Sunday, January 26, 2020

Alzheimers and Huntingtons Disease - New Research from UCI - MIND

About a year ago, I volunteered to be a guinea pig for the University of California - Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, better known as UCI - MIND.  As a result of my interest in their program, I now receive regular reports from them on their latest research into various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's Disease and Huntington's Disease.

Naturally, the major reason I volunteered for this program was to keep track of my own cognitive ability as I age, and do everything possible to avoid mental decline, if possible.  However, I also signed up so I could share what I learn with my readers.  In 2019, there were some encouraging news stories from the researchers at UCI - MIND about how doctors can improve their clinical management of dementia, as well as a potential therapy for Huntington's Disease, which also causes dementia.

Amyloid PET Scans Can Improve Care for Dementia Patients

The first thing they reported was what they discovered when researchers across the United States performed Amyloid PET Scans on 11,000 patients.  After reviewing the results in patients who had been diagnosed either with either mild cognitive impairment or dementia, doctors changed the care they had been giving to about 60% of the patients!  In other words, the original diagnosis for more than half the patients had been wrong.  The PET Scans revealed a number of errors in their original diagnosis.

Approximately 25 percent of patients who were thought to have Alzheimer's Disease had their diagnosis changed to non-Alzheimer's dementia after the PET scans.

Another 10 percent of patients who were not thought to have Alzheimer's Disease turned out to actually have Alzheimer's Disease.

Other diagnostic errors were also discovered after the PET scans.

Because of these PET Scans, doctors realized they needed to change the treatment they were giving many of their patients.  Unfortunately, this was a clinical study and amyloid PET scans are not covered by either Medicare or other insurance providers as a diagnostic tool before treating patients with dementia.  Hopefully, this will change in the future so that the treatments match the diseases causing dementia.  Meanwhile, if you or someone in your family is suffering with symptoms of dementia, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of your loved one having a PET scan to confirm the suspected cause of their cognitive decline.

Hopeful News for Huntington's Disease Patients

The second report from UCI - MIND was about a drug called an antisense oligonucleotide or ASO.  It has been found to be a safe way to lower the Huntington protein which is linked to the genetic mutation identified with Huntington's Disease.  A large clinical trial is planned to see if this drug will also lead to the first treatment to slow the progression of Huntington's Disease.  This could make a tremendous change in the lives of the 30,000 people in the United States currently living with the disease, and the estimated 150,000 who are believed to be at risk of developing it.

How You Can Access the Latest UCI - MIND Research

You can keep up with the latest research and discover what is being learned at UCI MIND yourself!  Anyone around the world can ask questions of the UCI MIND researchers by following them on Facebook at @UCIrvineMIND.  On the first Friday of every month at 9:00 A.M. Pacific Standard Time you can watch and participate live in their Facebook series, Ask the Doc: Alzheimer's Research Today!  Each month they have a new topic which is discussed by a research expert, and Facebook Live viewers can type their questions into the comments box and receive an immediate answer.

You can also get on the UCI MIND email list at and watch past episodes of their Ask the Doc Facebook series on the UCI MIND blog and YouTube channel.  If you are concerned about developing any type of dementia, you will want to take advantage of this unique opportunity to have your questions answered by experts, or see how the experts answered the questions other people had during their presentation.  Meanwhile, I will continue to share some of the latest research news with my readers as they release it.

To get a good overview of Alzheimer's Disease and other types of dementia, as well as symptoms, causes, treatments and patient care, I recommend the helpful book, "Alzheimer's & Dementia for Dummies."  It is clearly written and a good source of information for anyone who has been diagnosed with cognitive impairment, or for anyone who is a caregiver for someone who is suffering from mental decline.

If you are interested in learning more about other common medical problems as we 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 pages.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you

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Photo of UCI taken by author.

Info in this report based on the Spring, 2019 issue of "MIND Matters"

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Dying of Loneliness - Living Alone Can Shorten Your Life

Approximately one-fourth of Americans over the age of 65 live alone.  By the time they reach age 85, this will increase to around one-half of senior citizens who are living alone.  What most of them do not realize is that living alone increases their risk of an early death by 32 percent, regardless of any other health issues they may have.  Loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese. Loneliness also lowers the quality of life for many senior citizens and even increases Medicare costs. Why does loneliness create so many problems, and what can we do to reduce the negative effects?

The Disease of Loneliness

Steve Cole, a researcher with UCLA, discovered that the blood cells of very lonely people behave the same way they would if they were under assault from a bacterial infection.  In other words, at the molecular level, lonely people appear to have a serious disease.

According to a report in AARP Magazine in the January 2020 issue, studies have shown that lonely people are more likely to die from heart disease.  They are also more likely to get Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.  In addition, they are more vulnerable to high blood pressure, suicide, and even the common cold.   The issue is so severe that it is estimated that loneliness costs Medicare an extra $7 billion a year, often because of the longer hospital stays caused by the lack of family support at home.

Loneliness can cause physical pain and inflammation, and this can also lead to tissue breakdown and impairment of the immune system.

Most people who live alone are in denial that they are lonely, despite the fact that they may spend very little time with other people. A person living alone may insist that they are not lonely, but the fact remains that people who live alone tend to have shortened lifespans.

Psychological Impact of Loneliness

Being lonely can cause an inflammatory response in our white blood cells, and the impact on our brain can cause a person to become more irritable, defensive, self-centered and suspicious.  In turn, these negative emotions cause lonely people to push people away, fear meeting anyone new, joining organizations, or initiating new friendships. It is not their fault. It is a common side effect of living alone.

 Lonely people are more like to misread social signals and facial expressions or someone's tone of voice. This can cause them to have a distorted view of the social world around them.  As a result, a lonely person may unconsciously signal disinterest or hostility to other people, which makes them pull away from the person who is already lonely.  Consequently, being lonely can breed even more loneliness.

Proven Ways to Combat Loneliness

The good news is that living alone does not have to result in pain, inflammation, irritability and disease, but only if they take action to reduce the impact of their loneliness.  Here are some of the suggestions included in the AARP Magazine article on loneliness in their January 2020 edition. 

Volunteer:  Helping others can give you a sense of purpose and reduce your feelings of loneliness.  It can also make you less self-centered and, because you are spending time with others, less lonely.  Doing something for someone else makes us feel better about ourselves. It also helps us learn how to reach out to others and show a sincere interest in the well-being of other people.  If you do not have a place of worship or belong to a community organization where you can volunteer, check the website for volunteer opportunities in your area.  People are needed in by a great many non-profit organizations.  You may be surprised at the opportunities available.  I have a friend who volunteers weekly in a hospital nursery, just holding and rocking premature babies.  Other friends volunteer in thrift stores, hospital gift shops, homeless shelters, food pantries and for other charitable causes. There are many ways to make a difference in the lives of others which, in turn, can help you.  

Make an Effort to Meet Others:  Do not just sit home alone, expecting other people to reach out to you.  Join a club or organization where you will regularly come in contact with other people who have similar interests.  Sign up for classes, especially if there is a discussion period involved.  Many senior centers and local colleges offer these types of classes for seniors. If you cannot find something on your own, try to find a social group at It is a site which will match you with people who have all kinds of interests, from people who are looking for others who want to socialize over dinner, go to movies, take hikes, play games, etc.  I have known people who found Meetup groups for single parents, friends to play Bunco with, bridge partners, walking groups and other types of fun.  It is very important that you meet people in person.  Online friends are not a substitute for the ones you spend time with face-to-face.  It also helps to seek friends you can build relationships with, not simply superficial connections.

You may also find it helpful to read the book "Here to Make Friends: How to Make Friends as an Adult."  (Ad)  It will help you go beyond casual relationships and help you build connections which are meaningful.  As you read the book, try putting their suggestions into action.  Thinking about making friends is not enough. You need to take action.

In addition, you must do more than simply meet people.  You need to learn how to show sincere curiosity about them and develop deeper relationships. Chatting with a waiter or a store clerk may seem friendly, but it is not the same as developing a true friendship. Ask questions and be genuinely interested in what is going on with the people you meet. Be willing to be open, friendly, and, most importantly, learn to become non-judgemental and non-critical. Accept others as they are; don't try to change them, or you will only push them away.  It may take practice, but these habits will make your relationships better.

Finally, if you join an established group, do NOT try to change them. Learning to be a good friend is learning how to adapt and join in the fun, not try to fix, change or improve other people.  This will immediately push them away and cause them to exclude you. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - If you find that you are having trouble making connections with others, research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most effective treatments.  It could help you learn how your own assumptions and behaviors have been working against you and keeping you from connecting with other people in meaningful ways.  It can also help you learn new behaviors so you can have deeper, more personal, less critical friendships.  Working with a behavioral therapist will also help you understand why you may be having difficulty with your friendships and other personal relationships.  A therapist may also help you overcome your reluctance to change your living situation to one in which it will be easier for you to build connections with other people, and they can help you deal with any problems which may arise. You are never too old to learn how to make a friend and be a friend.  A therapist can help.

Medications May Help - Some researchers have discovered that treating the actual physical pain and inflammation caused by loneliness can also make it easier for some people to feel less disconnected and lonely.  Surprisingly, some common medications which have been used include acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), and the type of antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).  Regular doses of these, often on a temporary basis, have been shown to be useful in reducing the physical pain and inflammation which sometimes cause lonely people to withdraw even more.  These medications, along with other behavioral changes, can break the cycle in which loneliness results in physical pain and inflammation, and the pain causes people to shut others out, causing more loneliness.  There is no shame in getting the help you need to break the cycle.

Whatever you try, it is important to disrupt the cycle of loneliness, because it not only can lower the quality of your life, but loneliness can be a killer.

More Ways to Reduce Your Loneliness

Although it was not mentioned in the AARP article, the obvious solution to the loneliness caused from living alone is to simply change your living situation to one where you maintain your privacy but you are not alone so much.  Many older people who are divorced, widowed or alone for other reasons in their senior years have found it helpful to live in one of the hundreds of over-55 communities around the United States.  These communities provide a wide variety of age-appropriate activities, clubs and classes, all of which are great opportunities to meet other people.

Some people have also discovered that they can improve the quality of their life by moving into a private independent living apartment in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, where they know they will receive any nursing assistance or personal care they need whenever they get ill ... which is likely to happen more often as they age.  The combination of a private apartment inside a community of other people, surrounded by helpful staff, often provides the best of both worlds for people as they age, especially if they are chronically ill, frail, or elderly.  No one really wants to die alone, isolated from friends and family. The sooner you take steps to avoid that, the better off you will be.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.  

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare, common medical issues as you age, 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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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Do-It-Yourself Wills - The Pros and Cons

A shocking 60 percent of American adults do not have a will.  This includes both young parents who have failed to choose a guardian for their children in the event of their death, as well as very elderly people who want to leave their assets to their loved ones, but have never bothered to put their wishes in writing. In fact, even for those over the age of 55, approximately 45 percent do not have a will.  There is little reason for this, because nearly anyone can quickly and easily make a will which will satisfy the legal requirements in their state. 

Why Do You Need a Will?

Everyone should have a will, even if they have very few assets.  If you die without one, the laws of your state will decide who gets your assets, including the contents of your bank accounts.  Even if you do not own much of value, you still want to be the person who decides who will get your favorite artwork, jewelry, motorcycle, or car, if you die unexpectedly.  Once you have children, a will becomes even more important.  You will want to use it to designate the person who will be the guardian of the children if you die before they become adults.  This is not something to be left to the courts, because you know things about your friends and family that the state does not know.  For example, is one of your siblings more responsible than the others?  Do you have a friend or family member who is more willing and able to care for your children?  You need to make these decisions, not a judge.

You Can Make an Affordable Will Online in Less than an Hour

Some people do not have a will because they are concerned about the expense of meeting with an attorney to have one professionally written.  Other people do not believe that their assets are large enough to warrant spending a lot of money on a will.  Fortunately, you can easily go online and create your own will quickly and cheaply. There are a variety of websites which make it easy for you to create a will, trust, and any other documents you need.  Among the sites you will want to check out are:

You can also order the Quicken WillMaker Plus.  (Ad) It is a software package which contains everything you need and is highly rated.

For those who do not have a computer, you may want to just order blank forms you can fill in, such as the Family Law Legal Planning Kit. (Ad) It has blank forms you can copy and fill-in, as well as laminated instruction sheets.  You can handwrite or type the information directly onto the form. This is perfect for someone who wants to keep it as simple as possible.

At the very least, whichever system you use, you will want to make sure the documents you create include a will, a trust, an advance health care directive, and a power of attorney to cover financial matters in the event you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

Your healthcare provider may have already had you complete an advance health care directive, especially if you have been admitted to a hospital, had surgery, or you are undergoing complex treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer.  An advance health care directive covers issues such as whether or not you want to have your life extended artificially and for what length of time, whether you would want to be on equipment such as a breathing tube if doctors have declared you brain dead, or what organs or tissue, if any, you would be willing to make available for transplant.  My healthcare provider, Kaiser Permanente, holds classes to help people complete their health care directive, and my husband and I found the class was very helpful.  They also provided the necessary witnesses, so we were able to complete the form without undo stress or complications.

Advantage of Do-It-Yourself Wills

The most obvious advantage of a do-it-yourself will is that you can create everything you need at home, privately, with very little fuss.

They are quick.  Nearly all of the documents can be created in less than an hour.  My husband and I used Legal Zoom to do our will and, a few weeks after filling everything out online, we were mailed a beautiful printed copy of the will, trust and other documents for us to sign and have witnessed.

Do-it-yourself wills are affordable. The cost ranges from free to under $200 for everything you need.  This is a bargain compared to the cost of hiring a professional to do the will for you.

Risks of a Do-It-Yourself Wills

Although creating a simple will yourself is very affordable and appealing, there are risks which could result in unexpected estate planning mistakes.

It is important for you to follow the formalities for your state.  For example, in New York the witnesses must sign the document and include their home addresses.  In Louisiana, the wills must be signed in front of a notary public.  If the online site you use does not give you specific information about signing the will in your state, you can find the pertinent laws at:

Another potential problem is that, if you have a complicated personal or financial life, you may not be able to deal with all your complex wishes in a simple online will.  For example, if you have an adult child who is mentally or physically handicapped, you may need a special trust set up for their care.  If you are estranged from one of your children and they will not be included in the will, you may need professional assistance to make sure you handle this situation correctly in your state. If you own a farm or business and plan to pass it on to one or more of your children, you may need professional help to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible, while paying a minimum of estate taxes on the business or farm.  In other words, any situation which is not a simple split of your assets among your heirs, with a few specific bequests, may require you to get help from an attorney.

If you make a critical error, it may not affect you, but it could certainly create bad feelings, confusion and unnecessary expenses for your family members after you are gone.

According to professional trustee, executor and estate planner, Marguerite C. Lorenz, in an article she wrote titled "The Problems with Do-It-Yourself Online Wills," the biggest risk is that "you don't know what you don't know."  There are laws and probate code which could affect what happens after you die, and you may not fully understand the implications of some of the decisions you made in your will.

One of the things you may not know is that you do not want to put your funeral instructions in your will.  You want to discuss these plans with your relatives while you are alive, put them in writing, and give your instructions to a family member.  If they are written in your will, your instructions may not even be found or read until after you are buried!

You also need to know that your retirement account assets, your life insurance, and your annuities do NOT get passed down through a will.  These assets have beneficiary-designation forms which take precedence over a will.  Make sure you have completed these forms and keep them up-to-date, or your former spouse may end up with your life insurance or 401(k).

Do not forget to ask someone to be your executor before you name them in your will.  The first person you ask may not want that responsibility, which could cause problems after you are gone. 

The goals of a will are to avoid the necessity of having your heirs go to court, and to make your desires clear.  If your will does not achieve these goals, you have missed the mark.

However, even estate planner Marguerite C. Lorenz agrees that whether you hire a professional or use a do-it-yourself online service, everyone should have a will.  Dying without a will is much worse than any difficulties which could arise from having a will which has been completed on a do-it-yourself site. 

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, common medical issues as you age, travel 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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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Seniors Embrace Technology and Smartphones

Many younger adults have the impression that people over the age of 65 are clueless and incompetent when it comes to using technology. However, although that may be true for the most elderly seniors, many members of the Baby Boomer generation are either still in the workforce or they have just retired in the past few years.  Consequently, they are more comfortable with modern technology than their children and grandchildren may realize.

As a Baby Boomer myself, nearly everyone I know has a smartphone, a computer, and access to the internet. The majority of my friends are also active on social media, at the very least using Facebook.  In fact, according to surveys, over 80% of Baby Boomers are on at least one form of Social Media, primarily on Facebook. About 13% of Baby Boomers use LinkedIn; 5% use Twitter and 1% use Instagram.  Women tend to post more frequently than men.  Baby Boomers are also more likely than their younger relatives to share political content. *

While Baby Boomers are often lumped in with older seniors in their 80s and 90s by younger generations, it is the Baby Boomer generation which is primarily responsible for the rapid increase in the use of technology by senior citizens. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, smartphone use among Americans over the age of 65 has quadrupled since 201l.  Most of these smartphone users are Baby Boomers, with their numbers growing daily.

Below are some additional interesting statistics about people over the age of 65 and their use of technology.

Senior Citizens over age 65 and the Technology They Use

Remember, the statistics below include all older people, including those in their late 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and those over 100, not just the Baby Boomers, who are currently under 75. As a result, the fact that so many seniors in general are using the internet and smartphones is quite impressive.  These statistics are from the Pew Research Center.

For ALL Seniors over the age of 65:

67% use the internet

51% have home broadband

42% have a smartphone

32% have a tablet (like an iPad)

34% use social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram

AARP Survey of Smartphone Use by All Seniors

AARP has also surveyed their members, and this is what they found:

Of the 42% of people over the age of 65 who own a smartphone, nearly all of them are sophisticated enough to use it for more than just making phone calls.

89% use it to send and receive emails or text messages

77% get traffic information and directions

42% play games on their smartphone

34% watch videos or shows on it

28% use their smartphone to manage their medical care (for example, getting lab results, messaging their doctors, or ordering prescriptions)

Personally, I have noticed that many of the women I know also use their smartphones to take photos and videos, especially of their grandchildren and their trips, and share them with their friends. I rarely attend any casual social function where women are not passing their phones around, showing off their latest family photos!

Seniors Also Use Computers Regularly

According to the same surveys mentioned above, when making a purchase, 79% of senior citizens regularly use a computer; 35% are also comfortable using a cell phone to make purchases.

When looking online for discounts or deals, 61% do their research on a computer; 37% will turn to their smartphone.

When doing their banking or other financial transactions, 79% turn to their computer and 35% are willing to use a smartphone.

Among the people I know, the ability to do online banking from home, transfer money between accounts, and deposit checks electronically has been a tremendous help to people who no longer drive or who just do not want to go out in bad weather.  Shopping online has also made it much easier for seniors to buy gifts, have them wrapped, and mailed directly to family members.  In addition to gifts, some seniors are using their computers and smartphones to order groceries or have meals delivered to their homes. This has greatly benefited seniors who find it difficult to get out and go shopping.

Seniors have a Positive Attitude about Technology

When asked by the Pew Research Center about the effect technology has had on society, 58% believe the effect has been mostly positive, 33% felt the effect has been a mix of good and bad, and only 4% of those over the age of 65 believe that the results have been mostly negative.

Having a positive attitude about technology is important, because it is likely that the ability to use a computer and smartphone will be even more important in the future, when these devices could become the major way most of us contact our doctor, pay our bills, manage our finances, order our medications and groceries, or perform other aspects of daily living.  

Generation X Will be Also Start Retiring in the Coming Decade

Most of the above statistics reflect the impact of  the10,000 Baby Boomers who are reaching age 65 every single day in the United States.  Because of their experiences in the work force, they are bringing their comfort with technology into retirement with them.

Over the next ten years, the Baby Boomers will be followed by Generation X.  This age group was born between 1965 and 1980, which means the oldest of them will begin turning 55 in 2020 and and could start moving into retirement communities, joining the Baby Boomers and older generations in these neighborhoods.   As Generation X ages, the percentage of seniors using the most advanced technology will continue to increase. 

In my own retirement community, I recently overheard two men chatting at the gym, complaining that they didn't like the music and activities offered by the Baby Boomers Club and they thought they should start a Generation X club!   Progress continues to march on!

If you are retired or a Baby Boomer and would like to share your personal experiences with technology, please share them in the comments section below.

If you are interested in learning more about aging, retirement planning, common medical issues as you age, Medicare, 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.

* Sources for statistics about Social Media usage:  and from:  Pew Research Center as reported by AARP in their publications in 2019.

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