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BY DOROTHY ROSBY I’ll be 40 next year. Did I say 40? I meant 60. Same difference. They both fall under the ben...
Dear Savvy Senior,My husband and I, who are both 66 years old, have fallen behind on our mortgage payments and have accumulated quite a bit of credit card debt over the past few years. Where can we get help?Drowning in Debt
Unfortunately, credit card and mortgage debt have become a growing problem for many older Americans who often face medical-related expenses on top of their mortgage and other growing costs. Here are some tips and services that can help.
Credit Card Counseling
To help you get a handle on your credit card debt, a good place to turn is an accredited credit counseling agency. These are nonprofit agencies that offer free financial information and advice on how to handle financial problems.
Depending on the significance of your credit card debt, they can help you sort out your finances and set you up in a debt management plan (DMP), which allows a counselor to negotiate with your creditors to lower your interest rates and eliminate any late fees and other penalties.
The agency will then act as a consolidator, grouping your debts together into one payment that you would make, and distributes those funds to your creditors. Typically, the first counseling session is free, but a DMP comes with monthly fees of roughly $20 to $75 a month, depending on the state.
To locate a credible agency in your area, use the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website at NFCC.org (800-388-2227), or the or the Financial Counseling Association of America FCAA.org (800-450-1794).
But make sure that you don’t use a debt settlement company that claims to settle all your debt or cut it in half for a fee without counseling. Most of these companies use deceptive practices and will only leave you more in debt then you already are.
If you have fallen behind on your mortgage payments, or if you have already received a letter or phone call about missed payments, you should contact your lender immediately to explain your situation and see if you can work out a payment plan. Be prepared to provide your financial information, such as your monthly income and expenses.
You can also get help from a foreclosure prevention counselor. These are HUD-approved, trained counselors that will work with you, examine your financial situation, and offer guidance on how best to avoid default or foreclosure. They can also represent you in negotiations with your lender if you need them to.
To find a government-approved housing counseling agency in your area, use the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Financial Counseling Association of America websites or phone numbers previously listed. Or, for a larger selection of housing counseling options see the Department of Housing and Urban Development website at HUD.gov – click on “Resources” at the top of the page, then on “Foreclosure Avoidance Counseling,” or call 800-569-4287.
You also need to make sure you’re not missing out on any financial assistance programs. The National Council on Aging’s website (BenefitsCheckUp.org) contains a database of more than 2,500 federal, state and local programs that can help seniors with prescription drug costs, health care, food, utilities, and other basic needs. The site will help you locate programs that you may be eligible for and will show you how to apply.
BY DOROTHY ROSBY
I’ll be 40 next year. Did I say 40? I meant 60. Same difference. They both fall under the benign-sounding umbrella of “middle age,” though it seems to me calling 60 “middle” might be a tad optimistic.
Still, it’s a lovely time in life. I’d even go so far as to say it’s the best time in life. For many of us, middle age offers more freedom than we’ve had since we were 21. And somehow we gain some credibility as we mature. Everyone believes me when I say I’m 59. No one believed me all those years I said I was 29.
But middle age has a downside. My siblings call it geezeritus, and I can sum it up in two words: Now what?
One day we notice we’ve got less hair on our heads and more in our noses. We go to buy shoes and find out our feet are still growing. As it turns out, so are our noses and ears. I’m not making that up. Cartilage continues to grow until the day we die. Not only that, gravity makes our lobes hang down like the ears on a basset hound. This is all very disconcerting to someone whose feet, ears and nose were already ample.
To be fair, we also shrink in a few places. The subcutaneous fat that fills out youthful faces decreases as we age, as does the fat that cushions the soles of young feet. I don’t know about you, but this is not where I was hoping to lose inches. I can only conjecture that during middle age, fat leaves our feet and faces and migrates to our abs.
Middle age comes with an assortment of aches and pains too. Not long ago, I had a case of trigger finger though I don’t own a gun and I’ve had tennis elbow in both elbows. I haven’t played tennis in years, though apparently I have the elbows for it.
These sorts of issues make middle-aged people acutely aware of body parts we barely knew we had when we were younger. I know what you’re saying. “You didn’t realize you had elbows before?” Sure I did—but just on my right side. Being right handed, I was only vaguely aware of my left elbow in the same way I’m only vaguely aware I have a spleen. I know it’s there; I’m just not sure what it’s good for.
More serious issues tend to show up in middle age too. I was 53 when I learned I’d inherited both glaucoma and thyroid disease. Some people inherit money. I think that would be more fun.
It’s no wonder middle age people start getting anxious about all sorts of things we never gave a thought to before. Every stomachache could be cancer, every headache could be a brain tumor and we start fearing early-onset Alzheimer’s every time we forget something. Obviously one of the things we’re forgetting is that we’ve been forgetting things our whole life.
On the bright side, geezeritus doesn’t happen all at once which is lucky. If we went to sleep 22 years old and woke up 62, we’d probably call the police and report an intruder.
And we can all take comfort in the fact that as long as we’re middle aged, we’re not old. Of course, we are, without a doubt, the oldest we’ve ever been. But most of us thought it would take a lot longer to get here. In fact, many of us were sure we never would. Somehow all young people think they’re going to live a long time but never get old. Once we hit middle age, we see the foolishness in that and a lot of other things we used to think. I guess we can have fat in our faces or we can have brains. We can’t have both.
Recently, the Search Institute, an organization that has as its vision to ensure that all young people have what they need to thrive, released a new initiative entitled “Relationships First, Creating Connections That Help Young People Flourish”. In 1990, the Search Institute introduced the Developmental Assets framework which integrates insights from the fields of prevention, resilience and positive youth development to identify critical relationships, opportunities, and personal strengthens what young people need to succeed. Since that time, studies of Developmental Assets have been conducted with 6 million young people across the United States and around the world. Studies have shown that adolescents who possess developmental assets are resilient, and possess grit and perseverance when dealing with obstacles and hardship.
The new “Relationships First” initiative adds to the body of literature that a connected child is a protected child. After decades of forming hypotheses, conducting surveys, analyzing data and publishing journal articles, Search Institutes’ researchers and practitioners arrived at a surprisingly simple conclusion; nothing has more impact in the life of a child than positive relationships.
Developmental relationships between parents and youth are associated with multiple areas of well-being and human thriving. The first category outlined in the research is social and emotional competencies, which includes self-awareness (based on self-discovery and a positive view of themselves), knowing their gifts, talents, passions and purpose. Emotional intelligence is defined by being aware of feelings, the ability to manage feelings and awareness and compassion toward the feelings of others. Children who are connected to their parents are also open to challenges and explore new things. They are responsible, own their behaviors, and fulfill their commitments.
School administrators should be aware that children who are connected have higher academic strength, are motivated to learn, master new skills and graduate. They possess an inner drive to succeed.
Community leaders should know that young people who are connected to their families, school and the community are more civically engaged, more motivated to serve and, more equipped to help others, and see serving others as a personal responsibility and value.
Finally, these students are much less likely to get involved in high risk behaviors such as substance use, violence, crime, gangs, early sexual debut, bullying, cheating or vandalism.
To operationalize the characteristics of positive relationships, the Search Institute researchers outlined the concepts of: caring, kindness, shared interests, investment of time, dependability, structure, affirmation, encouragement, fostering hope, expecting the best, accountability, monitoring, learning from mistakes, setting boundaries, sharing power, inspiring, teaching, respect and advocating for their child by providing support.
The Center for Relationship Education trains and certifies individuals to teach these skills to individuals of all ages so they can experience positive relationships that are thriving. It is imperative to collaborate with schools, community leaders, youth serving agency personnel, government programs, Health and Human Service directors, legislators, foundations, community and faith-based organizations to reduce poverty, crime, non-marital childbearing, teen suicide (and other mental health issues), substance abuse, violence, and promote primary prevention and optimal health for all. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.myrelationship
Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about the flu shots designed for older adults? I got sick last winter after getting a standard flu shot and would like to find out if the senior-specific flu vaccine is worth getting.
There are actually two different types of flu shots available to people age 65 and older. These FDA-approved vaccines are designed to offer extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot provides, which is important for older adults who have weaker immune defenses and have a great risk of developing dangerous flu complications.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that during the 2018-2019 flu season, up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died because of the flu – most of whom were seniors.
You also need to be aware that these senior-specific flu shots cannot guarantee that you won’t get the flu this season, but they will lower your risk. And if you do happen to get sick, you probably won’t get as sick as you would without it. Here’s more information on the two vaccines:
Approved for U.S. use in 2009, the Fluzone High-Dose is a high-potency vaccine that contains four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for better protection. This vaccine, according to a 2013 clinical trial, was 24 percent more effective than the regular-dose shot at preventing flu in seniors.
FLUAD: Available in the U.S. since 2016, the FLUAD vaccine contains an added ingredient called adjuvant MF59 that also helps create a stronger immune response. In a 2012 Canadian observational study, FLUAD was 63 percent more effective than a regular flu shot. The CDC does not recommend one vaccination over the other, and to date, there have been no studies comparing the two vaccines.
You should also know that both the Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD can cause more of the mild side effects that can occur with a standard-dose flu shot, like pain or tenderness where you got the shot, muscle aches, headache or fatigue. And neither vaccine is recommended for seniors who are allergic to chicken eggs, or those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
If you are allergic to eggs you can ask for a Flucelvax or FluBlok shot. Neither of these vaccines uses chicken eggs in their manufacturing process.
All of these vaccines are covered 100 percent by Medicare Part B as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays.
Two other important vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year, and about 50,000 people die from it.
The CDC recommends that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations –Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered just once at different times, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection.
If you haven’t yet received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 at least one year later. But if you’ve already been vaccinated with Pneumovax 23, wait at least one year before getting the Prevnar 13.
Medicare Part B covers both shots, if they are taken at least one year apart.
To locate a vaccination site that offers any of these shots, visit VaccineFinder.org and type in your location.
We all want to be part of a group and belong. It is one of the hallmarks of being human. When we think of peer pressure, we associate it with adolescents and risk-taking. Peer pressure effects adults as well. It is the social influence a group exerts on its members and each member tries to conform to the expectations of the group. It may not be as direct or intentional as the kind of peer pressure teenagers experience, but peer pressure in adulthood can be every bit as harmful. If you have adopted beliefs, goals and interests based on what others do or believe, peer pressure will be present whether it is positive or negative. It could be about expectations that are placed on us, either overtly or covertly. Suppose your siblings have a new car. To prove yourself worthy and successful, there is pressure to get a new car. Suppose when your peer group gets together, they drink too much. Even though you are not a “big drinker”, you find yourself being frequently overserved.
Peer pressure can also be positive. Perhaps people in your tribe have gone back to school to get advanced degrees, it gives encouragement and motivation to investigate continuing your education. Peer pressure could also be considered accountability in its positive form. An example is a running buddy or going on a food journey together.
Research indicates that social acceptance triggers strong positive emotions and it is an incredible motivator for behavior. Generally, adolescents are more influenced by peer pressure than adults because of their lack of social skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
Mental health requires the ability to make decisions through thinking independently often with influence and support from family, friends and even role models. When we make decisions based on what other people think or say, we lose our autonomy and power. This could affect self-worth and stifle growth and maturity. To reach our full potential and develop a strong character we must be aware of our core beliefs and standards of conduct. This is imperative for resisting social norms that have been created in our culture such as speeding, accumulating debt, or cheating on taxes.
The best way to think autonomously and resist peer or social pressure is to outline core values and stick to them. Be assertive, and use “I” messages to convey your values and beliefs to your tribe. This will allow you to speak for yourself and not shame others if they are engaged in a behavior that does not align with your values. Increase your circle of friends. Be mindful and intentional to what you know is right, true, healthy and unhealthy. Become an advocate for yourself not giving power to those who might criticize or judge you. Seek out others who share and affirm your values and choices. If you have outgrown certain relationships, let them go and surround yourself with independent people who stay away from group think. Become a thought leader rather than a thought follower. It is good for your health! email@example.com
How much does cremation cost and how can I find a good deal in my area? I would like to get a simple, basic cremation that doesn’t cost me, or my family, a lot of money.
Cremation costs can vary widely. Depending on your location, the provider and the services you request, cremation can range anywhere from $500 to $7,500 or more. But that’s a lot cheaper than a full-service funeral and cemetery burial that averages nearly $11,000 today. Here are some tips to help you get a good deal.
Because prices can vary sharply by provider, the best way to get a good price on a simple “no frills” cremation is to call several funeral homes in your area (most funeral homes provide cremation services) and compare prices.
When you call, ask them specifically how much they charge for a “direct cremation,” which is the basic option and the least expensive. With direct cremation, there’s no embalming, formal viewing or funeral. It only includes the essentials: picking up the body, completing the required paperwork, the cremation itself and providing ashes to the family.
If your family wants to have a memorial service, they can have it at home or your place of worship after the cremation, in the presence of your remains.
If you want additional services beyond what a direct cremation offers, ask the funeral home for an itemized price list that covers the other service costs, so you know exactly what you’re getting. All providers are required by law to provide this.
To locate nearby funeral homes, look in your local yellow pages, or Google “cremation” or “funeral” followed by your city and state. You can also get good information online at Parting.com, which lets you compare prices from funeral providers in your area based on what you want.
Or, if you need more help contact your nearby funeral consumer alliance program (see Funerals.org/local-fca or call 802-865-8300 for contact information). These are volunteer groups located in most regions around the country that offer a wide range of information and prices on local funeral and cremation providers.
The urn is an item you need to be aware of that can drive up cremation costs. Funeral home urns usually cost around $100 to $300, but you aren’t required to get one.
Most funeral homes initially place ashes in a plastic bag that is inserted into a thick cardboard box. The box is all you need if you intend to have your ashes scattered. But if you want something to display, you can probably find a nice urn or comparable container online. Walmart.com and Amazon.com for example, sells urns for under $50. Or, you may want to use an old cookie jar or container you have around the house instead of a traditional urn.
Another option you may want to consider that provides free cremation is to donate your body to a university medical facility. After using your body for research, they will cremate your remains for free (some programs may charge a small fee to transport your body to their facility), and either bury or scatter your ashes in a local cemetery or return them to your family, usually within a year or two.
To find a medical school near you that accepts body donations, the University of Florida maintains a directory at Anatbd.acb.med.ufl.edu/us
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
Now that Fall is approaching and the holidays will be upon us, I think about hosting dinner parties and family members who come from faraway places to celebrate holidays and family traditions. The thought of getting everything ready for the holidays is daunting and overwhelming. Yet, we are called to open our home and our hands with generosity and kindness. How should I respond when I am so busy with my work, my life and my responsibilities? How do I carve up enough energy to do what it takes to get through the holidays and all the obligations with grace and gratitude? I go through these mental and emotional machinations every year. This year I am going to be better, more organized and less stressed, enjoy my company and simplify the way I entertain. What else can I do to be better at this?
The word “entertain” means to provide with amusement or enjoyment; to hold the attention pleasantly or agreeably; divert; amuse. The word “hospitality” means the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; the quality of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.
I have never thought about the differences between hospitality and entertaining. No wonder I get stressed. My expectations of entertaining is to have everything perfect. When everything is perfect, my guests will feel comfortable. This is crazy thinking! When I go somewhere and the host or hostess is busy making everything perfect, I am feeling their stress and not feeling relaxed. I feel my presence is making them work too hard. I feel guilty for all the preparation it took to have me over. All the busyness does not make time for visiting, talking, playing games and ensuring relationships go deeper.
Hospitality, on the other hand, is not about perfection or appearances. It is personality driven. The host thinks about the little things that will make their guests feel special and relaxed. Hospitality says the dishes can wait, time with my guests is more important. Hospitality has an open-door policy whereas, entertaining says wait until I have everything perfect, then come over. Entertaining puts the focus on self instead of others. Hospitality may not look like a magazine cover, but it has a comfortable environment ready for anyone. Hospitality values fellowship and face time over perfection; it is others focused.
Growing up, my family always had an open-door policy for meals and getting together. Whatever my mother or grandmother was preparing was what everyone, including guests, were having. No one cared about the place setting or the table décor. What they cared about was simply talking, sharing, laughing, creating memories and breaking bread together. Love was in the air. Hearts were open and people were authentic and real with one another. There was always room and food for everyone. When we focus more on our service to our guests than our time spent with them, we miss what is important which is building relationships. Relax and enjoy your guests. Practice hospitality, open your home to joy instead of stress and feed your soul. firstname.lastname@example.org or www.myrelationship
The Colorado Senior Medicare Patrol (Colorado SMP) that is housed in the Division of Insurance, is cautioning Medicare recipients and their caregivers, and the public in general, to carefully guard their personal information including their Medicare numbers, drivers’ licenses, Social Security numbers, credit cards and even their genetic information and fingerprints.
Potential scams and fraud that attempt to get people’s Medicare information and credit cards are nothing new, but genetic or DNA testing services are a new wrinkle popping up everywhere – senior events, malls and parking lots.
And while there haven’t been any incidents reported in Colorado to SMP, other states are reporting that senior Medicare recipients are receiving fingerprint kits in the mail, unsolicited. The kits provide a phone number to walk through a process that ends with the senior mailing their fingerprints (along with other personal information) to the company.
What’s the problem with genetic testing?
With genetic testing, the people offering these services insist that Medicare or other health insurance will pay for the testing – a “don’t worry about it now” approach that can leave individuals stuck with the bills down the road. Even if Medicare does pay for the test, it may not be a great diagnostic tool for everyone, which is why its use needs to be determined by a person’s doctor. It may also use up a person’s annual Medicare wellness visit, meaning that person loses an opportunity to talk with their doctor. Worse yet, the company could be connected to the flood of fraudulent genetic testing claims being sent to Medicare.
These genetic testing services are offering a service to the general population without determining an individual’s actual needs, and they are doing it outside the guidance of a person’s physician.
Screening services such as pre-symptomatic genetic tests — used to detect an undiagnosed disease or disease predisposition — are not a Medicare benefit and are typically not covered by Medicare. Similarly, Medicare may not reimburse the costs of tests/examinations that assess the risk for and/or of a condition unless the risk assessment clearly and directly affects the management of the patient. Which is why the use of such tests should only be prescribed by one’s doctor.
People need to keep their guard up
“It’s amazing how brazen these companies have become,” said Kimberly Latta, Director of Colorado SMP. “Just expecting people to hand over their information – drivers license, Medicare number, and genetic info. All without telling people why they need this information and what they’re going to do with it.”
Identify theft and fraud continue to be problems in our society, and a large portion of targets are seniors. Being asked for information – Medicare and other identification cards, credit cards, genetic info, fingerprints – by people and companies that you don’t know should raise alarm bells. Even if someone is not personally responsible for these costs, these efforts can often end up billing thousands of dollars to Medicare – cheating the government and taxpayers out of that money.
Many events – health fairs, senior days, info sessions, etc – do not typically perform a thorough check on the kind of vendors that participate.
“Organizers for senior events and community gatherings may not have fully vetted the companies that set up booths or tables,” cautioned Latta. “We have spent years talking to people about not giving their Medicare number and other personal information to just anyone, and these new tactics are another reason people need to keep their guard up, even at events that are focused on seniors.”
What can you do?
If you are approached by someone (other than your doctor) asking for your Medicare information, or offering you genetic testing for medical purposes, or you receive something in the mail, or online or over the phone that you did not request, especially something that requires you to provide some kind of personal information, decline those services. You don’t know where that information will end up. Do not give them your Medicare number, your driver’s license, your social security number or any financial information as it can lead to fraudulent Medicare claims or worse yet, identity theft. Talk to your doctor about tests and services that are specific to your health needs.
If you have already submitted to genetic or DNA testing, or believe that you have provided personal information that you shouldn’t have, contact the Colorado Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at 1-800-503-5190. For more information about the Colorado SMP, visit the Senior Medicare Patrol and Medicare Fraud website
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