Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the symptoms of a stroke? My 66-year-old aunt
had a stroke a few months ago and neither she nor my
uncle had a clue it was happening.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t know the signs of a
stroke, but they need to. Stroke is the fifth leading
cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause
of disability. Being able to recognize a stroke and
getting to the hospital quickly can make a huge
difference in reducing its potentially devastating
effects. Here are some tips that help you recognize a
stroke, and what you should do if it happens to you or
your loved one.
Types of stroke
According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, every year more than 795,000 people in the
United States have a stroke - three-quarters of which
are over the age of 65. A stroke occurs when a blood
vessel that carries blood to the brain is suddenly
blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke), or burst
(hemorrhagic stroke), causing parts of the brain to
become damaged or die. About 87 percent of all strokes
Depending on the severity of the brain damage, strokes
can cause mild to severe disabilities including
paralysis, loss of speech, vision and memory, along with
other health and emotional issues, and death.
- Stroke signs
Because stroke injures the brain, the person having a
stroke may not realize it. Stroke victims have the best
chance if someone around them recognizes the symptoms
and acts quickly. The five most common symptoms include:
* Sudden numbness or weakness of the face,
arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or
* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of
balance or coordination.
* Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
easiest way to identify a stroke is to use the F.A.S.T.
test to identify the symptoms:
* F (Face): Ask the person to smile. Does one
side of the face droop?
* A (Arm): Ask the person to raise both arms.
Does one arm drift downward?
* S (Speech): Ask the person to say a simple
sentence. Is their speech slurred?
* T (Time): If you observe any of these signs
of stroke, call 911.
help you remember the signs, the American Stroke
Association has a free “Spot a Stroke FAST” app (see
strokeassociation.org) that you can download on your
smartphone or mobile device. Or, visit the National
Stroke Association at stroke.org and print their “Act
FAST” wallet card to keep as a reminder.
- Act quickly
Remember that stroke is a medical emergency and every
minute counts. Even if you’re not sure a stroke is
happening, call 911 anyway. The longer blood flow is cut
off to the brain, the greater the damage. Immediate
treatment can save a person’s life and improve their
chances for a successful recovery.
Ischemic strokes are treated with a drug called t-PA
that dissolves the blood clots that block the blood flow
to the brain. The window of opportunity to start
treating a stroke is three hours. But to be evaluated
and receive treatment, patients need to get to the
hospital within 60 minutes.
you have a choice, wait for the paramedics rather than
driving the patient yourself. Patients who are
transported by EMS are evaluated and treated much
quicker than people who are driven in. And, of course,
don’t drive if you are the one having a stroke.
also very important that you call 911 even if symptoms
go away. When symptoms of stroke disappear on their own
after a few minutes, a “mini-stroke” or transient
ischemic attack (TIA) may have occurred which is a
warning that a major stroke may be coming. That’s why
mini-strokes need to be treated like emergences too.
How to search for lost pension money
May 13, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you offer for tracking down
a lost pension from a previous employer?
-About to Retire
not unusual for a worker to lose track of a pension
benefit. Perhaps you left an employer long ago and
forgot that you left behind a pension. Or maybe you
worked for a company that changed owners or went belly
up many years ago, and you figured the pension went with
Today, millions of dollars in benefits are sitting in
pension plans across the U.S. or with the Pension
Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal government
agency, waiting to be claimed by their rightful owners.
The average unclaimed benefit with PBGC is about $6,500.
help you look for a pension, here are some steps to take
and some free resources that can help you search if your
previous employer has gone out of business, relocated,
changed owners or merged with another firm.
you think you have a pension and the company you worked
for still is in business, your first step is to call the
human resources department and ask how to contact the
pension plan administrator. Ask the administrator
whether you have a pension, how much it is worth and how
to claim it. Depending on how complete the
administrator’s records are you may need to show proof
that you once worked for the company and that you are
old income tax returns and W-2 forms from the years you
worked at the company will help you here. If you haven’t
saved your old tax returns from these years, you can get
a copy of your earnings record from the Social Security
Administration, which will show how much you were paid
each calendar year by each employer.
800-772-1213, and ask for Form SSA-7050, “Request for
Social Security Earnings Information,” or you can
download it at ssa.gov/online/ssa-7050.pdf. The SSA
charges a $136 for this information.
other old forms that can help you prove pension
eligibility are summary plan descriptions that you
should have received from your employer when you worked
there, and any individual benefit statements that you
received during your employment.
If your former employer went out of business or if the
company still is in business but terminated its pension
plan, check with the PBGC, which guarantees pension
payouts to private-sector workers if their pension plans
fail, up to annual limits. Most people receive the full
benefit they earned before the plan was terminated. The
PBGC offers an online pension-search directory tool at
you need help tracking down your former company because
it may have moved, changed owners or merged with another
firm, contact the Pension Rights Center, a nonprofit
consumer organization that offers seven free Pension
Counseling and Information Projects around the U.S. that
serve 30 states. For more information, visit
pensionrights.org or call 888-420-6550.
you, your company or your pension plan happens to be
outside the 30-state area served by the projects, or if
you’re trying to locate a federal or military pension,
use Pension Help America at pensionhelp.org. This
resource can connect you with government agencies and
private organizations that provide free information and
assistance to help your search.
more pension searching tips, see the PBGC’s free online
publication called “Finding a Lost Pension” at pbgc.gov/documents/finding-a-lost-pension.pdf.
Understanding Medicare’s enrollment rules
May 7, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you give me a rundown on Medicare’s
enrollment choices and rules along with when and how to
apply? I turn 65 next year and want to make sure I know
what to do.
The strict rules and timetables for
Medicare enrollment can be confusing to many new
retirees, so you’re wise to plan ahead. Here’s a
simplified rundown of what to know.
First a quick review. 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 visits and other medical
services, and costs $104.90 per month for most enrollees
When to enroll
Everyone is eligible for Medicare at age 65, even if
your full Social Security retirement age is 66 or later.
can enroll any time during the “initial enrollment
period,” which is a seven-month period that includes the
three months before, the month of, and the three months
after your 65th birthday. It’s best to enroll three
months before your birth month to ensure your coverage
starts when you turn 65.
you happen to miss the seven-month sign-up window for
Medicare Part B, 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. You can
sign up for premium-free Part A, at any time with no
Special rules apply if you’re eligible for Medicare and
still on the job. If you have health insurance coverage
through your employer or your spouse’s employer, and the
company has 20 or more employees, you have a “special
enrollment period” in which you can sign up. This means
that you can delay enrolling in Medicare Part B, and are
not subject to the 10 percent late-enrollment penalty as
long as you sign up for within eight months of losing
Be aware that original Medicare does not cover
prescription medications, so if you don’t have credible
drug coverage from an employer or union, you’ll need to
buy a Part D drug plan from a private insurance company
(see medicare.gov/find-a-plan) during your initial
enrollment if you want coverage. If you don’t, you’ll
incur a premium penalty - 1 percent of the average
national premium ($33.13 in 2015) for every month you
don’t have coverage - if you enroll later.
If you choose original Medicare, it’s also a good idea
to get a Medigap (Medicare supplemental) policy within
six months after enrolling in Part B to help pay for
things that aren’t covered by Medicare like copayments,
coinsurance and deductibles. See Medicare.gov and click
on “Supplements & Other Insurance” to shop and compare
Instead of getting original Medicare, plus a stand-alone
Part D drug plan and a Medigap policy, you could sign up
for a Medicare Advantage plan (see medicare.gov/find-a-plan)
that covers everything in one plan. These plans, which
are also sold by insurance companies, are generally
available through HMOs and PPOs and often have cheaper
premiums, but their deductibles and co-pays are usually
higher which makes them better suited for healthier
How to enroll
If you’re already receiving your Social Security
benefits before 65, you will automatically be enrolled
in 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. If
you’re not receiving Social Security, you’ll need to
enroll either online at socialsecurity.gov/medicare,
over the phone at 800-772-1213 or through your local
Social Security office.
Medication management tools for organizing and
April 30, 2015
What products or solutions can you recommend to help
seniors keep up with their medications? My mom is
supposed to take several different medications at
different times of the day but frequently forgets.
Anybody who juggles multiple medications can relate to
the problem of forgetting to take a medication, or not
remembering whether they already took it. This is
especially true for people who take medications at
varying times of the day. Here are some different
product and service solutions that may help.
Getting organized and being reminded are the two keys to
staying on top of a medication schedule. To help your
mom achieve this, there are a wide variety of affordable
pillboxes, medication organizers, vibrating watches,
beeping pill bottles and even dispensers that will talk
to her that can make all the difference. To find these
types of products go to Epill.com (800-549-0095), where
you’ll find dozens to choose from.
check out Reminder Rosie (reminder-rosie.com, $130), a
voice activated talking clock that tells you when to
take your medicine, and can be used for other reminders,
for a super comprehensive medication management device,
there’s the MedMinder automatic pill dispenser. This is
a computerized pillbox that will beep and flash when
it’s time for your mom to take her medication, and will
call her if she forgets. It will even alert her if she
takes the wrong pills. This device can also be set up to
call, email or text family members and caregivers
letting you know if she misses a dose, takes the wrong
medication or misses a refill. Available at
MedMinder.com, or 888-633-6463, the MedMinder rents for
$40 to $65 per month.
Another possible way to help simplify your mom’s
medication use is to get her prescriptions filled in
single-dose packets that put all her medications
(vitamins and over-the-counter drugs can be included
too) together in neatly labeled packets organized by
date and the time of day they should be taken. This does
away with all the pill bottles and pill sorting. Some
compounding pharmacies or independent drug stores offer
single-dose packaging along with a number of online
pharmacies like PillPack.com.
Another simple solution that can help your mom stick to
her medication schedule is to use a medication reminding
service. These are services that will actually call,
email or text your mother reminders of when it’s time to
take her medicine and when it’s time to refill her
prescriptions. Some even offer extra reminders like
doctor and dentist appointments, wake-up calls and more.
Companies that offer such services are MyMedSchedule.com,
which provides free medication reminders via text
message or email. Their website can also help you make
easy-to-read medication schedules that you can print out
for your mom to follow. Or, if your mom uses a
smartphone or tablet, there are free medication
reminding apps that can help, like MediSafe (medisafeproject.com)
or MedCoach (greatcall.com).
however, your mom doesn’t receive texts or use a
smartphone, tablet or computer, OnTimeRx.com or
Snoozester.com may be the answer. With starting prices
ranging between $4 and $10 per month, these services
will call your mom on her phone (they can send text
messages and emails too) for all types of reminders
including daily medications, monthly refills, doctor
appointments, wake-up calls and other events.
if you’re looking for extra help, Care Call Reassurance
(call-reassurance.com, 602-265-5968 ext. 7) may be a
better fit. In addition to the call reminders to your
mom’s phone, this service can be set up to contact a
family member or designated caregiver if she fails to
answer or acknowledge the call. This service runs
between $15 and $20 per month.
Driving safely with dementia and knowing when to quit
April 23, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Is it safe for seniors with dementia to drive, and if
so, when should they stop? My dad has early Alzheimer’s
disease but still drives himself around town just fine.
While most doctors agree that people with moderate to
severe dementia should not take the wheel, in the early
stages, the medical consensus is that driving
performance should be the determining factor of when to
stop driving, not the disease itself.
that said, it’s also important to realize that as your
dad’s driving skills deteriorate over time from the
disease, he might not recognize it. So it’s very
important that you work closely with him and his doctor
to monitor his driving. Here are some tips that can
The best way to keep tabs on your dad’s driving is to
take frequent rides with him watching out for key
warning signs. For example: Does he have trouble
remembering routes to familiar places? Does he drive at
inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes?
Does he react slowly or make poor driving decisions?
Also, has your dad had any fender benders or tickets
lately, or have you noticed any dents or scrapes on his
vehicle? These, too, are red flags.
you need some assessment help, hire a driver
rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate
older drivers. To locate a specialist see driver-ed.org
Through your assessments, if you believe it’s still safe
for your dad to drive, you may want to start
recommending some simple adjustments to ensure his
safety, like driving only in daylight and on familiar
routes, and avoiding busy roads and bad weather. Also,
see if he will sign an Alzheimer’s “driving contract”
(see alz.org/driving to print one) that designates
someone to tell him when it’s no longer safe to drive.
addition, you should also consider getting a GPS vehicle
tracking system for his car (like motosafety.com or
mobicopilot.com) to help you keep an eye on him. These
devices will let you track exactly where he’s driving,
and allow you to set up zones and speed limits that will
notify you via email or text message when he exits an
area or arrives at a designated location, and if he’s
driving too fast.
Time to quit
When your dad’s driving gets to the point that he can no
longer drive safely, you’ll need to talk to him. It’s
actually best to start having these conversations in the
early stages of the disease, before he needs to quit
driving, so he can prepare himself.
also need to have a plan for alternative transportation
(including a list of family, friends and local
transportation services) that will help your dad get
around after he stops driving.
tips on how to talk to your dad, the Hartford Financial
Services Group and MIT AgeLab offers a variety of
resources at safedrivingforalifetime.com - click on
“Dementia and Driving.”
Refuses to quit
If your dad refuses to quit you have several options.
First, suggest a visit to his doctor who can give them a
medical evaluation, and “prescribe” that he stops
driving. Older people will often listen to their doctor
before they will listen to their own family.
he still refuses, contact your local Department of Motor
Vehicles to see if they can help. Some states require
doctors to report new dementia cases to the DMV, who can
revoke the person’s license.
all these fail, consider hiding his keys or just take
them away. You could also disable his vehicle, park it
in another location so he can’t see it or have access to
it, or sell it.
Social Security offers lump sum payouts to retirees
April 14, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that Social Security offers a lump-sum
payment to retirees who need some extra cash. I have not
yet started drawing my benefits and would like to
investigate this option. What can you tell me?
There are actually two different kinds of Social
Security claiming strategies that can provide retirees a
big lump-sum benefit, but you need to be past full
retirement age to be eligible, and there are financial
drawbacks you need to be aware of too.
First, let’s review the basics. Remember that while
workers can begin drawing their Social Security
retirement benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70, full
retirement age is currently 66 for those born between
1943 and 1954, but it rises in two-month increments to
67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your
full retirement age at ssa.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm.
full retirement age, you are entitled to 100 percent of
your benefits. If you claim earlier you’ll receive less,
while if you delay you’ll get more - roughly 8 percent
more for each year until age 70.
Lump Sum Options
you are past full retirement age, and have not yet filed
for your benefits, the Social Security Administration
offers a retroactive lump-sum payment that’s worth six
months of benefits.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you were planning to
delay taking your Social Security benefits past age 66,
but you changed your mind at 66 and six months. You
could then claim a lump-sum payment equal to those six
months of benefits. So, for instance, if your full
retirement age benefit were $2,000, you would be
entitled to a $12,000 lump sum payment.
you decided at age 66 and four months that you wanted to
file retroactively, you’d get only four months’ worth of
benefits in your lump sum, because SSA rules prohibit
you from claiming benefits that pre-date your full
Another option that provides even more cash is the “file
and suspend” strategy. Again, this option is only
available to people on (or after) full retirement age.
Here’s how this strategy works. Let’s say you’re 66, and
you decide to delay your benefits. You could file for
your benefit and then immediately suspend it. This gives
you the ability to collect a lump sum going back to the
date you filed. So if you need money at age 69 for
example, and your full retirement age benefit was
$2,000, you could get a three-year lump sum of $72,000.
big downside to these strategies is that once you accept
a lump-sum payment, you’ll lose all the delayed
retirement credits you’ve accrued, and your future
monthly retirement benefit will be reduced to reflect
the amount you already received.
Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say that you
are entitled to a $2,480 monthly benefit at age 69. By
taking a three-year lump sum payment, your future
benefits will shrink back to $2,000 per month, which is
what you would have received at your full retirement
age. This also affects your future survivor benefit to
your spouse or other eligible family members after you
also need to consider Uncle Sam. Depending on your
income, Social Security benefits may be taxable, and a
lump-sum payment could boost the amount of benefits that
are taxed. To help you calculate this, see IRS
Publication 915 “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad
Retirement Benefits” at irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf, or
call 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a copy.
other caveat: If you’re married and you “file and
suspend” your Social Security benefit, you cannot file a
“restricted application” too, which gives you the
ability to collect spousal benefits while delaying your
own retirement benefit past full retirement age.
Easier screening tests for colon cancer
April 9, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any easier alternatives to a
colonoscopy to check for colon cancer? I’m in my 60s and
would like to be tested, but hate the idea of drinking
all that laxative solution, and being sedated for the
It’s a great question. While a
colonoscopy is considered the gold standard screening
test for detecting colon cancer and is widely
recommended once adults reach age 50, only about half of
Americans who’ve passed that milestone ever get tested.
Why? Because most people, like yourself,
dread the all-day laxative prep and sedation, not to
mention the procedure itself. Fortunately, there are
some easier alternatives, but be aware that if these
tests uncover any suspicious results, you’ll still need
to undergo a colonoscopy.
* Take-home tests
There are two different types of tests on
the market today that you can take in the privacy of
your own home that requires no
The best option is the new FDA approved
Cologuard test (see cologuardtest.com), which has a 92
sensitivity rate for detecting colon cancers. With this
test you simply take a sample of a bowel movement, and
mail it in to the lab for analysis. The lab looks for
both blood and cancer-related DNA cells in your stool.
The Cologuard test, which is recommended
every three years, requires a prescription from your
doctor, and costs $599 but is covered by Medicare and
many private insurers.
If, however, you find that the Cologuard
test is not covered by your insurer, and you can’t
afford or don’t want to pay the $599 fee, the other
option is the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or the
fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which detects 74
percent colon cancers.
These tests, which are also provided by
your doctor, check for traces of blood in the stool that
could indicate cancer or large polyps that can develop
into cancer, but they don’t look at the DNA. You simply
send a stool sample to the lab.
Recommended annually, both of these fecal
tests cost only around $25 and are covered by Medicare
and most insurers.
Less invasive tests
Two other tests to consider that are less
invasive then a colonoscopy but more entailed than the
take-home tests are the virtual colonoscopy and the
sigmoidoscopy (both tests are recommended every five
A virtual colonoscopy uses a CT scan to
view your colon instead of a scope in the rectum, so
it’s a less invasive procedure than a traditional
colonoscopy and doesn’t require sedation. But, it still
requires the same bowel-cleansing prep. It’s also more
expensive, typically costing between $400 and $800 and
is not covered by Medicare or most insurers.
A sigmoidoscopy exam, which is covered by
Medicare and most insurers, uses a short, flexible scope
inserted in the rectum like a colonoscopy to look at the
lower colon only. This is a much faster and less
involved procedure than a colonoscopy and one that
doesn’t require sedation. You follow a clear liquid diet
the day before the exam and take a laxative or enema the
Colon cancer, which develops slowly over several years
without causing symptoms especially in the early stages
of the disease, is the second largest cancer killer in
the U.S., killing around 50,000 Americans a year.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force - an independent
panel of medical experts that advises the government on
health policies - recommends colon cancer screening to
all adults, ages 50 to 75. Earlier screenings are
recommended to people who have an increased risk due to
family history or other factors.
Experts believe that as many as 20,000 lives could be
saved each year, if the screening rate went up to 90 or
Handy Aids For Achy Hands
April 2, 2015
What products can you recommend for seniors with hand
arthritis? I really struggle with anything that requires
gripping and turning, which makes most activities
There are literally hundreds of different arthritis aids
and other products on the market today that can help
people with arthritic hands and carpal tunnel syndrome.
find out which devices can best benefit you, a good
place to start is to ask your doctor for a referral to
an occupational therapist, who can test the strength and
functionality of your hands and recommend appropriate
aids. With that said, here’s a rundown of some helpful
products for different needs.
Kitchen aids: Activities like gripping cooking utensils,
cutting and chopping, opening jars and cans, and moving
around heavy pots and pans can make preparing a meal
much more difficult when you have hand arthritis.
products that can help are Oxo Good Grips, which makes
dozens of soft, large-handle cooking, baking and
cleaning utensils that are easier to grip. And for
cutting and chopping the Dexter DuoGlide and Ergo Chef
knives are excellent ergonomically designed options.
opening jars, the wall-mounted or under-counter mounted
Zim Jar Opener is a top manual opener. It has a V-shaped
grip that holds the lid as you twist the jar with both
hands. Some other good options are the Hamilton Beach
Open Ease Automatic Jar Opener, and a nifty tool called
the JarPop that pops the seal on jars so lids can be
opening cans, an electric can opener is the best option.
West Bend and Hamilton Beach make some of the best.
if you’re interested in arthritis-friendly pots and
pans, look for lightweight cookware that has two
handles. These are much easier to lift and move around.
Household helpers: Turning doorknobs, key locks,
twist-handles on kitchen or bathroom faucets, and
twist-on lamp switches can also be difficult. To help,
there are doorknob lever adapters, key turners, lamp
switch enlargers, and lever handles for faucets that
provide leverage for easier turning.
Personal care: Squeezing a shampoo bottle or a tube of
toothpaste, or gripping a bar of soap, a toothbrush
handle or even a piece of dental floss can make grooming
a challenge. Solutions include a wall-mounted soap,
shampoo and toothpaste dispenser, which provides easy
access to suds. And for brushing and flossing, there are
wide-handled, electric toothbrushes and flossers that
vibrate or spin to do the cleaning for you.
Easier dressing: Fastening buttons, pulling zippers and
tying shoelaces can also present problems. To help with
these chores there are buttonhooks and zipper pulls, and
elastic shoelaces, which transform lace-ups into
Reading, writing and computing: Holding and turning the
pages of a book, hand writing and using a computer mouse
can also stress arthritic hands.
readers, an eReader like a Kindle or Nook is recommended
because they’re lightweight and easier to hold than
regular books. For writing, there’s the soft rubber
Pencil Grip that fits on pencils and pens, and
ergonomic-shaped pens like the Pen Again that reduce
hand fatigue. And for easier computing, the 3M Ergonomic
Mouse and Contour Roller Mouse can eliminate hand and
Hobby helpers: There are dozens of arthritis aids for
hobbies too. For example, there are automatic card
shufflers and cardholders for card players. If you like
to paint, knit or crochet, there are ergonomic
paintbrushes, and oversized knitting needles and crochet
hooks that are easier to hold. And for sewing, quilting
or crafting, there are tools like Fiskars self-opening
Easy Action Scissors that spring open for easier
a rundown of additional products and where you can
purchase them, visit my online article at
How divorce can affect your Social Security benefits
March 26, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior: Am I entitled to my
former husband’s Social Security benefits? I was married
for 12 unpleasant years and would like to know what I
may be eligible for.
You’ll be happy to know that for the most
part, Social Security provides divorced spouses benefits
just like they do spouses, if you meet the government’s
requirements. Here’s how it works.
A divorced spouse can collect a Social
Security retirement benefit on the work record of their
ex-husband (or ex-wife) if they are at least age 62,
were married for at least 10 years, are unmarried now,
and are not eligible for a higher benefit based on their
own work record.
In order to collect, however, your former
spouse must also be at least 62 and eligible for Social
Security benefits. But, he doesn’t have to be receiving
them in order for you to collect divorced spouse’s
Even if your ex is remarried, it won’t
affect your right to divorcee benefits, nor will it
affect your ex’s retirement benefits or his current
A divorced spouse can receive up to 50
percent of their ex’s full Social Security benefit, or
less if they take benefits before their full-retirement
age - which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and
1954. To find out your full-retirement age and see how
much your benefits will be reduced by taking them early
Keep in mind though, that if you qualify
for benefits based on your own work history, you’ll
receive the larger of the two benefits. You cannot
receive benefits on both your own record, and your ex’s
work record too.
To find out your retirement benefits
based on your own earnings history, see your Social
Security statement at ssa.gov/myaccount. And to get an
estimate of your divorced spouse benefit, call Social
Security at 800-772-1213. You’ll need you’re ex’s Social
Security number to get it.
Since three-quarters of U.S. divorcees
get married again, it’s also important to understand
that remarrying makes you ineligible for divorced
spouse’s benefits unless the later marriage ends. And,
for those who have been married and divorced twice, with
both marriages lasting more than 10 years, you can
collect using the ex-spouse with the larger Social
You also need to know that if your
ex-spouse dies, and you were married for 10 or more
years, you become eligible for divorced "survivor
benefits," which is worth up to 100 percent of what your
ex-spouse was due.
Survivor’s benefits are available to
divorced spouses as early as age 60 (50 if you’re
disabled). But, if you remarry before 60 you become
ineligible unless the marriage ends. Remarrying after
age 60 will not affect your eligibility.
Also note that if you are receiving
divorced spouses benefits when you ex-spouse dies, you
will automatically be switched over to the higher paying
Being divorced also offers some switching
strategies that can help boost your benefits. For
divorced spouses that worked, there’s an option that
lets you file a “restricted” application with Social
Security (at full retirement age) to collect a divorced
spousal benefit, which is half of what your ex gets.
Then, once you reach 70, you stop receiving the
ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which
will be 32 percent higher than it would have been at
your full retirement age.
Divorced widows (and widowers) have even
more options. If, for example, you are currently
collecting Social Security retirement benefits on your
own record, and your ex-spouse dies, you can switch to
survivor’s benefits if the payment is larger. Or, if
you’re collecting survivor’s benefits, you can switch to
your own retirement benefits - between 62 and 70 - if it
offers a larger payment.
How Medicare covers in-home care
March 17, 2015
How does Medicare cover home health care? Because of my
illness, my doctor suggested I get home health care, but
I want to find out how it’s covered before I proceed.
Need Some Help
Medicare covers a wide variety of intermittent in-home
health care services (usually up to 28 hours per week)
to beneficiaries, if you meet their specific
requirements. Here’s how it works.
order for you to secure coverage for home health care,
Medicare first requires that you be homebound. This
means that it must be extremely difficult for you to
leave your home, and you need help from a device (like a
wheelchair or walker) or a person in doing so.
will then need your doctor to approve a “plan of care”
confirming that you need skilled nursing care or therapy
services from a physical or speech therapist on a
part-time basis. Your doctor can also request the
services of an occupational therapist and a home health
aide to assist with activities of daily living such as
bathing, dressing and using the bathroom. Your doctor
must renew the “plan of care” once every 60 days.
will also need to use a home health agency that is
certified by Medicare.
you meet all of the requirements, Medicare should pay
for your in-home care.
be aware that Medicare will not pay for home health aide
services (such as bathing, dressing or using the
bathroom) alone, if you do not need skilled-nursing or
skilled-therapy services too. Homemaker services, such
as shopping, meal preparation and cleaning are not
also need to know that Medicare has recently changed its
home health care policy regarding degenerative diseases.
It will now pay for in-home physical therapy, nursing
care and other services to beneficiaries with chronic
conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or
Alzheimer’s disease in order to maintain their condition
and prevent deterioration. In the past, Medicare would
only cover home health services if the patient were
expected to make a full recovery.
you have original Medicare, you can locate a
Medicare-certified home health agency by calling
800-633-4227 or by visiting medicare.gov/homehealthcompare.
If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you should
contact your plan directly and ask which home health
agencies work with the plan and are within the plan’s
network of providers.
more detailed information on how Medicare covers in-home
health, see the “Medicare and Home Health Care” online
booklet at medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/10969.pdf.
If you don’t qualify for Medicare coverage, there are
other coverage options depending on your situation,
Insurance: If you happen to have long-term care
insurance, check to see if it covers in-home care. Or if
you have a life insurance policy, see if it can be
utilized to pay for care.
Medicaid: If your income is low enough, all states offer
Medicaid programs that will pay for some forms of
in-home care. To investigate this, contact your local
Veterans assistance: If you’re a veteran, some
communities have a Veteran-Directed Home and Community
Based Service program, which give veterans a flexible
budget to pay for in-home care.
available to wartime veterans and their spouses is a
benefit called “Aid and Attendance” that helps pay for
in-home care, as well as assisted living and nursing
be eligible, you must need assistance with daily living
activities like bathing, dressing or going to the
bathroom. And, your annual income must be under $21,466
- minus medical and long-term care expenses. If you’re a
surviving spouse of a veteran, your income must be below
$13,794 to be eligible. Your assets must also be less
than $80,000 excluding your home and car.
To learn more, see va.gov/geriatrics or call
Simplified smartphone options for tech-shy seniors
March 4, 2014
I’m interested in getting my 72-year-old mother a
smartphone, but want to get one that’s very easy for her
to use. What can you recommend?
There are several different ways you can go about
getting your mom a simplified smartphone that’s easy for
her to use. Depending on how much you’re willing to
spend, here are some different options to consider.
Simplify a used
cheapest way to set your mom up with an easy-to-use,
uncomplicated smartphone is to get her a secondhand
Android phone, and install a senior-friendly “launcher
app” on it, which is a user interface software
type of launcher will turn the appearance and
performance of most android smartphone into a simplified
phone with big understandable icons for commonly used
features (phone, text messaging, camera, contacts, etc.)
and no excess clutter. Most launchers can also be
customized to fit your mom’s needs and preferences.
There are a variety of launcher apps available today
that provide this type of technology and are completely
free to use. Some popular options include Necta Launcher
(launcher.necta.us), Wiser (wiser-me.com), Seniors Phone
(seniorsphone.mobi), Fontrillo (fontrillo.com) and Big
Launcher (biglauncher.com), which also offers an
upgraded version for $9.
if you have an old Apple iPhone that you’d like to
convert, check out Silverline Mobile (silverline.mobi)
that converts both Apple and androids for free.
Purchase a new phone
If you’re interested in purchasing your mom a new
smartphone, you have options here, too. For starters,
you could purchase her a smartphone that’s specifically
designed for seniors, like GreatCall’s Touch3 that costs
$150 (with no contract) at greatcall.com or
800-918-8543. This is an Android phone, made by Samsung,
that has a 4-inch touchscreen and provides a simple menu
list to often-used features like the phone, text
messages, camera, pictures, email and Internet, along
with your contacts and apps.
also offers a variety of health and safety features like
the “5Star app” that would let your mom speak to a
certified agent 24/7 that could identify her location
and get her the help she needs. “Urgent Care,” which
provides access to registered nurses and doctors for
advice and diagnoses. And “MedCoach,” which sends
Another way you could go is to purchase her a
standard/mainstream smartphone that provides a built-in
“Easy Mode” or “Simple” feature in the phone’s settings.
This will let you convert the phone into a much simpler
mode of operation, that provides larger, well-labeled
icons, to only commonly used functions like the phone,
camera, messaging, Internet, pictures, contacts and her
Smartphones that offer the “Easy Mode” or “Simple”
feature include the Samsung Galaxy phones, which are
available through most phone carriers at prices
typically ranging between $400 and $850 without a
contract. Or, for a more budget-friendly option, the
Huawei Vision 2 and Huawei Ascend Mate 2, which you can
buy as an unlocked phone or through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com,
888-345-5509) for $80 or $225 without a contract.
Consumer Cellular is a top-rated no-contract service
provider that also offers discounts to AARP members.
nice advantage of getting your mom a mainstream phone is
that if she masters the Easy/Simple mode (or gets bored
with it), and is ready to expand her skills, you can
always switch the phone back to the standard operation
mode exposing her to more options. You can also add any
number of health and safety features to her phone, like
what the Touch3 offers, by downloading their apps at
How to Protect Yourself from Osteoporosis Bone Fractures
Feb. 24, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can a person in their early 50’s have osteoporosis? When
I fell and broke my wrist last winter the doctor that
treated me told me I might have osteoporosis. What can
you tell me?
While osteoporosis is much more common in older seniors,
it can strike at any age. In fact, the National
Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that half of women and
up to 25 percent of men in the U.S. over the age of 50
will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Here’s what you
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to
become brittle and weak and more susceptible to
fractures. Around 10 million Americans already have
osteoporosis (80 percent are women) while another 43
million have “pre-osteoporosis,” or osteopenia. But the
good news is this disease is both preventable and
people, by the time they reach their late 30’s,
gradually start losing some of their bone mass, but for
women, menopause is the time when this process really
accelerates. Bone loss for men occurs much more slowly.
However, by age 75, osteoporosis is as common in men as
it is in women.
of the key risk factors of developing osteoporosis
include: being over age 50; being female; menopause;
having a family history of the disease; being small and
thin; having an eating disorder; not getting enough
calcium and vitamin D; getting too much protein, sodium
and caffeine; having an inactive lifestyle; smoking;
drinking too much alcohol; taking certain medications
(see nof.org/articles/6 for a list); and having certain
medical conditions (see nof.org/articles/5).
help you determine your risk of osteoporosis, the
National Institutes of Health has a quick, online quiz
you can take at bonecheckup.org.
Prevention and Treatment
good first step in preventing and treating osteoporosis
is to get screened. For women, that should start around
menopause, especially if you’re not taking estrogen, or
anyone who has broken a bone after age 50 or who has
other risk factors.
women over 65 and men over 70 should be tested every two
years - Medicare covers it. Screening for osteoporosis
is a simple, painless, bone density test, which takes
about five minutes.
Here’s what else you can do to protect your bones.
Boost your calcium: The best way to get bone-building
calcium is through your diet. Dairy products (low-fat
milk, cheeses and yogurt), dark green leafy vegetables
(broccoli, kale, collards), sardines and salmon, cooked
dried beans, soy foods, almonds and fortified cereals
and juices are all good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is
also important to help you body absorb calcium.
National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000 mg of
calcium daily for women under age 50 and for men under
70, and 1,200 mg for women 51 and older and for men over
71. Note: Recent studies have found that excess calcium
could increase the risk of heart disease.
also recommend all adults under age 50 get 400 to 800 IU
of vitamin D, or 800 to 1,000 IU if you’re over 50. If
you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or
food, consider taking a supplement. Most daily
multivitamins contain at least 400 IU.
Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, and
strength training with weights or resistant bands three
or four times a week can also significantly improve your
Control these vices: Avoid smoking, limit alcohol to no
more than two or three drinks per day, and limit
caffeine (coffee, tea or caffeinated soda) to three cups
Consider medications: The most widely prescribed for
osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs
designed to slow or stop bone loss. Talk to your doctor
about these and other medication options, as well as
potential side effects.