Cyber Security for Seniors

6 Tips to Encourage Secure Surfing of the Internet

The internet is a relatively new phenomenon in the context of seniors’ lives. Add that to the fact that it is constantly growing and evolving, it can be downright impossible to stay on top of everything there is to know about surfing the web. And yet, many seniors find the internet to be an engaging and convenient place to connect with people, play games, research interests, and shop.

While the internet can be a valuable resource, it can also present some hidden dangers to people who are not caught up on the subject. Take this online quiz to see how cyber secure you are. Chances are, it will prompt a few questions about ways you can make sure you are safely interacting with people and websites online. Check out our tips below to help you surf the net with confidence.

1) Email safety

Email can be one of the easiest ways for scammers to target internet users. Sometimes a sender will model themselves as a business you use, sweepstakes, a charity, or even someone from your own address book. The important thing to remember when reading emails is that if it seems a little fishy, stop and think before acting.

The three biggest vulnerabilities in an email are links, downloads, and sharing information. Be sure you are 100% confident you know who the sender is before you click any links, download any attachments, or send any information, especially passwords or financial information.

If you aren’t sure if an email is legit, it is easy to double check. Don’t trust any contact information or details in the email at this stage, just close it and proceed from there. If you think you know the sender, don’t reply but send a new email to them asking if they sent the email. If it’s a business you work with, like a phone company or bank, look up their phone number online or in your records and ask them about the email. If these options don’t work, explain the contents to a friend or family member and get some feedback about if it sounds real or like a scam.

If you decide it’s friendly, respond as you wish. If it is deemed a fishy email, do not reply to the email and delete it immediately.

2) Password protect everything

Passwords are very important, and many websites and devices require them. Whether or not they are required, they are strongly recommended if you want to be secure. This includes your computer, phone, tablet, and any other device that connects to the internet as well as your apps and most of the sites you visit. Keep in mind, a lot of personal information ends up in these places and passwords help keep scam artists away from those details.

Not only is a password important, but you should also consider the strength of your password. Pick a password that includes capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and no recognizable words. Some sources even recommend picking a passphrase rather than just a word for extra security.

Also, be sure to utilize different passwords for different sites. That way, if one of your passwords is compromised, a hacker doesn’t then have access to all of your accounts. Keep track of them in a spreadsheet, notebook, or in another secure way since it can be hard to keep track of all those passwords.

3) Be careful of oversharing

Oversharing is in the eye of the beholder, and it seems people will share just about anything on the internet these days. Especially on social media where people are wanting to connect with friends and family in a meaningful way, sometimes it can feel like a safe place to put any, or all, of your thoughts.

Keep in mind, however, that these are very public places. Of course, there are security settings on sites like Facebook where you can choose who can see your information, and you should be using them. This is not a fix-all, though, and you should be wary of sharing any information in a public sphere regarding your address or physical location, your bank details, contact information, or plans to be away from home. Even too many personal details in the wrong hands can make you an easier target for a personalized scam.

4) Secure websites

Not all websites are created equal. The biggest thing to look for on any website you are visiting, especially when banking or shopping, is for the letters https:// at the beginning. It is the “s” that is key, so if you see the similar http:// it is a less secure site. You will also see a little padlock somewhere on the browser bar to know you are on a secure site. Stick with the secure sites to know you are somewhere that’s safe.

If you do find yourself on a less secure site and it is generating toxic pop-up ads, please quickly cancel out of the ads and the original web page.

Also, be sure to only put credit card information on reputable websites like Paypal or companies you are familiar with, even if the site looks secure. You only want to trust your financial details with a site that you can trust is using proper procedure when dealing with your secure information. When using a card online, make sure it is a credit card rather than a debit card. That way, you have more protection if your details were intercepted and your bank account won’t be exposed.

5) If it sounds too good to be true, it is

If someone is selling you a get rich quick scheme, congratulating you on your free vacation or winning the lottery, be wary. While it would be great if these things were true, more often than not they are emails or websites intending to lure you to hand over personal information for the purpose of fraud.

This is also often true of emails that are authoritative or that tug at the heartstrings. “Give us your updated card details or we will close your account now” or “Wire us the money that would save this kidnapped child’s life” are often scams. Follow the tips above on how to double check email validity before letting scam artists use emotion to distract you from what you know about cybersecurity.

6) Don’t forget to log out

This one is simple but easily forgotten. Log out. Log out of your email account, facebook, even your computer when you are going to step away from the internet. Leaving these things open, most especially on a shared computer or device, leaves you vulnerable. It’s just like locking the house before you leave.

These are just a taste of steps that can be taken to ensure internet security. If you would like to know more, there is a great resource for seniors that the Department of Homeland Security put together for your reference. The internet is just like the rest of the world: there is good and bad. Enjoy your use of the internet, just be sure to use a little diligence in your protective measures to make sure it remains a safe and enjoyable place for you.

How To Downsize

by Judy Baxter, Marketing Director – Westchester Village of Lenexa

Downsizing (spring cleaning or purging) is a common topic of many conversations. The idea is to eliminate items no longer needed, wanted, or used. Some find the process exciting while others are overwhelmed by it. In my 12 years of professional experience, I’ve guided guide many through this process and found that downsizing can be liberating and freeing.

Two realizations must be noted. First, what you use and need on a day to day basis is different now than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Second, what is you think is important, meaningful and priceless to YOU, may not hold the same significance or relevance to others (i.e. children and grandchildren). Please do not be offended by this perspective. Third, remember, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” so do not expect to go through an entire house in a day. Pace yourself and set reasonable goals (maybe one room a week).

With the ground rules set, let’s begin the process of downsizing! For each item (big or small) think in terms of the following categories:

1) KEEP

Is this an item you need and use on a regular basis? Also, consider repurposing items. For example, a library table or entry hall console table can be repurposed as a TV stand. If you are preparing to move into a smaller residence, select the end table with drawers (to maximize storage) instead of a basic tabletop. Drop leaf dining tables are wonderful because they offer additional space when needed.

2) DONATE (TO FAMILY OR CHARITY)

Think of the joy you will experience when a family member or another individual is using the item. Remember the joy you felt using a bedroom set and think of the joy that will give another family member, or family in need.

3) DISCARD/TRASH

It could be time to part with an item. If its broken, stained, or needs repair, consider throwing it out. Give yourself permission to purge old books, magazines, greeting cards, and even children’s treasured art projects.

Whether your downsizing is motivated by a move to a new residence within a senior living community or wanting to clean your home, consider the following tips. First, it could be helpful to go through an area two or three times. For example, the kitchen holds many items; additional passes will allow you to be more discerning in what you need to keep. You may wonder if you need four cookie sheets and four dozen muffin tins when two cookie sheets and two dozen muffin tins will actually be sufficient. Second, use your “good” dishes as “everyday” dishes — enjoy your treasures and belongings. Third, have your adult children move their boxes of childhood and college mementos out of your house. Give a firm date for them to collect the items, and let them know unclaimed boxes will be donated. Every family has a different approach to this idea. My in-laws rented a U-HAUL truck and drove halfway across the country to deliver items to my husband and his sisters. On the other hand, my dad paid to have a treasured piece of family furniture delivered to me with a note that said “Merry Christmas”. Finally, have a designated place in your house that you place DONATE or DISCARD items. Every time family members come to visit, encourage them to visit that area and pick up any item(s) of interest. This can be very helpful to a grandchild’s first apartment or a newlywed’s home.

Whether the day is filled with snow, showers, or heat, it’s always a good time to downsize. Try a little at a time and you will be surprised at the progress! Good luck, and have fun.

5 Questions to Ask Before Moving to Aged Care

Things to consider before selecting a Senior Living facility

Moving to a senior living community comes with many considerations. It’s a life change, potential expense, and can be instigated by health decline or emergency. When you consider the size and impact of this decision, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. After all, it’s where you or a loved one will be living.

The following questions help you navigate this choice, but ultimately the questions you ask should be your personal preference. Before touring communities, think about what an ideal day looks like for you or a loved one. What is important? Are there any health concerns? What details add value or complication to daily life?

The perfect fit for one could be the wrong fit for another so trusting reviews and recommendations is not a complete approach in the decision-making process. Experience communities for yourself, meet the staff and residents, and learn all the details you can. Use these experiences to answer the following questions — they will help make the right decision for you.

1) What is included in the cost?

This may seem like an obvious question to ask, but there is a large range of what may or may not be included based on the type of home you visit. We are an all-inclusive continuing care retirement community (CCRC). There are no hidden costs or surprise fees with our all-inclusive approach.

Our all-inclusive price includes rent, housekeeping, utilities, parking, a fitness center, community activities, and more.

2) What is the community able to treat?

As a CCRC, we offer four levels of living: independent living, assisted living, short-term rehab, and long-term care. So if you’re an independent living resident and have an unfortunate fall, you can receive the short-term rehab help you need that is a few steps from your front door. This also gives your family peace of mind in knowing you will be cared for — no matter what happens.

3) Who are the staff?

The staff makes up a significant part of the community. They are responsible for the treatment, care, and experience of your stay. Ask these questions: what are their qualifications? What is the retention rate of staff members? What is the staff to patient ratio? How much time do residents spend with the same staff daily? Is there anyone on staff focusing on safety and security?

4) What activities are offered?

This can make or break an experience for a resident. Some enjoy organized activities such as game nights or crafting. Others want to be sure there is space to host family and friends. It’s common for residents to desire a connection with the community outside of the home, as well as shuttles to grocery stores or nearby movie theatres, could also be an important consideration. Many communities offer workout classes, therapy-based activities, and outreach programs that involve every resident and staff member.

Quality of life must be considered and can often be brushed over in the search for a community that offers the best medical care, cost, or safety for its residents. But moving to a new home should also offer the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy daily experiences, and the right questions can point the way to a home that suits you.

5) What is the food like?

This is important for several reasons. First, is it included? If you are looking at continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), different packages in the independent living care may not offer meal service. If it’s included, how many and how often are meals offered? It’s also important to note allergies, taste preference, and dietary needs for any health concerns you may have. If the kitchen on site is responsible for all meals, it’s important to know that you have options that not only suit your taste but also your dietary needs.

This is not an exhaustive list. There may be other considerations that could be deal breakers for you. Some could be:

  • Are pets allowed?
  • Can my family visit? Can they stay?
  • What is the proximity to a hospital?
  • Do you have different stages of living (Independent, assisted, or skilled nursing)?
  • What is the male to female ratio?
  • What is the view outside?

Only you know what is important to you. At the end of the day, your community choice must feel like home and also serve your needs. Use your five senses and your list of questions to get answers out of staff, residents, and family members of residents and then listen to the most important decision maker: your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. There is a large range of quality out there, and you have your own set of needs. Depending on your reason for the move, it may or may not be an exciting change. But it can be a positive one if you take the time and investigate what is important to you so you can find your right fit. After all, there’s no place like home.

7 Signs You or Your Loved One Is Ready to Move to Assisted Living

Keeping an eye on the changes that indicate it is time for a move to a senior living community

This may be the first time you’ve had the thought: the time has come for a move. Or maybe you or your loved one has already moved into independent living in a senior living community, but small things are starting to change and the idea of increased care is crossing your mind. When to move is an issue many seniors and their families wrestle with. We’ve created a list of signs that will help point you in the right direction.

1. Home Safety

If you are considering expensive home renovations for accessibility modifications, have experienced a fall or even fall scares, or are struggling with the stairs at home, a move to assisted living will save you and your loved ones a world of stress. Assisted living communities are built for accessibility. This will not only save you money on the renovations, but it will ensure you have a home you can move safely in and a community nearby should anything go wrong.

2. Decreased Mobility

Sure, practical mobility is important, but so is a range of physical activity. A multi-level home or a neighborhood gym may have you feeling like you can’t trust your body, but senior-focused exercise has the potential to help you exceed your current mobility restrictions. An environment created for seniors to thrive and appropriate gym equipment and exercise classes are also great for healing from injury, meeting friends, and that great post-exercise feeling.

3. Difficulty with housekeeping and errands

This one may sometimes need an outside eye to detect, especially if you still have a decent amount of mobility. Common signs that assistance is needed is difficulty with larger physical tasks like gardening and vacuuming. Mail stacking up, neglected money management, and general home disarray can also be indicators that an extra set of hands are required, especially if this is a change in behavior. Many seniors find their eyesight and reaction times when driving becomes a bit faded as well. There are many elements involved in running a home, and allowing an assisted living community to help manage these things removes stress and potential danger.

4. Struggling with daily tasks

There are so many things that fall under this category, and as we all age differently you may find that some apply to you and some don’t. However, struggling with dressing, bathing, and remembering to take medication are a few indicators that you may need an extra hand. There are many assisted living facilities that offer these services and more. Take an honest look at how you complete daily tasks and if a little assistance is warranted.

5. Fading memory

Forgetting little details like where the keys are, turning off the stove, or remembering to lock the door can sometimes be small things but open the potential for anything from frustration to outright danger. Outside of being in a safe environment, many assisted living communities have programs that help maintain and improve cognitive function. It is important to keep the brain worked out too, developing new pathways to help keep cognitive function sharp all throughout your senior years.

6. Poor diet

This one can be a hard one to diagnose, especially if diet hasn’t always been a strong suit for you or your loved one. However, many seniors aren’t motivated to cook for one or give in to the physical difficulty of maintaining a stocked kitchen and allow the quality of their diets to decline. Assisted living not only makes sure that there are meals prepared, but that they are suitable for any range of dietary requirements or diseases that need to be addressed. A good diet is important for maintaining health as we age, and can also be an enjoyable experience. You may even seek out a property that features gourmet food options!

7. Social isolation or depression

This is very common in seniors as many of the activities that built social activity into daily life are part of the past. Jobs, clubs, sports, and sometimes spouses are no longer in the picture, and life can turn a bit grey when feeling isolated at home. Add the difficulty of decreased mobility and difficulty driving, and social lives can feel downright impossible. A community comes with a move to assisted living care, as well as social groups, activities, and counselors. Emotional needs are just as important to meet as physical needs, and this sort of move can seriously help in this area.

Remember, not all assisted living communities are created equal. Some just offer meal support while others allow you to add on a whole range of services that fit your specific needs. If you have assessed that you or your loved one are ready for a move, take some tours and ask questions about amenities and services that you are counting on having. Your move to an assisted living community should be an opportunity to remove stress from your family’s life and improve the daily quality of your life. Choosing the right place for you is an important key for success with your decision.

What You Need to Know When Considering a Move Into a CCRC

What Is a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community)?

If you have researched residential options post-retirement, you may have come across the term CCRC and wondered what it meant. A Continuing Care Retirement Community is the gold standard of aged care, offering residents the opportunity to “age in place.” What this means is that residents have the option of living in the same community as they move through their advanced years. A CCRC offers multiple levels of living such as independent living, assisted living, short-term rehab, and long-term care. Some communities require an entrance, or endowment fee; some are simply a month-to-month rental community.

 

What is Independent Living?

By design, residents often begin their stay at a CCRC when they are independent. They still want to live in their own home, but want access to certain services or want to begin living within a community in which they will age. Spacious independent living apartments usually include full kitchens, a washer and dryer along with individually controlled central heating and cooling systems. Independent living residents tend to utilize more of the social activities, such as outings and community events, although meals, housework, maintenance, and more services available. This is also a popular option for couples who want their own space with helpful amenities.

 

What is Assisted Living?

Assisted Living often requires moving to another area of the community, but it offers more in-depth service for seniors. These services often include more involvement in daily self-care tasks, such as reminders to take medication and bathing help. Some communities require additional payments for additional services and some charge a flat rate that include all services in the once-a-month payment.

 

What is Short-Term Rehab?

Short-Term Rehab is usually a temporary stay. If an accident or other medical event occurs which requires nursing care, a resident can move into a short-term rehab room to have their medical needs met. These services are usually covered by Medicare or other insurance depending on qualifying factors. This offers the resident the ability to receive medical treatment while they are healing within their own community. Once they have recovered, they can return to their independent living or assisted living apartment.

 

What is Long-Term Care?

Long-Term Care is for those who need 24/7 nursing care. Long-term care residents are able to bring their own furniture if desired, and the daily rate usually includes three restaurant-style meals per day, HDTVs in every room, private and semi-private floor plans, daily activities, and more.

 

Why move to a CCRC?

There are several reasons that people value a CCRC. First, this option of retirement living offers family members and seniors peace of mind. Start researching before you think you need a senior living solution. Check out CCRC’s in your area and ensure they offer the services you need and that they’ll meet your expectations. Moving into a retirement community while you are still independent removes the worries that arise when you wait until you have medical needs or mobility problems to make a move. You and your family know that should anything happen, you are already in the best place possible.

You also can’t place enough value on the importance of a community. Many seniors wait until they need additional life assistance to look for other living options, and then they enter a new community at a vulnerable time. Imagine the comfort available if you lose a spouse, get sick, or need rehab services within your own community. You have a social circle available to you who can offer support. This is also true for couples who are at different need levels. If your spouse requires more care than you do, you can easily live in the same community and continue your lives together without the burden of moving to higher care before both partners are ready.

But, most importantly, the main thing to consider is the ease of living in a CCRC. These communities are designed to have as many or as few services as you need. The wide ranges of social and medical services available ensure that you have access to everything you could hope for as you age in your new community. No one knows when or how you’ll require different services, but as you age your needs will certainly change at some point. Throughout your retirement years in a CCRC, you can live within your community and have your needs personalized for you. That stability as you age can truly add to your quality of life.

Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Taking a look at how pets can offer health benefits to their aging owners

Pet ownership is common amongst families of all types, so have we ever stopped to ask the question: why? Yes, we love our furry friends, but there are underlying scientific reasons why humans have taken care of pets all this time. Pets actually offer many benefits to their owners.

Research has been done on the healing benefits of pet ownership, especially in senior citizens. In partnership with the University of Missouri, ReCHAI actually studies animal and human interaction. The research found has influenced the implementation of animal therapy programs, service dogs for numerous medical conditions, and encouraged seniors to spend more time with four-legged companions.

 

Social Life

When thinking about why pets improve our daily lives, social life is easily at the top of the list. Our pets are our companions. Of course, we play with them within the role of good pet owners, but many people also talk to their pets. Time spent with pets has even been shown to improve communication in dementia patients when human interaction has failed.

While having an animal to talk to and play with can ease loneliness, many seniors find that having an animal, especially a dog, helps with their social lives outside of the home as well. Having a sense of purpose improves confidence, which encourages seniors to be more outgoing. Walking the dog allows seniors to meet other people while they are out and expands their social interactions. Pet owners love to swap stories, which makes pets great conversation starters as well. They are truly social matchmakers for their owners.

 

Health

Looking beyond the social benefits of pet ownership, the actual health benefits of pets are truly astounding. The hormonal response pets trigger can help with mental and physical ailments. Studies have shown pet owners have decreased anxiety, stress levels, and pain due to the release of oxytocin from an animal interaction. This hormonal release is what creates the bond between animal and human, but it turns out that it is a key element in an animal’s health benefits as well.

There is research that shows that pet ownership can lower the risk of certain types of cancer, hasten the healing process after heart attacks, and reduce the number of doctor visits during the year. The CDC confirms that animals can also lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels (which reduce the risk of heart disease).

Part of the reason dogs are so good for heart health is the increased opportunity for exercise. Many seniors find that they exercise more as dog owners because they feel the responsibility to take care of their dog. Dogs are great motivators because they are always in the mood for a walk — whether rain or shine!

 

Safety

A major concern for seniors and their families as they age is safety, especially if seniors are living alone. Dogs are great to have around to make their owners feel safe at home. As hearing degenerates, dogs are able to warn aging owners of unwelcome prowlers. They also can be trained to help accurately detect cancer or dangerous changes in sugar levels for diabetics. Whether guarding the home or keeping a nose on physical ailments, owning a dog can prove to be a lifesaver.

 

Live in the moment

An often overlooked but supremely true reason we love to keep our pet pals around is that they live in the moment. They shake off a setback, land on four legs, and don’t worry about the future. This is a rewarding energy to be around at any age, but this can be especially welcome for seniors as they often deal with a range of frustrations like aging or fears about the future. Animals are a charming and present reminder that life is happening right now. Even the briefest flashes of something shiny or the smallest treat can be a source of fascination and gratitude.

 

Risk vs Reward

As with all things in life, the debate of whether an animal is a right choice for you has validity on both sides. However, the benefits are many for human and animal interaction. If you decide a pet is right for you, there are some considerations to take to ensure a mutually-beneficial relationship.

 

As a senior and new pet owner, consider adopting an older animal. Not only do they require less mobility, but they also struggle to find welcoming homes as younger families want to raise young animals. Your pet will match your energy level and be infinitely grateful for a loving home.

If you don’t want a pet in your home but still want the companionship, there are additional options! Ask about local pet therapy programs or volunteer at a local shelter. You will get all the feel-good feelings of spending time with animals as well as the warm, fuzzy reward of doing a good deed. After all, nothing beats the warm affection of an animal friend.

Protect Yourself From Senior Scams

It’s estimated that senior citizens are robbed of nearly $3 billion a year in financial scams. This crime is often considered “the crime of the 21st Century.” So we’d like to shed light on this horrible fraud that is affecting an estimated 10,000 seniors a day.

Why do scammers target seniors?

According to the FBI, there are a few reasons:

  1. Most seniors have a cushy “nest egg” they’ve saved for retirement. They are also most likely to own their home and have excellent credit.
  2. People who grew up in the 1930s–1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Scammers exploit these traits — they know it can be difficult for this generation to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.
  3. Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud. They don’t know how to report it, are too ashamed at being scammed, or they don’t know that they’ve been scammed.

These crimes are devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a very vulnerable position both emotionally and financially with little time to recoup their losses. Here are two popular scams that specifically target seniors, and how you can combat them:

 

The Grandparent Scam (also known as the Emergency Scam)

A senior will receive a call from someone who addresses them as “Grandma” or “Grandpa,” and they’ll say they need money immediately because of an extreme circumstance. Occasionally, the scammer will know personal information about their grandchild like their name, the name of their siblings, and their city of residence. Other times, they don’t know much information about the grandkids and will refer to him or herself as “your favorite grandchild.”

The reason they need money can differ. Maybe they were in an accident and need money to pay for the medical bills. In that common scenario, the scammers will hand the phone to a “doctor” who will confirm the medical bill. Sometimes scammers will act like they’ve just been arrested and need bail money. Like the former example, they’ll hand the phone to a “sheriff” or “lawyer” who will confirm the urgent need for cash. During these scamming phone calls, keep this in mind: the scammer will always have a desperate need for money. They will be willing to do whatever it takes to gain your personal information.

How to Protect Yourself

The Grandparent Scam is a pretty scary phone call to receive. It plays on your fear and emotions so you often overlook any doubt about the situation. Beware that this scam is going around and call your family if you ever receive a call from one of your grandchildren saying they are in need of some emergency situation.

Decide on a personal question you could ask your grandchild on the phone that could catch a scammer in the act. You could ask about their favorite baseball team, current address, favorite color, or pet’s name. Be sure to choose something that only family members know.

 

Medicare, Social Security, and Health Insurance Scams

These scams are common because every U.S. citizen over 65 years old qualifies for Medicare. Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries will receive calls from scam operators who claim to represent Medicare, Social Security or an insurance company. They claim that new Medicare, Social Security or supplemental insurance benefits cards are being issued or that the senior’s file must be updated. Then the scammer asks the citizen to verify by providing their personal banking information, which will be used to commit theft.

The callers are often extremely aggressive and will call constantly to wear down the potential victim. They will say anything to gain a person’s trust. In some cases, they may have already obtained limited personal information such as a name, address or even Social Security number.

How to Protect Yourself

Know this: the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration will not call you to update information or issue a new card. If you have disclosed personal information to an unknown party, you could be at risk of identity theft. Call one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. This makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. With a fraud alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit and use the contact information from the credit reporting companies. You can also place a freeze on your credit reports, which requires written authorization before releasing any information from your credit report.

 

Other ways to prevent yourself from becoming a victim, according to the AARP:

  • Put your address on opt-out lists with the Direct Marketing Association. Once done, national vendors won’t send junk mail and you will know that what arrives is likely from scammers. If you do receive a postal scam, report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by clicking here or calling 1-877-876-2455 (press option 4).
  • Check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to ensure that fraudulent new accounts haven’t been opened in your name.
  • If you need assistance, AARP Foundation volunteers can help. You can call the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline at 1-877-908-3360 toll-free. The volunteers at AARP can talk to you about possible scams and may be able to help you report a crime.

 

Sources:

FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/seniors

Grandparents Scam: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2016/how-to-beat-grandparent-scam.html

AARP: http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2017/protect-parents-from-scams.html

MetLife: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf

Medicare Scams: https://www.ag.state.mn.us/consumer/publications/medicaressscams.asp

Stretches to Relieve Back Pain (Part Four)

Part four of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good

The culmination of this four-part series on relieving back pain focuses on stability in functional movement. The exercises you’ve learned in isolation will take you far in terms of strength and flexibility, but the key is to make sure that their benefits are integrating into daily movement. So many injuries or physical aggravations come from overuse or misuse of the body in unconscious daily movement. By the end of this article, you will have great new tools to practice that will help you carry yourself through your day more safely and hopefully pain-free.

 

Ball Sit

Starting simple, let’s look at the benefit of exercise balls. You can construct an entire regimen around these handy workout helpers. They are a low-impact way of adding a little extra challenge to daily exercises because they challenge your stability. Any time we can teach the core to join the party of simple or gross movements, the better. Core stabilization protects the spine, encourages safe posture, and helps prevent falls.

The easiest way to incorporate the benefits of an exercise ball into your daily life won’t even require you to take time out for exercise. Use your exercise ball as a chair! While reading a book, eating a snack, working on the computer, or doing any other seated task, if you can do so safely you may as well do it while sitting on a ball! These daily tasks often distract us from thinking about good things like posture and core engagement, so the exercise ball encourages that activation and aids in developing new physical habits while doing everyday activities.

Another great way to utilize the exercise ball is to replace a chair with a ball in any of your seated exercises. In Part Two and Part Three of this series, we’ve given you several seated exercises to try. Substituting for a ball, amps up the challenge level of these exercises, so feel free to have a wall or a chair back nearby to aid with balance if needed.

 

Single Limb Balance

This exercise is mostly focused on the stability of the ankles but is a great way to incorporate a bit of hip flexor stretching if you would like to consolidate your exercises. Our feet are the base of our stance, and as we stand or walk, instability at the base can introduce risk. Functional use of the ankles improves balance, which will not only support good posture but also prevents slips, which limits the possibility of tweaking your lower back.

Holding onto the back of a chair or the wall, lift your right leg and balance on your left. Feeling wobbly on your ankle is completely normal, and letting the wobbles happen teaches your ankle its safe range of motion and helps it to stabilize. Repeat the same exercise on the other side.

If you are finding this easy and would like to incorporate the hip flexor stretch, bend the right knee and lift the heel back and up toward your glutes. You can hold on to the top of your foot with your right hand to aid with the stretch. You can also increase the challenge by taking your hands away from the chair or wall. Notice that with time the wobbles decrease and your balance improves.

 

Large Side Step

This is a great exercise for making sure your core is doing all the right work for you while making larger movements through space. Not only will the strength element help stabilize your spine, but working with balance also helps prevent future injury caused by unsupported movement.

You can start this one with your feet together and hands down, or on your hips if you struggle with balance. Pretend that there is a laundry basket next to you, and lift your right knee high and step your right foot out to the side over the imaginary basket. Plant your foot on the ground and use the same movement to bring your left foot to join the right. You can then repeat on the other side, stepping back over the basket the other way. Do five on each side.

If this is a challenge for you, feel free to hold on to a chair while making the move. The goal here is to make sure everything that you need to support balance and coordination is firing while you move, so be sure to think about activating the core muscles we’ve been strengthening.

 

Stand to Sit

We are now going to work the functional integration of your core and leg muscles into sitting standing. These everyday movements actually can introduce risk if not done safely and are commonly painful if you already struggle with lower back pain. The goal here is to make sure you are moving in a safe and supported way when getting into and out of a chair.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and have something nearby to hold on to if you need help with balance. Slowly lower your hips back into a chair, trying to make the landing gentle and controlled. Thinking about pressing into the heels as you sit will activate your upper leg muscles and give your descent that extra bit of support. After a pause, press into your feet and slowly stand up while taking care to keep your upper body in the same position. Think about core activation as your move in and out of your chair 10 times.

Make sure that this level of muscular engagement is involved any time you are sitting and standing. Check in with yourself as you are doing your ball exercises that you are engaging as you sit. When sitting down to dinner, be sure that you are not flopping into chairs or twisting your way out of them. The goal here is to bring what we learn in our exercises to our daily movement to decrease physical vulnerability and increase strength.

 

Each installment of this four-part series is extremely helpful for preventing and reversing back pain, and all can be utilized daily or in a rotation to be part of a well-rounded regimen. Sometimes, stretching will be called for more than strengthening. Perhaps eventually more challenging exercises will need to be introduced when you are feeling strong. No matter where you are in the process, what is most important is listening to your body and knowing what healthy movement feels like. Focusing on functional stability will show you where your weaknesses are and you can be the master of your own well-being by applying the exercises needed to reverse those weaknesses. Remember that our bodies are designed to work, and giving our bodies the love and support they need throughout all movement, big and small, allows us to work with our bodies to be able to walk through life safely and pain-free!

Stretches to Relieve Back Pain (Part Three)

Part three of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good

When dealing with back pain, it is easy to focus on the symptom without addressing a foundational cause. The truth is, one of the most influential factors in all injury but most especially in back pain is core strength. The core supports and stabilizes the spine, which becomes even more crucial as we age. If the larger muscle groups that are meant to be doing the hard work aren’t firing the way they should be, the job ends up getting dumped on connective tissue which is already weakening with age. We want our spine to be supported with strong, healthy core muscles for optimum function and minimal pain. These simple exercises will go a long way in improving stability, range of motion, and reducing lower back pain.

 

Curl Up

This exercise works the upper abdominals and the rectus-abdominis which are the superficial core muscles that get the most attention in core work. You’ve likely worked these before, but this time try to move mindfully rather than relying on momentum to do the work for you. Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Engage your core muscles as you slowly lift your head and shoulders off the floor a few inches. The goal is not height here, but focusing on slow movement with effort in the core. If you feel gripping in your neck or shoulders, you have come up too high. Stay for a breath, and then roll down slowly and mindfully, keeping the core engaged until your head touches the ground. Repeat 5 times.

 

Extended Table Top

With this exercise, we are focusing on stabilization and keeping the core engaged through movement. This exercise begins on all fours in a position called table top. You may like to put a towel under your knees for extra support. You’ll begin with a deep engagement in your core, and slowly extend your right leg out behind you and slightly off the ground. When that feels stable, add the challenge of extending your left arm forward at the same time. Stay for 2 rounds of breath before returning to table top. Then you’ll move on to the other side, doing 3 reps on each side.

If this gets to be a lot on your wrists, take a break and stretch your wrists between each side. If you have yoga blocks, you can also use the block to bring the ground higher and rest your supporting forearm on the block for support rather than relying on your hands and wrists.

 

Leg Lifts

Leg lifts are a great way to engage your lower core, an area of the core that often gets less attention. Start lying on your back with your left leg bent and foot flat on the floor with your right leg extended out on the ground. Focus on keeping your lower back flat on the ground while you lift your right leg a few inches off the ground. Hold for a round of breath before slowly lowering your leg to the ground, being sure not to release your core or let your lower back lift from the ground until your leg touches the floor. Repeat five times before going on to the other side.

Once you’ve been practicing this exercise for awhile and have gotten some lower abdominal strength going, you can add to the challenge by turning this exercise into a leg lowering exercise. Starting on your back, with both legs up at ninety degrees and a slight bend in the knees. Slowly lower your right leg while keeping your lower back pressed down to the floor. At first, this may just be a lowering forty five degrees while you are focusing on keeping your hip flexors relaxed, core engaged and lower back on the floor. Slowly lift your leg back to meet the left leg before you switch sides. You can work your way up to lowering your leg a couple inches off the ground as long as your lower back doesn’t lift as you lower.

 

Seated Side Bends

Seated side bends focus on the obliques, which can be essential in helping with the stabilization of the spine. Start seated with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Find your core muscles engaged before you begin movement. Place your left hand behind your head while you lean to the right side, reaching your right arm down toward the floor. It doesn’t matter how far you go, you just want to be sure to focus on the left side body as you slowly contract your body back up to a seating position. Switch your arms and try on the other side. Repeat 3-5 times each side. Be sure to move with intention rather than allowing momentum to drive this exercise for maximum benefit.

 

While any of these exercises are great on their own, they each target a different part of the core and so work best when integrated together into a well-rounded workout routine. It is important to view core strength as the foundation of safe movement and it should be a non-negotiable in any workout regimen. The goal of this hard work is for your core strength to integrate into daily functional movement, which will be an essential part of preventing and reversing back pain and other injury.

Stretches to Relieve Back Pain (Part One)

Part one of a four-part series on getting rid of back pain for good

Back pain is extremely common amongst people from all walks of life. There are many contributing factors to this epidemic, everything from sitting too long to arthritis and cancer. That being said, the American Chiropractic Association voices that most cases of back pain are mechanical rather than caused by extreme illness or injury. This is great news for the average person with back pain, as this means there is something you can do to relieve your symptoms. While you should always check with a health practitioner before starting a new exercise regimen, this four-part series will give you tools to shift your back pain from the comfort of your own home.

 

Pelvic Tilt

You can do this while sitting or standing, but make sure you are practicing this one often as we will build upon it later in the series. Find a comfortable position seated either cross-legged on the floor, or with your feet flat on the floor sitting on a bed or chair. Keep your spine erect and your back unsupported if you are able. If you are standing, make sure the weight is even between your feet.

Slowly tilt your pelvis back, like you are trying to point your tailbone to the back of the room. Then reverse by bringing your tailbone toward the front of the room. Move within a range of motion that feels safe for you, and feel free to support yourself with your hands on your thighs while seated to move your hips freely. Take care not to tuck too far when bringing your tailbone forward, as shortening the hip flexors too much can have the reverse effect. Deepen the stretch by allowing the head to tilt slightly back as your curve your tailbone back, then release your head forward when you curve your tailbone forward.

Having trouble sitting? Try this lying in bed, with your knees bent up and your feet flat on your bed. You can practice your pelvic tilts in this position. You’ll even get the added benefit of a stretch through your lower back just by bringing your knees up to a bent position!

 

Gentle Twist

Find yourself in the same seated position, or if you are standing move to a chair or to the floor. Leaving your legs where they are, gently turn your body to the right side of the room. You can hold onto your right knee with your left hand and reach your right hand back as far as you can. Challenge yourself by trying to look all the way to the back wall of the room over your right shoulder. Stay for three rounds of breathing, using the exhale to relax deeper into the position. If you feel a straining feeling in your neck or back, ease out of the position a little. This should be a pleasant stretch and should be felt mostly on the left side of your body and across your lower back. When you’ve finished your three rounds of breathing, do the same thing on the other side.

Still joining us from your bed? With your knees in that same bent position, drop the knees gently to the right. If it is causing you strain to hold them there, prop a pillow under your knees to allow for a gentle stretch of your lower back. After three rounds of breathing, gently drop your knees to the other side. If you are feeling at all unstable in your sacroiliac joint, use your hands to bring your knees back to the center before you twist, focus on engaging your core as you move, and be sure to support your knees with the pillow while in the twist.

 

Hip Flexor Stretch

This stretch is essential for releasing lower back pain, but it can also be very challenging to actually accomplish, especially if you have limited mobility. If you are able to stand and balance easily, shift your weight on to your left leg and support yourself with your hands on a wall or the back of your chair. Gently extend your right leg behind you as far as feels safe or until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor. Repeat on the other side. Challenge yourself by bending your back leg and bringing your heel toward your buttocks. You can grab that back foot with your hand to deepen the stretch.

You can also do this stretch laying in bed. Lay on your left side and bend your left leg to help stabilize you. Gently extend your right leg behind you to stretch your hip flexor. If you can safely try bending your right knee and bringing your heel toward your buttock, you can get a deeper stretch. Take care to transition safely between sides as you switch to your right side to stretch your left hip flexor.

 

*Bonus: Tennis Ball Release

This feels amazing but can also be quite strong if your back is tender. Standing up with your back against the wall, place a tennis ball between the wall and your back on a knot or a sore spot you’d like to release. Lean back against the wall to apply pressure, and breathe deeply into the place you are releasing. This feels fantastic for the upper back between the shoulder blades as well as the lower back. If you’d like to try this sitting down, depending on the type of chair you have you can apply a similar principle using the back of the chair as your “wall” or sitting on the ground up against the wall.

This can also feel great laying down, although you do end up with much more body weight adding pressure to the ball so it is actually stronger laying down than standing up. If laying on the floor, place the ball underneath your lower back, the spot right above your buttock on either the right or left side feels fantastic for a release. If you are on a bed, place a book under the ball so the ball doesn’t sink into the mattress.

Here are some precautions with this one, as this can be a very deep release. Be sure that you are focusing on one side of the body at a time rather than placing the ball directly on the spine. Also, if you know you suffer from sacroiliac instability, place a pillow under the opposite hip as you release each side to support the sacroiliac joint.

The most important note: be sure to breathe. We can release so much tension with a good exhale.

Use these stretches any time you are feeling stiff, but also try to incorporate them into your daily routine. We will expand upon these exercises in the next installments of the series, so do your homework and enjoy the lower back release.