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.

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.

 

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.

 

Underutilized Palliative Care Services Can Help Relieve Pain

March 21, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about palliative care? My husband suffers from lung disease and is receiving radiation for prostate cancer but is not terminally ill. I’ve heard that palliative care can help him with his pain and discomfort. What can you tell me?

Searching Spouse

 

Dear Searching,

Palliative care is a very effective service that can help patients relieve the symptoms and stress that often comes with serious illness. But unfortunately, most people don’t know about it, or don’t understand how it can help them. Here’s what you should know.

 

What is Palliative Care?

Most people hear the words “palliative care” and think “hospice,” but they are different types of care. Hospice is reserved for when curative treatments have been exhausted and patients have less than six months to live.

 

Palliative care, on the other hand, is a medical specialty that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping and even depression. It can also help patients deal with the side effects of medical treatment.

 

Anyone with a serious illness can benefit from palliative care, including those with cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and more.

 

Palliative care is provided by a team including palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers and other specialists that work with your doctor to provide an extra layer of support and care. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

 

Palliative care teams are trained to help patients understand all their treatment options as well as the quality of life ramifications, so they can make informed decisions about what’s best for them.

 

Often patients assume their doctors will take care of their pain and stress, but most doctors in our specialized medical system have not been well trained in pain and symptom management. That’s why palliative care is invaluable.

 

Palliative care was developed in the United States in the 1990s but only became a formal medical subspecialty in 2008. Today, three-quarters of U.S. hospitals with more than 50 beds have a palliative care program, and 90 percent of hospitals with 300 beds or more offer it.

 

How to Get Care

There are around 6 million people in the U.S. that have a need for palliative care, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care, but most patients don’t know to ask for it. If you feel that a palliative care specialist could help your husband, start by talking to his doctor and ask for a referral.

 

If your doctor isn’t helpful, go to GetPalliativeCare.org, where you can search for a specialist in your area.

 

Palliative care can be provided in in a variety of places, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, doctor’s clinics and at your own home.

 

You’ll also be happy to know that most private insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care services.

How Seniors Can Stop Frustrating Robocalls

March 14, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

Is there anything seniors can do to stop perpetual robocalls? It seems like I get five to 10 a day on my home and cell phone, and I’m sick of it!

Frustrated Frank

 

Dear Frank,

Robocalls make up around 50 percent of all phone calls today, and it’s only getting worse. Americans were hit with 26.3 billion robocalls in 2018, a whopping 46 percent increase from the year before. Fortunately, there are a variety of tools available today that can help you greatly reduce them.

 

Register Your Numbers

If you haven’t already done so, your first step to limiting at least some unwanted calls is to make sure your home and cell phone numbers are registered with the National Do Not Call Registry. While this won’t stop illegal robocalls, it will stop unwanted calls from legitimate for-profit businesses who are trying to sell you something. But be aware that political organizations, charities and survey takers are still permitted to call you, as are businesses you’ve bought something from or made a payment to in the last 18 months. To sign up, visit DoNotCall.gov or call 888-382-1222.

 

Home Landline Tools

To stop calls on your home phone set up the “anonymous call rejection” option. This is a free landline-calling feature available from most telephone companies. It lets you screen out calls from callers who have blocked their caller ID information – a favorite tactic of telemarketers. To set it up, you usually have to dial *77 from your landline, though different phone services may have different procedures to set it up. Call your telephone service provider to find out if they offer this feature, and if so, what you need to do to enable it.

 

Another solution is to sign up for Nomorobo, which is a free service for landline phones but only if you have a VoIP landline carrier. Nomorobo uses a “simultaneous ring” service that detects and blocks robocalls on a black list of known offender numbers. It isn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it is an extra layer of protection. To sign up or see if Nomorobo works with your phone service provider, visit Nomorobo.com.

 

Cell Phones Tools

To stop unwanted robocalls and texts to your cell phone, ask your carrier about caller ID options that help identify, filter or prevent callers that aren’t legitimate.

 

For example, AT&T provides their subscribers a free app called “AT&T Call Protect” that has automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam warnings, and you can manually block unwanted calls. Starting this month, Verizon is offering free spam alerting and call blocking tools to their users. T-Mobile offers free “Scam ID” and “Scam Block” to combat robocalls and spam. And Sprint customers can sign up for its “Premium Caller ID” service for $2.99 per month to guard against robocalls and caller ID spoofers.

 

Call Blocking Apps

Another way to stop nuisance robocalls on your smartphone is with call blocking apps. These can identify who is calling you and block unwanted calls that show up on a crowd-sourced spam and robocaller lists.

 

Some top call blocking app for iPhones and Androids include Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com), Hiya Caller ID and Spam Blocker (Hiya.com) and Truecaller (Truecaller.com).

 

Nomorobo cost $2 per month, while Truecaller and Hiya apps are free to use, but offer upgraded services for $2 and $3 per month.

 

Spam Proof Phones

There are also phones you can buy, like the Samsung Galaxy S, Samsung Note, or Google Pixel phone that have built-in spam and robocall protection in place. Samsung’s Smart Call feature flags calls it suspects are spam, while Google Pixel phones have built-in spam call protection. With this feature, users with Caller ID enabled will get a warning if a suspected spam call or robocall is received.

 

Does Medicare Covers Vision Services?

March 7, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

I will be enrolling in Medicare in a few months, and would like to know how Medicare covers vision services? I currently have vision insurance through my employer but will lose it when I retire.

Looking Ahead

 

Dear Looking,

Many people approaching 65 are unclear on what Medicare does and doesn’t cover when it comes to vision services. The good news is that original Medicare covers most medical issues like cataract surgery, treatment of eye diseases and medical emergencies. But unfortunately, routine care like eye exams and eyeglasses are the beneficiary’s responsibility. Here’s a breakdown of what is and isn’t covered.

 

Eye exams and treatments: Medicare does not cover routine eye exams that test for eyeglasses or contact lenses. But they do cover yearly medical eye exams if you have diabetes or are at high risk for glaucoma. They will also pay for exams to test and treat medical eye diseases if you’re having vision problems that indicate a serious eye problem like macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, glaucoma, eye infections or if you get something in your eye.

 

Eye surgeries: Medicare will cover most eye surgeries that help repair the eye function, including cataract surgery to remove cataracts and insert standard intraocular lenses to replace your own. Medicare will not, however, pick up the extra cost if you choose a specialized lens that restores full range of vision, thereby reducing your need for glasses after cataract surgery. The extra cost for a specialized lens can run up to $2,500 per eye.

 

Eye surgeries that are usually not covered by Medicare include refractive (LASIK) surgery and cosmetic eye surgery that are not considered medically necessary.

 

Eyeglasses and contact lenses: Medicare does not pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses, with one exception: If you have had a conventional intraocular lens inserted during cataract surgery, Medicare will pay for eyeglasses or contact lenses following the operation.

 

Ways to Save

Although original Medicare’s vision coverage is limited to medical issues, there are ways you can save on routine care. Here are several to check into.

 

Consider a Medicare Advantage plan: One way you can get extra vision coverage when you join Medicare is to choose a Medicare Advantage plan instead of original Medicare. Many of these plans, which are sold through private insurance companies, will cover routine eye care and eyeglasses along with all of your hospital and medical insurance, and prescription drugs. See Medicare.gov/find-a-plan to shop for plans.

 

Purchase vision insurance: If you get routine eye exams and purchase new eyeglasses annually, a vision insurance plan may be worth the costs. These policies typically run between $12 and $20 per month. See Ehealthinsurance.com to look for plans.

 

Check veterans benefits: If you’re a veteran and qualify for VA health care benefits, you may be able to get some or all of your routine vision care through VA. Go to Vets.gov, and search for “vision care” to learn more.

 

Shop around: Many retailers provide discounts – between 10 and 30 percent – on eye exams and eyeglasses if you belong to a membership group like AARP or AAA.

 

You can also save by shopping at discount retailers like Costco Optical, which is recommended by Consumer Reports as the best discount store for good eyewear and low prices – it requires a $60 membership fee. Walmart Vision Centers also offer low prices with no membership.

 

Or consider buying your glasses online. Online retailers like WarbyParker.com, ZenniOptical.com, and EyeBuyDirect.com all get top marks from the Better Business Bureau and offer huge savings. To purchase glasses online you’ll need a prescription.

 

Look for assistance: There are also health centers and local clinics that provide free or discounted vision exams and eyeglasses to those in need. To find them put a call into your local Lions Club (see Directory.LionsClubs.org) for referrals. 

 

How to Choose a Good Home Stair Lift

March 1, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some good stair lift companies? I have a difficult time getting up and down the stairs anymore and am interested in purchasing a stair lift for my house but could use some help choosing one.

Arthritic Ann

 

Dear Ann,

A good home stair lift is an excellent solution for those with mobility challenges who have trouble with steps. A stair lift will carry you up and down the stairs in a safe seated position, providing easy access to the second story or basement level of your home.

 

To help you choose a quality stair lift that meets your needs and budget, here are a few shopping tips, along with some top-rated companies that make them.

 

Types of Lifts

There are two basic types of stair lifts that are sold today: straight and curved. The type you need will depend upon the design of your staircase.

 

A straight stair lift is one that travels in a straight line up a flight of stairs uninterrupted by landings, bends or curves, and costs between $2,500 and $5,000 installed. Curved lifts, however, are much more elaborate and will go around corners, bends and changes in direction. Curved lifts are also much more expensive, typically running between $8,500 and $15,000 or more depending on the complexity of the installation.

 

You also need to know that all stair lifts mount to the stair treads, not to the wall, so they are very sturdy and can be installed in almost any home.

 

If you are a large person, you may need to get a heavy-duty lift with a wider seat and bigger lifting capacity – all companies offer them. Or, if you’re tall, find out about raising the seat height during installation.

 

Most stair lifts available today also have seats, armrests and footplates that fold up out of the way, and swivel seats that make getting into and out of the chair easier. They also come with standard safety features like seatbelts, breaking systems and footrest sensors, push-button or rocker-switch controls located on the armrest for easy operation, and “call send” controls which allow you to call or send the unit to the other end of the stairs. Make sure the lift you choose has all these features.

 

Depending on the company, you may also have the option of choosing between an electric (AC) and a battery powered (DC) stair lift. Battery powered units charge at the base station (some recharge anywhere on the track) are quieter, smoother and better than electric lifts, and will work even if there’s a power failure in the home.

 

Where to Shop

While there are many companies that make and sell stair lifts, two of the best, based on reputation and customer satisfaction ratings, are Bruno (Bruno.com, 800-454-4355) and Stannah (Stannah-Stairlifts.com, 888-465-7652).

 

Unfortunately, original Medicare does not cover stair lifts nor do Medicare supplemental (Medigap) policies, but some Medicare Advantage plans may help pay. There are also many states that offer Medicaid waivers that will pay for lifts to those that qualify, and the VA offers cash grants to veterans with disabilities for home safety improvements.

 

To save some money, you may want to consider purchasing a used or refurbished model. Or, if you need a stair lift for only a short period of time, consider renting one. Most companies offer these options, and many offer financing programs too.

 

To get started, contact some stair lift companies who will put you in touch with a dealer in your area. All dealers provide free in-home assessments and estimates and can help you choose an appropriate lift.

 

 

How to Slow Down Cognitive Aging

February 21, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior

Are there any proven strategies to preventing cognitive decline? I have a family history of dementia and worry about my own memory and cognitive abilities as I grow older. What can you tell me?

Almost 60

 

Dear Almost,

For most people, starting in their fifties and sixties, the brain’s ability to remember names, multi-task or learn something new starts declining. While our genes (which we can’t control) play a key role in determining our cognitive aging, our general health (which we do have some control over) plays a big factor too.

 

Here are some healthy lifestyle strategies – recommended by medical experts – that you can employ that can help stave off cognitive loss and maybe even build a stronger brain.

 

Manage health problems: Studies have shown that cognitive problems are related to health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and even depression. So, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes you need to treat them with lifestyle changes and medication (if necessary) and get them under control. And if you have a history of depression, you need to talk to your doctor about treatment options.

 

Exercise: Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain, to keep the brain cells well nourished. So, choose an aerobic activity you enjoy like walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, etc., that elevates your heart rate and do it for at least 30 to 40 minutes three times a week.

 

Eat healthy: A heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, will also help protect the brain. A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Also keep processed foods and sweets to a minimum.

 

Get some sleep: Quality, restful sleep contributes to brain health too. Typically, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep daily. If you have persistent problems sleeping, you need to identify and address the problem. Medications, late-night exercise and alcohol can interfere with sleep quality and length, as can arthritis pain, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

 

If you need help, make an appointment with a sleep specialist who will probably recommend an overnight diagnostic sleep test.

 

Challenge your mind: Some research suggests that mind challenging activities can help improve memory, and slow age-related mental decline. But, be aware that these activities consist of things you aren’t accustomed to doing. In other words, crossword puzzles aren’t enough to challenge your brain, if you’re already a regular puzzle doer. Instead, you need to pick up a new skill like learning to dance, play a musical instrument, study a new language or do math problems – something that’s challenging and a little outside your comfort zone.

 

Brain-training websites like Lumosity.com and BrainHQ.com are good mind exercising tools because they continually adapt to your skill level to keep you challenged.

 

Socializing and interacting with other people is another important way to stimulate the brain. So make a point to reach out and stay connected to friends, family and neighbors. Join a club, take a class or even volunteer – anything that enhances your social life.

                                                                                       

Don’t smoke or drink excessively: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption both effect the brain in a negative way, so kick the habit if you smoke and, if you drink, do so only in moderation.

 

Reduce stress: Some stress is good for the brain, but too much can be toxic. There’s growing evidence that things like mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi are all good ways to help reduce stress.

Do I Need to File a Tax Return This Year?

February 14, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for retirees this tax season? My income dropped way down when I had to retire last year, so I’m wondering if I need to file a tax return this year.

Retired Ron

 

Dear Ron,

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year actually depends on several factors: how much you earned last year (in 2018); the source of that income; your age; and your filing status.

 

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS tax filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2018 gross income – which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately – was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

  • Single: $12,000 ($13,600 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2019).
  • Married filing jointly: $24,000 ($25,300 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $26,600 if you’re both over 65).
  • Married filing separately: $5 at any age.
  • Head of household: $18,000 ($19,600 if age 65 or older).
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $24,000 ($25,300 if age 65 or older).

 

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554) or see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

 

Check Here Too

There are, however, some other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements. For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2018, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace (Obamacare) plan, you’ll need to file.

 

You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits, and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.

 

To figure all this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on their website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

 

You can access this tool at IRS.gov/filing – click on “Do I Need to File?” Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See IRS.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

 

Check Your State

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies see Taxadmin.org/state-tax-agencies.

 

Tax Preparation Help

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 or visit IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep to locate a service near you.

 

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at around 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call 888-227-7669 or visit AARP.org/findtaxhelp. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

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