Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Keep the Holidays Affordable

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or another holiday, gift giving can become expensive, especially for someone who is retired and living on a fixed income.  While you want your loved ones to know you care about them, you also need to find ways to get through the holidays without going into debt or spending more than you can afford.  How can you keep the holidays under control?

Holiday Shopping Does Not Have to be Expensive

Start with a Budget and Stick with It -  Make a list of the people who will be receiving gifts from you and decide how much you can afford to spend on each person ... even if it is only a few dollars.  If the list includes grandchildren, remember their parents are primarily responsible for providing what they need.  It is not necessary for you to overwhelm them with gifts.  One or two small gifts is adequate in most cases.  If you are buying gifts for your friends and neighbors, stick with small, thoughtful items, some of which you can purchase at a Dollar Store ... hand lotion, hot chocolate, gloves, or similar presents they can use or consume.  Stay away from knickknacks and collectibles which will only gather dust and your friends probably do not need.

Make a Plan and Shop Early -  Try to make as few trips to the stores as possible.  The more visits you make to the mall, the more likely you are to overspend.  Watch for ads and purchase the items you need when they are on sale.  Keep an eye on internet prices and sign up for email alerts from your favorite chain stores or shopping sites, such as Amazon, Macy's, JC Pennys, Kohls, Best Buy and Target. Many stores will match prices if you find the exact same item online somewhere else for a lower price.

Once You are Finishing Shopping ... Stop - One of the problems many people have during the holidays is when they spend the money they budgeted and then keep going back to the shops, finding more gift items and purchasing them, as well.  Once you have a gift for everyone on your list, relax and enjoy the holidays.

Make Some of Your Gifts - Some of my most cherished gifts are the quilts and embroidered pillowcases which were made by my own grandmothers decades ago.  In return, I crocheted baby blankets for all my grandchildren when they were born, as well as miniature baby blankets for our granddaughter's dolls.  Homemade jam, candy, cookies or cake are wonderful gifts, if you enjoy cooking!

Avoid Buying Gifts for Yourself - Once you are in the mall, a common cause of overspending is buying gifts for yourself. According to the National Retail Federation, 55.8 percent of shoppers admit they spent an average of $130 on themselves while they were purchasing gifts for other people!

More Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

Draw Names if You Have a Large Family - If you have a large number of children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews in your family, and have traditionally purchased gifts for most of them, you might suggest that everyone make it easy on themselves by drawing names, so you only need to purchase gifts for your immediate family and the one name you draw from your extended family.  Everyone in your family may appreciate this idea since it will reduce their stress and the cost of holiday shopping for them, too.

Have Pot Luck Holiday Meals - Whether it is a New Year's Eve party, Christmas dinner, or Hanukah meal, providing food for a large number of guests and family members can become expensive.  However, if you only offer to provide a main course, plus non-alcoholic beverages, and suggest that everyone else bring a side dish and whatever else they want to drink, it will remove a heavy financial burden from you, as well as reduce your work load.

Remember What is Most Important about the Holidays - While gifts and lavish meals are fun, it is important to remember that these are not what make the holidays special ... it is the time you spend with family and friends.  Focus more on that and less on the money you spend.  You will soon find you will enjoy the holidays more and will be less likely to get stressed or exceed your budget.

If you are interested in other tips to make retirement easier, financial planning, dealing with common medical problems, deciding where to retire, or changing family relationships, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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Photo credit:  Photo of mall decorations taken by author

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Most Strokes can be Prevented

Strokes are one of the health issues that people fear the most as they age.  Recently, researchers discovered that 90 percent of strokes are preventable!  They learned this by analyzing 27,000 people from every continent on earth.  While there were some regional variations which determined what factors were most important in causing strokes, the list of health issues that contribute to them was surprisingly consistent ... and preventable.

How the Research was Conducted

The study was headed up by Dr. Martin O'Donnell and Professor Salim Yusef of McMaster University.  They were supported by collaborators from 32 countries.  Their study built on the INTERSTROKE study which originally discovered the ten most important risk factors for strokes, based on 6,000 participants who were in 22 different countries.  As mentioned above, O'Donnell and Yusef expanded the research to include 27,000 people from around the world.

What are the Risk Factors for Strokes?

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, was the most important factor in determining stroke risk.  That was true in every region.

However, the researchers came up with a PAR percentage (Population Attributable Risk) for each risk factor that contributed to strokes.  Many of the risk factors are associated with each other, such as obesity and diabetes.  When the PAR numbers were combined, it showed that controlling these risk factors could eliminate 90.7 percent of all strokes.  This was true in all regions of world, in all age groups, and for both men and women.

The Overall PAR Percentages

Hypertension - 47.9
Physical Inactivity - 35.8
Lipids (cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.) - 26.8
Poor diet - 23.2
Obesity - 18.6
Smoking - 12.4
Cardiac problems (including atrial fibrillation) - 9.1
Alcohol intake - 5.8
Stress - 5.8
Diabetes - 3.9

Conclusions from this Study

Professor Valery L. Feigin and Dr. Rita Kishnamurthi, who are with the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences, added their own comment to the study.  In it they said, in part, "stroke is a highly preventable disease globally, irrespective of age and sex."

How to Apply this Information to Your Life

Now that scientists have confirmed that over 90 percent of strokes are preventable, individuals can work with their doctors to take action and prevent it.  You can use the list above to determine which areas of your life are most in need of change ... high blood pressure, lack of exercise, high cholesterol and triglycerides, a poor diet, being over-weight, smoking, cardiac problems, excessive alcohol use, stress and diabetes.

The sooner you address any of these issues in your personal life, the less likely you are to ever experience a stroke.

As always, be sure you discuss your health issues with your doctor.  Only they can prescribe medications which could help you control your blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes.  Working closely with your physician and following their advice are the best ways to prevent strokes.

If you are interested in learning more about common health issues as you age, financial planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional, helpful articles.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Are We Grateful and Kind or Angry and Bitter?

Among the common problems that many people experience as they age are symptoms of anger, aggression, hostility, and depression.  There are many reasons why people may feel these emotions.  They may be experiencing poor health, pain or loneliness.  They could be developing dementia. They could be upset by politics, the loss of friends as they age, or other sad events in their lives. Even if they have a good reason to be grouchy and irritable, however, giving into these negative emotions can be very damaging both to them and others.

Whenever someone lashes out at people within their family or circle of friends, it is not unusual for the other people to become less willing to help them or spend time with them.  They may lash back.  The angry person could end up destroying their relationships with the very people they care the most about.  That only serves to increase their feelings of isolation and anger.

Health Dangers of Anger

How do you handle anger, disappointment, resentment and sadness?  Do you frequently find yourself feeling irritable and angry?  Uncontrolled anger puts your health at risk and can cause the following health issues:
  • headaches;
  • digestion problems, such as abdominal pain;
  • insomnia;
  • increased anxiety;
  • depression;
  • high blood pressure;
  • skin problems, such as eczema;
  • heart attacks.
Anger can also lower your immune system and make other health conditions worse, including cancer.  It can be very destructive.

In addition, if you have strong feelings of hostility, irritability and anger, you become more likely to get into arguments with the people around you.  You might even find yourself raging out-of-control and getting into physical fights.  You could physically harm yourself or others.

The stress hormones associated with anger can damage a variety of systems in your body, as reflected in the list of health issues mentioned above.

Healthy Ways to Deal with Anger

Under normal circumstances, there are a number of ways you can deal with your anger.  You can try walking away until you get your emotions under control.  You can analyze why you feel so strongly about an issue and try to deal with it less emotionally.  You could try getting physical exercise to release the stress hormones.

However, what if your anger is because of health issues, the loss of a family member, uncontrolled pain, or because you are in the early stages of dementia?  What if the normal ways of dealing with feelings of anger are not enough?

If you find yourself getting angry often or feeling out-of-control, you may want to talk to your doctor about counseling and/or anti-depressants.  You may want to discuss pain management.  You may need to become willing to accept assistance by applying for Meals on Wheels, hiring a caregiver or, if necessary, moving into as assisted living community.  In other words, use every tool at your disposal to treat your anger until you can get it under control.

How to Improve Our Outlook on Life

In addition to the steps mentioned above, there are other actions you can take to reduce your feelings of hostility.

Volunteer - People who feel needed and who take the time to help others tend to have a better outlook on life.

Get a pet - Whether you decide to get a dog, cat or fish in an aquarium, having as pet has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

Socialize with others - Many senior citizens spend most of their time alone.  They stay indoors, watch television and eat their meals by themselves.  Anything you can do that breaks up your day and gives you more contact with other people can make a significant difference in your outlook on life.  Local senior centers provide low-cost lunches for anyone who wants to come and eat with others.  Often, these lunches are accompanied by games and other activities.  You may also want to join clubs or take classes in your community.

Attend religious services - Studies have shown that people who regularly attend the religious services of their choice tend to live longer and be happier.

Get rest - People who do not sleep enough are more likely to be grouchy.  Extreme sleep deprivation can even mimic the symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses.  If you are having trouble getting enough sleep, discuss the problem with your doctor and see if behavioral modification or medication can help.

Eat healthy foods - There is some truth to the idea that we are what we eat.  Too much sugar, alcohol or caffeine, for example, can increase feelings of irritability and make it more difficult for us to sleep.

Be grateful - Gratitude is a positive emotion that helps people cope better with stress in their life.  It helps people to focus on the good in their lives and takes their attention off their difficulties, even temporarily.  Start a gratitude list and add to it regularly.

Journal - One place where you may want to keep your gratitude list is in a journal.  Many people also find it helpful to keep a journal of their feelings and experiences.  It can be a healthy outlet and a relaxing way to help you find solutions to the things that worry you. 

Learn to Relax - You may want to take meditation or yoga classes.  Learning proper breathing techniques can lower your blood pressure and decrease stress.  Many people also find it soothing to spend time in nature.

Get regular exercise -  Exercise can improve some health conditions, get us outside, take our minds off our difficulties and change our attitude.  Regular exercise can improve mood and reduce stress levels.

Smile - The act of smiling changes the way we look at the world.  When we smile at someone else, they usually will smile back, which makes us feel even better.

The bottom line is that we are far better off at any age when we reach out to other people, show gratitude for the things they do for us, and treat them with kindness.  We cannot expect others to be kind to us if we react with bitterness and sarcasm.  Practice being considerate of others and we are likely to see that behavior returned.

If you are interested in learning more about the issues that affect retirees, including common health problems, financial planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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