Senior Driving Safety, Part II.

There is no single, comprehensive test to determine whether a senior (or anyone else for that matter) is a safe driver. However, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles has put together the following safe driver checklist:

  • Do you have difficulty seeing clearly in the dusk and dark? Do headlights from other vehicles obstruct your sight?
  • Are you easily intimidated by passing vehicles, including trucks and motorcycles?
  • Do you have difficulty reading road signs?
  • Do you have difficulty following construction detours or seeing a police officer on detail near construction zones?
  • Do you have difficulty seeing train crossing signals or hearing train whistles?
  • Do you have difficulty keeping up with the posted speed limit?
  • Do you get drowsy behind the wheel or have difficulty concentrating?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing other vehicles?
  • Do you often get lost on once familiar roads?
  • Do you forget the basics, such as putting on your head­ lights and wearing a seat belt?
  • Are you unsure of your parking skills? Can you parallel park and park in a straight line?
  • Are you unsure of your reflexes and reaction time? Is it difficult to react quickly in certain situations, such as brak­ing to avoid a collision?
  • Have your family, friends, or even police officers told you that you aren’t a safe driver?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, you may want to consider driving less or not driving at all. If you’re still not sure, many hospitals, occupational therapists and rehabilitation centers offer driving evaluations. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of driving evaluation programs and driver training classes in Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire: //www.massrmv.com/Portals/30/docs/Med_Affairs_Brochure.pdf. In addition, the RMV offers free, one-hour safe driving workshops. Visit //www.massrmv.com/MatureDrivers/SafeDrivingPresentationsSchedule.aspx for a list of upcoming workshops.

If it is clear that you or a loved one shouldn’t be driving anymore, what are your options?

Let’s start with the obvious. Having your family or friends drive you around is fine and many loved ones are happy to do it. But what about that sense of freedom we talked about in my last post? One way to regain some of that freedom is to use ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. However, many seniors are uncomfortable with the technology involved. Ride sharing companies have begun to address this. So, too, have other entrepreneurs.

Here are links to two stories about seniors taking advantage of ride sharing options. This one discusses seniors using Uber: //senior.com/uber-for-elders/. This article describes a newer company that tailors its services specifically to seniors: //www.fastcompany.com/3035804/this-ride-sharing-service-is-like-uber-for-the-elderly. And here’s one I really like: //gogograndparent.com. It’s about a company called GoGoGrandparent, which allows seniors to request rides by making a simple phone call. The company even allows users to purchase gift cards for their loved ones.

I would also like to direct you to a site where you can order free booklets about safe driving for seniors: //www.thehartford.com/resources/mature-market-excellence/publications-on-aging. These booklets contain a number of excellent articles about the emotional issues involved in losing one’s ability to drive and how to broach this difficult topic with loved ones.

I hope you find these links and articles helpful. Drive safely.

 

Senior Driving Safety

Remember how exciting it was to get your first driver’s license? It wasn’t the prospect of getting from point A to point B faster than walking or riding a bike that excited you. No, you were thrilled about the freedom and independence afforded by your new license and the opportunity to drive wherever you wanted to go. Now imagine losing your license, or being forced to question your ability to drive safely. Many seniors and their loved ones struggle with this prospect every day. And, the loss of freedom and independence that comes with it.

I recently participated in an interesting seminar about senior driving safety at the Gables at Winchester. The featured speaker was Michele Ellicks from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what I learned at the seminar, together with some research I have done on my own since then.

Statistically, people actually drive better as they get older… up to a certain point. Overall crash rates for mature drivers are relatively low, in part because many seniors take precautions such as driving only during the day, staying home in bad weather and avoiding rush hour. And let’s be honest—weren’t you a little more reckless behind the wheel when you were 18, 20, 23? You are certainly more experienced now, and considerably wiser.

However, drivers age 70 and above have higher crash rates per mile driven than middle age drivers. The rate of fatalities increases slightly after age 70 and significantly after age 85. Medical conditions, medication usage and reduced physical function can increase the risk of accidents and injury among older adults. Although older persons with health issues can certainly be satisfactory drivers, they have a higher risk of injury or death in an accident, regardless of fault.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken some steps to address the problem of senior driving safety. For example, as of September 30, 2010, drivers 75 years of age or older can only renew a driver’s license at an RMV Service Center or AAA office. Medical providers are not subject to prosecution for HIPAA violations when reporting medical information to the RMV in cases where the provider thinks the patient may be an unsafe driver. In addition, anyone can write a letter to the RMV to say a person should not have a license to drive.

Are you worried about your ability to drive safely, or that of a senior you love? In my next post I’ll discuss the signs of unsafe senior driving and the options available to seniors who have lost their license or decided it is best to avoid driving altogether.

 

How Much Debt is Too Much?

Dept SignpostA recent report from the New York Federal Reserve, as reported in the Wall Street Journal,  pointed out that older Americans are holding more debt than previous generations.

According to the report, the average Baby Boomer over 65 has 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more auto debt than a 65-year-old had in 2003 (after adjusting for inflation).

In 2003 many seniors had no debt at all. A married couple who had lived in the same home for over 30 years was proud they had no mortgage, owned their own cars and were living a comfortably in retirement.

But there are number of lifestyle factors at work.

First, there are many more 65-year-olds today than there were in 2003. The Baby Boom generation is growing exponentially, so the range of potential lifestyles has changed significantly.

Eliminating a mortgage, and its tax deduction, may not be in their best interest. Borrowing money from your home at historically low interest rates (3%) to fund an investment that makes 5%, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about cash flow as the MBA types would say.

While our parent’s generation did not have to fund our undergraduate education, many do so willingly now, hoping to alleviate student debt and get their children started off on an even financial footing.

Many seniors, who have more resources, are allowed to take on more debt because traditionally they have been able to pay off their loans.

The figures that are available indicate seniors have more debt but have not defaulted at a higher rate than in the past and are able to manage their debt more successfully – at least according to their credit scores.

Noreen Murphy Law can help with your estate planning , elder law or Veterans benefits needs. Please give her a call.

Driverless Cars Are Likely to Liberate the Elderly

In the UK alone, some 1.5 million senior citizens are largely confined to their own homes due to incapacity or lack of transportation, reports The Telegraph. That’s an astounding number, and the statistics are undoubtedly even more wowing here in the U.S.

But problems only persist until technology can solve them, and it looks like the days of “default house arrest” may soon be over for elderly people all around the world. Just thank the driverless car.

Self-driving automobiles have been all the rage in technology circles for a few years now. Indeed, they’re already on their way. Major manufacturers have whole fleets in development, and experts are working to refine their reliability and safety features. They may be just a few years away from the mainstream.

In a new report by the International Longevity Centre UK, researchers conclude, “whilst a few years ago the idea of driverless cars would be firmly in the realms of science fiction, the rapid advancement of technology means that driverless cars are now a real possibility – and they are likely to be on the roads in years, rather than decades.”

That could utterly revolutionize life for seniors, empowering them to access everything from the local supermarket to the emergency room whenever they need it. In a sense, gone would be the days when someone has to stop driving because they’ve gotten “too old.”

The really interesting thing about this article is that, when we first started hearing about driverless cars, I dare say no one imagined elderly people inside them. It just goes to show how endlessly applicable modern technology and the imagination can be in the realm of senior care and modern aging.

It’s a fast-emerging future, speeding toward us so steadily that it’s practically driving itself.

Assisted Living Facility Offers “Virtual Dementia Tour”

A senior living community in Texas is giving visitors and family members a chance to experience dementia first hand. They call it the “virtual dementia tour.”

By way of newfangled “virtual reality goggles,” the Silverado Memory Care Community in Plano, TX is able to offer a simulated disorientation for its visitors. The experience is similar to the loss of motor function observed in numerous dementia patients.

Donning special glasses, gloves, headphones, and shoe insoles, tour takers are assigned four simple, everyday tasks:

  • Make the bed
  • Find a black jacket and zip it up
  • Feed the dog
  • Take medication (a placebo pill)

Sound easy? For those with dementia or other diseases or disorders, it isn’t. The tour takers had a tough time, too.

“I felt disoriented,” one visitor told The Dallas Morning News. “If I had been by myself, I think I would’ve sat down and waited until someone told me what to do next.”

Indeed, one guest after another failed to grab the jacket, forgot to feed the dog, or fumbled in finding the pillbox. Some of them couldn’t even walk without holding onto the wall.

The whole experience is part of a national effort to educate the public about the challenges posed by aging. The nonprofit creatives behind the project, Second Wind Dreams, are taking their initiative to various sites around the country. The idea is to remind people that aging isn’t just a matter of cognitive impairment. Dementia is very much a physical condition, too.

It’s encouraging to see the kind of revelations that come out of these simulated experiences. I think one of the most difficult aspects of the senior experience is the frustration the elderly sometimes feel when trying to aptly describe their day-to-day challenges. By all accounts, the “virtual dementia tour” helps to overcome that barrier and lend real understanding to these patients’ loved ones.

Naturally, understanding yields both compassion and progress. Let’s hope the “virtual dementia tour” generates plenty of both once it makes it’s way around America.

10 Ways Technology Will Change Your Old-Age Experience

The future never quits changing.

I’ve written a lot in recent months about technology’s exciting entry into the fields of elder law and senior care. Each week seems to bring about a brand-new and truly intriguing story.

Now, The Huffington Post has a list of ten new ways that everyday technology could revolutionize the old-age experience during the next decade. I think you’ll find that a number of them seem remarkably plausible, not to mention incredibly exciting:

  • Talking street signs — A lifesaver when eyesight begins to fade!
  • Self-driving cars — They’re already on the way, and they could extend how long seniors are able to safely transport themselves.
  • Virtual doctor’s visits — As the Post says, Skype could revive the old-school “house call.”
  • iMonitoring — Your smartphone and other devices will allow doctors and nurses to remotely monitor your blood pressure, vital signs, and more.
  • E-medicine— Just as banking, buying, and communication have all gone digital, experts predict that medical records and physician referrals will soon unfold on the web.
  • The Robo-Nurse — Robots are already under development as in-home medical assistants. Those who saw Disney’s smash-hit Big Hero 6 last year may soon have a Baymax all their own!
  • LED integration — Here’s more good news for those with weak eyes… tiny LED lights are being built into smartphones, duffel bags, restaurant menus, and much more.
  • Safety sensors — The fear of falling will be less ominous thanks to new technology that can instantly detect a tumble and alert family members or 911.
  • The “Smart House”— Imagine that your bedroom lights turn on as soon as your feet hit the floor. That’s the kind of fantasy that may become reality in new, high-tech homes. The Post even imagines a day when your refrigerator will tell your television that you left the freezer door ajar.
  • Apps aplenty — As I’ve discussed at some length before, smartphone apps specifically designed for senior citizens are in rapid development. That wasn’t true a couple of years ago, but it’s all the rage now. I think the Post is absolutely right to predict that we could see scores of life-changing apps over the next ten years.

Read the entire HuffPo piece here.

The future couldn’t be much more exciting, and one thing is clear: we have a lot to look forward to! Here in my office, I help people of all ages plan proactively for the many days that wait ahead. If you’d like to learn more about how I can help you secure a comfortable future for yourself, please give my office a call today!

“Middle Age” Now Begins at 60

When are you “old”? Once upon a time, the most popular answer to that question was 50. Some said 55, 60, or 65… but almost everyone agreed that by the time you hit the big 7-0, you were anything but a spring chicken.

Well now that’s all changing… big time.171095033

A few months ago, I wrote about a major new report proclaiming that age 60 can no longer be considered the average clinical onset of “old age,” medically speaking. The statistics simply don’t support that classification anymore — too many people are living well beyond that age with vigor and in perfect health.

Now another new study is going even further. As featured on The TODAY Show, researchers from Stony Brook University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis now say that age 60 should be considered the beginning of middle age. In other words, 60 isn’t even close to “old” anymore!

Unquestionably, that’s a major shift in the way we think about aging in America. By bumping “middle age” back by fifteen or twenty years, medical science is extending a much longer lease on life for today’s seniors. The next generation might expect that benchmark to move back even further.

So what does that mean for those of us who might be bouncing back and forth between categories, depending on whose definition we use? Well, we’re just getting started! And that can change everything.

Mortgages, life insurance, retirement plans, long-term care funding, lifetime savings accounts… all these things demand reconsideration in the context of a longer life to live. As America’s middle-aged-and-up population look down the now-suddenly-longer road ahead of them, it’s important that we all make sure we’re well covered for the long haul.

Part of my practice is devoted to helping people in Massachusetts — regardless of their ages — start planning today for financial security in the future. The earlier you start, the easier it is to ensure that you won’t face any financial problems years or even decades from now.

Peace of mind is one of the best gifts you can give yourself for the rest of your life. Feel free to give me a call to talk about how you can get started on that — and pretty painlessly, I might add — right away!

10 Ways to Live Longer (And They’re Easier Than You Think)

I write a lot in this blog about the ever-expanding lifespan of the average American, and much of that is thanks to truly incredible developments in medical science over the past few years. But living longer can be a personal victory too.

Medical Daily recently published a list of ten easy practices we can all put in place to earn a longer life. Many of them are common sense, but the important thing is to bundle them all together in the same lifestyle. When carried out in concert, these simple “life improvements” have been proven to lead to a longer and more fulfilling life.

  • Exercise — The more the better, but even a little walking and standing can help. This one’s at the top of the list because it’s more effective than all the rest.
  • Don’t Smoke (or Stop Smoking Now) — Every month you quit could add a year onto your life!
  • Avoid Drinking & Hard Drugs — It’s no secret that illicit drugs can ruin the body and brain in no time, but it’s important to remember that “softer” drugs like alcohol take nearly the same toll when consumed in excess.
  • Feel Young— Research shows that people who feel younger inside actually live longer. Mind over matter!
  • Stop Sitting So Much — Some studies show that a sedentary lifestyle can be as deadly as smoking. For reasons we don’t entirely understand just yet, the physical act of sitting is almost toxic to the body. Do as little of it as possible.
  • Eat Well — Fruit, vegetables, whole foods, etc. Whether you go organic, Mediterranean, or even adopt a diet all your own, be sure to avoid excessive sugar, calories, chemicals, processed foods, and all those other tempting vices. Opt for heart-healthy foods!
  • Keep Your Mind Sharp — People who stay mentally active into old age are known to have substantially lower rates of dementia.
  • Stay Social— Loneliness isn’t just depressing; it’s deadly. Some studies find that loneliness and obesity yield identical early-death rates.
  • Maintain Positivity & Purpose — People who maintain a positive outlook and a sense of purpose have drastically lower levels of stress. Since stress is a major source of internal bodily damage, avoiding it can extend your life considerably.

Chances are, you’re doing a lot of these already. Why not make a couple of changes so you can score a perfect 10 out of 10? The proof is in the pudding, after all. These little changes make a big difference!

Apple and the Tech Giants Want to Revolutionize Elder Care

Giants are on the loose, and they have their eyes set on seniors… in a good way.

The titans of the tech industry, Apple and Google among them, have decided to make elder care one of their next big targets for technological integration. That might seem like a curious choice. The elderly have never been poster children for next-gen apps, Internet connectivity, or electronics. Studies tell us that many seniors haven’t even adopted smartphones yet (though that’s quickly beginning to change).

So why’s Silicon Valley so interested?

Well, for one thing, the mobile adoption rate is changing… and fast. Developers see the writing on the wall. The mobile industry is set to witness unprecedented growth in senior device adoption over the next couple of years. It’s an untapped market that the big tech companies are ready to make the most of.

There’s also the “cool” factor. Smartphone developers and medical scientists have teamed up to develop some amazing, revolutionary, and potentially life-saving technologies for mobile devices. Already, people can use their phones to check heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and a host of other vital signs in real time. And that’s only scratching the surface.

We’ve seen other developers come up with communication platforms that give seniors instant access to health care providers, emergency responders, family members, and close friends.

MarketWatch reports that “tons” of promising startups are on the horizon too — companies determined to develop platforms that will piggyback on multi-billion-dollar investments in the elder care marketplace by the likes of Apple, Google, and IBM.

In fact, CEOs Tim Cook (Apple) and Virginia Rometty (IBM) have even pledged to “disrupt” senior care (a trendy term for fundamentally changing the way things work). As part of that, they’ve just rolled out an initiative to put elder-oriented technology in the hands of Japan’s seniors.

All of this in a matter of mere months. Imagine where we might be a few years from now. Technology has never been so exciting. It’s all fun and games until it saves a life, and then it starts to really matter.

What Senior Care Looked Like Sixty Years Ago

Nearly 60 years ago, in 1959, LIFE magazine ran a four-part photo essay that spawned national outrage and spurred the country toward change. Billed as a real-life kind of horror show, the magazine captured in stunning detail the harrowing experience of America’s senior citizens.

This was before Medicare, before Medicaid, before our modern medical advances, and just a couple of decades into Social Security. If the elderly are still fighting for visibility in today’s society, they were all but veiled then. Most Americans were blissfully unaware of the typical conditions in a senior care facility, which were far worse than the still-lacking nursing homes we know today.

Shot in haunting black and white, the pictures shook readers to their cores. There was nothing especially graphic or grotesque in them, but the stifling unhappiness of these people’s lives was nearly tangible. LIFE challenged readers to picture their own parents or grandparents “stored away like vegetables,” reminding the young that a similar fate awaited them, too.

Then the editors went beyond merely showcasing the problem. They called for action and solutions. Looking back, we might consider it one of the many impetuses for Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, in a new retrospective on the original photo essay, TIME/LIFE credits Medicare with much of the change we’ve seen since then.

Unfortunately, Medicare and Medicaid still don’t solve all of senior’s problems, and securing their benefits can prove entirely too difficult. In my office, I work with the elderly and their families every day to ensure that their own senior-care experience paints a much better picture. With the right strategies and plans in place, there is no reason that today’s elderly can’t enjoy extremely happy and fulfilling lives throughout old age.

If you’d like to look back into the past, you can view many of the 1959 photos on the TIME/LIFE website. Meanwhile, if you’d like some help with your own senior care planning here in the present day, please feel free to give me a call. I’m here to help.