Savvy Senior — October 2019 Columns

Savvy Senior – October Columns

  1. Cremation: An Affordable Way to Go
  2. Flu Vaccines for Seniors That Provide Better Protection
  3. How Seniors Can Get Help with Credit Card and Mortgage Debt
  4. Getting Around When You No Longer Drive
  5. How to Help Aging Parents Manage their Medications

Cremation: An Affordable Way to Go

Dear Savvy Senior,
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.
Frugal Senior

Dear Frugal,
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.

Shop Around
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, you can 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.

Pricey Urns
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.

Free Cremation
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/usprograms.

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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Flu Vaccines for Seniors That Provide Better Protection

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.
Approaching 80

Dear Approaching,
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:

Fluzone High-Dose: 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.

Pneumonia Vaccines
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.

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 Seniors Can Get Help with Credit Card and Mortgage Debt

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

Dear Drowning,
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.

Mortgage Counseling
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.

Financial Assistance
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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Getting Around When You No Longer Drive

Dear Savvy Senior,
Where can I find out about alternative transportation services for my 80-year-old mother? It’s time that she gives up driving, but before she does, we need to figure out how she’ll get around.
Inquiring Son

Dear Inquiring,
Alternative transportation options for seniors who no longer drive vary widely by community, so what’s available to your mom will depend on where she lives. Here’s what you should know.

While most urban areas offer seniors a variety of alternative transportation services, the options may be few to none for those living in the suburbs, small towns and rural areas. Depending on where your mom lives, here’s a rundown of possible solutions that can help her get around, along with some resources to help you locate them.

Family and friends: This is the most often used and favorite option among seniors. So, make a list of all possible candidates your mom can call on, along with their availability and contact information.

Volunteer transportation programs: These are usually run by local nonprofits or religious organizations and provide elderly seniors transportation to doctor’s appointments, shopping, and more. These services may charge a small fee or accept donations and often operate with a network of volunteer drivers.

Some examples of local transportation programs include Envoy America (EnvoyAmerica.com) that provides senior transportation in 78 cities in Arizona, Texas, Washington, Illinois, New Mexico, Georgia and Pennsylvania. The Independent Transportation Network (ITNAmerica.org) that serves 14 communities across 12 states. And SilverRide (SilverRide.com), which serves the San Francisco bay area and Kansas City. To search for volunteer driving programs in your area visitNationalVolunteerTransportationCenter.org – click on “Map of Volunteer Driver Programs.”

Demand response services: Often referred to as “dial-a-ride” or “elderly and disabled transportation service,” these are usually government-funded programs that provide door-to-door transportation services by appointment and usually charge a small fee or donation on a per ride basis. Many use vans and offer accessible services for riders with special needs.

Taxis and rideshare services: While taxis are a viable transportation option in many communities, rideshare services like Uber (Uber.com) and Lyft (Lyft.com), which are widely available, have become more popular among seniors who don’t drive.

To get a ride, your mom could simply use the Uber or Lyft smartphone app, a computer, or she can call a ride-hailing service like Go Go Grandparent (GoGoGrandparent.com). Or, you can make arrangements for her on your smartphone.

Cost will vary depending on your mom’s location, distance traveled and peak travel time, but rideshare services are usually cheaper than taxis. Uber and Lyft also offer carpooling services that would allow your mom to save money by splitting the tab with other consumers riding the same route. And for seniors with mobility problems, both Uber and Lyft have accessible vehicles that you can request in certain locations.

Hire someone: Consider hiring someone to drive your mom like a neighbor, retiree, high school or college student that has a flexible schedule and wouldn’t mind making a few extra bucks. You can also hire a senior driving companion through nonmedical home-care agencies, or you can find someone on your own at websites like Care.com orCareLinx.com.

 Private business transportation services: Some hospitals, health clinics, senior centers, adult day centers, malls or other businesses may offer transportation for program participants or customers.

Mass transit: Public transportation (buses, trains, subways, etc.) where available, can also be an affordable option and may offer senior reduced rates.

Where to Look
To find out what transportation services are available in your mom’s area contact Rides in Sight (RidesInSight.org, 855-607-4337), and the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), which will direct you to her area agency on aging for assistance. You should also contact local senior centers, places of worship and retirement communities for other possible options.

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 Help Aging Parents Manage their Medications

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips or tools can you recommend that can help seniors and their caregivers keep up with medications? My 82-year-old mother, who lives alone, is supposed to take several different medications at various times of the day but often forgets.
Working Daughter

Dear Working,
Anybody who juggles multiple medications can relate to the problem of forgetting to take a medication, or not remembering whether they already took it. This is especially true for older adults who take medications at varying times of the day. Here are some different product and service solutions that may help.

Simple Medication Helpers
Getting organized and being reminded are the two keys to staying on top of a medication schedule. To help your mom achieve this, there are a wide variety of pillboxes, medication organizers, vibrating watches, beeping pill bottles and even dispensers that will talk to her that can make all the difference. To find these types of products, the best source is Epill.com, where you’ll find dozens to choose from.

You can also help your mom stay organized by creating a simple medication list that breaks down exactly what she should take and when she should take it. To help you with this, go to SafeMedication.com – a resource from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists – and download and print a copy of “My Medicine List.”

Smart Pill Boxes
There are also a variety of “smart” pill boxes on the market today that will remind your mom when she needs to take her medicine and will send family members and caregivers notifications if she forgets to take her pills, or accidentally takes the wrong ones.

Three to consider here include Tricella (Tricella.com, $95), which uses Bluetooth connectivity but requires that your mom have a smartphone with data service or tablet with Wi-Fi; PillDrill (PillDrill.com, $279), a comprehensive system ideal for strict medication schedules but requires home Wi-Fi; and MedMinder (MedMinder.com, $40 per month), that operates off a cellular network (no phone line or Wi-Fi necessary).

Convenient Packaging
Another way to help simplify your mom’s medication use is to get her prescriptions filled in single-dose packets that put all her medications (vitamins and over-the-counter drugs can be included too) together in neatly labeled packets organized by date and the time of day they should be taken. This does away with all the pill bottles and pill sorting. One of the top providers of this type of service is PillPack.com, an online pharmacy owned by Amazon.

Apps and Calling Services
If you mom has a smartphone, there are apps she could use to help her keep up with her medication. One of the best is Medisafe (MyMedisafe.com), a free app works on Apple and Android phones. Medisafe will organize your mom’s pills in one place, send her timely notifications to take her meds, and send her reminders to fill her prescriptions.

Caregivers can also connect with the Medisafe app to get notifications about when it’s time for their loved one to take their medication – and they can see whether or not it’s been marked as taken.

If your mom doesn’t use a smartphone, there are also calling services, like Care Call Reassurance, which provides medication reminding calls – see Medication-Reminders.com. This service will call your mom’s phone at the scheduled times she needs to take her medication as a reminder, and if she fails to answer or acknowledge the call, a family member or caregiver will be contacted. This service runs between $15 and $20 per month.

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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