Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Top Retirement Posts in 2018

Every winter, our final post is a summary of the most popular posts of that year.  It has been interesting to see how the topics have changed slightly over the years.  This year, the top post was on End of Life Planning.  It was followed by posts on how to help your grandchildren earn scholarships, how Medicare handles certain health problems, and how to prevent dementia. In fact, concern about dementia has been the most recurring theme over the past few years.

There have been three developments with this blog in 2018.  The first was the addition of the services of a Medicare expert from Boomer Benefits, Danielle Roberts, who is licensed in 47 states.  Either she or one or her co-workers will be happy to answer your individual Medicare questions. You can find her photo, phone number and email address in the lower right-hand column of the blog.  Danielle also has written several guest posts about Medicare for this blog during the past year and you can find them by clicking on the Social Security and Medicare tab at the top of the page.

Secondly, as the author of this blog, I have decided to personally join an Alzheimer's research study at the University of California - Irvine MIND facility. I have been sharing what I have learned in some of my blog posts and plan to continue to do so in coming years.  I believe that my readers will find the information I am sharing will be valuable.  To see all the posts on dementia and Alzheimer's Disease which have been discussed in this blog, use the Medical Concerns tab at the top of the page to find links to all of them.

Thirdly, I narrowed down the variety of ads which are visible on the sidebar of my blog. All the ads in the right-hand column are either from Amazon or Google, both reputable advertisers.  This means you should be able to comfortably use the links in the sidebar to obtain information about advertised products without fear of malware or viruses.  I'm not sure you can say that for all the advertisers you encounter on other sites on the internet!

Now for the list of the most popular retirement posts in 2018.

End of Life Planning for Baby Boomers - The most popular post of the year was about the steps we all need to take in order to prepare for the end of our lives. For example, you should contact a lawyer, write a will, set up a trust, and complete an advanced healthcare directive. You should also talk to a mortuary, prepay your funeral, if possible, and leave instructions with your heirs.  Get details and learn more about the other steps you should be taking in this post.

College Scholarship Tips for Grandchildren - Despite the risk to their own financial future, according to AARP, approximately 53 percent of grandparents help their grandchildren with their educational expenses.  Learn how you can help your grandchildren earn scholarships and reduce their need to take out debt or turn to you for help.  This could benefit you both and was another very popular post over the past year!

Medicare Coverage for Heart Disease - If you have a heart attack, what will Medicare cover?  How many heart screenings, tests, etc., are covered each year?  Get the answers so you know what to expect before you find yourself in the hospital.

How Medicare-For-All Would Work - A number of recent politicians have expressed support for a Medicare-For-All program in our country.  However, how would it work? What are the benefits and concerns about a program like this?  Learn more about this proposal so you understand the concept and how it could gradually be implemented.

Hearing Loss Increases Dementia Risk Dramatically - An important way to prevent or postpone dementia is to engage with other people.  However, if you have hearing loss, your socialization could be reduced and your risk of dementia could increase.  Learn more about this important issue.

Lower Dementia Risk with Exercise - Anything which is good for the heart is good for the brain.  This is especially true when it comes to the importance of getting regular exercise.  Learn more about the best types of exercise to lower your dementia risk.  

International Travel Tips for Senior Citizens - Are you planning an international trip?  If you have not traveled overseas in a while, there are certain issues you need to consider in making your plans.  Even if you are a seasoned traveler, you may find these tips to be helpful, so be sure to check out this post before your next overseas trip.

Medicare, Substance Abuse, Addiction and Alcoholism - Many senior citizens suffer from problems with substance abuse, including addiction to legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcoholism.  If you need help recovering from these problems, how much of the cost will Medicare cover?

Socializing Reduces Dementia Risk - Did you know that following the MIND diet, getting adequate sleep, and engaging in a variety of types of exercise have all been shown to dramatically reduce your risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease?  Socializing is another important way to improve your brain health and lower your dementia risk.  Learn more about how it can help you to spend time engaging with other people on a regular basis.

Prediabetes and Diabetes Prevention - Roughly one in four adults over the age of 65 have diabetes, and significantly more have prediabetes.  A large percentage of people with these conditions are NOT aware of it.  However, this is not a disease which you want to ignore.  Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.  As a result, it is important we all understand how to avoid it and how to minimize the damage it can cause. This article is a good place to begin to expand your knowledge of this life-shortening disease.

If you are interested in learning more about Medicare, common health issues, dementia, where to retire, financial planning, Social Security 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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Photo credit:  Photo is screenshot of Baby-Boomer-Retirement blog

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Does Music Help Dementia Patients?

Do you have a family member who suffers from dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease? Do you worry about developing dementia yourself? If so, you may be looking for ways to postpone the disease as long as possible and make life better for those who are already showing signs of dementia.  One of the questions which frequently comes up is whether or not music can make a difference.  The answer is that music does help dementia patients, though not in as many ways as you may hope.

Learning to Play an Instrument May Postpone Dementia

Researchers have discovered that learning something new is one way to exercise your brain and, in some cases, seems to postpone the development of dementia.  This can be true whether you are learning a new language, playing brain games on sites like Luminosity, or learning to play an instrument.  The greatest benefit to your brain comes when you are learning something completely new.  When you simply practice doing things you already know how to do, it may be pleasant and relaxing for you, but it is not helping your brain make new connections.

Everyone should find ways to keep their brain as active as possible. Finding a new hobby is one way to keep your brain active.  This includes learning to play a new instrument or challenging yourself to learn more difficult musical pieces on a familiar instrument.

Music is bi-hemispheric, which means it uses both sides of your brain.  For example, when former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head, she was shot in the left hemisphere of her brain.  It was very difficult for her to learn how to speak again because language is controlled by the left hemisphere.  However, speech therapists encouraged her to sing.  Singing is controlled by the right hemisphere and, by singing, her right hemisphere was able to eventually take over control of her speech, enabling her to talk again.

Does Music Help Patients Who Already Have Dementia?

Dementia patients may also be helped by exposure to music, but perhaps not in the way you think. According to Dr. Joshua Grill, a researcher in the MIND program at the University of California in Irvine, playing a dementia patient's favorite music may make them more alert and appear to be happier.   Music increases the dopamine, the reward hormone, in their brain.  This is especially true when they hear songs which have a pleasant association for them such as music from their youth or their favorite Christmas carols and other holiday music.

Because of the increase in dopamine, music may reduce the common Alzheimer's Disease symptoms of depression, apathy, agitation, aggression, excessive sleeping, and symptoms of psychosis.  As a result, many caregivers have found that playing the patient's favorite music makes it easier for the caregiver to take care of them.  Consequently, it can be said that music does help patients who already have dementia.

When dementia patients have listened to music from their youth, they often are able to sing along and learn the words to new songs, even when they are no longer able to remember the names of loved ones and have virtually stopped speaking in most situations.   The researchers at UCI MIND believe that music may remain a highly functioning part of the brain, even in a degenerating brain.  For some unknown reason, Alzheimer's disease, and perhaps other types of dementia, seems to spare the part of the brain involved in musical memory.

As a result, if you want your aging parent to enjoy time with the family during the Christmas holidays, for example, playing well-known and beloved holiday music in the background may help them stay more alert and cheerful.  This would also be true for other holidays and special occasions. That alone makes music a helpful addition to your holiday family traditions, especially when someone in the family is developing dementia.

Will Music Bring Back Memories in Dementia Patients?

Although learning how to play an instrument or learning how to play more complex music may help you postpone developing dementia, and listening to old music may brighten the day of a dementia patient and make it easier to manage them, there is no indication that music provides any type of generalized cognitive benefit for people who already have dementia.

In other words, music does not appear to bring back any memories for dementia patients, other than the memory of the music.  Listening to music, even if they sing along, will not make it easier for them to remember names, where they live, what they had for breakfast, when they should take their medication, significant events from their past or other important information.  The benefit which dementia patients derive from music seems to be very limited and temporary.  None-the-less, it is worthwhile to incorporate music into the lives of those with dementia because it seems to improve the quality of their lives and it can make it easier for the rest of the family to spend time with them.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, where 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 helpful posts on this blog.

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Photo credit:  Sonata Retirement Communities Facebook Page / Senior Choir

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Uber, Lyft, Taxi or Ambulance Hospital Rides? Which Should You Use?

Should you always take an ambulance to the emergency room when you are sick or injured and cannot drive?  Transportation choices have changed dramatically over the past few years.  Not only are people using ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft to go to work or run errands, those services are now becoming an option for non-life-threatening emergencies.  In fact, depending on where you live, the next time you call 911, a triage nurse may send a Lyft car rather than an ambulance to pick you up.

When is a Ride-Share Car a Good Alternative to an Ambulance?

Not every trip to urgent care or the emergency room is a true life or death emergency.  If you are seriously injured in an accident, experiencing chest pains or have symptoms of a stroke or anaphylactic shock, you definitely should call 911 and have paramedics and an ambulance rush to your location as quickly as possible.  They can begin life-saving care on the way to the hospital.

However, if you have the flu, a sprained ankle, a minor cut which may require stitches, or a similar emergency which is not life-threatening, it is possible you may be provided with transportation other than an ambulance.  For example, in Fort Worth, Texas when you call 911 a triage nurse will decide whether or not you actually need an ambulance. If not, they are now authorized to send a Lyft driver to pick you up and take you to the emergency room or urgent care, instead.  In Phoenix, the Fire and Rescue Department gives non-emergency patients a taxi voucher which is good for a ride to the hospital.  Other cities are beginning to offer similar programs.

Advantages of Ride Sharing and Taxis over Ambulances

The most obvious advantage of using a ride sharing or taxi service is that it can save a substantial amount of money for both you and your insurance company.  A ride in an ambulance can easily cost $1000 or more, and insurance often only partially covers the cost, with the patient expected to pay the remainder.  If you are unable to drive yourself because you are too ill or in pain, a taxi or ride share will be much less expensive.

Another advantage to using Uber or Lyft for non-emergency medical trips is that you can choose where you are taken.  They will drive you to the hospital emergency room or urgent care center of your choice.  This could be especially helpful if your personal physician is affiliated with only one of the local hospitals or if your HMO has specific hospitals which are in your network.

What Do Uber and Lyft Think About Being Used as Alternatives to Ambulances?

According to Kate Margolis, a spokeswoman for Lyft, "In any medical emergency people should be calling 911."  Uber agrees.

However, if you are unable to drive yourself, but you need medical attention, being transported by Lyft, Uber or taxi may be the perfect and more affordable alternative to calling an ambulance.

Ambulance services are seeing the difference. In areas where Uber and Lyft ride-sharing services are doing well, ambulance rides have decreased by an average of 7 percent.

Are you interested in more information about common medical problems as you age, Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, 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 articles.

Reference:  AARP Bulletin April 2018

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

How to Pick a Nursing Home

Are you looking for a nursing home facility for your parents, your spouse or yourself?  You may feel overwhelmed.  There are approximately 16,000 nursing homes in the United States and they vary widely in quality.  When possible, it is a good idea to do advance research on the ones in your area so you have two or three in mind before you or someone you love needs to move into one.  Nothing is worse than hurriedly trying to find a skilled nursing facility during an emergency.  It can be too tempting to choose one simply because it is close to your home or seems convenient, rather than because of the quality of the care. Below are some of the things you need to consider while doing your nursing home research.

What Questions to Ask When Looking for a Nursing Home

1.  What is their Medicare rating?

Before you do anything else, you will want to know which facilities in your community are rated the highest by Medicare.  You will also want to know the specifics about their rating.  How did they score on issues such as staff attentiveness, health inspections and nurse-to-patient ratio?  One source of this information is the Medicare website at:

2.  What is the Shower Schedule?

In some states, such as California, the staff is required to help their patients shower at least twice a week.  You will want to confirm the schedule and find out if it possible for a patient to receive showers more frequently, if requested.  If so, is there an additional charge and how much would that be?

3.  What is a Typical Daily Schedule?

People stay in skilled nursing facilities because they are no longer able to care for themselves due to old age or because they are recovering from surgery, illness or an injury.  In most cases, the daily resident schedule will include some type of rehabilitation therapy.  However, if that is the only time the residents are engaged in an activity, they are likely to become very bored and feel lonely.  It is important that residents also have social activities, entertainment, exercise classes for those who can participate, and hair salon services for those who have an extended stay.  The photo above shows a group singing and enjoying a voluntary spiritual circle. Having activities and companionship is very important for the well-being of all of us, including the elderly.

4.  What is on the Menu and What Options Are Available?

Today, large numbers of people have a variety of dietary restrictions because of the nature of their illness, their religion, ethnic background or food preferences.  Consequently, it is important for the residents' health and emotional well-being to have input regarding their food choices.  Ask if special holiday meals are available and what options are available on normal days.  If possible, ask if you can go to the dining room and enjoy a meal with the residents.  This will give you the opportunity to try the food yourself and will enable you to observe how attentive the staff is when assisting people who need extra help.

5.  Are You Being Shown a Typical Room?

Most skilled nursing facilities are happy to give you a tour.  Make sure you take the tour and do not consider a facility if they will not show you around.  However, during your tour it is important to ask a lot of questions and be a little skeptical. Are they showing you a typical room, or is their model a little larger and fancier than the rooms of most residents?  Are the rooms private or semi-private?  Can the residents bring along a few pieces of their own furniture, especially if the move is likely to be permanent? Do the residents have access to Wi-Fi and computers?  Are there in-room televisions, or is TV viewing only available in the central lounge area?  Are there telephones in the rooms?  Are the facilities clean and attractive?  Are there outdoor areas where the residents can relax?  Does the facility smell pleasant? Is it reasonably quiet and cheerful?

6.  What Additional Costs Can You Expect?

Nursing homes often quote a price per month for basic care which includes room and board, as well as essential care.  However, you may be surprised to discover there are usually extra charges for things such as patient medications, having someone dispense the prescriptions at the appropriate times, and assistance with bathing, dressing or eating.  Ask if there an extra charge to drive residents to doctor's appointments.  Do they charge for other special services such as changing bandages or providing adult incontinence supplies?   These expenses add up quickly and can turn an affordable nursing home into an unaffordable one.  You will also want to ask how often the rates increase and how much they have historically risen.

7.  Can this Nursing Home Meet Residents' Future Needs?

While you or your loved one may initially move into a skilled nursing facility because of the need for physical care as you age, what happens if residents develop more complex problems, such as dementia?  Is this facility capable of handling all future needs, or do residents have to move somewhere else when their needs become more severe?  Moving can be very upsetting and disruptive to an elderly person with dementia.

8.  What Safety Measures are in Place?

Are the floors non-skid?  Are there handrails along hallways and stairways, as well as grab bars in the bathrooms?  Are the walkways and emergency exits clear?   Does the facility have an emergency preparedness plan?  Is there a back-up generator in case the electricity goes off?  What happens if the facility needs to be evacuated in the event of a natural disaster?  What contingency plans are there, especially for the weakest patients?  Are there emergency supplies in case the facility decides it is safer to shelter in place?

9.  How are the Caregivers Recruited, Trained and Screened?

Are the caregivers given continuing education classes?  Are they subject to background checks before being hired?  What is the employee turnover rate?

10.  Can You Chat with a Few Residents and Visitors?

Ask residents if they are happy in the facility.  Most of them will be extremely honest, but recognize that some people will complain no matter how good the facility is.  Try to observe if the staff seems to have a good relationship with the residents. Do people generally seem happy or disgruntled?  Does the staff greet the residents by their name?  If possible, ask the residents if they like the food, activities and staff.  If you run into family members who are visiting, ask what they think of the facility.  Ask everyone if there is anything else you might want to know ... such as unusual rules or expenses you might not expect.

Once you have visited several facilities and answered all the above questions, you will have a good idea which skilled nursing facility is most likely to meet your unique needs.

If you are interested in learning more about where to retire, financial planning for retirement, Social Security, Medicare, common medical problems 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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Photo from public Facebook page of Serenades Assisted Living in Florida