Savvy Senior September 2019 Columns

Savvy Senior – September Columns

  1. How to Get Social Security Disability Benefits When You Can’t Work
  2. Electric Bikes Are Booming Among Baby Boomers
  3. Home Sharing Programs Can Help Seniors Find Renters
  4. Who Needs to See a Geriatrician?

How to Get Disability Benefits When You Can’t Work

Dear Savvy Senior,
What do I need to do to get Social Security disability benefits? I’m 60 years old and have some health problems that won’t allow me to work, but I’ve read that getting disability benefits is difficult.
Laid Up Lenny                                                                                                  

Dear Lenny,
Getting Social Security disability benefits when you’re unable to work can be challenging. Last year, more than 2 million people applied for Social Security disability benefits, but two-thirds of them were denied, because most applicants fail to prove that they’re disabled and can’t work. Here are some steps you can take that can help improve your odds.

Get Informed
The first thing you need to find out is if your health problem qualifies you for Social Security disability benefits.

You generally will be eligible only if you have a health problem that is expected to prevent you from working in your current line of work (or any other line of work that you have been in over the past 15 years) for at least a year or result in death.

There is no such thing as a partial disability benefit. If you’re fit enough to work part-time, your application will be denied. You also need not apply if you still are working with the intention of quitting if your application is approved, because if you’re working your application will be denied.

Your skill set and age are factors too. Your application will be denied if your work history suggests that you have the skills to perform a less physically demanding job that your disability does not prevent you from doing.

To help you determine if you are disabled, visit SSA.gov/planners/disability/qualify.html and go through the five questions Social Security uses to determine disability.

How to Apply
If you believe you have a claim, your next step is to gather up your personal, financial and medical information so you can be prepared and organized for the application process.

You can apply either online at SSA.gov/applyfordisability or call 800-772-1213 to make an appointment to apply at your local Social Security office, or to set up an appointment for someone to take your claim over the phone.

The whole process lasts about an hour. If you schedule an appointment, a “Disability Starter Kit” that will help you get ready for your interview will be mailed to you. If you apply online, the kit is available at SSA.gov/disability/disability_starter_kits.htm.

It takes three to five months from the initial application to receive either an award or denial of benefits. The only exception is if you have a chronic illness that qualifies you for a “compassionate allowance” (see SSA.gov/compassionateallowances), which fast tracks cases within weeks.

If Social Security denies your initial application, you can appeal the decision, and you’ll be happy to know that roughly half of all cases that go through a round or two of appeals end with benefits being awarded. But the bad news is with backlog of around 800,000 people currently waiting for a hearing, it can take 12 to 24 months for you to get one.

Get Help
You can hire a representative to help you with your Social Security disability claim. By law, representatives can charge only 25 percent of past-due benefits up to a maximum of $6,000 if they win your case.

It’s probably worth hiring someone at the start of the application process if your disability is something difficult to prove such as chronic pain. If, however, your disability is obvious, it might be worth initially working without a representative to avoid paying the fee. You can always hire a representative later if your initial application and first appeal are denied.

To find a representative, check with the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR.org, 845-682-1881) or National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR.org, 800-747-6131). Or, if you’re low-income, contact the Legal Services Corporation (LSC.gov/find-legal-aid) for free assistance.

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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Electric Bikes Are Booming Among Baby Boomers

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about electric bicycles? A friend of mine, who’s almost 70, recently got one and absolutely loves it. He told me he rides more now than he ever did his regular bicycle.
Interested Boomer

Dear Interested,
Electric bikes have become very popular among U.S. baby boomers over the past few years because they’re super fun to ride and easier on an aging body.

Electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, are conventional bicycles with a battery-powered “pedal” or “throttle” assist. When you saddle up and push the pedals or throttle, a small motor engages and gives you a boost, so you can whiz up hills, ride into headwinds and cruise over challenging terrain without gassing yourself or taxing your knee joints.

Many older e-bike owners say that they ride more frequently and go further and longer than they ever would with a traditional bike. Here’s what you should know about e-bikes, along with some tips to help you choose one.

What to Know
E-bikes are more complicated and expensive than regular bicycles, so you need to do some research before you purchase one. For starters, you need to know that there are three different types of e-bikes to choose from:

  • Class 1: “Pedal-assist” electric bikes that only provides assistance when the rider is pedaling, and only up to 20 miles per hour. These are the most common type of electric bikes.
  • Class 2: “Throttle-assist” e-bikes that let you use the electric motor without pedaling, like a motorcycle or scooter, but only up to 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 3: “Speed pedal-assist” e-bikes, similar to Class 1, except that the motor will assist with bike speeds of up to 28 miles per hour.

Because they’re electrically powered, states and local communities have varying regulations regarding the use of e-bikes. In many states, class one and two e-bikes are allowed to be ridden wherever a traditional bike goes, while class three are generally allowed on the street due to their higher top speed. For more information on your state’s e-bike laws, visit PeopleForBikes.org/e-bikes.

You should also know that e-bikes come in many different styles – commuter, cruiser, mountain, road, folding, etc. – just like traditional bikes to meet different riding needs. They also run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and their motors are either hub-driven mounted on the front or rear wheel, or mid-drive motors that are mounted to the frame at the bottom bracket between the cranks.

The only downsides of e-bikes are weight and cost. Because of the battery and motor, e-bikes are much heavier than traditional bicycles weighing 50-plus pounds, so it can be more challenging if you have to manually lift or maneuver your bike a lot. And e-bikes are expensive, typically range between $2,500 and $3,500.

E-bikes are made by many of the same established companies that make traditional bikes like Specialized, Electra, Schwinn, Trek, Giant, Cannondale and Felt, along with a number of upstarts like Juiced Faraday, Pedego, Elby and Hi Bike. To shop for an e-bike, find some good bike shops in your area that sell them so you can test ride a few.

If you’re interested in a cheaper option, there are also e-bike kits you can purchase at places like Walmart, Amazon.com and eBikeKit.comthat can convert your regular bike into an e-bike for a few hundred dollars.

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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Home Sharing Programs Can Help Seniors Find Renters

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about senior home sharing programs? I’m 76-years-old and am interested in renting out a spare room in my house for extra cash and for some help around the house.
Senior Homeowner

Dear Senior,
Renting out a spare room in your house is a great way to generate some extra income and even get some help with chores around the house. To find a good fit, older homeowners often turn to “home sharing programs” that will match an empty nester with someone needing affordable housing.

But be aware that home sharing isn’t for everyone. You need to carefully consider the pros and cons of renting out a spare room in your house and make a list of what you want and don’t want in a housemate/renter.

To help you figure this out visit SharingHousing.com, a website dedicated to understanding home sharing and which offers a guide and workbook ($25) to help you find and choose a good housemate.

Finding a Match
If you decide to proceed in finding a housemate/renter, your first step is to seek out a home sharing program in your area.

Home sharing programs, usually non-profits, screen both homeowners and renters. They check references, handle background checks and consider lifestyle criteria when making matches. They can also help you with the leasing agreement that the renter would sign that covers detailed issues like smoking, pets, chores, overnight guests, use of common rooms, quiet hours, etc.

Most home sharing programs are free to use or request a small donation. Others, however, may charge the homeowner and potential renter a fee for this service. To look for a home sharing program in your area visit the National Shared Housing Resource Center website at NationalSharedHousing.org.

Other Options
If you don’t find a program that serves your area, you can also search for housemates through an online home sharing service likeSilvernest.com or SeniorHomeshares.com.

These sites work more like online dating sites that require homeowners and home seekers to fill out a profile. Once a match is made, you’ll be responsible for contacting and interviewing prospective renters and making the final agreement.

If you don’t have any luck with any of these home sharing sites, put a call in to your Area Agency on Aging (call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for contact information) who may be able to offer assistance or refer you to local agencies or nonprofit organizations that offer shared housing help.

You can also check with your local senior or community center, or local church you attend to see if you can post an ad on their bulletin board or in their newsletter. Or, you can advertise in your local newspaper or online at CraigsList.org. SpareRoom.com orRoomMates.com.

If you find someone on your own that you’re interested in renting to, ask the prospective renter to fill out a rental application (seeRentalLeaseAgreement.org to download and print one for free) and run a tenant screening and background check, and then call their references. Tenant screening/background checks can be done for free at Naborly.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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Who Needs to See a Geriatrician?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about geriatrics doctors? My father, who’s 82, takes eight different prescription drugs for different health issues but hasn’t been feeling himself lately. I’m wondering if he would benefit by seeing a geriatrician in place of his regular primary care physician.
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
If your dad is dealing with a variety of health problems and is taking multiple medications, a visit to a geriatrician may be just the antidote to help get him back on track. Here’s a rundown of the different types of health conditions geriatricians treat and some tips to help you locate one in his area.

Geriatrics Doctors
For starters, it’s important to know that geriatricians are family practice or internal medicine physicians that have had additional specialized training to manage the unique and, oftentimes multiple health concerns of older adults. Just as a pediatrician specializes in caring for children, a geriatrician is trained to provide care for seniors, usually over age 75.

While most doctors, and even general practitioners, are trained to focus on a person’s particular illness or disease, geriatricians are trained to look at all aspects that can affect elderly patients – not just the physical symptoms. They also often work with a team of other health care professionals like geriatric-trained nurses, rehabilitation therapists, nutritionists, social workers and psychiatrists to provide care. And, they will coordinate treatments among a patient’s specialists.

Patients who can benefit from seeing a geriatrician are elderly seniors with multiple health and age-related problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, confusion and memory problems, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, respiratory problems, osteoporosis, arthritis, chronic pain, mobility issues, incontinence, vision and hearing impairment, and trouble with balance and falls.

Geriatricians are also particularly adept at tackling medication problems. Because many seniors, like your dad, take multiple medications at the same time for various health conditions, and because aging bodies often absorb and metabolize drugs differently than younger adults, unique side effects and drug interactions are not uncommon. A geriatrician will evaluate and monitor you dad’s medications to be sure they are not affecting him in a harmful way.

Geriatricians can also help their patients and families determine their long-term care needs, like how long they can remain in their own homes safely without assistance, and what type of services may be necessary when they do need some extra help.

But not all seniors need to see a geriatrician. Seniors who have fewer health problems are just fine seeing their primary care physician.

Find a Geriatrician
Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of geriatricians in the U.S., so depending on where you live, finding one may be challenging.

To locate one in your area, use Medicare’s online physician search tool. Just go to Medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your ZIP code, or city and state in the Enter your location box, and then type in geriatric medicine in the Search box. Or, you can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227. The American Geriatrics Society also has a geriatrician-finder tool on their website at HealthinAging.org.

Keep in mind, though, that locating a geriatrician doesn’t guarantee your dad will be accepted as a patient. Many doctors already have a full patient roster and don’t accept any new patients. You’ll need to call the individual doctor’s office to find out.

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.Savvy

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