Thursday, February 25, 2016

Carrots alone don't get people to save for retirement

Here’s a nice little article in Business Day in the New York Times February 24, 2016, “Nudges aren’t enough to solve society’s problems”, by Eduardo Porter. The main focus of the article concerns getting people who don’t make high enough wages on the job to still continue saving for retirement in IRA’s, which “carrots” only (no sticks), particularly in an environment where few companies offer defined benefit programs any more.  There is a problem in that lower income people are more focused on their near term well being, and often don’t develop the cognition to think about their futures (into old age) strategically.  They expect to depend on “family”.  Somehow the title of the article reminds me of the little movie “The Mudge Boy”, “M” instead of “N”. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hospice care episodes increasing in length, increasing bills for Medicare

Christopher Weaver, Anna Wilde Mathews, and Tom McGinty have a booklet-length article in the Wall Street Journal Friday, February 19, 2016, “Lengthy Hospice Care Boosts Medicare Bills; more dementia patients and others who die slowly are receiving care, causing costs to rise”

Hospice care (which usually starts at home with visits) is supposed to be offered when life expectancy is six months are less.  My own mother started it in November 2009 and passed away in December, 2010, using it thirteen months (the extensions had to be applied for two weeks at a time).  She spent four days in the actual facility, but the day before she declined suddenly to the point of going in (there are very definite signs that death is imminent), her signs had been the best for a long time.  In some cases, people might recover well enough to come out for a while.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Some popular anti-heartburn drugs could lead to dementia; Time Magazine presents longevity, and the hope of a new anti-Alzheimer's medication

Seniors have been advised that some popular anti-heartburn and anti-reflex drugs may increase the risk of dementia over age 75.  These are called the proton pump inhibitors, and include Prilosec, Nexium and Pevacid.  They don’t seem to include over the counter tablets like Rolaids and Tums.  (Rolaids were off the shelves for a long time because of a production problem.)  The CBS News story by Dennis Thompson is here. The German study was published in JAMA of Neurology Feb.. 15.


Time Magazine has an issue, Fb. 22, 2016, “The Long View of a Very Long Life”, coverage starts on p. 59. Laura L. Cartensen writes about “The New Age of Aging”.  There is discussion of the fact that extended families have more generations alive at one time, and mention of the demographic challenges of fewer kids, but not of the sacrifices that can entail; there are charts about exercise and home ownership. On p. 64, Alice Park covers “Alzheimer’s from a New Angle”, and a new drug, LMA11A-31.  The drug keeps existing brain cells strong and resistant to amyloid. Alexandra Sifferlin writes “It’s The Little Things” on p. 80. The article also talks about animals that live a long time (clams can live 500 years). There is a story on the Time issue in “Dating Dementia”. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Presidential candidates, except for Trump, take positions on Social Security, with some possible surprises

Yahoo! Finance has an important chart on where the candidates stand on Social Security reform, story link here. Donald Trump has yet to take a stand.

Kasich, Bush and Rubio want to means test beneficiaries with higher income.  It’s not clear if that could include accumulated net worth or liquid worth (that is, penalizing rent-seeking behavior – not real likely).  Curiously, neither Clinton nor Sanders mentions means testing.

Cruz wants private accounts for Social Security, increase in retirement age and a lowering of COLA.  Accounting for switching to a private option would be complicated, but I have supported this idea, to keep benefits out of play as a potential bargaining chip for politicians.

Only Hillary Clinton wants to improve benefits for caregivers (not even Sanders, and that is a surprise.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Negative Interest Rates could also pressure seniors

Retirees should probably become mindful of the notion of negative interest rates. The term is defined in Investopedia here.

Countries may literally charge companies and individuals for “hoarding” cash in accounts as a way to stimulate spending.  In theory, in some cases, negative interest rates could encourage the buying of equities and help the stock markets.  They could encourage consumer spending, or clean-energy spending (such as electric cars).

They are the financial equivalent of the moral objection to “gawking” or “kibitzing”, making all of life a spectator sport to judge others.

Despite the Fed action to raise rates in December, today Federal Reserve chairman told Congress that negative interest rates “are not off the table”  (USA Today) given the big sell-off partly related to nosediving oil prices.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Longer lives mean more use of nursing homes, more problems with senior debt

Tuesday, Tara Bahrampur placed a telling story on the Front Page of the Washington Post, “’I won’t put you in a nursing home’; a vow that sometimes can’t be kept

That’s one thing to say with a spouse.  It’s another with an elderly parent.  That probably would have happened with my own mother had she not passed at 97 at the end of 2010.

It seems to me that there could be a connection between “filial responsibility laws” that I’ve discussed here before, and the paid family leave debate.  It is more reasonable to include eldercare as covered in any such legal arrangement with employers if there is recognition that filial piety is indeed a legal requirement.  Since that blip in Pennsylvania in May, 2012, people have started to forget this.

Michelle Singletary  today has a column about seniors with a burden of debt.  I’ve noted that major indices in the stock market have dropped about 12% during this latest round of “corrections” of China and oil prices (since last summer). My own experience is that this amount of drop in valuations leads to about an 8% drop in net worth (the rest is some unusual spending), excluding real estate.   Valuations matter a lot more to people who own the securities than they do to the balance sheets of the companies themselves (and their employees).  But valuations don’t accurately reflect real wealth of A society the way a stable physical (and social) infrastructure does.  So, let Taylor Wilson reinvent the entire power grid and get rid of our dependence on oil once and for all.  And let Jack Andraka, if he is right about stem cells and nano-medicine, have us (or at least his generation) living to age 1000.  What then about having babies?

Monday, February 08, 2016

We may be near an "alien tipping point" on greatly increasing longevity, especially for the brain itself

Sunday, Fareed Zakaria interviewed a physician on his GPS program, about slowing down aging.

 The story isn’t up yet, and I didn’t get all the details down, but two points are worth mentioning.
One point concerned Jimmy Carter’s remission from metastatic melanoma in his brain.  A new generation of drugs can turn off the surface markers on cancer cells that keep normal immune cells from fighting them.  And these markers may be more generic in nature than previously thought.  So a drug might be able to provide remissions for many different cancers (the supposed “cure for cancer”) than just one at a time.

Another point is research to use stem cells to prevent aging.  Our own natural stem cells seem to stop generating new tissue at about age 25, which is when the brain reaches its biological summer solstice (having to do with both pruning and probably growing very specialized circuits connected to one’s own identity and abilities), so to speak.  That’s good for “kids” in medical school.  (That’s why people in their mid or late 20s often wonder how they could have been duped into irrational beliefs five to seven years before.  Reid Ewing’s outgrowing body dysmorphia and desire to “advise his younger self” is an example, probably, of biological brain maturation – resulting in learning to “see around corners”, as Dr. Phil describes it.)  The brain retains the “wisdom” of its previous growth well into old age, unless dementia sets in.

So the natural question is, whether stem cells could be used to slow or reverse the aging process, not only in the brain but in connective tissue, skin, and other organs.  Could one’s own stem cells be harvested and saved?  Would this become a technology of the rich?

But it is conceivable that these technologies, around a pivot point in medicine, could drastically prolong life spans.  Imagine if the rate of aging from age 25 or so could be cut to 10% of what it is now (a premise of the alien visitors in the NBC series “The Event”).

It’s one thing to prolong life, but it is another to prevent or reverse profound disability or dependence.  My own mother was very independent, and her coronary bypass surgery at age 85 in 1999 gave her about eight more good years.  But then the decline was very difficult to deal with.  Childless myself, I could not “afford” to make her reaching 100 a personal goal.  Extending life of its own sake was anathema.  She passed away after her 97th birthday in 2010.

It may be that stem cell infusions, and better health habits (exercise, hyper-running as in Tom Foreman’s book, avoiding pollution, and a vegan diet) could radically reduce aging and prolong productive life spans by decades.  But the social and moral consequences are right now incalculable.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

During the final days of life, the nature of dreams may change

CNN journalist Tom Foreman (Books blog, Jan. 10 and Feb. 1) has shared on Facebook a link to an interesting New York Times story by Jan Hoffman, “A New Vision for Dreams of the Dying”.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that “lucid dreams” can replace what is no longer realistic for me to expect to experience physically.  (I can find out what a particular relationship “would be like”.)
But these dreams, in the last weeks of life, seem to be of a different quality, a coda to life, beyond even a recapitulation.

Foreman says he read this at the airport, waiting to fly back from the Iowa caucuses.
I can remember doing some interesting reading myself at both Reagan and Dulles.  

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Libertarians say: Privatize Social Security now and keep promises to seniors forever

I’ll pass along the libertarian solution from Dr. Mary Ruwart and her “Cliff Notes” for “Healing Our World”, a blog post called “How to create enough wealth to retire the national debt, keep our promises to seniors, and more!”.
Much of what she proposes is reducing government services, or people’s dependency on them, so that privately held wealth increases.  Translate: privatize “Social Security” completely. (Chile sets an example.)  But what I recall from Harry Browne’s books in the 1990s was admission that promises to some seniors in one generation would have to be broken (by sudden means testing) to fix the problem.  I even recalling this point coming up an LPVa convention in Manassas VA in, as I recall, May 1996.