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Seniors Experience the Positive Affects of Creative Aging

Extra Mile Staff

When Samir Saad, 67, retired from his early education job at Head Start two years ago, he felt isolated and unfulfilled.

Last year, a friend told him about Stagebridge, an Oakland, CA, non-profit that offers 30 creative arts classes to adults age 55+. Courses range from play writing and acting to storytelling (with performances in the public schools), singing, dance and improvisation.

In 2016, with no prior experience, Saad signed up for playwriting and storytelling. “It gets all my creative juices flowing!” he says. Saad continues to hone these skills with weekly assignments. “I love every minute of it!”

“I realized there is life after 65 and I can do great things!” he muses. Apparently so do the 650 adult students who take classes at Stagebridge annually; demand is so high that there’s a summer performing arts camp.

Introducing Creative Aging

Stagebridge is part of a movement called “creative aging.” “It is about ongoing growth in which certain strengths emerge because of aging, not in spite of it,” says Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatrician and vice president of behavioral health and clinical research at Miami Jewish Health Systems.

“Aging is not all about loss and decline,” he says. “It’s developing unique strengths, many of which are artistic, that bring a sense of meaning, purpose and joy. It not only enables us to feel better psychologically but also has a direct impact on how we age physically.”

Dr. Agronin, author of the newly released The End of Old Age, says studies show people with a sense of purpose have fewer heart attacks and strokes, less risk of Alzheimer’s, and tend to live longer. A new study reports a link between purpose and retaining a strong hand grip as well as walking speed, which are indicators of how quickly people age.

Healthy aging includes the creative arts. Typically, professional songwriters, playwrights, artists or actors teach seniors in the community or in long term care. The concept signals a shift from passive appreciation (sitting quietly in the audience and being entertained) to hands-on participation (performing, for instance).

Building Community Through the Arts

The creative arts serve many roles. Older adults are meeting new people at a life stage where those opportunities shrink. It also makes them feel valued and gives them a sense of belonging.

Talk about an antidote to loneliness! Social isolation is a full-blown health issue. In fact, a new study finds that seniors who are socially isolated cost Medicare nearly $6.7 billion more annually.

In California, a unique housing model is gaining ground for “artsy” seniors. (Two are near Los Angeles, the third is in Long Beach.) Residents might be retired or aspiring movie actors, painters, directors or writers, among other creative types.

A few years ago, when Ethel Gross, 87, moved into Long Beach Senior Arts Colony, she had never picked up a paintbrush. She’s gotten so good taking classes that today her work is exhibited in art shows.

Fellow resident and neighbor Barbara Fay, 77, has a background in acting and has taught writing. She moved into the affordable housing rental community when it first opened five years ago. Now she directs, casts and produces plays at the colony and is a columnist for their monthly newsletter.

“You can always move into senior housing but it’s the people here who make it the marvelous place that it is,” says Fay. Those people are not just local, but hail from other countries and states, too.

Other Ways to Express Yourself

There are many ways to find fulfillment as we age. Consider these two:

1. Lifelong learning: Judy Phillips, 73, moved from Boston, MA, to Lebanon, NH, because she “wanted to be surrounded by culture and countryside.” It’s no accident that she lives five miles from Dartmouth College where she attends art shows as well as music and theatre performances.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Dartmouth campus is another resource. So far, Phillips has taken 10 courses at Osher. “All this stimulation keeps my brain ticking,” says Phillips. “There’s much more than I can even begin to do!”

Some seniors want the learning component but prefer to live where there are different levels of care, should they need it. There are more than a dozen or so “university-based retirement communities” on or near college campuses (i.e. Oberlin, Cornell, Amherst, Pennsylvania State, Stanford, University of Florida and Notre Dame).

2. Dance and expression, no matter your ability. “Everyone can dance,” says Maria Genne, the founder of Kairos, Alive!, a Minneapolis-based participatory arts program. When she and other professional artists (mostly dancers and musicians) go into senior or community centers, or long-term care settings, they get everyone moving, including those in wheelchairs and walkers.

On Thursdays, Sol Moran, 64, attends Kairos Alive! at her neighborhood center. “It’s medicine for the soul,” says Moran. “There is energy, positivity and smiles. I drop my cane!

“They grab us and dance with us and we dance with each other. We could be having hardships, problems and ailments, but when Kairos Alive! walks through the door, we forget about them. This is healing!” It’s also good for memory (they’re taught to follow steps) and balance.

Genne’s program is being replicated in other states, Pennsylvania to New York, Wisconsin, Ohio and Arizona.

Creative aging is, no doubt, changing how we look at, and engage in, later life—and how others see us. As Genne puts it, “People need to be creatively engaged. They need to feel like they matter.” That’s never been more true as we grow older.

For programs near you, take a look at the National Center for Creative Aging directory.

Continue Reading: Not Your Grandma’s Housing Choices

Renting after Home Owning: A Pros and Cons List

Michele Lerner

The “rent or own” decision isn’t just a conundrum for millennials: A growing number of baby boomers and retirees are choosing to rent rather than own.

In fact, according to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, “America’s Rental Housing 2017,” nearly one-third of renters are over the age of 50. While some of these renters have always rented because that’s their preference or because they were unable to buy, many of them are former homeowners.

For some homeowners, the idea of renting is unthinkable because they’ve become accustomed to owning property and don’t want to have a landlord. Other homeowners end up renting after owning their residence because they can’t find a house that they want to buy that meets their priorities and their budget. For others, renting after selling a home is a strategic decision, one that is part of their preretirement or retirement planning.

Here are a few factors to consider when you’re ready to make a move.

Pros of Renting After You Sell Your Home

If you’re leaning toward renting, you may find these aspects appealing:

Flexibility of location. Baby boomers, looking forward to the next phase of their lives, may like the option of “testing” a new location or a new lifestyle without the long-term commitment of home ownership. Some want to try out urban living or experiment with different regions of the country. If you think you want to move to a warmer climate, you can rent there for a year or a season and then decide if you want to commit to buying property there.

Flexibility can be important if you move to be near your grandchildren or other family. If they later relocate (for example, if a job change takes them to another area of the country), as a renter you can follow them or easily move.

Smoother transitions. If your situation changes — or that of the family you’ve moved to be near, as described above — as a renter, you’ll be able to respond much faster. Leaving an apartment generally entails providing a 30- or 60-day notice to the landlord, and you don’t have to find a replacement tenant before you can move. When you need (or want) to move as a homeowner, the process can take much longer and involves more moving parts, from attracting a buyer to successfully closing the sale.

Amenities and convenience. Baby boomers who choose to rent an apartment may find that having an onsite fitness center, package delivery service, and a parking garage offer a nice lifestyle benefit. Many buildings now offer concierge services and yoga studios, plus the convenience of a staffed front desk.

Maintenance-free living. Years of home ownership result in both a sense of pride about your property and, sometimes, a sense that your time is curtailed by home maintenance responsibilities. Renting provides the freedom to call the landlord or the superintendent when something goes wrong, rather than hassle with do-it-yourself repairs or paying for a contractor.

Downsizing. While you can downsize into a smaller house, you still have to take care of your place, which means keeping some tools and responsibility. Renting allows you to get rid of possessions and embrace a no-maintenance lifestyle. In addition, many apartment buildings include storage facilities so that you have a place for a few extra things you’d like to keep.

Fewer costs. While not all rentals are less expensive than buying a place, many of the costs of home ownership add up to require more money than renting. Renters don’t have to pay property taxes, condo or homeowner association dues, or repair bills. Plus, renters insurance is typically less expensive than homeowner’s insurance, since you are insuring your belongings and not an entire property.

Freeing up funds for investments. When you sell your home and make a profit, you can take those profits and use the money to invest. The capital can be used to boost your retirement funds or to pay off bills so you can start living debt-free.

Cons of Renting After You Sell Your Home

While those factors are compelling, you should also consider a few potential negative aspects of renting:

Rent increases. While a fixed-rate mortgage offers stable housing payments during the loan term, you do face potential increases in property taxes. However, when you rent, your monthly payment can change annually depending on the terms of your lease and on local rent control laws in certain urban areas.

Signing a longer lease is one way you can offset potential increases. You may also want to investigate the local rules about how often your rent can be raised and by how much, so you’re prepared for a possible rent hike.

Loss of tax benefits. Renters don’t have the ability to take a tax deduction on their federal income taxes for property taxes or the interest paid on a mortgage. You can adjust your take-home pay to have more taxes taken out or consult a tax advisor on the impact of this change in your circumstances.

Privacy issues. When you own your home, you enjoy a level of privacy that rental living may not provide. In an apartment building or complex, you’ll be living in closer proximity to other people whose lifestyles and schedules may be very different from your own. Living in a home and having neighbors is quite different from living in an apartment building with loud or heavy-footed neighbors above you.

Pet restrictions. Many rentals have pet restrictions written into the lease that can range from a complete ban on all pets to limits on the type or size of pets allowed. Be sure to check out pet policies before you sign a lease.

Possibility you could have to move. While renting offers flexibility, it also provides a bit less stability. If, for example, you rent in a single-family home, you could have to move if the owner decides to sell the property or, even worse, if the owner loses the property in a foreclosure. The same thing could happen in a small, individually owned apartment building. This is less likely to happen in a larger apartment community.

Lack of control. As a homeowner, you’ve become accustomed to deciding when to repaint or to make repairs or upgrade the flooring. It can be an adjustment to realize that your landlord will make those decisions when you rent. You may want to ask your potential landlord about your options for painting rooms or changing window treatments and whether the landlord plans to replace appliances or do other upgrades in the future.

Landlord issues. A landlord is comparable to the boss of your home, so you’ll need to think about whether you can accept that transfer of responsibility to someone else. Before signing a lease, try to check out landlord reviews. Just as in a job interview, the exchange of information should be two-way, with you as the renter approving the landlord, as well as the landlord approving your application.

So, which is right for you in retirement? Owning, renting, or some combination? If you decide to become a renter, don’t forget that renters insurance is just as essential as homeowners insurance. While you’re leaving behind some of the responsibilities of home ownership, you still want to be sure that you have liability coverage to protect you from a lawsuit.

Related Article: Why Older Adults Need Renters Insurance: a Q&A

The Homebuyer’s Ultimate Home Inspection Checklist

Michele Lerner

While a home inspection isn’t required for all buyers, this essential step in making a smart decision about your next home is highly recommended. An experienced, reputable home inspector can help you tell the difference between a home in perfect condition, one that needs some minor TLC, and one that you should avoid purchasing.

Standard Home Inspection Issues

Here are the important areas that your inspection should address:

Heating and cooling systems. Home inspectors often spend extra time on the heating and air conditioning systems because they are essential to the comfort of your home and are among the more expensive systems to fix. A new furnace can cost thousands of dollars. Your inspector will confirm during the inspection that the systems work and should provide you with an estimate of how old the parts are and when you might need to replace them.

Water heater and other appliances. Your inspector will check to be sure essential appliances are working properly; offer maintenance tips, and provide an estimate of when the appliances may need to be replaced. Most HVAC companies offer maintenance contracts that will provide yearly maintenance checkups. Also purchasing equipment breakdown coverage through your insurance company can cover electrical or mechanical breakdowns.

Structural Integrity. While you may be more focused on decorative elements of your home to be, an inspector will carefully check the structural elements of the home to ensure there are no expensive repairs in your future. Most houses “settle” and can have some minor cracking of walls, but larger ones can be indicative of a bigger problem.

Moisture and mildew. Water damage from any cause, especially if it causes structural weakness, can be dangerous. Your inspector should look for moisture everywhere, especially in the basement and crawl spaces. Mold can be a serious problem, so this should be a prime concern during your inspection. Water stains on ceilings should be investigated to find out if there are plumbing issues or a roof problem. Your inspector should also make sure that exhaust fans vent to the outside, because those that vent to the attic can cause mold. Gutters also need to be inspected to ensure they are clean and that water drains away from the house.

While some water issues are minor and may have already been addressed, it’s important for your inspector to assess the damage and perhaps request more information from the sellers.

Plumbing fixtures. Your inspector should test every faucet, toilet, and dishwasher to check for appropriate water pressure and leaks. Many plumbing issues are minor but, left untouched, they can add up to major water damage.

Electrical system. If you’re buying a newer home, your inspector should test the electrical panel, as well as hardwired smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to be certain everything works properly. Older homes may have electrical systems that are just as old. Faulty or failing electrical systems that are not able to handle modern demands can be a fire hazard.

Flooring. Your inspector should check flooring for signs of pests or water damage. Wood flooring is easiest to inspect for signs of termites and carpenter ants. Your inspector can also test for soft spots in subfloors. Replacing the system can cost thousands of dollars. Moldy or musty smells may indicate something wrong underneath the carpet or tile.

Don’t be afraid to ask your home inspector questions about anything you don’t understand or things you notice that could be problematic. Even a professional inspector can miss something. Plus, the inspector may be able to alleviate your worry about a tiny crack in a wall.

Special Home Inspection Issues

While the above inspections should be standard for all home purchases, you may want to hire a specialist if you have concerns about the following issues:

Roof. Not all home inspectors climb onto your roof. Some just observe the roof from ground level or from a ladder. If you’re worried about the roof, you may want to hire a roofing company to check it out thoroughly. Your regular inspector may notice missing or loose shingles— make sure to have those issues addressed, since they could indicate water damage inside the home. Roof repairs and roof replacements can get expensive; it’s wise to ask your real estate agent to find out when the roof was last replaced.

Septic system. Older homes and homes in more rural areas often have a septic system. If the ground is soft and wet, or if you are aware there’s a septic system, ask for a recent report from the owners or hire someone to make sure it’s functional. The report should show how long ago it was pumped and whether there have been any past issues that need correction.

Buried Oil Storage Tank. An abandoned and buried oil tank on the property that is leaking (or may leak in the future) can result in costly cleanup fees. You may want to request that the tank be removed by the seller prior to taking ownership of the property so you won’t be responsible if any problems arise in the process. If your inspector doesn’t see evidence of a buried oil tank outside but there appears to be evidence inside, ask for proper documentation from the seller showing removal of the tank.

Older home issues. Older homes may also need an inspection for lead paint and asbestos. Your real estate agent can help you determine if the homeowners have addressed these potential problems and have the paperwork to prove it. If not, you may need to hire specialists for one or more extra inspections.

Chimney. Your home inspector can look at the flashing around the chimney, but, if you plan to use your fireplace, you should hire a chimney inspector. Replacing or repairing a chimney can be expensive and, more importantly, you want to make sure the fireplace is safe to use.

Drainage issues around the house. Moisture issues can be caused by more than a roof or plumbing leak. Dampness could come from outside your house, particularly if the problem is in your basement. You may need a landscape specialist to check that the landscaping is sloping away from the house, particularly if the grounds are soft and moist. You could need to add a sump pump or make sure an existing sump pump is working to keep your lower level dry.

Large trees. While trees are beautiful, they also can cause damage if their roots are too big or the branches hang over the house. Roots can grow around drain pipes and cause leaks, impact underground cables, or grow under a foundation and cause cracks. A tree branch falling during a storm can injure people, crush cars, or damage your home. You may need an arborist to check out the trees and offer advice.

Keep in mind that homeowner’s insurance covers specific incidents that occur in a home, but not problems caused by normal wear-and-tear. Buying a house that’s been well-maintained and then continuing to maintain it can provide you with peace of mind — the kind that also comes with adequate insurance protection.

Related Article: Tips to Prevent Equipment Breakdown

How Distracted Driving Can Increase Your Premium

Emily Guy Birken

Most drivers are aware of the dangers of driving while distracted. However, something that many drivers do not realize is that in addition to the legal ramifications, these distractions can affect the premiums you pay for your auto insurance.

While any number of things can distract a driver from the road — including eating, adjusting the sound system, or talking to people in your vehicle — the distraction that often has the biggest and most dangerous impact is using a cell phone or other mobile device while driving.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, driving while distracted killed 3,477 people in 2015 and injured an additional 391,000. The vast majority of those accidents occurred because the driver was using a cell phone.

While concern about accidents should be enough to deter drivers from engaging in this risky behavior, state legislatures are also adding financial penalties to distracted driving.

Here’s what you need to know about the financial and legal penalties for driving while distracted.

Distracted Driving and State Laws

With the exception of Arizona, Missouri, and Montana, all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have instituted a ban on texting while driving for drivers of all ages.

Most states have made texting while driving a primary offense, which means law enforcement has the right to pull over an offender simply for violating the ban.

In states where the texting prohibition is a secondary offense for those over the age of 18, such as Florida, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota, the texting ban can only be enforced if the driver is also violating a primary offense. For example, if a driver fails to stop at a stop sign because she is distracted by her cell phone, the officer who pulls her over for failing to stop can also cite her for texting while driving.

The penalties for texting while driving vary from state to state. At one end of the spectrum are states like Virginia that charge a $20 fine for a first offense. On the other end are states like Alaska that can levy a maximum fine of $10,000, plus a maximum of 10 days in prison for a first offense. In between those extremes, drivers face financial penalties ranging from $30 to $750 and additional penalties that may range from demerit points on their licenses to jail time.

In every state with a texting ban, the penalty goes up with subsequent offenses. Drivers in states that assign moving violation points for texting while driving are more likely to see a negative effect on their auto insurance premiums.

Additionally, even if you yourself are not a distracted driver, other people’s distracted driving can affect your insurance premiums. One factor that can affect your auto insurance rates is the number and severity of crashes across the population of drivers in the country and in your state. To the extent that distracted driving contributes to an increase in accidents, other people’s distracted driving can cause your auto insurance rates to increase.

Teens and Distracted Driving

For a variety of reasons, you can expect to see increased premiums when you add teenagers to your auto insurance. One reason is that insurers recognize that teen drivers are the most likely to be distracted behind the wheel. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.”

Distraction for teens does not necessarily come from their phones. In 15% of all teen distracted driver accidents, the distraction was talking to or interacting with a passenger in the car, whereas an electronic device was the distracting element in only 12% of such crashes. Another 11% were caused by distractions occurring inside of the vehicle such as eating while driving, reaching for objects or adjusting music and GPS settings.

The concern over distracted driving is one of the reasons why many states have instituted graduated driver’s licensing programs. These programs ease teens into the skills of driving, while placing hard limits on when and with whom teens are allowed to drive. States also impose harsher penalties on teens who drive while distracted to help deter distracted driving behavior.

Mitigating the Dangers of Distracted Driving

Safe drivers who want to keep themselves out of danger may wonder what they can do to reduce the problem of distracted driving.

To start, it’s important to understand which behaviors are most likely to distract you behind the wheel or cause accidents. This means that in addition to refraining from using your phone while driving (and pulling over if a passenger is distracting you), you also need to drive defensively, leave enough room between yourself and vehicles in front of you, check your blind spots, refrain from driving while fatigued or impaired, and wear your seat belt (and insist that your passengers are also properly secured).

For parents, modeling good driving behavior goes a long way to helping novice drivers learn safe habits. Parents need to set clear rules and expectations for teen drivers, and monitor their driving to make sure they are ready to take on the responsibility of getting behind the wheel.

Drivers of all ages can take advantage of Apple’s Do Not Disturb While Driving© feature that seeks to minimize distractions by muting the driver’s incoming calls, texts, and notifications. Both iPhone and Android devices can generate an auto-reply message to alert those calling or sending a text that you that you’ll be back in touch when it’s safe to do so.

Keeping Your Eyes on the Road

Distracted driving has always been a concern on the road, but the sheer number of potential distractions has increased with all the advances in mobile technology.

It starts with distractions like today’s more sophisticated stereo systems and the energy required to interact with the GPS. Mobile phones offer multiple ways to lose focus on your driving — whether it’s the need to use a hand-held device, concentrating on your conversation (even when you’re using a hands-free device), or the temptation to check (or send) a “quick” text.

To put the texting dangers into perspective, the NHTSA reports, “Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” Probably not a choice you’d consciously make.

To be less distracted when you’re behind the wheel, it’s important to take some simple and reasonable precautions that will help keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and — perhaps most importantly — your mind focused on your driving.

Related Article: How Moving Affects Your Auto and Home Insurance

6 Simple Steps to Prep Your Home to Sell

Alaina Tweddale

When it comes to selling a home, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s because home buyers aren’t just making rational investment decisions. They’re looking for the living room where their child will take their first steps, the dining room where they’ll host family dinners, the front porch where they’ll pose turned-out teens before they dash off to prom.

People don’t just buy a house. They fall in love with a home.

As a home seller, a little staging can go a long way toward creating that sought-after appeal. In fact, four in five buyers find it easier to visualize a staged property as a future home, according to the National Association of Realtors 2015 Profile of Home Staging. (This is the most recent year for which data are available.)

Unfortunately, hiring a professional stager can be costly. Fortunately, you can stage your home yourself, and the most effective staging techniques are also the least expensive. Before you sell your house, here are the steps you need to take.

Declutter

Your beloved photos and displayed family heirlooms may remind you of cherished memories, but they most likely hinder a buyer’s ability to see your home’s true potential. Even the most organized clutter can leave a shopper with the impression that a house is overwhelming, even dirty. A sparsely decorated home, in contrast, allows house hunters to see how they and their family could build their own memories within the space.

“Everything that crowds each room makes it feel smaller,” says Kathryn Bishop, a Valley Village, California-based realtor with Keller Williams. “You want your rooms to feel big. Make certain that groups of people can walk easily from room to room.” To achieve that “big house” effect, even in a smaller space, Bishop suggests scaling down on furniture. Move small tables, unused lamps, ottomans, bookcases, and extra chairs into storage. Pack up your family photos and heirlooms, too. In their place, leave one small piece of décor within each room, for example a flower arrangement, a small piece of art, or a decorative bowl. That can leave rooms feeling spacious, yet decorated.

Within the kitchen, counters should be cleared. That means storing the toaster, blender, coffee maker, and even the dish drainer. The cabinets and pantry should be well-ordered, too. “Buyers will open doors and cabinets to peer inside. The sparser and tidier they are, the better,” says Bishop. That’s because shelves filled with big box groceries can leave a buyer with the impression that there won’t be enough space for their own favorite foods.

Even bedroom belongings should be pared down. Reduce closet clutter by removing any clothes you don’t plan to wear for the following few months. Remove any storage boxes, bins, or wicker baskets. Let potential buyers see how many shelves are available to store their own sweaters and how much hanging space is available for button downs. It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: The more space you clear, the easier it is for potential homebuyers to envision themselves—and their things—inside the home.

Clean

Nothing can ruin that special falling-in-love moment like a little dirt, dust, or grime. Those first 10 seconds after a buyer enters a home are the make-or-break moment. It’s in those seconds that buyer either envision their future life in your home… or they don’t.

Forget spot cleaning. When you prep your home to sell, pull out all the stops. Scrub the baseboards, sweep and mop the floor under the refrigerator and dishwasher, dust the ceiling fans. If you’re unable—or unwilling—to get at those hard-to-reach spaces, hire a professional instead. The average cost for a deep clean ranges between $200 and $400, depending on the size of your home, according to home services website Angie’s List. Even if it’s not yours, a little elbow grease can have a big impact on the impression your home gives to buyers.

Consider how your home smells, too. You may be used to the odor of Fido’s fur or junior’s old soccer cleats, but those aromas can turn buyers away even before they’ve made their way through your front foyer. Hire a pro to clean your carpets and upholstery, particularly if you have pets. Expect to pay around $200 per 1,000 square feet. Stash smelly, old shoes and sports gear in your car during showings.

Make your outside space shine, too. A pro can power wash your walkway, deck, and exterior walls for a few hundred bucks. This change to your home’s appearance can be the factor that inspires a potential buyer to walk through the front door. It helps to also mow the lawn, prune your hedges, and spruce up any mulch beds on a regular basis. Well-groomed shrubs will boost curb appeal—and allow more natural light into your home.

When you’re finished cleaning, banish your cleaning supplies and tools to a well-hidden storage space. A well-cared for home looks easy to maintain, even if it takes you hours every week.

Repair

A faulty faucet can give the impression that your home isn’t well cared for, even if you’re meticulous about annual maintenance. Before potential buyers start to visit your home, inspect doors, windows, grout, tile, cabinet pipes, and even light fixtures, and then replace anything that’s damaged or decayed.

Although small repairs can make a large difference while showing a home, there’s little need to initiate a major renovation. “You want to increase the salability of your home, but sellers should also be prepared to pick projects with a dollar-for-dollar return,” says Mike Goldstein, realtor with the Mike McCann Team at Berkshire Hathaway in downtown Philadelphia. Although Goldstein admits its kitchen and bathrooms (and closets!) that sell homes, a minor kitchen remodel—which can include new counter tops, new cabinet fronts, and upgraded appliances—will only recoup about 80 cents on every dollar. Renovate the bathroom and you’re looking at less than 65 cents on the dollar.

Create Ambiance

In many instances, small upgrades and changes offer sellers the biggest bang for their buck. The front of the home is its focal point that gives buyers their first glimpse of what they’re likely to find inside. A new or freshly painted front door can dramatically change a home’s overall presentation. To create additional curb appeal, clean off your front porch, pot a few healthy plants, and replace an old door lock, mailbox, or house number placard. “The frame around the door almost always needs attention,” says Goldstein. Chipped paint can be removed with a five-dollar wire brush and small, handheld sander. Add a coat of paint and you can change the quality of your front door’s appearance for as little as $100.

Paint is an easy and inexpensive solution inside your home, as well. A fresh coat can freshen drab walls, ceilings, and baseboards. Select a neutral color so potential buyers can envision their own décor in the space. That fun fuchsia you fell head-over-heels for can come off as garish and overwhelming to a potential buyer. Instead, consider dove or light gray. According to a 2016 report by Zillow, homes with this color living room saw a $1,104 boost in sales price.

It’s not just paint that can transform a room. Anything that makes your space appear airy will create an energizing impression on a home buyer. Dust or clean all your windows and treatments—or even remove dark or heavy curtains—and you’ll increase your home’s light exposure. Let that sun shine in. Another trick is to remove low-watt bulbs from your lighting fixtures and replace them with higher wattage bulbs. (Pro tip: Switch to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and you can select a bulb that produces more light. That’s because CFL bulbs use less electricity than do their incandescent cousins, which makes them far less likely to overheat and start a fire.) The brighter your space, the more inviting it will appear.

Then there are those small yet annoying day-to-day chores. Stay on top of them and you can keep your home ready for any last-minute showing requests. “Make the bed every morning, put the laundry away, and keep your space neat,” says Goldstein. Stay vigilant. You never know which lookie-loo will be the one who ultimately falls in love with and buys your home.

Rearrange Furniture

How your rooms are arranged can improve your home’s overall appearance to potential buyers. Each room should be organized so it shows off its intended function. A dining room should house a table and chairs; a bedroom should have a bed and two bedside tables.

At the same time, each room should serve just one function. If your office doubles as a playroom for the grand kids, clear out the toys—or your computer desk—during staging. Shared rooms give the impression that a home isn’t large enough for everything a buyer needs.

Even if your furniture is worn, keeping critical pieces onsite can help a buyer envision how their own desks and chairs will look within the space. Still, sparse furnishing is fine, even preferred. The less you have in the room, the larger and more inviting the space will appear.

Sometimes it may be worth renting a few pieces, though, like if you have awkwardly shaped rooms to showcase or you’ve already packed up your house and shipped your stuff elsewhere.

Know When to Hire a Pro

You can rent pieces on your own through a furniture rental company, or you can hire a professional stager to help identify the areas of greatest need within your home—and to pick out which pieces would best suit each space.

Rooms that benefit the most from a professional stager include the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. That’s because those are the rooms people often spend the most time in, so those are the spaces where buyers will want to envision their new lives.

If you do decide to hire a pro, ask your real estate agent for recommendations. If she’s worked with someone regularly, she’ll know the quality of her work. At the same time, it never hurts to interview a few prospects before bringing someone on board. Ask about formal training, on the job experience, and how often she’s worked within your specific market. Homebuyer desires can change dramatically from one area to the next. You’ll want to hire someone who has her finger on the pulse of what’s hot in your specific neighborhood.

Still, the pros don’t come cheap. The price “is situational,” says Goldstein, but in his area, the cost to rent living room and master bedroom furniture typically costs between $1,500 and $2,000 per month, he says. Most furniture rental companies require a three-month minimum, even if you sell your home within the first week. Then there’s the cost of the stager’s consultation, which can cost several hundred dollars. In all, professional staging services can cost a seller thousands of dollars. “I don’t really recommend it because it’s currently a seller’s market,” says Goldstein, “but, staging helps 1,000 percent in a buyer’s market.”

Related Article: Removing ‘You’ From Your Home — and Selling It Fast

A New Approach to Caregiving for Dementia Family Members

Extra Mile Staff

The prevalence of dementia is undisputed—5.4 million alone in the U.S.—and those numbers are about to swell. Remember, the oldest of the 83.1 million boomers turns 72 this year. The result will be countless Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers.

While unintended, many with dementia are overmedicated or dismissed as being “out of it.” Fortunately, experts are finding innovative ways to think about, handle the disease, and educate others.

And, they are seeing stunning results for both dementia caregivers and their loved ones: reduced agitation, depression, behavioral problems and medication, and for care partners, less social isolation and more resources.

There is no cure for dementia, but the new approach for those in the early or mid stage is potent. It includes providing stimulating and pleasant experiences, exploring their strengths, and keeping them socially engaged.

For caregivers, the goal is to find meaningful ways to still connect with their spouse or parent, meet others in similar straits, and reduce loneliness.

John Zeisel, author of I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care and a leader in dementia care, sums up this mindset: “We need to focus on what our loved one with dementia can do, not what they cannot do. “That might mean your husband can no longer attend a football game, but the two of you can snuggle on the couch and watch the action on TV together.

Innovative Dementia Initiatives

While still far from mainstream, these concepts are gaining momentum:

Person-Centered Care. In other words, letting those with dementia do what provides pleasure or comfort. If “Elizabeth”asks for chocolate or even a nightcap before bed, why not unless there’s a health reason? Bath in the middle of the night? Sure, if staff is available. (Family caregivers, relax. You don’t have to run the water at 3 a.m.!)

Pet (not just dog) Therapy. At the Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton, Massachusetts, llamas live outside the memory unit. The animals often come on the floor so residents can stroke and interact with them.

Horse (a.k.a. equine) therapy also seems promising. Studies from Stanford University, University of California, Davis and Ohio State University‘s equine therapy center found people with dementia who cared for horses (grooming, walking, feeding) had improved moods and quality of sleep, were more cooperative and calmer.

Creative Expression. Arts professionals, whether poets, musicians, artists or dancers are working with cognitively impaired adults. They might help them create a group poem or a piece of art, for example.

Can’t dance in a wheelchair or walker? Oh, yes they can! They can move their arms and legs to the music and join their upright, twirling peers, along with their teachers, in dance routines.

Get in Touch with Younger Self. Forget short-term memory; their long-term memory may be intact. Movie theatres across the country offer dementia programs to tap into it. Participants watch snippets of old-time films with famous lines (Bogie bidding goodbye to Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca”: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”) With the help of a facilitator, that familiarity often triggers memories and conversation.

So can long ago passions like baseball. Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York City has created a replication of a Yankee’s dugout at it nursing home, including an old radio broadcasting the famed announcer Phil Rizzuto.

Even asking Mom about her past (i.e. how she met Dad or her beloved dog) can spark positive memories. Triggering memories is known as “reminiscence therapy.”

That’s the theory behind virtual reality (VR) technology. With a special head- set and goggles, and a 360-degree camera that takes panoramic images, seniors with memory loss can “travel” to their old neighborhood, the restaurant they loved or perhaps their favorite foreign country.

Doing Activities Together

Participating in something jointly outside the role of caregiver/spouse or caregiver/adult child can bring families closer. Look at these cutting edge options:

Sing in a chorus of caregivers and dementia care recipients. Aptly named The Unforgettables, the group grew out of the Comprehensive Center on Brain Aging at NYU Langone Medical Center. A professional conductor-director teaches breath, vocalization and performance (the way they would to a cognitively sharp chorus). The chorus meets once a week and puts on a concert for the public. Besides singing, Giving Voice Chorus in Minnesota has a toolkit for other communities.

Attend “memory cafes.” More than 100 cafes for care partners and family members with Alzheimer’s are happening nationwide. They take place in coffee shops, community centers, libraries or museums—really anywhere. Over coffee and sweets, there’s camaraderie; caregivers swap strategies, stories and resources.

Take a cruise designed for people with early stage Alzheimer’s and their care partners. It’s a time to de-stress, enjoy activities together and apart, and learn while traveling someplace great. One to the Bahamas, organized by Lori Le Brey, founder of the online community Alzheimer’s Speaks, pushed off in 2017; another group is launching a cruise in 2018 to Alaska.

Dementia-Friendly Communities

There’s a movement afoot called The Dementia Friendly America initiative that has partnered with 35 national organizations to bring dementia friendly programming and education to local communities. That might be teaching first responders or shopkeepers and banks, for instance, about how to interact with a person with dementia .

Brookline, MA is one of the first dementia-friendly communities in the U.S. Their initiative “It Takes a Village” provides cultural offerings to residents with dementia and their caregivers. It might be an interactive story telling program at the local bookstore, a music performance (those with dementia can participate) at the town’s music school or a talk about antique cars at its auto museum. Across the country, Momentia is a Seattle-based, grassroots movement tasked with keeping those with memory loss and their care partners engaged in community events.

Perhaps the coolest concept is Hogeway, a Dutch, government-subsidized residential community made to look like the 1950s for people with severe dementia. Residents move around the village freely (it’s secure and self-enclosed, with cameras everywhere). “Dementia Village,” as it has been dubbed, has a bank, grocery store, post office, movie theatre, restaurants and hair salon. And those clerks and cashiers manning them? They’re really healthcare workers in civilian clothes trained in dementia care. Experts are finding Hogeway residents live longer, eat better and require less medication. There are other residential villages planned in Switzerland, England, Canada and Tasmania.

Back at home, next year San Diego will open Town Square, a miniature, old-fashioned city for dementia adult day participants. And, the Miami Jewish Health Systems is planning a research-based, cutting edge residential “dementia village” on 28 acres in Miami.

Dementia experts, designers and healthcare workers are determined to make life better for both older adults with memory loss and their families. There are increasingly more options. With the upcoming dementia surge, it couldn’t come soon enough!

Resources for Further Support

Alzheimer’s Association

http://www.alz.org/care/

  • An Alzheimer’s Navigator, a tool to come up with an action plan tailored to your circumstances, with resources in your community
  • ALZConnected, an online community with forums, message boards and live chat rooms for caregivers and those with ALZ and dementia, education and strategies for caregivers
  • An Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiver Center
  • 24 hour help line at 1-800 272-3900

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

http://www.alzfdn.org

  • Helpline at 1-866-272-3900 (9 a.m.-9 p.m. EST))manned by licensed social workers who know resources and answer all types of questions

Alzheimer’s Reading Room

http://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2010/07/last-25-articles-on-alzheimers-reading.html

  • Articles for the Alzheimer’s and dementia community started by a caregiver spouse

Alzheimer’s Speaks (Live Online Radio)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/alzheimersspeaks/2015/ Besides the radio program:

  • Directory of resources by city and state
  • Free monthly webinars taught by people with dementia, their caregivers and professionals

Eldercare Locator- U.S. Administration on Aging http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx or 1-800-677-1116

  • Click on “Alzheimer’s” under topic, pop in your zip code or city and state, and you will be taken to local resources
  • Booklets, statistics, long-term care, advance planning information

Alzheimers.gov Government website

http://www.alzheimers.gov

  • Comprehensive list of resources and dementia organizations

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

http://www.caregiver.va.gov/help_landing.asp

  • Support services, resources and information for caregivers of veterans

National Center for Creative Aging

http://www.creativeaging.org

    • Web-based and community creative arts resources and ideas
    • A directory with programs nationwide

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7 Myths About Your Brain

Eric Dollinger

If you consider yourself a “left-brain” or a “right-brain” person, have experienced a “senior moment,” you may have been influenced by often-repeated myths about the human brain.

Neurological researchers have expanded their understanding of how our brains work, upending some old beliefs. Researchers have uncovered facts that can help everyone understand more about how their brains do – and don’t – work.

Here are seven common myths about brains and the scientific evidence that dispels them:

1. You only use 10 percent of your brain.

Researchers have traced this myth back to 1907, when multiple sources pushed the idea that everyone could improve themselves if they only used their brains. Repeated throughout the past century, the myth became belief. Numerous scientific studies, in part due to the rise of modern brain scans, show that no area of the brain is completely inactive. No researcher has found that missing 90 percent. According to an article in Scientific American, “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most are continually active over a 24-hour period.

2. Brain function declines as you age.

It’s not a myth that some cognitive skills slow down as people age, but the good news is that aging also improves your brain function in some ways. There’s a difference in brain function between fluid intelligence, which refers to logical and creative thinking and problem-solving, and crystallized intelligence, which refers to facts and data and skills that can be measured on a standardized test. Older brains sometimes process things more slowly, researchers have found, and many older people experience an occasional moment of memory loss, which impacts crystallized intelligence. But neurologists and other experts have found positive impacts of aging, too. For example, researchers have found that older people have increased problem-solving skills and do things like make better financial choices than younger people. Other studies find that older adults are more likely to focus on positive thoughts than younger people—which can lessen symptoms associated with depressions—have sharper reasoning skills and bigger vocabularies, and are more in control of their emotions.

3. The brains of men and women are innately different.

While there are certainly examples of men and women reacting in different ways to the same information, these differences are not entirely evidences by physical differences in the brain. Research has found that although some physical brain features (such as gray matter and nerve pathways) are found more often in one sex than the other, some are found in both, and most people have a mix of brain features. Researchers in one study found that only about six in every 100 people had features consistently associated with a single sex. The study also found evidence that sex differences in the brain are influenced by your family, your culture, and your life experiences. “When your brain processes the same signals over and over, those networks will get stronger, like working out a muscle,” WebMD notes. “So even if male and female brains start out similar, they may become different over time as boys and girls are treated differently with different expectations.”

4. Everyone is a “right-brain” or a “left-brain” person.

The pop-psychology notion that the human brain is divided into a rational left brain and a creative, intuitive right brain makes for fun self-analysis, and has influenced educators to explore different methods of teaching, such as de-emphasizing memorization for students with “left brains” and trying more creative approaches to teaching those students. However, brain imaging research shows that everyone uses both the left side and the right side of the brain for reading and math. Neuroscience doesn’t indicate that people only use one side of their brain for creative pursuits, either. Decades of research using behavioral and neuro-scientific techniques do reveal fascinating and systematic differences across brain regions.But no one uses just one side, all the time.

5. Computer games keep your brain fit.

Playing brain-enhancing games on the computer and doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku puzzles are often touted as the equivalent of physical exercise for your brain. Researchers found that while you might get better at specific games or puzzles with practice, there’s no evidence that you’ll improve your general cognitive skills, such as your memory, attention span, use of language or ability to follow directions. Although it’s healthy to engage in creative thinking to stay sharp and to keep your mind agile, brain-training exercises aren’t likely to help you improve your overall memory or your attention span.

6. Getting hit on the head causes severe amnesia.

You’ve seen this in countless movies, books and even cartoons: Someone gets banged on the head and loses their memory, setting the narrative in motion. In reality, head injuries rarely cause severe amnesia. Concussions are the most common outcome from hurting your head in an accident or from a sports injury. Although a concussion often causes confusion and can impact the ability to remember new information initially for a few days or weeks, it’s not associated with severe amnesia. Amnesia is typically caused by a stroke, a seizure, or brain inflammation, but remains a rare condition.

7. Your brain stops growing after childhood.

Many people think that their brain doesn’t grow. It’s true that most of your brain cells are formed in the womb, but researchers have found that at least one part of your brain continues to grow cells during your entire life: the hippocampus, one part of your brain that is associated with memory, learning and emotions. Even in old age,the brain still produces about 700 new neurons in the hippocampus per day, according to a 2013 study.The fact that your brain can grow new cells offers hope for people with brain disease and injuries — researchers are focusing on ways to use this knowledge to develop new treatments.

Yes, there’s sometimes an element of truth behind brain myths, but many times, they arise from miscommunication and misinterpretation. Try not to get caught up in the pop-psychology hype.

Read More: Incorporate these ten foods into your diet today to create meals that will contribute to healthy aging.

8 Things You Need to Know About Sump Pumps and Insurance

Extra Mile Staff

For many homeowners, water in the basement is a concern when we receive a large amount of rain or snow.  These same homeowner’s may also know that a sump pump is an essential first line of defense against a wet basement.

Learn how sump pumps work to protect your home from backed up water, and how Water Backup and Sump Pump Overflow Coverage* can help cover damages to your home if your pump fails.

Sump Pumps and Insurance Coverage

Take the first step to preparing for the unexpected, log into your account to make sure Water Backup and Sump Pump Overflow Coverage* has been added to your standard homeowner’s policy.

*https://www.thehartford.com/aarp/homeowners-insurance 

How to Retire on the Road in an RV

Emily Guy Birken

Seeing America on the open road in the comfort of a recreational vehicle (RV) is a common retirement dream. Not only can you experience all the wonders our country has to offer, but also you can carry all the conveniences of home along with you. Retirees can scratch their travel itch in an RV — while maintaining a sense of freedom and independence that traditional traveling does not offer.

Before you commit to spending part of your retirement on the road in an RV, you need to make sure you have answered some important questions. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering taking your retirement on the road in an RV:

1. Just how much RV do you need?

Though we use just one term for RVs, there are huge differences among the various types of motorhomes, towable trailers, and pop-up camping trailers that all share the general description “RV.” The most common types of RVs you will encounter include:

  • Class A Motorhome. These are the largest recreational vehicles on the road. They can measure as long as 45 feet and offer a number of homey amenities for RVers who plan a lengthy stay on the road. However, these motorhomes are the most expensive, and some drivers may find their size intimidating — although you do not need a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, to operate one.
  • Class B Motorhome. This class of motorhomes can also be referred to as camper vans, and they are much smaller and easier to maneuver than their Class A counterparts. These types of motorhomes offer a comfortable sleeping area, bathroom, kitchen, and sink, but having more than two people or taking a longer trip may feel quite cramped. These RVs are less expensive to purchase than Class A motorhomes, and they are also much cheaper to maintain.
  • Class C Motorhome. Class C refers to mid-sized motorhomes built on top of an existing truck or van chassis, and they offer a comfortable temporary home for families or groups. These RVs may stretch as long as 25 or 30 feet — making them somewhat easier to drive than the Class A motorhomes. The cost to buy and maintain Class C motorhomes is less expensive than Class A, but more expensive than Class B.
  • Towable Trailers. These RVs are built on top of a standard trailer frame, and contain living spaces that are as simple or luxurious as you want. Any vehicle that can handle the weight capacity — such as pickup trucks and some SUVs — can tow these trailers, which means you do not have to purchase an additional vehicle if you already own one that can handle towing. Trailers can vary widely in price, depending on the amenities.
  • 5th Wheel Trailers. These are very similar to towable trailers, except 5th wheel trailers have a gooseneck connect that attaches to the vehicle. The gooseneck makes towing and maneuvering these trailers easier than regular trailers, but you must use a flatbed pickup truck for towing. The gooseneck also offers additional interior living space. As with towable trailers, the price of 5th wheel trailers depends on the amenities.
  • Pop-Up Camping Trailers. Also known as foldable or tent trailers, pop-up camping trailers feature collapsible compartments that can be folded away during towing to reduce their external profiles. They are easy to tow and light enough for some station wagons and sedans to handle their weight. However, there are generally minimal to no bathroom or kitchen facilities in these trailers, and their folding design does not allow for storage of supplies and equipment, which must be transported separately.

Deciding which kind of RV will be right for you depends on a number of factors: how far and how often you want to travel, whether or not you plan to go off-road during your jaunts, and how well you get along with your traveling companions.

2. Should you rent or buy an RV?

It’s a good idea to start your RV travel plans by renting different types of vehicles to determine which will be the best fit for your plans. You might also want to simply plan on renting an RV anytime you feel the call of the road, rather than buying one.

That’s because even travelers who are sure they’ll be using their RV every few weeks may find that it is cheaper to rent. According to the Fun Times Guide, the typical RVer only gets behind the wheel 27 days per year. This means that a typical RVer who purchases a three-year-old RV on credit “will pay a premium of $200 more per day [of RV use] for the privilege of ownership versus renting. To make ownership financially worthwhile, you need to use your RV about 40 days per year if you buy the RV outright or about 50 days per year if you buy the RV on credit.”

3. How will you handle ill health on the road?

Illness can strike anywhere, even when you’re on vacation. This becomes more likely if you plan to spend significant time in your RV. While it’s easy to shrug off the sniffles on the road, you should have a plan in place, just in case you come down with anything more serious.

In particular, do you know how you will find a doctor to treat you if you’re far from home? Retirees who are already on Medicare Parts A and B will be able to receive hospital and medical care in case of a major illness. If you are on a Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan, however, it may not cover you for anything other than emergency or urgent care, since your plan may specify that you are not allowed to see providers outside of your network.

While these limitations should not keep you from traveling, it’s important to know what they are before you start exploring the length and breadth of the country. Travel medical insurance can help cover a gap in your health care coverage if your insurance or Medicare plan will not cover you on the road.

4. Do you need additional insurance for your RV?

Your existing automobile insurance policy may cover you behind the wheel of your RV — but you should consider purchasing specific RV insurance for your jaunts around the country. That’s because automobile insurance is not geared toward the specific needs of an RVer and it leaves some pretty significant coverage gaps.

Depending on how often you plan on using your RV, here are some RV insurance coverages you may want to consider:

  • Total loss replacement. If you buy a new RV and experience a total loss within the first five years, this coverage will replace your totaled RV with a similar unit. RVs depreciate very quickly, which is why new RV buyers may want this coverage.
  • Replacement cost of personal belongings. Automobile insurance policies will cover belongings in your vehicle, but it is a limited amount of coverage. RV policies allow you to include all of your personal belongings within the RV for most damaging events.
  • Campsite liability. This is similar to homeowners insurance coverage for when you park RV at a campsite.
  • Emergency expenses. If your RV is damaged while you are away from home, you will need to stay elsewhere while it is repaired. This coverage will reimburse some expenses related to lodging, food, and travel home, provided the damage occurred more than a set number of miles (usually 50 miles) from your fixed residence.
  • Higher liability limits. While you could carry the minimum liability limits on your RV, most RV insurance policies provide for much higher liability limits than general automobile insurance. Since RVs have a much larger profile and footprint than cars, they can potentially cause a great deal of damage in an accident. Getting a higher liability limit can help protect you financially in case of an accident.

5. Are you prepared to handle routine RV maintenance?

Like your home and your car, your RV needs regular maintenance. Some of this maintenance is no different from the tasks you perform for your commuter vehicle — changing oil and filters, checking tire pressure, and the like.

However, some RV maintenance requirements may fall somewhat outside of your comfort zone. Will you be able to monitor propane gas levels in your tanks, run your generator two hours every month, and empty and maintain your waste water holding tanks?

Any prospective RV traveler who feels a little hesitant about handling these issues may want to start by renting before committing to buy.

RVing: The Great American Retirement

Whether you have always dreamed of traveling the country by RV, or it is simply one of many travel options for after you retire, it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you get behind the wheel of an RV. Thinking through all of these details beforehand will help ensure that you will be a much more relaxed and happy camper once you get on the road.

Related Article: What Retirees Need to Know About Purchasing Travel Medical Insurance