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.
You Need To File A Tax Return in 2015?
Feb. 18, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for
retirees this tax season? I didn't have to file last
year, but I picked up a little income from a part-time
job in 2014, and I'm wondering I need to file this year.
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income
tax return this year will depend on how much you earned
(gross income) - and the source of that income - as well
as your filing status and your age. Your gross income
includes all the income you receive that is not exempt
from tax, not counting your Social Security benefits,
unless you are married and filing separately
Here's a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this
tax season. If your 2014 gross income was below the
threshold for your age and filing status, you probably
won't have to file. But if it's over, you will.
Single: $10,150 ($11,700 if you're 65 or older by Jan.
Married filing jointly: $20,300 ($21,500 if you or your
spouse is 65 or older; or $22,700 if you're both over
Married filing separately: $3,950 at any age.
Head of household: $13,050 ($14,600 if age 65 or older).
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,350
($17,550 if age 65 or older).
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 “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication
554), or see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.
There are, however, some other financial situations that
will require you to file a tax return, even if your
gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For
example, if you had earnings from self-employment in
2014 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to
the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax
penalties, you'll probably need to file.
figure this out, the IRS offers a 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.
can access this page at irs.gov/filing - click on “Do
you need to file a return?” Or, you can get assistance
over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at
800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a
Taxpayer Assistance Center. See irs.gov/localcontacts or
call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.
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 and local tax agencies see
taxadmin.org - click on “State Agencies/Links” on the
you find that you do need to file a tax return this
year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for
the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC
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
locate a service near you.
check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that
provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites
nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call
888-227-7669 or visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp. You don't
have to be an AARP member to use this service.
Who should buy long-term care insurance?
Feb. 10, 2015
Q: Is there a good rule of thumb on who should buy a
long-term care insurance policy? My wife and I have a
few assets we’d like to protect but we hate the idea of
paying expensive monthly premiums for a policy we may
There are two key factors - your financial situation and
health history - you need to mull over that can help you
decide if buying a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy
is a wise decision for you and/or your wife. Currently,
only around 8 million Americans own a policy. Here’s
what you should know.
the cost of LTC (which includes nursing home, assisted
living and in-home care) continues to skyrocket, 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 over
$87,000 per year, while assisted living averages
While national statistics show that about 70 percent of
Americans 65 and older will need some kind of LTC, most
people do not need to purchase a LTC insurance policy.
fact, according to a recent study at the Boston College
Center for Retirement Research only 19 percent of men
and 31 percent of women should actually get one.
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.
who should consider buying a policy?
insurance policies make the most sense for people who
can afford the monthly premiums, and who have assets of
at least $150,000 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? The U.S. Surgeon
General offers a free tool at familyhistory.hhs.gov to
help you collect, organize and evaluate your genetic
also need to factor in gender too. Because women live
and average of 5 years longer than men, they are at
greater risk of needing extended LTC.
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 $1,200 and $8,000 per year for a
couple) depending on your age, the insurer, and the
policy’s provisions. To help you find a policy, get a
long-term care insurance specialist who works with a
variety of companies. See aaltci.org to locate one. Also
shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York
Life, who work only with their own agents.
you want to save money, find out if your state offers a
LTC partnership program (see aaltci.org/partnership).
Under these programs, if you buy a long-term care policy
approved by your state Medicaid agency, you can protect
an amount of assets from Medicaid equal to the benefits
that your policy pays out.
How to make your bathroom safer
Feb. 3, 2014
Q: What tips do you recommend for making a bathroom
safer and more functional for seniors. My 79-year-old
mother slipped and fell getting out of the shower last
month, and I’d like to modify her bathroom a bit with
some safety features that can help protect her.
more accidents and injuries happen in the bathroom than
any other room in the house, this is a very important
room to modify for aging in place. Depending on your
mom’s needs, here are some tips for each part of the
bathroom that can make it safer and easier to use.
Flooring: 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.
Lighting: 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.
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.
your mom has mobility issues or balance problems, get
her a shower or bathtub seat so she can bathe from a
seated position. In addition, you may also want to get a
handheld, adjustable-height showerhead installed that
will make washing while sitting down easier.
Another, pricier option is to install a walk-in-bathtub
or a prefabricated curbless shower. Walk-in tubs have a
door in front that provides a much lower threshold to
step over than a standard tub. They also typically have
a built-in seat, handrails and a slip resistant bottom,
and some have therapeutic spa features with whirlpool
water jets and/or bubble massage air jets.
Curbless showers have no threshold to step over, and
typically come with a built-in seat, grab bars, slip
resistant floors and an adjustable handheld showerhead.
Prefabricated curbless showers and walk-in-tubs
typically cost anywhere between $2,500 and $10,000
Toilet: Most toilets are about 14 to 16 inches high
which can be an issue for many people with arthritis,
back, hip or knee problems. To raise the toilet height,
which can make sitting down and getting back up a little
easier, you can 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 an ADA compliant toilet that ranges
between 17 and 19 inches high.
Faucets: If your mom has twist handles on the sink,
bathtub or shower faucets, replace them with lever
handle faucets. They’re easier to operate, especially
for seniors with arthritis or limited hand strength.
Also note that it only takes 130-degree water to scald
someone, so turn her hot water heater down to 120
Entrance: If your mom needs a wider bathroom entrance to
accommodate a walker or wheelchair, install some “swing
clear” offset hinges on the door which will widen the
doorway an additional two inches.
Emergency assistance: As a safety precaution, purchase a
waterproof phone for the bathroom or get a medical alert
device (SOS emergency call button) that your mom could
wear in case she falls and needs to call for help.
can find all of the products suggested in this column at
either medical supply stores, pharmacies, big-box
stores, home improvement stores, hardware and plumbing
supply stores as well as online.
How to take care of your kidneys
Jan. 27, 2015
Q: What can you tell me about kidney disease? My mother
died from kidney failure a few years ago at age 76, and
I’m curious what my risks are and what I can do to
Anyone who has a family history of kidney disease, or
who has high blood pressure or diabetes is at risk and
needs to have their kidneys tested. Here’s what you
should know and some tips to help you take care of your
More than 26 million Americans currently have chronic
kidney disease (when the kidneys can’t properly do their
job of cleaning toxins and wastes from the blood), and
millions more are at risk of developing it, yet most
people don’t realize it. That’s because kidney disease
develops very slowly over many years before any symptoms
arise. But left untreated, the disease can eventually
require people to spend hours hooked up to a dialysis
machine or get a kidney transplant. Even mild kidney
problems can double a person’s risk of heart attack and
stroke, as well as cause anemia and bone disease.
reason kidney disease has become so widespread today is
because of the rise of obesity, type-2 diabetes and high
blood pressure which all strain the kidneys.
Another factor is the increasing number of people who
take multiple medications, which can overtax the organs.
People over age 60 are especially vulnerable both
because they tend to take more drugs, and because kidney
function normally declines somewhat with age.
help you rate your risk of kidney disease, the National
Kidney Foundation has a quick, online quiz you can take
Because kidney disease has no early symptoms, the only
way to catch it before it advances is to have a simple
blood and urine test by your doctor. So, if you have
diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, a family
history of kidney disease, or are age 60 or older you
need to get tested. African, Hispanic, Asian and Indian
Americans along with Pacific Islanders are also at
you’re diagnosed with kidney disease you need to know
that there’s no cure, but there are steps you can take
to help contain the damage, including:
Control your blood pressure: If you have high blood
pressure, get it under 130/80. If you need medication to
do it, ACE inhibitors and ARBs are good choices because
of their proven ability to protect the kidneys.
Control your diabetes: If you have diabetes, keep your
blood sugar as close to normal as possible.
Change your diet: This usually means reducing the amount
of protein and phosphorus you eat, and cutting back on
sodium and possibly potassium. Your doctor can help you
determine an appropriate eating plan, or you may want to
talk to a dietitian. Also see myfoodcoach.kidney.org
where you’ll find lots of kidney friendly recipes and
Watch your meds: Dozens of commonly used drugs can
damage the kidneys, especially when taken in high doses
over long periods - most notably NSAIDs like ibuprofen
(Advil, Motrin and generic) and naproxen (Aleve,
Naprosyn and generic). Herbal supplements can also be
very dangerous. Talk to your doctor about all the
prescription, over-the-counter and herbal products you
take to identify potential problems and find
Exercise and lose weight: If you’re overweight and
inactive, start an aerobic fitness routine (walk, swim,
cycle, etc.) that gets your heart pumping. This will
help lower your blood pressure, control diabetes and
help you lose excess weight all of which will help your
smoking: If you smoke, quit. Heart disease becomes a
much greater risk to the kidneys if your smoke. Smoking
also doubles the rate of progression to end-stage renal