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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