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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Epigenetics: Beyond DNA

Do life experiences modify our genetic inheritance to circumvent our genetic “fate”? 

“Epigenetics is the cellular equivalent of how to locate and place bookmarks.” — Ross L. Levine, physician and scientist

Everyone seems to be talking about epigenetics. That can be embarrassing when you may not be quite sure what it means or how it affects us. So, here’s a primer that can get you cocktail-party ready since we are finally gathering again for social functions.

The word “epigenetic” is literally translated to “above the genes.” It is changes that occur to genes outside of the DNA sequence. Epigenetics can account for what happens to us environmentally, such as after toxic exposure or resulting from nutritional differences. It can also account for differences that are impossible to explain otherwise, such as when one identical twin loves the outdoors and the other is a couch potato. Some epigenetic changes occur when we are developing in the womb.

Giving Away Genetic Information

Genetic testing company 23andme has biological information from millions of customers gathered over the past 14 years. In 2018 the company announced a deal with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to use the data (aggregated and anonymized) to develop pharmaceutical drugs. But what else is at stake? Ethical, privacy and security questions remain. Listen here for a rundown of the questions facing genetic testing companies.

“You had all these cases where things were clearly identical, genetically, but behaving differently,” says Mary Goll, a developmental biologist who studies epigenetics in zebrafish. “This suggested that there had to be something chromosomal and not related to the DNA sequence that was mediating that behavior.” Epigenetics has now been linked to conditions as disparate as autism and cancer.

How Do Changes Happen?

DNA is spooled around proteins and touched by other chemicals. This packaging, called chromatin, can influence whether genes are turned on or off. Three systems can interact to silence, or turn off, genes: DNA methylation, histone modifications, and RNA-associated silencing. That’s as deep as we’ll get here. The important thing to understand is that the way DNA is expressed is affected by factors that turn portions of it on or off.


Epigenetic changes are a part of normal development. For example, all of our cells have the same DNA, but there are a wide variety of cells with different functions: liver cells, neurons, inflammatory cells, and many more. Cells, tissue, and organs are different because certain sets of genes within them are expressed, or turned on, and others are silenced, or turned off. Your epigenetic state is different throughout your life, as DNA methylation increases with age. 

Some epigenetic changes are permanent, while others are not. An example is DNA methylation in smokers. Portions of the AHRR gene are less methylated in smokers than non-smokers, with the greatest difference being in heavy, long-term smokers. But DNA methylation increases in former smokers and can, over time, reach levels associated with non-smokers. 


Germs can weaken your immune system via epigenetic changes, helping them to survive. An example of this is the tuberculosis bacterium, which can induce changes in histones to turn off the IL-12B gene.

Some epigenetic changes increase the risk of cancer, such as increased DNA methylation that results in a decreased BRCA1 expression, upping the risk of breast and other cancers. Methylation patterns can be used to identify certain cancers and find hard-to-detect cancers at an earlier stage. 

Nutrition during pregnancy can affect fetal health via epigenetics. Mothers who were pregnant during the Dutch hunger winter famine of 1944-45 gave birth to babies who were more prone to heart disease, schizophrenia, and type 2 diabetes compared to their siblings. Sixty years after the famine, researchers could still identify areas of increased and decreased methylation in the famine subjects that was in contrast to their brothers and sisters.

Finding Your People 

There are plenty of sites where you can submit a saliva test and some greenbacks in order to discover lost and distant relatives, and perhaps delve into family biology: is a major player in the space, but see cautions in the sidebar. allows you to analyze your genome. can process reports based on analysis of raw genetic files generated by 23andme, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA, or it can gather its own data to generate variance and health reports using single nucleotide polymorphisms. includes resources for the MTHFR gene, the mutation of which is believed to be the source of many health problems.

Hopefully now you’re at least able to pop in with an intelligent comment at the next Zoom call or water cooler gathering when someone brings up epigenetics. Check out the sources below if you want to dig in further or seek out a continued learning class on the subject. Healthcare is transforming rapidly, and this is one field that’s sure to have a major impact.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Tax Strategies for Retirement

Taxes can take a big bite out of your retirement income. Keep more of your money with these tips.   

Financial advisors boost client returns by investing and taking out retirement funds in a manner that minimizes tax consequences, according to a recent analysis by Morningstar researchers. In fact, they discovered that doing so can increase retirement income more than 4%, which is the same amount considered to be a safe withdrawal rate by many money managers. In other words, ensuring your funds are invested and withdrawn to minimize taxes can give you a return equal to the amount you’ll withdraw. The strategy literally pays for itself, and gains may be even larger for those holding Roth accounts.

Roth Option

Roth accounts hold money you’ve already paid tax on, so you can withdraw it completely tax-free in retirement. What’s the catch? You give up the earnings that tax money would have made for however many years the investment lasts. Compare the two here to see which is right for you. Most people will benefit from using a Roth, either in a 401(k) or IRA.

How Is Investment Income Taxed?

Understanding how income is taxed is an important factor in tax planning. Withdrawals from Roth accounts are tax-free. Withdrawals from traditional IRA and 401(k) accounts will be taxed as ordinary income. Money held in taxable accounts is taxed according to its source:
  • Interest income, such as from certificates of deposit (CDs), savings or checking accounts and most bonds, is taxed at your ordinary rate.
  • Capital gains are income that is made by selling an investment for more than the price at which it was bought. If the investment was owned for at least a year and a day, it’s considered long-term and qualifies for the favorable capital gains rate. Less than that, and it is short-term and taxed as ordinary income. 
  • Dividends usually benefit from preferential rates, as long as they are paid by a US corporation or qualified foreign corporation and don’t fall into an excluded category. The corporation that pays the dividend also must be owned for at least a year and a day. And if the dividend isn’t considered “qualified,” it will be taxed at ordinary rates.

Roth accounts are a way to avoid future tax consequences for those who will be in a higher tax bracket in retirement. This includes retirees whose income will shoot up at age 72 when they must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional retirement accounts. The Roth option is also valuable for early retirees, who must wait to begin taking withdrawals from 401(k) or traditional IRA accounts until age 59.5 or pay a 10% penalty.

Another reason to choose a Roth account now? No one can predict the future, but tax rates are at historical lows. It is wise to assume that they will rise in the future, especially since the SECURE Act tax cuts expire after 2025. Finally, the Roth investment vehicle itself may be on the chopping block in the future as the government seeks ways to cover spending.

Some retirees may benefit from funding Roth accounts with rollover contributions after they have quit working (and income is lower) but before they reach age 72 (when RMDs start). It’s also a way for high-income individuals to avoid income limitations on Roth contributions. To explore a Roth rollover, check here.

Asset Allocation

Most people have a variety of accounts: taxable, traditional 401(k) or IRA, and a Roth 401(k) or IRA. Maximize your tax savings by holding the right investments in each type of account. 

Taxable accounts are great for tax efficient investments. This includes stocks and stock funds, which produce capital gains. Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income, or sometimes not at all. Municipal bonds are also a good choice for taxable accounts, since they are not taxed. 

Other bonds and bond funds may be best in traditional retirement accounts. Most of their returns, which are in the form of dividends, are taxed as ordinary income. 


Generally speaking, you should take money out of taxable accounts first, then draw down 401(k)s and IRAs, and save Roth accounts for last. “That’s a pretty good rule for the vast majority of people out there,” says David Blanchett, a co-author of the Morningstar study and head of retirement research at the financial services company. 

But some investors may want to strategize further. For instance, if an investor has withdrawn funds to the limit of a certain tax bracket, it may be wise to take any additional monies from a Roth account to avoid getting hit with a higher rate. It’s a plan that can also be used to avoid hitting income levels for annual Medicare premiums and taxes on Social Security benefits. 

Best Practices

To sum it up, there are a handful of ways to minimize taxes in retirement. Invest in Roths, make strategic withdrawals, choose tax-efficient investments, and invest for the long term. Find a fiduciary financial advisor to assist you with these complex decisions and you’ll be well on your way to the best financial outcome for your retirement nest egg.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

How Climate Change May Affect Your Retirement

Extreme weather events will likely cause expenses to rise across the country while presenting particular danger to older adults.  

“Most people want to escape the winters of the Northeast or the high taxes of certain states, but [climate change] may make them pause and do a little bit more research,” says Certified Financial Planner James Ciprich. “Proximity to health care and low taxes are always attractive options, but now, especially for seniors, you almost need to be thinking in terms of what is my contingency plan in the event of a weather disaster.”

According to NASA, climate change is impacting weather events across the country. Recent years have brought devastating hurricanes to the Eastern Seaboard, flooding in the Midwest and South, and wildfires in the West. It appears we can expect more of the same in the future, with rising sea levels and continued warming. How will this affect older adults?

It’s likely the result will be seen in three areas:
  1. Older adults are most likely to die in extreme weather events.
  2. They may have to rethink where they will retire.
  3. Seniors will face increased costs of living and likely lower returns on investments.

Mortality Factor

When hurricanes, floods, and fires roar through populated areas, older adults are more likely to be left in place, hospitalized, or killed. Hurricane Katrina took the lives of 1,833 people, and 70% of them were older adults. When the Paris heat wave hit, half of those who perished were seniors.

States at Risk

If you’re considering several states for retirement, or want to check on climate risk in your own state, you’ll want to take a look at States at Risk. Just click on a state to find which risks related to climate change it carries. This is a great tool for a first look at what to consider, although we recommend researching individual geographic areas within a state before making any decisions about where to live. Another tip is to rent in an area you’re considering for retirement before making a decision to purchase.
A portion of these grim statistics is due to the relative immobility of the older population, and in part to their more fragile overall health. Regardless of the cause, older adults are more at risk during extreme weather events.

Where To Retire

It seems there is nowhere that is completely free of the impact of climate change. Portland, Oregon, known for fog and rain, saw temperatures break 115 degrees last summer. Massive floods have hit Iowa and Nebraska. The entire state of Texas lost power during the winter of 2021 when winter storms swept through. California is consumed by fire on a regular basis. The subways of New York City had to be closed due to hurricane-induced flooding this past year. 

Florida has been a Mecca for older adults. The inviting combination of warm weather and no state tax has drawn seniors for decades. While that is still true, many soon-to-be retirees are rethinking their options. One couple, David and Rachel, had planned their retirement for years. They had purchased the condo of their dreams on the Florida coast and looked forward to seaside living in a community with thriving shops and restaurants. “We loved it there, we would visit regularly,” Rachel says. 

Then they started seeing sandbags stacked along the local roads. “It wasn’t hurricane season, there wasn’t even a recent storm, and water on the road was there every day,” says David. “We couldn’t stay there, rumors and news reports suggested that climate change was only going to make the flooding worse over time — we were imagining not being able to get in or out of our condo depending on the water level.” Rachel says she began wondering what she’d do if a hurricane came, and how high the water would get. What would she do if they needed to get to a doctor? Regretfully, the pair sold their dream home.

And it’s not just Florida. The National Weather Service reported that last June was the warmest ever on record for Phoenix, Arizona. The high was 118 degrees. And even if carbon emissions were to cease immediately, the Earth is going to get 1.5 degrees warmer over the next 30 years, according to a United Nations report. 

Financial Impacts

Many experts are recommending that all of us plan for higher costs in the future due to climate change. The potential impacts are daunting: 
  • Crop failures
  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Infrastructure damage

Goods will likely become more expensive to produce and transport, and everyone will pay the price as roads and bridges buckle from heat or are washed out by flooding. On a personal level, seniors may find themselves spending more on utility bills, safeguarding their homes against weather events, home repairs, and increased insurance cost and coverage. Those living in the West may be air conditioning their home year ‘round, while others may be dealing with unexpected mold mitigation or water damage.

Even now, many older adults are surprised at the cost of home insurance. Ciprich’s clients, who often leave the New York metropolitan area to head south for states that are lower cost, often are surprised to find they spend just as much. What’s saved in property taxes is often spent on homeowners insurance. 

And they usually haven’t factored in the expense of nails, plywood, and sandbags that are necessary whenever a storm threatens, not just when one hits. Home power generators can set them back up to $7,750, hurricane shutters are $2,000 to $5,750, and retrofitting against earthquake damage is $3,000 and up. 


Most retirees are invested in the stock market and expect average historic annual returns in the range of 10%. But can that last? Higher inflation driven by climate change is a real possibility, and it will erode real returns. Many companies that have benefitted from the fossil fuel economy will incur large expenses as they transfer to cleaner energy. And high-growth companies may find money is more expensive to borrow, lowering returns.

With all this bad news, what can older adults do to protect themselves? Build climate change into plans for the future. This includes planning for higher costs, lower returns, and upping insurance. Surprisingly, many of those living in coastal areas do not carry flood insurance. Retirement, when most people are on a tight income, is not the time to skimp on insuring against geographic risks, whether that’s floods, fire, earthquakes or some other risk.

Additionally, older adults can consider climate change when looking where to retire. Seek out areas with adequate, but not extreme, rainfall, moderate temperatures, and no threat from rising sea levels. Be realistic about considering the entire cost of living in a certain area, not just taxes or insurance. Nothing in life is certain but embracing planning can help make the future brighter.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Can You Trust Wristband Health Readings?

Rapid advances in healthcare technology allow many older adults to monitor their vital signs with a glance at their wrist. But is the technology accurate?   

You’ve probably seen or heard of the multitude of health monitors you can strap on your wrist. And you might assume that they have passed testing to show that they are accurate and reliable. Well, think again.

Most wrist-worn health monitoring products that come on the market are not approved by the FDA. For example, Fitbit, Samsung, and Apple devices all detect blood oxygen levels. However, none of them tie those readings to any medical conditions, so they did not need clearance from the agency before they were made available to consumers. 

The Rumors Aren’t True

Recently, the rumor mill churned out a story that the next Apple Watch would be able to measure blood glucose and alcohol. It arose after the tech giant began questioning users how they monitored both of these levels. Then there was news that one of Apple’s suppliers had come up with a “wrist clinic” that could measure those two biometrics and core body temperature, blood pressure and hydration. That would be progress indeed. However, nothing substantial has come of the gossip and tech junkies are doubtful that such a big jump has been made.
A recent study compared smartwatch and portable health device readings to standard instruments for heart rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. Only heart rate measurements performed in accordance with guidelines for both devices: the Everlast smartwatch and BodiMetrics Performance Monitor. The study concluded that “continued sale of consumer physiological monitors without prior validation and approval procedures is a public health concern.”

FDA Approved

There is one outlier. The Withings ScanWatch,  which scans for abnormal heart rhythms via an EKG feature and also warns about breathing issues during sleep with a blood oxygen sensor, is the first unit to garner FDA approval on both features. The ScanWatch monitors blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and movement to flag breathing problems that could indicate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or sleep apnea, according to a company spokesman.

A study of the pulse oxygen feature was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and found that readings from the smartwatch and a standard pulse oximeter were virtually the same. An ongoing trial is evaluating whether or not the ScanWatch can accurately diagnose sleep apnea. Fitbit and Apple are working on similar products. 

Sleep experts see the smartwatch as a potential means to diagnose sleep apnea at an early stage; the condition often goes undiagnosed. However, experts are cautious since doctors normally use other measurements in combination with those indicated by the watch to make a final diagnosis.

How Do Wearables Work?

Smartwatches shine a broad-spectrum LED onto the user’s skin and evaluate changes in the light that is reflected back. Some sensors in development use several discrete laser outputs from a single chip, enabling assessments of a variety of biometric markers including those in blood, interstitial fluids, and different layers of skin.

As time goes on, you can expect wearables with a greater variety of health measurements and increased accuracy. But before you buy, make sure to do your homework and check how accurate the data is.

Hot Tip: Place your fitness tracker in a pocket near your hip for a more accurate step count. If you must wear it on an arm or hold it, use your non-dominant side. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Cabbies May Unlock Alzheimer’s Secret

Find out why researchers are studying London cab drivers’ brains to learn more about dementia.   

If you hop into one of London’s iconic black taxis, the driver won’t chart a course to your destination with GPS. That’s because every cabbie in this sprawling city since 1865 has had to pass a test called “the Knowledge.” It may be the most difficult piece of memorization on Earth. The region of the brain known as the hippocampus, which shrinks in Alzheimer’s patients, apparently increases in size for cab drivers the longer they are on the job.

Why London Cabbies Are Different

The cluster of exams that make up the Knowledge take three or even four years to finish. Cabbies must know how to navigate 26,000 streets encompassing a six-mile circle around Charing Cross, the heart of London, in order to earn full licensure and a coveted green badge. 

“London cabbies have remarkable brains,” says Hugo Spiers, lead author of the Taxi Brains study underway at University College London. He is building on research done more than 20 years ago by Irish neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire that demonstrated positive changes in taxi drivers’ brains resulting from learning the Knowledge. 

Train Your Brain

If you’ve decided you’d like to delve deeper into this method of brain training, you can! London driver Rob Lordon has written the book The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie. Or you can check out his blog on the subject: View From the Mirror, A Cabbie’s London. 
“We don’t know much about how taxi drivers use their hippocampus during route planning,” says Spiers. “And how do they use other brain regions to solve the task of navigating 26,000 streets? Can we explain why they might be quick to plan out one route and take a while to think out another one? It’s something we need to know more about.”

Researchers hope that by taking MRIs of cabbies’ brains while they are asked to plot out 120 routes in their minds, they will find a way to detect dementia sooner and begin treatment earlier. In return, the cabbies get $40 and an MRI photo of their brain. If you think that’s scant reward for their efforts, you’d be right. Many have personal reasons for participating.

Meet A Participant

Cabbie Matt Newton’s father died of dementia a couple of years ago. “I know what a devastating disease it is for the person (who has it) and the family,” he says. “It was only a few hours of my time, so I was happy to help.” Newton, 44, has been a cabbie since 2016. In addition to route mapping, the cabbies are asked to play Sea Hero Quest, a video game requiring players to use complex spatial navigation. 

“I actually enjoyed studying the Knowledge,” says Newton, “but it was extremely difficult. Most people give up. I studied 12 hours a day, seven days a week for three and a half years.” Newton was a network analyst for two decades before changing careers. He now earns between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, depending on how many hours he puts in behind the wheel.

“I started out learning the ‘Blue Book’ — a set of 320 runs between various points in London,” he says. “I started calling up 80 of these runs every day in my head, then driving the runs on a scooter. I learned hospital runs, theater runs, football runs, and ‘no traffic light’ runs before I applied to be a taxi driver.”

After passing an initial written test, Newton progressed to the portion that would earn him the designation of “black cabbie.” He was required to pass an oral examination every 56 days, reciting the streets he’d take to cover four different routes between points in London. When he’d passed that hurdle, he was called in to the examiner’s office every 28 days, and then every 21 days, for testing.

“At each point, if you fail you go back to the previous level,” he says.

Ideal Study Subjects

London cabbies make ideal participants because there is no other professional group quite like them, especially in the field of spatial navigation,” says researcher Chris Gahnstrom. “They’re a large group of expert navigators who have all had to learn an immense amount of similar information that they are required to use on a daily basis.”

The Taxi Brains researchers are hopeful they can pinpoint the particular subregions of the hippocampus that are most altered in the brains of the 30 cabbies in the study. Results will be passed on to Alzheimer’s Research UK and preliminary findings should appear sometime in the summer of 2022. 


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

December 7 - Larry Bird, basketball player, coach and executive

Larry, you only told me one lie. You said there would be another Larry Bird. There will never, ever be another Larry Bird.— Magic Johnson, at Bird’s retirement party

Larry Bird is the only person in NBA history to wear the titles of Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, NBA Finals MVP, All-Star MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year. Bird also was bestowed the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, one he shares with court rival and lifelong friend Magic Johnson. 

Bird was raised in French Lick, Indiana. His mom worked two jobs to support her six offspring. She divorced Bird’s father when Bird was in high school, and Larry’s dad took his own life twelve months later. Bird says that “to this day” growing up poor was a highly motivating factor for him, as he dominated the court from a young age. An introvert, Bird chose the relatively small campus of Indiana State University for college ball, leading the Sycamores to their first NCAA tournament with a 33-0 record his junior year. They lost to Michigan State for the championship, but it would mark the first time Bird squared off against the man who would become his nemesis on court and good friend off it: Magic Johnson.

The pair dominated ‘80s basketball. With Bird on the Celtics and Johnson playing for the Lakers, the rivalry whipped up fan interest and excitement. During that decade, either Boston or Los Angeles appeared in every NBA Finals. 

In 1985 Bird was shoveling asphalt to make a driveway at his mother’s house and hurt his back. The injury never fully healed despite treatments and even a surgery to remove a disc. It would eventually cause Bird to step off the court for good as a player in 1993. However, Bird went on to a successful if short coaching stint, then President of Operations for the Celtics, and today stays on as an advisor.


Image Source: Wikipedia

December 23 - Dave Murray, guitarist and songwriter

Heavy metal band Iron Maiden has featured Dave Murray as lead guitar since 1976; he’s second only to founder Steve Harris in time spent with the band. He formed his first band at 16 after hearing “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix on the radio when "everything changed, just like that. Getting into rock music wasn't like a gradual process for me; it was completely sort of extreme, totally black and white. I heard 'Voodoo Chile' on the radio and I thought, 'What is THAT? How do you do THAT?' And I started hanging around the rock music section of the record stores and buying albums, thinking about getting into the big time, wondering what that would be like.” 

Murray grew up poor, his family moving around London. He quickly learned to fight and spent his youth battling skinheads and having “a rowdy couple of years.” After his rock conversion he quit school and played in a couple of local bands. When he auditioned for Iron Maiden it was over the objection of the band’s two guitar players at the time, but when they laid down an ultimatum that it was Murray or them, founder and bassist Harris says there was no contest. "When the others made it plain that it was either them or Dave Murray, there was no choice. There was no way I was gonna let Dave go. Not only was he a nice bloke, he was just the best guitarist I'd ever worked with. He still is.”

Murray isn’t very involved with songwriting, preferring the instrumental aspects of songs. He’s No. 9 on Gibson’s list of the Top 10 Metal Guitarists of All Time. Murray has used Fender Stratocaster guitars to the near exclusion of all other brands. 

He has one daughter with his wife, Tamar, and lives on Maui when he’s not touring. What’s his favorite sport? Not surfing. Surprisingly, Murray prefers to be out on the links at least a couple of times a week.

Image Source: Wikipedia

December 26 - David Sedaris, essayist, humorist

David Sedaris is an American treasure. If you haven’t laughed out loud recently, pick up a copy of his “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls” or “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” The latter is especially illuminating for anyone who has ever struggled to learn a foreign language. Perhaps you recall when Sedaris read his essay “Santaland Diaries” on National Public Radio in 1992. It was a monster hit then and the humor, wit and even pathos is just as poignant now.

Sedaris’s works are largely autobiographical. He is one of six children; sister Amy is an actor and co-writer on three plays, written under the moniker “The Talent Family.” Sister Tiffany died in 2013, prompting Sedaris to pen “Now We Are Five.” He often deals with themes of his own gayness, and can be self-deprecating, witty and stabbingly excoriating in the same paragraph. 

Sedaris lives in West Sussex, England, with longtime partner Hugh, a set designer and painter with whom he forms “the sort of couple who wouldn’t get married.” One of his passions is strapping on a headlamp and collecting roadside litter, a hobby for which he’s been dubbed “Pig Pen” and acquired a waste vehicle of the same name. Look for him when you’re in Rackham.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Monday, November 22, 2021

Ageless: Can We Turn Back Time?

Will you live to celebrate your 120th birthday, where you’ll play a lively game of hide and seek with the great-grandkids? It could happen, according to the author of a recent book. 

Biologist and physicist Andrew Steele has penned a provocative book, Ageless: The new Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, that details how scientists are tackling the underlying causes of aging itself. The author defines aging as “the exponential increase in death and suffering with time,” and he insists we should “finally grapple with this raw quantity of suffering.”

“We’re all quite blind to its magnitude. But what do people die of? Cancer. Heart disease. Stroke. These things all occur in old people, and they primarily occur because of the aging process.” Rather than treat the individual diseases, Steele looks at a new field, biogerontology, that seeks to address the root causes of aging itself. “The dream of anti-aging medicine,” Steele writes, “is treatments that would identify the root causes of dysfunction as we get older, then slow their progression or reverse them entirely.”

Even before Ponce de Leon went searching for the fountain of youth, humankind has sought ways to extend life, to transcend the boundaries of our existence. But although lifespans have gradually lengthened, what Steele terms our “healthspan” has not. Hearing and eyesight usually dim, and aches and pains increase. The likelihood of dementia shoots up. 

Three Hallmarks of Aging

Aging has three underlying causes, called hallmarks. Scientists are looking at all three as ways to improve function in old age and expand lifespan.
  1. Genomic Instability. Genetic damage accumulates as we age; our DNA degrades. 
  2. Cellular Senescence. Old (senescent) cells build up in our bodies the older we get.
  3. Mitochondrial Dysfunction. Mitochondria gradually become less able to generate the energy needed by cells to power biochemical reactions.
“There’s this misconception when you talk to people about treating aging,” he says. “They imagine they’re going to live longer but in a state of terrible decrepitude, that you’re going to extend their 80s and 90s so they’re sat in a care home for 50 years. That doesn’t make sense from a logical perspective or a practical one.”


The book highlights four general areas of study: “removing bad things that accumulate,” “renewing things which are broken or lost,” “repairing things which are damaged or out of kilter” and “reprogramming our biology to slow or reverse aging.” Don’t let the layman’s language fool you; although written so that we can all understand the concepts, the book discusses the hard science behind them.

In the last 30 years, researchers have begun to make progress toward these goals. A 2015 study from Harvard showed that a drug regimen designed to remove senescent (old) cells in mice “reversed a number of signs of aging, including improving heart function.” A 2020 Texas study found elderly mice lived three months longer — 10 years in equivalent human time — after a stem cell transplant from young mice. 

Perhaps the most encouraging news is that human trials have started. Research is underway to remove senescent cells. Another study found that a drug/hormone combination appeared to rejuvenate the thymus, which is responsible for assisting the immune system. Diabetes drug metformin is being tested to see if it can retard the “development or progression of age-related chronic diseases — such as heart disease, cancer and dementia.”

Does any of this mean much to those of us who are becoming older adults right now? Steele thinks so. “I think we are very likely to have a drug that treats aging in the next 10 years.” Of course, a breakthrough drug won’t be able to extend our lives another 100 years right away. What it may do is allow us to live another 10 years, while subsequent advances in treatment increase both the quality and quantity of life, giving us yet more time. 

Steele theorizes about a generation that expects to die at 85, but then doesn’t. “One after another,” he writes in Ageless, “lifesaving medical breakthroughs will push their funerals further and further into the future.” Steele admits this sounds strange.

“The trouble is, saying we’re going to have 150-year-olds walking around looking like 20-year-olds, it’s weird. It sounds sci-fi. It sounds a bit creepy. Ultimately, I don’t want this because I want to have a load of 150-year-olds looking like 20-year-olds, I want it because those 150-year-olds won’t have cancer, they won’t have heart disease, they won’t be struggling with arthritis. They’ll still be playing with their grandkids, their great-grandkids even. It’s about the health and lifestyle benefits.”

Steele hopes to convince the public and officials in charge of funding that aging should be addressed. Regulators currently don’t consider it a disease, so it’s hard to find grants for trials. He admits that biogerontology raises some eyebrows. “It sounds strange,” he says. “We place aging research in this separate category — socially, morally, ethically, even scientifically, when actually, it’s just an extension of the normal goals of modern medicine.”

What You Can Do Now

So, will you be able to find a cure or two in the book’s pages? Unfortunately, no. Steele himself has reassessed his lifestyle, but not to take a handful of pills or supplements every day. He runs more than before, and he’s careful about what he eats. “It seems that a lot of the sort of basic health advice that everyone can recite — do some exercise, don’t be overweight, try to eat a broad range of foods, don’t smoke –—all that stuff basically slows down the aging process,” he says.

What about metformin and supplements? “Given that I’m in my 30s, I think the case against metformin is stronger than the case for,” Steele says. “The evidence is suggestive, but it’s not conclusive. And there’s a spectrum. There are people who are experimenting with senolytics. There was the case of the biotech CEO who went to Colombia and had gene therapy. But the data in humans just isn’t there.” The author adds that “the same is true of so many of these supplements and health foods. If any of these things did have a substantial effect, we’d know about it.”

But what happens if people quit dying? How will the framework of our lives change if we no longer have the typical progression famously defined in the riddle of the Sphinx? Steele has an answer. “Because death is inevitable people have rationalized it as something that drives life, or gives life meaning, or adds some sort of poetry to the human condition. But I think, broadly speaking, death is bad. If there was less death in the world, I think most people would agree that was a good thing. And though my passion for treating aging isn’t driven by reducing the amount of death, it’s driven by reducing ill health in later life, it’s driven by conquering disease, it’s driven by getting rid of suffering. If there’s less death as a side-effect? I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Thursday, November 18, 2021

What You Need To Know About RMDs

Understand required minimum distributions and how to strategize to reduce taxes and make the most of your retirement accounts.

You spend your working years tucking money away for retirement. But the same accounts that gave you a tax break when you contributed have likely been growing over the years. That’s a good thing, until Uncle Sam wants his share. At age 72, you must start taking out required minimum distributions, or RMDs, and pay regular tax on the withdrawals. 

While you can’t skirt the law, there are a variety of ways to optimize your position. But first, you need to know the basics. The 2019 SECURE Act upped the age when RMDs start from 70.5 to 72. Now, you must make the first withdrawal by April 1 of the year after you turn 72, and then by December 31 of every year thereafter. 

This law generally affects the original owner of a traditional IRA, SEP IRA, and/or SIMPLE IRA. In addition, it applies to employer retirement plans such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It does not affect Roth IRAs because you paid tax on those funds before they were deposited.

RMDs are taxed at the ordinary income tax rate, not as capital gains. It’s usually best to take your first RMD in the year you turn 72 and not wait until the next year, when you would have to take two RMDs that may push you into a higher tax bracket. Compare your tax bills under each scenario before deciding what to do. Remember that higher income could also alter how much of your Social Security income will be taxed and the cost of Medicare Parts B and D.

Calculating Your RMD

To arrive at your RMD, the IRS divides your account balance on December 31 from the previous year by the life-expectancy factor based on your birthday. Luckily, you can just use a calculator or have your brokerage do this for you.

If you own more than one IRA, you need to add them up and figure out your RMD based on the total amount. However, you can withdraw that amount any way you’d like, taking it from just one account or from several. Owners of 401(k)s, on the other hand, must calculate RMDs and withdraw from each account separately. 

You have the option of getting the withdrawal in a lump sum, or spreading out payments over the year — quarterly, monthly, or whatever works for you. Just make sure that the total is taken out by the deadline, or you will owe some incredibly stiff penalties: 50% of the shortfall plus income tax. The IRS may forgive you if you can offer up an explanation and how you corrected your mistake. File Form 5329 to ask for leniency.

An easier way to avoid this punishment is to have your account custodian manage withdrawals. 

Avoiding RMDS: Work Waiver, Roth Rollovers and Conversions

One way to avoid taking RMDs at 72 is if you are still working and don’t own over 5% of the company. In that case, you don’t have to take RMDs on your current employer’s 401(k), but you will still need to make withdrawals on other retirement accounts. 

If your current 401(k) allows rollovers from other 401(k) plans from previous employers, it’s a great strategy for not paying taxes until you actually retire. Note that IRAs cannot be rolled into a 401(k).

An easy solution for Roth 401(k) owners is to roll those funds into a Roth IRA, which doesn’t require the original owner to make RMDs. If you have a Roth IRA account that is at least five years old and you are 59.5 or older, the money rolled into the account (and any gains) is yours tax-free.

If you own both traditional and Roth IRAs, another smart strategy is to convert all or some of your traditional funds to a Roth IRA. This is typically best in years when you have lower income, so it’s often done over time between retirement and age 72, although there is currently no age limit. Of course, you’ll have to pay taxes on the amount converted, but future RMDs will be lowered. All Roth distributions are tax-free, so if you need extra money, you can access these funds without increasing your taxable income. If you retired before 65 and have health care through the Affordable Care Act, remember that rollovers count toward your adjusted gross income (AGI) and may affect subsidies you receive. 

Qualified Longevity Annuity 

You may want to use a qualified longevity annuity, or QLAC, to lower RMDs and defer the related tax. These deferred annuities don’t pay out right away, but it is not as expensive as an immediate annuity. You can invest up to $130,000 or 25% of your balance, whichever is less. The money invested in the QLAC is no longer taxable, but payouts, which usually start at about age 85, are. 

Company Stock

If you own company stock in your 401(k), then you may be able to take advantage of a tax strategy known as net unrealized appreciation. Roll all of the funds out of the 401(k) and into a traditional IRA but put the stock into a taxable account. You’ll have to pay ordinary income tax on the cost basis of the stock, but future profits realized at a sale will qualify for lower capital gains taxes. In addition, your RMDs will be lower since the company stock is no longer included.

Younger Spouse

The IRS makes an exception to the traditional formula for RMDs for those with a spouse more than 10 years their junior. The life-expectancy factor is adjusted by using the intersection of the age of both spouses in Table II of IRS Publication 590-B or just check the appropriate box on the calculator.

Excess Funds

If you’ve reduced your RMD as much as possible but still have excess funds, put them in a taxable brokerage account. Tax-efficient investing options include municipal bonds and index funds. 

Your RMD does not have to be made in cash. Consider directing your broker to transfer a portion of it in stock to a taxable account, where the date of transfer value becomes the basis. This is particularly valuable in a down market where you can avoid locking in a loss. Of course, if the stock continues to decline you can at least harvest the loss. 

Starting at age 70.5, qualified charitable donations (QCD)s allow transfers of up to $100,000 annually to a charity or charities directly from the IRA. They will count toward the RMD but will not appear in adjusted gross income. This is an especially useful tactic for taxpayers who don’t itemize and would otherwise not be able to write off contributions.

But it can also benefit itemizers by lowering AGI so that they can take advantage of, for example, the write-off for medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of AGI. 

Pay Taxes

Yes, you can use your RMD to manage tax payments. Tell your brokerage to withhold an amount of money from your RMD to equal your entire tax bill for the year. You won’t have to hassle with quarterly payments or worry about underpayment penalties. Even if you have your RMD withdrawn as a lump sum in December it’s not a problem because the IRS considers withholding to be evenly paid throughout the year. And if you wait until December, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re going to owe.

RMDs may be unavoidable but they can be effectively managed. Be sure to consult a tax professional before you make any changes to your accounts. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

20 Best Holiday Gifts for Older Adults

Holiday (and birthday!) shopping just got a whole lot easier with these thoughtful presents for all the people over 65 in your life.

Coming up with just the right gift can be as hard as finding a needle in a haystack. We’ve searched for the top 20 gifts for seniors that they’ll use and enjoy. These choices are helpful and thoughtful, selected to enhance quality of life. 

We’ve covered a diverse array of older adults, from those who are very active to people with Alzheimer’s. Selections have also been made from a variety of price points and encompass everything from tech to special experiences. Most are appropriate to give to clients as a small thank-you gift. And nearly all are available online.

  1. Amazon Echo Dot Alexa. This voice assistant plays music, tells jokes, reads audiobooks, plays the news and so much more. Arthritic fingers and aging eyes can make typing difficult, but Alexa is operated entirely by voice. About $50.
  2. SilverRide. A “door through door” experience, SilverRide sends someone to pick up the customer and accompany that person on an outing, then bring him or her back into the home. Treat someone to a wheelchair ride through the park, a visit to the art museum, or another favorite place. Price varies.
  3. Sunbeam Heated Throw Blanket. There are chilly days everywhere in the country, and nothing will warm someone up as thoroughly and quickly as an electric blanket. This one has three settings and comes in several colors. About $45.
  4. Succulent Garden. These hardy plants are a great choice for indoors, even if the recipient is lacking a green thumb. Choose from a wide array of shapes and colors, either fully grown or from cuttings that will grow to fill the pot. From $9.
  5. Boot Jack. Remove any shoe or pull-on boot without bending over. From $10.
  6. Tile Pro Key Finder. Use an app on your phone to find lost keys, or find your phone, even in silent mode, with your key finder. Four hundred foot range and is compatible with Alexa. About $35.
  7. Wheelchair Leg Blanket. Lap blankets can leave the backs of legs cold, but that won’t be a problem with this cocoon-style leg blanket that wraps around limbs for cozy comfort. $40.
  8. Super Vison Phone App. Anyone with aging eyes would appreciate having this free app on their smartphone. A simple slider adjusts the amount of magnification while a light brightens the space. Read menus in dark restaurants, see prescription doses and so much more. Free.
  9. Ancestry DNA Test Kit. Find relatives and discover your genetic heritage with a simple test that can be mailed in. From $59.
  10. Extra-long Shoe Horn. Helps shoes go on easily without bending over. $15. 
  11. Instacart Home Delivery Service. Treat an older adult to deliveries from the local grocery store, Costco, or other retailer. Price varies.
  12. Audiobooks Subscription. Who wouldn’t love choosing from over 250,000 book titles? Start with their free trial that includes three books plus other content. Start for free.
  13. Aftershokz Wireless Bluetooth Headphones. These bone conduction headphones don’t block out other sounds, making them safer to use than ear buds. They’re also easy to take on and off and come in one piece. Charge for up to eight hours of use. About $80.
  14. TSA PreCheck®. Frequent travelers will appreciate being able to avoid long lines at TSA security checkpoints. No more removing footwear or bagging liquids, either. $85, good for five years.
  15. Lemonade Pursuits Jigsaw Puzzles. Voted the best jigsaw puzzles around, these artistic puzzles embrace unusual-shaped pieces, low glare, and great craftsmanship. Plus, the company will replace lost or damaged pieces. About $25.
  16. Destination Maps from National Geographic. These waterproof maps include historic sites and cultural attractions, as well as roads and terrain. $14.95.
  17. Ancestors/Relatives Photo Concentration Memory Game. Send in photos of ancestors, relatives, or the recipient at different ages, and receive a matching game with photos. Perfect to play with grandchildren. $24.99.
  18. Motion-Activated Indoor Lights. Not everyone wants a night light illuminating their sleeping space; solve the problem with motion-activated lights. Great for stairwells. From $10. 
  19. Instant Pot Pressure Cooker. Cook an entire meal in one pot, up to 70% faster than with other methods. Clean up is fast and easy, and there are recipes for a wide variety of meals. From about $67.
  20. Firstleaf Wine of the Month Club. Award-winning wine-of-the-month club offers free shipping of wines from around the world. About $40. Other monthly choices to consider are bouquets and desserts.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Tech Update for Older Adults

Trends in technology for older adults highlight continued adaption in a variety of services, including health care.   

Older adults are continuing to live better because of technological innovation. A recent AARP report about tech trends shows that adults over 50 have nearly as high an adoption rate for smartphones, wearables, voice assistants and smart home technologies as their younger counterparts. 

Tech Adaption Increases

Older adults are streaming movies, video-chatting with friends and family, and buying plenty of smart devices such as tablets and home security systems. COVID-19 was the tailwind that spurred increased acceptance of technology while we couldn’t get together in person. Spending on devices such as smart TVs, smartphones and Bluetooth headsets skyrocketed as older adults changed how they consume entertainment.

However, that’s not to say that barriers to adoption don’t exist for older adults. More than half were eager to learn more about how to use technology, and over a third said they’d use technology more often if they knew how. The three top barriers cited were cost, lack of knowledge, and concerns around privacy. The majority (83%) were not confident that what they do online remains private.

Rendever Poised to Boost VR Options

VR networking platform Rendever already allows users to strap on a headset and participate in travel activities, attend a concert, or play games. “It’s very socially engaging,” Rose says. “It’s networked VR; you could ‘go scuba diving’ and talk about the experience together.” 

Now the company is launching a new effort aimed at total engagement: RendeverFit is due to be released in December. The program combines physical exercise with cognitive fitness and social engagement. How? In one mode, participants cycle through landscapes with their friends as they reach to pop balloons and compete for high scores. Another involves swinging a paddle, and a third invites users to paint a virtual canvas, moving about as they do. 

Users are encouraged to keep participating; the program tracks individual progress and biometric data such as calories used. Participants have custom avatars and compete both individually and with communities world-wide.
Finally, there are still disparities relating to access. Some relate to cost, which is an issue for about a quarter of older adults. But a quarter of rural consumers cited a lack of access, including 15% who either don’t have internet access or are not sure if they do. 

What’s On the Horizon

So, knowing that tech is increasingly prevalent in the lives of older adults, let’s look at what’s catching on. Sheri Rose, director of the Thrive Center nonprofit that provides education on tech for older adults and looks at trends, highlights five areas where home tech and delivery models are morphing.

  1. Tech to support independent living. The kitchen is changing, from induction cooktops that can’t burn a user to fridges that let users see the contents without opening the door and remind users when product is expiring. Those lacking the full pocketbook for a fancy fridge can take advantage of a voice assistant -- one that can be paired with other devices to move the thermostat, see who’s at the door, or turn on the lights. Sensors can help family members living elsewhere keep tabs on a loved one by detecting motion via laser scanning or measuring changes in gait and thus the likelihood of a fall. 
  2. Wearables for health data. A plethora of wearable products is available to help users monitor their own health. Of course, there are the iconic Apple Watch and Fitbit, but you can also find Wi-Fi-enabled pulse oximeters and blood pressure monitors that will reduce visits to the doctor’s office or alert when the measurement is out of normal bounds. “Chronic heart failure and other comorbidities can be monitored remotely and help seniors avoid exposure to the virus, keeping them safe and healthy at home,” Rose says. “Smart tablets designed for seniors have integrated data collected from wearables. While you’re playing solitaire on your tablet, you get an alert that you need to take a walk or take your heart medication.” 
  3. Telehealth is taking off. The pandemic has spurred adaption of remote health visits, made possible by secure videoconferencing platforms and improvements in camera sensitivity, making it possible for doctors to diagnose a rash or assess healing.
  4. Virtual reality is viable entertainment. The isolation of COVID-19 corresponded with an uptick in the use of virtual reality (VR) systems. Thrive Center seniors have been overwhelmingly positive in their assessment of the technology. “We see older adults visit Thrive and put on a VR headset, and they get so enthralled with sitting on the beach and meditating,” Rose says. “We do so much with virtual reality because we know the impact it can have on reducing pain, loneliness and stress levels.”
  5. 5G will make a difference. The fifth-generation cell service is set to boost speeds up to 100 times over current levels, and users will have to be trained in best-practice cybersecurity measures before joining up. Older adults may see the most benefit in the healthcare delivery arena. “5G is really going to boost a lot of download and upload capacity. When deployed, I think it will make a huge difference,” Rose says. 

It’s clear that technology use is on the rise among older adults. Senior living facilities may soon be competing based on their tech offerings, as well as more traditional amenities.