Subtle Brain Change May Cause Increased Gullibility

A 75-year-old retired professor still regularly delivered guest lectures at universities around the country. “Dad is still so sharp,” his adult children often said. And yet, his family learned that he had fallen victim to an investment scam that cost him thousands of dollars.

It has long been known that seniors are at higher risk of being defrauded. People with memory loss and other cognitive impairment are targeted by crooks who know they may be an “easy mark.” And yet many seniors who are seemingly cognitively intact also make poor decisions that surprise their families.

A recent study by University of Iowa researchers suggests a reason that some older adults become more gullible. The research, published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, showed that many seniors experience deterioration of an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which controls belief and doubt. The study authors report: “This specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent…patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes.”

Study author Daniel Tranel encourages families to be protective of older relatives—but also to be understanding. “Instead of saying ‘How would you do something silly and transparently stupid,’ people may have a better appreciation of the fact that older people have lost the biological mechanism that allows them to see the disadvantageous nature of their decisions.”

To read more about the study, visit the University of Iowa website.

© IlluminAge AgeWise 2012

Too Old to Exercise?

In October, researchers from the University of California Irvine showed that being in poor physical condition raises the risk of dementia in people over age 90. They found that seniors who have trouble walking, standing and balancing are more likely to develop dementia. The study authors speculated, however, that the risk might be reversible.

Gerontologists are learning more and more about the way overall physical health influences brain health. They tell us that lifelong fitness increases the likelihood that we will remain cognitively healthy into our later years. But what about seniors who have not been particularly active? Does it do any good to begin an exercise program when you are 65? 75? 85? Older?

Universite de Montreal researchers say “yes.” Their geriatrics institute conducted a study of seniors who were aged 61 through 89. Half the participants took part in an exercise program over the course of three months; the other half did not. The results, which were published in the Journals of Gerontology, showed that the senior group who exercised “showed larger improvement in physical capacity (functional capacities and physical endurance), cognitive performance (executive functions, processing speed and working memory) and quality of life (overall quality of life, recreational activities, social and family relationships and physical health).”

Significantly, the benefits were equal no matter what the person’s physical condition. Even frail elders benefited from increased exercise. Lead researcher Dr. Louis Bherer stated, [pullquote]“My team was able to demonstrate that sedentary and frail senior citizens can benefit from major improvements not only in terms of physical function but also brain function, such as memory, and quality of life.” [/pullquote]His team will use these findings to promote an exercise program for seniors that will help both healthy and frail seniors stay at home longer.

Would you like to learn more about finding an exercise program tailored to your needs or those of a senior loved one? The National Institute on Aging’s online Go4Life program (http://go4life.nia.nih.gov) is a great place to start. According to Go4Life experts, only 25 percent of seniors engage in regular physical activity, and the percentage decreases with age. Go4Life offers information—and incentive—to help raise that percentage. Go4Life experts describe some of the benefits of exercise for the older population:

  • Fitness and cardio-respiratory health. In one study, moderately fit women and men had a 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity and some cancers when compared with their low-fit peers. Fit people obtained additional benefit, typically another 10-15 percent lower risk.
  • Reduced pain, better function with osteoarthritis. In a clinical trial of people age 60 and older with knee osteoarthritis, those who participated in an aerobic exercise or resistance exercise program reported less pain and better function than those in the group assigned to a health education program.
  • Preventing diabetes. Results from the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Diabetes Prevention Program, which examines ways to prevent or delay the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes, found that people over age 60 at high risk for diabetes reduced their risk by 71 percent by adopting a moderate exercise routine and a low-fat diet.

Study after study confirms the benefits of exercise in healthy aging. And it’s great to know that even a lifelong couch potato can benefit. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you. Your local senior services organization can also point you in the right direction. Get ready…get set…get your workout going!

Tips for Buying Long-Term Care Insurance

Information from Kaiser Health News on the complicated topic of long-term care insurance.

The question of whether to get long-term care (LTC) insurance bedevils consumers and their advisers. Unlike medical insurance, it is intended primarily to cover people who need assistance with so-called activities of daily living—for example, the care of a dementia patient or someone recovering from a broken hip. It can be expensive: Premiums range from $1,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on the age, sex and health of the purchaser as well as the extent of the coverage. And policy details can be confusing.

Kaiser Health News experts offer four things to consider as you make the decision:

  1. Determine if you qualify financially. Don’t buy if the out-of-pocket cost for the coverage would be more than you can afford. Consumer Reports advises people that if their net worth, excluding their home, is below $300,000, long-term care insurance is not a good buy for them. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also recommends that consumers spend no more than 5% of their income on a long-term care policy. If you need long-term care but have few financial resources, Medicaid should quickly kick in to pay, although that will probably limit your choices for care. On the other hand, if you have a lot of resources (some financial advisers put that threshold at $2 million), you may be able to self-insure and pay the costs as they arise, thereby eliminating the need to buy a policy.
  2. Shop around. Unlike car insurance where you can switch carriers easily, it can be expensive to change long-term care policies because the premiums increase as you age and you lose the investments already made. Comparison shopping is critical. Some companies and associations (such as alumni groups and AARP) offer group policies with relatively liberal eligibility, making it easier to obtain coverage if the policyholder has any health issues. However, these policies may have more limited benefits than individually purchased plans.

If you are young or in excellent health, a group plan may also be more expensive; you may end up paying more to subsidize your less healthy peers. And if you are certain you want LTC insurance, the younger you are, the better. Your annual premiums will be smaller, and you have less chance of being denied for health reasons.

  1. Know what’s covered. Policies differ greatly, so know what you are buying. What services are covered? How long is the disability period before benefits kick in and what happens if you move from one facility to another? How much does the policy pay per day for nursing home care, home-health care and assisted living? How long will benefits last? Is there an inflation adjustment that anticipates rising medical costs as you age? How long are benefits extended (one, three or five years, or indefinitely)? Who determines benefit eligibility—your doctor, or the insurance company’s doctor—and on what basis? Are pre-existing conditions excluded? Does the policy cover mental or nervous disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse or self-inflicted injuries?

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners advises consumers to look for policies that include at least one year of nursing home or home health care coverage, including intermediate and custodial care; coverage for Alzheimer’s disease; inflation protection; a guarantee that the policy cannot be terminated because you get older or your health deteriorates; no requirement that the beneficiary has to first be hospitalized to receive benefits; and a 30-day cancellation period after purchase.

  1. Check out the insurance company. Review a carrier’s record with your state insurance commissioner’s office. Find out how long it has been in business, its complaint record, and history of raising rates. Stick with a company that has an A financial rating.

Also, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (http://www.naic.org/index_ltc_section.htm) and the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (http://www.aaltci.org/long-term-care-insurance) have consumer guides on their websites. The Department of Health and Human Services provides extensive information on its National Clearinghouse for Long Term Care website (www.longtermcare.gov).

This article was reprinted from Kaiser Health News (www.kaiserhealthnews.org) with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente. Read Calculating a Long-Term Care Policy (www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2012/January/24/calculating-a-long-term-care-policy.aspx) to learn more about whether long-term care insurance is a good idea for you.

Give Your Loved One’s Home a Safety Makeover

Are you making plans to get together with family this winter? Eldercare specialists know that this is the time of year when families often notice that their senior relatives are struggling to be safe and comfortable at home. Perhaps an older loved one can no longer handle home maintenance, or has suffered an injury from a fall, or is having trouble navigating the front steps?

[pullquote]Over half of all injuries to seniors happen at home,and fear of falling may cause your loved one to become less active.[/pullquote]

It is true that many accidents at home are caused by unsafe conditions. Over half of all injuries to seniors happen at home, and fear of falling may cause your loved one to become less active. Families can help by performing repairs and adding features that can make life safer—and a little easier all around—for a person with mobility problems or sensory impairment. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Make sure roof, gutters, stairs and railings are in good repair. Inspect and upgrade plumbing, electrical, heat and air conditioning systems if necessary.
  2. Perform a safety inspection of the home. What improvements can be made?
  • Non-slip, non-glare flooring
  • Low-pile carpeting
  • 
Handrails on both sides of stairs
  • 
Grab bars in bathroom
  • Additional lighting and night lights
  • View-hole in front door
  • Good quality locks on doors and windows

For accessibility and independence, add

  • Easy-grip knobs and pulls in kitchen
  • Rocker or touch-type switches
  • Wheelchair or walker access
  • Lever or control-arm taps in kitchen and bathroom
  • Cordless phone
  • Automatic garage door opener

If necessary, re-arrange the house for one-story living.

Make energy-efficient improvements such as storm windows, double-paned windows, weather-stripping, insulation on pipes and water heater, and more efficient appliances. You can fix some things by yourself or with the help of handy friends, but doing it yourself is not always the best way to go. Poorly planned and built features can prove useless, or even dangerous. For example, a ramp that is too steep and lacks safety features is worse than no ramp at all. Grab bars that are not solidly anchored can cause rather than prevent falls.

If you are hiring a handyman or contractor to do some of the work for you, be certain the person or company you select is reliable and trustworthy:

      • Ask for references and check them.
      • Get recommendations from friends who have had similar work done.
      • Check with the Better Business Bureau, the state consumer affairs office, and the local licensing board, if applicable.
      • Ask to see some of the contractor’s completed projects.
      • Get a written agreement, and don’t pay the full agreed price until the work is completed to your satisfaction.
      • Get bids from several contractors—but remember, the lowest bid isn’t always the best choice.

Important note:

Older adults are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and service providers. Be wary of door-to-door repair sales. A common scam is for a salesperson to come to a senior’s door, claiming that his company is working on a job in the neighborhood and offering to do work on the senior’s house for a low rate. The salesman might claim to have spotted dangerous conditions that should be taken care of “right away.” But when the work is completed (if it ever is completed), the services and materials usually turn out to be shoddy and not to code. Never agree to any services until you have checked out the company.

© IlluminAge AgeWise 2012


 

Nine Tips to Help Someone Who Is Grieving During the Holidays

Hospice professionals offer advice

For many people, the holiday season is a special time of year marked by celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. But for those struggling with the death of a loved one, the holidays may be a difficult time full of painful reminders that emphasize their sense of loss.

Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays.
Hospice professionals, who are experienced at helping people deal with grief and loss, offer some suggestions:

  1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to avoid customs of the past and do something new. It’s okay to do things differently.
  2. Offer to help the person with decorating or holiday baking. Both tasks can be overwhelming for someone who is grieving.
  3. Offer to help with holiday shopping. Share catalogs or online shopping sites that may be helpful.
  4. Invite the person to join you or your family during the holidays. You might invite them to join you for a religious service or at a holiday meal where they are a guest.
  5. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holidays. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at a soup kitchen or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
  6. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her loved one is not forgotten.
  7. Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
  8. Be willing to listen. Active listening from friends and family is an important step to helping some cope with grief and heal.
  9. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care and that their loved one is not forgotten.

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. More information about grief or hospice is available from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s Caring Connections website (http://www.caringinfo.org).

Source: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization