Posts Tagged ‘aging’

Detour the Dumpster—A Better Approach to Overwhelming Clutter

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

By Guest Bloggers Carolyn Quinn and Jaime Angelini

Do you have too much stuff?

Do you have too much stuff?

The people we meet who have “too much stuff” won’t ever be followed by a camera crew that captures shots of perilous, towering stacks of papers, bins or boxes.  There will never be split screen comparisons of their house or apartment before and after workers and family members arrived.

That’s because clean outs are not our approach.

Though clean outs are good for TV ratings and achieving an immediate solution to a problem, it’s not what we do.  Sure, it’s rewarding for viewers to stay tuned and see those transformed tidy, neat living spaces during the final minutes of the show.  And, truth be told, we prefer tidy homes for those living in unsafe situations, but the means we employ to get to that goal do not include a dumpster.

The reason why we don’t endorse clean outs is often highlighted in those shows:  it’s distressing.  People who are strongly emotionally tied to their possessions have big emotional responses.  Sometimes a dumpster-style clean out can be a trigger that leads to a setback of collecting – often ending up worse than the original hoard.  They begin the behavior again; re-accumulating and filling up all that prime, vacant new real estate.

A confession…In the past—in another job many years ago—one of the authors of this blog, has been “guilty” of these clean outs.  While assisting people under the threat of eviction, she cleaned up and cleaned out while working as a residential case manager.  (So, cable TV, we are not picking on you unfairly.  One of us has evolved from that thinking.)

We are better educated and better informed today.  Older and wiser, as they say.  The practices we teach now are rooted in successful programs that were proven to work long-term on changing behaviors for individuals living with hoarding disorder, also sometimes called Finders/Keepers, which is a modern term we prefer to use.

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

How it started

We originally sought out help for people in Atlantic County, following Hurricane Sandy, when we met and identified storm survivors who couldn’t part with their wet belongings.   We saw firsthand people who did not get rid of their water-logged possessions weeks—even months—after the storm.  They were stuck; and we worried about their health and safety as we observed layers of hazards in their living situation.

Jaime (left) and Carolyn (right) as part of The Atlantic County Hoarding Task Force

There was another glitch, a big one.

In our area no one local was working with people who lived with hoarding disorder.  We called and asked…a lot.  No one.

The results of online searching and researching led us to a successful initiative in Boston (now called the Metro Housing Boston’s Hoarding Training Institute).  Luckily, the forward-thinking, helpful professionals there were willing to teach others, like us.  Fast-forward through conferences, training, long-distance phone calls, more training and meetings.

The Mental Health Association in Atlantic County started its, “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Tendency Initiative,” based on Boston’s successful model.   We have been working with people referred to us by code enforcement officials, social workers, nurses, pest control and other professionals who have become partners in our effort to connect help to those who need it and accept it.

Individuals who are ready to make a change start out by attending our “Too Much Stuff” support groups, which are bi-weekly meetings.  During a typical meeting, people at various stages in their own pursuits to declutter are working their way through the process togetherTough topics, like how their possessions affect social relationships, are discussed openly and honestly among peers who understand and offer suggestions based on their experience.

We also provide in-home services to those who are ready for one-on-one support from staff.  Each week staff spends about an hour to offer guidance on sorting/discarding, non-acquiring exercises and practicing other skills critical to manage clutter.

Some of those tips for decluttering include:

  • Start with 15 minutes a day. It’s emotionally draining, so the recommendation is to work in small, daily increments to prevent feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
  • Resist the urge to do more or “get ahead” in a single day. The downside is that you may not return to the task the next day because of exhaustion.
  • Use a timer.
  • Sort in three piles: “Keep,” “Discard,” and “Maybe.” By the end of the session, assign the “maybes” to either “discard” or “keep.”
  • Work in the same room/space. Do not wander from room to room.
  • Maintain the space that is cleared. Mark the cleared space with painter’s tape as a visual cue to prevent the clutter from accumulating again.
  • Use black trash bags to hold items destined for trash or donation.

    Use signs like these for your ‘Keep,’ ‘Maybe,’ and ‘Discard’ piles!

What we know

Many people with “too much stuff” want to change.  They’d like to make healthier lifestyle changes—such as not buying more stuff, not collecting free stuff, or not saving mail and other ways that commonly lead to a house that is cluttered and unsafe.  We also recognize that, if these people could have changed their behaviors on their own, they would.

The reasons behind these behaviors are complex and individualized, and talking about them among peers helps.

We also know that talking about it all—the impact on family and friends, the challenges, and the successes—is an important part of the process.  People feel less alone; they feel understood.  Peer support helps.

Time and time again, we see that working toward the weekly goals is rewarding and worth the effort.  Based on our experience and what’s been reported, this yields positive results and leads to success.

Science and research have come a long way for individuals with too much stuff.  We understand that there is still a way to go to chip away at stigma associated with clutter.  Shame and embarrassment can keep people frozen in place.  We also know that this blog can make a difference to someone who reads it and shares it.

We don’t know all the answers, but we understand more than we did in recent decades.  We keep looking for answers.  And we’re confident that they’re not found in a dumpster.

We have a place for that idea:  the “Discard” pile.

Like what you read here? Need help? Email [email protected] or call 609 916-1330


Carolyn and Jaime are co-developers of  “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Behaviors Initiative” at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County.  

Carolyn M. Quinn works at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County as the ICE Wellness Program Manager, which provides  peer-led support groups and a variety of wellness workshops to adults living with mental illness and co-occurring challenges. She also is a certified instructor for  Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid as well as a certified Advance Level Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Facilitator. 

Jaime Angelini is the Director of Consumer Services at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County where she provides support, education and advocacy to individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, and those experiencing homelessness.  Jaime is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, parent educator, Disaster Response Crisis Counselor and a trainer for law enforcement officials who respond to individuals with special needs.

 

 

A New Year, a New Start – Time to Declutter!

Monday, January 7th, 2019

by Mason Crane-Bolton

It’s a new year and that means a new start! After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season (and the inevitable clutter for so many of us), now is the perfect time to do a bit of “spring” cleaning. We have some excellent tips for a good cleaning and de-cluttering, and some excellent reasons why you should toss out that old box of knick-knacks and pull out your clothes from seasons past!

Pixabay via Pexels.com

Stuff & more stuff! | Photo: Pixabay via Pexels.com

Easy things to get rid of:

Obsolete Technology: If you aren’t using your computer from 1994, you aren’t going to start using it now, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever watch a VHS tape again. Some items may be of interest to specialized collectors or electronics tinkerers, but if you aren’t one (or if you are but still haven’t touched that “project piece”) now if the time to get rid of it. Do your research with each gadget: If you think it might be of value or interest to someone research local groups and stores who might want it; but most obsolete tech is best recycled—look at electronics recycling in your area, which often has special restrictions.

Clothes You Haven’t Worn: Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a great price. Maybe it was your style a few years ago. For whatever reason, you never wore it and now it’s sitting at the back of your closet, looking a little sad and forlorn. Luckily there are lots of ways to get rid of excess clothing. If you’re looking to make a few dollars, try a yard/garage sale, consignment shop, or flea market. If you’d like to just get the clothing off your hands, try donating to shelters, dropping it off in clothing donation bins, donating to thrift stores or seeing what organizations in your area accept clothing donations.

Clothes That Need to Be Tossed: If you have old clothes/shoes that are too worn to be reused or can’t be (i.e. underwear and broken shoes) look for special drop boxes or organizations that take textiles as well as clothing donations. Planet Aid (recognizable by their bright yellow drop boxes) accepts socks and underwear, shoes and clothing in all conditions as long as it’s dry and clean.

Books: Books are a wonderful thing to have, but too many books can quickly be a heavy burden. Literally. Keep a few favorites you’ll read again and again and donate or sell the rest. Borrow future books from the library.

Old Prescriptions and Medical Devices: If you aren’t using it, you don’t need it. Although it can be hard to give away medical devices we think we might, one day, need, if they’re creating clutter it’s time to get rid of them. Fortunately you can donate your medical devices to someone in need through local and national groups, such as specific Goodwill locations (http://www.goodwill.org/donate-and-shop/donate-stuff/) and other nonprofit organizations. Contact organizations first to make sure they can take your donation if you have any questions.

Prescription medicines should be responsibly disposed at approved locations. Many drug stores now have anonymous prescription disposal boxes as do many police stations. You can go to The American Medicine Chest Challenge website (http://americanmedicinechest.org/) to type in your zip code and find drop off locations in your area.

Food: Go through your pantry and look for expired food items and things you’re unlikely to eat. Throw away the expired food items (this is different than a “best by” date, which indicates staleness) and donate any unwanted (non-expired or non-perishable) items to a local food bank.

 

Harder things to let go:

Knick-knacks: Many of us have lots of sentimental objects we’ve picked up over the years. Some might be very meaningful and important to us, but most are probably something we can do without. Go through your knick-knacks (souvenirs from vacations, past gifts, old décor); keep a few with the most meaning and decide what to do with the rest. Some options for letting go of knick-knacks are to donate the rest to a thrift store or sell at a garage sale or flea market, or to pass it down to a family member—this last option can be a great gift not only of an object, but of the memories and stories you have to go with it.

Old Cards and Photos: A lifetime of greeting cards and photographs can really add up when it comes to clutter. Just like with knick-knacks, sort through your greeting cards and choose the ones that mean most to you and recycle the rest—letting go of the cards doesn’t mean you’re letting go of the person who wrote them.

Photographs are often the trickiest and hardest thing to get rid of. Instead of trying to sort through which ones mean most to you, first go through your physical photos and get rid of the bad ones—blurry ones, ones with flash spots, over-exposed, ones you can’t remember why you took it etc. Display your favorites, the ones that give you joy. Depending on how many photos you have, store the rest or ask a friend or family member for help sorting through the rest and deciding which ones, if any, to let go. Consider digitizing your physical photos and keeping them on flash drives, rewritable CDs/DVDs, or an external hard drive. Several companies offer this service for a fee, but you can also do this at home if you or a friend have the right equipment. Then you can decide whether to discard your physical photos or keep your digital ones as a backup. You can even use a digital photo frame, which can rotate through several images so you can display more of your favorite moments.

Important Papers: This one is time consuming, but straight forward. Sort through your important papers and determine which ones you need to keep. Keep essential documents (current insurance policies, deeds, warranties, birth/marriage/death certificates, etc.) in a safe place and consider scanning a copy for backup—don’t keep this copy your computer but rather on a flash or external hard drive. Shred documents you no longer need (old bank statements and bills, expired insurance policies or copies with old information, etc.). Sign up for electronic mailings where possible to avoid future clutter—as an added bonus, some companies offer small discounts for choosing e-mail notifications over paper, plus you’ll be helping the planet.

 

There are lots of other things you may need to sort through depending on your individual situation. It may be things long acquired over the years, or things that have come into your life more recently. Whatever the reason, getting excess clutter out of your home is not only healthy, but necessary.

Getting rid of clutter:

  • Removes trip hazards and decreases your risk of falling in your home
  • Keeps your home cleaner and reduces the amount of health-hazardous dust
  • Makes organization of important information better and makes it easier to find favorite treasures
  • Creates a brighter, more attractive living space, which will uplift your mood
  • Helps pave the way for accumulating less clutter in the future
  • Improves stress, motivation, and happiness—decluttering can be extremely therapeutic

 

We hope you have a Happy New Year and reap all the benefits of a good, long decluttering season!

 

Skitterphoto via Pexels.com

Photo: Skitterphoto via Pexels.com

Who is a Caregiver?

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

As we welcome November we also welcome National Caregivers Month. But, while it can be easy to recognize the month, it’s not always easy to recognize a caregiver. Caregivers range from the professional and paid to full-time non-professional caregivers to informal caregiving on a part-time basis. According to the Mayo Clinic, “About 1 in 3 adults in the United States provides care to other adults as informal caregivers.” Given the numbers, it’s almost certain you personally know someone who is a caregiver.

Provided by rawpixel.com via pexels.comBut who is a caregiver? A caregiver is anyone who provides help to someone in need. Anyone can be a caregiver, and caregiving is widely prevalent. Caregivers are diverse and consist of a wide range of ages, socio-economic backgrounds, genders, ethnic identities, locations, and caregiving arrangements. Despite how many people are caregiving, many don’t identify as “caregivers” because of their idea of what a caregiver is or isn’t. As a result, it’s important for us to recognize that not all caregiving looks the same. For instance, one caregiver might provide near-24 hour care, but another caregiver might drop off groceries once a week or organize medication; one caregiver might need to live with the person who needs help, but another caregiver might be providing help remotely from across the state or across the country.

As we continue to experience the “graying of America,” and our life expectancy rises, it’s likely many of us will become caregivers at one point or another. Being a caregiver is no easy task. While incredibly rewarding, caregiving is also often emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially taxing. Caregivers have been shown to be significantly more at risk for illness, depression, and other health conditions associated with prolonged exposure to stress. If you’re a caregiver it’s vital to take time to care for yourself.

Provided by rawpixel.com via pexels.com

We want to celebrate caregivers and all they do. Caregivers are often the frontline advocate for their loved ones, working tirelessly to make sure the person(s) in their care is receiving all they need despite the impact on their own lives. We also want to remind caregivers to take care of themselves (see our “5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers,” below). Being a caregiver can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but also one of the most exhausting times in a person’s life. Thank you to all of our caregivers, it’s your efforts that change the lives of so many and help so many live longer, richer lives in their community.

 

5 Self-Care Tips for Caregivers

Here are 5 vital ways for caregivers to practice self-care to rest, recharge, and revitalize!

  1. Take breaks every day—try a 5-minute meditation or any other practice that helps you de-stress
  2. Join a support group—in person or online.
  3. Do some self-massage to relieve accumulated tension
  4. Get enough: Water, Nutrition, Exercise, and Rest (caregivers often report a poorer diet and lack of adequate exercise and sleep)
  5. Know when to ask for help—watch out for signs of burnout and escalating health concerns; know when you need to ask for additional help from family or friends, or when outside agencies need to step in

Do you have a story about your caregiving experience you’d like to share? NJFA will be sharing stories in caregiving later this month for our 2nd blog on National Caregivers Month. To share your story, simply leave a comment on this blog or any of our social media pages, or email Communications Manager Mason Crane-Bolton at [email protected]

Provided by Pixaby via pexels.com

Aging Greatness: Great Achievements by Older Adults!

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

As a culture we tend to praise accomplishments as if there were an age limit. We like to focus on achievements made by people under a “certain age” as if we think “The younger, the better!” But achievements, major accomplishments, even fame and fortune, don’t have a cut-off age.

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating accomplishments and great deeds done by a specific age, but we’d like to take time here to point out that major accomplishments are achieved regardless of age. Below is just a sampling of some of the amazing things done by older adults of all ages, arranged alphabetically and in no order of greatness.


Author Harry Bernstein publishes his first book, The Invisible Wall: A Love Story that Broke Barriers—age 96

Paul Cézanne has his first solo art exhibition—age 56

Julia Child begins the long running The French Chef program on PBS—age 51

Jack Cover invents the Taser stun gun to create a nonlethal weapon—age 50

Benjamin Franklin signs the Declaration of Independence—age 70

Cancer survivor Barbara Hillary becomes one of the oldest people, and first black woman, to reach the North Pole—age 75

Edmond Hoyle begins recording the rules of various card games, publishing A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742—age 70

Kathryn Joosten, Emmy Award-winning actress of Family Matters, Desperate Housewives, and The West Wing, begins TV-acting—age 56

Mark Jordan sets the World Record in 2015 for most pull-ups in 24 hours—age 54

Ray Kroc begins the McDonald’s franchise—age 52

Nelson Mandela is elected president of South Africa—age 75

Famed American Folk painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka “Grandma Moses,” begins painting—age 76

Frank McCourt publishes Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Angela’s Ashes—age 65

Taikichiro Mori leaves academia for second career in Tokyo real estate, where he would eventually become the most successful person in the Tokyo real estate market and twice become Forbes’s “world’s richest man”—age 55

Leslie Nielsen stars in comedy-hit Airplane!—age 54

Nola Ochs graduates from Fort Hays State University and becomes the oldest person in the world to become a college graduate—age 95

James Parkinson identifies what will later be named “Parkinson’s disease”—age 62

John Pemberton invents Coca-Cola—age 55

Diana Nyad becomes the first confirmed person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage—age 64

Peter Mark Roget publishes first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus (originally titled, Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition)—age 73

Minoru Saito becomes the oldest person to do a solo circumnavigation of the globe without stopping at any port—age 77

Colonel Harland David Sanders begins the KFC franchise—age 65

Judge Judy Scheindlin begins the now longest-running courtroom TV show, Judy Judy—age 53

Ernestine Shepherd, former world’s oldest competitive female bodybuilder, begins bodybuilding—age 56

J.R.R. Tolkien publishes The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—age 62

Betty White becomes the first woman to win a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host—age 61

Laura Ingalls Wilder publishes Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the Little House books—age 64

 


Whose major achievement are you fascinated by? What are your own accomplishments? Leave us a comment below or send us an email if you’d like us to share them! Whether it’s breaking a record, fulfilling a lifelong dream, standing out in your industry, or just doing something you’re proud of, every day is an opportunity for your own achievement—No matter your age!

It’s That Time of the Year—Medicare Open Enrollment

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

This week’s guest blog is provided by Charles Clarkson, Esq. This article, originally posted in issue #21 of the New Jersey Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) newsletter Advocate, will cover Medicare Open Enrollment, your options, and information about Medicare scams.


By Charles Clarkson, Esq.

Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County

Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, a period known as “Open Enrollment,” Medicare beneficiaries can make changes in their Medicare coverage. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), a Federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living, believes that if you know your options you can avoid being scammed and make the right choices, giving you the best coverage at the least cost.

 

Why make a change?  Whether you have Original Medicare (Part A and/or B), Part D (prescription drug plan), or a Part C (Medicare Advantage Plan,) your plan can change. Premiums, deductibles  and coverages can all change.  Even if they remain the same, your health or finances may have changed. SMP encourages all beneficiaries to re-visit their coverage and decide whether or not to change during Open Enrollment.

Beneficiaries have these choices:

  1. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can change to a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. These plans are private companies approved by Medicare and give you the services of Original Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need (and are not permitted) to have a Medicare supplement insurance plan (also known as a Medigap policy) and if your Medicare Advantage plan has drug coverage, you will not need a Part D plan.
  2. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or drop your Medicare Advantage Plan. If you decide to drop a plan and not switch to another plan, you will be enrolled in Original Medicare. You should then consider enrolling in a Medicare supplement insurance plan to cover the costs that Original Medicare does not pay for and enroll in a Part D plan for drug coverage.
  1. If you are in Original Medicare with a Part D plan, you can stay in Original Medicare and switch your Part D plan. Medicare has a Plan Finder on Medicare.gov which allows beneficiaries to compare plans for next year. The new Part D plans should be announced in late September or early October.
  1. If you are in Original Medicare and do not have a Part D plan, you can enroll in a Part D plan. If you join a Part D plan because you did not do so when you were first eligible for Part D and you did not have other coverage that was, on average, at least as good as standard Medicare drug coverage (known as creditable coverage), your premium cost will be penalized 1% for every month that you did not enroll in Part D. You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have a drug plan. The penalty is based on the national average of monthly premiums multiplied by the number of months you are without coverage and this amount can increase every year. If you qualify for extra help (low income subsidy), you won’t be charged a penalty.

 

Why change Part D plans?

Beneficiaries may want to change Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) for a number of reasons: (i) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it plans to drop one or more of their drugs from their formulary (list of available medications); (ii) the beneficiary is reaching the coverage gap (donut hole) sooner than anticipated and may want to purchase a PDP with coverage through the coverage gap, if one is available; (iii) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it will no longer participate in the Medicare Part D program; (iv) the PDP will increase its premium or co-pays higher than the beneficiary wants to pay and a less expensive plan may be available and (v) a beneficiary is not happy with the PDP’s quality of service or the plan has received low rankings for a number of years. For 2019 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of PDPs.

 

Compare plans each year.

Beneficiaries should remember that PDPs change every year and it is recommended that beneficiaries compare plans to insure that they are in the plan that best suits their needs. When comparing plans, keep in mind to look at the “estimated annual drug costs,” i.e. what it will cost you out of pocket for the entire year, from January 1 through December 31 of each year. Plans can be compared at the Medicare web site:  www.medicare.gov. If you do not have access to a computer, call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare to assist in researching and enrolling in a new plan. Medicare can enroll a beneficiary over the telephone.  When you call, make sure you have a list of all your medications, including dosages. Another resource for Medicare beneficiaries is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), telephone 1-800-792-8820. SHIP is federally funded and can provide beneficiaries with unbiased advice.  Call SHIP to make an appointment with a counselor. You do not need to use a broker or agent who may not be looking out for your best interest. Brokers and agents are usually being paid to enroll you in certain plans. Beneficiaries can also call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

 

Medicare Open Enrollment can also be a time of fraudulent schemes that can cost you money. The SMP wants you to be on the alert for scams. A word of advice:

When you realize that a scammer is calling. Just hang up. Do not be polite and just hang up. Also, let your answering machine do all the work. Never answer any call unless you recognize the number. If no message is left, you know the call is probably a scam or an unwanted solicitation. For any questions about Medicare and to report any Medicare scams, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

Cybersecurity: Where does it begin? Where does it end?

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Mitchell Feather, Vice-President, Creative Associates

 

It seems like every day brings news of more cyber threats and breaches, which seems to leave you with more questions than answers. Has my information been stolen? How should I respond? What can I do to protect myself? What can I do to detect and avoid threats?

Companies may take measures to protect – or share – your information. Regardless of new technologies, tools, patches, laws, and regulations, there is one unwavering fact: Cybersecurity begins with you – and ends with you. What you do or don’t do is critical and that cannot be overemphasized. When it comes down to it, you control what you do or don’t do to protect yourself, your money, and your information. And you cannot delegate that responsibility.

Protect Your Tools and Toys: The first thing you should do, if you haven’t already, is to ensure that you have installed the appropriate software and that the appropriate settings have been enabled (or disabled) to protect your computers, smartphones, tablets, etc.

You should have antivirus/antimalware software/apps installed on all of your devices. There are a number of very good products to choose from such as Sophos, McAfee, and Malwarebytes. Even though it might be tempting to install just free versions of some of these, you should look at the paid versions. They generally offer more features that can enhance your security and peace of mind.  

One thing that you must NOT do is respond to pop-up alerts that warn you that your device has been infected and recommending that you click on a link or button to install software to protect your computer or device. If you click on that link or button, you will probably achieve just the opposite and infect your device. More about this later.

Sometimes, while browsing websites, you may end up on a malicious web page that that results in your computer or device becoming infected. This is why a utility like McAfee’s WebAdvisor can be very helpful, and it is a free download which offers a number of protections. If you are looking for similar utilities, be careful with what you find in your search results. Some malicious threat actors have paid ads for product names that sound very legitimate but, in reality, are carefully thought-out schemes that are designed to trick you into installing malicious software.

Plan For the Worst: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, bad things still seem to happen such as lost or stolen smart phones or computers or ransomware infections. This is one of the reasons you should always make backups of your devices – and keep the backups current. Procedures vary depending on the type of device. For Windows and Apple computers, you can backup hard drives you have physically connected to your computer or you can back up to a number of cloud services. For Android and Apple devices, there are settings on the devices to allow for automatic backups to Google or iCloud, respectively. Whether you are backing up to a USB-connected hard drive or to a cloud storage service, you want to make a practice of disconnecting it from the computer after you make the backup. Some variants of ransomware are “smart” enough to not only access all of your computer’s files, but they will also seek out any backups you may have and gain access to those as well.

Now, Assume the Worst: It is not unrealistic to assume that your personal and/or financial information has already been compromised by one or more of the many breaches that have occurred last year or prior. This means that you should be monitoring your financial assets.

You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion every 12 months. Nobody says that you have to take them all at once. Spread them out so you are getting a copy of your credit report every 4 months and review them carefully for signs of unusual activity or identity theft. You can order the free reports from annualcreditreport.com. That same website can also help explain what you should be looking for when you review your credit report. And do not think somebody is too young or too old to bother with this task. If somebody has a social security number, then their credit reports should be monitored.

Also, many banks now offer free credit score monitoring for their credit card customers. Depending on the bank, the information they offer will vary. But, generally, they will tell you if your credit score has moved up or down and provide some insight as to why it changed.

Talking About Credit Cards and Banks, most banks offer notification options, so you can be kept informed regarding any activity. Some banks will allow you to set an alert so that you can be notified if there is any credit card charge activity, even as small as a few cents. This may seem a little extreme but some fraudsters will run extremely small charges to test if credit card numbers are still valid while maintaining a low profile.

If you have not already, you should take other steps to secure your credit card and online banking accounts. Specifically, you should seek out if your online banking websites offer two factor authentication. If they offer two factor authentication, also known as 2FA, I strongly recommend you implement it. This advice extends beyond just online banking. You should implement 2FA for any of your online services that offer it: banks, brokerage accounts, telephone company, gas/water/electric utilities, email, Google, Facebook, etc. What if your bank does not offer two factor authentication? You may want to consider changing banks. You can find a list of banks, as well as other business and services, which support 2FA at https://twofactorauth.org.

Two factor authentication is based on two pieces of information rather than just a password. These factors can be various combinations of things like something you know (e.g., passwords or PINs), something you have (e.g., ATM card, smartphone), or something you are (e.g., fingerprint, voice print, or facial recognition). For greater security, we sometimes use more than 2 factors. This is referred to as Multi-factor authentication, or MFA. This is an area that is always changing in an effort to try to create more secure but also easier for you to use. Currently, the most common 2FA implementations you will find include sending you a security code by text message (SMS), by telephone call, or by email. Be careful if you are access any of your online sites from a smartphone and you have the security code sent to the same smartphone. If your smartphone gets lost or stolen, you may find yourself or your accounts a little vulnerable.

Many online websites also take advantage of security questions (e.g., In what town was your elementary school?, where did you meet your spouse?, etc.). I strongly advise you to lie when you answer these questions. Use answers that are totally irrelevant (e.g., What is your favorite color? Answer: “Outer Mongolia”) and meaningless to you or somebody else. Nobody says you have to tell the truth. All you have to do is remember your answers. And do not use the same questions or answers among different websites.

Let’s Pass on Passwords: Probably as far back as you can remember, you’ve been saddled with the task of creating and remembering passwords to access all sorts of information. Some of you used easily-remembered personal details like your anniversary date, your spouse’s name, your pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, etc. Some of you may have just used easily remembered words such as your favorite food or flower. Some of you still use “password12345” or “qwerty” as your password. Even worse, many of you use the same password for many of your online login passwords.

There are serious security risks associated with these practices: If you use personal information as a password, a threat actor can figure out that password just by researching your personally identifiable information. Common words as passwords are also easily determined by threat actors by use of tools called password crackers, which use large dictionaries.

You are better protected by using complicated collections of letters, numbers and symbols, such as “P^MP2F7~HRnZ)LU”. You can also better protect yourself by using passphrases instead of passwords, complete with spaces when allowed. Additionally, replace some letters with numbers and symbols. You can go with lyrics to a song, poetry lines, etc. As an example, consider the lyrics of Over the Rainbow: Start with “Somewhere over the rainbow Way up high.” Replacing letters with numbers and/or symbols, this can become “[email protected]!nb0w#wAyupHi!”. Or you can take just the initial characters of each word and put those together and similarly swap out some letters. This can become: “50TrWuH!” Just use your imagination: the more complicated it is, the safer you are.

Remember not to use the same password or passphrase with more than one account. And change your passwords regularly. Also, if you get notified or read that any service that you use has been breached or compromised in any way, immediately change that password/passphrase.

Also, it is very important to remember to change the default passwords on any software service to which you subscribe or any hardware that you purchase. This is especially true for any internet routers, switches, wireless cameras, televisions, appliances, etc. The FBI and other agencies have released alerts warning about the threat actors from foreign countries that are trying to penetrate these devices.

You Expect Me To Remember This?: You have no decided to follow all of my advice about passwords. Remembering all of these passwords may prove to be more than challenging. Fortunately, there are some very good password managers available to you. Some are available for free, some you have to pay for. Two of the better password managers are Dashlane and LastPass.

Reign In Your Privacy: Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s turn attention to keeping your information more private and less at risk. You should review and adjust some of your web browser settings. Additionally, you should review and adjust your privacy settings on your social media sites and other online accounts.

Check your web browser settings for privacy and security settings. There, you will find a number of options that would be useful to you. With Chrome, for example, you will find settings like “Protect you and your device from dangerous sites” and “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request…”. I recommend enabling both of them. You will also find settings like “Automatically send usage statistics…” I recommend that you seriously consider whether or not you want to share this private information with Google.

You will also find a section to enable or disable the capability to Autofill information when you need to fill out online forms. I strongly recommend that you disable this functionality. Among the many reasons is the possibility that a threat actor can setup a web page to secretly retrieve all the fields of information that you have stored in the autofill feature. You should also NEVER store credit card information in a web browser’s autofill feature.

With your online accounts like Google and Facebook, you will see features like privacy checkup and security checkup. You should perform these checkups and appropriately limit which features are enabled and what information you are allowing to be tracked. In the case of Google, as an example, this may include actual recording of your voice. You can – and should – purge any of this tracking information that you do not wish to be shared and/or stored. Also check your social media settings such that you only share information and files as you desire.

Time To Be Diligent: Now that you have addressed many of your hardware, software, and account settings tasks, you now come to the never-ending task: Be Diligent! The greatest risk to you is social engineering. Threat actors are always trying to take advantage of you by getting you to lower your guard, cause you to panic, take advantage of your trusting nature, etc. All it takes is one click on a link or opening one attachment to cause all kinds of problems for yourself and possibly others. These social engineering attempts, also known as phishing, can appear as very legitimate-looking emails or websites. It might appear as a PDF attachment in an email, or a Docusign email, a link to a dropbox document, an alleged invoice, or a multitude of others.

The rule is a simple one: if you are sent an attachment or an email telling you to click on a link and you do not recognize the source, do NOT open it nor click on the link. If you recognize the sender of the email but you are not expecting the attachment, call the sender by telephone and ask him/her if he/she really sent you the attachment or link. Do NOT just reply to the email and ask if it is legitimate because you may not be sending the email to the individual that you think you are sending it to.

There are a many websites that you can visit to learn more about phishing or where you can take phishing quizzes. A good starting point is www.phishing.org.

Don’t Be Proud or Shy: Some phishing attacks are so realistic and so well done that trained professionals can sometimes be fooled. So do not be embarrassed if you are not sure what to do or you are afraid your device or your information may have been compromised. As someone you trust for help. Or file complaint with agencies like The Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). If you really don’t know where to turn, you can always reach out to your local police department for assistance. If they cannot help you, they can help steer you to appropriate individuals for help.

 

©2018 by The LBC Group, Inc. All rights reserved

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017

MEDICARE OPEN ENROLLMENT

ARE YOU AWARE OF YOUR CHOICES?

Charles Clarkson, Esq. Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, Project Director/VP, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

 

Every year between October 15 and December 7, during a period known as “Open Enrollment,” Medicare beneficiaries can make changes in their Medicare coverage. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), a Federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Aging, believes that if you know your options you can avoid being scammed and make the right choices giving you the best coverage at the least cost.

Why make a change?  Whether you have Original Medicare (Part A and/or B), Part D (prescription drug plan), or a Part C Medicare Advantage Plan, your plan can change.  Premiums, deductibles  and coverages can all change.  Even if they remain the same, your health or finances may have changed. SMP encourages all beneficiaries to re-visit their coverage and decide whether or not to change during Open Enrollment.

Beneficiaries have these choices:

  1. If you are enrolled in Original Medicare, you can change to a Medicare Advantage plan with or without drug coverage. These plans are private companies approved by Medicare and give you the services of Original Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need (and are not permitted) to have a Medicare supplement insurance plan (also known as a Medigap policy) and if your Medicare Advantage plan has drug coverage, you will not need a Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to another Medicare Advantage plan or drop your Medicare Advantage Plan.  If you decide to drop a plan and not switch to another plan, you will be enrolled in Original Medicare.  You should then consider enrolling in a Medicare supplement insurance plan to cover the costs that Original Medicare does not pay for and enroll in a Part D plan for drug coverage.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare with a Part D plan, you can stay in Original Medicare and switch your Part D plan.

 

  1. If you are in Original Medicare and do not have a Part D plan, you can enroll in a Part D plan.  If you join a Part D plan because you did not do so when you were first eligible for Part D and you did not have other coverage that was, on average, at least as good as standard Medicare drug coverage (known as creditable coverage), your premium cost will be penalized 1% for every month that you did not enroll in Part D.  You will have to pay this penalty for as long as you have a drug plan.  The penalty is based on the national average of monthly premiums multiplied by the number of months you are without coverage and this amount can increase every year.  If you qualify for extra help (low income subsidy), you won’t be charged a penalty.

Why change Part D plans?

Beneficiaries may want to change Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) for a number of reasons:  (i) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it plans to drop one or more of their drugs from their formulary (list of available medications); (ii) the beneficiary is reaching the coverage gap (donut hole) sooner than anticipated and may want to purchase a PDP with coverage through the coverage gap, if one is available; (iii) the PDP has notified the beneficiary that it will no longer participate in the Medicare Part D program;  (iv) the PDP will increase its premium or co-pays higher than the beneficiary wants to pay and a less expensive plan may be available and (v) a beneficiary is not happy with the PDP’s quality of service or the plan has received low rankings for a number of years.  For 2018 beneficiaries in New Jersey can expect to choose from a number of  PDPs. The plans are announced in late September or early October, 2017.

Compare plans each year.

Beneficiaries should remember that PDPs change every year and it is recommended that beneficiaries compare plans to insure that they are in the plan that best suits their needs.  When comparing plans, keep in mind to look at the estimated annual drug costs, i.e. what it will cost you out of pocket for the entire year, from January 1 through December 31 of each year.  Plans can be compared at the Medicare web site:  www.medicare.gov.  If you do not have access to a computer, call Medicare at 1-800-Medicare to assist in researching and enrolling in a new plan. Medicare can enroll a beneficiary over the telephone.  When you call, make sure you have a list of all your medications, including dosages.  Another resource for Medicare beneficiaries is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (known as SHIP), telephone 1-800-792-8820.  SHIP is federally funded and can provide beneficiaries with unbiased advice.  Call SHIP to make an appointment with a counselor. You do not need to use a broker or agent who may not be looking out for your best interest. Brokers and agents are usually being paid to enroll you in certain plans.  Beneficiaries can also call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

Medicare Open Enrollment can also be a time of fraudulent schemes that can cost you money. The SMP wants you to be on the alert for scams involving new Medicare cards.  Back in the spring of 2015, Congress passed the “Doc Fix” bill which mainly dealt with the long standing problem of the Physician Fee Schedule.  At the same time, Congress sought to remedy the problem caused by having Social Security numbers on the red, white and blue Medicare ID cards.

 

The new cards will be rolled out starting in April of  2018.  Since it will take a period of time to mail new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries, there will be a transition period through December 31, 2018 when beneficiaries will be able to use either card.  All cards should be issued by April of 2019.  You should start using the new Medicare card once you receive it.  Make sure that the Social Security Administration and Medicare have your current address to insure that you get your new card.

 

This card change is both a blessing and a curse for Medicare beneficiaries.  By removing Social Security numbers, the change greatly decreases the financial havoc that a stolen Medicare card can cause, but it opens the door to scammers  presenting a golden opportunity to take advantage of Medicare beneficiaries.  Remember, there is never a charge for the new Medicare card.  Scammers already are calling  and scaring seniors into paying $300 or more for a new Medicare card and asking for their checking account information to pay for the new card’s fee.

What do you do when you realize that a scammer is calling?  Just hang up.  Do not be polite and just hang up.  Also, do not open any emails about the new Medicare cards even if they appear to be coming from a legitimate source, such as Medicare.  They are most likely scams.  Any questions about the new Medicare cards, call the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 732-777-1940.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phone Scams

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Here are NJFA, we like to make sure we are keeping folks aware of scams and fraud issues. Our February episode of Aging Insights, is titled, Stop Identity Theft and features two guests that will help viewers to protect themselves. We also want to address a scam that’s been in the news.

Recently, news outlets across the United States reported on a new scam referred to as the “can you hear me?” telephone scam. According to those reports, the scam begins with an unsolicited phone call. After the caller makes contact they ask the recipient “Can you hear me?” to elicit a response of “yes,” and a potential onslaught of unauthorized charges ensues.

The story goes that if you get this call and respond “yes” to the question, “can you hear me?” that the scammer could be recording it and could use it against you. There is the possibility that you could receive a bill for something you did not purchase or agree to and when you go to dispute the bill you will be presented with your own voice saying “yes” on the recording.

The first thing we want to warn readers about is if you don’t know the caller or are suspicious of their intent, you should always hang up. Do not give personal information or engage the caller in conversation if you have doubts about the legitimacy of the call. You should also contact the appropriate authority to report any issues or to verify any information you are given on the call. For example, if the caller claims to be from your utility company, call the # on your monthly statement to verify your account status or any issues.

After some additional research, we’d also like you to know what some investigators have discovered about this scam. According to the fact-finding website, Snopes, “we haven’t yet been able to identify any scenario under which a scammer could authorize charges in another person’s name simply by possessing a voice recording of that person saying “yes,” without also already possessing a good deal of personal and account information for that person, and without being able to reproduce any other form of verbal response from that person.” That doesn’t mean it cannot happen, just that the reports thus far only support the threat and not any actual monetary charges.

The Snopes article adds, “In all the news reports we found, interviewees merely reported having been asked the common question (“Can you hear me?”) but did not state that they themselves had fallen prey to scammers.”

That being said, we still advice you to use caution when receiving unsolicited phone calls, hanging up is ok. And if you have any scams or crimes to report, contact your local police, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338), and/or your local Better Business Bureau.

 

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Water, creating a balance is essential.

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Water, creating a balance is essential.

In the NY Times Science Section’s Well, Personal Health column on May 10, Jane Brody shares her experience with mild dehydration after two very physically active days.  She cites Professor Barry Popkin who talks about things we do not truly know about water, like how hydration impacts our health and well-being, or how much is really required. While there are suggested guidelines, it can be difficult to know exactly how much water you need to drink. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly about 13 cups (3 liters) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of total beverages a day. This can vary depending on your health issues, activity level, the weather, etc.  We probably need to drink somewhere within the suggested guidelines in order to be sufficiently hydrated each day.  This may be difficult since as we age the mechanism of thirst becomes a less effective trigger for reminding us to drink water.

How can you remember to drink enough water? Have a glass at the same time and in the same place during your routine every day. Get in the habit of drinking a glass of water right after you get out of the shower, or right before you wash your face at night, put a glass of water on your nightstand so you see it before you go to bed or have a glass waiting by the coffee maker so you remember to have a glass while your coffee brews.

Cheers.

Beverages-Ice-Water

 

Preventing Falls at Home

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Preventing Falls at Home

Falls are not inevitable; it isn’t something that just happens as you get older. Falls are linked to a specific cause.  It could be that more than one underlying cause or risk factor is involved in a fall.

Falls can be linked to a person’s physical condition or a medical problem, such as a chronic disease. Other causes could be safety hazards in the person’s home or community environment.

What are some Risk Factors for falls?

  • Muscle weakness, especially in the legs, is one of the most important risk factors. People with weak muscles are more likely to fall than are those who maintain their muscle strength, as well as their flexibility and endurance.
  • Your balance and your gait — how you walk — are other key factors. Older adults who have poor balance or difficulty walking are more likely than others to fall. These problems may be linked to a lack of exercise or to a neurological cause, arthritis, or other medical conditions and their treatments.
  • Blood pressure that drops after you have been lying down or sitting can increase your chance of falling. This condition — called postural hypotension — might result from dehydration, or certain medications. It might also be linked to diabetes, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or an infection.
  • Your reflexes may also be slower than when you were younger. The increased amount of time it takes you to react may make it harder to catch your balance if you start to fall.
  • Foot problems that cause painful feet, and wearing unsafe footwear can increase your chance of falling. Backless shoes and slippers, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with smooth leather soles are examples of unsafe footwear that could cause a fall.
  • Sensory problems can cause falls, too. If your senses don’t work well, you might be less aware of your environment. For instance, having numbness in your feet may mean you don’t sense where you are stepping.
  • Not seeing well or other vision problems can also result in falls. It may take a while for your eyes to adjust to see clearly when you move between darkness and light. Other vision problems contributing to falls include poor depth perception, cataracts, and glaucoma. Having poor lighting around your home can also lead to falls.
  • Confusion, even for a short while, can sometimes lead to falls. For example, if you wake up in an unfamiliar environment, you might feel unsure of where you are. If you feel confused, wait for your mind to clear or until someone comes to help you before trying to get up and walk around.
  • Some medications can increase a person’s risk of falling because they cause side effects like dizziness or confusion. The health problems for which the person takes the medications may also contribute to the risk of falls.

Most Falls Happen at Home

Although falls can happen anywhere, well over half of all falls happen at home. Falls at home often happen while a person is doing normal daily activities. Some of these falls are caused by factors in the person’s living environment. For instance, a slick floor or a poorly lit stairway may lead to a fall.

Other factors that can lead to falls at home include

  • loose rugs
  • clutter on the floor or stairs
  • carrying heavy or bulky things up or down stairs
  • not having stair railings
  • not having grab bars in the bathroom

Simple changes can help make your home safer.

If you do fall, what should you do?

Well, be sure to talk with your doctor if you fall. A fall could be a sign of a new medical problem that needs attention, such as an infection or a cardiovascular disorder. It could also suggest that a treatment for a chronic ailment, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia, needs to be changed.

For the time immediately after a fall, here are some tips:

While you are still on the ground:

  1. Take several deep breaths to try to relax.
  2. Remain still on the floor or ground for a few moments. This will help you get over the shock of falling.
  3. Decide if you’re hurt before getting up. Getting up too quickly or in the wrong way could make an injury worse.

Once you are ready to get up:

  1. If you think you can get up safely without help, roll over onto your side.
  2. Rest again while your body and blood pressure adjust. Slowly get up on your hands and knees, and crawl to a sturdy chair.
  3. Put your hands on the chair seat and slide one foot forward so that it is flat on the floor. Keep the other leg bent so the knee is on the floor.
  4. From this kneeling position, slowly rise and turn your body to sit in the chair.

If you’re hurt or can’t get up, ask someone for help or call 911. If you’re alone, try to get into a comfortable position and wait for help to arrive.

For more information and resources, visit the NJ Dept of Human Services website: http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/doas/services/fallprev/