Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Products for Safer Aging in Your Home

By the time you are in your 70s or 80s, there is a very good chance you will either be living alone or with a partially disabled spouse. Since the vast majority of senior citizens choose to live independently in their own home or apartment, seniors may feel more secure if they take advantage of modern technology to help them age safely.

As you age, you may begin to feel lonely and isolated, especially if it becomes difficult to drive or walk long distances.  You may also become uncomfortable if familiar neighbors move away and strangers occupy the neighboring homes.  In some cases, you could become unsure who to rely on in an emergency. However, there are a few simple purchases you can make which will keep you connected to the outside world and help you feel safer.

There are a wide variety of safety options available.  Most of them are useful long before you need them because of aging.  The items mentioned below fall into three categories ... items which will keep you safe from intruders, tools to make it easier to get help in an emergency, and products to reduce accidents in your home. 

Products to Protect Yourself from Intruders

Security Systems - Security systems are available from a number of companies including ADT and Costco.  When activated, they will sound an alarm if someone enters a door or window.  If the system you choose is connected to a monitoring company, the agent can contact the police or fire department if there are signs of an intruder or fire.

Ring Video Doorbell - If you simply want to know who is ringing your doorbell, the Ring Video doorbell has a camera which connects to your smartphone and will show you who is standing at your door, whether you are home or not.  It also allows you to speak to the person without opening your door.  You can even tell the UPS deliveryman to leave a package at your door, so you do not have to open the door to a stranger, especially if you are not expecting a delivery.

Motion-detector lights - If the area around your home is dark, motion-detector lights which come on automatically when anyone approaches will make intruders more visible and likely to flee if they are trying to break into your home.  It will also make you more aware of the fact that a person or animal has approached your home. Home Depot, Lowe's and lighting supply companies can sell you the light fixtures and arrange installation, although some of the devices can be easily screwed into an existing fixture.

Products for Contacting Assistance in an Emergency

Personal Safety Devices - You have probably seen the television ads with an elderly person falling and calling out, "Help, I can't get up."  The older you are, the greater the possibility this could actually happen.  There are several companies, such as Great Call, Life Alert and Medical Alert, which have products that can solve this problem.  You wear a bracelet or pendant and, should you need an ambulance, the fire department, or the police, you only need to press a button in order to be connected to a response agent who will call a friend, neighbor or the appropriate emergency service for you. Some of the devices work only in your home when you are near the transmitter.  Others will work wherever you go.  Make sure you understand how the system works before you purchase it.

Jitterbug and other Smart Phones - If you do not want to wear a medical alert pendant or bracelet, you could purchase a product like the Jitterbug phone which is an easy-to-use cell phone, texting and email device; it also doubles as a personal safety device which comes with Great Call's safety app.  You simply press an icon on the face of the phone and will be connected directly to a response agent who can get you the help you need.  If you do not want to purchase a new device, you can set up your current smart phone with an emergency call app, so it is quick and easy for you to call emergency services.  If you decide you prefer using a mobile phone rather than a personal safety device, it is important you carry your phone on your person or keep it within reach at all times.

CapTel Captioned Telephone - Do you have trouble hearing, which makes it difficult for you to easily use your home telephone?  The CapTel amplified and captioned telephone has a screen which converts the spoken word to captions on the phone's screen.  At the same time, the sound of the words are amplified by the phone. The combination of having the words made louder and a screen which allows you to read what the person is saying, makes it much easier for you to communicate with the outside world.  This could be especially important in an emergency when you do not want to waste time asking the other party to repeat what they are saying. 

Products to Prevent Accidents in Your Home

Night lights - Accidents are more likely to happen in the dark.  Having night lights in the bathroom and dark hallways will reduce your risk of tripping over something in the dark. In addition, if there is a fire in your home and your access to the nearest exit is obscured by smoke, night lights could help you find your way. You can find inexpensive night lights at nearly any drug or grocery store.

Illuminated light switch covers - Another way to add light to your home at night is to have the light switch covers changed to ones which are illuminated.  They will emit a tiny amount of light, but make it much easier to find the switch in a dark room.

Stair lifts - If you live in a two-story home and have difficulty going up and down the stairs, you do not have to put yourself at risk of falling.  Companies such as Acorn, AmeriGlide and Bruno Stair Lifts provide a safe way to sit on a seat and be carried safely up and down the stairs.  A stair lift can also make it possible for you to stay in a home you love, rather than move because the stairs are giving you difficulty.

Walk-in Bathtubs - One major danger when you live alone is a fall in your shower or bathtub.  One solution is purchasing an inexpensive waterproof stool to use in the shower.  Another solution is a walk-in bathtub.  You open a door on the side of the tub, walk in, sit on the seat and close the door.  Then you fill the tub with water.  The tubs often have heated seats and massaging hydro-jets to make the experience even more relaxing.  Most of all, however, you no longer have to step over the edge of a slippery tub to take a bath.  After your bath, you remain safely seated while you drain the tub, open the door and then step out.  American Standard, Safe Step, Kohler, Jacuzzi and several other companies offer these tubs, so it is wise to shop around for the one which feels comfortable and is the most affordable option for your needs.

Lift Chairs - If you have difficulty getting out of a chair, especially after surgery or an injury, a lift chair may make it easier for you to get to a standing position.  Some of them also double as the perfect sleep chairs and may come with heat and massage.  They can be very helpful if you have difficulty sleeping on a flat mattress or getting out of bed in the morning.

If you are interested in more information about dealing with common medical problems as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs and pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Strengthen the Memory of Your Spouse

Most of the focus on dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease, has been on what you can do to reduce your own risk of losing your memory.  But what if you are worried about your spouse's memory?  Is there anything you can do to help them?  According to the "Healthy You" column in the August/September 2016 issue of AARP Magazine, there are actually a number of steps we can take if we start to notice that our spouse is starting to have memory issues ... and you don't even have to tell them what you are doing!

How to Help Your Spouse's Memory (and Your Own)

The good news is that anything you do to help your spouse's memory will also help improve yours.  In this way, you both benefit.  Below are their recommendations:

Babysit your grandkids occasionally - According to Australian research, watching grandchildren once or twice a week stimulates our memories, but only if it doesn't become a daily grind.  Keep things fresh and new by doing it no more than twice a week.  Having fun with your grandchildren will also prevent a common problem as we age ... isolation and loneliness.

Both of you should lie down for a daily nap - A German study showed that getting enough rest improves our memories and a 45 to 90 minute nap has been shown to help us retain more information.

Explore your creativity - Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that having an artistic hobby during both middle age and old age reduces your likelihood of cognitive decline by a whopping 73 percent!  Encourage your spouse to pull out that old paint set, pick up the guitar, sign up for classes, or join a group.  While you're at it, explore your own creative side, too!

Do home repairs together - Doing home repairs is another way to draw on our creative juices.  Columbia University discovered that measuring, building, painting and making repairs requires us to activate our memories. 

Exercise together - Over and over again, different researchers have shown that any exercise that is good for the heart is also good for the brain ... since our brain is using about 20% of the blood in our body at any given time.  The effect of exercise on the the brain is so impressive that the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that just one 20 minute exercise session can improve a person's long-term memory by around 10 percent!

Have a drink together - Up to one or two alcoholic beverages in a day have been shown to help your memory, in some studies.  However, if you don't drink, don't take it up in the hope that it will improve your health.  There are other techniques which are just as effective.  In addition, too much alcohol can do more harm than good and alcohol often has negative interactions with many of the medications senior citizens are prescribed.

Eat a healthy diet - A balanced diet is an important part of any memory prevention program.  Among the foods which were specifically mentioned in the AARP Magazine article were asparagus, shrimp, split peas and walnuts.  In other articles I have read, dark green vegetables and fatty fish are often recommended, as well.

How to Tell If You Need to See a Doctor (or Send Your Spouse to One) about Memory Loss

Let's face it.  All of us occasionally forget a name, miss an appointment or lose our keys.  When does that normal memory loss become something which should worry us?  The AARP Magazine article suggested you should discuss memory loss with your doctor if you answer "yes" to two or more of the questions listed below:

Do you look forward to lunch with friends, but forget to go?
Do you have trouble following a recipe you have made many times before?
Do you always have to rely on notes or your phone to remember things?
Do you have trouble remembering today's date or what season it is?
Are you paranoid and believe other people are "out to get you?"

If you are interested in more information about dementia, healthy aging, 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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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Medical Malpractice and Healthcare Mistakes

In a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins University, researchers discovered that over 250,000 deaths a year are caused by healthcare mistakes.  This means that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.

In addition, government investigators released a report in July, 2016 which revealed that approximately one-third of patients in rehab facilities are harmed while undergoing treatment.  The types of harm range from being given the wrong medication to being given an infection or bedsores.

What are some of the most common types of medical malpractice and what steps can you take to protect yourself and your loved ones?  According to an article in the September, 2016 AARP Bulletin titled "12 Ways the Healthcare System May Be Harming You," below are the most common problems and how to avoid them.


Doctors often miss even common causes for a patient's symptoms, so it is important for everyone to read up on their diagnosis, ask for their test results, get re-tested if they have doubts and get second opinions if they still have doubts about the diagnosis they have been given.


One common issue today is that an estimated 45 percent of patients do not get the recommended care for their condition.  It is important patients ask in advance for the details of their treatment.  If the doctor seems vague and non-specific, get a second opinion.  Again, it never hurts to read up on your diagnosis and the common ways it is treated.  If your doctor does not not appear to be following a common treatment protocol, ask the reason for the variance.  It could be that another illness you have makes your treatment more complicated.  However, every patient has the right to understand what to expect.


With everything we know about germs, including both bacteria and viruses, most patients assume that medical professionals take care not to infect their patients.  Sadly, this is not the case.  The CDC estimates that 721,800 infections are picked up in hospitals every year!  This means that about 1 in 25 hospital patients are suffering from an infection they picked up during their treatment.  About 75,000 of those infected patients die each year.  Patients and family members need to make sure the medical staff washes their hands and/or uses hand sanitizer regularly.  In addition, all visitors, including family members, should be careful to use good hygiene, as well.


Communication lapses between various caregivers and medical personnel - Ask questions and try to have another person with you at the hospital and during doctor visits.  Make sure everyone who is treating you knows your full medical record.

Confusing information at the time patients are discharged - Confirm that both you and another family member understands your discharge instructions, including what medications you should take, which ones to avoid, and what activities are allowed.

Prescription drug mistakes and conflicts - Be certain your doctor knows all the prescriptions and over-the-counter supplements you are using.  Question the hospital caregivers or the pharmacist if a drug you are prescribed looks or tastes different than it did in the past.

Doctors who are not up-to-date on the latest guidelines - Does your doctor know the latest recommendations for treating your condition?  You can investigate your care at the National Guideline Clearinghouse at  Ask you doctor if there is a reason why they are not following the latest treatment protocol.

Unskilled doctors - While most doctors do an excellent job of caring for their patients, just 1 percent of doctors are responsible for nearly one-third of malpractice claims.  Investigate your doctors and surgeons online.  One site where you can see their complications rate is

Using small clinics and local facilities which are inadequate - Make sure the outpatient clinic or facility you are using has a good safety record and performs the procedure you need frequently.  If possible, use ones which are affiliated with a large hospital that has a good record.  Investigate, investigate, investigate every aspect of your care, from the doctor you are seeing to the the facility you are using.

Patients who are difficult and do not take responsibility for their own care - Patients who want the best possible care should be as pleasant as possible and not complain about things the physician cannot control ... parking fees, the way the food tastes, etc.  In addition, they should follow their physicians instructions carefully, practice good hygiene themselves, and make sure they fully disclose everything possible about their symptoms, alcohol use, drug use, supplement use and other factors which could be causing their illness or complicating their treatment.

If you are interested in reading more about common medical issues as you age, Medicare, Social Security, where to retire, financial planning 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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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What is the Average Amount of Social Security?

How much will your Social Security benefits be, compared to what the average recipient receives?  Every year, the government mails you an estimate of the amount you can expect to receive in Social Security benefits when you retire.  When you look at those statements, how do you know if your benefits are about average, higher than average, or less than what the typical recipient will receive?  This article will help you determine if your retirement is on track compared to other retirees. 

How Much Social Security Does the Average Retiree Receive?

The numbers below are based on January, 2017 figures. If you are reading this after 2017, you can expect that the benefits will have increased slightly.  However, because the cost-of-living increases are typically modest, these numbers are unlikely to change dramatically.

According to, the numbers below are for the average retiree. 

Average Social Security benefits:     $1,360 a month / $16,320 a year
Average Social Security for couple:  $2,260 a month / $27,120 a year

Although this is not a large amount of money, according to current government estimates, it does mean the average individual or couple will receive enough income from their Social Security benefits to not fall below the poverty line.

While your Social Security income may not officially leave you in poverty, the amount is often substantially below what the average working individual or couple received in earned income, especially during the decade or two before they retired.  Consequently, the typical retiree often sees a significant drop in income, if their Social Security benefits are their only source of income during retirement.

How Much Will Your Benefits Increase Each Year?

Social Security benefits only increase at the rate of inflation, because retirees periodically receive a cost-of-living increase.  However, over the past few years, the cost-of-living increases have been either mostly or entirely eaten up by increases in Medicare premiums.  In other words, Social Security recipients frequently do not receive any increase in their annual benefits, even when there is inflation.

To make matters worse, the government is considering changing the way it estimates the rate of inflation for Social Security beneficiaries.  Currently, they use the CPI-W, which is the abbreviation for the Consumer Price Index for Workers.  This is the increase in the cost of consumer goods and services which the average worker has experienced over the period of a year.  However, the government wants to change to using a Chained CPI. The Chained CPI is a less generous Consumer Price Index which assumes that, as prices go up, a retiree will substitute their purchases for less expensive items. Therefore, cost-of-living increases can be smaller.  The Chained CPI does not take into consideration the fact that many retirees are already purchasing the least expensive items they possibly can.

In addition, neither Consumer Price Index considers the fact that many retirees actually spend more money on certain items after they retire.  For example, they may spend more on medical care or to hire people to help them do yard work or clean their homes.

What Happens to a Couple's Social Security if one Spouse Dies?

Another problem is that a married couple will see their household income drop by approximately 33 to 40 percent when one spouse dies.  This is because the surviving spouse will only be paid the higher of his or her own benefit or that of their deceased spouse ... but not both.  Since their house payments, property taxes, utilities and similar expenses will not decrease when their spouse dies, the surviving spouse may suddenly find themselves in worse financial shape.

What is the Future for Social Security?

Unless Congress takes steps soon to increase the size of the Social Security Trust Fund, it is expected to run out of money within 17 years ... or by 2034.

This does not mean that Social Security will cease to exist.  Current workers will continue to pay enough into the system to allow the Social Security Administration to keep paying between 74 percent and 79 percent of the promised benefits.  However, it does mean that retirees could see a 21 to 26 percent decrease in their benefits.

The sooner Congress resolves this problem, the easier it will be for them to begin refilling the Social Security Trust Fund.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

If you have not yet retired, you may want to postpone retiring as long as possible.  If you wait until age 70 to begin collecting your benefits, you will maximize your benefits.  In addition, waiting to retire will give you a few more years to increase the amount of money in your personal retirement accounts, thus making it possible for you to have more resources for supplementing your income after retirement.

If you are over the age of 50, the amount you can put in a tax deferred retirement account jumps from $5,500 to $6,500.  If you have a company 401(k), the amount you can contribute at age 50 and over jumps from $18,000 to $24,000 a year.  Of course, you can also save or invest additional amounts of money, if you can afford to, although those amounts would not be tax deferred, at this time.  However, the allowable amounts for tax deferrals could go up in coming years.

Once you are retired, plan to use no more than 3 to 4 percent of your total savings each year, which would allow you to have extra income for 25 to 33 years, or longer.

Looking for more information on financial planning, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare, common medical problems 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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