November 17, 2016

Do You Have a Bridge to Cross?

We’ve all heard the old saying, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” I was born in 1942, so I’ve crossed a few myself. Maybe you’re old enough to have one of those to cross in the near future, or maybe you’re helping someone you love to cross one.

Seniors Real Estate Specialist - Assisted Living

I helped my mother, who passed away at the age of 99, make the transition from aging in place . . . to a senior’s apartment . . . to caregiver support . . . to assisted living . . . to a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) . . . to her final resting place on a scenic bluff of the Wilmington River in Savannah, Georgia. Now I’m faced with many of these decisions myself. So, this is personal for me.

You may be facing the same fears I am — that you may grow old and die alone in a nursing home, run out of money before you die, or not be able to decide your own fate because you’ve lost your mind. I think about these things at least once a week, if not every day. I’m reminded that these are possibilities when my hip starts hurting for no apparent reason and I’m limping around because of it. When I can’t sleep like I used to and wake up with a weird cramp in the side of my calf, I often think about that happening when I’m alone with no one to help or comfort me. If I walk to the kitchen from the living room and can’t remember why I went there when I arrive, I’ll magnify that into a later-in-life nightmare even though it seldom happens now and I can quickly remember.

The internet marketing experts keep telling me that I ought to put my feelings about this in a video. Someday maybe I will. For now, I’m too self-conscious. I don’t look like I used to.

If it would help get my word out, I should do it. I’m passionate about helping Baby Boomers and their children plan for what might be the most important living decisions of their lifetime; so at some point, I’ll video my ugly mug if it will help me reach more people.

So, I hope my blog posts help you in some way. There’s a list of resources here that might be helpful. I wrote a book about all this that you can get for free here. If you don’t find what you need, contact me. I’ll add it and give you a personalized response.

October 6, 2017

Black and White Thinking Will Paint You Into a Corner in Your Old Age

Black and White Thinking Can Be Destructive

Black and white thinking raises its ugly head throughout our lives. I’m no expert, but I believe this mindset may have killed more than 50 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas. It has been a booger to me at times in my life. Someone close to me may be suffering from this issue now, and my concern for her spurred me to write this post. The gentleman in the graphic below looks like it might be a problem for him as well.

man portrayed as engaged in black and white thinking

What a Mentor Taught Me

One of the best strategies for stopping black and white thinking came to me from someone I can’t even recall now (my memory’s not what it used to be). I’ve used it many times throughout my life and recommended it to some of my friends and family. I even weaved it into a little book I wrote for my grandchildren.

It goes like this: You’re thinking that you’re going to die all alone in a nursing home or . . . your child will never amount to anything or . . . you’re going to run out of money in your retirement. These are all conclusions you have drawn at least partially because of black and white thinking. Surely, some of those conclusions come from experience — someone you know may have died all alone in a nursing home or you may have known someone who did run out of money. If you’re engaged in black and white thinking, though, you might not be able to see gray areas that offer hope in the form of other possibilities or opportunities.

He Told Me to Float

So, my mentor (whom I can’t remember) taught me to float. Yes, I said “float.” Float like Madeline did in The Land of the Mellow Mushrooms.

The next time you’re consumed with negative or despondent thoughts, start floating. Let yourself float from the ground to a point where you can see yourself and your surroundings from tree-height and ponder your circumstances. Let yourself ascend to even greater heights (just above the tallest building in town) and assess your situation again. Take a deep breath and float mountain-high. What do you think about your troubles now?

By the time you have floated into commercial airline lanes your feelings may begin to change. And surely by the time you have floated into outer space, you will see the big picture. Looking down you will see the world around you — maybe even several worlds — and begin to feel that what you thought was “black or white” (and inevitable) might be gray. Maybe there are other possibilities in store; maybe there are other opportunities available to you that will make you happier.

If this sounds silly to you, I get it. The Wright brothers‘ idea sounded silly at one time, too. So take your pick: float or flight. You can do either in your mind. Just look down when you get to the right altitude.

Black and White Thinking Often Leads to Extreme Thinking

In some ways, we become extremists from black and white thinking. Political talk radio leaves little room for compromise, so we’re driven into Republican or Democrat camps. The expectation is that we’re either conservative or liberal. You’re either a Christian or you’re going to burn in Hell. We’re either for something or agin’ it. Was the shooter in Las Vegas taking a stand for something he believed in or was he just plain crazy? We may never know, but the notion that he was suffering from black and white thinking is not far-fetched.

Tensions between what we call black and white people in this country are at an all-time high in my experience. Slavery, hip-hop lyrics, lynchings, NBA salaries, discrimination, so-called black-on-black crime, and “the man” have brought us to this point. Black and white thinking that has less to do with the color of someone’s skin than what people think is right or wrong has been a contributor. I doubt if I will live to see these tensions disappear.

Isis may be the most striking example of extreme thinking in centuries. Do you think these jokers judge others in black and white terms?

Black and white thinking paints you into a corner. It can make you feel like there’s no way out. It can make you feel isolated. And it can make you depressed.

The Last Straw is Depression and Isolation

The depression and isolation in older folks come from real-life circumstances, but part of it comes from thinking patterns over the course of many years. We seem to become embedded in our thoughts about one thing or the other over time, becoming more and more rigid in our opinions of what is right or wrong. We can see these patterns in each other as our friends and neighbors tend to talk about one subject over and over — always on the same side of an issue.

The danger I see in this is that the older we get the narrower our access to reality becomes. We all lose our minds to some degree progressively, and the inability to see the middle ground of possibility and opportunity seems to accelerate the narrowing. The life experience becomes boring and hopelessness sets in.

Contrast this to the elder who has had the ability to see and appreciate the gray areas of life throughout his or her lifetime. This person might be in a wheelchair and confined to a nursing home but still seems to be happy and eager to discover new things.

My Grand Experiment

I’m not a psychologist. Nor do I have any training in human behavior. I’m just an old guy with many of the same experiences you have had, and I struggle with this behavior myself. I feel the temptation to take this easy way out all the time, and I fight it.

There’s a lot to this — much more than what I’ve written about here. So, I’m going to reach out to some real experts to contribute to this post.

I can do that through the internet. I’m a nobody, so they might not respond to me. However, I think it will be a worthwhile experiment. If it works, I’ll keep you posted.

September 18, 2017

Universal Design House Plans Make Home Renovation Pay Off

Universal Design House Plans and Cost Recovery

Using Universal Design house plans when renovating your home can pay off big time. Home renovation dollars can be limited. Figuring out how to spend them is always a challenge. Should I make just cosmetic changes? Should I try to make the house appeal to a certain generation? What will give me the best return on investment?

builder looking at universal design house plans

Look to the 2017 Remodeling Cost vs. Value report ( for answers and how Universal Design house plans can make a difference in cost recovery.

Remodeling magazine’s annual report estimates the cost of 29 home improvement projects and how much homeowners could expect to recoup on a renovation when they sell.

This year, realizing that more homeowners are focused on aging and multi-generational households, the report added a new category and looked at the value of using universal design house plans for a renovated bathroom.

The $15,730 project included:

  • Widening the doorway for wheelchair accessibility
  • Reinforcing walls to support grab bars
  • Installing a zero-threshold shower with a fold-down seat
  • Putting in a comfort-height toilet
  • Installing a sink with space to allow someone to sit at it

It’s a project that could help you both age more comfortably and stay longer in your house. You also can expect to recoup $10,766 — 68.4 percent of the project cost–when you sell.

What is Universal Design?

If you’re not familiar with the term, universal design, and how it might apply to your home renovation, this is how The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design defines it:

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design.

Universal Design House Plans for Home Renovation

I find that definition to be kind of wordy and unclear, as it might apply to a homeowner. Let me simplify that in my own words, speaking to you as a homeowner (or maybe even a flipper) who needs to renovate a home with the intent of reclaiming as much money as possible from the renovation costs.

Universal design is not just for disabled people who need features like ramps, wheelchair doorways, etc. We Baby Boomers who are not disabled need some of those features, too — if not now, then later. Within the definition of “environments that meet peoples’ needs . . . regardless of their age, size, ability or disability” are old people, toddlers, little people, big people, and handicapped people. You get the picture. So, there are a wide variety of universal design features that could be included in a home renovation.

How to Incorporate Universal Design into Your Home Renovation

Universal Design is not necessarily a specialist subject. In truth, it can be applied by any designer.

There are seven principles applied in a home renovation that can get you started:

  1. The design is useful to people with varied abilities.
  2. It accommodates a wide range of individual likings and abilities.
  3. Its use is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current awareness level.
  4. The design communicates needed information well to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. It lessens hazards and the adverse consequences of unintended actions.
  6. The design can be used efficiently and easily and with the least fatigue.
  7. Proper size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

If you want to incorporate universal design in the most effective and efficient way, you should find a builder or architect who knows how to apply these principles. Regardless of where you are in North America, we can help you with that through our network.

Take a look at a related post we made on architect Matthias Hollwich and his book, New Aging: Live Smarter Now to Live Better Forever

August 4, 2017

Safe Cars for Seniors Defined: Consumer Reports’ Top 25

The Batmobile is not among the Top 25 Safe Cars for SeniorsImpact and Rollover Standards Alone Don’t Make Safe Cars for Seniors

Safe cars for seniors also give consideration to things like diminished eyesight and other physical limitations. Consumer Reports combines reliability, safety, and senior-friendly features in their picks. Simple changes like a properly positioned mirror or the addition of pedal extenders often can make driving safer for seniors.

Consumer Reports has done a series, “Top 25 New Cars for Senior Drivers,” ( that ranks car models on the features that are especially helpful to senior drivers. Among them are easy access in and out of the car for drivers with physical limitations; controls that are easy to read and operate; and powerful headlights to help those with vision problems.

Seniors Often Don’t Want to Give Up the Car Keys

Everyone wants to age at home, but surrendering the car keys often leaves seniors stranded and dependent on expensive cabs, erratic bus schedules, or the goodwill of others for rides. Giving up driving often is a major reason that seniors end up having to move from longtime homes. Keeping the car keys longer sometimes is a matter of picking the right car or adapting an existing car to better fit your needs.

Getting Help With the Safe Driving Issue

CarFit (, a program created by the American Society on Aging American Automobile Association, AARP, and the American Occupational Therapy Association, can help. CarFit provides a free 20-minute assessment of a person’s car to see how well it fits a driver and recommends changes to make the car safer and more comfortable.

The CR series includes stories about how Ford designers and engineers wear suits that simulate the effects of aging so they can sense the impact of things like limited flexibility and figure out how to better design cars to serve the needs of older drivers. Another piece addresses ways to keep driving skills sharp. NC State University’s Center for Universal Design featured Ford’s efforts to “drive a mile in an older person’s suit” in one of their case studies.

Consider taking a look at these resources, if this is an issue for you. You might also be able to help Mom or Pop make some good decisions about it.

July 4, 2017

Saving Money Strategies Abound! A Nickel a Day May Be One of the Best

Choose Your Future with Either Saving Money Strategies or Wishful Thinking

AARP’s “Nickel Builder” strategy may be one of the best saving money strategies around. It’s simple and effective, and that is often the key to momentum.

The headlines constantly scream that you’re not saving enough money for retirement. But sometimes you don’t get workable suggestions on ways to make steady progress toward savings goals. Instead, the onslaught of financial information can be paralyzing.

Procrastination Is Often the Biggest Problem

So, how do we get off the “dime” (pun intended)? Well, I never could accept the fact that a small start could result in a big finish. Maybe you’re that way.

Or, I would always rationalize that I would make it “big” in time — no need for saving money strategies now. Have you been there? And now you’re 55, and that ship hasn’t come in yet. Panic time.

That’s life for many of us: no plan and plenty of pain later. But there’s hope . . . even at age 55.

This won’t make you a millionaire if you start at 55, but you might be blowing more than $18.25 a day on booze or even Starbucks. Think about it! Would an extra $122,855 come in handy when you retire at 75 by starting out with a nickel today at 55? Well, here’s how you can do that if you can get 5.5% interest:

a piggy bank is the icon for saving money strategies

This money-saving trick is especially useful for those of us on a budget.

Here’s how it works: You start by saving a nickel the first day, ten cents the next, and keep adding five more cents each day for an entire year. You never have to save more than $18.25 on a single day. At day 365, you end up with $3,339.75.

For many, the plan ( is doable and practical. And it may help you banish those fears about cat food dinners during your senior years.

You Need a Vision. Is my twist on this a vision, or what?

Here’s my plan for you:

  1. Establish a deposit account that pays 2% interest.
  2. Start with a nickel today at age 55.
  3. Add a nickel every day for 10 years.
  4. Withdraw $134,000 at age 65.
  5. Retire to Abruzzo, Italy / Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic / Medellin, Colombia / Carcassonne, France / Algarve, Portugal / George Town, Malaysia / Tralee, Ireland / Cayo, Belize / Chiang Rai, Thailand / Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and live like a king/queen until you’re 132.
  • The biggest daily deposit in your first year would be $18.25.
  • If you deposited monthly, the largest monthly amount would be $518.25 in the first year.
  • The largest monthly deposit (in your 10th year) would be $5,445.75. That could be chump change by then. And six days later you retire.

If you want to see the details of this plan, download my spreadsheet here.

June 28, 2017

Reverse Home Mortgage – Exploring the Good and the Bad

The Reverse Home Mortgage — An Overview

The Reverse Home Mortgage, or home equity conversion mortgage (HECM), converts home equity into cash. Like a forward mortgage, the borrower’s home secures the loan. It is called reverse home mortgage because money paid in by the homeowners over the years plus value appreciation is paid back to the homeowners. You keep the title and continue to live in the home.

Reverse mortgages amortize negatively. The payments the borrower receives add to the balance owed at the end of the loan. Interest accrues at a fixed or adjustable rate. But the borrower will never owe more than the property is worth, nor can the lender seek access to other assets. The lender places a lien on the property. But if the borrower lives in and maintains the home, there is never any repayment obligation. Events that trigger repayment include

  • a move to another home as the principal residence or permanent absence (12 months or more)
  • a specified maturity date
  • death of the last surviving homeowner
  • sale of the property
  • failure to pay taxes and insurance or make repairs

The borrower may pay off the loan through sale of the property or prepayment at any time without penalty.

payment options for long-term carde include the reverse home mortgage

What Can a Reverse Home Mortgage Do?

A reverse mortgage can:

  • Supplement Social Security, pension income or public aid benefits.
  • Postpone drawing Social Security benefits thus increasing the monthly benefit.
  • Provide an income the borrower cannot outlive.
  • Stop mortgage payments.
  • Prevent foreclosure.
  • Pay for in-home care, medical expenses, and long-term care insurance.
  • Prepare a home for aging in place.
  • Pay off credit cards, debts, and existing mortgage balances.
  • Buy a second home or a new home.
  • Upsize, downsize, move to an active community, or move closer to the family.

Do These Scenarios Sound Familiar?

  • You would like to make a transition – downsize, upsize, move to a better neighborhood or active adult community or a more accessible home. However, you are waiting to get the right price so you can pay cash for the new home and avoid mortgage payments.
  • A loved one is about to lose a home to foreclosure. His fixed income hasn’t kept up with the cost of living and mortgage payments are unaffordable.
  • You can’t move from a declining neighborhood because the sale proceeds from the current home won’t be enough to buy in a better area.
  • Your family is struggling to find a way for an elderly relative to stay safely in a long-time home. Her income isn’t enough to pay for in-home help.
  • You would like to buy a second home, but don’t want the financial drain of mortgage payments.

Ask yourself this question: How can I use my home equity to support and improve the quality of my life, make it through the next transition, or just stop mortgage payments?

Allow me to explore the reverse home mortgage with you. There have been so many TV commercials about this choice lately that it almost seems shady. However, I want to make you aware of the possibilities. I also want to guide you to the proper finance professionals so that you can make sure this is a sound and safe choice for you.

The FHA is the Leading Provider of the Reverse Home Mortgage

The FHA insures about 90 percent of reverse mortgages. It also sets standards and policies for the loans, collects data on trends, and monitors lenders. Responding to concerns about costs, FHA merged the application and paperwork for HECM sell-and-purchase into one transaction.

Types of Reverse Mortgages

HECM for Refinance

The HECM for refinancing enhances the quality of life by increasing cash flow. The payout can be monthly, as needed, lump sum, or a combination of methods.

HECM for Purchase

The HECM for Purchase gives a lump sum for the purchase of a home.

HECM Line of Credit

A reverse home mortgage line of credit allows the borrower to draw funds from the equity in the home as needed. The reverse mortgage line of credit maintains a growth rate that allows the borrower to tap into more equity without needing to refinance. The amount gained through the growth rate is nontaxable income. If there is a mortgage balance on a property, however, the remaining mortgage balance must be paid off before the reverse mortgage takes effect.

 Which is Best – Fixed or Adjustable Rate?

A question the HECM borrower must decide is whether to take a fixed or adjustable rate loan. You should compare the cost of the mortgage and availability of funds for a line of credit to a lump sum with a fixed rate as well as which will be the most cost-effective for achieving a specific goal. A reverse home mortgage counselor can offer printouts, called TALCs, showing annual and total costs and payouts for all options.

The fixed-rate HECM offers a predictable interest rate and higher loan amounts. HECMs for Purchase (H4P) are loans that require the borrower to take the funds and pay interest on the entire amount. H4P loans are usually fixed rate but can be adjustable rate as well. Some borrowers may have the finances to take this choice and obtain a line of credit for their new home.

Depending on the state and program guidelines a lump sum payout could disqualify the borrower for public benefits, such as Medicaid. The borrower should consult their financial advisor, CPA, or elder law attorney before selecting this possibility. The interest rate of an adjustable-rate reverse home mortgage will determine whether the total loan amount will offer more, the same, or less than a fixed-rate of the loan. HECM adjustable-rate loans can have various payout options such as a lump sum, monthly or annual withdrawal, or a combination thereof.

Total Annual Loan Cost (TALC)

The total annual loan cost (TALC) statement shows the complete loan cost over a period. Unlike an annual percentage rate (APR) disclosure, the TALC factors in time and value appreciation. The longer a borrower lives and the lower the appreciation rate, the more likely the balance will surpass the value of the home. This results in a bargain for the borrower. However, if appreciation is high and the borrower lives in the residence for a short time the true cost of the loan can be high.

You can ask the HECM counselor or lender for TALC rate comparisons for various stages of the loan, rates, and loan types. This request should precede the loan application. The comparison page, TALC, and amortization schedule are supplied again at application. Two limitations on the usefulness of a TALC are:

  • It does not take into consideration the added value in a growing line of credit.
  • The calculations are based on the life expectancy of one homeowner.

The Most Common Reverse Mortgage Alternative

You should compare a reverse mortgage to selling the home and using the proceeds to rent or buy a home. Factors to compare include:

  • Quality of life
  • Net sale proceeds
  • Cost to buy or rent a new home or live in a congregate or assisted-living community
  • Availability of alternative income-producing investments, potential earnings, and ability to manage the investment
  • Availability of community-based support services and public benefits

Summary of Reverse Mortgage Benefits

  • Tapping built-up equity

The main benefit of a reverse mortgage is allowing a homeowner to tap the built-up equity in the home by receiving immediate cash, lifetime payments, or a line of credit.

  • Lifetime income

Tenure payments give a monthly income that will continue even if the homeowner outlives the actuarial life-expectancy tables. Homeowners can live in the comfort and privacy of their own homes and with the security of stable income.

  • Nonrecourse financing

Neither the homeowner nor the heirs will ever owe more than the home is worth, even if the home value declines or payouts exceed the value. The lender cannot seek other assets to make up for a shortfall. If the homeowner or heirs try to sell the property in an arm’s length (not to a relative) sale and the proceeds fall short, the remaining mortgage balance is excused. Mortgage insurance compensates the lender for a shortfall.

  • Tax-free payouts

The IRS does not consider money borrowed through a reverse mortgage taxable income.

When Is a Reverse Mortgage Not a Good Idea?

In general, if the potential borrower is planning to move in one year or less, it may not be advisable. The scenarios below offer examples of when it would not be in the best interest of the borrower to obtain a reverse mortgage.

  • Low equity or property value

When a homeowner does not have much equity in the property – less than 40 percent – or the property value is low. In this case, the amount available through an HECM will likely be insufficient to offset the costs. You need to figure out whether this option is the best course of action to meet your financial needs.

  • Substantial other assets

But using other large assets may involve fees, taxes, and penalties. It is often better to use the equity in the home than it is to spend down other assets.

  • Short-term, small financial needs, no compelling need

HECM costs outweigh the benefits if the borrower’s needs are short term or modest. It is usually not the best choice for someone who will likely need nursing home care soon. Obviously, the HECM is not meant for flipping properties. As we have seen, the costs associated with reverse mortgages are high. It is not “free” money. Don’t consider an HECM if you don’t have a compelling need to draw out the equity.

Taking Unnecessary Risks
  • High-risk, low-return investments

This is not a good idea when the proceeds are intended for a high-risk investment or one with a lower rate of return than that paid on the line of credit. To achieve an advantage, the investment rate of return must exceed the growth rate on the line of credit.

  • Purchase an annuity

Using the loan proceeds to buy an annuity is generally not allowed. You need to gather information to decide whether either the HECM or an annuity is the best course of action to meet your financial needs.

  • Paying for nursing home care, buying into a continuing care community, buying new homes not ready for occupancy

Because of the residency requirement, a reverse mortgage cannot be used to buy into a CCRC or pay for a nursing home stay of more than 12 months. An exception is made when one spouse continues to live in the home. The payout from a reverse mortgage could, however, be used to pay for long-term care insurance. This could cover a future nursing home stay. Newly constructed homes are eligible if occupied within 60 days.

The Verdict – Good or Bad for You?

On the surface, the HECM appears to be more attractive than it actually is. The lenders of these mortgages are pretty stingy with their money. For example, a male borrower aged 75 can gain access to only 61.4% of the home’s market value according to current tables. This means that a home valued at $500,000 would yield $307,000 in proceeds. Today’s 75-year-old male could very well live to age 95. If he stretched that money out evenly over those 20 years, the per-year payout is about $15,000 – not much in today’s economy.

Honestly, you should not make a final decision based on the information in this short post. Fortunately, you are required to receive counseling from a Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional to start the application process. Hopefully, though, you now have enough to decide if you should take that next step.

May 4, 2017

Medicare Plan Finder: Solve the Mystery and Discover the Best for You

A Medicare Plan Finder That Explains All Those Choices

A Medicare plan finder is hard to find (pardon the play on words). If you’ve even casually checked into Medicare, you already know that the choices are dizzying and confusing. Medigap. Part B. Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage. Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. What do all those letters mean? What are all those programs and the differences among them?

Brief Descriptions:


The WebMD Description:

Medigap is extra health insurance that you buy from a private company to pay health care costs not covered by Original Medicare, such as co-payments, deductibles, and health care if you travel outside the U.S. Medigap policies don’t cover long-term care, dental care, vision care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, and private-duty nursing. Most plans do not cover prescription drugs.

You pay a monthly premium for a Medigap policy.

Medigap policies are only available to people who already have Medicare Part A, which helps pay for hospital services, and Medicare Part B, which covers the cost for doctor services. People who have a Medicare Advantage plan cannot get a Medigap plan.

Part B

According to eHealth Medicare:

Medicare Part B (medical insurance) is part of Original Medicare and covers services and supplies that are medically necessary to treat your health condition. This can include outpatient care, preventive services, ambulance services, and durable medical equipment. It also covers part-time or intermittent home health and rehabilitative services, such as physical therapy, if they are ordered by a doctor to treat your condition.

Some of the preventive services Medicare Part B covers include a one-time “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam, flu and hepatitis B shots, cardiovascular screenings, cancer screenings, diabetes screenings, and more. If you are in a Medicare Advantage plan, you would get both your Medicare Part A and Part B coverage through a private health insurance company contracted with Medicare. By law, Medicare Advantage plans must offer at least the same level of coverage as Original Medicare, and some plans include additional coverage not included in Original Medicare such as routine dental and/or vision, hearing, and even prescription drug coverage.

Medicare Advantage says:

Medicare Advantage Plans cover all of the services that Original Medicare covers. However, if you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, Original Medicare will still cover the cost of hospice care, some new Medicare benefits, and some costs for clinical research studies. In all types of Medicare Advantage Plans, you’re always covered for emergency and urgently needed care.

The plan can choose not to cover the costs of services that aren’t medically necessary under Medicare. If you’re not sure whether a service is covered, check with your provider before you get the service.

Most Medicare Advantage Plans offer extra coverage, like vision, hearing, dental, and/or health and wellness programs. Most include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). In addition to your Part B premium, you usually pay a monthly premium for the Medicare Advantage Plan.

Here’s an Authoritative Medicare Plan Finder

Instead of turning away in horror, tap the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) for answers. SHIPs ( offers free one-on-one counseling to help you decipher the options and pick the plan that best fits your needs.

doctor carries a medicare plan finder for his patient

The federally-funded program is available in all 50 states as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Find the nearest SHIPs office here:

April 16, 2017

Retire and Continue Working in Silver Collar Cities

So you want to continue working after you retire, but you’re afraid that you’re too old to find a decent job? I know the feeling.

Don’t worry. There’s a solution.

So says government research, there are 10 exciting and amazing metro areas in the United States where you’ll absolutely have no problem.

According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, they are “silver collar cities.” So-called Silver Collar Cities are where a lot of workers keep working past retirement age. And a common theme is a lot of government employers and schools as well as retired white-collar execs who become consultants. In summary, this table shows where they are and how much of the workforce are retirees who continue working.

  • Washington, DC – 30.2%
  • Anchorage, AK – 28.6%
  • Madison, WI – 28.1%
  • Southern Connecticut (Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk) – 27.6%
  • Trenton, NJ – 26%
  • Houston, TX – 25.9%
  • Des Moines, IA – 25.9%
  • Salt Lake City, UT – 25.8%
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, TX – 25.6%
  • Denver, CO – 25.2%

What settings explain why these areas are called Silver Collar Cities? More than 15% of Americans aged 62 or older work. In Washington, D.C. that number is more than 30%.

Keep reading and you’ll find out why.

To Begin With, Federal Workers Retire Later

Joel Reaser is senior vice president at the National Older Worker Career Center in Arlington, Va. First of all, he says “It’s all the retired federal workers.” Federal workers don’t just retire after their public-service career is over at around age 53. Rather, they continue working as consultants or find other careers. And later they might really retire.

Anchorage, Alaska is a constant leader in over-62 workers with about 29% employed. Once again, the government appears to be the reason. According to a 2009 report by the Alaska Labor Department, state and local government employed the highest percentage of Alaskans aged 55 to 64. Their schools reported as much as 15% of their workforce was 65 or older. When you think about it, many people who actually do quit working after age 62 move to warmer climates.

The simple truth is, older folks can’t endure backbreaking work like digging ditches or pounding nails. But government jobs can employ workers for decades after normal retirement age. Some in a program that puts about 700 retirees to work at federal agencies are in their 90s.

Reaser says that “There’s a very large number of retired federal workers that consult and work for federal agencies.” The Department of Defense, he says, “has one of the largest concentrations of contractors.”

Beyond That, There’s The Urban Factor

There is a stark contrast between urban areas and the rest of the country. Census Bureau statistics show that 21% of the population aged 62 or older was employed in the 183 metro areas with populations above 250,000. That compares to 17% nationwide. Those numbers ranged from 30% in Washington to 4% in several Puerto Rican cities.

Why is this so?

Six of the top 10 cities with more than 10,000 workers over the age of 62 were state capitals. Hence, the pull of government. All, except the Bridgeport-Stamford area in Connecticut, had unemployment rates among retirement-age workers who wish to remain in the workforce below the national average of 9.1%.

What Does Weather Have to Do With the Trend to Continue Working?

Except for Houston and Dallas, all were north of the Mason-Dixon line. Miami and most other Florida cities showed 20% or less of retirement-age people still working. This is a trend that held in retiree-heavy Arizona as well.

As has been noted, retirement means retirement in those sunny locales.

It all boils down to this:

Would you be comfortable moving (if you have to) to one of these metro areas to continue working? This could be your solution to the fears about your age.


Retire and Continue Working in Silver Collar Cities

March 4, 2017

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Patients Find Solace Here

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Respond Well to Reminders

The director of a nursing facility in Dresden, Germany accidentally discovered a way to help patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease thrive. He did it by creating a space that reminds residents of their earlier lives in communist East Germany.

old photos are dementia and alzheimer's disease reminders

Décor, memorabilia, and music all contribute to an atmosphere that evokes old East Germany. Residents who once were bedridden and others unable to function well suddenly were cheerful, more engaged, and active after spending time in the space. See the full story at

And while it’s unlikely that your loved ones with dementia will find resonance with communist memorabilia, maybe decorating a room with familiar things — furniture, decorative objects, and vintage cookware and plates — from their younger years could spark something in them and bring some comfort and peace.

How to Create a More Comfortable Space for Your Patients or Loved Ones with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

“Granny Pods,” are the latest rage. If you can afford one, or already have one, this is a convenient way to reproduce familiar surroundings.

The typical Granny Pod averages 12 by 24 feet and is comparable to the size of a master bedroom. MEDCottage makes three styles: the MEDCottage Classic, the LivingROO (designed to fit into a garage space) and the MotherShip (designed on an RV platform). Of course, you can build your own or remodel a structure you already have on your property. While you’re at it, you can design it in a style that would remind the occupant of past good times.

While one’s aging parents may like the sense of independence the Granny Pods seem to provide, the independence comes at a price — potential loneliness. If you go that route, make sure you visit.

Decorating for Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease Patients

When you’re already losing your memory, giving up your home of 20-plus years and moving into a new environment can be especially daunting. But whether Mom and Dad move to a Granny Pod or into assisted living, their new home decor can create a more comfortable living environment.

True Doors creates door covers using the image of a door from the patient’s previous house, thereby recreating the look of the front door they knew and loved. The company says its custom door decorations jog the memory of patients and help with orientation, making it easier for them to find their rooms in assisted living facilities where, typically, all doors look the same.

The concept is similar to designs implemented at Lantern care homes in Ohio, where founder Jean Makesh has replicated a small town from the 1940s. The logic is that Alzheimer’s patients may lose recent memories but usually retain recollections from the time they were 21 years old and younger. The nostalgic environment feels familiar to them even as they suffer memory loss.

However You Do It, Make It Memorable

Granny Pods and True Doors are just two ideas for re-creating the past. Other resources like eBay and your local antique markets can be helpful with decorating ideas as well.


February 4, 2017

Choose to Live Better By Changing Your Views on Aging

Choose to Live Better Now to Be Happier Later

You can choose to live better now and reap the rewards as you age, so says architect Matthias Hollwich in his book, New Aging: Live Smarter Now to Live Better Forever (

this couple believes in the motto "choose to live better"

Hollwich has researched aging at the University of Pennsylvania and is the co-founding principal of the New York City architecture firm Hollwich Kushner (HWKN). Though his profession is the built environment, Hollwich focuses not just on physical space but also addresses all the shifting parts associated with getting older and suggests ways to adapt so you can embrace aging and do it well.

Aging is a Gift

He calls for a revolution. Against ourselves. Or rather against our views on aging. Rather than seeing it as a process fraught with fear, sadness, and loss, aging should be considered a gift and an opportunity — something empowering and something to celebrate. A perfect time to “choose to live better.”

The book, which can be read in a sitting or two, doesn’t provide exhaustive detail concerning the how-to of aging. Instead, it suggests ways to reimagine the process and think about the actions that will lead to a more fulfilling life socially, physically, and emotionally. Hollwich makes his case in nine brief, readable chapters that include “Love Aging,” “Be Social,” “Never Retire,” “Access vs. Mobility,” and “Our Homes are our Castles.”

Banish Last Century Thinking

Hollwich’s video presentation, 8 Rules To Age Better” (, and the book are an indictment of current senior housing options. He calls assisted living and retirement communities “outdated venues from the last century.” He describes nursing homes as storage facilities and believes that you can choose to live better.

Home Belongs to You, Not Your Future Buyer

So one key step to successful aging is rethinking how we house ourselves.

In the video, Hollwich points out that most people buy homes and condos with an eye toward reselling them. “It means we buy a home for the next person, not ourselves. We have to make sure the home is for us and is adequately prepared for things that might go wrong,” he says. His view is that we should turn our homes into our castles.

The surrounding space – the city and neighborhood – is equally as important as the house when you’re looking to support your needs and desires as you age. Think walkability, amenities and services, recreation, restaurants and public places that you can reach easily and that will help you to stay connected with life, the community, and people.

Good idea: Yes, the best plans for aging can veer off course. Have a room with a view and make certain that your bedroom is a beautiful place, just in case it becomes your primary living space temporarily or for the long term due to an illness or accident.

Get Social

You know that loneliness and isolation are killers during old age, so strong human bonds are crucial to long-term happiness. Start building that social web now, not when you’re old and you desperately need it.

Three ideas for finding relationships include:

  1. Family. Think of your three best friends and start considering them your siblings. After all, the notion of family is evolving and it’s not just blood relatives who can be in our inner circle.
  2. Colleagues. Leave a job and you often leave colleagues – those with like interests – behind. Why? Stay connected with them. They may become dear friends or they may be the people you tap when you have an idea for a new venture.
  3. Neighbors. Robert Frost’s proverb, “Good fences make good neighbors” may not be a smart move. Schmooze with your neighbors. Turn them into friends.

Volunteering, offering to help others, exercising with friends, Skyping with loved ones, and creating a weekly communal dining experience at your favorite restaurant all help to nurture those relationships.

Innovation to the Rescue

The hope is that the human connections will help when life gets difficult. But Hollwich also is hopeful about conveniences and technologies that increasingly allow people to age better than previous generations have.

Those include things like food delivery services, Uber, apps that help you stay active, and technology that can connect you to your doctor digitally. And as technology evolves, those innovations will only get better.

Good idea: Share a person. At some point, you may need help around the house, assistance with dressing or showering, or someone to do tasks once a week. But hiring a full-time person may be too costly or unnecessary. Why not gather together some friends and hire a professional that you can share?

“Old people are you and me in a few years,” says Hollwich. So no one is too young to create a vision for aging and choose to live better. Prepare your home and build your social network so you can craft a rich life and find an antidote to loneliness and adapt to the vagaries of old age. And be sure that you’ll be living in your castle, not in a storage facility.

The Neighbor Helping Neighbor Program — Intentional Communities

people in a neighbor helping neighbor program

We’ve all read the statistics that the vast majority of Baby Boomers would like to age in place. But a lack of services for both small and large issues — snow shoveling, transportation and home health care — often make it impossible for seniors to remain at home safely. That’s one reason intentional communities (a neighbor helping neighbor program) have popped up across the country.

This Alternative Brings Services to You

The neighbor helping neighbor program is a departure from the tradition of bringing seniors to the services. The intentional community model brings necessary services to seniors’ doorsteps. “These communities are really the wave of the future for aging,” said Dianne Campbell, executive director of The Village Chicago.

People in a neighborhood or city come together to organize, fund and manage not-for-profits that serve as connectors between seniors and the services they require to age in place. The neighbor helping neighbor program is often buttressed by an army of volunteers, and the side benefits include social and emotional connections for both the seniors and volunteers.

How to Start a Neighbor Helping Neighbor Program

Though there were more than 100 such communities either operating or starting up around the country as of 2009, no neighbor helping neighbor program is exactly the same. That’s the beauty of them, say supporters. Each has its own culture and services, depending on residents’ needs, interests, and desires. If there’s not one in your area, you could be the catalyst and create your own group. Here are some starting points:

  • Research other similar communities that have been established and learn from their successes and mistakes. Boston’s Beacon Hill Village was the earliest intentional community, and they created a workbook that guides newbies through the process.
  • Develop a founding group. Ideally, you want those committed to donating skills, time, knowledge and funds. Staying Put In New Canaan, a New Canaan, Connecticut community, for instance, tapped local marketing, finance, accounting, legal and administrative talent who offered services pro bono. Many continue to do so. And The Village Chicago started with just three couples chatting and seeking alternatives to existing senior care options.
  • Assess interest and recruit prospective members. You’ll likely find an interest because so many have the desire to stay put. That, in fact, was the starting point for New Canaan’s Staying Put. “People came together who didn’t want to leave town as they aged,” comments the group’s executive director.
  • Fund the plan. Locating funding sources could be a challenge. Seed money can come from local businesses and corporations and board members.
  • Create a business plan, including staffing needs, operating cost estimates and funding resources.
  • Develop relationships with neighborhood groups. Include health care ventures, businesses and government groups geared to seniors, along with art and education programs to figure out what’s already available and where holes exist. Not duplicating what already exists is important. And networking with local groups has offered expertise, advice, insight, and access to data and studies that could be invaluable.
  • Determine membership costs.
  • Estimate costs of services. Some services are included in the membership fee and some are provided free by volunteers. Others are offered on a fee-for-service approach, and groups typically negotiate for discounted rates with providers. Having a volunteer framework in place is key. Not only does it keep costs down for members, it also leads to new friendships among neighbors and strengthens community bonds.
  • Promote the idea. You can hold town meetings to introduce the concept, get people interested and recruit volunteers and members. Having a passionate, respected spokesperson can be advantageous.
  • Locate service providers, ranging from home health care providers and computer technicians to handymen, landscapers, and plumbers. What services you offer depend on members’ needs. Recognize that the needs in urban areas may differ from those in rural and suburban communities. Transportation may be one of your greatest challenges. You can enlist volunteers who provide personalized transportation, helping members run errands, taking them to doctors’ appointments and car pooling for special events.
  • Develop enrichment programs. Though one aim of intentional communities is to allow people to age in place, the other goal reaches beyond just servicing the members’ physical needs. A critical component is a social aspect. That includes providing a broad array of outings and events, including museums and concerts, dinners, classes, lectures, exercise groups, and so forth. Community-building is important. Try to weave a network of community support and give multiple generations an opportunity to interact, make new friends and build programs.

Such groups can also help members fend off loneliness. As we age, we tend to get more isolated. So, try to do very personal things—home visits and calls—to minimize that isolation and keep up with what’s happening. It’s all about respecting and caring for seniors and neighbors caring for one another.