Talking to Senior Loved Ones About Giving Up Car Keys

The American Geriatrics Society recently released a tip sheet for talking to senior relatives about giving up the car keys.

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Seniors and Food Safety: Do You Know the Facts?

Do you like to watch cooking shows? A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggests that the popularity of these programs might be one of the reasons that fewer Americans are taking precautions to avoid foodborne illness.

According to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, during the past decade, fewer consumers reported that they practice food safety steps, such as washing their hands before handling food or keeping food at a safe temperature. To see if cooking shows set a bad example, the researchers watched several episodes of 10 popular shows and rated them on safe food handling practices.

Reported study author Nancy Cohen, PhD, RD, LDN, FAND, “The majority of practices rated were out of compliance or conformance with recommendations in at least 70 percent of episodes and food safety practices were mentioned in only three episodes.” Cohen added, “For most behaviors observed, the percentage of shows in conformance with recommended practices was much lower than that seen in restaurant employees and consumers in general.”

Cohen suggests that cooking shows could step up their game in this department. She says, “There are many opportunities on cooking shows to educate the public regarding safe food handling practices and help reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. Similarly, nutrition and food safety educators could work with the media to produce shows that demonstrate positive food safety behaviors and educate consumers about food safety practices as they adopt recipes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that each year, one in six Americans—that’s 48 million of us—will get sick, be hospitalized and even die when harmful microorganisms—mostly bacteria, but sometimes viruses, parasites, molds or toxins—get into our bodies by means of the food or liquids we consume.

Being informed about food safety is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones. When it comes to foodborne illness, what you don’t know can hurt you! Read on to find out how much you know about foodborne illness … including the special concerns of older adults.

Myth #1: Only small children are at risk for severe cases of foodborne illness.

Fact: For most people, the symptoms of food poisoning, while definitely unpleasant, are short-term and not life-threatening. But certain populations are at higher risk of hospitalization, permanent health problems, and even death. This includes children, people with HIV/AIDS, and people older than 65. As we grow older, we are at greater risk because of …

  • Decreased immune system efficiency, so we can’t fight off bacteria as effectively as when we were younger
  • Reduced amount of stomach acid, which allows more bacteria to survive in the digestive tract
  • Impaired vision and sense of taste, so we become less likely to notice if food is spoiled.

Myth #2: Stomachache, vomiting, diarrhea and fever are usually caused by “the flu.”

Fact: Influenza (“the flu”) is a respiratory ailment, including sore throat, body aches, and sometimes a runny nose. Some people erroneously use the term “stomach flu” when they mean gastrointestinal (digestive) illness: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea. The germs that cause gastrointestinal illness most often enter the body through contaminated food or water.

Myth #3: Foodborne illness always strikes within minutes of a person’s consuming contaminated food.

Fact: Sometimes, food poisoning symptoms are obvious within 20 minutes. But in many more cases, it takes days or even weeks for symptoms to appear. The effects of foodborne illness most often last for a day or two, but can persist for over a week.

Myth #4:  Only meat and dairy products can harbor harmful bacteria.

Fact: Undercooked or raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are indeed the most common culprits in food poisoning, because they provide the best environment in which harmful germs can flourish. But other foods can also harbor bacteria that can make you sick. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, and unpasteurized juice. When purchasing and preparing food, take these sensible precautions:

  • At the grocery store, inspect meat packages for tears, eggs for cracked shells, and all products for expired “sell-by” dates.
  • Wash hands before preparing food.
  • Use only acrylic or plastic cutting boards, and clean thoroughly with hot water and soap after use—or better yet, in the dishwasher. It’s safest to use one board for meat, and another for produce.
  • Cook meats to the recommended temperature (for example, beef to at least 160°, poultry to at least 180°, fish to at least 140°).
  • Wash fresh produce.
  • Purchased pasteurized juices only (check for a warning label if you’re not sure).

Myth #5:  So long as you cook meat, poultry and seafood to the recommended temperature, you won’t come into contact with harmful bacteria.

Fact: Proper cooking is important. But one big culprit in food poisoning is cross-contamination, when the juices from uncooked meat come into contact with other foods. It can begin right at the grocery store, if fresh produce and raw meat juices touch in the shopping cart. And give your food preparation practices a checkup. What about that cutting board? When you were done working on the raw chicken, did you then use the same surface to prepare a fresh salad? And if you were cooking on the grill, did you place the cooked steak onto a clean plate instead of the same one on which you carried the raw meat?

Myth #6: Let hot foods cool down thoroughly before putting them away, so you don’t damage your refrigerator.

Fact: The claim that hot food can damage your refrigerator is an old story left over from “icebox” days. Improper food storage is a major factor in the growth of harmful bacteria—and every minute cooked food is left at room temperature allows more bacteria to grow. So it’s important to refrigerate or freeze leftovers as soon as possible. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommends consuming leftover prepared foods within 3-5 days. And be sure your refrigerator temperature is set at 40 degrees or lower.

Myth #7: The best way to thaw frozen foods is to set them out on the kitchen counter.

Fact: You should never defrost food at room temperature. This is because the portions that thaw first then are vulnerable to bacteria growth—and as the FDA tells us, bacteria in room temperature food can double every 20 minutes. Instead, thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave using the “defrost” setting.

Myth #8: Microwave ovens have special germ-killing powers.

Fact: Not to get too technical about it, but microwave energy itself doesn’t kill germs—it is the heat generated by the waves that destroy harmful organisms, the same as with a conventional oven. Remember also that microwave ovens may heat foods unevenly, so it’s important to stir foods once or more during the heating process. Turning the container several times during cooking (or using a carousel) helps heat reach all parts of the food.

Myth #9: All foods, if properly prepared, are safe for older adults.

Fact: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that older adults and persons with conditions that weaken the immune system avoid certain foods entirely:

  • Any dishes with raw or undercooked meat or seafood (for example: sushi, steak tartare, raw oysters, hamburgers cooked rare)
  • Unpasteurized milk, and soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk
  • Foods with raw or undercooked eggs (such as Caesar salad, unbaked cookie dough, homemade mayonnaise, eggnog)
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, bean, etc.)
  • Fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized fruit juices

Your healthcare provider can give you more information about the foods that are safe for you.

Myth #10: Restaurant and takeout food are always safe, because restaurants are inspected by the Health Department.

Fact: Though occasional outbreaks of illness are traced back to pathogens in restaurant or deli food, most eating establishments in the U.S. follow proper food handling procedures. But remember: take-out food or “doggie bag” safety is mostly up to you! Eating only until you are full and bringing leftovers home for a later meal is a great idea—for your waistline and your wallet. But only consume leftover food if you can refrigerate it promptly (within two hours, earlier in warm weather).

Learn More About Food Safety

The website, sponsored by a group of U.S. and state government food safety departments, includes consumer advice and other resources, including information for older adults.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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Centenarians Share Their Secrets

How can you live to be 100? Kaiser Health News recently asked those who have achieved that milestone.

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Seniors Should Avoid Phony Weight-Loss Products

They claim to help us lose weight, but they only lighten our wallets.

Are you thinking about a spring diet? It’s the time of year when many of us might be putting on shorts and pulling out our swimsuits, only to realize that we’ve let our exercise and eating plan lapse during the darker, cooler months.

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t all about how we look in our swimsuit, of course! Being overweight raises our risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, and even dementia. This is true for people of every age. Years ago, doctors worried most when a senior was underweight—but today, older adults are just as likely to experience a loss of independence and health due to obesity. Maybe a senior comes home from a doctor appointment with the advice to lose 30 pounds, along with a diet and exercise program. It sounds like it will take a lot of work and willpower! Is there an easier way to shed that fat?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn that unscrupulous companies have created literally thousands of phony products that claim to help us lose weight, but are useless—or even harmful. These include supplements and other medications, fake medical devices, and “miracle” exercise equipment.

We’re bombarded by their advertising on TV, in magazines, and on the internet. These crooks create elaborate infomercials and official-looking websites—based on no science or evidence whatsoever, but with a big marketing budget. The hire celebrity spokespersons to win our confidence. Or maybe our friends have been conned into selling these products, and urge us to buy their “miracle weight loss shake” or “super berry supplement.” Seniors may be especially vulnerable to these sales pitches.

How can we spot a fraudulent weight-loss product? The FTC urges consumers to scrutinize the claims of products and programs for the following seven surefire signs that a company is selling a worthless product:

  1. “Lose weight without diet or exercise!” Getting to a healthy weight takes work. Take a pass on any product that promises miraculous results without the effort. The only thing you’ll lose is money.
  2. “Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!” Beware of any product that claims that you can eat all the high-calorie food you want and still lose weight. Losing weight requires sensible food choices. Filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits can make it easier to say no to fattening sweets and snacks.
  3. “Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!” Even if you’re successful in taking weight off, permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes. Don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results without ongoing maintenance.
  4. “Just take a pill!” Doctors, dieticians, and other experts agree that there’s simply no magic way to lose weight without diet or exercise. Even pills approved by FDA to block the absorption of fat or help you eat less and feel full are to be taken with a low-calorie, low-fat diet and regular exercise.
  5. “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!” Losing weight at the rate of a pound or two a week is the most effective way to take it off and keep it off. At best, products promising lightning-fast weight loss are a scam. At worst, they can ruin your health.
  6. “Everybody will lose weight!” Your own habits and health concerns are unique. There is no one-size-fits-all product guaranteed to work for everyone. Team up with your healthcare provider to design a nutrition and exercise program suited to your lifestyle and metabolism.
  7. “Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!” You’ve seen the ads for diet patches or creams that claim to melt away the pounds. Don’t believe them. There’s nothing you can wear or apply to your skin that will cause you to lose weight.

Bottom line, when it comes to weight loss claims, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely isn’t. Talk to your doctor about a weight-loss program that is right for you. For seniors, an effective plan will most likely include:

  • A slow, steady loss of weight rather than a “crash diet” with rapid weight loss
  • A diet with more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Increased exercise, both to burn calories and control appetite
  • Education about portion control
  • A “buddy system,” such as a support group, senior center program, or a weight-loss class through a reputable organization.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise; checklist from the Federal Trade Commission.

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The Challenges of Older Job Seekers

“Work longer,” say economists. But it’s not so easy when seniors are pounding the pavement. NPR takes a look at the challenges faced by older job seekers.

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Exercising Your Brain Lowers Dementia Risk—And It Can Be Fun!

For years, Mayo Clinic neuropsychiatrist Dr. Yonas Geda has been studying the effect of mental exercise on the brain. In 2009, Dr. Geda reported that activities such as reading books, playing cards or doing craft activities such as pottery or quilting could dramatically slow the rate of memory loss in older adults. (TV watching was not one of these activities; seniors who watched more than seven hours of TV per day experienced more memory loss.) Dr. Geda said, “This study is exciting because it demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process. By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss.”

Dr. Geda called for further research on the topic, and in 2017, he released a new study. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it found that seniors who took part in these brain-stimulating activities had a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that is considered to be the “intermediate zone between normal cognitive aging and dementia.”

These studies—and a number of others like it—are a reassurance that we don’t have to purchase special “brain building” products to protect our memory. Brain exercise isn’t just a matter of hard work. Neurologists have found that many activities we find pleasurable stimulate the growth of new cells and connections in the brain, and lower the level of harmful proteins that lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few that might surprise you!

Caring for a pet. Contact with animals offers emotional benefits, encourages socialization and decreases stress. Dog owners have a built-in incentive to go for a brisk brain-boosting walk or two each day. And spending time with animals reduces loneliness, an emotion that is so stressful for social creatures that it can damage our brains. Studies show that even watching fish in an aquarium lowers the level of the brain-damaging hormones in our body.

Do a good deed. We humans are wired to take pleasure in helping others. Neurologists say that altruism—selfless acting for the good of others—is linked to a reduction in stress and depression, both of which are very bad for our brains. Dr. Stephen G. Post of Stony Brook University School of Medicine said that if there were a pill that provided the same results as doing good for others, “It would be a bestseller overnight.” April is National Volunteer Month—maybe this is a good time to check out ways you can do some good while protecting your memory!

Video games. While brain fitness programs are now a multibillion dollar industry, even popular mainstream video games can be protective against cognitive decline. For example, a study in the Archives of Neurology showed that the popular Angry Birds game provides a good brain workout. And researchers from North Carolina State University found that playing the World of Warcraft online role-playing game improved cognitive function in senior test subjects.

Music. Neurologists continue to study the complex way music works across many areas of the brain. Music helps people with dementia access memories and even remember new material. A number of studies showed that childhood music lessons can protect us from memory loss later in life. And it’s never too late: In January 2017, University of Pennsylvania researchers reported, “Taking music lessons in your 60s or older can boost your brain’s health, helping to decrease loss of memory and cognitive function.” So, buy a harmonica, take piano lessons, join a community choir or load up your music player with interesting new tunes to give your mind a stimulating boost.

Bingo. Last but not least, a new look at an old favorite! Activities professionals who work in nursing homes and senior centers sometimes complain about the “bingo stereotype,” but research from Case Western Reserve University showed that the game provides good mental exercise and improves thinking skills, even for players who have Alzheimer’s disease. So next time you call out B-I-N-G-O, remember that the real prize is a boost to brain health!

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

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Observation Status Update

Kaiser Health News explains the new observation care ruling. It helps, but people on Medicare and their families should still take care to know their patient status.

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Am I Too Old to Be an Organ Donor?

Ted went to renew his driver’s license. At 70, he had to renew in person and take an eye test. As he was completing his paperwork, the clerk said, “Would you like to be an organ donor?” Ted laughed. “My organs are too old for that!” Was he right?

April is National Donate Life Month. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Organ Donation and Transplantation website (, this event “celebrates the tremendous generosity of those who have saved lives by becoming organ, eye, tissue, marrow and blood donors, and encourages others to follow their fine example.”

Organ donation is a way to give someone else a chance at life even when our own life is over. Today, lives are saved or improved by transplants of the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, corneas and other organs and tissues. Today, more than 119,000 people in America are waiting for a transplant. Each day, 22 of them die. And while 95 percent of Americans believe in organ donation, fewer than half have actually signed up to be a donor.

Who can be an organ donor?

We often read heartwarming stories of parents who have lost an infant or young child, yet generously save the life of another child through organ donation. They say that though their child’s life was brief, their choice provided some comfort in their saddest time.

But what about people who have led a long life? There’s a myth that although seniors can be good candidates for organ transplantation, their organs are too old to be donated. Not true in most cases, say experts from the Division of Transplantation. They report that there’s no age reason not to become an organ donor. People in their 60s, 70s and even beyond have been organ donors. According to, the oldest organ donor on record was 92 years old. His liver saved the life of a 68-year-old woman. And in 2015, 20 percent of organ donors were older than 65.

Learn how to become an organ donor

  • The first step is to think about whether you’d like to be an organ donor.
  • The next step is to consent to be a donor by registering in your state.
  • The final step – and this is very important – is to discuss your decision with your family. Make your wishes known to those closest to you. You can also state your wishes regarding organ donation in your living will or other advance directive.

What about living donation?

Some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is still alive, such as a kidney, part of the liver, and blood and bone marrow. Many people continue to give blood well into their later years, but donation of organs is relatively rare after the age of 60.


Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on materials from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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CDC Says People with Arthritis Aren’t Getting Enough Exercise

The CDC reports that almost 25 percent of Americans suffer from arthritis, and they aren’t getting enough exercise.

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Considering a Reverse Mortgage? Read This First.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says if you’re considering this type of loan, you should look beyond the advertising.

In a reverse mortgage advertisement, you might see enticing images of youthful retirees on the golf course or enjoying other leisure activities. A reverse mortgage is a special type of loan that allows homeowners aged 62 and older to borrow against the accrued equity in their homes. The loan must be paid back when the borrower dies, moves, or no longer lives in the home.

Ads for reverse mortgages are found on television, radio, in print, and on the internet, and many ads feature celebrity spokespeople discussing the benefits of reverse mortgages without mentioning risks. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) took a look at some of these ads and found incomplete and inaccurate statements used to describe the loans. In addition, most of the important loan requirements were often buried in fine print, if they were even mentioned at all. These advertisements may leave older homeowners with the false impression that reverse mortgage loans are a risk-free solution to financial gaps in retirement.

In conducting their study, the CFPB met with older homeowners in Washington DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles to learn about their thoughts and impressions of reverse mortgage ads. After looking at a variety of ads, many of those homeowners didn’t realize reverse mortgage loans need to be repaid. Instead, some thought they could access their equity interest-free, or that the federal government provided the money as a benefit to seniors. Homeowners told us that the most attractive messages in the ads were “you can live in your home as long as you want,” and that you “still own your home.” Many ads, however, didn’t mention that seniors could lose their homes if they don’t satisfy the loan requirements, such as paying property taxes or homeowners insurance.

Seniors said the ads made reverse mortgages look like a good way to travel and enjoy retirement while they were still young and active. Yet Americans are living longer, more active lives than ever before. Reverse mortgage borrowers can outlive their loan funds by borrowing without careful planning.

Reverse mortgage ads don’t always tell the whole story, so consider these facts when you see advertisements:

  1. A reverse mortgage is a home loan, not a government benefit. Reverse mortgages have fees and compounding interest that must be repaid, just like other home loans. With most reverse mortgages, federal insurance guarantees that borrowers will receive their loan funds if their lender has financial difficulty or if their loan balance exceeds the value of their home. However, borrowers pay for this insurance, and it’s not a government benefit.
  2. You can lose your home with a reverse mortgage. When a reverse mortgage ad says you’ll retain ownership of your home, or that you can live there as long as you want to, don’t take these messages at face value. These statements are true only if you continue to meet all requirements of the reverse mortgage. If you fall behind on your property taxes or homeowners insurance, are absent from your home for longer than six months, or fail to satisfy other requirements, you can trigger a loan default. If you don’t take care of the default in time, the lender can foreclose on your home. Sometimes these requirements are listed in fine print, but not always. If you have a question about reverse mortgage requirements, contact a HUD-approved housing counselor near you.
  3. Without a good plan, you could outlive your loan money. After seeing a reverse mortgage ad, you might think that a reverse mortgage guarantees your financial security no matter how long you live. Americans are living longer today than they were just a generation ago. Make sure you have a financial plan in place that accounts for a long life. That way if you need to tap your home equity, you won’t do it too early and risk running out of retirement resources later in life.

If you have a problem with your reverse mortgage

Check out Ask CFPB to learn more about reverse mortgages. You can also download a printer-friendly version of this information to share with friends or family.

If you’re having a problem with your reverse mortgage or having problems getting through to your mortgage servicer, you can submit a complaint to CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-2372 or TTY/TDD (855) 729- 2372. CFPB will forward your complaint to the company and work to get you a response within 15 days.

For more information about how reverse mortgages work and questions to ask, read CFPB’s guide to reverse mortgages for older consumers and their families. And if you or loved one have a reverse mortgage loan, here are three steps you should take.

Source: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government agency that aims to make consumer financial markets work for consumers, responsible providers, and the economy as a whole. Visit the CFPB website to read an in-depth report on reverse mortgage ads.    

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