Wednesday, April 27, 2016

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day

Public Service Announcement:  It is not uncommon for many people to have unwanted, unused and expired prescription medications in their homes.  In order to avoid having people either throw these drugs in the trash, flush them down the toilet (and into our water supply), or risk having them stolen and sold on the street, communities across the country participate in National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

In 2016, the time for returning drugs is April 30 from 10:00 to 2:00.

In following years, the date will normally be the last Saturday in April, although you will want to check annually to confirm the correct date and nearest location.

This event is sponsored by the Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration.  Drugs can be turned in anonymously, no questions asked, in a variety of locations.  In our county in California, the drugs can be returned to virtually any city hall, as well as some hospitals and other public facilities.

Call your local city hall or police department to see where you can turn in unused, unwanted and expired prescription medication or go online to find a location near you.

Below is the link to the DEA website where you can find the collection center that is nearest to you:

DEA Prescription Drug Collection Center Locator

If you missed out on the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day this year, you may still want to contact your city hall or police department and see if there is a place where you can turn them in at other times.  If no location is available in your area, lock your unwanted prescriptions up and turn them in next year. Most important, make sure you do everything you can to keep them out of the hands of children and other visitors to your home.  They could be dangerous!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Over-the-Counter Painkiller Dangers

If you are one of the millions of Americans who use over-the-counter painkillers to cope with chronic pain from arthritis, injuries, headaches or minor aches and pains, it is important that you know the risks and which painkillers are less dangerous than others.  While many people believe there is no harm in taking these medications on a daily basis, they may be shocked to discover just how dangerous they are.

Dangers of Taking Advil, Motrin and Aleve

The over-the-counter NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as Advil, Motrin and Aleve, appear to be particularly dangerous for large numbers of people.  This is also true for generic or store brand versions of these drugs.  Here are some of the risks people take when they use these drugs on a regular basis:

*  Increased risk of a heart attack
*  Increased risk of a stroke
*  Increased risk of heart failure
*  Increased risk of death during the first year after a heart attack, if you are treated with an NSAID during that time.

These risks even affect people who do NOT have heart disease!  In addition, the increased risk can occur as early as the first few weeks after you begin taking one of these drugs and goes up the longer you take it and the higher doses you use.

How Much Do NSAIDs Increase Your Risk of a Heart Attack?

Simply using over-the-counter, moderate dosage levels of these drugs will increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 10%.  If you take the prescription strength versions, your risk could be increased by 30% to 50%.   Dangerous levels of these drugs, which could increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke the most, are:

Motrin (ibuprofen) - 2,400 mg. a day
Aleve (naproxen) - 1,000 mg. a day
Voltaren (diclofenac) - 150 mg. a day
Celebrex (celecoxib) - 400 mg. a day

It is important to remember, however, that even a 10% increased risk from the over-the-counter dosages is significant for someone who already has heart disease.  If you do take one of these medications, it is important to take the lowest dosage for the shortest time possible. 

Which NSAID is the Least Risky?

The FDA statement on the NSAIDs indicated that Aleve (naproxen) appears to be the "least likely to increase the risk of stroke and heart problems."  However, Aleve is also the NSAID that is the most likely to cause stomach bleeding, so that is something for consumers to consider, as well.

What are the Best Alternatives to NSAIDs?

Instead of using Motrin, Advil, Aleve, Celebrex or Voltaren, most people can receive the relief they need by switching to aspirin or Tylenol (acetaminophen), or using alternative methods of pain relief, such as yoga, acupuncture, massage or physical therapy.   If using aspirin or acetaminophen, you still need to be cautious about the quantities used in order to minimize the risk of stomach bleeding.


"New Warnings on OTC Painkillers," AARP Bulletin, September, 2015, pg. 10

If you are interested in getting additional information on medical issues affecting Baby Boomers, where to retire, financial planning, family relationships and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of helpful articles.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Investment Rules for Retirement Savings

Do you believe that your broker or financial adviser puts your best interests ahead of his own?  Are you sure that your broker suggests the best investment products for your retirement accounts, including those with the lowest fees and commissions?

You might be surprised to know that, until now, your broker has not been required to put your needs above his own! The U.S. Labor Department announced new rules in April of 2016 which are designed to fix this problem. Although the new "customer first" fiduciary rules will not actually go into effect until the spring of 2017 and there will probably be court challenges, most of the larger brokerage firms have already begun to change their practices.

What are the New Rules Affecting Retirement Accounts?

The "bottom line" is that brokers and financial advisors now have to recommend suitable investments which are moderate or low in risk and have reasonable fees and commissions.  They have to offer their clients investment products with lower commissions and fees, when two products are otherwise similar.

In addition, brokerage and investment advisory firms are required to direct clients to websites which explain exactly how they will be paid ... and those fees and commissions must be "reasonable."  The brokers can still engage in revenue sharing with mutual fund companies, but that fact must be spelled out in detail on the website.

Brokers will also be required to act in the best interest of the clients when they roll over retirement funds from a 401(k) into an IRA.

Brokers will be discouraged from putting retirement savings accounts into investment products which are generally considered unsuitable, such as non-traded REITs or variable annuities.  Brokers will also be discouraged from "churning" or actively trading stocks and options in their clients' retirement accounts.

There Are Exceptions to the New Fiduciary Rules

Although the new rules only apply to tax advantaged retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, it is expected that the rules will also affect the way brokers deal with clients, in general.  However, there are times when a broker or financial adviser may recommend an investment product to someone that will not necessarily follow the "lowest commission" philosophy.

For example, in some situations a variable annuity might be the right product for a person, even though the commissions tend to be higher than other products.

In addition, brokers and financial advisers who assist companies with a small 401(k) plan or assets that are less than $50 million, are exempt from some of the strictest rules.  However, they still need to be careful to put the needs of the clients above their own!

Why Will There Be Court Challenges to the New "Customer First" Rules?

The Labor Department expects some firms to challenge the new rules.  Some of those who object fear that these new rules will make it harder for people to build their savings, because they will be steered towards low-risk, slow-growth, low-commission "standard" investment products, with little creativity.

Other firms are worried that the new rules will result in constant lawsuits, whenever any retirement savings account loses money.  They feel that compliance with the rules will become burdensome.

What Should Consumers Do?

If you have any questions about whether or not you are being offered the best low-risk investments for your retirement accounts, with the most reasonable commissions or fee-sharing arrangements, you should interview more than one investment adviser.  

If you have any questions, make sure you read anything you sign thoroughly, and check the disclosures on the company website.  While most firms will comply with the new rules, there will always be some unscrupulous advisors who will still try to take advantage of consumers.  Ultimately, it is up to you to shop around, compare products and investigate every investment thoroughly.

The Bottom Line on the "Customer First" Labor Department Rules

In general, large investment firms seem to support the new rules; smaller firms are more nervous about them.  The following statement was released by Merrill Lynch:

"We support a consistent, higher standard for all professionals who advise American people on their investments." -John Thiel, Merrill Lynch

The goal of the new rule changes is to protect the "little guy" from having their retirement assets eaten up by large commissions or losses caused by inappropriately risky investments.  Because of this, many consumer advocates applaud the decision of the U.S. government to establish these regulations for brokers and investment advisers.

Suze Orman said the following about the new regulations on her Twitter account:  "Congrats to the Labor Department for its regulations requiring financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients retirement $"

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Best Senior Housing Choices for Aging Boomers

While most of us do not like to think about it, the Baby Boomer generation is getting older.  Currently, over 10,000 Baby Boomers a day are turning 65.  The oldest Baby Boomers are now turning 70.  This trend has been going on for several years and will continue over the next decade.  Many of us are in good health, active and involved with our families and communities. 

The vast majority of Baby Boomers currently live independent lives in our own homes.  Most of us are still able to take care of housework, yard work, shopping and meal preparation.  It may be hard to believe, but this will not always be true.  What does the future have in store?

Our Future Housing Needs

Over the next ten to twenty years, the housing needs of Baby Boomers are going to change.  Based on what typically happens as people reach their late seventies and early eighties, it is likely that most of us will find it increasingly difficult to live independently.

Statistically, about two-thirds of us will need long-term care.  About one-fifth of us will need long-term care for more than five years.

If you want to have a choice in the type of care you receive when the time comes, you need to educate yourself about your choices while you are still in your late sixties or early seventies.  Even if you never need this information yourself, it is likely that one of your near relatives will need it, and you will be equipped to assist them.  With this thought in mind, I would like to highly recommend this book:

"Your Senior Housing Options" (available using this link from Amazon)

I did not write this book, nor do I know the author.  However, it is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to have a voice in their future housing choices as they age, rather than being dependent on their children to make decisions for them.

Even if you do not purchase the book, there are certain things everyone needs to consider when thinking about where to live as you age.

The Seven Deadly Sins in Finding Senior Housing

Among the information you will learn in this book are the things you do NOT want to do as you age.  Below is a brief summary of them.

You do NOT want to:

*  Wait until you are desperate and need housing immediately;
*  Base your choice solely on the cheapest place you can find;
*  Not have a plan for your long-term care costs;
*  Judge your senior housing solely on its outward appearance, apartment size and location;
*  Not know which questions to ask;
*  Believe whatever the sales person says, without making sure their promises are written in the contract (or not realize that you are dealing with a sales person and not a helpful consultant);
*  Fail to get the opinions of your friends and relatives when you evaluate your choices.

What Should You Be Doing Now?

In addition to reading the above book, it would be advisable to start planning for your later years.  Those who are planning ahead are more likely to have long-term care insurance.  They are also more likely to visit the various assisted living and long-term care communities in their area.  Most of these facilities have luncheons and tours which will give you the opportunity to see their model apartments and learn more about the costs associated with living in them.  You can also find out what amenities they offer.

In addition, visit your friends who have moved to one of the senior apartments, assisted living or nursing care facilities in your area.  Your friends will appreciate the visit and you will be able to decide which communities you like the best.

Personally, I have had friends who have moved into a wide variety of facilities in our area.  It is amazing to me how different they are.  To be honest, some of them look and smell like hospitals, especially the skilled nursing facilities.  Others are more like upscale senior apartment complexes with meals that are served restaurant-style in elegant dining rooms.  Some even have the option of requesting "room service" when you are ill or don't feel as if you can get down to the dining room.

Nearly all of these communities have planned activities and special events, but you need to make sure that they have the types of events that interest you.  Some of them, for example, are sponsored by religious groups.  In this case, make sure you are comfortable with the religious affiliation that supports that particular assisted living facility.

Aren't All Assisted Living Communities Pretty Much the Same?

NO!  There are enormous differences in the types of communities that are available. Here are just a few of the major differences you should know about:

Some of them require that you buy into the community at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars ... which frequently comes from the equity in your current home (assuming you have not taken out a large reverse mortgage).  However, these communities will usually guarantee that they will take care of you for the rest of your life, even if you need skilled nursing or a memory care facility.  They are also called a CCRC, or Continuing Care Retirement Community and can be an excellent choice for people who do not have long-term care insurance.  They provide peace-of-mind to the person who wants to be sure that will be cared for, no matter what happens in the future.

Other senior housing communities have no down-payment or buy-in requirement.  You pay for them month-to-month on a rental basis.  Often, these communities contain both people who need assistance as well as residents who moved there long before they developed a medical issue that forced them into assisted living.  Sometimes people move into a senior community simply because they do not want to cook any longer.  In other situations, one spouse is still healthy but the other needs care.  These senior housing communities may or may not have skilled nursing and memory care facilities, so make sure you choose one that meets your specific needs.  Most of these rental communities will accept your long-term care insurance when you need extra assistance (assuming you have purchased it).  This is usually not an option in the communities which require a large down payment, although there may be exceptions. 

This is an important consideration:  If you purchased long-term care insurance, a rental assisted living community will probably be your best future option.  If you did not purchase long-term care insurance, buying into a CCRC community that promises to care for you for the rest of your life is an excellent option.  Just make sure you fully understand the services that are offered by the community your choose.

Some assisted living communities and nursing homes accept Medicaid and these are ideal choices for those people who have a low retirement income and few assets.  Like the other types of facilities, they may or may not have the specific amenities and services that appeal to you.  Even low-income patients have options, so it is wise to explore them in advance.  I have known people who loved their Medicaid-covered assisted living facilities, so keep an open mind.

The quality of all these facilities varies widely.  As a result, you want to have plenty of time to visit them, talk to current residents and discuss the costs, amenities and care you would receive in each one.  This is why you do NOT want to wait until the need arises before you start investigating your choices.

What Happens to People Who Do Not Plan Ahead?

Most of us don't like to believe that we will ever need to move into an assisted living facility and, if you are lucky, you may be one of the one-third of Baby Boomers who never needs this extra care, even on a short-term basis.  However, it is smart to have a plan, just in case.

Everyone should have the name of a place they can afford and that they believe they would like.  Perhaps it is one where some of your friends already live.

If you do not plan ahead, you could find yourself in the unfortunate position where your adult children or other relatives make the decision for you, and they are unlikely to have any idea where your friends already live.  In addition, they may not know which community is the most appealing to you.  Finally, they may have no idea which items from your home you would like to take with you.  Take the time to plan ahead and you are much more likely to be happy with your living situation, when the time comes.

If you are interested in additional information on where to retire, long-term care, financial planning, medical issues that can arise in retirement, and 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 of Clubhouse at Laguna Woods Village, an independent living senior community in Southern California, is property of author, Deborah-Diane; all rights reserved.