got delayed, the board of directors was none too happy. 

Immelt was asked to step down in October 2017. He has since served on several boards and in an advisory capacity to Built Robotics. He led GE to record corporate philanthropy and is an active donor in private. He advocates for diversity in the workplace, and has earned many honors, including “World’s Best CEO” from Barron’s on three separate occasions. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Is It Ok To Buy Reading Glasses at the Dollar Store?

We all want to save money, but experts chime in on what to consider when you’re buying readers.

As you age, you may find yourself having a hard time reading prescription drug labels, threading a needle, or figuring out what’s on the menu. Just reading a book can get harder than it was in your 30s or 40s. It’s a common problem due to a condition called presbyopia, where the lens in your eye loses flexibility, which makes it difficult to focus on close objects. The result is that you need a little extra help in the form of readers, or “cheaters,” that magnify close-up tasks.

Are $1 Glasses Safe?

Many health plans, including Medicare, don’t cover vision care costs. Once you need readers, you may find yourself buying them by the handful since there never seems to be a pair where and when you need them. The cost can add up, unless you start searching out the cheapest models you can find: usually the $1 a pair readers at your local dollar store. But are these inexpensive lenses hurting your eyes?

"These glasses may be fine for people who need the same refraction in both eyes or who have vision in only one eye. I tell patients who are in these situations to go ahead and use them," says Dr. Eli Peli, professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. Ophthalmologist Dr. Michelle Andreoli, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, backs him up. ”Reading glasses from a drugstore are in fact perfectly safe,” she says, and adds that low-cost dollar store options or over-the-counter eyeglasses will not harm your eyesight. 

What Strength Is Right?

Unfortunately, once your vision starts to decline, it is likely to get worse until you hit your mid-60s. Reading glasses come in a range of powers, from +1.00 to +3.00 and above, although it can be illegal to sell a higher magnification in many states. If you’re trying to figure out what strength is right for you, Andreoli suggests taking a greeting card from that aisle and trying on different glasses until you find what works best. 

If you’re unsure, follow the advice of optometrist Dr. William Reynolds, president of the American Optometric Association. “In most cases, when two reading-glass powers seem equally suitable, choose the glasses with the lower power,” he says. “Picking reading glasses that are too strong typically will cause more discomfort problems than reading glasses that are a little too weak.”

Glasses for computer work will typically require 0.75 lower lens power than for other reading. So, for example, if you normally use +2.25 for reading, get a pair of +1.50 strength to use while you’re at the computer. You might also want to get them with blue-light filters (which also block out damaging UV light) for better sleep.

When You Need an Eye Exam

“OTC readers are made to a standard pupillary distance, or the distance from the center of the right eye to the center of the left,” says optometrist Dr. Karina Sigulinsky of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “If your eyes are closer together or farther apart than that standard, you might not be able to see very well.”

Some people need a different strength, or correction, for each eye. You may also have astigmatism, a result of irregularities in the eye lens, or you could require correction for distance vision. In those cases, prescription glasses are better. Quick, inexpensive exams are available at Walmart, Costco (you don’t have to be a member), and many stores selling eyeglasses. Online stores like Zenni feature prescription glasses starting as low as $6. This article on how to find inexpensive eyeglasses is full of useful tips, including how to compare different lens materials and coatings.

Most of us will need eyeglasses to help with reading and other close-up tasks as we arrive at middle age. While getting an eye exam is preferable, inexpensive, over-the-counter readers are a safe solution for the vast majority. It’s good to know that you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg to help your eyes. 

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Active vs. Passive Investing

Active and passive investing are two different strategies for optimizing a portfolio. Wise investors know a little about each.

As political debates heat up around the country, believe it or not there is also an ongoing debate that rages hot in the investment industry. Does active or passive investing produce better results for an investor? Most investors are familiar with the concept of investing in a diverse mix of securities over time and expecting a certain return that is at least reasonably in line with broad market indexes. Passive investing and active investing are the two major methods by which to achieve this goal. 

To begin, let’s define passive and active investing. 

Passive investing is predicated on the belief that investments will always trade at a value that reflects all available market information with nothing being overvalued (expensive) or undervalued (cheap). Instead of trying to beat the market, passive investment managers own securities in the same proportions as the indexes (such as the S&P 500 or the Dow) they track. This is typically a less expensive way to invest because the investor doesn’t have to research companies, rare changes to the tracking index are automatically mirrored in a portfolio, and overall trading costs and taxes are reduced. Buying and holding (referred to as “buy and hold”) is another form of passive investing. 
Active investing is based on the belief that markets are inefficient, so there are opportunities to be exploited, or that investment advisors can uncover information unknown to others that can lead to better returns versus an index. Active managers invest in what they view as the most attractive securities, based on their own investment philosophy and market outlook. 

Passive Investing Pros and Cons

Proponents of the buy-and-hold approach often look to Warren Buffett as the model of success. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company buys and operates many successful companies. Its stock price has never split because Buffett believes the high price (over $341,000 as of this writing) encourages shareholders to be long-term investors. He has promoted long-term investing for years, once telling shareholders, “If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes.” 

Berkshire stock is made to compound (grow), and the equity has an enviable track record. From a worth of $91 billion in 2005, it is currently valued at $375 billion, for an average yearly compounding rate of 10%. By contrast, the S&P 500 index has seen book value grow from 453 to 914 points over the same time, for a 4.7% growth rate. Add in the average dividend of 2% to the index value (Berkshire doesn’t pay dividends), and you get an average annual rate of 6.7% compounded growth over the same 15-year period.

For most, our largest retirement nest egg accumulates in a 401(k) or some other employer-sponsored plan. The investment style in these accounts tends to be defined as passive, either by design or by sheer neglect. Most of us choose from a predetermined menu of mutual funds during initial enrollment and usually forget about it. Many investors and fund managers also subscribe to this popular style of management. 

Passive management is also the investment objective of many exchange traded funds (ETFs). When you buy the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (symbol VOO), you are buying a basket of all 500 companies in the S&P 500 index. Very little changes within the ETF while you own it. In this case, passive management is used to replicate a specific benchmark in order to match its performance. In general, the truly passive investor believes the future will develop similarly to the past, and market prices are too efficient (not cheap and not expensive) to be exploited by long-term investors.

Active Management Pros and Cons

Active portfolio management is different. This approach does not place unwavering trust in the historical performance of assets. Instead, the active manager periodically adjusts a portfolio in response to changing market conditions, believing desired outcomes can be more consistently achieved through vigilant risk management. In other words, there are times when it makes more sense to be invested in some specific companies, industry sectors or even asset classes because they represent the best opportunity in that moment. 
There are many forms of active portfolio management. In their attempt to exploit market inefficiencies, active managers can use a combination of asset allocation and security selection. Asset allocation refers to a portfolio’s exposure to different asset classes, such as equities (stocks), fixed income (bonds), commodities (anything from cattle to precious metals) or cash. Individual security (stock or bond) selection goes one level deeper—using a careful analysis to choose specific securities within an asset class (such as evaluating Apple vs. Microsoft in large-cap tech or a high-grade vs. a low-grade corporate bond). Active portfolio management can also vary based on a manager’s desired holding period. Time horizons can range from several years to only a few minutes. Of course, some strategies will be successful, while others are destined to fail. A certain level of expertise is a requirement of, but does not guarantee, long-term success.

Active management is sometimes characterized as being focused on beating the market and not on long-term investing. That is not always true. While any investor should be satisfied with out-performing their benchmark (an expected rate of return based on how different assets performed at the investor’s risk tolerance), the main objective for some managers is risk management. Market history shows us extended periods of little, or no, market returns. Buy-and-hold can have some shockingly poor outcomes if you are nearing retirement. History shows that poor market returns (as measured by the S&P 500 index) have occurred over periods as long as 20 years. In fact, there are some historic periods where 20-year market returns after inflation averaged less than 1% per year. This is the risk a buy-and-hold approach presents, and that an active management strategy can potentially avert. Managers are able to minimize risk through a variety of strategies. Some of the more common are gradually moving a greater percentage of a portfolio into more stable assets, like bonds, “tilting” assets toward one or more classes, or converting a portion of equity funds into cash reserves on a short-term basis. 

Another criticism of passive management is that higher fees erode performance. Although there are differences in the way active and passive asset managers are compensated, the major difference lies in the strategy and philosophy of each approach. The passive or buy-and-hold philosophy believes that over the long haul the growth of their holdings will outperform, or at least keep pace with, the broad market. The active manager takes an approach of managing current risk when determining which equities to buy and sell for their clients. Active managers make changes to the portfolio over time in order to take advantage of opportunities as well as manage risk.

Summing Up

Investing can be as simple as allocating your money to a few low-cost index ETFs, or as complicated as buying and selling an array of investment products. Individual investors should keep it simple if they are managing their own portfolio, unless they have expert knowledge. A good financial planner who is a fiduciary, bound to act in the sole interest of his or her clients, can discuss active strategies from a risk-reward standpoint, including the effect of anticipated cost versus a passive portfolio. What is right for one client is not necessarily a good fit for another. Risk tolerance, timing, years to retirement (or from retirement) and other factors should be discussed before arriving at a decision.

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Keeping Together During the Pandemic

Many relationships are strained after months of social isolation. Learning how to keep your union strong now will help it last a lifetime.

As the pandemic stretches on, and on, and on … marriages that were doing well before are getting tested in ways we never would have imagined. All this togetherness is driving you apart. Is this going to be what retirement looks like? Will it be possible not to drive each other crazy? Has your spouse always had that intensely annoying habit? And finally, who knew it was possible to eat the entire family-size bag of cheese and caramel popcorn from Costco in one sitting, by yourself? Grrrrr!!!

What Makes a Good Relationship?

A recent analysis of information gathered from 11,000 couples found that a sparkling personality didn’t determine a successful relationship. Rather, it was how each of the partners perceived their relationship. According to the study, the characteristics that best predict personal satisfaction are:

1. Perceived partner commitment
2. Appreciation
3. Sexual satisfaction
4. Perceived partner satisfaction
5. Conflict resolution

Taking Care of Yourself

There are remedies, say the experts, to help you through until you can get back to your normal routines. Self-care is an essential component, says Ph.D. Chris Kraft, a psychologist and relationship expert. Maintain regular hours and designate time for work, for answering emails, even for listening to a favorite news program. Set boundaries for work hours that are ideally spent apart from your spouse, and also plan time together, Kraft says. 

Psychologist and relationship expert Vanessa Marin recommends specific avenues to self-therapy. These are her tips for nurturing yourself:

  • Let yourself feel. It’s okay to go through a full range of emotions. That which gets validated and felt will dissipate faster.
  • Journal. Write for five to 10 minutes a day, whatever comes to mind.
  • Meditate. Quieting your mind is like a honey milk bath for your mental health.
  • Move. Get those endorphins released with a walk, some yoga, whatever exercise you can do safely. You can shed stress and come back in a better mood. 
  • Connect on your own. Reach out to friends and family without your partner glued to your side. 

Working on a Plan

You may both have a lot on your plate if you’re working from home. Sit down together each week to map out what responsibilities each of you needs to take on. Who’s doing the cooking? The shopping? Taking the dog to the groomer? Does one of you need to take on more household chores while the other works on a major project at work? Having a plan will help you feel a sense of control when there is so much you can’t do anything about in the world around you.

Check in with your partner on a daily basis. He or she is going through a broad range of emotions, just like you are. Talking about them is a lot healthier than keeping them buried. Ask open-ended questions such as:

  • How was your day?
  • What are feeling right now?
  • How can I be a better partner to you?

Time Apart and Time Together

It is normal to resent your partner when you are spending so much time together. Tension and frustration can begin to run high. Marin recommends being intentional about making some mental alone time, and getting the most out of time spent together.

Carve out separate workspaces in your home. Even if you’re in a small apartment, make sure you each have a designated work area. If there’s a door between those areas, so much the better.

Make an effort to give each other space during the day. Limiting verbal communication can help create an illusion of healthy apartness; try texting instead of talking.

Give each other some scheduled alone time, and commit to not violating it. Whether it’s a walk, reading, a hot bath, studying the stock market … it’s not the activity that matters, but each partner having a set block of time for him or herself. 

Don’t forget date nights. No matter if you’re continuing a long tradition or starting a new one, scheduling conscious time together can help you focus on long-term goals far past the pandemic. The anticipation can bring joy and novelty into your relationship, whether you tour the Louvre online while drinking a French wine, prepare a meal together based on a recipe from “The Great British Baking Show,” or drive through the line for peppermint coffee at your favorite local shop. Get creative and surprise your partner.

These are tough times for relationships, but recent studies have shown us the secret to happiness. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” according to the Harvard Health Blog. Nobody can be a perfect partner, but finding attributes to be grateful for can strengthen your relationship. “The more gratitude you express,” says Marin, “the more often you’ll find yourself noticing little moments to appreciate.” It can be as simple as, “I see the work you did last night cleaning up the kitchen. Thanks!” You’ll be happier, your partner will feel appreciated, and the world will seem a bit brighter. 

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, January 25, 2021

How To Spoil Fifi and Fido

It’s been a long winter, but your loyal pet helped you through. Maybe it’s time for a special treat for both you and your furball!

Ah, the coronavirus. It has made hermits of us and denied us sorely needed human interaction. But there’s at least one member of the family who has benefitted from all the time you’ve spent at home. Your dog or cat has basked in your affection, the lap time, the extra walks. Bring on the deliveries, they say, you don’t need to go out! 

But as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel begins to grow brighter and thoughts of airplane rides dance in our heads, perhaps we should turn to our furry friends and treat them from the current array of tech gear available for pets. What to get? Here are some favorites:

  • While you may be gearing up for days in the office and evenings out, don’t forget your cat wants some “me”ow time, too. The Dancing Dot Laser Cat Toy projects a safe, moving beam for 15 minutes, or you can program it to turn on for 15 minutes every two hours while you’re gone. Hang it from a doorknob to cover a larger area with faster movement. 
  • Dog people can reward their canine companion with an iFetch Automatic Ball Launcher. iFetch is available in models that shoot the ball out (you can adjust how far), or opt for a design that gently rolls the ball onto the floor. Active dogs will want one of each for outdoor and indoor use! It’s fairly simple to train animals interested in fetching to bring the ball back and reload the device themselves. Setting the iFetch out when you leave can help take the sting out of parting.
  • Turn a nasty chore over to technology with a Litter Robot or ScoopFree self-cleaning litter box. Your cat doesn’t enjoy the smell of its waste any more than you do, so this product does both of you a favor by cleaning her box after every visit. No more odor, no more scooping, no more unsightly visuals.
  • SureFlap microchip and app-activated pet doors can let your pet in and out while remaining a barrier to squirrels, weather and even the cat next door. If you have a kitty or small dog that is constantly going in and out, this could be the end of your days feeling like your pet’s butler, and allow you to relax and go about your business while your cat or small dog goes about his. 
  • The NiteDog rechargeable pet leash will increase your confidence walking Fido in the dark, whether early in the morning or last thing at night. The LED lights last about six hours between charges, so you can go a few extra blocks. Or try the Go-Smart Pet Leash with automatic nighttime illumination and an app that tracks and records every walk. It is also Bluetooth enabled and rechargeable. 
  • Your pup’s active mind gets a workout with CleverPet, the world’s first game console for dogs. Designed by cognitive scientists, the console gives your pet a treat reward for solving simple puzzles. Dogs touch different buttons with their nose or paw to, say, make all the lights blue. The game scales in difficulty according to your dog’s level of play. 
  • PupPod is another device that teaches your dog a response to a stimulus and offers a treat reward. The game increases in difficulty and offers a way to occupy your pet, even when you’re not home. 
  • If you want in on the action, try PlayDate interactive ball and camera for your cat or dog. You can use your smart phone anywhere with internet access to activate the ball and talk to your pet via the built-in speaker. Chase your pet while you control the ball, and have them chase the ball back! You can also take video or photos with the wide-angle camera, which is tougher than the most destructive dog.
  • Finally, if you have a dog who suffers from hip dysplasia, you know how much it can affect his mobility. Try the Hipster Harness, recommended by veterinarians to support and strengthen the hip muscles, keeping the femur in the correct position to avoid further injury. It’s fully adjustable and easy to put on and take off. It won’t help your dog while you’re away, but it could lengthen the time you get to spend together by keeping her up and walking much longer. Your buddy deserves a chance to avoid painful surgery and spend more time at your side, enjoying the great outdoors.

Taipei Is Capital of Pet Children

You may think dogs are pretty high on the status chain in the U.S., but have you been to Taiwan? Thanks to a low birth rate and minimal maternity leave, more citizens in the capital city of Taipei are elevating the status of their pets, which outnumber children under 15 years old across the country. Consequently, the pet accessory market is exploding. Strollers are a big seller, along with sunglasses, raincoats and even socks for dogs.

While parting is such sweet sorrow, you can make it easier on your furry friend by making life at home cleaner, more interesting, and more fun for you both. The more time you spend playing or cuddling with your pets, the happier they are. And what dog ever said, “No thanks” to an extra walk?! Hopefully, many of us can continue working from home and taking breaks with our special buddy. But when we have to be away, it’s nice to know there are products to help entertain and exercise the minds and bodies of our feline and canine companions. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Setting goals for the year ahead almost never works, but there IS a better way.

We all want to improve. Whether it’s eating better, going to the gym, getting a promotion at work or having a better relationship, it’s a good bet that you would like to see yourself differently when 2022 rolls around. 

But did you know that 90% of New Year’s resolutions fail? Practices that don’t work the vast majority of the time should be let go, but most of us keep making the same mistakes year after year. But what if you knew how to adjust your goal so that it could be accomplished?

Finding the Sweet Spot

It sounds crazy, but by making 90-day goals, you can be much more successful. One month is generally too short to make an inroad to your goals, while spinning them out to six months or a year can run the risk that you’ll lose your ambition. Measurable change is possible in 90 days, no matter what you’re working to achieve, and it’s a time frame that is not totally daunting.

It’s fine to set a larger goal that may take a year, or three, to accomplish. But break it down into 90-day segments so that you can meet mini goals as you build the habits and skills you need. The funny thing is, people tend to underestimate what they can accomplish in a couple of years, but overestimate what they are able to get done in a week. 90 days is the sweet spot where what you’d like to do, and what you can do, actually meet. 

What You Can Achieve in 90 Days

You may be surprised how much you can do in 90 days. It’s possible to become fairly proficient at speaking a new language and be ready for traveling to a foreign land. You could become quite good at baking bread and pastry, able to critique the home cooks on the Great British Bake Off show. Or you could do as one personal finance blogger did and produce your first rock and roll album; find out how he did it here.  

If you don’t want to tackle something so intensive, that’s fine. You can decide how much time per day you’d like to dedicate to your goal, and that will help you break it down into steps that are both achievable and will create noticeable results. Retirees may be able to dedicate five or six hours a day, while others may have one or two. 

It’s important to make a time commitment and stick to it. Someone learning to bake may be looking up recipes, studying the science behind leavening agents, attending a cooking class, blogging about different flours or baking a cake over and over until it comes out just right. As one person said, if you have a five hour commitment and you are feeling brain-dead from study and work toward your goal, one way to get the last hour in fairly painlessly is to watch YouTube videos on the subject. You will not feel as excited about your goal every day; but you have to put in the time.

Creating a Plan

Start with a challenging goal that you think you can achieve in 90 days. Break it down into mini goals that will help you maintain focus and take daily action so that you develop the skills needed to reach your larger goal. If 90 days is not enough, it’s fine to start with a very challenging, bigger goal that could take a year or more to hit. But reduce it into 90-day segments, and take one segment at a time.

You may want to lose 40 pounds, for example. Break that down to 10 pounds every three months, then figure out specific steps you need to take to get there. Your first step might be to read about how to achieve your goal, then you might sign up for a program. You may need to start a food journal or speak with a nutritionist. All of these mini-steps would contribute to your overall goal.

Summing it up, you’ll be much more successful with your resolutions if you make them for 90 days, rather than a year. A shorter time frame allows you to make considerable progress without wiping out all of your motivation. Dedicate a set number of hours to work on your goal per day, and you’ll be amazed how much progress you can make in three months!

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit