Simple Safety Tips for Seniors

Safety tips
Don’t make it easy for the bad guys to know you’re alone.

During a recent sunrise walk around my neighborhood on garbage pickup day, I found myself unconsciously saying to myself on several occasions, “Only one person lives in that house.” It was so obvious – one half-filled white bag of trash on a street filled with homes with multiple large trash bins and overflowing recycling containers. A quick glance at the half-empty recycling bins told me that the person living alone in that house was likely a senior – a few empty cans of pet food, maybe an empty bottle of wine or a few beer cans, a couple of Ensure bottles, and several newspapers.

Almost no one under age 65 reads hard copy newspapers anymore, so seeing newspapers in a driveway or recycling bin is a dead giveaway that it’s very likely that a senior is in the home.

I had no criminal intent while unconsciously doing this casual recon, but if it was that easy for me to spot which homes would likely be easy targets for valuables and prescription drugs, imagine how easy it would be for a bad guy.

So, here are a few commonsense safety tips for seniors:

  1. Always put out a rolling trash bin – even if you only have a small bag of trash. Yes, you’ll have to walk down your driveway twice, but you’ll no longer be advertising “I’m all alone in this house.”
  2. If you choose to recycle, save your recycling until the bins are full. It may take a month, but if you rinse out any containers, bugs in your garage shouldn’t be a problem. If the bins will be heavy, consider a rolling recycling bin cart. Your kids are always asking what you want for Christmas 🙂
  3. I’ve heard safety professionals recommend this: keep a big dog bowl of water and maybe even a big dog bone near your back door – the kind a German Shepherd would use. Some folks even advise using a recording of a large barking dog that’s triggered when the front doorbell rings. Or even playing a looping soundtrack of random large dog noises when you’re gone. Criminals generally ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is home, so the theory is that the possibility of encountering a big dog may encourage the would-be thief to seek an easier target. No one is afraid of a little yappy dog; one good kick and it’s no longer a problem for the bad guy. Sad, but true.
  4. Speaking of security, consider a monitored home security system. If your home has a security system already installed, but you can’t afford the monthly monitoring fee, at least use the non-monitored alarm (usually a siren of some sort) so you and your neighbors are alerted if someone tries to break into your home. If you don’t know how to operate it, call the number on the keypad.
  5. Install a Ring doorbell video system. If you have a smartphone, you’ll be alerted when someone approaches your front door, or rings your door bell. An, if there’s a problem later on at your home or a neighbor’s home, you can go back through the video to see if it captured a picture of the culprit.
  6. Make sure you share contact information with both of your next-door neighbors and someone across the street. Most people are very willing to help out a neighbor.
  7. Change your routines. Do you always go grocery shopping on Mondays at 10 am? To the hairdresser or barber shop on the same day and time each month? Or take a long walk at the same time each day? Bad guys look for routines, so change it up.
  8. Here’s a routine that should not change – contact someone  (a family member or friend) very regularly. Perhaps once a day or once a week, just to let them know you’re okay. Even a quick text message can do the trick.
  9. Consider some kind of monitored personal alert system – the kind you keep in a pocket, on your wrist, or around your neck.
  10. If you’re reasonably mobile, consider taking a self-defense class. It’s not always about force and bodily strength. I took a 2-hour seminar at Systema Berkoot in Sarasota and was amazed at what I saw and learned in that short time. Age, bad knees or a bit of arthritis won’t stop you from learning this amazing art. It’s not about confrontation, but about using physics and an attacker’s own bodily weaknesses against him. Did you know we all have pressure points? Or that you can easily escape someone’s grip on your arm?
  11. Finally, consider keeping one or more weapons near you at all times. Stow them around your house and garage. A weapon can be a gun, a knife, a stun gun, a baseball bat, bear or pepper spray, or even a golf club. If you want to stop an attacker or intruder before he gets close to you, a gun is your best choice. If you’re okay with letting things get up-close and personal before defending yourself, and you’re physically fit, a baseball bat or golf club may be all you need. A stun gun, pepper or bear spray, or knife is a defense of last resort – your attacker has to be within kissing distance for them to be effective. If you have physical limitations, seriously consider a gun. Age, weight, height, gender, etc. doesn’t matter – there’s a gun that will work for you. But what does matter is learning how to properly use a gun and understanding state and federal gun laws. Even grannies can safely learn how to shoot! Call your local gun shop for instructor recommendations.

Stay safe – someone loves you.

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Medical Marijuana & Guns: Legal Advice from a Doctor?

Medical marijuana doctor
Why would you rely on medical marijuana doctors for legal advice regarding gun laws?

I’m not a doctor, but I’ve watched lots of Grey’s Anatomy. Would you trust me to give you sound medical advice or write you a prescription? Probably not. But apparently some doctors think they’re qualified to give legal advice.

Maybe they binge-watched Law and Order or stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. I don’t know. But, sadly, people will rely on their bad legal advice – just because they’re doctors. And perhaps also because it’s what they want to hear.

I’ve written several articles about guns and marijuana, so my professional curiosity made me read this article. From the first sentence, I could tell it was heavily biased – marijuana is the Holy Grail, Hallelujah! That was fine – I personally don’t care about pot one way or the other. But it made me quickly scroll to the bottom to see who wrote the article… a medical marijuana doctor. Hmm.

The part of the article that made the hairs on my neck stand up was this:

Many people wanting medical marijuana avoid it because they fear they might not be able to own guns. This is not true. You can own guns and in fact have a concealed carry permit in Florida and have a medical marijuana card, no problem.

As an actual Florida lawyer who takes an avid interest in gun law, I can tell you that the last sentence is legally false.

I’ve written and presented about this over and over again, but people who have a vested interest in peddling pot keep telling the same lies to people who want to believe those lies.

I’ll break it down very simply:

  1. Federal laws trump state laws when it comes to drugs. Under federal law, marijuana of any kind is a Schedule I drug – totally illegal. Florida and some other states have chosen to look the other way within their borders, but that doesn’t change the federal law.
  2. Federal laws trump state laws when it comes to guns. Under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3)), you cannot possess a gun if you are a user of an illegal drug (pot, heroin, meth, crack, etc.) – or an abuser or illegal user of a legal drug (taking your spouse’s prescription meds, abusing prescription opioids, etc.). A federally-licensed gun dealer makes you swear on a form that you don’t do any of that, and even private sellers cannot legally sell to anyone they suspect may fall into any of those or other prohibited categories. States can be more restrictive, but they can’t override the federal gun laws. You must comply with all the federal gun laws first, and then comply with the state gun laws.
  3. Florida’s concealed carry licensing statute specifically states in Fla. Stat. 790.06(2)(n) that you can’t get a concealed carry license if you’re prohibited from owning guns under any federal law. Logically, that would also mean that you cannot keep your concealed carry license and carry a gun (you could carry a concealed knife) – if you use medical or recreational pot.

Bottom line? If you choose to use medical or recreational marijuana, you’re prohibited from possessing guns under federal law. And having a concealed carry license for something you’re not allowed to have makes no sense.

Will you get caught? Who knows. We weigh that risk every time we choose to break any law. But keep in mind that the penalties are steep – they’re felonies. And yes, I realize that our own Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner is flagrantly breaking state and federal laws by telling medical marijuana users that they can have a concealed carry license. But that doesn’t make it legal.

Remember…when seeking medical advice, ask a doctor. When seeking legal advice, ask a lawyer. And also remember that Google is neither.

Reference: https://www.chronicleonline.com/opinion/columnists/medical-marijuana-not-perfect-yet/article_c7eca818-57ec-11ea-9311-4b53009597de.html

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Medical Marijuana and Gun Laws: One Toke Over the Line

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Is Medicare Available When You Travel Abroad?

Travel and Medicare
If you’re on Medicare, getting sick while you travel may cost more than you think.

CNBC’s recent article, “Planning to travel while on Medicare? Make sure you have coverage at your destination” explains that basic Medicare—which includes Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care)—typically doesn’t cover any medical costs outside of the U.S. and its territories. There are a few Medicare Advantage Plans that cover emergency services overseas, as well as some Medigap plans that also offer protection.

If you’re on Medicare, your coverage away from home depends partly on your destination and whether you’re on basic Medicare or receive your benefits through an Advantage Plan. It can also can depend on whether the health care you get is routine or due to an emergency.

Travel medical insurance can be the solution to gaps in coverage, but it’s good to first determine whether you need it. Remember that original Medicare consists of Part A and Part B. Retirees who opt to stay with just this coverage—instead of going with an Advantage Plan—typically pair their coverage with a stand-alone prescription-drug plan (Part D). If you fit in this situation, your coverage while traveling in the U.S. and its territories is fairly simple. You can go to any physician or hospital that accepts Medicare, regardless of the type of visit.

However, when you journey beyond U.S. borders, things get more complex.

Generally, Medicare doesn’t provide any coverage when you’re not in the U.S – with a couple of exceptions. These include if you’re on a ship within the territorial waters adjoining the country within six hours of a U.S. port or you’re traveling from state to state but the closest hospital to treat you is in a foreign country. As an example, think about a trip to Alaska via Canada from the 48 contiguous states.

Roughly a third of retirees on original Medicare also buy supplemental coverage through a Medigap policy (but you can’t pair Medigap with an Advantage Plan). Those policies, which are standardized in every state, vary in price and offer coverage for the cost-sharing parts of Medicare, like copays and co-insurance. There are some Medigap policies—Plans C, D, F, G, M and N—that offer coverage for travel. You pay a $250 annual deductible and then 20% of costs up to a lifetime maximum of $50,000. However, that may not go very far, depending on the type of medical services you need.

There’s also no overseas coverage through a Part D prescription drug plan, and Medigap policies don’t cover any costs related to Part D, whether you’re in the U.S. or not. For seniors who get their Medicare benefits—Parts A, B and typically D—through an Advantage Plan, it’s a good idea to review your coverage, even if you’re not leaving the U.S. any time soon. These plans must cover your emergency care anywhere in the U.S., but you may have to pay for routine care outside of their service area or you’ll pay more.

Some Advantage Plans may also have coverage for emergencies overseas, so review your policy. Whether you have an Advantage Plan or original Medicare, travel medical insurance might be a good move if you think your existing coverage isn’t enough. The options are priced based on your age, the length of the coverage and the amount. In addition to providing coverage for necessary health services, a policy usually includes coverage for non-medical required evacuation, lost luggage and dental care required due to an injury.

There’s coverage for a single trip of a couple weeks or several months, or you can buy a multi-trip policy, which could cover a longer time period.

It’s also important to know if your policy covers pre-existing conditions, since some don’t. You should also be aware that some Advantage Plans might disenroll you, if you stay outside of their service area for a certain time, usually six months. In that situation, you’d be switched to original Medicare. If you are disenrolled, you’d have to wait for a special enrollment period to get another Advantage Plan.

Reference: CNBC (July 14, 2019) “Planning to travel while on Medicare? Make sure you have coverage at your destination”

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Why are Seniors So Vulnerable to Scammers?

Scammer on phone with senior woman
Scammers prey on the elderly because they know seniors become less skeptical of strangers as they age.

The amount of money scammers steal from seniors is absolutely stunning, but what makes this worse is that victims are often too fearful and embarrassed to ask adult children for help, reports Barron’s in the article “Financial Scams Targeting the Elderly Are Rising. Advisors Offer Precautions.”

They’re afraid their children will take their victimization as a sign that they are no longer able to care for themselves and they’ll lose their independence. However, there are ways children can help their parents protect themselves with empathy and kindness.

Grown children should gently discuss the topic of their parents’ vulnerability. The conversation needs to be non-patronizing. Studies have shown that people become less skeptical and more impulsive as they age. The scammers know this, and they prey on the elderly for this reason. They also know where the money is: seniors lose an estimated $36.5 billion to scammers every year.

The scammers are also aware that open lines of communication between elderly parents and their children can cause a scam to fail. If a parent and child are in regular communication, the scammer’s plea that the grandson has been arrested and needs bail money won’t work. The grandparents need only send a text to learn that their grandson is alive and well on their college campus.

In one such case, the predatory scammer told the elderly couple not to notify their grandson’s parents so they could avoid a family scandal. The couple sent the scammers two large payments before realizing they were being duped. When they finally notified their son and the entire story came out, they agreed to accept his help in avoiding being scammed again.

Keeping the conversation as light as possible will make it easier for everyone. A simple “Hey Mom, did you hear about this scam?” is going to be a lot easier to take than a “Can you believe anyone was that stupid to fall for this?” approach. Add the question “What would you do if you got a call like that?” Once a conversation has started, it will be easier to transition into other concerns.

Remember that this generation was raised with different social rules. They were taught to be polite and may hesitate to cut off a fast talker. A script written on a pad kept by the phone may be helpful: “I don’t do business over the phone until I speak with my son. Goodbye.”

People who are now in their 70s and 80s grew up in a world without smartphones or computers. They may find basic technology a little confusing, even if they are fans of how easy it is to stay in touch with grandchildren. They often do recognize that they need help and are likely to defer to children or grandchildren when accepting help with technology issues.

One more generational issue to address: carrying a Social Security card in a wallet. These numbers are a gold mine for scammers, which is why the numbers no longer appear on Medicare cards. Ask where this card is kept, and make sure it’s in a secure place.

The best time to have these conversations is early, before a scam occurs and while aging parents are still sharp enough to fully understand the issues being addressed.

Reference: Barron’s (October 3, 2019) “Financial Scams Targeting the Elderly Are Rising. Advisors Offer Precautions.”

Other articles you may find interesting: 

Causes of Insomnia in Seniors

Help Your Elderly Parent Without Ruining Your Relationship

Feeling Squeezed in the Middle of a Generational Sandwich?

Generational sandwich
Today, there is a generation of middle-aged adults, known as the Sandwich Generation, who are caught between the demands of child rearing in addition to providing care to their aging parents.

Raising your kids, working, trying to take care of yourself, and now caring for an aging parent? That makes you part of the Sandwich Generation. You are not alone—almost half of America’s 40-60 year olds are in the same boat.

Most of us have adjusted to balancing children, work and finding some time for ourselves. But when we add caring for an aging parent, it often becomes too much. And usually it’s the “me” part that is sacrificed…until you hit burn out.

Here are some ways to leverage your time and resources so you can also take care of yourself.

Enlist Your Kids

Even the smallest child can spend charming one-on-one time with a grandparent. If your parent lives with or near you, they can spend time together in person. Adult children can take Grandma or Grandpa out for a meal or a movie – or spend an evening sharing a pizza and watching Netflix. If your parent is not near you, they can Skype on the computer, use FaceTime or play multi-player online games. Your children, no matter what their ages, will benefit from spending time with Grandma or Grandpa, they will see how you value and care for aging family members—and you will get some extra time to return phone calls, make dinner, or even catch a quick nap!

Ask About Options at Work

Check with your employer’s human resources department about resources that might be available to you. Depending on how long you expect to be caring for your parent, there may be a multitude of options available to you, including elder care research and referral services, flex time, even working from home options. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) calls for eligible employees to receive 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave. (Private employers with less than 50 employees are exempt.)

Seek Assistance

There are legal and community resources that can help you make the best care and financial decisions for your parent. A local Elder Law attorney can prepare the necessary legal documents and help you maximize your parent’s income, long-term care insurance and retirement savings, and qualify for VA or Medicaid benefits, if applicable. He/she will also be familiar with various living communities in the area and in-home care agencies. You can also hire someone to review and verify/dispute insurance claims and medical billing.

Find Your “Me” Time

As a member of the Sandwich Generation, stress is your biggest enemy and you have to find ways to reduce it. Joining a caregiver group, in person or online, will let you share your questions and frustrations, and learn how other caregivers are coping. Don’t be afraid to ask favors of friends and other relatives, such as picking up your kids while you go to the doctor with your parent. You could also learn to order in dinner every now and then without feeling guilty. Learn what you need to maintain your stamina, energy and positive outlook. That may include regular exercise (a yoga class, walk or run), a weekly outing with friends, or time to read or simply watch TV.

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Causes of Insomnia in Seniors

Insomnia emoji
Insomnia can rob you of your brain and body health. It’s important to find out its root cause.

Getting enough good sleep is vastly undervalued in today’s society. Younger working people like to brag about being able to function on only a few hours of sleep at night. But researchers have discovered that sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive decline, diabetes, obesity, depression and other problems. If you’re a senior and have trouble sleeping, you need to find the root cause. Here are some of the things that can cause insomnia in seniors:

  • If you experience severe insomnia despite your best efforts, talk to your doctor. Sometimes insomnia is a sign of a medical problem, such as sleep apnea. Treating the underlying cause may reduce or eliminate your sleep issues.
  • Your prescription and over-the-counter medications could be sabotaging your sleep and making you unhealthy. Ask your doctor if any of your medications  – or the combination of them – could be causing or contributing to your inability to sleep well. Find out if there are other drugs you could take that won’t interfere with your nighttime rest.
  • Many people count the days until they can throw away the alarm clock when they retire. But one of the side effects of “late to bed, late to rise” is that your body clock can lose its way. If you don’t keep a regular schedule, your body might release melatonin in the afternoon, making you groggy in the afternoon and making sleep elusive at night.
  • Taking a nap too late in the day or for too long can interfere with your ability to get a good night’s sleep. The ideal time for napping  is between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. You should also set an alarm so you don’t nap too long. The optimal nap length will vary from one person to the next, but the most effective range to avoid insomnia is between 20 minutes and one hour.
  • Hot flashes and night sweats can cause menopausal women to wake up multiple times during the night. Wear pajamas that wick away moisture. Avoid bedding material, such as memory foam mattresses, that can hold heat. Make sure your sheets, pillows, and pillowcases have cooling technology.
  • The blue light in cell phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with the body’s ability to produce melatonin. Without the appropriate amount of melatonin, you could have difficulty falling or staying asleep. The standard recommendation is to “unplug” by turning off these devices about an hour before you want to go to sleep. For some people, however, blue light exposure during the three or four hours before bedtime can cause insomnia. Sleep researchers say you can still watch television and use your devices in the evening if you wear special glasses that block blue light. And some electronic devices, such as the Kindle Fire, will allow you to block blue light, as desired (I personally set my Kindle Fire to Blue Shade for reading and jigsaw puzzles before bedtime and sleep very well).
  • Some people can drink a nightcap shortly before bed and fall asleep without any difficulty. A glass of wine or a cocktail can help you relax and de-stress, but for some people, an alcoholic drink too close to bedtime can mess up your sleep cycle, causing you to wake up during the night. To avoid insomnia, experts recommend you have that drink several hours before you want to go to sleep.

References: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. “Can’t Sleep? Here Are 11 Surprising Causes.” (accessed September 23, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2019/have-trouble-sleeping.html

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