July 2018 Columns

Savvy Senior – July Columns

  1. Simple Gadgets That Can Help Older Drivers
  2. What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?
  3. Can a Debt Collector Take My Social Security Benefits?
  4. How to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit
  5. Choosing an Executor for Your Will

Simple Gadgets That Can Help Older Drivers

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any specific auto gadgets you can recommend that can help senior drivers? Both of my parents are in there eighties and still pretty good drivers, but due to arthritis and age they’re very stiff, which causes them some driving problems.
Researching Daughter

Dear Researching,
To help keep senior drivers safe and prolong their driving years, there’s a plethora of inexpensive, aftermarket vehicle adaptions you can purchase that can easily be added to your parent’s vehicles to help with many different needs. Here are some good options.

Entry and Exit Aids
To help arthritic/mobility challenged seniors with getting into and out of their vehicle, there are a variety of portable support handles you can buy, like the “Emson Car Cane Portable Handle” ($12), which inserts into the U-shaped striker plate on the doorframe. And the “Standers CarCaddie” ($13) nylon support handle that hooks around the top of the door window frame.

Another useful product is the “DMI Deluxe Swivel Seat Cushion” ($22), which is a round portable cushion that turns 360 degrees to help drivers and passengers rotate their body into and out of their vehicle.

Enhanced Rear Vision
To help seniors with limited upper body range of motion, which makes looking over their shoulder to back-up or merge into traffic difficult, there are special mirrors you can add as well as back-up cameras.

For starters, to widen rear visibility, eliminate blind spots and even help with parallel parking, get an oversized rear view mirror like the “Allview Rearview Mirror” ($50) that clips on to the existing mirror. You should also purchase some “Ampper Blind Spot Mirrors” ($7.50), which are 2-inch adjustable convex mirrors that stick to the corner of the side view mirrors.

Another helpful device is the “Auto-vox M1W Wireless Backup Camera Kit” ($110). This comes with a night vision camera that attaches to the rear license plate, and a small monitor that mounts to the dash or windshield. When the vehicle is in reverse, it sends live images wirelessly to the monitor so you can see what’s behind you.

Seat Belt Extenders
To make buckling up a little easier, there are a variety of seat belt extension products offered by Seat Belt Extender Pros like the “Seat Belt Grabber Handle” ($8), which is a rubber extension handle that attaches to the seat belt strap to make it easier to reach. And the “7-inch Rigid Seat Belt Extender” ($20) that fit into the seat belt buckle receiver to add a few inches of length, making them easier to fasten.

Gripping Devices
If your parents have hand arthritis that makes gripping the steering wheel, turning the ignition key or twisting open the gas cap difficult or painful, consider these products.

The “SEG Direct Steering Wheel Cover” ($15) that fits over the steering wheel to make it larger and easier to grip. The “Ableware Hole-In-One Key Holder” ($9), which is a small plastic handle that attaches to the car key to provide additional leverage to turn the key in the ignition or door. And for help at the pump, the “Gas Cap & Oil Cap Opener by Gascapoff” ($12) is a long handled device that works like a wrench to loosen and tighten the gas cap.

All of these products can be found online at Amazon.com. Just type the product name in the search bar to find them.

Safety and Security
To help ensure your parents safety, and provide you and them peace of mind, they should also consider an in-car medical alert system like “splitsecnd.” Offered through Bay Alarm Medical (BayAlarmMedical.com, $30/month), his small device plugs into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter to provide 24/7 roadside and emergency assistance at the push of a button, automatic crash detection and response, and GPS vehicle location and monitoring capabilities.

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.
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What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? My aunt has dementia, but they don’t know if she has Alzheimer’s disease, which is very confusing to me.
Trying To Understand

Dear Trying,
Many people use the words “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. In fact, you can have a form of dementia that is completely unrelated to Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what you should know.

Dementia versus Alzheimer’s
Dementia is a general term for a set of symptoms that includes memory loss, impaired communication skills, a decline in reasoning and changes in behavior. It most commonly strikes elderly people and used to be referred to as senility.

Alzheimer’s disease is a specific illness that is the most common cause of dementia. Though many diseases can cause dementia, Alzheimer’s – which affects 5.7 million Americans today – accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases, which is why you often hear the terms used interchangeably.

But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia like vascular dementia, which is the second most common cause, accounting for about 10 percent of dementia cases. Vascular dementia is caused by a stroke or poor blood flow to the brain.

Other degenerative disorders that can cause dementia include Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), Huntington’s disease and Korsakoff Syndrome. Some patients may also have more than one form of dementia known as mixed dementia.

Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, but the symptoms can vary depending on the cause. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, protein fragments or plaques that accumulate in the space between nerve cells and twisted tangles of another protein that build up inside cells cause the damage.

In Alzheimer’s disease, dementia gets progressively worse to the point where patients cannot carry out daily activities and cannot speak, respond to their environment, swallow or walk. Although some treatments may temporarily ease symptoms, the downward progression of disease continues and it is not curable.

But some forms of dementia are reversible, which is why it’s important to be evaluated by a physician early on. Vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, brain tumors, depression, excessive alcohol use, medication side effects and certain infectious diseases can cause reversible forms of dementia.

Another treatable form of dementia is a condition known as normal pressure hydrocephalus, which is caused by a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain that can be relieved by surgically implanting a shunt to drain off excess fluid. This type of dementia is often preceded or accompanied by difficulty walking and incontinence.

To learn more about the different types of dementia, including the symptoms, risks, causes and treatments visit the Alzheimer’s Association at ALZ.org/dementia.

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.
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Can a Debt Collector Take My Social Security Benefits?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can my Social Security benefits be garnished if I have some outstanding debts? I just turned 62 and would like to start collecting my retirement benefits, but want to find this out before I apply.
Worried Retiree

Dear Worried,
Whether your Social Security benefits are garnishable or not depends on whom you owe. Banks and other financial creditors, for example, can’t touch your Social Security checks. But if Uncle Sam is collecting on a debt, some of your benefits are fair game. Here’s what you should know.

Creditor Protections
If you have credit card debts, medical bills, unpaid personal loans or pay day loans, you’ll be happy to know that your Social Security benefits are safe from your creditors. Section 207 of the Social Security Act prohibits debt collectors or a bankruptcy court from dipping into your bank account to take Social Security money for purposes of paying off what you owe.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI), veterans benefits, federal employee and civil service retirement benefits, and benefits administered by the Railroad Retirement Board Administration can’t be touched either.

But be aware that your creditors can still take legal action against you to recover what you owe them, and depending on your state’s law, they may be able to garnish your wages and tap into other allowable assets, if you have any.

Government Garnishment
If, however, you owe money to Uncle Sam, it’s a very different story. The federal government can garnish a portion of your Social Security benefits for repayment of several types of debts, including federal income taxes, federal student loans, state-ordered child support and alimony, nontax debt owed to other federal agencies, defaulted federal home loans and certain civil penalties. (If you receive SSI, those benefits cannot be garnished under any circumstance.)

How much can actually be taken depends on the type of debt you owe. In most situations, the government can pull 15 percent of your benefits to cover your debt, but under the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, it must leave you at least $750 each month. That is, unless the levy is for federal income taxes. In that case, the government isn’t required to leave $750 behind.

The other exception is for child support or alimony payments. Depending on your state laws, the court may be able to take half of your benefits or more to pay your obligations to your children or ex-spouse.

If you think your Social Security benefits might be raided to pay overdue bills, you need to address the problem – don’t ignore it. Most government agencies are happy to work with you so long as you’re willing to work with them.

The government typically sends several letters about a debt before it takes action. The final letter will inform you of the intent to levy Social Security payments, and after that, you have 30 days to contact the agency and work out a payment plan.

Get Help
To get a handle on your debt problems, consider contacting a nonprofit financial counseling agency, which offers free and low-cost services on managing financial problems. To locate a credible agency in your area, use the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website at NFCC.org or call 800-388-2227.

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.

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.
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How to Make the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit

Dear Savvy Senior,
I manage a large health clinic that treats thousands of seniors each year, and we’ve have found that patients that come prepared when they visit our doctors are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctor’s appointments?
Healthcare Helper

Dear Helper,
There’s no doubt about it. Studies have shown that patients who help their doctors by providing important health information and preparing themselves for appointments tend to get better care than patients who don’t. Here are some simple things we can all do to help maximize our next visit to the doctor.

Before Appointments
Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are the key steps to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you’re seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician. Specifically, you need to:

Get your test results: If you’re seeing a new doctor for the first time, make sure he or she has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other test or lab results you’ve recently had, including reports from other doctors that you’ve seen. In most cases, you’ll need to do the leg work yourself which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor asking them to send it, or you may need to go pick it up and take it yourself.

List your medications: Make a list of all the medications you’re taking including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbs, along with the dosages and take it with you to your appointment. Or, just put all your pill bottles in a bag so you can take them with you.

Know your health history: Being able to talk to your doctor about any previous medical problems and procedures, even if they’re not the reason you are going to the doctor this time, can make an office visit much more efficient. Write it down if it’s complicated. Genetics matter too, so knowing your family’s health history can also be helpful.

Prepare a list of questions: Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Since most appointments last around 15 to 20 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you’re in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.

During Appointments
The best advice when you meet with your doctor is to speak up and get to the point. So right away, concisely explain why you’re there. Don’t wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and as specific when recounting your symptoms or expressing your concerns.

Many patients are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor’s job a lot harder to do. It’s also a good idea to bringing along a family member or friend to your appointment. They can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you and give you support.

Also consider taking some notes or ask the doctor if you can record the session for later review. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to explain it in simple terms so you can understand. And if you run out of time and don’t get your questions answered, ask if you can follow up by phone or email, make another appointment, or seek help from the doctor’s nurse.

For more information, the National Institute on Aging offers an excellent booklet called “Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People” that can help you prepare for an appointment and become a more informed patient. To get a free copy mailed to you, call 800-222-2225 or visit order.nia.nih.gov.

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.
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Choosing an Executor for Your Will

Dear Savvy Senior,
What options can you recommend for finding a good executor for my will? At one time I thought one of my two kids could do it, but they are both financially inept and would probably make a mess of things.
Looking for Options

Dear Looking,
Choosing an executor – the person or institution you put in charge of administering your estate and carrying out your final wishes – is one of the most important decisions in preparing a will.

A good executor can help ensure the prompt, accurate distribution of your possessions with minimal problems. Some of the duties required include: filing court papers to start the probate process; managing your estate’s assets; using your estate’s funds to pay debts, taxes and bills; handling details like terminating credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of the death; preparing and filing final income tax returns; and distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the will.

Given all the responsibility, the ideal candidate should be someone who is honest, dependable, well organized, good with paperwork and vigilant about meeting deadlines.

Who to Choose
Most people think first of naming a family member, especially a spouse or child, as executor. But if you don’t have an obvious family member to choose, you may want to ask a trusted friend, but be sure to choose someone in good health or younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone.

Also, if your executor of choice happens to live in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements. Some states require an out-of-state executor to be a family member or a beneficiary, some require a bond to protect your heirs in case of mismanagement, and some require the appointment of an in-state agent.

Also keep in mind that if the person you choose needs help settling your estate they can always call on an expert like an attorney or tax account to guide them through the process, with your estate picking up the cost.

If, you don’t have a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, you could name a third party executor like a bank, trust company or a professional who has experience dealing with estates. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC.org) and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.

Executor Fees
Most family members and close friends, especially if they’re beneficiaries, serve for free because inherited money isn’t taxable. But if you opt for a third party executor it will cost your estate. Each state has laws that govern how an executor is paid – either based on a percentage of the estate, a flat fee or an hourly rate.

Get Approval
Whoever you choose to serve as your executor, be sure you get their OK first before naming him or her in your will. And once you’ve made your choice, go over your financial details in your will with that person, and let him or her know where you keep all your important documents and financial information. This will make it easier on them after you’re gone.

For more information on the duties of an executor, get a copy of the book “The Executor’s Guide: Settling A Loved One’s Estate or Trust” for $28 at NOLO.com.

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.

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