Is macular degeneration hereditary? My mother lost her
vision from it before she died a few years ago, and now
at age 65, I’m worried I may get it. What can you tell
Having a parent or sibling with macular degeneration
does indeed increase your risk three to four times. But
the good news is there are things you can do to protect
your eyesight, and a number of treatments that are
available if you do happen to get it. Here’s what you
Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular
degeneration (or AMD) is the most common cause of vision
loss in people over age 50, affecting about 10 million
is a progressive eye disease that damages the macula,
the part of the eye that allows us to see objects
clearly, causing vision loss in the center of your
vision. This affects the ability to read, drive, watch
television and do routine daily tasks, but it does not
cause total blindness.
There are two types of AMD - wet and dry. Dry AMD, which
affects about 90 percent of all people that have it,
progresses slowly and painlessly over a period of years.
While wet AMD is much more aggressive and can cause
severe vision loss in a matter of weeks or months.
Factors that can increase your risk of getting AMD
include age (60 and older); smoking; excessive exposure
to sunlight especially if you have light-colored eyes;
certain genetic components; a family history of AMD;
high blood pressure; obesity; and being Caucasian.
anyone over the age of 60, it’s a smart idea to get your
eyes examined by an ophthalmologist every year. They can
spot early signs of AMD before vision loss occurs. Early
signs, however, may include shadowy areas in your
central vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision.
The Amsler grid at amslergrid.org, is a good tool to
check your eyes for AMD.
While there’s currently no cure for AMD there are some
things you can do if you’re high risk. One option is to
talk to your doctor about taking a daily dose of
antioxidant vitamins and minerals known as AREDS -
vitamins C and E, plus copper, lutein, zeaxanthin, and
zinc. Studies by the National Eye Institute have shown
that AREDS can reduce the risk by about 25 percent that
dry AMD will progress.
drug stores sell these eye supplements in tablet or soft
gel form over-the-counter for around $20 to $30, but be
aware that not all eye supplements contain the proper
formulation. Choose either the PreserVision Eye Vitamin
AREDS Formula, PreserVision Eye Vitamin Lutein Formula,
PreserVision AREDS2 Formula, or ICAPS AREDS. These four
options contain the right formula mix.
Other lifestyle adjustments that may help prevent or
delay AMD include eating antioxidant-rich foods such as
dark green, leafy vegetables, and cold-water fish for
their omega-3 fatty acids; protecting your eyes from the
sun by wearing UV protective sunglasses; controlling
high blood pressure; exercising regularly; and if you
Wet AMD Treatments
For wet AMD, there are several effective medications (Lucentis,
Avastin and Eylea) available that can stop vision loss
and may even restore it. These medications are given by
injection into the eye, and repeated every month or two,
that each of these three drugs works equally in treating
wet AMD, but there’s a big cost difference. Avastin
costs just $50 per month, compared with $2,000 for the
other two. So experts recommend Avastin as the first
choice for most people with wet AMD, especially if you
don’t have supplemental Medicare coverage.
How to choose the best place to retire
July 23, 2015
My wife and I will both be retiring in a year or two and
are interested in moving to a smaller house in a better
climate but could use some help. What resources can you
recommend for locating and researching good places to
retire in the U.S.?
Looking To Relocate
If you’re interested in relocating when you retire, like
millions of other baby boomers, there are a wide variety
of free Web-based resources that can help you find and
research a new location that meet your wants, needs and
budget. Here are several to help you get started.
Where to retire?
you aren’t sure where you want to retire, a good place
to begin is by taking a retirement test at sites like
Sperling’s Best Places (bestplaces.net/fybp) or Find
Your Spot (findyourspot.com). These are free quizzes
that ask dozens of questions on your preferences such as
climate, recreation, community size and more, and
suggest possible destinations that best match your
There are also various media sources and websites, like
U.S. News and World Report, Kiplinger’s, Forbes, Money
magazine, Reuters, Bankrate.com, TopRetirements.com, the
Milken Institute and AARP that publish top retirement
location lists you may find helpful too. To find them,
go to any search engine and type in “best places to
retire” along with the name of the media source.
should also consider getting a subscription to “Where to
Retire” magazine (wheretoretire.com, 713-974-6903),
which is designed to help you find ideal retirement
settings. A yearly subscription runs $18 for six issues.
you find a few areas that interest you, your next step
is research them. Here are some important areas you need
Cost of living: Can you afford to live comfortably in
the location you want to retire to? BestPlaces.net and
Numbeo.com offer tools to compare the cost of living
from your current location to where you would like to
move. They compare housing costs, food, utilities,
transportation and more.
Taxes: Some states are more tax friendly to retirees
than others. If you’re planning to move to another
state, Kiplinger’s has a tax guide for retirees at
Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and
compare taxes state-by-state. It covers income taxes,
sales tax, taxes on retirement income, Social Security
benefits taxes, property taxes, and inheritance and
Crime rate: To evaluate how safe a community or area is,
NeighborhoodScout.com is a top tool that provides
property and violent crime rates, and crimes per square
Health care: Does the area you want to relocate to have
easy access to good healthcare? To locate and research
hospitals in a new area, use HospitalCompare.hhs.gov and
QualityCheck.org. To search for new doctors that accept
your insurance, contact your plan, or, if you’re 65 or
older use Medicare.gov/physiciancompare. It’s also
important to know that healthcare costs can vary by
region, so you should contact your insurer to check out
possible cost variables.
Transportation: If you plan to travel much, or expect
frequent visits from your kids or grandkids, convenient
access to an airport or train station is a nice
advantage. You should also investigate alternative
transportation options, since most retirees give up
driving in there eighties. To do this contact Rides in
Sight (ridesinsight.org, 855-607-4337), a free
transportation referral service, and the Area Aging
Agency - call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to
get the local number.
To learn more about specific communities across the
U.S., AARP’s new livability index (livabilityindex.aarp.org)
along with Epodunk.com and GangsAway.com are three
excellent resources, as well as the city’s chamber of
commerce office. To locate it, go to any search engine
and type in the name of the city and state followed by
“chamber of commerce.”
When and how Social Security checks are delivered
July 23, 2015
I plan to apply for my Social Security benefits in
September. When can I expect my first check? And, is
direct deposit my only option for receiving my monthly
Generally, Social Security retirement benefits (as well
as disability and survivor benefits) are paid in the
month after the month they are due. So, if you apply for
your Social Security benefits in September, you will
receive your September benefits in October.
day of the month you receive your benefit payment,
however, will depend on either your birthdate, or the
birthdate of the person whose work record you’re
receiving benefits on.
you’re applying for benefits as a retired worker, your
benefit payment day will be determined by your own
birthdate. But if you’re applying for spousal or
survivors benefits based on your spouse’s or (if you
were married at least 10 years) ex-spouse’s work record,
your benefit payment date will be determined by his or
her birthdate. Here’s the schedule of when you can
expect to receive your monthly check:
* Birthdate is 1st through 10th of month:
Payment day is second Wednesday of each month.
* Birthdate is 11th through 20th of month:
Payment day is third Wednesday of each month.
* Birthdate is after the 20th of the month:
Payment day is fourth Wednesday of each month.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this schedule.
For example, if the day your Social Security check is
supposed to be deposited happens to be a holiday, your
check will be deposited the previous day. And, if you
are receiving both Social Security benefits and SSI
payments, your Social Security check will be deposited
on the third day of the month.
should also know that Social Security beneficiaries who
started receiving benefits before 1997, their Social
Security checks are paid on the third day of the month.
To get a complete schedule of 2015 payment dates, visit
There are two ways you can receive your Social Security
benefits today. Most beneficiaries choose direct deposit
into their bank or credit union account because it’s
simple, safe and secure. But, if you don’t like this
option or if you don’t have a bank account that your
payments can be deposited into, you can get a Direct
Express Debit MasterCard and have your benefits
deposited into your card’s account.
card can then be used to get cash from ATMs, banks or
credit union tellers, pay bills online and over the
phone, make purchases at stores or locations that accept
Debit MasterCard and get cash back when you make those
purchases, and purchase money orders at the U.S. Post
Office. The money you spend or withdraw is automatically
deducted from your account. And you can check your
balance any time by phone, online or at ATMs.
There’s also no cost to sign up for the card, no monthly
fees and no overdraft charges. There are, however, a few
small fees for optional services you need to be aware
of, like multiple ATM withdrawals. Currently,
cardholders get one free ATM withdrawal per month, but
additional monthly withdrawals cost 85 cents each not
including a surcharge if you use a non-network ATM. To
learn more about the Direct Express Debit MasterCard,
visit usdirectexpress.com or call 800-333-1795.
Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
July 10, 2015
Can you recommend some basic simplified cellphones for
seniors with hearing loss? My 82-year-old father needs
to get a new cellphone for occasional calls or
emergencies, but he needs something that’s easy to use
and one that he can hear on.
There are several simplified cellphones on the market
today that are specifically designed for seniors -
including those with hearing loss. These are basic
cellphones that come with big buttons, easy to navigate
menus, SOS emergency buttons, enhanced sound and are
hearing aid compatible too. Here are some top options.
your dad isn’t locked into a cellphone contract, there
are three senior-friendly options to consider, all from
no-contract cellphone companies.
of best is GreatCall’s Jitterbug5 (greatcall.com,
800-918-8543). This custom designed Samsung flip-phone
offers a backlit keypad with big buttons, large text on
a brightly colored screen, and “YES” and “NO” buttons to
access the phone’s menu of options versus confusing
also offers voice dialing, a powerful speakerphone, a
built-in camera, and a variety of optional health and
safety features like the “5Star” medical alert button
that would let your dad call for help and speak to a
certified agent 24/7 that could identify his location
and dispatch help as needed. “Urgent Care,” which
provides access to registered nurses and doctors for
advice and diagnoses. And “GreatCall Link,” which keeps
family members informed through your dad’s phone
Jitterbug5 sells for $99 with a one-time $35 activation
fee, no-contract, and calling plans that start at $15
you’re looking for something a little less expensive,
the Doro PhoneEasy 626 sold through Consumer Cellular (consumercellular.com,
888-345-5509) is an excellent option.
flip phone offers a backlit, separated keypad that can
speak the numbers as you push them, which is a nice
feature for seniors with vision problems. It also has a
big easy to read color display screen that offers large
text with different color themes.
Other handy features include two speed dial buttons,
shortcut buttons to texting and the camera, a powerful
two-way speakerphone, and a ICE (in case of emergency)
button on the back of the phone that will automatically
dial one preprogramed number.
Doro 626 sells for $50 with service plans starting at
$10 per month, and no long-term contract. They even
offer discounts to AARP members.
Another budget-friendly cellphone you should look into
is the Snapfon ezTWO for seniors (snapfon.com,
800-937-1532), which costs under $20, with a $35
activation fee, no-contract, and monthly service plans
that start at $10. If you don’t want the Snapfon service
plan (you can go through AT&T or T-Mobile), the phone is
is a bar-style phone that provides big buttons, a color
screen, enhanced volume with a speaker phone, a speaking
keypad, and an SOS emergency alert button on the back of
the phone that can sound an alert when pushed and held
down for five seconds. It then sends a text message to
as many as five emergency contacts and calls those
contacts in order until the call is answered. Or, for an
additional $15 per month you can subscribe to their SOS
monitoring service that will dispatch help as needed.
Shared plan options
If you want to get your dad a simple cellphone through
your cellphone provider, most carriers - like AT&T,
Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile - still offer a few basic
cellphones that are inexpensive and hearing aid
you’re an AT&T customer the option is the “LG A380.” For
Verizon users, there’s the “Samsung Gusto 3” and “LG
Revere 3.” If you’re a Sprint customer there’s the
“Kyocera Kona” and “Alcatel OneTouch Retro.” And for
T-Mobile users there’s the “LG 450.”
How seniors can tame pet care costs
July 2, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend to help senior pet owners
with their veterinary bills? I have two cats and a dog
that are family to me, but their vet bills have become
high cost of veterinary care has become a problem for
millions of pet owners today, but it can be especially
difficult for seniors living on a fixed income. Routine
medical care can cost hundreds of dollars, while
urgent/specialized treatments and procedures can run
into the thousands. But, it is possible to reduce your
pet care costs without sacrificing their health. Here
are some tips that can help you save.
around: If you’re not attached to a particular
veterinarian, call some different vet clinics in your
area and compare costs. When you call, get price quotes
on basic services like annual exams and vaccinations, as
well as bigger-ticket items, like to repair a broken
leg, so you can compare. Also, check to see if you live
near a veterinary medical school (see aavmc.org for a
listing). Many schools provide low-cost care provided by
students who are overseen by their professors.
your vet for help: To help make your vet bills more
manageable, see if your vet’s office accepts monthly
payments so you don’t have to pay the entire cost up
front. Also, find out if your vet offers discounts to
senior citizens or reduces fees for annual checkups if
you bring in multiple pets.
Search for low-cost care: Many municipal and nonprofit
animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and
neutering programs and vaccinations, and some work with
local vets who are willing to provide care at reduced
prices for low-income and senior pet owners. Call your
local shelter or humane society to find out what’s
available in your area.
for financial assistance: There are a number of state
and national organizations that provide financial
assistance to pet owners in need. To locate these
programs, the U.S. Humane Society provides a listing on
their website that you can access at humanesociety.org/petfinancialaid.
cheaper medicine: Medicine purchased at the vet’s office
is usually much more expensive than you can get from a
regular pharmacy or online. Instead, get a prescription
from your vet (ask for generic is possible) so you can
shop for the best price.
pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Kmart, Rite
Aid and Target fill prescriptions for pets
inexpensively, so long as that same drug is also
prescribed to humans. And, many pharmacies offer pet
discount savings programs too.
can also save by shopping online at one of the
Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites
accredited by the National Association of Boards of
Pharmacy, like 1-800-PetMeds (1800petmeds.com), Drs.
Foster & Smith (drsfostersmith.com), KV Supply (kvsupply.com),
and PetCareRx (petcarerx.com).
Consider pet insurance: If you can afford it, pet
insurance is another option worth looking into. You can
get a basic policy for under $10 per month, and some
insurers provide discounts for insuring multiple pets.
See petinsurancereview.com to compare policies.
Membership discount plans like Pet Assure (petassure.com)
are another way to save, but you’ll need to use a vet in
Look for other ways to save: In addition to cutting your
veterinary bills, you can also save on pet food and
other supplies depending on where you shop. Target,
Walmart, Costco and the dollar stores typically offer
much lower prices than supermarkets and specialty
retailers like Petco and PetSmart. You can also save on
treats and toys at sites like coupaw.com and
Helping seniors learn new technology
June 24, 2015
What teaching resources can you recommend to help
seniors learn how to use computers, tablets and
smartphone devices? At age 72, I am interested in
joining the technology revolution so I can keep up with
my kids and grandkids a little better, but I need help.
There are lots of different technology teaching tools
available to boomers and seniors today, but what’s
available to you will depend on where you live. Here are
some different places and to look for help.
Classes and Workshops
There are many communities that offer beginning computer
and personal technology classes 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 - call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to
get your local number. If you can’t find any local
programs that meet your needs, here are some national
resources that offer technology training in select
SeniorNet: This organization offers a variety of basic
online computer courses as well as instructor-led
workshops at 36 learning centers throughout the United
States. A first year membership fee of $43 is required.
See SeniorNet.org or call 239-275-2202 for more
Oasis Connections: Provides primarily free computer,
Internet and mobile technology classes in 30 U.S.
cities. They partner with local libraries, job help
centers, senior centers and faith-based organizations
where these classes are offered. OasisNet.org/connections,
314-862-2933 ext. 272.
Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs): Usually affiliated
with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array
of noncredit courses to retirees, and some may offer
technology courses. To find an LLI that offers
computer/technology classes, contact your closest
colleges or search the websites of the two organizations
that support and facilitate them - Osher (osher.net) and
Elderhostel (roadscholar.org/ein/intro.asp). Together
they support around 500 LLI programs nationwide.
TEK Workshops: Available to everyone, TEK workshops are
free technology learning events on tablets or
smartphones and are offered in various cities throughout
the U.S. AARPTEK.org, 202-434-3021.
Older Adults Technology Services (OATS): If you live in
New York City, OATS provides free tech training to
seniors in 70 locations throughout the city. OATS.org,
There are also a wide variety of books you can purchase
that can help you learn how to use different types of
technologies. Visual Steps (visualsteps.com), for
example, offers a number of practical and accessible
computer handbooks, software user guides and other
instructional materials that are tailored specifically
for seniors, as does the “For Dummies” books (dummies.com),
which you can buy in book stores nationwide or online at
sites like Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
If you already have a computer and some computer and/or
Internet skills, but would like to expand your
knowledge, there are a number of online services you can
turn to that offer a wide variety of self-paced
technology lessons and instructional videos.
good ones to checkout include GCFLearnFree.org, which is
supported by the Goodwill Community Foundation and is
completely free to use. And MyPCSchool.com, which is
privately owned and offers nearly 700 lessons for $39
for three months or $79 for one year.
check out TechBoomers.com, a free educational website
that teaches seniors with basic computer skills about
frequently used websites, and Geekatoo.com, which offers
tech support house calls in all 50 states, and offers
two-hour tutorial instruction for $79.
Choosing a Home Blood Pressure Monitor
June 18, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer me any tips on choosing a home blood
pressure monitor? I just found out I have high blood
pressure, and my doctor told me I need a monitor for the
house so I can keep an eye on it.
Almost everyone with high blood pressure or
prehypertension should have a home blood pressure
monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your
blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you’re
taking medication it will make certain it’s working, and
alert you to a health problem if it arises. Here are
some tips to help you choose a good monitor.
two most popular types of home blood pressure monitors
on the market today are (electric and/or battery
powered) automatic arm monitors, and automatic wrist
an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff
around your bicep and with the push of one button the
cuff inflates and deflates automatically giving you your
blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter
Wrist monitors work similarly, except they attach to the
wrist. Wrist monitors are also smaller in size and a bit
more comfortable to use than the arm monitors, but they
tend to be a little less accurate.
help you choose the best monitor for you, here are
several things you need to check into:
* Fit: Using a cuff that’s the wrong size can
result in a bad reading. Most arm models have two sizes
or an adjustable cuff that fits most people. Make sure
your choice fits the circumference of your upper arm.
* Accuracy: Check the packaging to make sure
the monitor has been independently tested and validated
for accuracy and reliability. You can see a list of
validated monitors at dableducational.org.
* Ease of use: Be sure the display on the
monitor is easy to read and understand, and that the
buttons are big enough. The directions for applying the
cuff and operating the monitor should be clear.
* Extra features: Many monitors come with
additional features such as irregular heartbeat
detection that checks for arrhythmias and other
abnormalities; a risk category indicator that tells you
whether your blood pressure is in the high range; a
data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple
readings and get an overall average; multiple user
memory that allows two or more users to save previous
readings; and computer connections so you can download
the data to your computer.
* Portability: If you plan to take your
monitor with you while traveling, look for one with a
Where to Shop
You can find blood pressure monitors at pharmacies,
medical supply stores or online, and you don’t need a
prescription to buy one.
price will typically range anywhere from $30 to $120 or
more. Unfortunately, original Medicare does not pay for
home blood pressure monitors unless you’re receiving
dialysis at home. But if you have a Medicare Advantage
plan or a private health insurance policy it’s worth
checking into, because some plans may provide coverage.
of the best arm monitors as recently recommended by
Consumer Reports include the Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic
BP3AR1-4DRITE; iHealth Dock BP3 (requires an Apple iOS
device); Omron 10 Series BP786; A&D Medical UA767F; and
the ReliOn BP200. And the top recommended wrist monitor
is the Omron 7 Series BP652.
After you buy a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to
your doctor’s office so they can check its accuracy and
teach you the proper techniques of how and when to use
more information on how to measure your blood pressure
accurately at home, see the American Heart Association
Blood Pressure Monitoring tutorial page at
How to compare and locate senior housing options
June 11, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
you go over the different types of housing options
available to seniors, and recommend some good resources
for locating and choosing one? I need to find a place
for my elderly mother, and could use some help.
There’s a wide array of housing options available to
seniors, but what’s appropriate for your mom will depend
on her needs and financial situation. Here’s a rundown
of the different levels of senior housing and some
resources to help you search.
Independent living: If your mom is in relatively good
health and is self-sufficient, “independent living
communities” are a good place to start. Typically
available to people over age 55, this type of senior
housing is usually apartments or town homes that are
fully functional. In addition, many of these communities
also offer amenities such as meals served in a common
dining area, housekeeping, transportation and a variety
of social activities.
locate this type of housing, contact your Area Agency on
Aging (call 800-677-1116 to get your local number), or
use online services like newlifestyles.com and
caring.com. Most of these communities are private-pay
only, and run anywhere from $1,000 to over $4,000 per
that’s too expensive, another option is “senior
apartments,” which are often subsidized by HUD for lower
income seniors. You can locate these through your local
housing authority or online at hud.gov - click on “Find
Assisted living: If your mom needs some help with daily
living activities, an “assisted living facility” is
another option. These facilities provide personal care
(like bathing, dressing, eating, going to the bathroom)
as needed, as well as meals, housekeeping,
transportation, social activities and medication
management. Many facilities also offer special care
units for residents with dementia. Costs typically run
between $2,000 to $5,000 or more per month. Most
resident’s pay for assisted living from personal funds,
and some have long-term care insurance policies. But,
some states now have voucher plans that let you use
Another similar, but less expensive option to look into
is “board and care homes.” These offer many of the same
services as assisted living facilities but in a much
smaller home setting.
Area Aging Agency is again a good resource for finding
these facilities, as are the previously listed senior
housing locater websites. And for help choosing a
facility, the Assisted Living Federation of America
offers an excellent guide at alfa.org/checklist.
Nursing homes: If your mom needs ongoing medical and
personal care, a “nursing home,” which provides 24-hour
skilled nursing care, is the next option. To find a good
one, use Medicare’s nursing home compare tool at
medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare. But be aware that
nursing home care is very expensive, costing anywhere
between $4,500 and $11,000 per month depending on
location. Most residents pay from either personal funds,
a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid
after their savings are depleted.
Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRC’s): If your
mom has the financial resources, a “CCRC” is another
excellent option that provides all levels of housing
(independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing
home care) in one convenient location. But, these
communities typically require a hefty entrance fee that
can range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing
monthly service fees that vary from around $1,000 to
over $5,000. For more information see carf.org/aging.
Consider hiring an aging life care expert (aginglifecare.org)
who can evaluate your mom’s situation, and find
appropriate housing for a fee - usually between $300 and
$800. Or, you can use a senior-care advising service
like A Place for Mom (aplaceformom.com, 866-344-8005)
for free. (They get paid from the senior living
facilities in their network.)
other helpful resources include the National
Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information (longtermcare.gov),
and your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (shiptalk.org),
which provides free counseling.
Home Improvement Assistance Programs for Seniors
June 4, 2015
Do you know of any financial assistance programs or
other resources that can help seniors with home
improvement projects? I would like to help my
86-year-old father make a few modifications to his house
so he can live there as long as possible, but money is
There are actually a number of programs available that
can help seniors with home repairs and improvement
projects for aging-in-place, but what’s available to
your dad will depend on his financial situation and
where he lives. Here are some different options to
Medicaid waivers: If your dad is low-income and eligible
for Medicaid, most states have Medicaid Home and
Community Based Services waivers that provide financial
assistance to help seniors avoid nursing homes and
remain living at home. Many of the waivers pay for home
modifications to increase a person’s ability to live
independently. Each state has different waivers with
different eligibility requirements and benefits. Contact
your Medicaid office (see medicaid.gov) for more
State and local programs: Some states and local
governments have financial assistance programs, often
called “nursing home diversion programs” or “deferred
payment loans” that are not funded by Medicaid. These
programs, which may include grants or loans or a
combination, helps pay for modifications that enable low
to moderate income elderly and disabled to remain living
at home. Modifications covered typically include
accessibility improvements like wheelchair ramps,
handrails and grab bars. And some may be used for home
improvements like roofing, heating and cooling,
insulation, weather-stripping and storm windows.
find out if there’s a program in your dad’s area,
contact the city or county housing authority, the local
Area Aging Agency (call 800-677-1116 for contact
information) or the state housing finance agency - see
Federal programs: The Department of Housing and Urban
Development offers HUD Home Improvement Loans, which are
HUD insured loans made by private lenders for home
improvement and building projects. Contact a HUD
approved counseling agency in your area (call
800-569-4287) to learn more.
the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Rural
Development program that provides grants and loans to
low-income, elderly or disabled, rural homeowners for
home repairs and improvements. Your local USDA service
center (see offices.sc.egov.usda.gov) can give you more
Veteran benefits: If your dad is a veteran with a
disability, the VA provides grants like the SAH, SHA and
HISA grants that will pay for home modifications. See
for details and eligibility requirements.
Another possibility that’s available to veterans
enrolled in the Medical Benefits Package is
Veterans-Directed Home and Community Based Services.
This program provides veterans who need help with daily
living activities with financial assistance to help them
remain living in their homes, and provides them with a
certain amount of discretion to use those funds. To
learn more see va.gov/geriatrics, or call 800-827-1000.
Nonprofit organizations: Depending on where your dad
lives, he may also be able to get home repair and
modification services through the national, non-profit
organization Rebuilding Together (rebuildingtogether.org,
800-473-4229). They provide services to low-income
seniors, veterans and military families, families with
children, people living with disabilities and victims of
should also check with the Area Aging Agency to see if
any other local organizations that offer volunteer home
modification help to low-income seniors.
Reverse mortgages: Available to seniors 62 and older who
own their own home, or owe only a small balance, and are
currently living there, a reverse mortgage (see
reversemortgage.org) will let your dad convert part of
the equity in his home into cash - which can be used for
home improvements - that doesn’t have to be paid back as
long as he lives there. But, reverse mortgages are
expensive loans, so this should be a last resort.
How to find and choose a new doctor
May 28, 2015
What resources can you recommend to help me find and
research some doctors in my area? I’m looking for a good
primary care doctor or internist for my elderly parents,
and need to locate a good orthopedic doctor for me.
Shopping for Doctors
Thanks to the Internet, finding and researching doctors
is a lot easier than it use to be. Today, there’s a wide
variety of websites you can turn to that provide
databases of U.S. doctors, their professional medical
histories, and ratings and reviews from past patients on
a number of criteria. Here are some of the best sites
available, along with a few additional tips that can
help you find the right doctors:
- Locating Tips
To help you locate some doctors in your area, a good
first step, and one that doesn’t require a computer, is
to ask for a referral. Contact some other doctors,
nurses, or health care professionals that you know, for
some names of doctors or practices that they like and
should also call your insurance provider, or visit their
website directory to get a list of potential candidates.
If you or your parents are Medicare beneficiaries, you
can use the Physician Compare tool at medicare.gov/physiciancompare.
This will let you find doctors by name, medical
specialty or by geographic location that accept original
Medicare. You can also get this information by calling
Medicare at 800-633-4227.
you find a few doctors, you need to call their office to
verify that they still accept your insurance, and if
they are accepting new patients.
- Research Tools
After you find a few doctors you’re interested in, there
are lots of online resources you can turn to, to help
you check up on them.
example, you can find out if a doctor is board certified
at the American Board of Medical Specialties at
certificationmatters.org or call 866-275-2267. And to
learn about malpractice claims and disciplinary actions
taken against doctors, you can use your state medical
board - see fsmb.org/state-medical-boards/contacts to
search your state.
some other good websites that can help you find and/or
research doctors in your area for free:
* Healthgrades.com: This comprehensive
easy-to-use site provides doctor’s information on
education and training, hospital affiliations, board
certification, awards and recognitions, professional
misconduct, disciplinary action and malpractice records,
office locations and insurance plans. It also offers a
5-star ratings scale from past patients on a number of
issues like communication and listening skills, wait
time, time spent with the patient, office friendliness
* Vitals.com: Provides background information
on doctor’s awards, expertise, hospital affiliations,
and insurance as well as patient ratings on measures
such as bedside manner, follow-up, promptness, accuracy
of diagnosis, and average wait time. There’s also a
patient comment section.
* RateMDs.com: Provides information on
training as well as patient ratings on staff,
punctuality, helpfulness and knowledge. Patients can
also post questions and answers about doctors, and get
doctor’s ratings based on patient reviews.
* Look Up Tool: If you want to find out how
many times a doctor did a particular service and what
they charge for it, go to data.cms.gov and click on
“Medicare Physician and Other Supplier Look-up Tool” at
the top of the page.
* AngiesList.com: If you don’t mind spending a
little money ($20/per year), Angie’s List is a
membership service that provides doctor reviews using an
A through F scale.
reaching a doctor, it’s wise to check out several of
these sites so you can get a bigger sampling and a
better feel of how previous patients are rating a
How to recognize stroke symptoms and what to do
May 21, 2015
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.