Friday, September 30, 2022

Social Media Safety for Retirees --- and Everyone Else

Many of my friends are retired and they make up most of my social media connections, as well.  Now that they are no longer in the work force, they have much more time to spend on various sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  

Personally, I love how easy it is to stay in touch with distant friends through various types of social media.  It is so nice to enjoy photos of their trips, their grandchildren, and special events in their communities.  Some of them are people I have not seen in decades, and would have no idea what is happening with them without the help of Facebook and Instagram.  I also like seeing recent photos of my grandchildren and other relatives, since I do not see them as often as I would like to.

However, I have also seen situations where I recognized that my friends have put themselves, their families, and their friends in danger, without realizing it.  Perhaps if they knew about some of the risks they are taking, they would become more careful.

Here are a few of the things everyone who uses Social Media should know.

Avoid Online Quizzes

Many of the quizzes you see on sites like Facebook are actually "phishing expeditions" which are intended to steal the personal information of the people who participate. Those games sound like so much fun, but the researchers who create these quizzes are actually putting together a secret portfolio about you.  They may suggest you discover your "special name or animal" based on your birth month.  At other times, they ask you if you remember the names of streets where you lived as a child, your first pet, the first concert you attended, your favorite foods, and so on.  What they are looking for are clues that would help them guess your passwords, and then they can use an online automated tool to run thousands of combinations, until they get access to your accounts.

Once they access your social media accounts, they can also get information about all of your friends who are connected to you on those sites.  As a result, you are not only exposing yourself, but you are exposing them, as well.

Watch Out for Engineered Social Media Messages

Once scammers know your name and a little about you, they can pretend to be you and send messages to your family and friends.  For example, they may send out a Facebook message, pretending to be you, and include a link.  If one of your friends clicks on the link, they may discover they just downloaded dangerous malware onto their computer.  

Another way a scammer can misuse this information is by sending emails to your friends, asking for donations, financial help in an emergency, or for gift cards to be sent to "help a sick relative." I know of two separate ministers from two different churches who have had their Social Media accounts hacked, and messages were sent to all their church members asking for everyone to send them an "Amazon card to help someone in need."  In fact, neither minister knew anything about this message being sent under their names, and the Amazon cards were directed to the off-shore account of a stranger in another country.  It was impossible for the donors to recover their funds.

If your information is misused, it sometimes starts with you answering perfectly innocent questions on social media.

Social media can be very addictive, too, especially for someone who is lonely and spends a lot of time at home by themselves, which has been the case for many people the past few years. The television show, Frontline, put together a documentary which might interest you:  "The Facebook Dilemma."  (Ad)  

Be Careful About Releasing Personal Information

Even if you do not participate in online games and quizzes, you might still release dangerous information about yourself, if you are not careful.  For example, do not post photos of your vacations while you are still traveling.  Wait until you get home. Do not post photos of expensive items you just received for Christmas or a birthday. These types of posts can be tempting invitations to thieves, especially if your post is public or if you have a huge number of Facebook "friends," or if your account has secretly been hacked. 

Be Aware of Who Sees Your Posts

Although I have this blog, as well as public Twitter and Instagram accounts which I use to promote articles on this blog and products on my Etsy Store, my other social media accounts are very private.  I carefully controls who sees my personal posts.  

Even when I post on my private Facebook page, not all of my Facebook friends see all of my posts.  Did you know that you can create various groups that can only see the posts you want them to see?  This can be very handy if you want to say something political or comment on anything controversial.  It is also convenient if you only want some of your friends to see private photos of your grandchildren, or your vacation photos.

Personally, I have several different groups who see only the posts I intend for them.  Only occasionally are my posts shown to all my Facebook friends. Everyone should try to limit the number of people who see their posts to those people who are actual, real-life friends whom you trust.  In addition, if you are discussing any sensitive information (such as about your career), you may also feel more comfortable limiting who sees your opinions.

As for Instagram, I only have a very small number of personal Instagram friends, just my family and very close friends.  I deny all friend requests from strangers.  I have a much larger business Instagram account for my Etsy Store, and I manage to keep my two accounts separate.  You can follow me on Instagram at:

It is especially important to be careful what you reveal about yourself on sites like Nextdoor. Only post to your immediate neighborhood.  Even then, be careful about revealing your address or too much information to strangers.  On sites like Nextdoor, it is far too easy to accidentally provide thousands of strangers with your phone number, email and home address, especially if you use your account to try to sell or give away unwanted items.  Choose your audience carefully, and limit the personal information you provide.

As a result of the safeguards I have taken, I feel safe promoting my Etsy store in public.  Whenever a stranger messages me and seems to go "off-topic" and ask personal questions, I do not respond. If they become persistent in trying to send me a direct message, I block them.  If someone wants to buy a tote bag or piece of jewelry from my shop, I am happy to help them. If they want to know where I live or anything else personal, I do not provide that information.

My Etsy store provides all the information most people would ever need to know about the products I have designed and sell there. For example, I give the information about the item, the sales price, the shipping information and other facts about my jewelry in each Etsy listing. That is all the information they need. They don't need to know where I live or how to reach me outside of Etsy. Anyone who has an online business needs to be careful about the personal information they release.

If you would like to see the gifts in my shop and want to learn more about my Etsy store, DeborahDianGifts, you can check it out here: 

Review Your Security and Privacy Settings on Every Site

When you use any type of social media account, take a little time periodically to check your privacy settings.  Make sure that no one can see your posts unless you want them to. Occasionally remove the names of anyone who has died or whom you no longer see.  Do this so that someone pretending to be them cannot infiltrate your accounts.

Use strong passwords, and a different one for every account you have.  To be extra careful, change your passwords every 30 days, or use one of those sites which will handle your passwords for you.  You may also want to use two-factor authentication, which means that a website or app must confirm a password change by sending a code to a secondary source, such as your email or a text to your cellphone.

My suggestion is that you get an address book and list your passwords in it.  It will help you keep them organized.

How to Find Your Privacy Settings

Facebook - They have multilevel privacy settings, so you must review each one.  Set them so everything is as private as possible.  Look for Facebook's "privacy check" and "privacy shortcuts"  and they will guide you to the various settings.

Instagram - This site is owned by Facebook and the two sites can be linked by users.  To find the Instagram privacy settings, click on the three vertical lines in the the upper-right corner. (Those lines are sometimes called the hamburger menu.)  From there, you can make your privacy settings somewhat secure.  However, you should also refuse to allow anyone to follow your private Instagram account, unless you know them personally.

Twitter - Click on the three dots in the column on the left of your screen (under the link to your profile), and then click on "settings and privacy".  This will enable you to control your Tweets, disable your location, discover who can see your posts, and more.  

Nextdoor - Go to the Settings tab to determine how your name is displayed on the site and whether you want to get notifications when someone in your neighborhood posts something.  Be very careful about which neighborhoods to follow whenever you post something.  This is your greatest risk on this site ... that you will post to many more neighborhoods than those which are closest to you.  You may want to shorten your name, either using just your first name and last initial, or your first initial and your last name.   You may even want to use a middle name or something similar, to make it harder for someone to look up your personal address. Avoid getting into controversial discussions on Nextdoor.  It can cause unnecessary friction with your neighbors.

Look for the privacy settings on any other sites you use, too.

Block People Who Make You Uncomfortable

Whether someone reaches out to you by email, Twitter or wants to "friend" you on another site, feel free to block anyone who makes you uncomfortable for any reason.  Do they seem overly friendly?  Are they asking you personal questions?  Is a stranger "love bombing" you, paying you lavish compliments on your appearance, asking you to be friends in real life, or inviting you to try "free samples" of a product? Are they asking for financial assistance?  It is best to block them and remove their ability to view anything you post.  These are all popular tricks of scammers ... and many of them are very good at convincing you that they are sincere.  Don't fall for it.

An unbelievable number of scammers have used social media to successfully trick people into "lending" them money or providing personal information.  Don't let yourself become their next victim.

If you are interested in learning more about the effects of social media, you might consider watching "The Social Dilemma," a documentary which is available on Netflix.  The advantage of watching it and the other video recommended here is that they will make you more conscious of how you use social media.  Have fun, enjoy it, use it to stay in touch with your friends and family, but do not get yourself in trouble with it.

Buy this at:
The bottom line is that you need to take every precaution to keep your life as private as possible.

For example, photos I take are often used to design the products on my Etsy store, including this framed photo of the California redwoods in the far northern part of the state, near Eureka. However, I never give people any other details about how it is that I came to take those photos.

You can also find inspirational jewelry, 12 Step gifts, gifts for retirees, t-shirts, and other items at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts.  Check it out at:

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Photo credits: istock and the author's Etsy store.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Electrical Brain Stimulation for Memory Improvement in Seniors - tDCS Machines and Our Brains

"Cheerleader Brain" - Mascot of the UCI Memory Lab

One of the things we may want to do when we are retired is to take some risks which we may not have tried when we were younger, still working, and raising a family.  In May, 2022, I volunteered to participate in an electrical brain stimulation program at the Working Memory and Plasticity Laboratory at the University of California in Irvine.  I admit I was nervous about having electricity shot through my brain, but I also wanted to see if it could help me avoid dementia.  Only time will tell if that will be the eventual effect, but I have seen some measurable short-term improvement in my memory, so I already feel that the risk was worth the benefit to me.

The brain stimulation program began with an MRI and a variety of memory tests, which set a baseline for me.  The following week, I went to the Memory Lab for five days of additional memory tests.  While performing some of the tests, my head was covered with electrodes which were hooked up to a tDCS machine which sent a mild current of electricity through my brain. I did not feel anything and even wondered if the machine was actually working. The following week, I had a second MRI.  During this follow-up MRI, they flashed words on a screen and I used a hand-held device to indicate which words I had been asked to memorize during the preceding week.  

After this single week of electrical brain stimulation, I subjectively noticed that my memory seemed to be a little better and quicker.  However, being a skeptic, I wasn't sure if I was just imagining the improvement.

Three months later, in August, 2022, I had a third MRI and another battery of memory tests to see if the improvement in my memory had continued to last.  Similar to what the researchers did in the second MRI, during the third MRI they flashed words on a screen and I used a hand-held device to indicate which words I had been asked to memorize three months before.  I was surprised at how many I still clearly remembered!  Then, I took a fresh battery of memory tests and reached a higher level of short-time memory than I had in the past. In other words, my memory was measurably better!

International Interest in the Effects of Electric Brain Stimulation on Memory

The research being done at the Working Memory and Plasticity Lab at UCI is being conducted by Dr. Susanne Jaeggi and has been financed by a variety of organizations including the NIH National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Defense.  

The research collaborators include other American universities such as Stanford, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in the U.S., and research facilities around the world including collaborators at the University of Granada in Spain, Universities of Geneva and Bern in Switzerland, and many other international universities. 

Some of the Results of the Electrical Brain Stimulation Studies

While a variety of other researchers have been publishing the results from their studies, here are some of the general effects which have been found by the researchers at the University of California in Irvine:

Improvements in:

Working Memory

Long-term Memory

Visuospatial (reasoning) skills

Scholastic skills (math and reading)

They also learned that the results they found at the end of just one week of training have continued for at least several months after the training was completed, which suggests that the benefits could be long-term.  This could be a game changer in reversing mild cognitive decline and might even help postpone dementia!

The researchers also noted that the more effort people put into the training while undergoing brain stimulation, the more they improved.  They believe that cognitive strength, like physical strength, must be "exercised" in order to prevent decline.  

It was also important that the test subjects be fully engaged during the training.  It was not enough to just lay back and have a machine send an electrical current through the brain. The test subjects had to be working to improve their memory.  The people who did not improve their memory scores during the week of training had smaller benefits than those who tried hard to improve during the week.

My Personal Experience with Electrical Brain Stimulation

Fortunately, I did not experience any pain or discomfort during the sessions, other than the awkwardness of having electrodes attached to various spots on my skull with the use of a helmet ... and the terrible mess it made of my hair!

In doing the memory tests to the best of my ability, I sometimes experienced feelings of stress, especially when I failed to remember something I thought I should know, or when I felt a moment of confusion during some of the more complex memory games.  In pushing the test subject to perform to their maximum, I would assume that some people developed headaches during or after their sessions.  However, I felt fine afterwards. 

Being subjected to three MRIs in such a short period of time, especially when doing a memory activity during the last two MRIs, was a bit exhausting.  Each MRI took approximately an hour, during which time I was in a narrow tube with my head fixated into one position.  This procedure was certainly not something I would recommend to anyone with claustrophobia!

Slides of my actual brain from final MRI at UCI

It was all worthwhile in the end, because the researchers did see a measurable improvement in my memory compared to when I started the training.  My increased memory was also still measurable three months later.  Subjectively, I continue to feel as if my thinking has been a bit clearer and quicker since participating in the program.  Perhaps there is some placebo effect, but there is no question that the researchers were also able to measure that I had an increased memory after completing the training. 

After the final MRI, the researchers also gave me a CD showing slides of my actual brain.  They also told me that my brain was symmetrical, and had no obvious evidence of trauma, a medical problem, signs of a stroke, or a tumor. They also told me that some of the other test subjects had brain issues which resulted in them being referred to their personal physicians.  However, they said that visually my brain looked fine.  That was very reassuring!

How You Can Protect Your Brain

The UCI Working Memory and Plasticity Lab also gave me a brochure which suggested that I continue to take care of my brain by getting enough sleep, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet and being socially engaged.  They also recommended continued cognitive engagement which includes taking classes, or learning a new skill such as a foreign language, playing bridge or learning to play a musical instrument.

Personally, I believe that doing research on a wide variety of topics, like the ones I cover in this retirement blog,, as well as using my creativity to design products for my Etsy store have both been healthy ways to continue to practice the types of cognitive engagement they recommend. I am constantly required to learn new skills in order to effectively manage these websites. I also continue to practice a variety of word and memory games.  All these activities give me hope that I might be able to avoid dementia in the future.

How to learn more 

If you are interested in following this research or learning more about what has been discovered by cognitive researchers from around the world, you can go to the website of the UCI Working Memory & Plasticity Lab at:

The website contains a wealth of fascinating information, including links to articles which have been published by different researchers, as well as a very interesting video you can watch on the home page.  It shows examples of some of the memory games participants were asked to perform.  If I receive additional information about the results of this project, I will write future posts about it in this blog.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us.  You will receive a weekly email with the most current post. 

If you are interested in learning more about retirement, Medicare, Social Security, common medical issues as we age, 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 helpful articles.

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

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Photo credit: UCI Memory Lab, Etsy