Is Grandpa relevant?

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Funny how your mind works… for years I could picture a TIME MAGAZINE cover that asked “Is the President relevant?” but when I search for it, the cover is either one of two that year (1996) that is unavailable or else it was simply a feature article in which the president (Bill Clinton) himself made it an issue:

“Clinton downplayed the fact that his press conference was only picked up by one major network, saying ‘I am relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance. A president, especially an activist president has relevance.’ ” (Ten years later TIME published another piece about President George W. Bush’s relevancy.)

One of the gifts of age is focus shifting from self to others. When you hear a grandfather saying, “Here, let me show you how….” it’s not because he wants to show off; it’s because he wants to be of use to the child — to be relevant.

As I searched for that “relevant” cover, I came across the only time the magazine selected the individual as “person of the year”. I’d remembered there was a shiny paper mirror in place of a photo of a head of state or commerce. But I’d forgotten WHY they chose US. The caption says: “Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” The year was 2007, a year after the World Wide Web became widespread. “Not the Web that Tim Berners-Lee hacked together [1991] as a way for scientists to share research,” said the piece. “It’s not even the overhyped dotcom Web of the late 1990s. The new Web is a very different thing. It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it’s really a revolution….”

“It’s a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter,” it goes on to say. “This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person. It’s a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really, genuinely wonder who’s out there looking back at them.”

Seems quaint in its naivete and idealism, doesn’t it? Today, many of all ages are skeptical, suspicious and callous about the chance that connectivity brings “citizen to citizen”. And they do wonder — but now with the squinted eye of a skeptic — “who  is genuinely out there looking back at them”. And tech itself has divided along the lines of digital literacy, and cultural norms. So many elders have told us they feel “left behind” and it’s too hard to catch up. They fear everything is going by way of the gadget. And yet Millenials are back to reading books on paper…perhaps because they grew up on Harry Potter! Older adults needn’t fear technology’s overtaking us, so long as we have a voice in what is relevant.  

The excellent website NextAvenue (“Where grown ups keep growing”) presented both sides of the conversation a few years ago, by writer and advocate Debbie Reslock. Promoting the importance of connections, ahe said, “What changes with age is the sources of one’s relevancy. She cited  a counter thought by Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review who pooh poo’s the whole idea!

“People who achieve financial and positional success are masters at doing things that make and keep them relevant,” Bregman wrote. “Their decisions affect many others. Their advice lands on eager ears. In many cases, if not most, they derive their self-concept and a strong dose of self-worth from the fact that what they do and what they say—in many cases even what they think and feel—matters to others…..” Then, he promotes irrelevancy he says comes with retirement.

“Still, there is a silver lining to this kind of irrelevancy: freedom,” he writes. When your purpose shifts like this, you can do what you want. You can take risks. You can be courageous. You can share ideas that may be unpopular. You can live in a way that feels true and authentic. In other words, when you stop worrying about the impact of what you do, you can be a fuller version of who you are,” he writes.

“Notice what happens when you pay attention to the present without needing to fix or prove anything,” says Bregman. “Notice how, even when you’re irrelevant to the decisions, actions, and outcomes of the world around you, you can feel the pleasure of simple moments and purposeless interactions. Notice how, even when you feel irrelevant, you can matter to yourself.”

I don’t buy it! Yeah- maybe we we don’t control our universe —  through technology or other ways  – but I bet to that child, his grandfather is Person of the Year.  The boy may ask Alexa, Siri or Google for the answer to his questions, but he looks up at his grandfather to know what questions to ask. Nothing’s changed. Thank Goodness.

Ten tips to younger looking skin!

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After staring at faces of octogenarians, nonagenarians, and loads of septuagenarians,  these past two decades, I think I see the secret to lovely aging!

The most attractive 70-,80-, and 90-year-olds are the ones who:

  1. smile as soon as they meet you
  2. lean forward to listen to what you have to say (yeah – some is to back up the hearing with lip reading, but it’s mostly out of interest)
  3. are immediately adn enthusiastically engaged in whatever the conversation is about
  4.  ask questions…(and not just “whadja say?”…but really, about what you just said.
  5.  are current with the news
  6.  have opinions, and passion, but frowns are fleeting
  7.  love their food, notice the sky, comment on what’s in front of their eyes
  8. touch and don’t mind being touched (or hugged)
  9. shun “organ recitals” (of what’s aching)
  10. look at others and the sites around them instead of the mirror. Let’s face it – you can’t see the wrinkles on yourself if you’re looking at someone else.

Emails are like whispered secrets when the lights are out at a pajama party…

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Agatha Christie at work

I’ve kept a diary since 1956. (yeah – old enough to spell back then) and have warned my family that if they ever find them, please know I had a wonderful happy life, but tend to write only when I’m upset. This morning a friend who has been on a medically propelled roller coaster with her husband apologized for using our email exchange as a “venue to vent”.  And that got me thinking…

In my work leading older adults in English-speaking countries to overcome their fears of the Internet and email, I realize cyber-use can invoke harmful scams on the elderly. But I still think the good outweighs the bad. Today makes me realize  how many friends and family members I write to on the spur-of-the-moment — a thought, a fear, an idea! I think of how the unconnected 80-year-old in her apartment missed the immediate cyber community of mutual grieving after recent mass murders in Pittsburgh. And didn’t get an email or text from a grandchild asking “Are you OK?” or “I’m SO upset!”.

Emails are like whispered secrets when the lights are out at a pajama party…it’s one way communication until someone responds in asymmetrical time, and often we share thoughts and feelings with a keyboard that we might hold back face to face or phone.

So when dear friend apologized for “going on”  and [using her email] as a “venting venue” — while adding “But that’s what good friends are for”,  I saw so clearly that we could be there for one another — in a sudden spurt of truth. That one can pour out a thought at 2 in the morning to anyone else, anywhere. so long as they’re connected.

The other day, an elderly man who was tethered to an oxygen tank in a nursing home learned to use SKYPE for the first time. “Oh, man! I can do this with my kids!? I can see my kids all over the country??!!”  When asked how many grown children he had, he said “Twelve – I got 12 kids, and I’m gonna get one of these things [a tablet] so I can see them!!!”  He also learned to use email. Wonder if he’ll share his secret joys and sadness.

Yeah – venting venues are good places to go.

 

Was it the hair or the humor? Why was Barbara Bush so popular?

800px-Barbara_Bush_at_LBJ_Presidential_Libraryphoto by Lauren Gerson; public domain

In the white house and after, Barbara Bush  was admired and adored. 83% of Americans rated Bush favorably throughout her time as first lady, making her by far the most favorably viewed first lady in recent U.S. history, says Gallup.

Makes me wonder if she was as popular to the masses when she was younger. In this 1966 picture when George Bush won his seat for Congress, she looks somewhat startled and passive, smiling with her mouth but not with her eyes!

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According to The New York Times, after she became first lady, she said her support for the Bush administration had limits: “I won’t dye my hair, change my wardrobe or lose weight.”  I bet that’s when she gained her popularity! An inspiration for us to revel in aging – to let the decades give us license to speak our minds and look as we wish.

Another outspoken octogenarian, Madeleine Albright, former first female Secretary of State, uses salty language unapologetically and says she found her voice only at age 55.  Do you think there’s hope for us – that Baby Boomer and younger women can one day brag about the wrinkles rather than Botox them? As Dr. Albright says on her book tour — “See something? ; say something; DO something!”

You can’t be worrying about what others think of you when you’re busy doing something significant.

Or is that just my excuse?

Medicare 101: What You Need to Know

A guest blog from Boomer Benefits

Most people know that Medicare is a national health insurance program for people age 65 and older and for certain individuals with disabilities or serious health conditions. Outside of that though, we don’t really have to think about Medicare much until we are turning 65 ourselves. Then we learn that Medicare has 4 parts and 10 standardized supplement plans and literally dozens of drug plan choices in every state.

Figuring out all these moving parts can be overwhelming because most of us have never had to make such complex health insurance decisions before.

Fortunately, while it seems confusing at first, Medicare actually works a lot like the coverage that we’ve each had before from a former employer. It includes hospital, outpatient, and drug coverage. There are premiums that we pay for certain parts, and there are some deductibles and copays as well.

Let’s break it down into pieces to make it simpler.

Original Medicare Benefits and Premiums

Back in 1965 when Medicare was created, they broke into two parts. We still call this Original Medicare today. Parts A and B are the basic building blocks of Medicare coverage. Part A covers inpatient hospital expenses including skilled nursing facilities. Part B covers outpatient medical benefits, such as preventive care, doctor’s visits, lab work and even surgeries. If Medicare is the primary insurance, people need both parts.

As long as an individual has worked and paid FICA taxes for at least 10 years in the U.S, Part A will cost nothing.  Those taxes have pre-paid the Part A coverage. People who don’t have the 10 years work history can qualify under their spouse’s work history if it is sufficient. They can also buy into Part A.

Part B has a monthly premium that is based on the modified, adjusted household gross income. For most new enrollees, this premium is $134/month, but it can be higher if earnings fall into a higher income bracket. Check out this chart to see the four tiers of income and their associated premiums: Medicare Costs page.

Medicare Cost-Sharing

Whenever beneficiaries access their Medicare benefits, there will be some cost-sharing that they are responsible for. Medicare Part A has a $1340 deductible in 2018. If someone has more than one hospital stay in a year that is separated by at least 60 days outside of the hospital, they could pay this deductible more than once. Also, if a hospital stay lasts longer than 60 consecutive days, Medicare begins to charge a daily hospital copay that is quite expensive. Benefits run out at 150 days.

Part B also has a deductible, but it is a much smaller annual deductible. After that deductible has been met, Medicare will pay 80% of approved outpatient expenses. The Medicare beneficiary is responsible for the other 20%

For this reason, many people enroll in some form of additional coverage. There are Medicare supplement plans that pay after Medicare to help fill in the gaps. These plans have no networks. Policyholders can see any Medicare provider in the nation, which is nearly 900,000 providers.

When a person first enrolls in Medicare, they have an opportunity to get a Medigap plan with no health questions asked. This is called the Medicare Supplement Open Enrollment.

There are also Medicare Advantage options, which are called Part C of Medicare.  These plans offer al the same Part A and B benefits, but that care is provided by a private insurance company instead of through Original Medicare. These plans usually have smaller networks in local areas but may have lower premiums than Medicare plans. Read more about those options here: Medicare Advantage vs Medigap.

Part D Drug Plans

For over 40 years, people on Medicare did not have outpatient drug coverage. Luckily Congress created Medicare Part D and rolled it out in 2006, so we now have very good Part D options.

Part D functions kind of like a pharmacy card. It gives beneficiaries access to a formulary of medications. Instead of paying the entire cost of the medication, enrollees pay just a copay. Beneficiaries enroll in Part D directly with an insurance company.

Every state has multiple Part D plans to choose from, but Medicare’s website has a Plan Finder Tool to help individuals find one that is cost-effective and carries all the needed medications.

Part D is voluntary, but we strongly encourage enrollment for anyone that doesn’t have another means of drug coverage, such as VA benefits. There are many expensive medications these days for conditions like cancer and chemotherapy that cost thousands and would be likely out of reach without Part D coverage.

No One Has to Go It Alone

It would be great if Medicare offered classes to teach us about how all this works. Since it doesn’t, you learn as much as you can through reading and researching. Start by visiting your local insurance agent or checking out Medicare’s website at www.medicare.gov.

 Danielle Kunkle is a co-founder at Boomer Benefits, where her team helps Baby Boomers navigate their entry into Medicare.

 

Do you have a resolution solution?

When I met a casual friend on the street, I learned a lesson, but how to remember it?

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It was clear that my casual friend wore a weary dispirited look as we happened to meet. When she confided that she was battling a most serious illness, I struggled to find the right words, grabbing quickly from the guidance in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Option B, about the importance of addressing the realities of loss and illness rather than ducking behind platitudes or ignorance.  In her book tour at the Free Library of Philadelphia Author series, Sandberg said, “People would tell me they didn’t want to bring up David’s death for fear of reminding me. WHAAAT? Like I forgot it?!!!”

So I wrote to c.f. soon thereafter, saying any time she wished to hang out together, I was right here. (Failing Sandberg’s advice to offer something specific.) Even that sounded so ridiculous, but I wanted desperately to make contact and also not to patronize or do the wrong thing. She wrote back, “That’s kind of you.” And I replied: “Not kind; selfish. We make choices as to how to spend our time and talking to you awakened my awareness that I was making poor choices. The work can wait. Xo”

Yeah, there are resolutions we belch out once in 365 days and employ no metric, accountability, plan, or evaluation. In other words, it’s all talk; rarely action.

I’m trying to find a way to keep this new awareness and sincere intention alive, practiced, and kept. If anyone has a proven solution, please share it with me and everyone who reads this blog.

(And, if your own resolution is to improve your relationship with an aging parent, try giving them the gift of the World Wide Web at their fingertips, literally. Easy Tablet Help for Seniors)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/generations-n-line/id855402889  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/generations-on-line/id855402889)

Happy Holidays and Great Intentions – well retained!

So what’s the deal with yoga?

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So what’s the deal with Yoga? Some 36 million Americans now do it. It’s a 27 billion dollar industry. Those of us who practice it swear by it. Those who don’t, claim to admire it but doubt they could “do it”.

When I walked into the studio in 1999 after two years of private yoga study and told my teacher I had some news to share, he immediately and unflappably deadpanned, “You’re quitting your job and changing your career.” How did he know? “Because once in yoga so many people do.”

For me — the hard charging, goal-oriented healthcare exec — the adventure of doing something utterly solo, completely unjudged, intensely inward, and all about what you’re doing at the moment rather than where you’re heading in the end…. dug into my soul as well as my sinews.

Seems when you’re not fixating on the issue you are fixated about, answers emerge. Your flaccid mind makes creative connections.

All the rage over mindful meditation (which really means mindless meditation) is different. That notes what’s happening around you without judgement. In yoga – and maybe golf!?? – you’re paying so much attention to your body – a small shift of your wrist changing the hinge of your shoulder – that it precludes any thoughts of bills to pay or bills in Congress.

For me, back then, it connected the relatively new thing called The Internet and my wish to change the face of aging. I can’t say it happened in lotus position or hero pose or at any moment on my mat. It’s like those sudden creative ideas you have standing in the shower when it’s been on too long, and you’ve zoned out.

I suddenly realized back in 1999 that if we could simplify the way to learn and use the Internet and email for those who need it most – the low income, less mobile elderly – wow. If they could gain the freedom to cyber travel (Peter Drucker said the Internet eliminates distance in 2001!) they would be on a more equal footing with everyone else, gain greater respect, have greater self-respect for having learned at new skill at an older age, and be more easily connected to family and friends.

Birth of Generations on Line. Now we’ve helped more than 100,000 elders in the U.S., Canada, England and Australia – stretching way beyond what we thought possible.  Maybe that’s what it’s really all about.

Namaste.