Latest boomer gadget: tombstone microchips

Microchip e microciop
Image by Un ragazzo chiamato Bi via Flickr

This may be one step farther than some of us want to go. But for those seeking to live, somehow, forever, the Canwest News Service reports on a new e-gimmick on the market and apparently targeting the boomer generation. There are several more paragraphs in writer Misty Harris‘ report, but this space suggests that the following, and particularly the last sentence, cover everything you really need to know.

Ensuring virtual life after death, new microchip-enabled headstones allow the Me Generation to share their stories from the grave, with passersby simply swiping markers with a cellphone to retrieve biographical details — everything from the deceased’s political beliefs to their favourite recipes.

“My wife and I had just lost relatives and found it so underwhelming, in a sense, to know that these people had contributed so much and yet their lives were being summed up with just names and dates,” says John Bottorff, founder of Objecs, the Arizona company behind the RosettaStone grave markers.

The palm-sized tablets can be mounted to existing headstones or installed on new ones. Each is engraved with custom symbols representing the deceased’s life — an Rx for a pharmacist, for example, or a sheriff’s star for a police officer — and contains a Near Field Communications radio-frequency identification tag, which allows biographical data to be loaded onto any NFC-enabled phone with the wave of a hand (NFC is expected to be standard on new mobile phones in North America by 2012).

A unique web ID is also engraved so people without NFC can raise the dead — or at least their personal histories — on any computer.

As early as 2015, seniors will outnumber children for the first time in Canadian history, while the number of centenarians is projected to triple — perhaps even quadruple — by 2036.

For end-trepreneurs, this represents a killer opportunity.

Microchip tombstones latest boomer gadget.

Your arteries know your REAL age

1.11.09: CHD, here we come!
Image by Team Dalog via Flickr

Heart attacks, strokes and a long list of other artery-related afflictions top the list of health risks for the 50-and-over population — and a rising number of those even younger. So figuring how old you really are is an increasingly big deal. If your history includes cigarettes and fast food in abundance you might not want to know. But your arteries hold important information.

Wall Street Journal writer Ron Winslow reports on the intricate business of determining your vascular age — and why that’s an important determination to make.

Several tools are available that enable doctors and patients to calculate vascular age. These suggest there can be a substantial difference between how old you are and how old your blood vessels are. For instance, the vascular age of a 35-year-old man who smokes and has diabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol could be as high as 76 years old—more than double his chronological age, according to a recent study. The arteries of a 30-year-old woman with similar risk factors could be equivalent to those of an average woman who is more than 80 years old.

Such a calculation “gives a sense that your risk-factor burden is making you age faster than you think you are,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern University, Chicago, who co-authored the recent study, which appeared in the journal Circulation last August. “The more you can make it concrete, the better you can impart information about risk.”

The good news, doctors say, is that by taking steps to reduce risk factors and the damage they inflict on arteries, it is possible to turn back the clock on vascular age.

Some of us — long-time smokers, members of a family with genetic problems that can’t be overcome — might not be able to access the good news. But many can, and for them, a few changes in lifestyle, or manageable medications, can make a lifetime of difference.

  • A 42-year-old man who smokes and has total cholesterol of 180, good cholesterol (HDL) of 45 and systolic blood pressure of 125, has a vascular age of a 54-year-old. If he quits smoking, his vascular age could drop to 42, the same as his chronological age.
  • A 52-year-old nonsmoking woman, who has total cholesterol of 220, HDL of 44 and systolic blood pressure of 135, has a vascular age of a 68-year-old. If the woman reduces her cholesterol below 200, her vascular age could drop to 59 years old.

If you’re feeling your age today, maybe your arteries are trying to tell you something.

Arteries Can Reveal Your Risk of Heart Disease – WSJ.com.

Moving Mom & Dad – but to where?

With the over-5o population expected to grow from 100 million this year to 130 million in 2030, the question of how and where to house these older adults is one that’s not going away. And it is not just a question of quantity and variety — enough houses, apartments, retirement communities — it’s how to ensure that needed services will be accessible to all.

A new report just released by AARP’s Public Policy Institute and authored by the Center for Housing Policy offers a comprehensive look at a complicated picture. Insight on the Issues: Strategies to Meet the Housing Needs of Older Adults and is designed to help state and local policy makers understand the needs of this growing population segment.

All of these Boomers, who are now beginning to swell the ranks of the Seriously Senior, have specific wish lists: independence, security, and above all avoidance of the N-word — the dreaded nursing home. The wish lists change almost by the day, but some things stay the same.

“With the population of older adults on the rise, this report helps to identify the essential housing policy strategies that can help them to balance their increasing needs with a desire to continue to stay closely connected to their families, communities and society,” said Center for Housing Policy Chair John K. McIlwain, senior resident fellow and the J. Ronald Terwilliger chair for housing at the Urban Land Institute.

According to Susan Reinhard, AARP Senior Vice President and Director of the AARP Public Policy Institute, “These resources will be invaluable for policymakers at the state and local levels as they adapt to the changing needs of an aging population.”

If you, or your parents or grandparents, are over 50, chances are you have already had The Talk. Where in the world will Mom and Dad go, and how in the world will they stay there? What’s going to be comfortable? How will we afford it?

Nine fact sheets accompanying the newly released report are divided into three sections. It all makes the task of plowing through the talk a little easier, especially if local and state policy makers are paying attention at the same time.

This space will be looking at the different points over the coming weeks. Your comments and personal stories are welcome.

On learning at 30… or 40… or…

True/Slant contributor Gina Welch, on turning 30 just now, posted a fine list of 20 things she learned in her twenties, at the precise moment when I’d been musing about the passage of time myself. A somewhat more elderly muse, that is, since mine was prompted by the realization that day before yesterday marked the 85th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. In case that doesn’t sound elderly enough, my parents were both born in 1897, whew.

So in response to Gina’s wisdom here are six things I learned in my sixties (which are way past, at that.) It was terribly hard not to plagiarize, especially Gina’s Listen to your mother, even if it’s only to her long-departed voice in your head, or Wallow not, advice that improves exponentially with age.

1 – Get up early in the morning. It’s way more fun when you aren’t doing it because the baby’s crying, the school bus is waiting or the boss is calling… but just because the To-Do list actually contains stuff you want to do. Plus, days have fewer hours in them.

2 – Go back to school. Classmates a generation or two younger can be wise beyond your years. After a lifetime of writing for newspapers and magazines (you remember print journalism?) I joined the Class of ’00 at the University of San Francisco to pick up an MFA in short fiction. Who knew? If you run into anyone ready to publish my short story collection, let me know. A few of them have actually seen the light of publication, but I’m going to publish The Marshallville Stories in full if I live long enough… or perhaps if I learn enough in my 70s.

3 – Medicare is good. Imagine not having to freak out at every bodily suggestion that fatal expenses could be right around the corner. Imagine everybody having that unfreakable experience. How about we pass health reform?

4 – Listen to your daughter. She can probably teach you a LOT about changing mores, gender identities, adventure travel and how to see the world. Not to mention low fashion, hair styling, organic food and living well.

5 – Listen to your granddaughter. She can definitely teach you about computer programs, digital photography, what 18-year-old college art students are doing, and teenage music. You can close your ears when the teenage music part comes.

6 – Count your blessings. Seriously. If you’re still able to get up in the morning and remember how to count, this is good exercise. And if you count forwards and then repeat the same numbers backward you have exercised your brain, which is increasingly important. At a certain point in life it is tempting to reflect on the world when nobody locked their doors and you dashed onto airplanes just as they were pulling up the steps. And people apologized if they inadvertently used the D-word in front of your mother (there’s her voice again in my head…) So it’s okay to count nostalgic blessings, too; just don’t forget about par courses or contemporary chamber music or sunsets over the Pacific or that grandson who speaks Mandarin and Spanish at 17…

Thanks, Gina. Happy Birthday.

Skip mammograms, quit breast self-exams, and maybe lighten up on 'defensive medicine' while we're at it

All those mammograms, self-exams and dutiful attention to catching breast cancer at the very first sign? Forget it. Might even do more harm than good.

As summarized by Associated Press writers Stephanie Nano and Marilynn Machione late Monday,
Most women don’t need a mammogram in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50, a government task forcesaid Monday. It’s a major reversal that conflicts with the American Cancer Society‘s long-standing position.

Also, the task force said breast self-exams do no good and women shouldn’t be taught to do them.

For most of the past two decades, the cancer society has been recommending annual mammograms beginning at 40.

But the government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often leads to too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women’s odds of survival.

“The benefits are less and the harms are greater when screening starts in the 40s,” said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice chair of the panel.

The new guidelines were issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, whose stance influences coverage of screening tests by Medicare and many insurance companies.

But Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, said insurance coverage isn’t likely to change because of the new guidelines. No changes are planned in Medicare coverage either, said Dori Salcido, spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services department.

Maybe, just maybe, a clearer look at breast cancer screening could be accompanied by a good look at a little of the other possibly unnecessary and extraordinarily pricey “defensive medicine” going on around the country. What a fine way that would be to hold down costs and save a lot of time and angst. In another recent article (November 5) published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc wrote of how the costs of “defensive medicine,” along with malpractice insurance and lawsuit awards, are adding significantly to the soaring costs of health care.

LeBlanc illustrates the issue with a story that rings sadly true:

Dr. James Wang says he tries to tell his patients when medical procedures aren’t necessary. If they insist, though, he will do it – not so much to protect their health as his own practice.

After being sued for allegedly failing to diagnose a case of appendicitis, Wang says he turned to what’s known as “defensive medicine,” ordering extra tests, scans, consultations and even hospitalization to protect against malpractice suits.

“You are thinking about what can I do to prevent this from happening again,” he said, adding that he did nothing wrong but agreed to a minor settlement to avoid a trial.

We have, LeBlanc explains, doctors battling malpractice premiums and lawyers saying malpractice suits discourage bad medicine — meanwhile, the costs of it all add up to some ten percent of health care expenditures.

We the public, healthy and sickly alike, are caught in the middle. Could we not somehow declare a truce? We’ll quit rushing to sue, lawyers back off from chasing ambulances, doctors go about the business of practicing medicine according to patient need rather than fear of consequences. Seems like a good idea to me, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’m also not having any more mammograms any time soon.

New advice: Skip mammograms in 40s, start at 50 – Yahoo! News.

Finances after 50: Have we learned anything from the Great Recession?

Too soon poor, too late smart? A story by WSJ staff reporter Glenn Ruffenach in the November 14/15 Wall Street Journal “Encore” section  asks if we’ve learned any lessons from the financial crisis. And just in case you’re feeling smug about having done so, a quiz inside may shine a sober light of reality. It also contains a lot of data you will find useful, interesting and possibly surprising.

Amid the tumult of the past year, financial advisers are telling us that the Great Recession has produced one invaluable benefit: an education.

We now know, for instance, that our nest eggs can lose almost half their value in a matter of months; that “diversifying” our holdings doesn’t necessarily safeguard those holdings; and that our homes—our one investment for later life that was supposed to be foolproof—can make us look like, well, fools.

How much have you taken away from the events of the past year? Try our quiz and find out.

OK, so it isn’t much of a silver lining. But even worse is that we’ve supposedly learned these lessons before—after each recession, sell-off and market bubble since the 1960s. And yet, we continue to make the same mistakes.

How much have you learned about retirement finances in the past year? And has it sunk in this time? Our quiz will offer you a chance to see if you know where you stand—and provide some guidance for the future.

You’ll have to pick up the Weekend Journal for the quiz, but here’s one freebie in advance:

Q – In retirement, Social Security will likely replace what percentage of your pre-retirement income: (a) 23%; (b) 33%; (c) 43%; (d) 53%.

A – Well, don’t guess high.

Or:

Q – The single best cure for a battered nest egg is: (a) invest more aggressively; (b) save more money; (c) Work longer; (d) Plan to withdraw less money from retirement savings

A – And just when that pile of books to read is so inviting… sorry. (c)

The quiz is full of useful data and interesting insight (fully 40% of men and 41% of women ages 40-50 are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, for instance; you knew?) One overall message seems to be, in fact: If you have one, don’t quit your day job.

Moving Mom and Dad

The folks are getting on in years, the old house needs work, the Stuff is piling up everywhere — it’s time to look at moving. But the big question is, where to? Urban condo? Assisted living? Retirement village? LifeCare facility? Co-housing? Maybe even the dreaded Nursing home or dementia facility?

Making the decision to move into what is likely the last residence on this side of the hereafter can be daunting, sometimes devastating. Whether it involves oneself or one’s older family members, the Final Move often exhausts patience, finances and family resources. But good choices are out there, and good help (sometimes free, more often adding to the growing costs of this life event) can be found. In previous posts this space has offered glimpses of these choices and experiences: Helping Mom Die (10/16); Hanging in the ‘Hood (9/29); Justice Souter’s Retirement Housing (8/10.) What follows is a look into the LifeCare option. I should first insert a grateful nod to the source of this headline, a great book by Sarah Morse and Donna Quinn Robbins.

I have just returned from a visit with my sister Helen and her husband, newly installed in a spacious two-bedroom cottage at Kendal at Ithaca (NY), a Continuing Care Retirement Community. To do this necessitated cleaning out and selling (of course, the sale fell through when everything was on the moving vans, but last-minute calamity is to be expected) the far more spacious four-bedroom plus roof deck 1920s condominium in Boston they have called home for nearly 40 years. It was not pretty. Despite my earlier Boston visits to whittle down the Stuff factor and later urgings to connect Helen with the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, the job tested the limits of patience and strength of their four extraordinarily loving children.

Nonetheless the deed did get done, and Kendal at Ithaca is perfect for Helen and Clare, thanks to a confluence of happy circumstances: their physician daughter has relocated from Seattle to Ithaca; Manhattan is a comfortable Cornell bus trip away; desired features are in place. KAI includes a community center with a dining room in which their monthly fees entitle them to one meal per day, a fitness center, a large library, a van to take residents to doctors’ appointments etc. Best of all, says Clare, who has Parkinson’s, “they can’t throw me out.” The major appeal of LifeCare, or Continuing Care communities, for many seniors, is the inclusion of facilities for different levels of care which one may require in the future. (Worst of all, Clare adds, is the fact that “we have a lot of Parkinson’s, so I see myself 3 years down the road… 6 years down the road.”)

Continuing Care communities do not come cheap. But for seniors who have a chunk of change from a home sale or other source and a comfortable retirement income, they fortunately exist in growing numbers across the country.

For my own part, and I am certainly very senior, I was suffering anxieties and depression after one day. I need regular infusions of 30-somethings and 40-somethings for basic survival. Again, from what I’ve heard about co-housing — the perfect choice for many others as they age — that arrangement would feel crowded and disorderly. But there is the growing aging-in-place “Village” movement, which many would not choose but seems perfect to me.

Thank heaven for choices. It is seldom too early for Boomers, or Beyonders, to start considering them — and while you’re at it, you may want to clean out the attic.

The AwareCar: Smarter than we are

OK, I do have a personal relationship with my car — her name is Iris, she plays soothing music (unless my granddaughter’s been in the front seat) while I’m navigating traffic and is a fine, fairly recent replacement for the ’77 Volvo my husband bought new. Although I’d rather walk or take the Muni almost anywhere, Iris keeps my grousing, and driving problems, to a minimum.

But now comes the AwareCar. The AwareCar proposes to figure out when I’m tired or distracted, remind me to put away the cell phone (not a problem, I do not cellphone-talk and drive), check my blood pressure, and when all else fails and I crash into something anyway, send vital information on ahead to the ER so they’ll be ready for me.

The AwareCar is the brainchild of the folks at AgeLab, an MIT project confronting the daunting fact that the 50+ population is the fastest growing segment in the world. Add to this the fact that we’re tending to live longer (unless you’re unlucky enough to be in Somalia or Iraq), with an American turning 50 every seven seconds, and you can see how AgeLab has its work cut out for it. No problem; they maintain that “an aging society is the opportunity to invent the future of healthy, active living.”

Wall Street Journal staff reporter Anne Tergesen recently alerted the world to the coming of the AgeCar, hopefully in time for some of these hordes of hard-driving Boomers. In an interview with AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin and Associate Director Bryan Reimer (who hold those same titles with New England University Transportation Center) Tergesen quoted Dr. Coughlin’s response to her question, “As they age, what are Baby Boomers likely to want in a car?”:

Unlike their parents, this is a generation that isn’t going to say, “I’m getting older, so I’m not going to travel as much.” The boomers are working more and are far more engaged in daily activities than their parents were at a comparable age. Their expectations are far greater for products that facilitate their independence and mobility as they age. The impact on the car isn’t going to be about design, because no matter how old we get, we want our cars to look forever youthful. Instead, the boomers want the car to allow them to lead a forever-youthful lifestyle. That means it has to provide not only mobility but also safety and semi-automated features.

Thus enters the AgeCar, who is indeed likely to put Iris and her nifty sun roof in the shade. Its prototype — or perhaps more accurately its forerunner — is a Volvo XC90 currently cruising around Cambridge, MA with, Tergesen tells us, “$1.5 million of medical, computer, camera and robotic equipment. The goal? To create an AwareCar capable of sensing when a driver is distracted, faitgued or otherwise prone to accidents — and intervening to ensure a safe ride.”

To which I say, not a moment too soon. My son is about to turn 50.