Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tips for a Sharper Brain and Better Memory

While most of us will not completely lose our memory to Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia, there may be times when nearly all of us feel as though our thinking is a bit fuzzy or we cannot remember as well as we used to.  At the same time, we are constantly amazed by some of our peers who seem to stay "sharp as a tack."  Is there anything the rest of us can do to have a sharper brain and clear memory?  According to a number of leading experts, the answer is "Yes."

The Connection Between Your Heart and Brain

Our brain is dependent on the nutrients which our heart sends its way.  According to Dr. Hannah Gardener in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami, the stronger our heart, the less cognitive decline we will experience.  She suggests that everyone strives to meet as many of the goals on this list as possible:

Stop Smoking
Have a BMI of under 25
Be physically active at least 150 minutes a week
Have a total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL
Have a healthy blood pressure under 120/80 mmHg
Have a healthy blood sugar under 100 mg/dL
Eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies and whole gains; low in sodium and sweets

Even if you cannot achieve all of the above goals perfectly, the closer you come, the better off your brain will be.

Follow the MIND Diet

This blog has discussed the MIND diet before.  It is short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.  MIND is much easier to remember.  Below is a brief summary of the diet, although anyone who wants to follow it would be smart to get a more detailed book on the subject.


6 servings of salad a week
7 servings of other vegetables a week
2 servings of berries a week
5 servings of nuts a week
3 servings of whole grains a day
1 serving of fish (not fried) every week
3 servings of beans a week
2 servings of poultry a week
Use extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter
Optional: 1 glass of wine a day


Butter - no more than one tablespoon a day
Cheese - no more than one serving a week
Red meat - no more than four servings a week
Fried foods - less than one serving a week
Sweets and pastries - no more than five servings a week

Exercise Your Brain

Research has shown that people who regularly give their bodies and brains a work-out are able to postpone the signs of cognitive decline.  Here are some of the things everyone should do:

Get exercise - walk, cycle, swim and lift light weights - 150 minutes a week
Play games - chess, board games, puzzles, etc.
Meditate - spend your "down time" meditating a few minutes every day
Explore Your Artistic Side - sing, act, draw, paint or play an instrument
Read - in particular, read books as well as newspapers or magazines

Other Health and Lifestyle Changes

In addition to the above recommendations, research has shown a link between socializing with others and having a higher level of cognition.  On the other hand, people who are lonely tend to have poorer brain health.  Stay in touch with family and friends.  Join a club.  If you are religious, get involved in a place of worship.  Sign up to take classes.  The more time you spend interacting with other people and learning new things, the more likely you will be able to postpone dementia.

In addition, see your doctor regularly and treat any other problems you may have, including emotional ones.  People who have depression in middle age are at a higher risk for cognitive decline in later life.  People who have sleep problems also see more rapid mental decline as they age.  Talk to your doctor about any health issues you are experiencing and get them treated.  

Medications and Dementia

If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing signs of dementia, see your doctor as soon as possible.  Researchers are continually discovering new medications which seem to slow down the progression of Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.  The sooner these drugs are started, the more successful they are.

In addition, it is possible your brain fogginess or symptoms of dementia could actually be a side effect of a medication you are currently taking.  If you suspect this could be your situation, talk to your doctor about changes which could be made to your prescriptions to minimize this problem.

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

You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

Photo credit:  morguefile.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Early Diagnosis of Dementia is Possible

Many people mistakenly believe that every time they misplace their car keys or forget an appointment, it is an early sign of dementia ... including Alzheimer's Disease.  The truth is that everyone sometimes forgets something.  However, that does not mean that early diagnosis of dementia is not possible.  Researchers have discovered that changes in behavior or personality could be a better way to predict dementia than occasional forgetfulness.

Mild Behavioral Impairment Could Indicate Brain Changes

Dr. Zahinoor Ismail of the University of Calgary and his team of researchers have compiled a checklist of symptoms which could be a red flag for doctors and families who are watching for signs of mental decline.  In putting together the checklist, they discovered that the brain changes that eventually lead to dementia can affect other parts of the brain years earlier.  In fact, people can develop signs of behavior impairment as much as a decade or two before they begin to show memory loss.

Symptoms of Behavioral Changes

Among the behavior changes which could be symptoms of future dementia are:

Has the patient lost interest in their favorite activities?
Are they getting unusually anxious, aggressive or suspicious?
Are they making crude or inappropriate comments in public?
Have they developed signs of depression?
Are they experiencing "sundowning" ... agitation or memory problems which are worse late in the day?
Have they become apathetic?
Do they get anxious about activities which have always been routine?
Are they losing their impulse control?
Have they started flaunting social norms?
Are they losing their appetite or showing less interest in food?

Dr Ismail emphasizes that these changes should be new problems that last more than six months.  In addition, they should not be problems that can be explained in other ways, such as by a clear mental health diagnosis or the recent death of a loved one. These need to be new behaviors.

Early Treatment Can Delay Alzheimer's Disease and Other Types of Dementia

If you notice that you or someone you love has developed recent personality or behavioral changes, it could be worth it to discuss the problem with your family doctor.  There are treatments which have been successful in slowing the progression of dementia.  It is also possible that early treatment could be even more successful if it is started as soon as mild behavioral impairment is noticed.

Medications are available to help people control their depression, anxiety and irritability, which could make life easier for both the patients and their family members.

Other Ways to Slow Down Dementia

Many researchers believe working crossword puzzles and playing a variety of brain games could slow down the development of dementia.  While these games may help, it is possible that social activities could be even more important.  Researchers from the University of Wisconsin reported their findings that "complex jobs that require working with people may help the brain build resilience against dementia, what's called 'cognitive reserve.'" 

In addition to being engaged in complex activities with other people, researchers from the University of South Florida discovered that reaction-time training could significantly decrease your risk of being diagnosed with dementia.  In the study, led by Dr. Jerri Edwards, 14 percent of people in a control group that received no intervention were diagnosed with dementia a decade later.  Those who had received just ten hours of reaction-time training over a five-week period lowered their risk of a dementia diagnosis to 12 percent; those who continued to get extra booster training lowered their rate of diagnosis to 8 percent.  The booster training consisted of four extra sessions one year after the original training and four more two years later.  The scientists measured the cognitive and functional changes at the beginning of the study, as well as at the one, two, three, five and ten year marks.  They found the group that did the speed training had 33 percent less risk of dementia when compared to the control group.  Even better, those that did at least 11 speed-training sessions were at 48 percent less risk for developing dementia over the ten years of the study.  The speed training consisted of a computer program in which the participants were asked to identify objects on a screen quickly.  The program got harder with each correct answer.

Other researchers have discovered that getting exercise, learning new skills, being involved in a religious organization, eating the Mediterranean diet, and socializing are all good ways to reduce dementia risk.

If you are interested in learning more about lowering your risk of dementia or developing other health problems, finding good places to retire, financial planning, 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.




You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Proposed Changes to Medicare

At the beginning of 2017, over 57 million American citizens, or approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population, relied on Medicare for their health insurance coverage.  With more than 10,000 people turning age 65 every DAY, this number is expected to grow in the coming years.  According to a poll by Kaiser Permanente Healthcare, which offers a popular Medicare Advantage program in some states, 77 percent of people consider Medicare a "very important" program.  Despite its popularity, Congress is fast-tracking their own proposals to privatize Medicare within eight years.

What Changes Does Congress Want to Make to Medicare?

Since the time Medicare was established in 1965, it has always been a "defined benefit" program, which means they guaranteed a certain level of health coverage.  When the Affordable Care Act was passed, the defined benefits were improved to include free preventive services such as flu shots and screenings for diabetes and cancer.  Under the current program, Medicare pays for 80 percent of the cost of doctor and hospital visits.  The beneficiaries either pay for the remaining 20 percent out-of pocket or they use a private insurance company in the form of a supplemental insurance policy or Medicare Advantage plan to cover most of their remaining expenses.

Congress is now considering changing from a "defined benefit" program to a "defined contribution" plan.  Their plan could also be called a voucher system.  Under the proposed plan, the government would give people a voucher to help with the cost of their insurance premiums, forcing senior citizens to shop for their own private medical insurance.  In addition, Congress wants to increase the eligibility age from 65 to 67.  Their goal is to limit how much the government spends on Medicare, despite the fact that nearly all U.S. citizens have been paying into Medicare their entire working lives ... some of them for decades.

What this new plan would do is put the responsibility for obtaining insurance on the backs of senior citizens.  The government would give you a voucher which you could use to pay for a discount on a private insurance policy, which you would be responsible for finding.  You would then have to pay any difference between the value of the voucher and the actual cost of your insurance premiums.  There would be no guarantee that the government voucher would cover a specific percentage of your insurance premiums.  In addition, you would be responsible for whatever deductibles and co-pays are required by your new insurance plan.  It is possible that seniors who cannot afford to pay these extra expenses would simply go without insurance or would buy the cheapest insurance with the highest deductibles.  This could cause them to avoid obtaining medical care except in the most extreme circumstances.

People over the age of 60 would be able to stay with traditional Medicare.  However, the new plan would gradually decrease the benefits and increase the costs which beneficiaries must pay.  The goal is to eventually "encourage" current Medicare beneficiaries to switch to the voucher program.

Could President Trump Veto the Proposed Changes to Medicare?

The only way to stop the above changes from going into effect would be if public pressure causes Congress to change its mind, or if President Trump vetoes the changes after Congress passes them.  While he was running for office, Trump was quoted at a rally in New Hampshire as saying, "Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security.  They want to do it on Medicare.  They want to do it on Medicaid.  And we can't do that.  It's not fair to the people who have been paying in for years."  However, recently his website has been changed to say that he is in favor of "modernizing" Medicare, although it is very ambiguous what that means.

On Dec. 4, 2016, on ABC News, the Vice-president elect Mike Pence said that Trump has "made it very clear in the course of the campaign that we're going to keep our promises on Social Security and Medicare."

Despite these statements by the incoming president and vice-president, it is important that U.S. citizens make their feelings known both to members of Congress and members of the new administration.

What are Other Ways Medicare Could be Fixed?

Many experts agree that the Medicare trust fund will need to slightly increase its income and decrease its expenses if it is going to remain solvent.  There are other changes which could be made to Medicare which would extend its life significantly, without privatizing it or doing away with the program.

1.  Keep Obamacare or a similar program.  When the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was passed, the cost savings included in the bill meant that the Medicare Trust Fund was able to remain solvent for an additional 11 years.  Obamacare slowed the growth of spending and reduced waste, fraud and excessive payments to care providers.  At the same time, the average beneficiary was able to personally save approximately $1,945 a year because the prescription drug "doughnut hole" was reduced.  These changes, and others, would disappear if the Affordable Care Act is repealed without being immediately replaced with a program which offers the same or similar benefits.

2.  Slightly increase payroll withholding and beneficiary premiums, deductibles and co-pays.  A small increase in revenues would help keep the current Medicare program solvent.  Modest increases in payroll withholding and the premiums, deductibles and co-pays which beneficiaries pay would adequately provide the necessary revenues while protecting the program.

3.  Give Medicare the authority to directly negotiate prescription drug prices.  Approximately one-sixth of the budget of Medicare goes to pay for prescription drugs.  If Medicare could negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies, which they would like to do, this would be a major step towards controlling their costs.

How Can Citizens Voice Their Opinions On Medicare Changes?

If you wish to let Congress know how you feel about the proposed changes to Medicare, now is the time to voice your opinion.  In addition, AARP will be lobbying Congress and they need to be able to show that they have the support of the public behind them.  Below is a list of ways you can make your voice heard and help keep our current Medicare system viable:

You can email the U.S. president after the election at:  president@whitehouse.gov

Prior to his inauguration, you can contact Donald Trump at: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/contact

Contact your Representative at:  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Contact your Senator at:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

Join AARP and support their lobbying efforts at:  aarp.org 

You may also be interested in learning more about the proposed changes to Social Security and voicing your opinion on those issues, as well.  You can learn more about those proposals at:

Proposed Changes to Social Security

If you are interested in learning more about Social Security, Medicare, financial planning, where to retire, common medical problems and changing family relationships after retirement, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

(Info about the proposed changes to Medicare based on a series of articles on Medicare in the January-February 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin)

You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

Photo credit of morguefile.com    


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Proposed Changes to Social Security

Nearly every adult American knows the Social Security Administration will face a financial shortfall when the trust fund runs out of cash in 2034. If nothing is done, both current and future retirees will face benefit cuts of approximately 21 percent.  In order to keep this safety net at full strength, changes have to be made.  The good news is that Social Security is in no danger of going completely bankrupt.  As long as there are people in the workforce, the government will receive payroll taxes which are large enough to cover approximately 80 percent of what they are obligated to pay.  What the government is trying to find, however, is a way to make up for that 20 percent shortfall.

If you are curious about the proposed changes to Social Security which are under consideration by the new, Republican-controlled Congress, there is a list of the proposals below.  According to a series of articles posted on the Fox News website, including one titled "7 Ways the GOP's Proposed Social Security Changes Could Impact Your Pocketbook," a number of ideas are under discussion.  Some of these proposed changes will affect current retirees; others will have a larger effect on people who will reach retirement age in the next decade or two.  Some of the proposals will receive wide support; others will be more controversial.

It is important to remember that the proposals listed below are just that ... proposals.  The final bill may differ from what is being considered, particularly if citizens become upset by any of these proposals and contact their individual U.S. Representatives and Senators to complain.  Whether you support or object to the ideas under consideration, now is the time to let Congress know your opinion.

Proposed Changes to Social Security

1.  First, no new revenues are currently under consideration.  The proposals which have been put forth so far do not include any increase in Social Security withholding; nor do they include an increase in the amount of wages which are subject to Social Security withholding.

2.  Between 2023 and 2030, the full retirement age (which will be 67 in 2022) would gradually increase to age 69.

3.  Beginning in 2023, the way Social Security benefits are calculated would change slightly.  Low-income beneficiaries and people who have worked over 35 years would receive a small increase; those who have above-average incomes would see their benefits decrease slightly.

4.  Beginning in December, 2018, cost-of-living increases would be lower because a different consumer price index would be used.  Instead of the the current CPI-W index, a chained CPI would be used.  The difference is that a chained CPI assumes that inflation causes people to make substitutions when they cannot afford their current expenses.  This means they might move to a less expensive home, buy more affordable cars, or switch from name-brand to generic products.  As a result, according to the chain-weighted CPI, the "real" inflation most people experience is not as large as the actual rate of inflation.  The AARP has long opposed this change, arguing that many seniors already have cut out as much as they can and a chain-weighted CPI could cause even more seniors to eventually end up in poverty.

5.  Some retirees would receive no cost-of-living increases at all after they retire.  Those affected would be single retirees with an adjusted gross income of over $85,000 or joint tax filers with an adjusted gross income over 170,000.

6.  Beginning in January, 2019, there would no longer be an earnings limit on people who begin to collect their Social Security benefits early. Those who continue working while they collect reduced benefits between the age of 62 and their full retirement age could earn as much as they want. 

7.  Between 2045 and 2054, federal income taxes on Social Security benefits would gradually be eliminated.  Currently, up to 85 percent of your benefits are subject to federal income taxes, depending on how much additional income you have.  After this change, only your additional income would be taxable.  However, this proposal would not go into effect for nearly 30 years.

8.  People who delay collecting their Social Security benefits past their full retirement age currently receive an increase in benefits of 8 percent for every year they postpone collecting.  One proposal being considered would allow people to choose a lump sum payment, instead, if they delay receiving their Social Security.

9.  Currently, a non-working spouse can receive a monthly benefit that is up to 50 percent of what the working spouse receives after retirement.  Under the new proposals, there would be a cap on what a non-working spouse could receive, so some spouses would no longer receive half of what the higher wage earner receives.  This cap is more likely to affect high-income couples.

We can expect there will be disagreements on whether or not these are the best ideas for fixing Social Security. However, what is not in dispute is that some changes are necessary and, no matter what Congress does, most people will be impacted in some way by the changes.  If you want to have a voice in what changes are made, be sure to contact your U.S. Representative or Senator.  Ask what changes they support and why they believe those are the best choices.  Then, be sure to let them know if you agree or disagree with each proposal.

Contact your Representative at:  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Contact your Senator at:  https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

After the inauguration, contact the new president at:  president@whitehouse.gov

Support the lobbying efforts of AARP by joining them at:  aarp.org

If you are interested in more information on financial planning, where to retire, common medical
issues, changing family relationships and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

You are reading from the blog:  http://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com

Photo credit:  wikimedia.org/commons