Healthy Living Tips for Seniors on a Fixed Income

Please check out this fantastic article, written by Karen Weeks, which is full of tips on how to live healthy and strong as a senior on a fixed income!

by Karen Weeks – Elderwellness.net
karen@elderwellness.net


Image by Xevi Casanovas via Unsplash

As you get older, it’s more important than ever to make your health a priority. Unfortunately for seniors living on fixed incomes, a healthy lifestyle can seem financially impossible. Nutritious ingredients, fitness classes, and other healthy living resources don’t come cheap. When money is limited, it’s hard to find room in your budget.

Forgoing healthy habits may save money in the short-term, but it costs seniors in the long-run. A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent chronic illness, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re more likely to develop health problems that are costly to manage.

That’s why it’s so important to adopt healthy habits now, no matter your budget. If you’re a senior living on a fixed income, these tips will help you stay healthy without spending a lot.

Eating Well

Learn how to grocery shop on a budget
If you look at the price of packaged organic goods, healthy foods can seem out of reach. Instead of worrying about organics, focus on eating a diet high in vegetables of any (and every!) type. If fresh vegetables are too expensive, frozen vegetables are just as nutritious without the sodium content of canned goods. Dried beans, whole grains, frozen fruit, canned fish, and eggs are more cheap and healthy foods. Avoid frozen meals. While they seem like a good value, most frozen dinners are high in sodium and saturated fat.

Make use of food assistance programs
If you find yourself skipping meals or eating poorly to save money, look into food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels is an especially helpful resource if you live alone and have trouble leaving your home.

Staying Active

Get cleared for exercise
It’s safe for most older adults to exercise, but it’s still wise to talk to your doctor. Your annual wellness visit is a good time to ask if you should take precautions before starting an exercise program. Keep in mind, however, that Medicare’s annual wellness visit doesn’t include a full physical. You may owe a copay if your doctor recommends bloodwork or other tests to clear you for exercise.

Exercise at home
There’s a lot of exercise seniors can do in the comfort of their homes. Basic strength and balance exercises, important for senior fall prevention, require minimal space and no special equipment. Use these 14 exercises from Philips Lifeline to get started.

Join a senior center
Do you prefer the camaraderie of group exercise? Senior centers offer tons of activities for older adults, including exercise classes like tai chi, yoga, and Zumba. Not only that, but all of a senior center’s services are available free or low-cost. No matter where you live, there’s likely a senior center in your neighborhood.

Getting Help at Home

Apply for the Assisted Living Waiver Program
If you need caregiving but don’t want to move into a nursing facility, consider assisted living. Under the Assisted Living Waiver Program, California seniors receiving Medi-Cal benefits can receive a reduced rate for assisted living. With facilities in California having a median cost of $54,000 annually, that’s a valuable benefit. However, not all facilities participate, so it’s important that seniors understand how to research assisted living facilities. Online search tools are a good place to start looking for a facility that meets your needs, but once you find one you like, you’ll need to check if it participates in the waiver program.

Get a roommate
Unfortunately, not every senior who needs help affording care qualifies for a waiver. If you could use help at home but don’t need nursing home-level care, consider a roommate. A roommate can be a housemate who splits the bills or someone who provides housekeeping and companionship in exchange for reduced rent.

Living on a fixed income forces you to get creative with your money, but it shouldn’t stop you from living well. If you’re having trouble affording the things you need to stay healthy, reach out to your Department of Aging and Adult Services to learn what resources are available to you.

Why Long-Term Care Coverage Is Vital

The chances of you being in a position in which you can no longer take care of yourself are staggering. Seventy percent of people over the age of 5 will need some type of long-term care at some point, with 20 percent of them requiring it for a period of more than five years. If you have disability insurance, that doesn’t cover long-term care. I have heard some people grumble about the cost of long-term care insurance, which averages about $2,000 for a healthy, single 55-year old. The policy I have had in place since 2004 has premiums which will total $2,700 for 2017, and the premiums will increase to almost $2,900 next year. However, that’s a fraction of what I would have to pay if I didn’t have the insurance. The Genworth (the company I have my policy under) 2016 Cost of Care Survey reported that median annual cost of an assisted living facility is almost $44,000, and the median monthly cost of a private nursing home room is over $90,000.

I signed up for my policy shortly after my mother suffered from, and survived, a brain aneurysm in 2004. She was in a skilled nursing facility from 2006 until 2013, then was transferred into an assisted living facility. In a way, luck was on her side, because she had no financial resources and qualified for Medicaid and Medicare. She is now a participant in the ALW program. However, the bulk of her monthly Social Security benefit (less than $1,200) goes to the facility in which she resides. In no way was I willing to take the chance of relying on a government agency to rescue me in my elderly years if I find myself in need of long-term care.

I HIGHLY recommend securing long-term care insurance if you are over the age of 30. You cannot rely on the government to come to your aid if you end up requiring long-term care, and it’s unfair of you to expect loved ones to carry the financial burden of your care.

Living Solely On Social Security

I just ran across an article which I was compelled to share. This should serve as a major wake-up call for those of you who assume that you will be able to support yourselves completely with Social Security benefits when you become old enough to draw those benefits. I have included the link to the article, as well as copied and pasted the body of Barbara Friedberg’s article here.

The sad reality is that though the person in this example is able to make ends meet with her Social Security check, people who live in cities like Los Angeles will probably spend the bulk of their Social Security check on rent alone, with very little money left for groceries and healthcare.

Regardless of where you live, put money aside for retirement so that you don’t find yourself in a precarious financial situation when you are older. Roth IRA’s are an excellent way to set aside funds for your retirement, and they grow tax-free over the years.

https://www.gobankingrates.com/retirement/buy-average-social-security-check/

By Barbara Friedberg | September 26, 2016

Somewhere, an older American — let’s call her Alison — is going to retire soon. She anticipates a Social Security check of $1,349.59, the national average as of July. She regrets not saving more for retirement, but has accepted the reality of her situation.

If you’re like Alison — facing retirement without a cash cushion — you’re in good company. In January, GOBankingRates.com surveyed a representative sample of Americans and found that among people 60 and older, just 26 percent felt they were financially on track for retirement. The remaining 74 percent within this age group lacked sufficient retirement savings. And among Americans of all age groups, a sobering 33 percent had nothing saved for retirement.

Anyone who tries to get by on Social Security income faces a lean retirement lifestyle. Here are questions to ask yourself before trying to stretch benefits as far as possible — and what you’ll realistically be able to afford.

1. How Much Home Can You Afford on Social Security?

Your Social Security check will stretch further if you find a cheap place to retire. Housing is the biggest expense most Americans face, according to BLS statistics.

Sun-loving Alison hopes to retire to an apartment in Tucson, Ariz. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $575, according to Zillow. But let’s say Alison lucks out and finds an apartment for $540. She will spend 40 percent of her check on rent and will need to kick in a few extra bucks for utilities. So, rounding up, her monthly housing cost to $600 — leaving her with $749.59 of her Social Security check.

2. What Can You Eat on Social Security?

Dining at four-star restaurants is out if you’re living on Social Security. On average, roughly 12.5 percent of a consumer unit’s spending money goes toward food. In Phoenix — close enough to Tucson for our purposes — the average family spent $594 per month to eat in 2013-14, the most recent figures available from the BLS.

Phoenix averages 2.6 members per household, so we can estimate that the average person spends $228 per month to eat. Although Alison can splurge occasionally at a modest restaurant, living on Social Security means she will be eating at home most of the time.

Add up housing costs of $600 and $228 for food, and Alison is left with $521.59 of her Social Security check — a small sum for the remaining spending categories.

3. Can You Afford Healthcare on Social Security?

Alison might qualify for assistance in paying for her Medicare Part B premiums. Such aid would help her cover medical expenses, the No. 1 financial burden in the U.S. According to the government’s Medicare website, Alison’s monthly $1,349.59 check is beneath the income ceiling of $1,357 that qualifies her for assistance.

Medicare assistance benefits vary by state, so Alison should visit Medicare.gov and sign up for a conversation with someone from her state.

It will help if Alison can find ways to save on healthcare costs, such as purchasing generic drugs and using walk-in clinics instead of visiting emergency rooms. Assuming Alison qualifies for government help and is diligent about her medical spending, she can budget $150 per month toward medical costs. Alison now has $371.59 left in her budget.

4. What Type of Transportation Can You Afford While on Social Security?

Owning a car is expensive, especially on Social Security. The cost of operating a car can easily run into hundreds of dollars a month. With that price tag in mind, Alison has joined many other retirees by giving up her car.

Alison relies on public transportation services to get to doctor appointments. When going to the grocery store or meeting with friends, Alison uses the bus. On rare occasions, she splurges for a cab. She chose an apartment located near shops and restaurants. As long as her health holds out, she can walk to the grocery store and pharmacy.

Alison keeps transportation costs low at $100 per month. So, she’s now down to $271.59.

5. Can You Afford to Travel on Social Security?

After paying for necessities, Alison has $271.59 left for extras, which we describe in the next two categories. As you can already see, it is not easy to live on the average Social Security check.

With a tight budget, Alison and other retirees living on Social Security aren’t going on lavish vacations. Maybe Alison can afford a train or bus ticket to visit family, but cruises are out.

If travel is important to you, there are ways to squeeze it into the budget. Pairing up with family and friends can make travel a possibility. Camping vacations in state parks are economical. There are also many free events across the country.

6. Will You Earn Enough in Social Security to Cover Other Costs?

Remember, after spending for necessities, Alison was left with just $271.59 in her monthly budget. The amount of money she can spend in this final category — which includes entertainment — will largely depend on how much cash she earmarks for travel. She might be able to afford the occasional $1 movie at Redbox, but it’s unlikely she’ll be able to pay for the newest iPhone 7.

Finally, Alison will need a small cash cushion to cover emergencies. If she’s especially frugal, she might even have a little money left over to give to her favorite charity.

While Alison can make ends meet on her Social Security check, it won’t be easy. So, if you are a little younger than Alison, try to learn from her mistakes. Save a bit more today so you will have a greater sense of financial security in retirement.

My Oldest Patient

Shortly after I completed my residency training in family medicine in 2004, I worked briefly for a company which offered mobile physician home visits. Though I soon realized that driving to patients wasn’t my thing, I definitely met some very interesting people during that time.

My favorite and most memorable patient from my mobile medicine days was an elderly woman, aged 105. During my hospital days, I had seen and treated a number of centenarians, but this woman was the oldest. I was called upon to visit this woman’s home (I’ll call her Mary) to perform a blood pressure check and manage her hypertension. She lived in a charming duplex which was erected circa 1905. I knocked on the door and when the door opened, a friendly middle-aged man greeted me and introduced me as Mary’s caregiver (let’s name him Tim).

The interior of the duplex was a time capsule. I honestly felt like I had stepped into the 1920’s, because everything in the place was from that era: lamps, paintings, coffee cups, pens, furniture, curtains, pillows, etc. As my eyes scanned the room, I saw Mary sitting in a large chair with a walker in front of her. Mary’s face certainly was old and her body was frail, but she possessed fire in her eyes and a sassy attitude to match. I thought of how this woman, born in 1899, was witness to three different centuries, as a result of the year she was born as well as the longevity which extended her time on planet Earth far beyond that of the average person.

Mary smiled at me and motioned for me to come over.
MARY: “Well you’re a pretty young lady…what’s your name?”
ME: “Hello Mary, I’m Dr. Naito.”
MARY: “DOCTOR??? DOCTOR??? Tim, what have you tricked me into? Why do we have a doctor here?” Mary’s brow was furrowed.
TIM: “Well Mary, since you refused to take your blood pressure medicine, and since your blood pressure reading was very high today, I had to call the mobile doctor service to come see you. Now be nice to the doctor, will you please?”

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At this point I asked Mary if I could take her blood pressure again, and she consented. I took her blood pressure reading: 175/95. I began to ask Mary questions: was she in pain anywhere, did she have a headache, was she dizzy, was she nauseous, was her heart racing, was her vision blurry? I took her pulse: 78 and steady. Mary had no complaints. I then conducted a physical exam on her, which was completely normal. I then asked Mary if she would please take her blood pressure medication immediately, to which she also consented. Once Mary took the medication, I informed her that we would wait about 30 minutes to assess her response to it. She responded by saying, “Well I like you, young doctor! We’re going to have a nice chat!”

The next 30 minutes were incredibly fascinating and funny as Mary settled into a stream of vignettes about her life, focusing mostly on her days as a true flapper, wild and carefree, wearing short dresses, “necking” with handsome young men, hanging out in jazz clubs, and being a general troublemaker. One of those young men managed to steal her heart, and they married in 1922. She spoke about how she became an actress quite by accident when her husband, who was a Hollywood film producer, began to cast her in his films. Mary and her husband were more interested in traveling the world and investing their money than buying an expensive home, so they lived in their modest duplex from 1922 until his death almost 60 years later, and Mary refused to move into an assisted living facility when she became an invalid. It was the same duplex I was visiting that day.

After thirty minutes of hearing the most engaging stories about Mary’s life, I didn’t want to interrupt her. But I was working, after all, so I told her I needed to re-take her blood pressure. This time it was 138/7 and Mary was still completely asymptomatic. I told Mary that it was time for me to go and began gathering my supplies.
MARY: “Oh no you don’t! You’re going to drink a martini with me. It’s my nightly ritual. Been doing it since I was 20 years old.”
ME: “Every night since 20?”
MARY: “Yes indeed. It’s kept me sane all these years, and I enjoy it.”
ME: “But I need to drive over the hill, and it’s rush hour.”
MARY: “Oh please! Now stop complaining and just sit. Tim, make my usual times two.”

After several minutes Tim emerged from the kitchen with two double gin martinis. I don’t like gin, but I wasn’t about to complain or refuse to drink the martini. Mary and I (actually, she talked and I listened) continued to talk for another 30 minutes while sipping on our cocktails. The martini was STRONG but well made, so I continued sipping. Mary polished off her entire martini like the martini drinking expert she was, and motioned to me when she took her last sip. “Well, dear? You’ve got some left in there.” I had to finish the last couple of sips of my martini while Mary watched me, making sure I did so. Once I did, she smiled warmly. “That’s my girl!”, she beamed.

I gathered my belongings and said goodbye to her, and when she motioned for a hug, I walked over to her and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me and patted my back with her hand.

I never saw her after that.

My Mother Versus A Flight Of Stairs

stairs

I recently took my 83-year old mother to visit a dear friend whom she had not seen for 20 years. On our way to see our friend, I had a moment of panic, because I hadn’t factored in the flight of stairs which we had to ascend in order to enter our friend’s apartment. Even getting my mom out of my car was quite a process, since her severe arthritis and lack of strength in her lower extremities always makes getting out of a seat a major challenge.

Once we reached the stairs to our friend’s place, I asked my mom which side she felt stronger on (her right), and had her take hold of the stair rail on the right. She lifted her left foot and planted it on the first step, and we made our slow climb. At step number eight, my mom blurted out, “I can’t do it”, in a voice filled with desperation and fear. I told her, “Mom, just rest for a second. You’re almost halfway there!” But there was no beast mode, no dogged determination in my mom. She just stood there, clinging to the stair rail for dear life, and I could see that she had given up. Thankfully, a male neighbor offered to help, and essentially hoisted her up each step until they reached the top.

After we settled into our friend’s place, we had a nice lunch and wonderful conversation, and my mom forgot about the stair-climbing incident. When we were ready to leave, another very nice man helped my mother descend the stairs, a task which was much easier since gravity was on her side, and also since it didn’t require the lower body strength that going up the stairs did.

It was pretty agonizing for me to watch my mom go up those stairs. I know she has slowed down a lot, and I know that physical challenges like stairs are massive for her. For this reason, I unfortunately cannot bring her to my place for a visit, because there are stairs everywhere in my residence. I also find the idea of decreased strength and mobility completely terrifying.

If only we could all enjoy sprightly motion throughout our twilight years! This is even more motivation for me to keep training every day like I do.

Those Darned Machines! Technology And The Elderly

oldcell

Many elderly individuals are completely baffled by electronics devices like cell phones, DVR’s, and microwaves. My mom will stop using her microwave when the power goes out and the clock resets, even though I have told her numerous times that the function of the microwave is not affected by the clock’s function. I bought her a pre-paid cell phone (her very first cell phone, by the way) for her birthday in November, and am scratching my head trying to figure out why she won’t use it. She keeps it turned off during the day, then when I visit her, she complains that no one calls her on her new cell phone! I have made sure to tell her numerous times that there is no way that anyone can reach her on the cell phone if it is turned off.

There are times when I go to visit my mom when she asks me to help her dial numbers which I have already programmed into quick-dial. This is sort of pointless, since I prefer to use my phone to make those calls when I visit. I keep trying to encourage my mom to use her cell phone when I am not visiting, and honestly don’t know why she isn’t excited about having a means to communicate with her friends. I know that her macular degeneration is robbing her of her vision, and that her arthritis is so bad that it can be a challenge to hold things, but my mom exhibits a complete refusal to accept gadgets from the modern age, and has done so for as long as I can remember.

I remember when my mom got a Mac computer in 1991, and was so afraid to use it that she never turned it on. She would wait until I came over, then would ask me to turn it on and show her how to perform the same basic functions that I would show her every single time. When she got a VCR, she asked me to show her how to use it every single time she wanted to use it, despite the fact that I wrote down detailed instructions on an index card and taped them to the front of the VCR!

Recently I came across an interesting article, which was featured on theguardian.com and which discusses the difficulties which elderly folk have with modern technology. The original link can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2007/aug/21/technology.news

What I find totally fascinating is that there is research which backs the claim that frontal lobe changes and degeneration occur in the elderly, and that those changes render older people helpless and confused when it comes to figuring out how new tools and gadgets work.

Does that mean that younger generations will also exhibit the same confusion regarding new technology when they become much older? Are we all doomed to scratch our heads in confusion when the iPhone 35 comes out in thirty years?

My Mom Gets Her First Cell Phone Today

My mom’s 83rd birthday is today. She recently began asking for a personal phone line since the assisted living facility she resides at is very stingy about phone privileges. In response to her request, I plan to surprise her today with her own phone line. Instead of purchasing a land line, I thought it made more sense to get her a cell phone which had a large number pad, and was mobile so that she could make calls while she is in her wheelchair. It will be her very first cell phone!

Big Easy Plus Phone
Since my mom is pretty challenged when it comes to lots of technological bells and whistles, I opted for the Big Easy Plus Phone, with a prepaid cellular plan. She will get 800 minutes to start out with, which I honestly think will take her a while to burn through. I will help her with getting a list of the people she would be likely to call, and hopefully she will enjoy her birthday gift!