Savvy Senior — June 2021 Columns

June 9, 2021

Savvy Senior – June Columns

  1. How to Downsize Your Home for a Move
  2. Helping Seniors Find Discounted High-Speed Internet Services
  3. Golf Gadgets That Can Help Older Golfers
  4. Coping with COVID Exacerbated Tinnitus

How to Downsize Your Home for a Move

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you offer for downsizing? My husband and I would like to relocate from our house into a retirement community condo near our daughter but need to get rid of a lot of personal possessions before we can move.
Overwhelmed Willa

Dear Willa,
The process of weeding through a house full of stuff and parting with old possessions is difficult and overwhelming for most people. A good place to start is to see if your kids, grandkids or other family members would like any of your unused possessions. Whatever they don’t want, here are a few tips and services that may help you downsize.

Sell It
Selling your stuff is one way to get rid of your possessions and pad your pocketbook at the same time. Selling options may include consignment shops, a garage sale, estate sale and selling online.

Consignment shops are good for selling old clothing, household furnishings and decorative items – they typically get 30 to 40 percent of the sale price. A good old-fashion garage sale is another option, or for large-scale downsizing you could hire an estate sale company to come in and sell your items. See EstateSales.netand EstateSales.orgto locate options in your area. Some estate companies will even pick up your stuff and sell it at their own location – they typically take about 35 percent of the profits.

Selling online is also a great option and opens you up to a wider audience. The OfferUp app (OfferUp.com), Facebook Marketplace (Facebook.com/marketplace), Craigslist (Craigslist.org) and the CPlus for Craigslist app (Yanflex.com) are great options for selling locally, which can eliminate the packing and shipping costs and hassle. These websites and apps also don’t take a cut of your sales, but you’re responsible for connecting with your buyer and making the exchange of money and goods.

Donate It
If you itemize on your tax returns, donating your belongings to charitable organizations is another way to downsize and get a tax deduction. The Salvation Army (SAtruck.org, 800-728-7825) will actually come to your house and pick up a variety of household items, including furnishings and clothing. Goodwill (Goodwill.org) is another good option to donate to but they don’t offer pickup services.

If your deductions exceed $500, you’ll need to file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions” (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8283.pdf). You’ll also need a receipt from the organization for every batch of items you donate and will need to create an itemized list of the items donated. To calculate fair market value for your stuff, use the Salvation Army’s donation guide atSAtruck.org/home/donationvalueguide.

Toss It
If you have a lot of junk you want to get rid of, contact your municipal trash service to see if they provide bulk curbside pickup services. Or, depending on where you live, you could hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk (1800gotjunk.com, 800-468-5865) or Junk-King (Junk-King.com, 888-888-5865) to come in and haul it off for a moderate fee.

Another disposal option is Bagster (TheBagster.com, 877-789-2247) by Waste Management. This is a dumpster bag that you purchase for around $30, fill it to a limit of 3,300 pounds and schedule a pickup, which costs anywhere between $100 and $300 depending on your area.

Get Help
If you want or need some help, consider hiring a senior move manager. These are professional organizers who help older adults and their families with the daunting process of downsizing and moving to a new residence. To locate one in your area, visit the National Association of Senior Move Managers at NASMM.orgor call 877-606-2766. You can also search at Caring Transitions (CaringTransitions.com), which is a large senior relocation and transition services franchise company that has more than 200 franchises nationwide.

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 NBCToday show and author of “The Savvy Senior”book.
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Helping Seniors Find Discounted High-Speed Internet Services

Dear Savvy Senior,
Do you know where I can find cheaper high-speed internet services for my home? I’m 70-years old and live strictly on my Social Security and would like to find something faster and less expensive than I currently have.
Surfing Susan

Dear Susan,
There are actually two new resources available today that can help you save money on your home internet services, but what’s available to you will depend on your income level and where you live. Here’s where to begin.

Internet Discounts
Depending on your financial situation, a good first step to reducing your home internet costs is through the new Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. This is a temporary federal benefit that provides a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on tribal lands.

Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10 to $50 toward the purchase price.

To qualify, you’ll need to show that your annual household income is at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is $17,388 for one person or $23,517 for two. Or, if you’re receiving certain types of government benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), SSI, public housing assistance, veterans’ pension or survivors pension benefit, or live on federally recognized tribal lands.

Households that experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 due to job loss or furlough can also qualify for the EBB program, as long as their household income for 2020 was at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers.

To apply, go to GetEmergencyBroadband.orgwhere you can apply online or print out an application and mail it in.

If you’re already receiving assistance through the federal Lifeline benefit (see LifelineSupport.org), which is a $9.25 monthly subsidy for phone or internet costs, you automatically qualify for the EBB program, and you can receive both benefits at the same time. You can apply your EBB and your Lifeline benefit to the same or separate services.

Or, if your broadband provider already has its own low-income or COVID-19 relief program, you may be able to qualify through this program as well. Talk to your broadband provider for more information.

Low-Cost Internet
If you’re not eligible fr the EBB program, another resource for locating cheaper high-speed internet is Aging Connected, which has a higher income qualification.

Created by Older Adults Technology Services from AARP (OATS) and the Humana Foundation, Aging Connected is a nationwide campaign created to help lower-income seniors find low-cost, in-home broadband options in their area.

Partnering with telecommunications companies, nonprofits and public entities, Aging Connected will help you search for services in your area that provide high-speed internet at a very low cost. Most participating companies charge around $10 to $15 per month, with no contract and no equipment fee.

Aging Connected also provides referrals to affordable desktop and laptop computers for under $160.

To qualify, you’ll need to show that your annual household income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is $23,800 for one person or $32,200 for two. Or, if you’re receiving certain types of government benefits similar to the EBB program.

To search, go to AgingConnected.organd type in your ZIP code, name and email address, or you can call 877-745-1930.

Other Search Options
If you find that you’re not eligible for either of the previously listed resources, you may still be able to save on your internet by shopping and comparing. The best way to do this is at websites like InMyArea.comand BroadbandNow.com, both of which provide a list of internet providers in your area, along with pricing and download speeds.

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 NBCToday show and author of“The Savvy Senior”book
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Golf Gadgets That Can Help Older Golfers

Dear Savvy Senior,
Do you know of any golfing equipment that can help older golfers? My dad, who’s 76, loves to play golf, but arthritis in his hands has made griping the club challenging, and his fragile lower back makes stooping over to tee-up or retrieve the ball a problem too. Is there anything out there that can help?
Golfing Buddy

Dear Buddy,
There are actually a wide variety of adaptive golf equipment that can help older golfers who struggle with injuries, arthritis or loss of mobility. Here are several golfing products that may help with different needs.

Gripping Solutions
Gripping a golf club is a very common problem for seniors with hand arthritis or those who have hand or elbow injuries. To help alleviate this problem there are specially designed golf gloves and grips that can make a big difference.

Two of my favorite gloves are the Bionic Golf Gloves (BionicGloves.com) that have extra padding in the palm and finger joints to improve grip. And the Power Glove (PowerGlove.com) that has a small strap attached to the glove that loops around the club grip to secure it in your hand. These run between $20 and $30.

Another option is to get oversized grips installed on your dad’s clubs. These can make gripping the club easier and more comfortable and are also very good at absorbing shock. Oversized grips are usually either one-sixteenth-inch or one-eighth-inch larger in diameter than a standard grip, and cost around $10 per grip. You can find these grips and have them installed at your local golf store or pro shop.

Or, for a grip-and-glove combination fix, check out Quantum Grip (QuantumGrip.com), which incorporates Velcro material recessed in the golf club grip and a companion golf glove that has mating Velcro material in the palm. Cost: $25 per grip, and $40 a glove.

Upright Tools
For golfers with back, hip or knee problems, there are a number of different tools that can eliminate the repetitive bending and stooping that comes with playing golf. For example, for teeing up the ball without bending over, consider the Tee-Up Foldaway by Zero Bend Golf. This is a 34-inch long-handled tool that has a trigger-style handgrip and a jaw that holds the ball and tee for easy placement. It costs $70 at ZeroBendGolf.com.

For other stoop-proof tee-up solutions, see the Tee Pal Pro ($70, TeePalLLC.com) and Joe’s Original Backtee ($25, UprightGolf.com).

ZeroBendGolf.comand UprightGolf.comalso offer ball pickup tools and magnetic ball marker products that cost under $15.

Or, if you just want a great all-around golf picker-upper, consider the Graball GrabAll Jaw – sold through Amazon.comfor $10 for a package of two. It attaches to the handle end of your putter and chipper and is designed to pick up golf balls, flagsticks, putters and green side chippers.

Reflective Golf Balls
If diminished vision makes locating the ball challenging, Chromax golf balls (ChromaxGolf.com) can help. These are reflective colored golf balls that make them appear larger and brighter. Cost: $10 for a three-pack.

Easy Carts
There are also ergonomically designed golf carts that can help older golfers tote their clubs around the course. If you like to walk, CaddyTek (CaddyTek.com) and Clicgear (Clicgearusa.com) has a variety of three and four-wheeled push/pull carts that are highly rated for function and foldability. Costs typically range between $150 and $300.

Or, for severe mobility loss, the SoloRider specialized electric golf cart (SoloRider.com) provides the ability to play from a seated or standing-but-supported position. Retailing for $10,500, plus a $600 shipping fee, this cart is lightweight and precisely balanced so it can be driven on tee boxes and greens without causing any damage. Federal ADA laws require that all public golf courses allow them.

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 NBCToday show and author of“The Savvy Senior”book.
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Coping with COVID Exacerbated Tinnitus

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve had mild tinnitus – ringing in my ears – for years, but when I got COVID in January it got worse. Are there any treatments you know of or can recommend that can help?
Almost 60

Dear Almost 60,
Unfortunately, new research indicates that tinnitus, a common hearing problem that affects around 50 million Americans, may be worsened by COVID-19 or possibly even triggered by it. Here’s what you should know along with some tips and treatments that may help.

What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus (pronounced tin-NIGHT-us or TIN-a-tus) is the sensation of hearing a ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing or whistling sound in one or both ears when no external sound is present.

The sounds, which can vary in pitch and loudness, are usually worse when background noise is low, so you may be more aware of it at night when you’re trying to fall asleep in a quiet room. For most people tinnitus is merely annoying, but for many others it can be extremely disturbing.

Tinnitus itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of some other underlying health condition. The best way to find out what’s causing your tinnitus is to see an audiologist, or an otolaryngologist – a doctor who specializes in ear, nose and throat diseases (commonly called an ENT). The various things that can cause tinnitus are:

  • Hearing loss, which is the most common cause.
  • Middle ear obstructions usually caused by a build-up of earwax deep in the ear canal.
  • The side effects of many different prescription and nonprescription medicines like aspirin, ibuprofen, certain blood pressure medicines and diuretics, some antidepressants, cancer medicines and antibiotics.
  • Various medical conditions such as high blood pressure, vascular disease, diabetes, allergies, thyroid problems, ear or sinus infections, Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, otosclerosis, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, a tumor, an injury to the head or neck, traumatic brain injury, depression, stress and more.

Treatments
While there’s no cure for tinnitus there are many ways to treat it depending on the cause. For example, if your tinnitus is caused by a wax build-up in your ears or a medical condition like high blood pressure or a thyroid problem, treating the problem may reduce or eliminate the noise. Or, if you think a medication you’re taking may be causing the problem, switching to a different drug, or lowering the dosage may provide some relief. Or if you have hearing loss, getting a hearing aid can help mask your tinnitus by improving your ability to hear actual sounds.

Another good treatment option for tinnitus that can help suppress or mask the sound so it’s less bothersome are “sound therapies.” These can be as simple as a fan or a white noise machine, listening to music or podcasts, or leaving the television on.

There are also apps created by hearing aid companies, like ReSound Relief (ReSound.com) or Relax by Starkey (Starkey.com), which allow you to stream customize sounds directly to your hearing aids, or (if you don’t use hearing aids) through Bluetooth audio devices like headphones or speakers to help you manage your symptoms.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and psychological counseling can also be helpful. Your audiologist or ENT can help you figure out the best treatment options.

There are also certain medications that may help. While currently there’s no FDA approved drugs specifically designed to treat tinnitus, some antianxiety drugs and antidepressants have been effective in relieving symptoms.

Other things you can do to help quiet the noise is to avoid things that can aggravate the problem like salt, artificial sweeteners, sugar, alcohol, tonic water, tobacco and caffeine. And protect yourself from loud noises by wearing earplugs.

For more information on tinnitus treatments, visit the American Tinnitus Association at ATA.org.

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 NBCToday show and author of“The Savvy Senior”book.

The Savvy Senior — May 2021 Columns

May 6, 2021

Savvy Senior – May Columns

  1. How Seniors Can Learn New Technology Skills Online
  2. Medicare Coverage Options for Retirees Eager to Travel
  3. How Much Will You Need to Save for Retirement? 
  4. Should You Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

How Seniors Can Learn New Technology Skills Online

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good technology classes or online learning resources for inexperienced seniors? I have a computer and a smartphone, but my knowledge and skills are pretty limited.
Tech Challenged Senior

Dear Senior,
There are many different technology teaching tools available to older adults that can help you learn new tech skills so you can better utilize your devices. Here are some good options to consider.

Local classes or workshops: Depending on where you live, there may be community resources that offer beginning computer and personal technology classes, be it online or in-person, for older adults that are new to technology. To find out what’s available in your area, contact your local public library, senior center, college or university, or local stores that sell computers. Your Area Agency on Aging may also be able to help you. Visit the Eldercare Locator at Eldercare.acl.gov or call 800-677-1116 to get your local number.

GetSetUp.io: This is one of the best online learning websites that partners with guides to provide training on tech tools for adults 50 and older. They provide more than 350 online classes taught in real-time by retired educators and tech industry experts in a way that lets older adults learn-by-doing, versus just watching a video.

Their technology classes – all taught via Zoom – cover things like learning how to use smartphones and tablets, how to set-up and use Zoom, how to utilize Gmail features, how to recognize online scams, how to sell your stuff online and so much more. Most of their classes are free, however some charge a small fee.

SeniorPlanet.org: Created and sponsored by national nonprofit OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) and recently joining forces with AARP, Senior Planet offers 60-and-older adults a wide variety of free online courses, programs, and activities that are taught in real-time to help seniors learn new technology skills, as well as save money, get in shape and make new friends.

Some of their more popular tech classes include “All Things Zoom,” “Everything Smartphones,” and an “Introduction to Social Media.” They even offer a “lunch & learn – tech discussion group” offered at various times throughout the year where you can ask questions as well as share your struggles and experiences.

And, if you ever have a technology question that pops up during the week, you can call their National Senior Planet Hotline for tech help at 920-666-1959 anytime Monday through Friday during working hours.

OasisEverywhere.org: This nonprofit educational organization for older adults provides more than 10 low-cost/free online computer, internet and mobile technology courses for beginners. And when the pandemic dies down, they will resume offering beginner tech classes in their 27 locations (located in nine states) throughout the country.

CandooTech.com: This company provides fee-based online tech support and training to help older adults feel more comfortable with phones, computers, tablets, home safety devices and more.

Their specially trained tech concierges will teach you how to use your technology, fix what’s not working and install software, as well as learn how set-up and use email, video chat, social media, online shopping and entertainment, ride sharing services and more.

They offer one-hour, one-on-one or small group sessions for $50, or you can become a member and get two 90-minute training sessions plus unlimited quick support (30 minutes or less) for $180 per year. They also provide device installation and set-up done remotely for $180.

TechBoomers.com: This is a free educational website that provides video and article tutorials that teach older adults and other inexperienced technology users how to use the most popular and trusted websites, apps and devices.

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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Medicare Coverage Options for Retirees Eager to Travel

Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the best Medicare coverage options for COVID-vaccinated retirees who are eager to travel? My wife and I will both turn 65 over the next few months and would like to know which Medicare plans are best for extensive travelers.
Almost 65

Dear Almost,
The best Medicare plans for retirees who plan to travel will vary depending on your destinations. But, before you book a trip make sure you know the current CDC COVID-19 travel recommendations (see CDC.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers), and research your destinations too so you can know if restrictions apply wherever you’re going.

Medicare Review
Before we dissect how Medicare works for travelers, let’s start with a quick review of your different Medicare options.

One option is original Medicare, which covers (Part A) hospital services and (Part B) doctor’s visits and other medical services.

If you choose original Medicare, you may also want to get a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan (if you don’t already have coverage) to cover your medications, and a Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policy to help pay for things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

Or, you could get a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan instead, which is sold through private insurance companies, and covers everything original Medicare covers, plus many plans also offer prescription drug coverage and extra services like vision, hearing and dental care all in one plan.

To help you evaluate your options contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (see ShiptaCenter.org), which provides free Medicare counseling.

You can also shop and compare Medicare health and drug plans and Medigap policies at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan.

Also note that whatever Medicare plans you choose to enroll in, if you find that they are not meeting your needs or your needs change, you can always switch to a different plan during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.

U.S. Travel
If you and your husband are planning to travel domestically, original Medicare may be the better option because it provides coverage everywhere in the U.S. and its territories as long as the doctor or hospital accepts Medicare.

Medicare Advantage plans, on the other hand, which have become very popular among new enrollees may restrict your coverage when traveling throughout the U.S. This is because most Medicare Advantage plans are HMOs or PPOs and require you to use doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that are in the plan’s network within a service area or geographic region. So, if you’re traveling outside that area you may need to pay a higher fee, or your services may not be covered at all.

If you do decide to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, be sure you check the benefit details carefully to see what costs and rules apply when traveling outside your service area.

Traveling Abroad
If you’re planning to travel abroad much, a Medicare Advantage plan may be a better option because many Advantage plans today offer emergency care coverage outside the U.S. But be sure you check before you choose a plan because not all plans offer it.

Original Medicare, on the other hand does not provide coverage outside the U.S. and its territories except in rare circumstances (seeMedicare.gov/coverage/travel), and Medicare drug plans will not cover prescription drugs purchased outside the U.S. either.

But if you do choose original Medicare, you can still get some coverage abroad through a Medigap policy. Plans D, G, M and N plans will pay for 80 percent of medically necessary emergency care outside the U.S. to new enrollees, but only for the first 60 days of the trip, and you have to meet an annual $250 deductible first. There’s also a lifetime limit of $50,000, so you’d need to cover any costs above that amount.

Some beneficiaries, regardless of their Medicare coverage, purchase travel medical insurance for trips abroad, which you can shop for atInsureMyTrip.com or SquareMouth.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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How Much Will You Need to Save for Retirement? 

Dear Savvy Senior,
Is there an easy way to figure out how much I will need to save for retirement? My wife and I are both in our late fifties and want to figure out about how much we’ll need in order to retire comfortably.
Ready to Retire

Dear Ready,
How much money you need to retire comfortably is a great question that all working adults should ask themselves. Unfortunately, far too few ever bother thinking about it.

But calculating an approximate number of how much you’ll need to have saved for retirement is actually pretty easy and doesn’t take long to do. It’s a simple, three-step process that includes estimating your future living expenses, tallying up your retirement income and calculating the difference.

Estimate Living Expenses
The first step – estimating your future retirement living expenses – is the most difficult. If you want a quick ballpark estimate, figure around 75 to 85 percent of your current gross income. That’s what most people find they need to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement.

If you want a more precise estimate, track your current living expenses on a worksheet and deduct any costs you expect to go away or decline when you retire, and add whatever new ones you anticipate.

Costs you can scratch off your list include work-related expenses like commuting or lunches out, as well as the amount you’re socking away for retirement. You may also be able to deduct your mortgage if you expect to have it paid off by retirement, and your kid’s college expenses. Your income taxes should also be less.

On the other hand, some costs will probably go up when you retire, like health care, and depending on your interests you may spend a lot more on travel, golf or other hobbies. And, if you’re going to be retired for 20 or 30 years you also need to factor in some occasional big budget items like a new roof, heating/air conditioning system or vehicle.

Tally Retirement Income
Step two is to calculate your retirement income. If you and/or your wife contribute to Social Security, go to SSA.gov/MyAccount to get your personalized statement that estimates what your retirement benefits will be at age 62, full retirement age and when you turn 70.

In addition to Social Security, if you or your wife has a traditional pension plan from an employer, find out from the plan administrator how much you are likely to get when you retire. And figure in any other income from other sources you expect to have, such as rental properties, part-time work, etc.

Calculate the Difference
The final step is to do the calculations. Subtract your annual living expenses from your annual retirement income. If your income alone can cover your bills, you’re all set. If not, you’ll need to tap your savings, including your 401(k) plans, IRAs, or other investments to make up the difference.

So, let’s say for example you need around $60,000 a year to meet your living and retirement expenses and pay taxes, and you and your wife expect to receive $35,000 a year from Social Security and other income. That leaves a $25,000 shortfall that you’ll need to pull from your nest egg each year ($60,000 – $35,000 = $25,000).

Then, depending on what age you want to retire, you need to multiply your shortfall by at least 25 if you want to retire at 60, 20 to retire at 65, and 17 to retire at 70 – or in this case that would equate to $625,000, $500,000 and $425,000, respectively.

Why 25, 20 and 17? Because that would allow you to pull 4 percent a year from your savings, which is a safe withdrawal strategy that in most cases will let your money last as long as you do.

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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Should You Be Screened for Lung Cancer?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about lung cancer screenings? I was a big smoker but quit years ago, so I’m wondering if I should be checked out.
Former Smoker

Dear Still,
Lung cancer screening is used to detect the presence of lung cancer in otherwise healthy people with a high risk of lung cancer. Should you be screened? It depends on your age and your smoking history. Here’s what you should know.

Screening Recommendations
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – an independent panel of medical experts that advises the government on health policies – recently expanded their recommendations for lung cancer screenings. They are now recommending annual screenings for high-risk adults between the ages of 50 and 80 who have at least a 20-pack year history who currently smoke or who have quit within the past 15 years. This is a change from the 2013 recommendation that referred to patients ages 55 to 80 with 30-year pack histories.

A 20-pack year history is the equivalent of smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.

In 2020, lung cancer killed more than 135,000 Americans making it the deadliest of all possible cancers. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Lung cancer also occurs predominantly in older adults. About two out of every three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older.

You’ll also be happy to know that most health insurance plans cover lung cancer screenings to high-risk patients, as does Medicare up to age 77.

Screening Pros and Cons
Doctors use a low-dose computed tomography scan (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT) of the lungs to look for lung cancer. If lung cancer is detected at an early stage, it’s more likely to be cured with treatment. But a LDCT isn’t recommended for every high-risk patient.

LDCT scans have a high rate of false positives, which means that many will undergo additional (and unnecessary) screening or medical procedures, such as another scan three, six, or even 12 months later to check for changes in the shape or size of the suspicious area (an indication of tumor growth). For some patients, the anxiety or worry that goes along with waiting can be a real issue.

Or you may need a biopsy (removal of a small amount of lung tissue), which has risks, especially for those with underlying health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema. For example, in people with emphysema, there’s a chance of a lung collapsing during the procedure.

If you meet the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force criteria for high-risk lung cancer, the University of Michigan offers a free online tool (see ShouldIScreen.com) to help you decide if you should get an LDCT. It’s also important to discuss the benefits and risks with your primary care doctor before making a decision.

Tips for Testing
If you and your doctor determine that you should be screened, look for an imaging facility whose staff follows American College of Radiology requirements when performing low-dose CT scans. You can find accredited facilities at ACRaccreditation.org.

This can help to ensure an accurate read of your scans by a highly trained, board-certified or board-eligible radiologist.

You may need a referral from your primary care provider. Most insurance companies, including Medicare require this before they’ll cover the cost of screening.

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 Senior — April 2021 Columns

April 5, 2021

Savvy Senior – April Columns

  1. How to Search for Senior Discounts in 2021
  2. How to Help Your Elderly Parent with Their Finances
  3. The Most and Least Popular Ages to Claim Social Security
  4. Could You Have Prediabetes?
  5. Should You Prepay Your Funeral?

How to Search for Senior Discounts in 2021

Dear Savvy Senior,
I just turned 60 and would like to find out the best way to go about locating senior discounts.
Looking to Save

Dear Looking,
One of the best, yet underutilized perks of growing older in the United States is the many discounts that are available to older adults.

There are literally thousands of discounts on a wide variety of products and services including restaurants, grocery stores, travel and lodging, entertainment, retail and apparel, health and beauty, automotive services and much more. These discounts – typically ranging between 5 and 25 percent off – can add up to save you hundreds of dollars each year.

So, if you don’t mind admitting your age, here are some tips and tools to help you find the discounts you may be eligible for.

Ask!
The first thing to know is that most businesses don’t advertise them, but many give senior discounts just for the asking, so don’t be shy.

You also need to know that while some discounts are available as soon as you turn 50, most don’t kick in until you turn 55, 60, 62 or 65.

Search Online
Because senior discounts frequently change and can vary depending on where you live and the time of the year, the internet is the easiest way to locate them.

A good place to start is at TheSeniorList.com (click on the “Senior Discounts” tab), which provides a large list of discounts in categories, i.e., restaurant dining, grocery stores, retail stores, prescription medications, travel discounts and more.

You can also search for discounts by provider. Go to a search engine like Google and Yahoo and type in the business or organization you’re curious about, followed by “senior discount” or “senior discount tickets.”

If you use a smartphone, there are also apps you can use like the “Senior Discounts & Coupons” app (available on the App Store and Google Play), which categorizes discounts by age and type.

Join a Club
Another good avenue to senior discounts is through membership organizations like AARP, which offers its members age 50 and older a wide variety of discounts through affiliate businesses (see AARPdiscounts.com).

If, however, you don’t like or agree with AARP, there are other organizations you can join that also provide discounts like the American Seniors Association (AmericanSeniors.org), the American Automobile Association (AAA.com), or for retired federal workers, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE.org).

Types of Discounts
Here’s an abbreviated rundown of some of the different types of discounts you can expect to find.

Restaurants: Senior discounts are common at restaurants and fast-food establishments – like Applebee’s, Arby’s, Burger King, Chili’s, Denny’s and IHOP – ranging from free/discounted drinks, to discounts off your total order.

Retailers: Many thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army, and certain retailers like TJ Maxx, Banana Republic, Kohl’s, Michaels, Ross and Walgreens stores offer a break to seniors on certain days of the week.

Grocery stores: Many locally owned grocery stores offer senior discount programs, as do some chains like BI-LO, Piggly-Wiggly, Fry’s Food Stores, New Seasons, Fred Meyer, and Hy-Vee, which offer discounts on certain days of the week, but they vary by location.

Travel: American, United and Southwest Airlines provide limited senior fares in the U.S. to passengers 65 and older, while British Airlines offers AARP members discounts of up to $200. Amtrak provides a 15 percent discount to travelers over 62. Most car rental companies give discounts to 50-plus customers or those who belong to organizations like AARP. Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity and Carnival cruise lines offer discount rates to cruisers 55 and over. And, most hotels offer senior discounts, usually ranging from 10 to 20 percent.

Entertainment: Most movie theaters, museums, golf courses, ski slopes and other public entertainment venues provide reduced admission to seniors over 60 or 65. And the National Park Service offers a lifetime senior pass for those 62 and older for $80 (see nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm).

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 Your Elderly Parent with Their Finances

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you offer on helping an elderly parent with their finances? My 84-year-old father is having trouble keeping up with his bills and insurance, and I just found out that he’s been making contributions to a suspicious charity.
Reluctant Daughter

Dear Reluctant,
Many adult children serve as financial helpers to their elderly or ill parents. They provide services like paying bills, handling deposits and investments, filing insurance claims, preparing taxes and more. Here are some tips and resources that can help you help your dad.

Start with a Conversation
Taking on the task of helping an elderly parent with their finances can be a sensitive and difficult topic. The first step in helping your dad is to have a respectful talk with him expressing your concerns, as you stated in your question, and offering to help him with his financial chores. If you have siblings, it can be a good idea to get them involved too. This can help you head off any possible hard feelings, plus, with others involved, your dad will know everyone is concerned.

Get Organized
If your dad is willing to let you help manage, monitor or take over his financial affairs your first order of business is to get organized by making a list of his financial accounts and other important information. Your list should include his:

  • Contact list: Names and numbers of key contacts like insurance agents, financial advisor, tax preparer, family attorney, etc.
  • Monthly bills: Phone, cable, water and trash, gas, electric, credit card accounts, etc.
  • Financial accounts: Including bank accounts, brokerage and mutual fund accounts, safe-deposit boxes and any other financial assets he has. Also get usernames and passwords for financial accounts that are set up online.
  • Company benefits: Any retirement plans, pensions or health benefits from his current or former employer.
  • Insurance policies: Life, home, auto, long-term care, Medicare, etc.
  • Taxes: Copies of your dad’s income tax returns over the past few years.

Locate Important Documents
This is also the ideal time to find out if your dad has the following essential legal documents: A will; an advance directive that includes a living will and health-care proxy, which allows you or another family member or friend to make medical decisions on his behalf if he becomes incapacitated; and a durable power of attorney, which gives you or a designated person similar legal authority for financial decisions, if needed.

If he doesn’t have these important documents prepared, now is the time to do it. And if they are prepared, make sure they’re updated, and you know where they’re located.

Simplify Financial Tasks
The quickest way to help your dad simplify his monthly financial chores is to set up automatic payments for his utilities and other routine bills and arrange for direct deposit of his income sources.

If your dad has savings and investments scattered in many different accounts, you should consider consolidating them. You can also set up your dad’s bank system and investment accounts online, so you can pay bills and monitor his accounts anytime.

Set Up Protections
To guard against scams and risky financial behaviors, consider getting your dad a True Link Visa Prepaid Card (TrueLinkFinancial.com/card). Designed for older adults with cognitive issues this card would provide your dad access to his money but with restrictions that you set on how funds can be spent. Or check out EverSafe.com, a web-based service that will automatically monitor your dad’s accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when a problem is detected.

Seek Help
If you need help or live far away, consider hiring a daily money manager (see AADMM.com) who can come in once or twice a month to pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance statements and balance his checkbook. Fees range between $60 and $150 per hour.

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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The Most and Least Popular Ages to Claim Social Security

Dear Savvy Senior,
How much does your claiming age affect your Social Security benefits, and what are the most popular ages people start taking their retirement benefits?
Nearing Retirement

Dear Nearing,
You can sign up for Social Security at any time after age 62. However, your monthly payments will be larger for each month you delay claiming them up until age 70. This adds up to around 6 to 8 percent higher payments every year you delay.

To get a breakdown on exactly how much your claiming age affects your benefits, visit Social Security’s Retirement Age Calculator atSSA.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/ageincrease.html. This tool provides your official full retirement age (FRA) – which is between 66 and 67 depending on your birth year – and shows how much your benefits will be reduced by taking early payments or increased by delaying them.

In the meantime, here’s the rundown of when most people start receiving retirement benefits (according to 2019 SSA statistics), and how signing up at each age impacts your payout.

Age 62: This is the earliest you can sign up for Social Security and the most popular age. Around 34 percent of women and 31 percent of men signed up for Social Security at 62. But if you sign up at this age, you’ll get 25 percent smaller Social Security payments if your FRA is 66, and 30 percent lower payments if your FRA is 67.

Age 63: About 7 percent of all workers start drawing their benefits at this age. Monthly payments are reduced if you sign up at age 63, but by less than if you claim at 62. A worker with a FRA of 66 will get a 20 percent pay cut by signing up at 63. And workers with a FRA of 67 will get 25 percent less.

Age 64: Around 8 percent of women and about 7 percent of men claim benefits at 64. Social Security payments are reduced by 13.3 percent for those with a FRA of 66, and 20 percent for people whose FRA is 67.

Age 65: This use to be FRA for people born before 1938, but it’s still enrollment age for Medicare. Around 12 percent of workers begin their retirement benefits at 65. By starting at this age, you’ll see you monthly payments reduced by 6.7 percent if your FRA is 66, and by 13.3 percent if it’s 67.

Age 66: This is FRA for people born between 1943 and 1954. If you fit into this age group, you’re eligible to claim unreduced Social Security benefits. Nearly 29 percent of men and 22 percent of women sign up for benefits at 66. But if your FRA is 67, you’ll get a 6.7 percent pay cut if you sign up here.

Age 67: People born in 1960 or later will be able to claim unreduced Social Security payments starting at age 67. Baby boomers born before 1955 will get an 8 percent increase if they wait to claim their benefits at 67. Less than 4 percent of men and 3 percent of women start their benefits at this age.

Age 68: Only about 2 percent of workers start claiming their retirement benefits at 68. Those with a FRA of 66 will get 16 percent more if they claim Social Security payments at age 68, while those with a FRA of 67 will get 8 percent increase.

Age 69: Less than 2 percent of workers start claiming their retirement benefits at this age. Those with a FRA of 66 will get a 24 percent boost in their benefit by waiting to 69. While those with a FRA of 67 will increase their benefits by 16 percent.

Age 70 and older: Waiting to age 70 offers the biggest possible payout. Nearly 9 percent of women and 6 percent of men held out until this age. Those with a FRA of 66 can increase their benefits by 32 percent, while those with a FRA of 67 will get a 24 percent increase. After age 70, there’s no additional increase for further delaying your payments.

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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Could You Have Prediabetes?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about prediabetes, and how can you know if you have it? My 62-year-old husband, who’s in pretty good shape, was recently diagnosed with prediabetes and didn’t have clue. Could I have it too?
Wondering Spouse

Dear Wondering,
Underlying today’s growing epidemic of type 2 diabetes is a much larger epidemic called prediabetes, which is when the blood sugar levels are higher than they should be but not high enough to be called diabetes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 84 million Americans today have prediabetes. Left untreated, it almost always turns into type 2 diabetes within 10 years. And, if you have prediabetes, the long-term damage it can cause – especially to your heart and circulatory system – may already be starting.

But the good news is that prediabetes doesn’t mean that you’re destined for full-blown diabetes. Prediabetes can actually be reversed, and diabetes prevented, by making some simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on carbohydrates. Or, if you need more help, oral medications may also be an option.

Get Tested
Because prediabetes typically causes no outward symptoms, most people that have it don’t realize it. The only way to know for sure if you have it is to get a blood test.

Everyone age 45 years or older should consider getting tested for prediabetes, especially if you are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) above 25. See CDC.gov/bmi to calculate your BMI.

If you are younger than 45 but are overweight, or have high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, or belong to an ethnic group (Latino, Asian, African or Native American) at high risk for diabetes, you should get checked too.

To help you determine your risk of diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has a quick, online risk test you can take for free at DoIHavePrediabetes.org.

Diabetes Tests
If you find that you’re at risk for prediabetes, there are three different tests your doctor can give you to diagnosis it. The most common is the “fasting plasma glucose test,” which requires an eight-hour fast before you take it. There’s also the “oral glucose tolerance test” to see how your body processes sugar, and the “hemoglobin A1C test” that measures your average blood sugar over the past three months. It can be taken anytime regardless of when you ate.

Most private health insurance plans and Medicare cover diabetes tests, however, if you’re reluctant to visit your doctor to get tested, an alternative is to go to the drug store, buy a blood glucose meter and test yourself at home. They cost around $20.

If you find that you are prediabetic or diabetic, you need to see your doctor to develop a plan to get it under control. The ADA recommends losing weight and doing moderate exercise – such as 150 minutes a week of brisk walking. And when lifestyle changes alone don’t work, medication might. The ADA recommends the generic drug metformin, especially for very overweight people younger than 60.

For more information on diabetes and prediabetes or to find help, join a lifestyle change program recognized by the CDC (seeCDC.gov/diabetes/prevention). These programs offer in-person and online classes in more than 1,500 locations throughout the U.S. Over the course of a year, a coach will help you eat healthy, increase your physical activity and develop new habits.

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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Should You Prepay Your Funeral?

Dear Savvy Senior,
My wife and I have been thinking about preplanning our funerals now so our kids won’t have to later, but we would like to find out if it’s a good idea to prepay. What can you tell us?
Living on a Budget

Dear Living,
Planning your funerals in advance is definitely a smart move. Not only does it give you and your wife time to make a thoughtful decision on the type of service you want, it also allows you to shop around to find a good funeral provider, and it will spare your family members the burden of making these decisions at an emotional time.

But preplanning a funeral doesn’t mean you have to prepay too. In fact, the Funeral Consumer Alliance, a national nonprofit funeral consumer protection organization, doesn’t recommend it unless you need to spend down your financial resources so you can qualify for Medicaid. Here’s what you should know.

Preneed Arrangements
Most funeral homes today offer what is known as “preneed plans,” which allow you to prearrange for the type of funeral services you want and prepay with a lump sum or through installments. The funeral home either puts your money in a trust fund with the payout triggered by your death or buys an insurance policy naming itself as the beneficiary.

If you’re interested in this route, make sure you’re being guaranteed the services you specify at the contracted price. Some contracts call for additional payments for final expense funding, which means that if the funeral home’s charges increase between the time you sign up and the time you sign off, somebody will have to pay the difference. Here are some additional questions you should ask before committing:

  • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
  • Will your money earn interest? If so, how much? Who gets it?
  • If there is an insurance policy involved, is there a waiting period before it takes effect? How long?
  • Are the prices locked in or will an additional payment be required at the time of death?
  • Are you protected if the funeral home goes out of business or if it’s bought out by another company?
  • What happens if you move? Can the plan be transferred to another funeral home in a different state?
  • If there’s money left over after your funeral, will your heirs get it, or does the home keep it?

If you decide to prepay, be sure to get all the details of the agreement in writing and give copies to your family so they know what’s expected. If your family isn’t aware that you’ve made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don’t know that you’ve prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements.

Other Payment Option
While prepaying your funerals may seem like a convenient way to go, from a financial point of view, there are better options available.

For example, if you have a life insurance policy, many policies will pay a lump sum when you die to your beneficiaries to be used for your funeral expenses. The payment is made soon after you die and doesn’t have to go through probate.

Or you could set up a payable-on-death (or POD) account at your bank or credit union, naming the person you want to handle your arrangements as the beneficiary. POD accounts also are called Totten Trusts. With this type of account, you maintain control of your money, so you can tap the funds in an emergency, collect the interest and change the beneficiary. When you die, your beneficiary collects the balance without the delay of probate.

Savvy Senior — March 2021 Columns

March 5, 2021

Savvy Senior – March Columns

  1. How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic
  2. A Social Security Perk for Older Parents
  3. Technology That Can Help You Locate Things You Misplace
  4. Keeping Your Balance as You Age

How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you give me some tips on how to pick a good nursing home in the COVID era? My mother had a stroke a while back and can’t use her legs any longer. I’ve been taking care of her at home, but her health has declined to the point that I absolutely can’t do it any longer.
Need Help

Dear Need,
COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard over the past year, making it extremely difficult for people attempting to choose a nursing home during this time.

While many eldercare experts suggest avoiding nursing homes during the pandemic if at all possible, some families, like yours, find themselves in difficult situations needing long-term or rehabilitative care for their elder loved one now.

To help you find a good nursing home in the COVID era, and avoid a bad one, here are some steps to follow.

Make a list: There are several sources you can turn to for referrals to top nursing homes in your area including your mom’s doctor or nearby hospital discharge planner; friends or neighbors who may have had a loved one in a nursing home; and online at Medicare’s nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This tool will not only help you locate nursing homes in your area, it also provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall rating.

Also keep in mind that it’s always best to choose a nursing home that’s close to family members and friends who can check in often, because residents with frequent visitors usually get better care.

Do some research: To research the nursing homes on your list, put a call into your long-term care ombudsman. This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. This person can tell you which nursing homes have had complaints or problems in the past. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency (800-677-1116) or visitLTCombudsman.org.

You should also visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website (data.cms.gov), which provides updated data on U.S. nursing home reported COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Contact the nursing homes: Once you’ve identified a few good nursing homes, call them to see if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid.

Also, find out their staff-to-patient ratio and staff turnover rate; their COVID infection-control procedures; the percentage of residents and staff that have been vaccinated for COVID; and their facility visitation policy.

If visitor restrictions are in place, see if they offer smartphone, tablet or laptop technology assistance so you can have Facetime, Zoom or Skype video calls with your mom.

Tour your top choices: The best way to evaluate a nursing home is to visit it in person, but because of COVID, some facilities may offer limited or virtual tours only. To help you evaluate and rate a facility, Medicare offers a terrific checklist of questions that you can print at Medicare.gov/NursingHomeCompare/Checklist.pdf.

Paying for Care
With nursing home costs now averaging $255 per day nationally for a semi-private room and nearly $290 for a private room, paying for care is another area you may have questions about or need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of rehabilitative nursing home care, which must occur after a hospital stay of at least three days.

Most nursing home residents pay for care from either personal savings, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid once their savings are depleted.

The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information website (LongTermCare.acl.gov) is a good resource that can help you understand and research your financial options. You can also get help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues. To find a local SHIP counselor visit ShiptaCenter.org or call 877-839-2675.

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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A Social Security Perk for Older Parents

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve been told that my two children, ages 14 and 16, may be eligible for Social Security when I file for my retirement benefits. Is this true? What can you tell me?
Viagra Daddy

Dear Viagra,
It’s true. If you’re age 62 or older and are still raising young children, there’s a Social Security benefit strategy that can put some extra money in your family coffers.

Here’s how it works. When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, your minor children can get money on your work record equaling half of what you would receive at full retirement age, now gradually rising from 66 to 67. Even if you were to take a smaller benefit by claiming earlier, your kids will still get half of your full-retirement age amount.

To qualify, your daughter – whether she’s biological, adopted or a stepdaughter – must be unmarried and under age 18. Kids that are over 18 but still in high school, can collect too until they graduate or turn 19, whichever comes first. (Other rules apply to kids that are disabled.)

But that’s not all.

Because one of your children is only 14, your wife (if you’re married) can collect Social Security benefits on your work record too, and it doesn’t matter if she’s just 40 years old. The minimum age requirements to collect retirement benefits (62) or survivor benefits (60) does not apply when it comes to collecting benefits as the caregiver of a young child. The spouse’s benefit, which is also worth up to half of your benefit, will stop when your daughter turns 16.

But note that there are limits to the amount of money that can be paid to a family. The Social Security “family maximum payment” is determined by a complex formula and can range from 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit amount. If the total exceeds that, each person’s benefit, except yours, is cut proportionately until it equals the maximum.

Here’s an example of how that’s figured. Let’s say, for example, that your full retirement age benefit is $2,400 per month. That would make your family maximum benefit (according to the Social Security formula at SSA.gov/oact/cola/familymax.html) roughly $4,200 per month.

Subtract your $2,400 benefit from the $4,200 family maximum benefit, which leaves $1,800. That’s the monthly amount that can be split between your two children – $900 each. If your wife wants in on it too, the individual checks are smaller, at $600 a piece, but the family amount is the same.

You should also know that minor children can collect up to half of a disabled parent’s Social Security disability benefit. And if the parent dies, they will get a survivor’s benefit, which is up to 75 percent of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.

To learn more, see the SSA publication (No. 05-10085) “Benefits for Children” at SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf.

One Caveat: Social Security benefits for your kids may not be available before full retirement age if you are still working. In 2021, you will lose $1 in benefits for every $2 earned over $18,960, except in the year you reach full retirement age. In that case, the earnings limit is $50,520, with $1 in benefits withheld for every $3 earned over the limit.

If you lose your benefits, your dependents also lose theirs. You can recoup those payments later, but your kids can’t.

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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Technology That Can Help You Locate Things You Misplace

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend any good devices that help seniors with tracking down misplaced items? My wife misplaces everything including her car keys, eyeglasses, cell phone, purse and more.
Always Searching

Dear Always,
There’s actually a wide variety of tracking devices that can help you and your wife find items that are commonly misplaced. Here are some top options to consider depending on how tech savvy you are.

Bluetooth Trackers
If you or your wife uses a smartphone or tablet, you can easily track down lost or misplaced items like keys, a purse or wallet, remote control, smartphone, tablet or even a laptop with a Bluetooth tracker. While there are several different types of tracker products on the market today, the best is Tile (TheTileApp.com), which pairs with Apple and Android apps to help you locate missing items.

All you do is attach a small battery-powered Tile to the items you want to keep track of with an adhesive sticker, a key ring or you can just slip it inside the item.

Then, when a tagged item goes missing, you simply access the app on your smartphone or tablet to see how far away you are from the item or last known location on the map. If you’re within 150 to 200 feet, you can make the Tile ring so you can follow the sound to easily find it.

Or, if your wife loses her phone, the Tile work in reverse, allowing her to double press the button on her Tile to make her phone ring (even if it’s on silent) as long as it’s nearby.  Tile also works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri to find misplaced items. All you have to do is ask.

To fit your tracking needs, Tile offers a variety of different sized trackers including the Tile Mate ($25) that’s ideal for keeping track of keys, purses or backpacks; Tile Slim ($25), which is the size of a credit card that can be put into a wallet or attached to a laptop; Tile Sticker ($40 for a 2-pack), the smallest finder that can attach to things like remotes, bikes and more; and Tile Pro ($35), which is the most durable tacker that has a 400-foot range and extra loud ringer.

Glasses Tracker
Since Tile doesn’t offer a glasses tracker, a great product to help your wife keep tabs on her eyeglasses is Orbit Glasses (FindOrbit.com; $40). This is a tiny rechargeable Bluetooh device that sticks to the inside arm of the glasses so it’s not noticeable.

So, when your wife’s glasses aren’t on her head, but are nearby, she can use the free Orbit app to make them ring so she can find them quickly. Or, if she’s out of Bluetooth range, she can check the last known location that will be shown on the map.

Radio Frequency Finders
If you or your wife don’t have a smartphone or tablet, there are also radio frequency devices like the Esky Key Finders (EskyNow.com), sold through Amazon.com, that can help you find misplaced items.

These devices come with an item locator remote and four to six tags with prices ranging between $20 and $30. Attach a tag to the items you want to keep track of with a key ring or adhesive. Each tag is color-coded and corresponds to a colored button on the finder.

When an item goes missing, you simply press the colored button on the locator remote and the tag will flash and beep. The signal will go through walls and cushions and have a tracking range of around 100 feet. Make sure you keep the finder fob in a safe spot, because if you misplace it, you won’t be able to find the tagged items.

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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Keeping Your Balance as You Age

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about balance exercises? I’ve fallen a few times over the past year and have read that balance exercises can help me regain my steadiness, but I’m not exactly sure what to do.
Unsteady at 70

Dear Unsteady,
Most people don’t think much about practicing their balance, but they need to. As we age, our balance declines if it isn’t practiced, which can lead to falls that often result in a broken bone.

Every year more than one in four people age 65 and older fall, and the risk increases with age. Here’s what you should know about balance problems, along with some different exercises that can help you improve it.

Aging Affects Balance
Balance is something most people take for granted until it’s challenged by a medical condition, medication or advanced age, which dulls our balance senses and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable on their feet over time.

Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so you become even less active.

Balance Exercises

If you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Here are four exercises you can do that will help:

  • One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair to hold on to. Or, for an extra challenge try closing your eyes, or standing on a throw pillow or Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
  • Heel-to-toe walking: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a sobriety test.
  • Standing up: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.
  • Tai chi: Research has shown that the Asian practice of tai chi – which uses a combination of slow, graceful movements, meditation and deep breathing – can help reduce the risk of falls.

For more information on different balance exercises you can do at home, there are a variety of balance and strength exercises and beginner Tai Chi DVDs you can purchase at Amazon.com or through Amazon Prime video.

There are also senior fitness programs, like SilverSneakers (silversneakers.com) and Silver&Fit (silverandfit.com), that offer online classes that can guide you through a series of exercises you can do at home during the pandemic.

See a Doctor
I do, however, want to emphasize that if you’ve already fallen, are noticeably dizzy or unsteady, or have a medical condition affecting your balance, you need to see a doctor. They might refer you to a physical therapist or to an appropriate balance-training class in your community. It’s also important to know that many medicines and medical conditions – from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes to inner-ear disorders – can affect balance.

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.

NEW “Savvy Senior” Columns for February

February 3, 2021

Savvy Senior – February 2021 Columns

  1. How Much Do You Have to Make to File Income Taxes?
  2. How to Choose a Medical Alert System
  3. Do I Need to Sign-Up for Medicare If I’m Still Working?
  4. How to Choose a Hospice Care Program

How Much Do You Have to Make to File Income Taxes?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for retirees in 2020? My income dropped way down when I was forced into retirement last March due to COVID, so I’m wondering if I need to file a tax return this year.
Unexpected Retiree

Dear Unexpected,
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year actually depends on several factors: How much you earned last year (in 2020), the source of that income, your age and your filing status.

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS tax filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2020 gross income – which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately – was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

  • Single: $12,400 ($14,050 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2021).
  • Married filing jointly: $24,800 ($26,100 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $27,400 if you’re both over 65).
  • Married filing separately: $5 at any age.
  • Head of household: $18,650 ($20,300 if age 65 or older).
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $24,800 ($26,100 if age 65 or older).

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “1040 and 1040-SR Instructions for Tax Year 2020,” or you can get it online at IRS.gov.

Check Here Too
There are, however, some other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements. For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2020, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Obamacare) plan, you’ll need to file.

You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits, and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.

To figure all this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on their website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

You can access this tool at IRS.gov/Help/ITA – click on “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?”  Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040.

Check Your State
Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies see Taxadmin.org/state-tax-agencies.

Tax Prep Assistance
If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can free file through the IRS at IRS.gov/FreeFile if your 2020 adjusted gross income was below $72,000.

Or, if you need some help, contact the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TCE provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 or visit IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep to find out about services near you.

You can also get help through the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide service, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation in-person, online and by phone. To find out about service options in your area, call 888-227-7669 or visit AARP.org/findtaxhelp. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

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 Choose a Medical Alert System

Dear Savvy Senior,
I am interested in getting my mom, who lives alone, a medical alert system with a wearable pendant button that will let her call for help if she falls or has a medical emergency. What can you tell me to help me choose one?
Too Many Choices

Dear Too Many,
A good medical alert system is an effective and affordable tool that can help keep your mom safe and living in her own home longer. But with all the different products and features available today, choosing one can be challenging. Here are some tips that can help.

Three Key Questions
Medical alert systems, which have been around since the 1980s, provide a wearable help button – usually in the form of a neck pendant or wristband – that would put your mom in touch with a dispatcher who could summon emergency help or contact a friend or family member as needed.

To help you narrow down your options and choose a system that best fits your mom’s needs, here are three key questions you’ll need to ask, along with some top-rated companies that offer these products.

Does your mom want a home-based or mobile system?
Medical alert systems were originally designed to work inside the home with a landline telephone, which is still an option. But since fewer and fewer households have landlines these days, most companies today also offer home-based systems that work over a cellular network. With these systems, pressing the wearable help button allows you to speak to a dispatcher through a base unit located in your home.

In addition, many companies offer mobile medical alert options, too. You can use these systems at home, but they’ll also allow you to call for help while you’re out and about.

Mobile alerts operate over cellular networks and incorporate GPS technology. They allow you to talk and listen to the operator directly through the pendant button, and because of the GPS, your location would be known in order for help to be sent.

If your mom doesn’t leave the house very often, she may not need a mobile system, but if she is still active, she may want added protection outside the home.

Should her system be monitored or not?
The best medical alert systems are monitored, meaning that the help button connects you with a trained operator at a 24/7 dispatching center.

But you also have the option to choose a system that isn’t monitored. With these, when you press the help button, the device automatically dials a friend or family member on your programmed emergency call list.

These products can often be set up to call multiple people and to contact emergency services if you don’t get an answer from someone on your list.

Should you add a fall-detection feature?
Most medical alert companies today now offer the option of an automatic fall detection pendant for an additional fee of $10 to $15 per month. These pendants sense falls when they occur and automatically contact the dispatch center, just as they would if you had pressed the call button.

But be aware that this technology isn’t full proof. In some cases, this feature may register something as a fall that isn’t. The alarm might go off if you drop it or momentarily lose your balance but don’t actually land on the ground.

Top Rated Systems
Here are four top companies, rated by Consumer Reports, that offer home and mobile monitored medical alert systems:

  • Bay Alarm Medical: Fees range between $20 and $40 per month; BayAlarmMedical.com; 877-522-9633.
  • GreatCall’s Lively Mobile Plus: The device costs $50 plus a $25 to $40 monthly service fee; GreatCall.com; 800-650-5921.
  • MobileHelp: Monthly fees run $20 to $45; MobileHelp.com; 800-809-9664.
  • Phillips Lifeline: $30 to $50/month, plus a onetime device/activation fee of $50 to $100; Lifeline.Philips.com; 855-681-5351.

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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Do I Need to Sign Up for Medicare If I’m Still Working?

Dear Savvy Senior,
I will turn 65 in a few months and plan to keep working for several more years. I have good health insurance from my employer now. Do I have to sign up for Medicare when I reach 65?
Looking Ahead

Dear Looking,
Whether you need to enroll in Medicare at 65 if you continue to work and have health insurance through your job depends on how large your employer is. The same rules apply if your health insurance comes from your spouse’s job.

But first, let’s review the basics. Remember that original Medicare has two parts: Part A, which provides hospital coverage and is free for most people. And Part B, which covers doctor’s bills, lab tests and outpatient care. Part B also has a monthly premium, which is $148.50 for most beneficiaries in 2021, but is higher for individuals earning above $88,000.

If you’re already receiving Social Security, you’ll automatically be enrolled in parts A and B when you turn 65, and you’ll receive your Medicare card in the mail. It will include instructions to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment. If you aren’t yet receiving Social Security, you will have to apply, which you can do online at SSA.gov/medicare.

If you plan to continue working past the age of 65 and have health insurance from your job, your first step is to ask your benefits manager or human resources department how your employer insurance works with Medicare. In most cases, you should at least take Medicare Part A because it’s free. (Note: If you’re funding a health savings account you may not want to take Part A because you can’t make contributions after you enroll). But to decide whether to take Part B or not will depend on the size of your employer.

Small Employer
If your current employer has fewer than 20 employees, Medicare will be your primary insurer and you should enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial enrollment period. This is a seven-month period that includes the three months before, the month of, and the three months after your 65th birthday.

If you miss the seven-month sign-up window, you’ll have to wait until the next general enrollment period, which runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 with benefits beginning the following July 1. You’ll also incur a 10 percent penalty for each year you wait beyond your initial enrollment period, which will be tacked on to your monthly Part B premium.

Large Employer
If your employer has 20 or more employees, your employer’s group health plan will be your primary insurer as long as you remain an active employee. If this is the case, you don’t need to enroll in Part B when you turn 65 if you’re satisfied with the coverage you are getting through your job. But if you do decide to enroll in Medicare, it will supplement your employer insurance by paying secondary on all of your claims.

Once your employment or group health coverage ends, you will then have eight months to sign up for Part B without a penalty. This is known as the Special Enrollment Period.

Check Drug Coverage
You also need to verify your prescription drug coverage. Call your benefits manager or insurance company to find out if your employer’s prescription drug coverage is considered “creditable.” If it is, you don’t need to enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. If it isn’t, you should purchase a plan (see Medicare.gov/plan-compare) during your initial enrollment period or you’ll incur a premium penalty (1 percent of the average national premium for every month you don’t have coverage) if you enroll later.

If you have more questions or need help, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (see ShiptaCenter.org), which offers free Medicare counseling. Or call the Medicare Rights Center helpline at 800-333-4114.

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 Choose a Hospice Care Program

Dear Savvy Senior,
Where can I turn to find a good Medicare covered hospice provider? My husband’s mother has a terminal condition and wants to die at home, if possible, so I’m helping out where I can.
Sad Sandy

Dear Sandy,
Hospice is a wonderful option in the last months of life because it offers a variety of services, not only to those who are dying, but also to those left behind. Here’s what you should know about hospice care, along with some tips to help you choose one.

Understanding Hospice
Hospice care is a unique service that provides medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support to people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness – it does not speed up or slow down the process of dying. Hospice’s goal is to simply keep the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible, with loved ones nearby until death.

The various services provided by a hospice program comes from a team of professionals that works together to accommodate all the patients’ end-of-life needs.

The team typically includes hospice doctors that will work with the primary physician and family members to draft up a care plan; nurses who dispense medication for pain control; home care aids that attend to personal needs like eating and bathing; social workers who help the patient and the family prepare for end of life; clergy members who provide spiritual counseling, if desired; and volunteers that fill a variety of niches, from sitting with the patient to helping clean and maintain their property.

Some hospices even offer massage or music therapy, and nearly all provide bereavement services for relatives and short-term inpatient respite care to give family caregivers a break.

Most hospice patients receive care in their own home. However, hospice will go wherever the patient is – hospital, nursing home or assisted living residence. Some even have their own facility to use as an option.

To receive hospice, your mother-in-law must get a referral from her physician stating that her life expectancy is six months or less.

It’s also important to know that home-based hospice care does not mean that a hospice nurse or volunteer is in the home 24 hours a day. Services are based on need and/or what you request. Hospice care can also be stopped at any time if your mother-in-law’s health improves or if she decides to re-enter cure-oriented treatments.

How to Choose
The best time to prepare for hospice and consider your options is before it’s necessary, so you’re not making decisions during a stressful time. There are more than 4,300 hospice care agencies in the U.S., so depending on where you live, you may have several options from which to choose.

To locate a good hospice in your area, ask your mother-in-law’s doctor or the discharge planner at your local hospital for a referral, or you can search online at Medicare.gov/care-compare, which provides lists and ratings of hospice providers in your area.

When choosing, look for an established hospice that has been operating for a few years and one that is certified by Medicare. To help you select one, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers a worksheet of questions to ask CaringInfo.org.

Medicare Coverage
Medicare covers all aspects of hospice care and services for its beneficiaries. There is no deductible for hospice services although there may be a very small co-payment – such as $5 for each prescription drug for pain and symptom control, or a 5 percent share for inpatient respite care. Medicaid also covers hospice in most states, as do most private health insurance plans.

For more information, see the “Medicare Hospice Benefits” online booklet at Medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/02154-medicare-hospice-benefits.pdf.

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 Senior” Columns for January 2021

December 22, 2020

Savvy Senior – January 2021 Columns

  1. What Caregivers Should Know About Medicare
  2. Is Social Security Income Taxable?
  3. How Seniors Can Make Their Bathrooms Safer and Easier to Use
  4. Acupuncture: Does It Work and Is It Covered by Medicare?
  5. How to Find Affordable Housing for Seniors

What Caregivers Should Know About Medicare

Dear Savvy Senior,
I am the caregiver for my 81-year-old mother, who recently fell and broke her hip, and have a lot of questions about how original Medicare works and what it covers. Where can I get some help understanding this program?
Overwhelmed Caregiver                                                                   

Dear Caregiver,
Excellent question! Having a working knowledge of Medicare can help you take full advantage of the coverage and services it provides to ensure your mom receives the best care possible. Here’s what you should know.

Medicare Assistance
A good starting point to get familiar with Medicare is the official “Medicare & You” handbook that overviews the program. It’s mailed to all beneficiaries every fall and provides an up-to-date description of all services and benefits. You can also see it online at Medicare.gov/medicare-and-you.

If you have a particular question, you can call and visit with a Medicare customer service representative at 800-633-4227. Medicare also works closely with State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIP) to provide free health insurance counseling. To find a SHIP counselor in your area visit ShiptaCenter.org or call 877-839-2675.

Caregivers also find Medicare’s secure website – MyMedicare.gov – especially useful. After setting up a personal account for your mom, you can view the details of her coverage, track recent health care claims and keep up to date on the preventive services she qualifies for.

Compare Tools
Medicare can also help you locate the right health care providers for your mother. At Medicare.gov/care-compare you can find and compare doctors, hospitals, home health agencies, dialysis facilities, inpatient rehab facilities, long-term care hospitals and nursing homes in your mom’s area.

What Medicare Covers
Medicare can reduce many out-of-pocket medical expenses your mom incurs, but it doesn’t cover everything. Understanding what Medicare does and doesn’t cover can save you time and spare you frustration when navigating the caregiving maze. Here are some key points for caregivers:

Besides basic hospital and physician services (which includes telehealth services) and optional prescription drug benefits, Medicare covers home health care too. To qualify, your mom must be homebound, under a physician’s care and in need of part-time skilled nursing care or rehabilitative services like physical therapy.

Medicare also helps pay for oxygen, catheters and other medical supplies that a doctor prescribes for home use. The same is true for medically necessary equipment like oxygen machines, wheelchairs and walkers.

In addition, Medicare covers skilled care in a nursing home for limited periods – up to 100 days – following hospital stays. But it doesn’t cover long-term stays. Patients who need custodial care (room and board) must pay out of pocket unless they’re eligible for Medicaid or have private long-term care insurance.

Medicare pays for hospice care too, for someone with a terminal illness whose doctor expects to live six months or less. The hospice benefit also includes brief periods of respite care at a hospice facility, hospital or nursing home to give the patient’s caregivers an occasional rest.

Besides long-term nursing home stays, original Medicare typically doesn’t cover regular dental care or dentures, regular eye exams or eyeglasses, and hearing exams and hearing aids. Likewise, it won’t pay for nonemergency ambulance trips unless a doctor certifies they’re medically necessary.

To find out what Medicare covers, visit Medicare.gov/coverage and type in the test, item or service you have questions about, or download the Medicare “What’s covered” app in either the App Store or Google Play.

Financial Assistance
If your mom lives on a limited income, you should check whether she qualifies for help with prescription drug costs or with other Medicare-related premiums, deductibles and copayments.

For help with drug costs, visit SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp or contact Social Security at 800-772-1213 and ask about the “Extra Help Program.” For help with other Medicare costs, go to Medicare.gov or call 800-633-4227 and ask about the “Medicare Savings Programs.”

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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Is Social Security Income Taxable?

Dear Savvy Senior,
I understand that a portion of my Social Security benefits may be taxable when I retire. Can you tell me how to calculate this?
Ready to Retire

Dear Ready,
Whether or not you’ll be required to pay federal income tax on your Social Security benefits will depend on your income and filing status. About 35 percent of Social Security recipients have total incomes high enough to trigger federal income tax on their benefits.

To figure out if your benefits will be taxable, you’ll need to add up all of your “provisional income,” which includes wages, taxable and non-taxable interest, dividends, pensions and taxable retirement-plan distributions, self-employment, and other taxable income, plus half your annual Social Security benefits, minus certain deductions used in figuring your adjusted gross income.

How to Calculate
To help you with the calculations, get a copy of IRS Publication 915 “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits,” which provides detailed instructions and worksheets. You can download it at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf or call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy.

After you do the calculations, the IRS says that if you’re single and your total income from all of the listed sources is:

  • Less than $25,000, your Social Security will not be subject to federal income tax.
  • Between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits will be taxed at your regular income-tax rate.
  • More than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits will be taxed.

If you’re married and filing jointly and the total from all sources is:

  • Less than $32,000, your Social Security won’t be taxed.
  • Between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50 percent of your Social Security benefits will be taxed.
  • More than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits will be taxed.

If you’re married and file a separate return, you probably will pay taxes on your benefits.

To limit potential taxes on your benefits, you’ll need to be cautious when taking distributions from retirement accounts or other sources. In addition to triggering ordinary income tax, a distribution that significantly raises your gross income can bump the proportion of your Social Security benefits subject to taxes.

How to File
If you find that part of your Social Security benefits will be taxable, you’ll need to file using Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. You also need to know that if you do owe taxes, you’ll need to make quarterly estimated tax payments to the IRS, or you can choose to have it automatically withheld from your benefits.

To have it withheld, you’ll need to complete IRS Form W-4V, Voluntary Withholding Request (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4v.pdf), and file it with your local Social Security office. You can choose to have 7 percent, 10 percent, 12 percent or 22 percent of your total benefit payment withheld. If you subsequently decide you don’t want the taxes withheld, you can file another W-4V to stop the withholding.

If you have additional questions on taxable Social Security benefits call the IRS help line at 800-829-1040.

State Taxation
In addition to the federal government, 13 states – Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia – tax Social Security benefits to some extent too. If you live in one of these states, check with your state tax agency for details. For links to state tax agencies see TaxAdmin.org/state-tax-agencies.

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 Make Their Bathrooms Safer and Easier to Use

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for making a bathroom senior-friendly? My 78-year-old mother has mobility problems and fell getting out of the bathtub last month. I’d like to modify her bathroom with some safety features that can help keep her safe.
Concerned Daughter                                                                          

Dear Concerned,
Great question! Because more accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than any other room in the house, this is a very important room to modify, especially for seniors with mobility or balance problems.

Depending on your mom’s needs and budget, here are some simple tips and product recommendations that can make her bathroom safer and easier to use.

Floor: To avoid slipping, a simple fix is to get non-skid bath rugs for the floors. Or if you want to put in a new floor get slip-resistant tiles, rubber or vinyl flooring, or install wall-to-wall carpeting.

Lights: Good lighting is also very important, so install the highest wattage bulbs allowed for your mom’s bathroom fixtures and get a plug-in nightlight that automatically turns on when the room gets dark.

Bathtub/shower: To make bathing safer, purchase a rubber suction-grip mat, or put down adhesive nonskid tape on the tub/shower floor. And have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower for support.

If your mom uses a shower curtain, install a screw or bolt-mounted curtain rod, versus a tension-mounted rod, so that if she loses her balance and grabs the shower curtain the rod won’t spring loose.

For easier access and safer bathing, consider getting your mom a shower or bathtub chair so she can bathe from a seated position. In addition, you should also have a handheld, adjustable-height showerhead installed that makes chair bathing easier.

If your mom has the budget for it, another good option is to install a curb-less shower or a walk-in-bathtub. Curb-less showers have no threshold to step over, and come with a built-in seat, grab bars, slip resistant floors and an adjustable handheld showerhead. While walk-in tubs have a door in front that provides a much lower threshold to step over than a standard tub. They also have a built-in seat, handrails and a slip resistant bottom, and some have therapeutic features like whirlpool water jets and/or bubble massage air jets.

Curb-less showers and walk-in-tubs run anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000 installed.

Toilet: Most standard toilets are around 15 inches high and can be an issue for taller seniors with arthritis, back, hip or knee problems. If your mom has trouble getting on or off the toilet, a simple solution is to purchase a raised toilet seat that clamps to the toilet bowl, and/or purchase toilet safety rails that sit on each side of the seat for support. Or, you can install a new ADA compliant “comfort height” toilet that is 16-to-19 inches high.

Faucets: If your mom has twist handles on the sink, bathtub or shower faucets, consider replacing them with lever handle faucets, or with a touch, motion or digital smart faucet. They’re easier to operate, especially if she has hand arthritis or gripping problems. Also note that it only takes 130-degree water to scald someone, so turn her hot water heater down to 120 degrees.

Doorway: If your mom needs a wider bathroom entrance to accommodate a walker or wheelchair, an inexpensive solution is to install some swing clear offset hinges on the door which will expand the doorway an additional two inches.

Emergency assistance: As a safety precaution, you should also consider purchasing a voice-enabled medical alert system like Get Safe (GetSafe.com) for her bathroom. This device would let her call for help by simple voice command, or by pushing a button or pulling a cord.

You can find all of these suggested products at either medical supply stores, pharmacies, big-box stores, home improvement stores, hardware and plumbing supply stores, as well as online.

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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Acupuncture: Does It Work and Is It Covered by Medicare?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Is acupuncture a viable treatment for pain and is it covered by Medicare? Since the pandemic hit, I have a lot of lower back and neck pain and am wondering if it’s worth trying. What can you tell me?
Looking for Solutions

Dear Looking,
Many studies over the years – funded by the National Institutes of Health – have found acupuncture to be very effective in easing pain and can help with a variety of other ailments too. Here’s what you should know.

Acupuncture Treatment
First used in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture has become increasingly popular in the United States over the past decade.

While acupuncture isn’t a cure-all treatment, it is a safe, drug-free option for relieving many different types of pain including low back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia, postoperative pain, tennis elbow, carpel tunnel syndrome, dental pain and more. Studies have also shown that it can be helpful in treating asthma, depression, digestive disorders, menopause symptoms like hot flashes, and nausea caused by chemotherapy or anesthesia.

Exactly how or why acupuncture works isn’t fully understood, but it’s based on the traditional Eastern theory that vital energy flows through pathways in the body, and when any of these pathways get blocked, pain and illness result. Acupuncture unblocks the pathways to restore health.

However, today most Western practitioners believe that acupuncture works because it stimulates the nerves causing the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkiller hormones. It’s also shown to increase blood circulation, decrease inflammation and stimulate the immune system.

What to Expect
During acupuncture, practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. The needles are solid, sterile and disposable (used only once), and as thin as a cat’s whisker.

The number of needles used for each treatment can vary anywhere from a few, up to a dozen or more. And where the needles are actually stuck depends on the condition being treated, but they are typically inserted about one-quarter to 1-inch deep and are left in place for about 20 minutes. After placement, the needles are sometimes twirled or manipulated, or stimulated with electricity or heat.

You may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is inserted, but generally it’s not painful. Once the needle is in place, however, you may feel a tingling sensation, numbness, mild pressure or warmth.

How many treatments you’ll need will depend on the severity of your condition – 12 treatments done weekly or biweekly is very common. It’s also important to know that acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other conventional medical treatments, or by itself.

Cost and Coverage
The cost per treatment typically runs anywhere from $40 to $150, depending on where you are in the country and what style of treatment you are receiving.

Today, an increasing number of private insurance plans, including some Medicare Advantage plans, and policies provided by employers offer some type of acupuncture coverage.

You’ll also be happy to know that last January (2020), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that original Medicare will now cover up to 12 acupuncture sessions in 90 days for patients with chronic lower back pain. Eight additional sessions can be added if patients show improvement.

But in order to receive Medicare coverage, you must use a licensed acupuncturist who is supervised by a medical doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner trained in acupuncture, who will need to process the acupuncture claim. Currently, licensed acupuncturists can’t directly bill Medicare.

To find an acupuncturist in your area ask your doctor for a referral, or you can do a search online. Two good resources are the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (nccaom.org), and the American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists (medicalacupuncture.org), which offers a directory of MDs and DOs who are certified to practice acupuncture.

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 Find Affordable Housing for Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any resources to help seniors find and pay for senior apartments? My aunt, who’s 75 years old, needs to find a new place to live but has very little money. What can you tell me?
Searching Sarah

Dear Sarah,
Finding affordable senior housing options can be difficult depending on where your aunt lives. Senior apartments for some retirees are a good option, and you’ll be happy to know that there are a number of government programs that can help out financially. Here are some tips that can help you and your aunt find a low-income senior apartment that fits her budget and living preferences.

Start with HUD
There are several different government programs available today that can help individuals who qualify to locate and pay for housing, including:

  • Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8): This program allows you to find the housing you want. The government provides the amount allowed by your voucher to the landlord each month.
  • Privately owned subsidized housing: HUD helps some apartment owners offer reduced rents to low-income tenants.
  • Public Housing: These communities are generally apartment buildings or complexes that are overseen by a city or county public housing agency, and are available to low-income families, the elderly and those with disabilities.
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit: This program provides housing to low income families and includes rents that don’t exceed a fixed amount.
  • Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly: This initiative helps seniors and the disabled. It offers housing for individuals who are able to live mostly on their own but need assistance with certain daily tasks like cleaning and cooking.

For more information about these programs and to locate apartments in your aunt’s area that may offer them, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rental assistance page at HUD.gov/topics/rental_assistance.

You can also search for low-income housing at senior living sites like After55.com and SeniorHousingNet.com.

If you or your aunt don’t have internet access or have troubling maneuvering the internet, you can also locate nearby affordable housing options by calling your local housing authority – call 800-955-2232 to get your local number. If your aunt lives in a location that spans multiple counties, check with the housing authority in each one to compare.

How to Choose
If you or your aunt find several apartment choices that fall within her budget, she should consider what’s important to her. She may want housing that’s close to family, religious organizations, senior centers, or places she visits regularly, like grocery stores, parks or gyms.

Or, if she has a disabling condition, it may be especially critical for her to find a living space that has easy access to important services like senior transportation and health care centers.

In your housing search, you may also come across some red flags that indicate a retirement community wouldn’t be a good fit for your aunt. Keep an eye out for extra fees that may be applied to everyday items or perks you normally wouldn’t think about like laundry service, parking or pets.

You should also make sure the apartment is in good condition and then scout out the neighborhood. Ask yourself if the community is clean and well maintained and if there is any debris or messy landscaping. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, follow up with questions before your aunt signs a rental contract.

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 Senior Columns for December 2020

December 1, 2020

Savvy Senior – December Columns

  1. What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2021
  2. How to Write an Online Will
  3. Noticing Memory Problems? What to Do Next
  4. How Robotic Pets Can Help Isolated Seniors Avoid Loneliness

What You’ll Pay for Medicare in 2021

Dear Savvy Senior,
I know there will be a small cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits next year but what about Medicare? What will the Medicare Part B monthly premiums be in 2021, and when do the surcharges kick in for higher income beneficiaries?
Inquiring Senior

Dear Inquiring Senior,
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced their cost adjustments for 2021 and the increases for premiums and out-of-pocket costs for most beneficiaries will be modest. But if you’re a high earner, you’ll pay more. Here’s what you can expect starting in January.

Medicare Part B
While Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital care, is premium-free for most beneficiaries, Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient services does have a monthly premium. Starting in 2021, the standard monthly Part B premium will be $148.50, up from $144.60 in 2020. That $3.90 bump represents a 2.7 percent increase, which is more than double the most recent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment which was 1.3 percent.

But if you’re a high earning beneficiary, which makes up about 7 percent of all Medicare recipients, you’ll have to pay more. Medicare surcharges for high earners are based on adjusted gross income from two years earlier, which means that 2021 Part B premiums are determined by 2019 annual income.

So, if your 2019 income was above $88,00 up to $111,000 ($176,000 up to $222,000 for married couples filing jointly), your 2021 Part B monthly premium will be $207.90, up from $202.40 in 2020.

Monthly premiums for singles with an income between $111,000 and $138,000 ($222,000 and $276,000 for joint filers) will rise from $289.20 to $297. Individuals earning above $138,000 up to $165,000 ($276,000 to $330,000 for joint filers) will see their monthly premium increase from $376 to $386.10.

Those with incomes above $165,000 up to $500,000 ($320,000 to $750,000 for joint filers), you’ll pay $475.20 per month in 2021. And single filers with income of $500,000 or more ($750,000 or more for joint filers) will pay $504.90 per month next year.

Medicare Part D
If you have a Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan, the average premium in 2021 will be about $30 per month for most beneficiaries. But, again for high earner with annual incomes above $88,000 ($176,000 for joint filers) you’ll pay a $12.30 to $77.10 monthly surcharge on top of your regular Part D premiums.

How to Contest Income
Beneficiaries that fall into any of the high-income categories and have experienced certain life-changing events that have reduced their income since 2019, such as retirement, divorce or the death of a spouse, can contest the surcharge. For more information on how to do this, see “Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries” at SSA.gov/benefits/medicare/medicare-premiums.html.

Other Medicare Increases
In addition to the Part B and Part D premium increases, there are other cost increases you should be aware of. For example, the annual deductible for Medicare Part B will see a bump from $198 to $203 in 2021. The deductible for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital services, will increase from $1,408 in 2020 to $1,484 in 2021. There are no surcharges on Medicare deductibles for high earners.

For more information on all the Medicare costs for 2021 visit Medicare.gov and click on “2021 Medicare Costs,” or call 800-633-4227.

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 Write an Online Will

Dear Savvy Senior,
Writing a will has never been a high priority to me but this lingering coronavirus crisis has changed my thinking. Can you recommend some good do-it-yourself resources to help me write a simple will?
Getting Older

Dear Getting Older,
The coronavirus crisis has changed the way a lot of people look at things, including wills. Currently, fewer than half of American adults have prepared a will. But having a last will and testament is important because it ensures that your money and property will be distributed to the people you want to receive it after your death.

If you die without a will, your estate will be settled in accordance with state law. Details vary by state, but assets typically are distributed using a hierarchy of survivors. Assets go to first to a spouse, then to children, then your siblings, and so on.

You also need to be aware that certain accounts take precedence over a will. If you jointly own a home or a bank account, for example, the house, and the funds in the account, will go to the joint holder, even if your will directs otherwise. Similarly, retirement accounts and life insurance policies are distributed to the beneficiaries you designate, so it is important to keep them up to date too.

Online Will Makers
If you have a simple, straightforward estate and an uncomplicated family situation, writing your own will – with the help of a good online will making program – is a viable alternative to hiring an attorney and much cheaper. Like tax software, these online tools will guide you through a series of questions and will insert your answers into a will for you, and it usually takes less that 20 minutes from start to finish.

Three top-rated do-it-yourself options include the Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2021 downloadable software (available at nolo.com) that costs $100 and works with Windows and Macs and is valid in every state except Louisiana; LegalZoom (legalzoom.com), which offers basic wills for $89 or $99 if you’d like assistance from an independent attorney; and Trust & Will (trustandwill.com) which charges $89 for a basic will.

If that’s more than you’re willing to pay, consider FreeWill (freewill.com), which is a completely free will making resource made possible with the support of nonprofit organizations.

When to Hire a Lawyer
If you have considerable financial assets or a complex family situation, like a blended family or child with special needs, it would be smart for you to seek professional advice. An experienced lawyer can make sure you cover all your bases, which can help avoid family confusion and squabbles after you’re gone.

The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) and the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (naepc.org) websites are good resources that have directories to help you find someone in your area.

Costs will vary depending on your location and the complexity of your situation, but you can expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $1,000 to get your will made. To help you save, shop around and get price quotes from several different firms. And before you meet with an attorney, make a detailed list of your assets and accounts to help make your visit more efficient.

Make it Valid
Be aware that to make your will valid, you must sign and date it and have it witnessed according to the laws of your state. Most states require two witnesses who are not listed as beneficiaries in your will to watch you sign it. Some states also require that a notary witness the signing as well. Nationalnotary.org can tell you if a notary is needed to legalize a will in your state, if remote notary services are available, and how to access such online services to execute your will if you are sheltering at home during the pandemic.

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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Noticing Memory Problems? What to Do Next

Dear Savvy Senior,
My mom, who’s 76, has become more forgetful lately and is worried she may be getting Alzheimer’s disease. What resources can you recommend to help us get a handle on this?
Oldest Daughter

Dear Oldest Daughter,
Many seniors worry about memory lapses as they get older, fearing it may be the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. To get some insight on the seriousness of your mom’s problem, here are some key warning signs to be vigilant of and some resources you can turn to for help.

Warning Signs
As we grow older, some memory difficulties – such as trouble remembering names of people or places or forgetting where you put your glasses or car keys – are associated with normal aging. But the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are much more than simple memory lapses.

Knowing the early warning signs is a good first step in recognizing the difference between typical age-related memory loss and a more serious problem. To help you evaluate your mom’s condition, here’s a checklist of some common early symptoms to watch for:

  • Asking the same questions repeatedly.
  • Getting lost in familiar areas.
  • Failing to recognize familiar people.
  • Having difficulty following directions.
  • Misplaces items in inappropriate places, for example putting her keys in the microwave.
  • Having difficulty completing familiar tasks like cooking a meal or paying a bill.
  • Having trouble remembering common words when speaking or mixing up words.

For more information, see the Alzheimer’s Association list of 10 early signs and symptoms at 10signs.org.

Another good tool to help you evaluate your mom is the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE test) that was developed at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This free test helps identify mild cognitive impairment and early dementia and can be taken at home in about 10 to 15 minutes. The SAGE test can be taken online at BrainTest.com.

Get Help
If you would rather have professional assistance in evaluating your mom, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (see alzfdn.org) is another good resource you can turn to.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they provide free, confidential virtual memory screenings done via video chat in real time. Your mother will need a phone, tablet or computer with a webcam and internet capability to complete the screening.

The screenings are given by healthcare professionals and take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Once the screening is complete, the screener will review the results with her and let her know if she should see a doctor for further evaluation. To set up a memory screening for your mom call 866-232-8484 and make an appointment.

If you find that your mom does need further evaluation, make an appointment with her primary care doctor for a cognitive checkup and medical examination. Depending on what’s found, she may be referred to a geriatrician or neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

Keep in mind that even if your mom is experiencing some memory problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has early-stage Alzheimer’s. Many memory problems are brought on by other factors like stress, depression, thyroid disease, side effects of medications, sleep disorders, vitamin deficiencies and other medical conditions. And by treating these conditions she can reduce or eliminate the problem.

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 Robotic Pets Can Help Isolated Seniors Avoid Loneliness

Dear Savvy Senior,
I recently read an article about robotic pets being a great substitute for pet-loving seniors who can’t have or take care of a pet any longer. What do you think of this? My mother, who has some dementia, is living in an assisted living facility that doesn’t allow pets. And because of COVID, we haven’t been allowed inside the facility to visit her since March. I’ve been thinking about getting her a robot pet to help cheer her up but would like to know if they are worth buying, and if so, where can I go to find one.
Locked Out Daughter

Dear Locked Out,
There have actually been several studies on this topic that has shown that robotic pets – which are lifelike interactive pets – can have a positive impact on many lonely, socially isolated seniors, especially those who have dementia. This is particularly important now as the pandemic has caused millions of high-risk, vulnerable seniors to isolate as a means to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Here’s what you should know.

Robotic Pet Studies
In 2018, the New York State Office for the Aging was the first state in the U.S. to test the robotic pets with isolated seniors and results showed that using pets to lower social isolation was highly successful, with 70 percent of pilot participants reporting a decrease in isolation after one year. Subsequent programs done in aging agencies in Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania have also shown positive results

Other clinical studies conducted by AARP, UnitedHealthcare, and other clinicians and have also found that robotic pets can help to enhance the well-being and quality of life of lonely or isolated individuals and those living with dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, by providing a level of interaction and comfort from a lifelike companion.

Where to Look
If you’re interested in getting your mom a robotic pet, a top option is Ageless Innovation’s Joy for All Companion Pets – see JoyForAll.com.

They offer cats, a kitten and a pup that look, feel and sound like the real thing – minus the feeding, watering, litter box or backyard cleanup, and the vet bills. With prices ranging between $65 and $130, these soft, plush animals have built-in sensors, “vibrapurr” or “barkback” technology, and brushable fur, making them surprisingly realistic.

Insert four batteries, and the cats, which come in four different shades to mimic real breeds, can open and close their eyes, lift their paws, and move their head and body. If you pet them in the right spot – like on their belly or back side – they’ll let out a purr.

If your mom is more of a dog person, you can also buy a stuffed golden puppy, accessorized with a red bandana, that will bark if he’s feeling happy, sad, or needy. At only four pounds, the stuffed pup is easy to play with and won’t weigh down even the most fragile frame.

Some other robotic pet options you should look into include Tombot’s Jennie ($399; tombot.com), a lapdog that barks on command and has realistic facial features; AIBO ($2,900; us.aibo.com) by Sony, which is a plastic puppy that has lifelike expressions and a dynamic array of movements; and Paro the Seal ($6,120; parorobots.com), which is marketed as a “carebot,” designed specifically for people with 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.

NEW Savvy Senior Columns for November 2020

October 27, 2020

Savvy Senior – November Columns

  1. How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses
  2. What Happens to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?
  3. How to Track Down Old Friends Online
  4. How to Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

How Seniors can Save Money on Prescription Eyeglasses

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for finding affordable prescription eyeglasses? I used to have vision insurance through my work but lost it when I turned 65 and signed up for Medicare.
Need Spectacles

Dear Need,
Unfortunately, in 2020 it’s still true that original Medicare does not cover vision services, which includes routine eye exams and prescription eyeglasses – unless you’ve just had cataract surgery. While there’s no one solution to this common need, here are a few tips that can help you save.

Medicare Advantage
While original Medicare doesn’t cover vision services, there are Medicare Advantage plans that do. Medicare Advantage plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, cover all the same medical and hospital services that original Medicare does, but many of them also provide vision as well as dental, hearing and prescription drugs too.

To locate Advantage plans in your area that provide vision coverage, go to Medicare.gov/plan-compare or call 800-633-4227. But before enrolling in a plan, check the benefit details to ensure the plan’s vision coverage includes routine eye exams, eyeglass frames and lenses.

If you are currently enrolled in original Medicare you can switch to a Medicare Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7. Or, if you already have an Advantage plan that doesn’t provide adequate vision coverage, you can swap to another plan between Jan. 1 and March 31.

If you don’t want to change your Medicare plan, you can still get coverage by purchasing a vision insurance policy – see eHealthInsurance.com. Vision policies typically start at around $11 to $13 per month for an individual, but before signing up make sure your savings potential is worth the cost of the monthly premiums and required copays.

Discount Stores
Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another way to save. Costco Optical is one of the best discount stores for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an average of around $184, but to shop there you have to pay a $60 annual membership fee. Some other good retail options for low prices include Sam’s Club Optical and Walmart Vision Centers.

You also need to find out if you are eligible for any discounts. Some retailers provide discounts to membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for example, can get 30 percent off a pair of glasses (frames and lenses) at LensCrafters and Glasses.com, and you save an additional $10 on a complete pair at Target Optical. AARP also offers $55 comprehensive eye exams (dilation included) at participating eye doctors. See AARPVisionDiscounts.com for more information.

Buy Online
Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings. Stores like ZenniOptical.com and EyeBuyDirect.com sell prescription eyeglasses for as little as $6 and $7. These sites let you upload a photo of your face, so you can see what you’d look like in different frames.

Or, for a snappier choice of frames see WarbyParker.com, which offers single-vision glasses starting at $95. They even offer a free program where you can request up to five pairs to try on at home for five days.

To purchase glasses online, you’ll need a valid prescription from an eye doctor (typically no more than a year old), plus your pupillary distance number, which is the distance, measured in millimeters, between the centers of your pupils in each eye.

Low-Income Assistance
If your income is low, depending on where you live, there may be some local clinics that provide free or discounted eye exams and eyeglasses. Put in a call to your local Lions Club to see what’s available in your area. See Directory.LionsClubs.org for contact information.

You may also be able to get free eyeglasses through New Eyes (New-Eyes.org, 973-376-4903), a nonprofit organization that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program to people in financial need.

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 Happens to Medicare if Obamacare is Overturned?

Dear Savvy Senior,
Will my Medicare benefits be affected if Obamacare is overturned by the Supreme Court?
Concerned Beneficiary

Dear Concerned,

Unfortunately, yes. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – also known as Obamacare – gets repealed by the Supreme Court next year, it will weaken Medicare and increase costs for beneficiaries. Here’s what you should know.

Currently, about 60 million people are covered under Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older and people of all ages with disabilities. Even though the main aim of the ACA was to overhaul the health insurance markets, most people don’t realize that the law also touches virtually every part of Medicare.

Without the ACA, Medicare beneficiaries will have to pay more for preventive care services, which are now free; they’ll have to pay more toward their prescription drugs; their premiums and deductibles will rise faster; and Medicare will face insolvency much sooner because of lost funding and cost cutting measures. With the help of Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, here is a more detailed breakdown of what happens to Medicare if the court invalidates the law.

Preventive care services will no longer be free: Thanks to the ACA, there’s no copayment or deductible for potentially life-saving screenings for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Flu shots and annual wellness visits are also free. Before the ACA, beneficiaries had to pay 20 percent of the cost for most preventive care services, after their deductible was met.

The doughnut hole will return: Since 2011 the ACA has been steadily closing the prescription drug coverage gap, also known as the doughnut hole, in Medicare Part D by requiring drug manufacturers and insurers to pick up more of the cost. The hole was finally closed this year with seniors paying 25 percent of the cost for both generic and brand-name medications and manufacturers picking up 70 percent of the tab, while insurers kick in the remaining 5 percent. Before the ACA, seniors paid 100 percent of Part D prescription drug expenses while in the doughnut hole.

Medicare premiums and deductibles will rise faster: The ACA also curbed Medicare payments to providers to help keep Medicare Part A deductibles and copayments in check. Similarly, Part B premiums and deductibles are much lower than projected before the ACA became law. From 2011 to 2020, Part B premiums increased 23 percent. From 2000 to 2009 – the nine years before the law’s passage – Part B premiums rose almost five times faster, increasing 112 percent over that period.

Medicare Advantage plans will be more expensive: The ACA requires Medicare Advantage plans to spend 85 percent of premium dollars on health care, not profits or overhead. The plans also can’t charge more than traditional Medicare for chemotherapy, renal dialysis, skilled nursing care and other specialized services.

Those restrictions dramatically lowered costs for Medicare Advantage plan enrollees. Since the ACA became law in 2010, the average Medicare Advantage premium has decreased by 43 percent while enrollment has increased 117 percent.

Insolvency accelerates: The ACA extended the solvency of the program’s trust fund by eight years to 2026, mostly by finding new sources of revenue and slowing the growth of payments to all providers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reversing those changes would cost the program $700 billion over 10 years, which would make Medicare almost immediate insolvent.

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 Track Down Old Friends Online

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m interested in tracking down some old friends I’ve lost touch with over the years but could use some help. What websites can you recommend that can help me find them?
Tracking Tom

Dear Tom,
Thanks to the Internet, tracking down long-lost friends from many years ago is relatively easy to do and, in most cases, it won’t cost you a cent. Here are some tips and online tools to help you get started.

Remembering the Details
Before you begin your search, a good first step is to jot down any information you can remember or find out about the people you’re trying to locate. Things like their full name (maiden and married), age or birth date, last known address or phone number, old e-mail address, names of family members, and so forth. Knowing details can help you turn up clues while you search.

Social Media and Search Engines
After you compile your information, a good place to start your search is at social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And search engines like Google and Yahoo.

When using search engines, type in the name of the person you’re searching for in quotation marks, for example, “John Smith.” You can narrow your search by adding other criteria like their nickname or middle name, the city or state they may live in, or even their occupation.

People Search Sites
If your initial search comes up empty, you can also use people searches like AnyWho.com, Intelius.com or WhitePages.com. These sites will provide a list of potential matches from across the U.S.

Because many people share the same name, these sites will also supply details to help identify the right person, perhaps including their age, prior hometowns, names of relatives, colleges attended or employer.

While these sites are free to use at a basic level, they charge a small fee for providing certain details like the persons contact information. WhitePages, however, sometimes provides home phone numbers for free.

Niche Finding Sites
Here are a few other niche people-finding websites to help you with your search.

To look for old high school classmates, try Classmates.com. This site has contact information only for people who have registered with it. But even if your friend hasn’t registered, it could provide contact info for another classmate who remains in touch with your friend.

Another option is to check out your high school alumni website. Not every school has its own site, but some do, and you can look for it by going to any search engine and typing in the name of the school with the city and state it’s located in. You can also search at AlumniClass.com, a huge hosting site for thousands of high schools across the U.S.

If you’re looking for old college friends, look for an alumni directory on the school’s website. You might be able to access your friend’s contact info by completing an online registration. Or, try calling or emailing your alumni relations department and ask them to pass on your contact info to your friend.

If you’re looking for someone you served with in the military, Military.com offers a free “Buddy Finder” service that has a database of more than 20 million records – visit Military.com/buddy-finder. You can also search for free at GIsearch.com, TogetherWeServed.com and VetFriends.com.

If you can’t find any current information about the person you’re searching for, it could be that he or she is dead. To find out if that’s the case, use obituary databases such as Tributes.com and Legacy.com, which has a newspaper obituary search tool from hundreds of U.S. newspapers.

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 Claim Social Security Benefits During the Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
With my local Social Security offices being closed due to COVID-19, what is the best way to apply for my Social Security retirement benefits?
Approaching 62

Dear Approaching,
Because of the pandemic, all Social Security field offices across the country have been closed since March, so you can’t just walk-in, talk to a counselor and apply for benefits in person right now. But there are other ways to claim your benefits that are much easier and quicker. Here’s what you should know.

How to Apply?
The easiest and most convenient way to apply for your Social Security benefits during the pandemic is to do it yourself online at SocialSecurity.gov. It usually takes around 15 minutes to complete the application, as long as you’ve gathered all of the required information and documentation (more on that at the bottom of the column). You can also save your application as you go, so you can take a break at any time.

If your situation is complicated or you’re uncomfortable using the Internet to apply, you can have a Social Security employee assist with the process via telephone. To make an appointment call 800-772-1213. (If you’re hearing impaired, you can call 800-325-0778.) The phones are monitored Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. At the time of your appointment, the representative will call you.

If you start to complete the online application form but find that it’s too confusing or complicated, call the agency and set up a phone appointment.

Once you have submitted your application, a representative may contact you with updates or questions about your application. You can also check the status of your application by signing in to your “my Social Security” account at SSA.gov/myaccount.

When to Apply?
You should file one or two months before you want benefits to begin, but if you’re the worrying type, you can do it up to three or four months before. It takes a little time to process the paperwork, so by putting in your application a few months early, you can fix any problems that come up without it interfering with your starting date.

It’s also worth noting that if you start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits before age 65, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B, and you’ll receive your Medicare card about three months before your 65th birthday. It will include instructions to return it if you have work coverage that qualifies you for late enrollment.

But if you decide to delay your retirement benefits, you’ll need to sign up just for Medicare at age 65, which you can also do at SocialSecurity.gov or over the phone at 800-772-1213.

Needed Information
In order to apply for Social Security benefits online or over the phone, you’ll need to be able to document some information about your identity and work history. So before applying, have the following information handy:

  • Your Social Security number.
  • Your birth certificate (original or certified).
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States.
  • A copy of your U.S. military service papers if you had military service before 1968.
  • A copy of your W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax return for last year.
  • Your bank information (including your account number and the bank routing number) where you want your benefits direct deposited to.

For a complete checklist of what you’ll need to complete your application, see SSA.gov/hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.pdf.

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 Senior Columns — October 2020

October 1, 2020

Savvy Senior – October Columns

  1. Coronavirus Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference
  2. Helping Seniors Recognize Fake News and Propaganda
  3. How to Create an Online Memorial for a Departed Loved One
  4. How to Find an Online Therapist
  5. How to Recognize and Stop Elder Abuse in the COVID Era

 

Coronavirus Versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you explain the differences between the coronavirus and seasonal flu? I’m 70-years-old, and usually get a standard flu shot, but would like to find out what else I can do to protect myself this winter.
Worried Senior                                                                                     

Dear Worried,
Great question! Because of the dual danger of Influenza (flu) and COVID-19, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently warned that this fall and winter could be the worst ever for public health. Understanding this, knowing the differences and similarities between the viruses, and knowing what you can do to protect yourself is the best way to stay healthy and safe through this difficult time.

Flu vs COVID
Because many of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, so testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. With that said, here are some similarities and differences you should know.

For starters, seasonal flu symptoms come on pretty quickly, whereas COVID-19 develops gradually over a period of a few days and then either fades out or gets worse. Common shared symptoms include fever, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, headache, fatigue and even chest pain. Pinkeye and a dry cough are associated with COVID-19, while it’s now thought that a fever is more likely with the flu, as are diarrhea and nausea.

Many people are having their temperatures taken these days before entering public spaces. But fever occurs in only half of COVID-19 cases. Fever does not rule out COVID-19, but the absence of fever makes flu unlikely.

You’re also unlikely to have a runny or stuffy nose with the flu, but you may with COVID-19. What sometimes happens within the nose with COVID-19 is loss of smell and, often as a consequence, loss of taste, too.

To learn more about the similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19, visit the CDC website ​at CDC.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.

How to Protect Yourself
While there is currently no vaccine available yet to prevent COVID-19, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. So, stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep at least 6 feet away from other people. And every time you come home, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

There’s also evidence that suggests that people who are deficient in vitamin D may be at higher risk of getting COVID-19, than those with sufficient levels. So, make sure you take in around 800 to 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D from food or supplements daily, and get outside as much as you can.

And to help guard against the flu this year, you should consider getting a flu shot that’s specifically designed for people 65 and older. The “Fluzone High Dose Quadrivalent” or the “FLUAD Quadrivalent” are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot offers. You only need one flu shot, and if you haven’t already gotten it, you should do it now because takes up to two weeks to build immunity after you receive it.

Pneumonia Vaccines
If you haven’t been vaccinated for pneumonia, you should also consider getting the pneumococcal vaccines. Both flu and COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia, which hospitalizes around 250,000 Americans, and kills around 50,000 people each year. But these numbers could be much higher this year.

The CDC recommends that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations – Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered one year apart, protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection.

Medicare Part B covers both flu and pneumonia shots.

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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Helping Seniors Recognize Fake News and Propaganda

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any resources that you know of that can help seniors detect fake news? My 75-year-old mother shares a lot of misinformation with her family and friends that she sees on Facebook. I’ve talked to her about it, but for some reason she has a difficult time deciphering real news from fake news and propaganda.
Frustrated Daughter

Dear Frustrated,
Unfortunately, the digital misinformation problem your mom is experiencing is not uncommon. According to researchers from Princeton and New York University, people aged 65 and older are up to seven times more likely to share fake news and dubious links on social media than their younger counterparts.

Why?
There are several theories. The first is that many seniors started using social media sites like Facebook only within the past five or six years and may lack the digital literacy skills to identify false or misleading content.

Some other possible theories are that most seniors experience some cognitive decline as they age, making them more likely to fall for hoaxes. Many older Americans also suffer from chronic loneliness which can cause them to share misinformation as an attempt to make connections with other people. And studies have shown that older people are generally more trusting than younger generations, which can make them more gullible.

All this is particularly concerning now as we sit in the midst of a global health pandemic and a 2020 election season, both of which are ripe with misinformation, rumors and conspiracy theories. And seniors are prime targets of this false/misleading information because they are much more likely to vote than their younger cohorts and are much more vulnerable to getting sick and dying if they contract COVID-19.

Where to Get Help
To help your mom detect and combat online misinformation there are several great resources she can turn to that offer free courses and tips.

One is MediaWise for Seniors, a project of the Poynter Institute, which offers two free online courses to help seniors detect and combat online misinformation – see Poynter.org/mediawise-for-seniors.

The first four-week course has already filled up, but your mom can still enroll in a self-directed course called “Hands-On Lessons to Separate Fact and Fiction Online.” It is hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Joan Lunden, and is scheduled to begin Sept. 24, but she can take the course anytime.

In addition, Poynter has worked with AARP to produce Fact Tracker interactive videos and a webinar on spotting and filtering misinformation at AARP.org/facttracker.

Some other free course options you should look into include Senior Planet, which is offering a one-hour online course on “How to Spot Fake News” at SeniorPlanet.org.

The News Literacy Project that provides the Checkology virtual classroom, which was initially created for middle and high school students, is now offering an independent learners option that is ideal for older adults – see Get.Checkology.org. Their lessons will help your mom detect the difference between news, opinion and propaganda.

And Coursera, a free world-wide online learning platform, which offers an in-depth six-week course called “Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens,” which she can access at Coursera.org/learn/news-literacy.

There are also many good websites, like PolitiFact.com, Snopes.com and FactCheck.org that will let your mom fact check a story to help her identify fact versus fiction. These sites have most likely already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in her news feed.

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 Create an Online Memorial for a Departed Loved One

Dear Savvy Senior,
My mother passed away last week, and because of COVID we didn’t have a funeral. I would like to create some type of online memorial for her so family and friends can express their condolences and share their stories. What can you tell me about making an online memorial for my mom?
Grieving Daughter

Dear Grieving,
I’m very sorry for your loss. Creating an online memorial for your mom is a great idea and one that’s become increasingly popular in the age of COVID-19. Thousands of families have created them for their departed loved ones, especially those who didn’t have a proper funeral because of the pandemic. Here’s what you should know.

What is an Online Memorial?
An online memorial is a website created for a deceased person that provides a central location where their family and friends can visit to share stories, fond memories, photographs, comfort one another and grieve. The memorial can remain online for life, or a specific period of time, allowing people to visit and contribute any time in the privacy of their own space.

Online memorials started popping up on the Internet in the late 1990s but were created primarily for people who were well known. But now, these sites are for anyone who wants to pay tribute to their departed family member or friend and ensure they will be remembered.

Content typically posted on an online memorial includes a biography, pictures and stories from family and friends, timelines of key events in their life, along with favorite music and even videos.

Another common feature is an online guestbook where visitors sign their names and write tributes to the departed. Online memorials can also direct visitors to the departed person’s favorite charity or cause to make a donation, as an alternative to sending funeral flowers.

Some online memorial sites today even offer virtual funeral/event capabilities as a replacement for an in-person funeral. And they’ll help you get the word out by offering invitations and RSVP tracking.

Top Online Memorials
To make an online memorial there are a wide variety of websites available that make it easier than ever to create a thoughtful, personalized profile for your mom to celebrate and honor her life, and the process of creating it can be very satisfying.

You also need to know that some online memorial sites are completely free to use, while others offer a free and a paid version that provides additional features.

Some of the best sites that offer both free and paid options are MyKeeper.com (free or $75) and iLasting.com (free or $49/year or $99 for a lifetime membership).

Or, if you’re interested in one that’s completely free to use, some top options are GatheringUs.com (they do charge for virtual events), Memories.net, InMemori.com and WeRemember.com.

Memorialize Facebook
If your mom used Facebook, you can also turn her profile into a memorialized account for free when you show proof of death. This option will let your mom’s family and friends share stories, photos or memories to celebrate her life, with the word “Remembering” shown next to her name.

Once her account is memorialized, the content she shared is still visible on Facebook to the audience it was originally shared with, however, her profile will not show up in public spaces such as people she may know, ads or birthday reminders.

In addition, you can also request a Look Back video, which is a short video created by Facebook highlighting your mom’s pictures and most liked status messages.

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 Find an Online Therapist

Dear Savvy Senior,
What is the best way to find online therapy services for my anxiety and depression? I just turned 63 and have become increasingly hopeless since the COVID pandemic hit and cost me my job. I need to get some professional help, but I’m also high risk for illness and very concerned about leaving the house.
Need Help

Dear Need,
I’m sorry to hear about your job loss and the difficulties you’re going through right now, but you’re not alone. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic downturn, fear, anxiety and depression is being reported by 45 percent of Americans, according a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll.

To help you through this difficult time there are a variety of therapists, psychologists, and other mental health providers you can turn to. And because of the pandemic, most of them are now offering counsel to their clients online through teletherapy services. This will allow you to interact virtually with a therapist from the comfort of your home using only a smartphone, tablet or computer.

How to Find a Therapist
A good first step to locating a therapist is to ask your primary care provider or family and friends for a referral. You can also look on your insurer’s website for a list of therapists covered under your plan. But be aware that some insurers have limited, or even no coverage for mental health, and many mental healthcare providers don’t participate in insurance plans. (Medicare does cover mental health services.)

Other resources to help you find a good therapist include online finder tools at the American Psychological Association (locator.apa.org) and the American Psychiatric Association (finder.psychiatry.org).

If you want some help, there are also online platforms that can help match you with a licensed mental health provider. For example, Talkspace (talkspace.com) and BetterHelp (betterhelp.com), are virtual services you can access through your phone or computer, that contracts with thousands of licensed and credentialed therapists.

The process starts with a few questions to assess your goals, your condition, and your preferences, and then matches you with some top therapists in your state.

If you don’t have insurance coverage or can’t afford therapy, you can call or text 211 (or go to 211.org) anytime for a referral to a provider who offers support at no cost or on a sliding scale, based on your budget.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 and ask for a referral to a local resource or provider or ask to be transferred to their “warm line” for non-emergency calls, where you can talk anonymously to a trained professional at no cost.

Another possible option is Federally Qualified Health Centers, which are community-based health centers, some of which may offer teletherapy services at no-cost. To search for centers in your area visit FindAHealthCenter.hrsa.gov.

There’s also this website called Open Path Collective (openpathcollective.org), where therapists offer low-cost online sessions for between $30 and $60.

Interview Your Therapist
Before you start sessions with a therapist, it’s important to make sure he or she meets your needs. If you’re not comfortable with the person, you’re unlikely to benefit from the therapy. So, schedule a call or a video chat to get a feel for each other, and to ask about the therapist’s training, years in practice, specialties, therapy techniques and fee. Ideally the therapist you choose will be a good personality fit for you and will be within your budget and/or covered by your insurance.

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 Recognize and Stop Elder Abuse in the COVID Era

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column on how to recognize elder abuse and what to do if you suspect it?
Concerned Relative

Dear Concerned,
Elder abuse is a big problem in the United States that has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Council on Aging, as many as 5 million seniors are victims of abuse each year, but studies suggest this crime is significantly under-reported. Only 1-in-14 cases of elder abuse ever get reported to the authorities because victims are usually too afraid, too embarrassed, too helpless or too trusting to call for help.

The term “elder abuse” is defined as intentional or negligent acts by a caregiver or trusted individual that causes or can cause harm to a vulnerable senior. Elder abuse also comes in many different forms: emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, neglect and self-neglect, and financial exploitation.

Those most vulnerable are seniors that are ill, frail, disabled, socially isolated or mentally impaired due to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also important to know that while elder abuse does happen in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, the vast majority of incidents take place at home where the senior lives. And tragically, the abusers are most often their own family members (usually the victim’s adult child or spouse) or caregiver.

How to Recognize Abuse
So, how can you tell if an elderly relative or friend is being abused, and what can you do to help?

A change in general behavior is a universal warning sign that a problem exists. If you notice that your relative or friend has become very depressed, withdrawn or gets upset or agitated easily, you need to start asking questions. Here are some additional warning signs on the different types of elder abuse that can help you spot a possible problem.

  • Physical or sexual abuse: Suspicious bruises or other injuries that can’t be explained. Sudden changes in behavior (upset, withdrawn, fearful). Broken eyeglasses. Caregiver’s refusal to allow visitors to see an elder alone.
  • Neglect or self-neglect: Weight loss, poor hygiene, unattended medical needs, and unsanitary, unsafe living conditions.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse: The senior is extremely upset, agitated, withdrawn, unresponsive, fearful or depressed, or demonstrates some other unusual behavior.
  • Financial exploitation: Missing money or valuables. Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, or transfers between accounts. Unauthorized use of credit, debit or ATM card. Unpaid bills despite available funds. Checks written as a loan or gift. Abrupt changes in a will or other documents.

For more tips on how to recognize the warning signs of abuse during the pandemic, see the National Center on Elder Abuse website at NCEA.acl.gov/Resources/COVID-19.aspx.

What to Do
The best ways to help stop elder abuse is to be in touch and keep the lines of communication open. If you suspect any type of abuse or neglect in your relative’s or friend’s home, report it to your local protective services agency.

Adult Protective Services is the government agency responsible for investigating elder abuse cases and providing help and guidance. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in your area or visit NCEA.acl.gov/Resources/State.aspx.

The agency will ask what you observed, who was involved, and who they can contact to learn more. You don’t need to prove that abuse is occurring; it is up to the professional.

Or, to report suspected abuse in a nursing home or assisted living facility, call the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman – see LTCombudsman.org for contact information.

However, if you feel the person is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for immediate help.

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 Senior Columns for September 2020

September 1, 2020

Savvy Senior – September Columns

  1. How to Prevent Falls During a Pandemic
  2. Should Seniors Consider a Reverse Mortgage Now?
  3. Is There an Age Limit for Organ Donation?
  4. Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?

How to Prevent Falls During a Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
My 80-year-old mother, who lives alone and is self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic, has fallen several times. Are there any extra precautions you recommend that can help prevent this?
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
Falls are a common concern for many elderly adults and their families, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when many seniors are sheltering at home alone.

Each year, more than 1-in-4 older Americans fall, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries for those age 65 and older. But many falls can be prevented. Depending on what’s causing your mom to fall, here are some different tips that can help prevent it.

Encourage exercise: Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest risk factors that cause seniors to fall. Walking, strength training and tai chi are all good for improving balance and strength, as are a number of balance exercises your mom can do anytime like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.

For additional balance and leg strengthening exercises, see AgeBold.com.

Review her medications: Does your mom take any medicine, or combination of medicines, that make her dizzy, sleepy or lightheaded? If so, make a list or gather up all the drugs she takes – prescriptions and over the counter – and contact her doctor or pharmacist for a drug review and adjustment.

Get a vision test: Poor vision can be another contributor to falls, so your mom should get her eyes checked once a year and be sure to update her eyeglasses if needed. Also be aware that if your mom wears bifocal or progressive lenses, they too can cause falls, especially when walking outside or going down steps. These lenses can affect depth perception, so she may want to get a pair of glasses with only her distance prescription for outdoor activities.

If your mom is concerned about a trip into her eye doctor during the pandemic, she can get her vision tested online. Put a call her eye doctor about this option, or consider some online vision testing sites likeEssilor.com or 6over6.com. And to buy eyeglasses online, some popular options include WarbyParker.com and ZenniOptical.com.

Fall-proof her home: There are a number of simple household modifications you can do to make your mom’s living area safer. Start by helping her arrange or move the furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through and pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip like newspapers, shoes, clothes, electrical or phone cords.

If she has throw rugs, remove them or use double-sided tape to secure them.

In the bathroom buy some non-skid rugs for the floors and a rubber suction-grip mat or adhesive non-skid tape for the floor of the tub or shower, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower for support.

Also, make sure the lighting throughout the house is good, purchase some inexpensive plug-in nightlights for the bathrooms and hallways, and if she has stairs, put handrails on both sides.

For more tips, see the NIA “fall-proofing your home” web page at NIA.NIH.gov/health/fall-proofing-your-home.

Choose safe footwear: Going barefoot or wearing slippers or socks at home can also cause falls, as can wearing backless shoes, high heels, and shoes with smooth leather soles. The safest option for your mom is rubber-sole, low-heel shoes.

Purchase some helpful aids: If your mom needs some additional help getting around, get her a cane or walker. Also, to help ensure your mom’s safety, and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting her a medical alert device that comes with a wearable emergency button that would allow her to call for help if she were to fall or need 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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Should Seniors Consider a Reverse Mortgage Now?

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about reverse mortgages? The coronavirus damage to my retirement account has me considering it but want to make sure I know what I’m getting into.
Cash-Strapped Senior

Dear Cash-Strapped,
Massive job losses, a volatile stock market and low interest rates caused by the coronavirus pandemic has caused many cash-strapped retirees to consider a reverse mortgage. But there’s a lot to consider to be sure it’s a good option for you now.

Let’s start with the basics.

A reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows older homeowners to borrow money against the equity in their house (or condo) that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months. At that point, you or your heirs will have to pay back the loan plus accrued interest and fees, but you will never owe more than the value of your home.

It’s also important to understand that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re still required to pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance. Not paying them can result in foreclosure.

To be eligible, you must be 62 years of age or older, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there.

You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to continue paying your property taxes and insurance. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you’ll be denied.

Loan Details
Around 95 percent of all reverse mortgages offered are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks. HECM’s also have home value limits that vary by county but cannot exceed $765,600.

How much you can actually get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age (the older you are the more you can get), your home’s value and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, most people can borrow somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of the home’s value. To estimate how much you can borrow, use the reverse mortgage calculator at ReverseMortgage.org.

To receive your money, you can opt for a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these.

But be aware the reverse mortgages aren’t cheap. HECM loans require a 2 percent upfront mortgage insurance payment, plus an additional 0.5 percent annual charge, on top of origination costs and lenders’ fees. Any amount you borrow, including these fees and insurance, accrues interest, which means your debt grows over time.

To learn more, read the National Council on Aging’s online booklet “Use Your Home to Stay at Home” at NCOA.org/home-equity.

Also note that because reverse mortgages are complex loans, all borrowers are required to get counseling through a HUD approved independent counseling agency before taking one out. Most agencies charge between $125 and $250. To locate one near you, visit Go.usa.gov/v2H, or call 800-569-4287.

Other Options
If you have a short-term need for cash, there are other options you should look into. For example, many low-income seniors don’t realize they qualify for the earned income tax credit, a refundable tax break that can put cash in your pocket. You also could use BenefitsCheckUp.org to search for financial assistant programs you may be eligible for.

Another possibility is a regular home equity loan or line of credit. This type of borrowing requires you to make payments, and lenders can freeze or lower limits on lines of credit, but the borrowing costs are much lower.

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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Is There an Age Limit for Organ Donation?

Dear Savvy Senior,
I never thought about becoming an organ donor until my brother died of kidney failure last year. But at age 78, I would like to know if I’m too old to be a donor, or if they would even use my organs if I were to die from COVID-19. What can you tell me?
Potential Donor

Dear Potential,
There’s no cutoff age for being an organ donor. Anyone, regardless of age or medical history, can sign up. In fact, there are many people well up into their 80’s that donate. The decision to use your organs is based on health of the organ, not age. So, don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Regarding the COVID-19 part of your question, as of right now, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) does not recommend transplantation of organs from donors known to have the virus. So, if you were to contract the coronavirus and die, your organs would probably not be used, however, this may change as treatments are developed.

Here’s what else you should know about becoming a donor.

Donating Facts
In the United States alone, more than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for organ transplants. But because the demand is so much greater than the supply, those on the list routinely wait three to seven years for an organ, and more than 7,000 of them die each year.

Organs that can be donated include the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, pancreas and intestines. Tissue is also needed to replace bone, tendons and ligaments. Corneas are needed to restore sight. Skin grafts help burn patients heal and often mean the difference between life and death. And heart valves repair cardiac defects and damage.

By donating your organs after you die, you can save or improve as many as 50 lives. The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains the OPTN, a national computer registry that matches donors to waiting recipients.

Some other things you should know about being an organ donor are that it does not in any way compromise the medical care you would receive in a hospital if you are sick or injured, nor does it interfere with having an open-casket funeral if you want that option. And, most major religions in the United States support organ donation and consider it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.

How to Donate
If you would like to become a donor, there are several steps you should take to ensure your wishes are carried out, including:

Registering: Add your name to your state or regional organ and tissue donor registry. You can do this online at either OrganDonor.gov or DonateLife.net. If you don’t have Internet access, call Donate Life America at 804-377-3580 and they can sign you up over the phone.

Identify yourself: Designate your decision to become an organ donor on your driver’s license, which you can do when you go in to renew it. If, however, you don’t drive anymore or if your renewal isn’t due for a while, consider getting a state ID card – this also lets you indicate you want to be a donor. You can get an ID card for a few dollars at your nearby driver’s license office.

Tell your family: Even if you are a registered donor, in many states, family members have the ultimate say whether your organs may be donated after you die. So, clarify your wishes to family. Also tell your doctors and indicate your wishes in your advance directives. These are legal documents that spell out your wishes regarding your end-of-life medical treatment when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. If you don’t have an advance directive, go to MyDirectives.com where you can create one for free.

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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Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?

Dear Savvy Senior,
My wife and I have thought about purchasing a long-term care insurance policy, but we hate the idea of paying expensive monthly premiums for a policy we may never use. Is there a good rule of thumb on who should or shouldn’t buy long-term care insurance?
Getting Old

Dear Getting Old,
There are two key factors you need to consider that can help you determine if purchasing a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy is a smart decision for you and your wife. One factor is your financial situation and second is your health history. Currently, around 8 million Americans own a policy.

Who Needs LTC Insurance?
As the cost of LTC – which includes nursing home, assisted living and in-home care – continues to rise, it’s important to know that most people pay for LTC either from personal savings or Medicaid when their savings is depleted, or through a LTC insurance policy. National median average costs for nursing home care today is around $92,000 per year, while assisted living averages around $50,000/year.

While national statistics show that about 70 percent of Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, the fact is, many people don’t need to purchase a LTC insurance policy.

The reasons stem from a range of factors, including the fact that relatively few people have enough wealth to protect to make purchasing a policy worthwhile. Seniors with limited financial resources who need LTC turn to Medicaid to pick up the tab after they run out of money.

Another important factor is that most seniors who need LTC only need it for a short period of time, for example, when they’re recovering from surgery. For those people, Medicare covers in-home health care and nursing home stays of 100 days or less following a hospital stay of more than 3 consecutive days.

So, who should consider buying a policy?

LTC insurance policies make the most sense for people who can afford the monthly premiums, and who have assets of at least $150,000 to $200,000 or more that they want to protect, not counting their home and vehicles.

Another factor to weigh is your personal health and family health history. The two most common reasons seniors need extended long-term care is because of dementia and/or disability. And, almost half of all people who live in nursing homes are 85 years or older. So, what’s your family history for Alzheimer’s, stroke or some other disabling health condition, and do you have a family history of longevity?

You also need to factor in gender too. Because women tend to live longer than men, they are at greater risk of needing extended LTC.

Choosing LTC Insurance
After evaluating your situation, if you’re leaning towards buying a LTC policy, be sure to do your homework. The cost of premiums can vary greatly ranging anywhere between $2,500 and $8,000 per year for a couple depending on your age, the insurer, and the policy’s provisions.

Also note that because of coronavirus, it may be more difficult to qualify for coverage now if you’re age 70 or older, in a high-risk group or have had a positive COVID-19 test.

To find a policy, get a LTC insurance specialist who works with a variety of companies. See the American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance website (AALTCI.org) to locate one. Also shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York Life, who work only with their own agents.

Another option you may want to consider are Hybrid policies that combine long-term care coverage with life-insurance benefits. These policies promise that if you don’t end up needing long-term care, your beneficiaries will receive a death benefit.

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.