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Considering Tapping Your Home Equity? Compare Your Options First

Considering Tapping Your Home Equity? Compare Your Options FirstRising costs and expenses coupled with a fixed income can be a significant challenge as you age.

If savings, Social Security, and modest retirement income is proving insufficient, you may be considering the role your home could play in meeting daily living expenses or planning for a secure financial future. When it comes to your home, selling to downsize is one option. You might also consider finding someone to share your home.

There are also financial products and tools that can help unlock the equity you’ve built up over the years. Each option has its pros and cons, and they vary in feature options.

Earlier this year, NCOA asked senior homeowners about their understanding of home equity release products. The homeowners told us that, despite their home equity representing a majority of their overall retirement assets (from 60-80%), few understood home equity products, and most would be reluctant to use one. The research also revealed some negative bias against a reverse mortgage line of credit, based on the product name, and preconceived notions of the product.

Here’s a comparison of the most common home equity release products:

Home Equity Product Comparisons

Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) Reverse Mortgage Line of Credit (Home Equity Conversion Mortgages or HECM) Home Equity Loans
Borrowers have access to funds for a specified time period Borrowers have access to funds for no specified time period Borrowers have access to a specified lump sum up front for a specified time period
Must make minimum monthly payments No minimum payments required Must make specific set monthly payments
Lender can freeze or reduce the line of credit Lender cannot freeze or reduce the line of credit Lender cannot freeze or reduce the loan amount
Home subject to foreclosure if minimum payments, taxes, or insurance not paid, or borrower does not keep the home in good repair Home subject to foreclosure if taxes or insurance not paid, borrower does not keep the home in good repair, or does not live in the home as primary residence Home subject to foreclosure if minimum payments, taxes, or insurance not paid, or borrower does not keep the home in good repair
Loan balance must be paid back in full, even if borrower owes more than home is worth Borrowers or heirs never pay back more than the home’s fair market value when sold Loan balance must be paid in full, based on a fixed interest rate on a specific schedule
Fees and costs to obtain the HELOC can include closing costs Fees and costs to obtain the HECM can include closing costs, counseling fee, and mortgage insurance premiums Fees and costs to obtain the Home Equity Loan can include closing costs

If you’re looking for tools to unlock cash from your home to plan for the future, or to meet your current needs, here are a few tips to get started:

  • Download NCOA’s free booklet, Use Your Home to Stay at Home© (available in both English and Spanish).
  • Contact a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved housing counselor, or other trusted financial advisor, with questions or to discuss options.
  • Shop around and compare quotes to assure the best value for the solution you’re seeking.
  • Take a free and confidential BenefitsCheckUp® to find out if you’re eligible for relevant property tax relief or other public benefit programs.

Don’t wait for an emergency. Plan now, so you don’t have to make your choice in a crisis. Getting educated about the many options available for accessing your home’s equity can help secure your future and maximize your resources for a long, healthy life!

Source: NCOA

How Giving Thanks Can Improve Your Health

As we enter the season of thanksgiving (including The Day itself), we are told repeatedly to count our blessings and practice gratitude. Many of us stop to consider all we have to be thankful for only for a moment on the fourth Thursday of November. But does the act of giving thanks provide benefits beyond a momentary acknowledgement of the good in our lives? Can a daily practice of gratitude actually improve our health?

Many experts think so. One of the main scientists exploring the phenomenon of giving thanks is Robert Emmons, who has studied the topic extensively. His book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, chronicles the studies he’s done that have convinced him that gratitude “is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.”

Emmons is far from alone in his enthusiasm for gratitude. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, an integrative pediatrician and founder of the Whole Child Center, is also an advocate. According to Rosen, there are at least five benefits of gratitude that have scientific studies to back them up.

  • Gratitude reduces depression.
  • Gratitude engenders a feeling of peace.
  • Gratitude aids in restful sleep.
  • Gratitude improves heart health.
  • Gratitude strengthens memory.

So, how does one practice the art of gratitude?

One of the practices that Mr. Emmons extols is the gratitude journal. Oprah Winfrey has been talking about her personal experiences with a gratitude journal for years. The goal here is to set aside some time every day and write down several things you’re grateful for. According to Emmons, the act of writing “allows you to see the meaning of events going on around you and create meaning in your own life.”

Here are some other tips to keep you on the road of practicing gratitude:

Create visual cues

The toils of daily life can make us quickly forget all we have to be grateful for. So, remind yourself every day with visual reminders. This could be a photograph, a physical token of a feel-good moment (such as a souvenir from a wonderful vacation), or even just a Post-It note listing something for which you’re grateful.

Get support

Surround yourself with people who practice gratitude on a daily basis. Hearing someone share what they’re thankful for (especially if they’re facing a challenge) will remind you of all the blessings in your own life.

Give freely of yourself

Be conscious of the “emotional wake” you leave in the word. Smile at strangers and notice their reaction. Being conscious of how your actions affect others will naturally lead to others being grateful for you, which is the one of the greatest gifts of all.

Gratitude is like any other discipline – it takes practice! It starts with being awake and aware of the world around you and the beauty that is available for all us to share.

 

Senior Volunteers Give from the Heart Wordfind

Serving as a volunteer is a way more and more older adults are giving back to their community and their nation. And volunteering offers many health benefits!

Give your brain a workout with this month’s puzzle, which contains 20 words all having to do with locating volunteer opportunities that are a great fit for your skills and interests. Click here to download and print the puzzle.

Need a little help? Click here for the solution to the puzzle.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

Safety First When Turning Up the Heat

As temperatures drop, more people will turn on heaters to stay warm. The nation’s emergency physicians warn about the potential risks involved with heating your homes and bodies.

“Every year, tragically, people are burned, start fires, get an electric shock and even die from carbon monoxide poisoning, because they weren’t taking proper precautions,” said Dr. Alex Rosenau, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “I don’t want anyone in my emergency department suffering from an injury that could have been easily prevented.”

Each year more than 2,500 people died in house fires in the United States, according to FEMA and another 12,600 are injured.

Another big concern each fall and winter is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and even death. People can be poisoned by breathing it.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels can cause loss of consciousness. Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector, and if you have any of these symptoms, you should seek emergency care.

ACEP recommends the following:

  • Check all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Make certain they are working properly. If they are battery operated, change the batteries. There should be one of each detector on every floor of your house.
  • Have a professional inspect your gas furnace at least once a year. One with leaks or cracks can be dangerous for your home, leaking carbon monoxide or possibly causing a fire.
  • If you use a fireplace, have a professional inspect and clean it every year to avoid fires. Also make sure any flammable materials are away from the open flame area. Never burn trash, cardboard boxes or items that may contain chemicals that can poison your home.
  • If you use a wood burning stove, have a professional inspect and clean the chimney each year. Make sure you have a safe perimeter around it, because it can radiate excessive heat. Place on a flame-resistant carpet, and use a screen to prevent sparks and hot coals from coming out of the stove. Use safe woods, such as oak, hickory and ash — avoid pine and cedar.
  • Never use a range (electric or gas) or oven as a heating source. It’s not only a dangerous fire hazard; it can also release dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide.
  • If you use an electric space heater, keep a safe perimeter around it. Make sure it is away from water or anything flammable like curtains, paper, blankets, or furniture.

Check for any faulty wiring that can cause electric shock or fire. Supervise children and pets around space heaters, and turn them off before leaving the room or going to sleep.

For more on this and other health related topics, go to www.emergencycareforyou.org.

Source: The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Visit the ACEP website for more information (www.acep.org)

 

How Much Do You Know About Heart Health?

The American Heart Association recently reported that the death rate from cardiovascular disease has fallen more than 30 percent over the last decade, due to better treatment for heart attack, congestive heart failure and other heart disease. But this care comes at a cost: expenditures for the care for heart disease rose to more than $315 billion during the same decade. And heart disease continues to be the number one killer in the U.S. Every 39 seconds, someone dies of cardiovascular disease.

Education is the first step to lowering the risk of heart disease. Start by taking this short quiz to see how much you know about taking care of your heart. (Answers appear below.)

True or False?

  1. The heart is a muscle.
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.

Answers to “Test Your Heart Health IQ”:

  1. The heart is a muscle.
    TRUE—The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, pumping enough blood in your lifetime to fill a supertanker!
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
    TRUE—A number of conditionsincluding hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
    FALSE—A heart attack can begin slowly, with subtle signals. Symptoms can include:
    •    a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the chest
    •    discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
    •    shortness of breath
    •    nausea, dizziness, sweating for no reason
    •    fatigue and lack of energy
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
    TRUE—“Better safe than sorry” is very true when it comes to heart attack. Excellent treatments are now available, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the chance of saving the patient’s life and preventing disability. If you experience chest pain, especially if associated with any other of the signs listed above, call 911 right away. Acting quickly can save your life.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
    FALSE—Women are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. It is a myth that heart disease is primarily a men’s health problem. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women—and more women than men die within one year of a heart attack.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
    TRUE—Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease. And even if you don’t smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke may raise your risk by up to 30%.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
    FALSE—Although your risk increases if a family member was diagnosed with heart disease, it’s not all in the genes! A healthy lifestyle can cut your risk. Obesity and inactivity are greater risk factors than genetic inheritance for most people. Here are the steps to take to lower the risk:
    •    If you smoke, quit.
    •    Take steps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol level.
    •    Increase physical activity.
    •    Maintain a healthy weight.
    •    If you are diabetic, follow your care plan.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
    TRUE—Lowering your cholesterol level through diet and lifestyle changes (and in some cases, medication) can cut your risk.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
    FALSE—The older you are, the more important regular physical exercise is to your well-being. Inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of decline. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
    TRUE—For most patients, preventing another heart attack will include a cardiac rehabilitation program. Be sure you discuss your workout regimen with your healthcare provider and follow his or her instructions.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
    TRUE—Most menus feature at least a few low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium items. Avoid fried foods, instead selecting baked or broiled. (If you aren’t sure how a dish is prepared, ask your server.) Skip dessert, and order your salad with low-fat dressing served on the side.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.
    TRUE—Stressful emotions can raise your blood pressure, causing your heart to work harder. Lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques help lessen the effects of stress.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about heart health or heart disease.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

 

Do Working Caregivers Provide Less Care for Loved Ones?

There’s a common assumption that when a loved one needs care, family members who do not work outside the home will be first to step up and provide support. Of course, in reality this is not the case. Many other factors come into play as a family’s caregiving arrangement takes shape.

In a series of studies over the past year, the United Hospital Fund and the AARP have been looking at the facts about family caregiving in the U.S. One thing they’ve discovered is that family caregivers today are performing more and more medical and nursing tasks for their elderly relatives. Family members are providing medication management, performing wound care, monitoring their loved ones’ health conditions and operating specialized medical equipment. The researchers also looked at the level of care and number of care hours provided by family members who were also employed outside the home, compared with those who were not. Said Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute, “We expected that caregivers who didn’t have to manage the demands of a job would have more time to take on these challenging tasks—tasks that would make a nursing student tremble—but our data shows that there’s little difference between the two groups.”

Though working caregivers were only one percentage point less likely to be providing this kind of care (45 percent of them, versus 46 percent of non-working caregivers), the percentages diverged dramatically in another category. Said Carol Levine of the United Hospital Fund, “Where we did find a difference was in the stress associated with juggling the demands of caregiving with other responsibilities.” Levine reports that while 49 percent of family caregivers who are not employed report feeling stressed, fully 61 percent of the working caregivers reported such stress.

This study is yet another reminder of how important it is for our nation to support family caregivers, whose unpaid work is worth billions of dollars each year, and many of whom are also productive members of the workforce.

Read the entire study [link to: http://www.uhfnyc.org/assets/1157] on the United Hospital Fund website.

Source: AgeWise reporting on research from the United Hospital Fund and AARP.

 

Could Having a Sense of Purpose Lengthen Our Lives?

Over the last few years, aging experts have been looking at the role played by a sense of purpose—the feeling that our lives have meaning, and that we have a place in the world, that we make a difference. A number of studies have found that having a sense of purpose motivates us to take care of ourselves, reduces stress, and lowers the risk of a host of ailments that become more common as we age.

In November 2014, an article appearing in The Lancet suggested that having a sense of purpose can even add years to our lives. As reported by University College London (UCL), seniors who experienced a certain type of well-being were 30 percent less likely to die over the course of a study that was conducted by researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University. The researchers explained that “eudemonic well-being” is the positive feeling we get when we feel that what we do is worthwhile and that we have a purpose in life.

Explained study leader Professor Andrew Steptoe, Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology, “We cannot be sure that higher well-being necessarily causes lower risk of death, since the relationship may not be causal. But the findings raise the intriguing possibility that increasing well-being could help to improve physical health. There are several biological mechanisms that may link well-being to improved health, for example through hormonal changes or reduced blood pressure. Further research is now needed to see if such changes might contribute to the links between well-being and life expectancy in older people.”

The study appeared in the Nov. 6, 2014 issue of The Lancet. [optional link: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961489-0/fulltext]

Source: AgeWise reporting on news release from University College London.

 

Retirement Communities Encouraged to Promote Muscle-Strengthening Activities

A University of Missouri expert encourages staff and administrators to include a well-rounded fitness program in order to keep residents healthier.

The majority of adults aged 65 and older remain inactive and fail to meet recommended physical activity guidelines, previous research has shown. However, these studies have not represented elders living in retirement communities who may have more access to recreational activities and exercise equipment. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that older adults in retirement communities who reported more exercise experienced less physical decline than their peers who reported less exercise, although many adults—even those who exercised—did not complete muscle-strengthening exercises, which are another defense against physical decline.

“Physical decline is natural in this age group, but we found that people who exercised more declined less,” said Lorraine Phillips, an associate professor in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. “The most popular physical activities the residents of the retirement community reported doing were light housework and walking, both of which are easily integrated into individuals’ daily lives, but these exercises are not the best choices for maintaining muscle strength.”

Phillips and her colleagues studied the physical activity of 38 residents at TigerPlace, an independent living community in Columbia, four times in one year. The researchers tested the residents’ walking speed, balance and their ability to stand up after sitting in a chair. Then, researchers compared the results of the tests to the residents’ self-reported participation in exercise. Phillips found that residents who reported doing more exercise had more success maintaining their physical abilities over time.

Phillips says the national recommendations for exercise include muscle strengthening exercises, such as knee extensions and bicep curls. Most of the study participants did not report completing these types of activities despite daily opportunities for recreational activities and access to exercise equipment. Phillips says muscle strength is important to individuals of this age group in order for them to maintain their ability to conduct everyday activities such as opening jars, standing up from chairs and supporting their own body weight.

“For older individuals, walking may represent the most familiar and comfortable type of physical activity,” Phillips said. “Muscle-strengthening exercises should be promoted more aggressively in retirement communities and made more appealing to residents.”

To combat the lack of physical activity among seniors, Phillips says health care providers should discuss exercise programs with their patients and share the possible risks associated with their lack of exercise, such as losing their ability to live independently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals 65 years of age and older that have no limiting health conditions should do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week.

Phillips’ research, “Retirement Community Residents’ Physical Activity, Depressive Symptoms, and Functional Limitations,” was published in Clinical Nursing Researchhttp://cnr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/02/10/1054773813508133.abstract

Source: University of Missouri News Bureau.

 

Home Care Supports Seniors Who Want to Age in Place

The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year that the percentage of seniors who are living in a nursing home dropped by 20 percent over the last decade. Are seniors just healthier today? The truth is, older adults today need as much care as did previous generations, but more of them are receiving it in assisted living communities, adult day centers and, in growing numbers, in their own homes.
This information comes as little surprise to the 65 million Americans who are already serving as family caregivers for older loved ones who need help managing health conditions and the activities of daily living. Many of these caregivers are members of the baby boom generation, who are reaching the age when they themselves might be expected to need care! From the local to the federal level, government agencies, too, are taking notice of the financial impact resulting from this population shift. The discussion about how to best and most cost-effectively care for our seniors is taking center stage.
The Census study showed that 90 percent of seniors would wish to receive care in their own homes. Is this realistic? Can they be safe and well-cared for even if they are living with age-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or memory loss? Several demographic changes in our society make this more of a challenge than it was in the past:
• A University of Michigan study showed that almost 40 percent of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. live alone, and the majority of those who are married have spouses who are themselves facing health challenges.
• Our lower birthrate equals fewer adult children to help out as parents’ care needs increase.
• Adult children are more likely to live at a distance, having moved to find employment.
• A higher divorce rate means more seniors live alone, and family caregivers’ financial and time resources are stretched when parents live in different households, or even in different parts of the country.
The cost of institutional care continues to grow. For some seniors with medically complex health challenges, nursing homes and other residential health facilities are the best choice. But for many other seniors, home care is a desirable and cost-effective arrangement.
Dr. Soeren Mattke of the RAND Corporation noted, “The aging of the world’s population and the fact that more diseases are treatable will create serious financial and manpower challenges for the world’s healthcare systems.” He added, “Moving more healthcare into the home setting where patients or family members can manage care could be one important solution to these challenges.”
A wide variety of care services can be provided right in a patient’s home:
Skilled healthcare services can be provided at home and are cost-effective. Visiting nurses and rehabilitation professionals provide skilled medical services in the home. Registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) perform hands-on procedures such as wound care and IV therapy. Rehabilitation professionals include physical, occupational and speech/language therapists.
Nonmedical home care provides companionship and homemaking services that support the senior’s independence, at a much lower cost than nursing care. Caregivers provide supervision, assistance with dressing grooming and other personal care, laundry and housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, socialization, and respite for family caregivers.
Dementia support is also available. Even when adult children live close to home, dementia complicates the caregiving dynamic. Trained in-home caregivers who understand the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions can help patients remain home longer, even as the need for assistance and supervision grows.
Many experts believe that bringing more care into seniors’ own homes will allow them to take better charge of their own care—and will save seniors and the healthcare system money.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Most of us know that we can take “heart smart” steps to promote cardiac wellness. But sometimes, even the researchers are amazed at what a difference these lifestyle choices can make.

The American College of Cardiology recently reported on a new study, this one on a group of over 20,000 healthy Swedish men aged 45–79. The researchers from Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden studied the men for 11 years, questioning them regularly about their diet, exercise and other wellness factors.

Said study author Agneta Akesson, Ph.D., “It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks. What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”

The researchers found that each healthy lifestyle factor decreased the risk of coronary heart disease. The healthy choices include:

  • A healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains and fish
  • Not smoking
  • Walking or cycling at least 40 minutes per day
  • Amount of belly fat under 95 centimeters (37.5 inches)
  • Moderating alcohol consumption

According to the study authors, these preventive choices also help patients avoid the potential side effects of heart medications and, as a side benefit, save patients and the healthcare system money.

Akesson and her team report that, at present, less than 2 percent of the American population follow all these recommendations.

February’s American Heart Month is a great time to make some heart-smart resolutions for ourselves, and to promote heart health for everyone. This is not just an issue for seniors. Says Akesson, “It is important to note that these lifestyle behaviors are modifiable, and changing from high-risk to low-risk behaviors can have great impact on cardiovascular health. However, the best thing one can do is to adapt healthy lifestyle choices early in life.”

Learn More

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers resources and information for American Heart Month.  http://www.cdc.gov/features/heartmonth

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on information from the American College of Cardiology. Read the entire study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology  http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleID=1909605