How to Choose and Use a Home Blood Pressure Monitor

June 21, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

I just found out I have stage 1 hypertension and my doctor recommended I get a home blood pressure monitor to keep an eye on it. Can you offer me any tips on choosing and using one?

Hypertensive Helen

 

Dear Helen,

It’s a smart idea! Everyone with elevated or high blood pressure – stage 1 (or 130/80) and higher – should consider getting a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure in a comfortable setting. Plus, if you’re taking medication it will make certain it’s working, and alert you to a health problem if it arises.

 

Home Monitors

The best type of home blood pressure monitors to purchase are electric/battery powered automatic arm monitors, which are more reliable than wrist or fingertip monitors. With an automatic arm monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your bicep and with the push of one button the cuff inflates and deflates automatically giving you your blood pressure reading on the display window in a matter of seconds.

 

Many monitors today also come with additional features like irregular heartbeat detection; a risk category indicator that tells you whether your blood pressure is in the high range; a data-averaging function that allows you to take multiple readings and get an overall average; multiple user memory that allows two or more users to save their readings; and downloadable memory that lets you transmit your data to your computer or smartphone.

 

You can find these monitors at pharmacies, medical supply stores or online, and you don’t need a prescription to buy one. Prices typically range between $40 and $100.

 

In most cases, original Medicare will not cover a home blood pressure monitor, but if you have a Medicare Advantage plan or a private health insurance policy it’s worth checking into, because some plans may provide coverage.

 

Some of the best automatic arm monitors as recommended by Consumer Reports are the Omron 10 Series BP786N ($75); Rite Aid Deluxe Automatic ($60); Omron Evolv BP7000 ($70); and A&D Medical UA767F ($45).

 

How to Measure

After you buy a monitor, it’s a good idea to take it to your doctor’s office so they can check its accuracy and make sure you’re using it properly. Here are some additional steps to follow to ensure you get accurate readings at home.

  • Relax: Don’t exercise, smoke or drink caffeinated drinks or alcohol for at least 30 minutes before measuring. Sit quietly for at least five minutes before you take a measurement and remain quiet during the test.
  • Sit correctly: Sit with your back straight and supported (on a dining chair, rather than a sofa). Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should not be crossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the middle of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of the elbow. Check your monitor’s instructions for an illustration.
  • Put the cuff directly on your bare skin: Putting it over clothes can raise your systolic (upper) number by up to 40 mmHg.
  • Measure at the same time every day: It’s important to take the readings at the same time each day, such as morning and evening. It doesn’t matter whether you do it before or after taking medication. Just be consistent.
  • Go to the bathroom: A full bladder can rise your systolic pressure by 10 to 15 mmHg.
  • Take multiple readings and record the results: Each time you measure, take two or three readings one minute apart and record the results by writing them down, or using an online tracker (see com).

 

For more information on high blood pressure numbers and how to accurately measure it at home, visit Heart.org/HBP.

How to Protect Yourself from the Social Security Imposter Scam

June 14, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

I recently received a strange call from a Social Security employee. He told me my Social Security number had been suspended because it was involved in a crime, and that I needed to reactivate it and secure my bank funds by withdrawing them and putting them on gift cards. Is this a scam?

Worried Rita

 

Dear Rita,

Yes. It’s actually known as the “Social Security imposter scam” and it’s becoming a widespread problem in the U.S.  The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 76,000 reports about this growing scam in the past 12 months alone. With average losses of $1,500, this scam is quickly becoming one of fraudsters’ favorite tricks.

 

The Social Security imposter scam usually begins with a consumer receiving a call from someone claiming to be with the Social Security Administration. The caller informs the victim that their Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended because it was stolen or has been involved in a crime.

 

The phone call may be a robocaller with a message to “press 1” to speak with a fake support representative who then claims to be able to help reactivate the consumer’s SSN.

 

In a variation on this scam, the caller may also reach out to tell a victim that they qualify for an increase in benefits. All they need to do is provide the scammer with some information. Typically, these callers will ask their victims several questions to get personal information that they can then use to steal their identity or drain their bank accounts.

 

Because of the numerous data breaches, these scammers may have access to accurate personal information – such as your SSN – that they can use to build trust and appear legitimate. Regardless, before concluding the scam, fraudsters will almost always request payment to “unfreeze” the SSN or to process the increase in benefits. The scammer may request that they be paid via an unusual payment method such as by gift card (and giving the fraudster the gift card number), or some form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

 

While the scam can be devastating, there are several steps you can take to prevent yourself, and your loved ones, from falling victim to this scam:

 

Don’t trust your caller ID: Scammers can make it look as if the Social Security Administration is calling and even use the agency’s real number. If you receive an unexpected call from Social Security, don’t answer it. Instead, call Social Security’s customer service number at 800-772-1213 to see if they were actually trying to contact you.

 

Remember, Social Security will never suspend your number or call and demand money: If anyone tells you something different, you’re being scammed.

 

Don’t give out personal information: Never give out your Social Security number, bank information or other personal details to an unknown caller. If you already did, visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA to find out what steps you can take to protect your credit and your identity.

 

Don’t trust the caller just because they may know some of your personal information: It’s most likely a scam if the person on the other end asks to confirm your information.

 

Talk about the experience: Those who’ve been targeted should alert friends and neighbors about the call to spread information and report the scam to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.

Godspell Opens Playhouse Theater Season With Full Company of Actor-Musicians

June 13, 2019  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment

Photo credit: Brian MacDonald
GODSPELL photo: Company of actor/musicians, Godspell at Saint Michael’s Playhouse

Saint Michael’s Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Chuck Tobin today announced the June 18 opening of the 72nd summer theater season of live professional theater at Saint Michael’s Playhouse.

 

“This production of Godspell has been developed for Saint Michael’s Playhouse by the extraordinary creative team that produced last summer’s hit musical Once, led by Chris Blisset, who also directed last year’s Playhouse production of Once,” said Tobin. Blisset adds, “We are so excited to be presenting this production of Godspell with a company made entirely of actor-musicians. All actors in our production play musical instruments, performing as both the cast and the orchestra and the result is absolutely amazing. You won’t want to miss it.”

 

Performances begin on Tuesday, June 18. Performances are Tuesday – Saturday evenings June 18 – 22, 25 – 29 (8pm), and Saturday matinees June 22 and 29 (2pm).

 

Godspells vibrant and internationally acclaimed score by three-time Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Children of Eden) includes a parade of beloved songs “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye,” “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “All for the Best,” “All Good Gifts,” “Turn Back, O Man” and “By My Side.”

 

THE CAST

Godspell features ten professional actors (who also play all of the musical instruments in the show) Nygel D. Robinson as Jesus, Matt Ferrell as John the Baptist/Judas, with Rachel Lyn Fobbs, Ryan McCurdy, Caitlin Mesiano, Jayne Ng, Amanda Ryan Paige, Katrien Van Riel, Kristopher Saint-Louis, Jacob Shipley, along with Tessa Gordon and Avery Cutroni.

 

THE CREATIVE TEAM

In addition to director Chris Blisset, the creative team includes Ryan McCurdy (music director) Tim Case (scenic design), Annmarie Duggan (lighting design), Jeni Hacker (choreography).

 

THE THEATER

Saint Michael’s Playhouse is an Actors’ Equity Association theater company that produces its productions with theater artists from Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theater nationwide. Actors’ Equity Association is the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. Tobin adds “We rehearse our shows right here in our theater and design and build our scenery, costumes and props on location with our crew of approximately 70 professional theater artists.”

 

TICKET INFORMATION

Mainstage plays of the 72nd Season are Godspell, The 39 Steps, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Laughter on the 23rd Floor. Season subscription packages range in price from $127 to $146. Single ticket prices range from $39 to $46. The Playhouse is located at McCarthy Arts Center, on Route 15, in Colchester, Vermont, a ten minute drive from downtown Burlington, Vermont. Subscriptions and single tickets may be purchased online at saintmichaelsplayouse.org or by calling 802-654-2281 or visiting the walk-up window in the lobby of McCarthy Arts Center. For a complete show schedule and more information contact the theater box office directly at 802-654-2281 or visit us at saintmichaelsplayhouse.org. Saint Michael’s Playhouse, One Winooski Park, Colchester, Vermont 05439

Prevent Tick-Borne Diseases While Enjoying the Outdoors

June 11, 2019  
Filed under Health & Wellness

: Ticks, including the black legged tick, often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed.
Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org

By Melinda Myers

You’ve grabbed your water bottle, sunscreen and hat for a hike in the park or some gardening. Add a bit of tick protection to your must-have items when you head out the door for an adventure, to garden or play.

Continue enjoying the outdoors by enlisting a variety of strategies to limit your risk of exposure to ticks and the disease pathogens they transmit. Here are just a few of the ways to increase your safety and enjoyment.

Wear light colored clothing to more easily spot the tick before it moves onto your skin.  Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks and tuck your shirt into your pants. Ticks often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed.

Consider spraying your clothing with an insecticide labeled for repelling and killing ticks. Spray your clothing and let it dry before wearing. Or invest in pre-treated clothing for gardening, hiking or other outdoor activities. Read and follow label directions carefully.

Always conduct a tick check on yourself, children and pets after spending time outdoors.  Studies show that regular tick checks are the most effective way to prevent diseases transmitted by ticks. Ticks can feed anywhere but are often found in and around the ears and hair, inside the bellybutton, under the arms, around the waist, back of the knees and between the legs.

Check your clothing inside and out.  Ticks can survive for several days in the house and even when washed in warm or hot water. An hour in the dryer on high heat will kill them.

Shower within two hours after spending time outdoors. The water can help dislodge any unattached ticks plus this provides a second opportunity to conduct a tick check. Studies found this practice greatly reduces the risk of tick-borne diseases.

Manage your landscape to reduce the tick population. Keep the grass mowed and remove brush, groundcovers, firewood piles and birdfeeders near the home or where the family frequents. Keep swing sets away from the woods and placed on woodchip mulch. Eliminate invasive barberry, honeysuckle and buckthorn that create a tick-friendly habitat.

Many of us are doing the opposite. We are eliminating lawns, increasing groundcover, planting more trees, shrubs and flowers to create more diverse wildlife-friendly habitats.  There is limited evidence that increasing animal diversity may help reduce the rate of tick associated diseases. Unfortunately, the fragmented woodlands and ecosystems do favor deer and white-footed mice that are key to the maintenance and transmission of tick-borne diseases.

Consider creating a tick safe zone area where your family frequents and limit your time in tick infested areas. Widen pathways, prune trees to increase light, exclude deer and discourage rodents to reduce the risk of exposure.

And if additional control is needed to create a tick safe zone, consider using a pesticide like Summit Tick & Flea Spray that contains permethrin.  You’ll only need small amounts at the right time of the year for effective control. One application in spring or fall is usually sufficient for managing the ticks that can transmit Lyme disease. For the dog tick, also known as wood ticks, an application can be made anytime after the adults emerge. As always read and follow label directions.

Make these practices part of your routine so you and your family can continue to safely enjoy all your favorite outdoor activities.

Thrifty Travel: How Retirees Can Find Cheap Travel Accommodations

June 7, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some good websites for finding cheaper travel accommodations? My husband and I love to travel but hotel costs eat up our budget so much that we can’t afford to go as often as we’d like. We’ve used Airbnb with some luck but are wondering if there are other options for budget-conscious retirees. 

Retired Travelers

Dear Retired,

Accommodations are typically one of the costliest travel expenses. But, if you’re willing to do a little research and preplanning, there are a number of ways you can lower (or eliminate) your lodging costs and live more like a local when you travel. Here are some different options to consider and some websites that can help you locate them.

 B&B Clubs

If you like staying in bed and breakfasts and have a spare bedroom yourself, check out the Evergreen Club (EvergreenClub.com) and the Affordable Travel Club (AffordableTravelClub.net).

 

These are B&B clubs for travelers over ages 50 or 40 that offer affordable lodging in the spare bedroom of other club members, or they may stay with you when they’re on the road. You pay a modest gratuity of around $20 per night, with breakfast. And the clubs charge membership fees of $65 to $75 per year.

 

Lower Cost Rentals

There are literally millions of privately-owned properties in the United States and abroad that are offered as short-term rentals. This has become a very popular alternative to hotels for retirees.

 

Renting a fully furnished apartment or house is usually cheaper than hotel rooms of comparable quality, and they almost always offer more space, a homier feel and a kitchen, which can save you the expense eating out every meal.

 

Short-term rentals are offered through the individual property owners or property-management companies. Some of the best sites for finding them include Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com and FlipKey.com. These sites are free to use for travelers.

 

Another nifty site you should check out is The Freebird Club (FreebirdClub.com) that connects 50-plus travelers with 50-plus hosts.

 

Unlike Airbnb and the other previously listed lodging rental sites, Freebird users pay a $31 fee to join and to have their identities verified. They then fill out a questionnaire asking where they’d like to travel and how much interaction they’d like to have with their hosts. On the other end, hosts are not offering rental properties and a key in a drop box, but their own homes, along with conversation and companionship, for much less than the price of a hotel.

 

House Sitting

If you have a flexible schedule and you don’t mind doing a few household chores when you travel, house sitting is another option that offers lodging for free.

 

How it works is you live in someone else’s home while they’re away for a long weekend or even a few months. And in exchange for the free accommodations, you take care of certain responsibilities such as their pets, lawn, garden, mail, etc.

 

To find these opportunities, try sites like Nomador.com, MindMyHouse.com, HouseCarers.com and TrustedHousesitters.com – they all charge a small membership fee.

 

Home Swapping

Another way to get free accommodations when you travel is by swapping homes with someone who’s interested in visiting the area where you live.

 

To make a swap, you’ll need to join an online home exchange service where you can list your home and get access to thousands of other listings. Then you simply email the owners of houses or apartments you’re interested in – or they email you – and you make arrangements.

 

Most home exchange sites like HomeExchange.com, HomeLink.org and Intervac-HomeExchange.com charge membership fees ranging from $50 to $150.

 

Cool, Refreshing and Straight from the Garden – Mint

June 3, 2019  
Filed under Home & Garden

Mint is easy to grow, suited to container gardens and helps aid digestion.
Photo credit: Melinda Myers, LLC

 

By Melinda Myers

Add a bit of cool flavor to your beverages and meals this summer with homegrown mint.  Try using peppermint leaves in fruit cocktails and ice cream.  Add spearmint to your tea or use the leaves to season lamb and jelly. Or try chocolate mint for a unique sweet and refreshing flavor in desserts and drinks.

This vigorous plant is easy to grow and suited to container gardens.  In fact, growing it in a pot will help keep this vigorous herb contained.  Or sink a container of mint in the garden or plant where surrounding walks and walls will keep this vigorous plant contained.

Grow mint in a full sun to partial shade location with moist well-drained soil. Mulch the soil to conserve moisture.  Though hardy in zones 3 to 11, you will need to provide a bit of winter protection when growing mint in containers in colder regions.  Either sink the container in a vacant spot in the garden or move the planter into an unheated garage.  Water thoroughly whenever the soil is thawed and dry.

Harvest the leaves as needed.  Cutting leafy stems off the plant just above a healthy leaf or bud will encourage compact tidy growth.  Pick mint just before flowering for the most intense flavor.

Include a container of mint in your patio, balcony or deck plantings.  Keeping it close to the kitchen and outdoor living space will make it easy for you to harvest and use.  Plus, your guests will enjoy plucking a few fresh mint leaves to add to their iced tea, mojito or favorite summer beverage or salad.

Not only does this easy to grow herb add flavor, but it also aids digestion.  Add a garnish of mint to dress up dessert plates or provide it to a loved one to calm a queasy stomach.  And use it to increase the manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A levels in your diet.

Make this the year you plant, harvest and enjoy some minty fresh flavor straight from the garden.

Vermonters at Risk from Robocall Scams, Says AARP Survey

June 3, 2019  
Filed under Feature Stories

 

Many Unaware of Caller ID Limitations and Are Underusing ‘Do Not Call’ Registry

 

While a large majority of Vermonters suspect that most of the automated telephone messages – or “robocalls” — that they receive are attempts at scams, few are taking actions to protect themselves, according to results of a new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

 

An estimated 48 billion robocalls came into the United States last year. More than half of Vermont adults surveyed by AARP said they receive seven or more robocalls per week.

 

Automated call technology has brought efficiency to mass telephone notifications, with companies using robocalls for flight or school cancellations, polling and other legitimate purposes. AARP itself uses robocall technology to reach its members with educational programming, including how to stay safe from scams and fraud. The technology, however, has also made it easier and cheaper for con artists to reach millions with their fraud schemes. Telephone scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

 

AARP’s survey verified that nearly all consumers rely on caller ID when deciding when to answer a call, even though three in four say they know the information that shows up may be fabricated, or “spoofed.”  About half of respondents are likely to ask for more information on one of these calls.

 

Spoofing has given the criminals the upper hand: The survey found that half of Vermont adults are more likely to answer a call seemingly from a local area code (49%), an area code where friends or family live (37%), or an area code and telephone exchange that matches their own (28%).

 

“Be wary when you pick up the phone. A number that looks familiar or local may be neither familiar nor local,” said Kathy Stokes, director, fraud prevention programs, AARP.  “Con artists have become increasingly sophisticated and devious, and once they connect with you and get you talking it’s far too easy to fall prey to their schemes.”

 

AARP’s survey for Vermont shows that people are more likely to be victimized by scam pitches involving threatened losses – “You owe unpaid taxes” or “You are facing jail time for missing jury duty” – than those promising rewards – “You’ve won the foreign lottery” or “You qualify for a free vacation.”  Respondents (47%) said they would respond to a negative or fear-based call scenario than those who said a positive or promise-of-wealth pitch would prompt them to engage (40%). Some 10% of Vermonters surveyed have been victimized by a phone scam, although that number is low as many do not report the crime. However, most have not taken action to prevent these calls – 88% do not use a robocall blocking service,  and most have not reported phony calls. Nearly half have not signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry.

 

To help protect against illegal robocalls, the AARP Fraud Watch Network recommends that consumers add their telephone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry.  Only about half of the survey respondents said they have done so.  Registering your number will not put a stop to fraudulent calls, but it will make them easier to recognize since most legitimate telemarketers do not call numbers on the registry.

 

The FWN also recommends exploring free or low-cost call-blocking apps, and urges consumers to report all scam calls to the proper authorities.  For a complete list of “do’s” and “don’ts” regarding illegal and scam robocalls, visit www.aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork.

 

Ninety-three percent of Vermont adults said they want the lawmakers to do more to reduce the number of fake and misleading robocalls, and efforts are underway on the federal level:

 

·        A bill with bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act or “TRACED Act,” would require telecom providers to use call authentication technology that would block many illegal robocalls.  The legislation, endorsed by AARP, has been approved by the Senate Commerce Committee and a vote by the full Senate is pending.

 

·        A rule proposal by the Federal Communications Commission would similarly require phone companies to implement technology to detect and block illegal robocalls.  The FCC will vote on the proposal at its June 6 meeting.

How a Government Pension Might Reduce Your Social Security Benefits

June 1, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

As a teacher for 20 years, I receive a pension from a school system that did not withhold Social Security taxes from my pay. After teaching, I’ve been working for a small company where I do pay Social Security taxes. Now, approaching age 65, I would like to retire and apply for my Social Security benefits. But I’ve been told that my teacher’s pension may cause me to lose some of my Social Security. Is that true?

Ready to Retire

 

Dear Ready,

Yes, it’s true. It’s very likely that your Social Security retirement benefits will be reduced under the terms of a government rule called the Windfall Elimination Provision (or WEP).

 

The WEP affects people who receive pensions from jobs in which they were not required to pay Social Security taxes – for example, police officers, firefighters, teachers and state and local government workers whose employers were not part of the national Social Security system. People who worked for nonprofit or religious organizations before 1984 may also be outside the system.

 

Many of these people, like you, are also eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits based on other work they did over the course of their career for which Social Security taxes were paid.

 

Because of your teacher’s pension, Social Security will use a special formula to calculate your retirement benefits, reducing them compared to what you’d otherwise get.

 

How much they’ll be reduced depends on your work history. But one rule that generally applies is that your Social Security retirement benefits cannot be cut by more than half the size of your pension. And the WEP does not apply to survivor benefits. If you’re married and die, your dependents can get a full Social Security payment, unless your spouse has earned his or her own government pension for which they didn’t pay Social Security taxes. If that’s the case, Social Security has another rule known as the Government Pension Offset (or GPO) that affects spouses or widows/widowers benefits.

 

Under the GPO, spousal and survivor benefits will be cut by two-thirds of the amount of their pension. And if their pension is large enough, their Social Security spousal or survivor benefits will be zero.

 

There are a few exceptions to these rules most of which are based on when you entered the Social Security workforce.

 

Why Do These Rules Exist?

According to the Social Security Administration, the reason Congress created the WEP (in 1983) and GPO (in 1977) was to create a more equitable system. People who get both a pension from non-Social Security work and benefits from Social Security-covered work get an unfair windfall due to the formula of how benefit amounts are calculated.

 

These rules ensure that government employees who don’t pay Social Security taxes would end up with roughly the same income as people who work in the private sector and do pay them.

 

For more information on the WEP visit SSA.gov/planners/retire/wep.html, where you’ll also find a link to their WEP online calculator to help you figure out how much your Social Security benefits may be reduced. And for more information on GPO, including a GPO calculator, see SSA.gov/planners/retire/gpo.html.