Savvy Senior

April 20, 2009  
Filed under Aging Parents


Auto Aids That Can Help Senior Drivers

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are different gadgets or devices you can buy for your car that can help older drivers. I’ve lost a lot of flexibility over the years and have a hard time getting in and out of my car, and my wife struggles with arthritis in her hands which causes her some problems, too. What’s available that can help keep us mobile?
— Stiff Driver

Dear Stiff,
There are lots of gadgets and devices on the market today that can help make driving easier and safer for seniors. Here’s a breakdown of some popular budget-friendly products that can help with a variety of needs.

Mobility and Flexibility

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 37,000 people age 65 and older are injured by simply entering or exiting their vehicle. If mobility problems or limited range of motion is hampering your ability to get in and out of your car, look over your shoulder to back-up or merge into traffic, or even reach for your seatbelt, here are some items that can help:
•Handybar: This is a portable support handle that inserts into the U-shaped striker plate on the door frame that helps with getting into and out of the vehicle.
•Car Caddie: This is another type of portable handle that hooks around the top of your door window frame giving you something to hold onto while getting out of the car.
•Swivel seat cushion: A round portable cushion that turns 360 degrees to help older drivers and passengers rotate their bodies into their cars.
•Panoramic (or wide-view) rear view mirror: These attach to your existing rear view mirror to widen your rear visibility and eliminate blind spots so you can see traffic without significant neck or body rotation. It also helps during parking.
•Convex (or wide-angle) side view mirrors: These attach to the existing side view mirrors to improve side and rear vision.
•Easy Reach Seat Belt Handle: This is a six-inch extension handle that attaches to your seat belt to make it easier to reach.

Arthritic Hands

Drivers who have arthritic or weak hands may find the tasks of turning the ignition key to start the car, or twisting open the gas cap to fill up, difficult and painful. Items that can help include an “easy-to-grasp key holder,” which is a small handle device that attaches to your car keys to provide additional leverage making it easier to turn the key in the ignition or door. And for help at the pump, a “gas cap turner” makes removing the gas cap a breeze. Another comfy add-on is a “steering wheel cover” that fits over your existing steering wheel to make it larger in size and easier to grip.

Sensitivity to Glare

Aging eyes almost always become more sensitive to glare. A fantastic item that can help is the “Sun Zapper Glare Shield” – a device that clips right on to your existing sun visor to remove sun glare without obstructing vision. It also comes with a special sliding shield that lets you block extra-bright glare spots.

Small Drivers

Most seniors shrink a little as they get older (due to gravity and osteoporosis) and for those who were small to start with, it can be difficult seeing over the steering wheel, or reaching the pedals without being too close to the airbag. Solutions include getting an orthopedic (wedge-shaped) seat cushion that supports the back and elevates you a few extra inches to help you see. Or foot pedal extensions that allow you to reach the gas and brake pedals while keeping you 10-to-12-inches from the steering wheel. These cost around $200 and need to be installed by a professional.

Shopping Tips: All of these items (except the foot pedal extensions) cost under $40, and can be found online at a variety of locations. Some good shopping points include, Dynamic Living (888-940-0605;, ActiveForever (800-377-8033;;) and AutoSport (800-953-0814;

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Cell Phone Savings for Seniors

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,
A few months ago you wrote a column on simple cell phones for seniors. Can you now write one on cheaper cell phones for seniors on a budget? My wife and I have had a cell phone for nearly two years that we rarely use but like having it for emergency purposes. When our current cell phone contract runs out, we want to find a cheaper option than the $40 per month we’re spending.
— Fixed Incomers

Dear Fixed,
For seniors who don’t use their cell phone very often, but still want one for emergencies or occasional calls, your cheapest option is probably a prepaid plan. Here’s what you should know.


Prepaid cell phones, also known as pay-as-you-go phones, are a smart, cost-cutting option for infrequent cell phone users — those who talk 200 minutes or less a month. With a prepaid phone there’s no contract, no fixed monthly bills, no credit checks and no hidden costs that come with traditional cell phone plans. And the savings can be significant. Many prepaid plans average less than $10 a month.

How They Work

To get started, you have to buy a special prepaid phone (they cost anywhere from $10 to $200), and then pre-purchase a certain amount of minutes (for talk or text) that must be used within a specified period of time. (Note: If you already have a phone with one of the major wireless companies, you may be able to have it converted to a prepaid phone.)

The amount of minutes you purchase ranges from 30 up to 1,000 and typically must be used within 30 to 90 days, up to a year depending on the carrier you choose and the amount of minutes you buy. (Most plans allow minutes to be rolled over if you add time before they expire.) The prices, too, will vary ranging between 5 and 35 cents per minute — the more you buy the cheaper they are. Your phone will keep you updated on how many minutes you have left, and to add minutes, you can buy them on your prepaid phone, through your carrier’s Web site or store, or your local retailer.

In addition to the pre-purchased minutes option, some carriers offer prepaid plans that charge a small daily access fee (usually $1 to $2) on days you use the phone, plus a per-minute fee. These plans usually offer lower per-minute rates. And some companies even offer flat-rate monthly plans that resemble traditional contract plans, except that customers pay up front and have no commitment.

Where to Shop

All the major wireless carriers (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T) offer prepaid plans today including a host of other companies like TracFone, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Cricket and many others. To find and compare plans visit, an independent site that rates and compares all prepaid providers and provides links to their Web sites. You can also find prepaid phones at retail stores like Wal-Mart and Target, or at wireless walk-in stores. And to help you choose a plan, visit (for free) or (for $5). Both sites will give you tailored recommendations after you enter in your estimated cell phone use, but they don’t compare all prepaid carriers.

Senior Discount Plans

If you are currently using Verizon or AT&T and decide to stay with your contract plan, you can cut your monthly costs by switching to their special senior service plans. These plans are available to customers age 65 and older providing 200 anytime minutes, 500 night and weekend minutes, and unlimited in-network calling for $30 a month. Sprint offers a similar plan that’s available to everybody.

Emergency Only

Another option you should know about is 911 cell phones. These are free, emergency-only cell phones for seniors and victims of abuse. Contact your local law enforcement agency to see if there’s an emergency cell phone program near you, or

Savvy Tip: If you’re in a long-term cellular contract and want to escape without paying the hefty early termination penalty, visit and These companies match cellular customers who want out of their contracts with people who are willing to take them over.

Dear Savvy Senior,
My husband and I are interested in taking our two grandkids on vacation this summer and are looking for some good ideas. Do you know of any travel companies that offer special vacation packages for grandparents traveling with their grandkids?
— Unsavvy Traveler

Dear Traveler,
Taking the grandkids on vacation is what the travel industry calls intergenerational travel, and it’s become increasingly popular in recent years. Here’s what you should know.
According to the Yankelovich Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor, nearly 30 percent of traveling grandparents have taken at least one trip with a grandchild over the past year. Vacationing with your grandkids is a great way to have fun and strengthen your relationships, especially if you live far away and don’t get a chance to see them that often.

Travel Companies

Today there are a number of travel organizations and companies that offer specialized vacation packages for grandparents and grandchildren. These are a nice way to go because they plan everything for you, with most activities for the two generations together, but some just for adults so you can get an occasional breather.
Available in all price ranges, these tours are typically designed for children between the ages of seven to 17 or 18, and are usually scheduled in the summer, or sometimes during winter breaks, when the kids are out of school. Here are some top tour companies that will take you and your grandkids on a fun, well-planned vacation.
• Elderhostel: For an educational and relatively low-cost vacation, Elderhostel, the world’s largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and over, offers a wide variety of trips for grandparents and grandchildren, too. Visit (or call 800-454-5768) and click on “Grandparent Travel” for a list of more than 300 vacation plans throughout the U.S. and abroad. Most of the U.S. trips are around five days and costing anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per person, while the international trips typically last one to two weeks costing between $150 and $350 per person per day. These prices do not include transportation to the destination.
• Sierra Club: For the outdoorsy type, the Sierra Club (; 415-977-5522) offers a variety of affordable “family outings” and “local outings” near you to choose from. They also offer an annual week-long “Just for Grandparents and Grandkids” outing in July in Tahoe National Forest, California. Cost: $545 per adult and $445 per child.
• Grandtravel: This is the first company to send grandparents and grandchildren (ages seven to 17) off on vacation together. Grandtravel (; 800-247-7651) offers seven to 13-day luxury tours scheduled in July and August with destinations to Washington D.C. and Williamsburg, Alaska, Italy, London and Paris, and New Zealand. These trips are educational (led by teacher-escorts), limited to 30 or fewer participants and expensive, ranging between $3,000 and $7,200 per person.
• Generations Touring Company: This is another deluxe tour operator that specializes in intergeneration travel. They offer a variety of week-long tours to destinations like the Grand Canyon, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. And for sports fans, they have a “Baseball’s Sacred Grounds” summer tour which includes visits to Boston’s historic Fenway Park, New York’s new Yankee Stadium, and a trip to Cooperstown to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame. Costs for all tours range between $2,100 and $4,000 per person., 888-415-9100.

Consider Cruising

Another popular option to consider is to take your grandkids on a cruise. This offers a safe and secure environment that’s pretty affordable with plenty of facilities, activities and dining options to keep everyone happy. Disney, Carnival, Holland, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian cruise lines all offer appealing options for intergenerational travelers. To find out what’s available contact a travel agent (see to find an agent who specializes in cruises) or visit Cruises For Families (; 877-386-9243).


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