Smart Home Devices That Can Help With Aging In Place

I recently read an article about how "smart home" devices can help with aging in place. What types of smart home products can you recommend that can help with this?


There are actually a wide variety of affordable smart home devices you can add to your home that can help make it safer and easier to live in as you age. Here is what you should know.

Smart Home Technologies


While most Americans today use technology and enjoy the conveniences it provides, there are many who still do not have much use for it. But you do not have to like technology or be tech savvy to benefit from the many different smart home automation devices that can help with aging in place.

Smart home devices can also give family members and caregivers the ability to electronically keep tabs on a loved one from afar, which provides peace of mind.

If you are interested in adding some smart home products to your house, you need to know that these devices require home Wi-Fi. For many of the products, you will need a smartphone, tablet or voice-enabled assistant to operate them. Here are some popular smart home products to help you get started.

Voice-enabled assistant: Popular products like the Amazon Echo, Google Assistant and Apple HomePod will let you operate compatible smart home products with simple voice commands.

These devices can also play your favorite music, read audiobooks, make calls, set timers and alarms, provide reminders for appointments and to take medications, check traffic and weather, ask questions, and much more - all done by voice command.

Smart lights: The risk of a fall, a common concern among the elderly, can be elevated by fumbling around a dark room looking for a light switch. Smart light bulbs can be turned on and off by voice command, smartphone or tablet. These bulbs can also be dimmed and can be programmed to turn on and off whenever you want. There are also smart electric plugs that offer remote control automation for lamps, fans, or other electrical devices.

Video doorbell: Safety is also a concern for individuals who live alone. Smart doorbells allow you to see, hear and speak to someone at the door via smartphone, tablet or smart display without having to open it.

Stovetop shut-off: To help prevent home cooking fires, stovetop shut-off devices use motion sensors to turn off electric and gas stovetops when left unattended for a predetermined amount of time. These devices may also alert family members via text message.

Medication management: Individuals on a complex medication schedule may benefit from a smart medication tracking system that can remind them when pills are due, tracks when pills were taken and notifies loves ones.

Home monitoring: Family members can keep tabs on older loved ones from afar with smart home video cameras or a smart home sensor system.

Other options: Some other helpful smart home products to consider might include smart door locks and smart thermostats, which can enable family members to unlock doors or change the thermostat from afar. Smart nightlights can provide peace of mind and some can detect falls and alert caregivers in case of a fall.

The price for smart home products ranges anywhere from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. These products may be found in many local home improvement stores as well as online.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published January 11, 2019

What You Should Know About Your Aging Parents' Finances

My siblings and I do not know much about our elderly parents' financial situation or their wishes if something happens to them. When mom broke her hip last year, it got me thinking we need to be better prepared. What is the best way to handle this, and what should we know?

Many adult children do not know much about their elderly parents' financial situation or end-of-life plans, but they should. Getting up to speed on your parents' finances, insurance policies, long-term care plans and other information is important because someday you might have to help them handle their financial affairs, manage their care or execute their estate plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult. Here are some tips that can help.

Have the Conversation


If you are uncomfortable talking to your parents about this topic, use this column as a prompt or start by talking about your own finances or estate plan as a way to ease into it. Also see TheConversationProject.org, which offers free kits that can help you kick-start these discussions.

It is also a good idea to get your siblings involved. This can help you head off possible hard feelings. Plus, with others involved, your parents will know everyone is concerned.

When you talk with your parents, you should begin collecting certain information. Find out where they keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here is a checklist of areas to focus on.

PERSONAL & HEALTH INFORMATION


    • Contacts: Make a list of names and phone numbers of their doctors, lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer, insurance agent, etc.

    • Medical information: Make a copy of their medical histories (any drug allergies, past surgeries, etc.) and a list of medications they take.

    • Personal documents: Find out where they keep important documents, such as Social Security cards, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.

    • Secured places: Make a list of places they keep under lock and key or protected by passwords, such as online accounts, safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.

    • Pets: If they have any pets, find out what their instructions are for their animals' care.

    • End of life: What are their wishes for organ or body donation? What are their funeral instructions? If they have made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, get a copy of the agreement.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS


    • Will: Do they have an updated will or trust? If so, where is it located?

    • Power of attorney: Do they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated?

    • Advance directives: Do they have a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment? If they do not have these documents prepared, now is the time to make them.

FINANCIAL RECORDS


    • Debts and liabilities: Make a list of any loans, leases or debts they have, including mortgages, car loans, medical bills and credit card debts. Also, make a list of all their credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.

    • Financial accounts: Make a list of their bank and brokerage accounts (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, etc.) and contact information for these accounts.

    • Company benefits: Make a list of any retirement plans, pensions or benefits from their former employers, including the contact information of the benefits administrator.

    • Insurance: Make a list of the insurance policies they have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare, etc.) including the policy numbers, agents and phone numbers.

    • Property: Make a list of the real estate, vehicles or other properties they own, rent or lease and where they keep the deeds, titles and loan or lease agreements.

    • Taxes: Find out where they keep copies of past years' tax returns.

For more tips, see the Eldercare Locator publication "Let's Talk: Starting the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues" at N4A.org/files/Conversations.pdf.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

The Retirement Benefits of a Health Savings Account

What can you tell me about health savings accounts? I have been reading that they are a great investment that can help with growing health care costs when I retire.

A health savings account is a fantastic financial tool that can help you build up a tax-free stash of money for medical expenses now and after you retire — but there is a catch. To qualify, you must have a high-deductible health insurance policy.

How They Work


Health savings accounts (or HSAs) have become increasingly popular over the past few years as health care costs continue to skyrocket and more and more Americans obtain high-deductible health plans.

The benefit of a HSA is the triple tax advantage that it offers: Your HSA contributions can be deducted pretax from your paycheck, lowering your taxable income, the money in the account grows tax-free and if you use the money for eligible medical expenses, withdrawals are tax-free. If you change jobs, your HSA moves with you.

To qualify, your health insurance policy deductible must be at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family. In 2018, you can contribute up to $3,450 if you have single health insurance coverage, or up to $6,900 for family coverage. In 2019 you can contribute slightly more — up to $3,500 for single coverage or up to $7,000 for family coverage. In addition, individuals age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000 to their HSAs each year. But, be aware that you cannot make contributions after you sign up for Medicare.

The money in your HSA account can be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses, including deductibles, co-payments, Medicare premiums, prescription drugs, vision and dental care either now or when you retire (see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf, page 5, for a complete list of covered expenses). You can use your HSA for yourself, your spouse and your tax dependents.

Unlike a flexible spending account, an HSA does not require you to use money in the account by the end of the year. Rather, HSA funds roll over year to year and continue to grow tax-free in your HSA account for later use. In fact, you will get a bigger tax benefit if you use other cash for current medical expenses and grow the HSA over time. Be sure to hold on to your receipts for medical expenses after you open your HSA, even if you pay those bills with cash, so you can claim the expenses later. After you open an account, there is no time limit for withdrawing the money for eligible medical expenses.

Be aware that if you use your HSA funds for non-medical expenses, you will be required to pay taxes on the withdrawal, plus a 20% penalty. The penalty is waived for those 65 and older. However, individuals age 65 and older who use HSA funds for non-medical expenses will still pay ordinary income tax on those withdrawals.

How to Open an HSA


You should first check with your employer to see if they offer an HSA and if they will contribute to it. If not, you can open an HSA through many banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions as long as you have a qualified high-deductible health insurance policy.

If you plan to keep the money growing for the future, look for an HSA administrator that offers a portfolio of mutual funds for long-term investing and has low fees. HealthEquity, OptumBank and the HSA Authority and Bank of America are the top ranked HSA providers for long-term investing according to the investment research firm Morningstar. To search for providers, visit HSAsearch.com.

After setting up your HSA plan, adding money is pretty straightforward. Most plans let you make online transfers from your bank, send checks directly or set up a payroll deduction if offered by your employer. To access your HSA funds, many plans provide a debit card, some offer a checkbook and most allow for reimbursement.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Does Medicare Cover Dental Care?

I will turn 65 in a few months and will be enrolling in Medicare, but I am concerned about my dental care coverage. Does Medicare cover dental procedures? If it does not, where can I get dental coverage?


Medicare's coverage of dental care is extremely limited. It will not cover routine dental care, including checkups, cleanings or fillings, or pay for dentures. 

Medicare will, however, cover some dental services if they are required to protect your general health. Coverage may also be provided if the dental care is required in connection with another health service that is covered by Medicare. For example, if you have cancer and need specific dental services in order to undergo radiation treatment or if you need surgery to treat fractures of the jaw or face, Medicare will pay for these dental services. 

Although Medicare's coverage of dental services is limited, there are other ways you can secure affordable care and coverage. Here are several options to consider:

Consider a Medicare Advantage plan: While dental services are mostly excluded under original Medicare, some Medicare Advantage plans do provide coverage for routine dental care. If you are considering joining a Medicare Advantage plan, find out what dental services, if any, the plan covers. Also, remember to make sure any Medicare Advantage plan you are considering covers the doctors and hospitals you prefer to use and the medications you take at a cost you can afford. See Medicare.gov/find-a-plan or call 800-633-4227 to research plans in your area.

Purchase dental insurance: If you have frequent gum problems or need extensive dental care, a dental insurance plan may be worth the cost. Expect to pay monthly premiums of $15 to $40 or more for insurance. To find dental plans in your state, go to NADP.org and use the "find a dental plan" tool. 

Consider dental savings plans: While savings plans are not as comprehensive as insurance, they are a good option for those who cannot receive coverage. With a savings plan, you will pay an annual membership fee — around $80 to $200 a year — in exchange for 10 to 60% discounts on services and treatments from participating dentists. To find a savings plan, go to DentalPlans.com or call 888-632-5353 to search for plans and participating dentists, as well as to get a breakdown of the discounts offered. 

Check veterans' benefits: If you are a veteran enrolled in the VA health care program or are a beneficiary of the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA offers a dental insurance program that provides you the option to buy dental insurance through Delta Dental or MetLife at a reduced cost. The VA also provides free dental care to veterans who have dental problems resulting from service. To learn more about these options, visit VA.gov/dental or call 877-222-8387.

Shop around: There are websites, such as FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthcareBlueBook.com, which allow you look up the costs of different dental procedures in your area so you can comparison shop. In addition, consider asking your regular dentist if he or she offers any discounts.

Try community health centers or dental schools: There are many health centers and clinics that provide low-cost dental care to those in need. In addition, most university dental schools and college dental hygiene programs offer dental care and cleanings for less than half of what you would pay at a dentist's office. Students who are supervised by their professors provide the care. See ToothWisdom.org to search for a center, clinic or school near you.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 21, 2018

Have You Checked Your Social Security Statement for Errors?

I have heard that Social Security sometimes makes mistakes on our earnings records, which can reduce our monthly retirement benefits. How can I make sure this doesn't happen to me?

Mistakes in the Social Security earnings record are not uncommon. Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your average earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. So, if your earnings for any particular year are underreported, it can reduce your benefits.

Errors typically occur because employers either report earnings incorrectly or report earnings using the wrong name or Social Security number. Errors might also occur if you got married or divorced and changed your name but did not report the change to Social Security.

Check Your Statement


The best way to keep an eye on your benefits and avoid any possible mistakes is to carefully review your Social Security statement every year. To do this, go to SSA.gov/myaccount to view your statement.

If you are age 60 or older, are not yet receiving benefits and do not have a My Social Security account online, your statement will be mailed to you about three months before your birthday. Your Social Security statement lists your earnings record for each year of employment and estimates the benefits you and your family may receive as a result of those earnings.

Once you receive your statement, take some time to verify its accuracy by comparing the earnings listed on your statement with your own tax records or W-2 statements. You must correct errors within three years, three months and 15 days following the year of the mistake.

If you happen to spot a discrepancy within the permitted time limit, first, call your nearest Social Security office (see SSA.gov/locator or call 800-772-1213) to report the error. Some corrections can be made over the phone. You may need to schedule an appointment and go in with copies of your W-2 forms or tax returns to prove the mistake or mail in the requested documents.

If you suspect a discrepancy, but do not have backup records, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be able to use your employment information to search its records and correct mistakes. If the SSA cannot locate your records, you will need to contact the employer to obtain a copy of your W-2 for the year in question.

Once your earnings record is corrected, Social Security will send you a confirmation letter. If you do not receive the confirmation within three months, contact them again and double-check the correction by making sure it appears on your Social Security statement.

If corrections are not made on your statement, you can choose to appeal (see SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10041.pdf).

Other Mistakes


Social Security earnings miscalculations can also happen if there is a mistake in the current mailing address that the IRS has on file for you. Check your federal tax returns for this possible error, especially if you have moved recently.

To correct your address, contact the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you the "Change of Address" form 8822. Alternatively, you can print a copy of the form (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8822.pdf), fill it out and mail it to the address on the form.

If your name or date of birth in the SSA's records is not the same as it appears in the IRS files then this could lead to mistakes. Double-check your Social Security statement for these possible mishaps. If you find an error call 800-772-1213 and ask for Form SS-5, "Application for a Social Security Card," to submit with the correct information. The form can also be downloaded at SSA.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 14, 2018

Free Basketball Tickets for Students of Salem Community Schools

Due to the generosity of Stanley Colglazier and his daughter, Sara Colglazier, to the Washington County Community Foundation, students of Salem Community Schools will receive free tickets to the January 5, 2019 JV and Varsity basketball games versus the Wolfpack of Crawford County.  Students may enter through any door accessible to the gymnasium and will need to sign-in for entrance to the game.   Salem students are strongly encouraged to wear Salem or black and gold attire.  The tickets are available for students attending Salem Community Schools in grades K-12; however, students in elementary school are required to be accompanied by an adult.  Be sure to take advantage of these free tickets as the Lions face off against the Crawford County.  For questions regarding tickets, please call the Washington County Community Foundation at 883-7334 or SHS athletic director, Hank Weedin at 883-3904. 

How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

What can you tell me about seasonal affective disorder? I have always disliked wintertime, but since I retired and am home a lot more, the dark and cold winter months make me depressed and lethargic.

If you get depressed in the winter but feel better in spring and summer, you may indeed have seasonal affective disorder ("SAD"), a wintertime depression that affects roughly 6% of Americans.

In most cases, SAD is related to the loss of sunlight in the winter months. Reduced sunlight can upset natural sleep-wake cycles and other circadian rhythms that can affect the body. It can also cause a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood, and can increase the levels of the hormone melatonin, which can make you feel more tired and lethargic.

If you think you may have SAD, the best way to diagnose it is to visit your doctor. Alternatively, you can take a SAD "self-diagnostic" test on the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website at CET.org/self-assessmen. In the meantime, here are several treatment options and remedies that may help.

Light therapy: The most effective treatment for SAD is sitting in front of a specialized light therapy box for 15 to 20 minutes a day. Light therapy mimics outdoor light to cause a change in the chemicals of the brain that are linked to mood. It is most effective when timed to fit a person's individual circadian rhythm, which varies widely from person to person depending on whether they are a night owl or a morning lark. You can calculate the proper time for doing light therapy by taking the circadian rhythm test atCET.org/self-assessment.

The best light therapy lamps provide 10,000 lux of illumination, many times stronger than typical indoor light, and have a diffuser screen that filters out ultraviolet rays and projects the light downward toward the eyes.

Cognitive behavioral therapy: Even though SAD is considered to be a biological problem, identifying and changing thought and behavior patterns can help alleviate symptoms too. To help you with this, choose a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and who has experience in treating SAD. To locate someone in your area, check with the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (FindCBT.org) or the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (AcademyofCT.org).

Antidepressants: Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. Some proven medications to ask your doctor about include the extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.s), sertraline (also known as Zoloft) and fluoxetine (also known under the brand name Prozac).

Keep in mind, however, that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.

Lifestyle remedies: Some other things you can do to help alleviate your SAD symptoms include making your environment sunnier and brighter. So, open up your blinds, sit closer to bright windows and get outside as much as you can. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning. Social activities and moderate exercise, such as walking, swimming, yoga and even tai chi, can also help alleviate SAD symptoms.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 7, 2018

Your Living Trust Choices

The living trust is becoming quite a popular estate planning strategy. It costs more than a will, but includes many features that are helpful during life and in your estate. Let's review some of the basic principles of the living trust.

Living Trust Basics


A trust is created by transferring property to a trustee. The trustee is required to follow the provisions of a written trust document. That document identifies the individuals who will receive the income. In most cases, there are reasons or grounds for invading the principal for the benefit of named income recipients. After a period of time, such as the life of the income recipients, the trust remainder is then distributed or held in trust for the benefit of other persons.

Living Trust Example—Bill and Clara


Assume that Bill and Clara are married with three children. They create a living trust with themselves as the initial trustees. Bill and Clara transfer their home, mutual fund accounts and other assets into the trust. They will receive the income from the assets for their lifetime and have the ability to invade the trust or distribute assets back to themselves at any time. When they pass away, their selected successor trustee will manage the property and use it for the benefit of their three children.

Trust Creation


There are several steps in the process for Bill and Clara to create their trust. They will need to visit with their attorney and discuss the basic provisions for payment of income, invasion of principal, and distribution of their remainder. The remainder is the term to describe the value of the trust after both Bill and Clara pass away.

After they have discussed the living trust provisions and their attorney has drafted the trust agreement, they will then sign the trust both as the grantors and as the initial trustees. In order to have property to manage, the next step is to actually fund the trust or transfer assets to it.

The trust document will explain that Bill and Clara have the right to receive income for life from the trust. They can revoke the trust in whole or in part and transfer assets back to themselves as individuals. The trust will name one or more successor trustees. The successor will manage the trust if they are ill and are unable to manage or if they simply are no longer willing to undertake that responsibility. Finally, the trust document will explain who receives trust property after they pass away.

Living Trust Income Taxes


Because Bill and Clara have the right to receive the income from the trust and also can revoke the trust, they will report all of the income on their personal IRS Form 1040. The IRS does not regard the living trust as a separate taxpayer. For tax purposes, living trust income, capital gains and deductions flow through to their personal tax return.

For example, they may transfer their residence into the trust. If the residence has a mortgage, they will still be permitted to pay the mortgage and deduct the home mortgage interest on their tax return. In addition, if the trust transfers the property to a qualified exempt charity, Bill and Clara will be permitted to report the charitable deduction on their personal tax return.

Funding the Trust


Each type of asset will need to be transferred into the trust. Legal title to real estate is transferred through a deed (typically a warranty or grant deed depending upon your state). Bill and Clara signed deeds that transferred their personal residence from themselves to the trust with them as trustees. The deeds were filed with the local county registrar of deeds.

Stocks, bonds and mutual funds can be transferred into new accounts created by the trustee. In some cases, the financial services firm will require proof that you have the ability to transfer these items into the trust. Your attorney can create an "affidavit of trust" that you will sign. It will authorize the financial services company to create a new account for the trust and transfer the securities or mutual funds into that account.

Your cars, furniture and other tangible personal property are frequently retained in your personal name rather than being transferred to the trust account. If you do transfer vehicles through your appropriate state title into the trust, then it will be necessary to be certain that any purchases or sales of vehicles in the future are correctly titled in the name of the trust.

Estate Taxes


Because Bill and Clara have the right to receive trust income and the ability to invade the trust, it will be included in their estate. You may have heard that a living trust avoids probate. This is true. But, it is most important to realize that the federal government includes both your probate estate and other assets of which you have ownership in your taxable estate.

The taxable estate includes your assets probated under your will, your IRA, most insurance policies and your living trust assets. Therefore, if you have a large estate your attorney will ensure that your planning avoids probate to save probate costs, but is also designed to reduce estate taxes on the total assets in your probate estate and living trust.

Published December 1, 2017

How to Find and Hire a Good Handyman or Contractor

What's the best way to find a good handyman or tradesman to do some work around the house? I have had some bad luck lately with unprofessional workers who do substandard work and charge too much.

Hiring a good home repair handyman can be a challenge. How do you find someone who will return your calls, show up on time, do the job right and finish it, all at a fair price? Here are some tips that can help.

Who to Call


While it may seem obvious, the person you choose to call for help will depend on what you need done. If, for example, you have a small home repair or improvement project that does not require a lot of technical expertise, a handyman may be all you need. But, if you have a job that involves heating or cooling systems, electricity or plumbing, you are better off going with a licensed tradesman. Bigger jobs like home renovations or remodeling may require a general contractor.

Whatever type of work you need, the best way to find it is through referrals from people you trust. If your friends or family do not have any recommendations, turn to professionals in the field, like local hardware or home improvement stores or even real estate agents.

There are also online resources that can help. Websites like Home Advisor can put you in touch with prescreened, customer-rated service professionals in your area for free. You can also try Angie's List, which is a membership service that will connect you with contractors and service companies with various types of expertise for free. They provide ratings and reviews of local professionals who have done work for other members in your area, plus details about the type of work they have completed, prices, professionalism and timeliness.

Another option for finding handyman services is through a local or national service company like Mr Handyman, House Doctors or Handyman Connection. You will probably pay more going through a company than you would with an independent handyman, but service companies typically promise professional workers who are screened, licensed, bonded and insured.

To find local handyman services in your community, check your yellow pages or go to any internet search engine and type in "handyman" along with your city and state.

Things to Know


Once you've located a few candidates, your next step is to get written estimates that list the materials, costs and details of the project. It is a good idea to get at least three estimates from different sources to be sure you are getting a fair deal.

Before hiring someone, check out his or her work history with your state consumer protection agency (go to usa.gov/state-consumer for a list) and the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org/council). You can also conduct an online search using the company or individual's name and search terms like "reviews" and "complaints."

You also need to find out if your candidate has an approved contractor or tradesman license. Using an unlicensed worker in a state that requires a license is dangerous - you will have little legal recourse if the job goes bad. (To see which states license contractors, visithttps://contractorquotes.us/contractor-license/). Contractorcheck.com is another good resource for researching local contractors. In addition, make sure to ask to see your candidate's proof of insurance, which covers any damages they may cause while working on your home, and ask for several references from past jobs.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.


Published November 23, 2018

Family Health History

Can a heart attack actually be inherited? I just turned 55 and am trying to make some healthy changes. I would like to know if tracing my family's health history is worth the effort.


Just as you can inherit your father's height or your mother's hair color, you can also inherit their genetic risk for diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. Here is what you should know.

Health History


Even with all the high-tech tests, medicines and procedures that are available today, an accurate family health history remains one of the most important tools in keeping yourself healthy. Since most diseases have both environmental and genetic components, your family's health history can provide you and your doctor a genetic roadmap to your strengths and weaknesses. This information may help you recognize, and even fend off, inheritable illnesses in their early stages.

Tracking your History


To collect your family's medical history, you will need some basic medical facts about your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even first cousins. Talk with them and get the specific ages when family members developed health problems like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, asthma, blindness, deafness, depression, alcoholism and more. Also, if family members are deceased, find out when and how they passed away. Some relatives may not want to share their medical histories or they may not know their family history, but whatever information you discover will be helpful. A good resource to help you find an ancestor's unknown medical history is their death certificate, which you can acquire from the state health department. Your relative's death certificate will list the cause of death and your relative's age at death.

Collecting Information


The upcoming holidays, when many families come together, are a perfect time to collect your family's health history. A great resource to help you get started is the free web-based tool called "My Family Health Portrait," which is available at familyhistory.hhs.gov. Using this tool, you can organize your family tree, identify genetic risks and even share the information with your family members and doctors. If you do not like using the online software, you can print out a hardcopy version to fill out by hand.

Tip: If you're adopted, the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory (www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad or 800-394-3366) may help you locate your birth parents to get their medical history.

Increased Risks


Having a parent or sibling with a particular genetic disease does not mean you will get the disease too, but this risk factor nearly doubles the odds that you could develop the same disease. If two or more cases occur in the same immediate family, the odds can increase by fourfold or more. Some additional factors that can increase your risks are:
  • If a family member was diagnosed with a disease 10 to 20 years before the average age of diagnosis (e.g., a family member was diagnosed with heart disease at age 35).
  • A disease that does not usually affect a certain gender (e.g., breast cancer in men).
  • A family member diagnosed with certain combinations of diseases (e.g., breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes).

Handling Your History


If you discover that a serious health problem runs in your family, do not despair. While you cannot change your genes, you can change your habits to increase your chances of a healthy future. By eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking, you can offset and sometimes even neutralize your genetic vulnerabilities. This is especially true for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. A family medical history can also alert you to get early and frequent screening tests, which can help detect other problems (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancers like breast, ovarian, prostate and colon cancer) in their early stages when they are most treatable.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published November 16, 2018

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