Putting off Getting Hearing Aids? Don’t—Your Brain Will Thank You!

If it seems like every day brings something new to worry about, take heart—this is something that you can do something about. People with moderate hearing loss were twice as likely to experience cognitive decline as their peers, while those with severe hearing loss faced five times the risk, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine that was written up in Next Avenue’s article “A Delay In Getting Hearing Aids Can Mean More than Hearing Trouble.”

Another study, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, found that the brain’s ability to process sound declines, as the person’s ability to hear decreases. The study looked at adults between the ages of 37 to 68 who had their hearing tested and their brains examined. None was being treated for hearing loss, although a few felt that their hearing was not as good as it once was.

The subjects underwent hearing tests, and tests using visual stimuli to see how they were processing information. They also underwent electroencephalograms that showed that not only were their brain’s visual centers firing when seeing the stimuli, but the hearing center was also active in those who had suffered some hearing loss.

In other words, parts of the brain that used to process sounds were now processing visual signals, as the hearing part of the brain was being repurposed to process images.

The brain repurposing different areas for different functions, is known as “cross-modal recruitment,” which is not a new concept. Other areas of the brain can be affected, including the pre-frontal cortex, which is in charge of higher-level thinking and executive functions.

If this part of the brain is needed to help overcome hearing loss, then there’s less capacity for putting new information into long-term memory, for comprehending and responding to sounds and conversation.

The researchers also found that people in the study regained some of their losses, after being fitted with very high-quality hearing aids.

Unfortunately, many adults delay getting their hearing tested and getting hearing aids. The stigma associated with getting hearing aids as a marker of aging, is one reason. The other reason is that hearing loss is a very gradual process and people get used to not being able to hear.

Reference: Next Avenue (October 21, 2019) “A Delay In Getting Hearing Aids Can Mean More than Hearing Trouble”

Suggested Key Terms: Hearing Loss, Cognitive, Hearing Aids, Hearing Test

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Do Name Changes Need to Be Reflected in Estate Planning Documents?

When names change, executing documents with the person’s prior name can become problematic. For example, what about a daughter who was named as a health care representative by her parents several years ago, who marries and changes her name? Then, to make matters more complicated, add the fact that the couple’s daughter-in-law has the same first name, but a different middle name. That’s the situation presented in the article “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan” from nwi.com.

When a person’s name changes, many documents need to be changed, including items like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance policies, etc. The change of a name isn’t just about the person who created the estate plan but also to their executors, heirs, beneficiaries and those who have been named with certain legal powers through power of attorney (POA) and health care power of attorney.

It’s not an unusual situation, but it does have to be addressed. It’s pretty common to include additional identifiers in the documents. For example, let’s say the will says I leave my house to my daughter Samantha Roberts. If Samantha gets married and changes her last name, it can be reasonably assumed that she can be identified. In some cases, the document may be able to stay the same.

In other instances, the difference will be incorporated through the use of the acronym AKA—Also Known As. That is used when a person’s name is different for some reason. If the deed to a home says Mary Green, but the person’s real name is Mary G. Jones, the term used will be Mary Green A/K/A Mary G. Jones.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, another acronym is use: N/K/A, or Now Known As. For example, if Jessica A. Gordon marries or divorces and changes her name to Jessica A. Jones, the phrase Jessica A. Gordon N/K/A Jessica A. Jones would be used.

However, in the situation noted above, most attorneys to want to have the documents changed to reflect the name change. First, there are two people in the family with similar names. It is possible that someone could claim that the person wished to name the other person. It may not be a strong case, but challenges have been made over smaller matters.

Second is that the document being discussed is a healthcare designation. Usually when a health care power of attorney form is being used, it’s in an emergency. Would a doctor make a daughter prove that she is who she says she is? It seems unlikely, but the risk of something like that happening is too great. It is much easier to simply have the document updated.

In most matters, when there is a name change, it’s not a big deal. However, in estate planning documents, where there are risks about being able to make decisions in a timely manner or to mitigate the possibility of an estate challenge, a name change to update documents is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of trouble in the future.

Reference: nwi.com (October 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan”

Suggested Key Terms: Health Care Representative, Estate Plan, Beneficiaries, Will, Trust, AKA, NKA, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Estate Planning

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Disappointing News from Social Security for 2020

The annual Cost of Living Adjustment, aka COLA, for 2020, is a smidge of an increase: 1.6%. That’s only slightly more than half of the 2.8% COLA for 2019. For the average beneficiary that means about $23.50 more per month, says the Globe Gazette’s article “Disappointed in Your Social Security Raise? 3 Steps to Take.” It’s a lot like getting a tiny raise that doesn’t budge the budget needle at all. Remember, there’s also going to be an increase in Medicare Part B, which is expected to rise by $8.80. That puts a raise of just $14.70 per month in benefits, once New Year’s Day passes.

The problem is, healthcare costs are continuing to climb. That puts seniors in a bind, especially those who count on Social Security for the bulk of their retirement income. Is there anything you can do to beef up your income?

Review and revise your budget. You needed a budget when you were working, and you really need one in retirement. If you are using up all your available income every month, it may be time to make some changes. Maybe it’s finally time to clear out the big sprawling ranch and downside to a two-bedroom condo. Going from a two-car household to a one-car family could net considerable savings. If you eat most of your meals out at restaurants, consider trimming those outings to cut spending.

Work part-time. You likely have a lot of time on your hands, as a retired person. Getting a part-time job during retirement has a number of benefits. One, you have less free time to spend money, two, you have income and three, you have more social interactions during working hours. There’s also no need to accept a job that you wouldn’t want. Maybe you are great at baking and can turn that into a side business, or dog walking or crafting. Pet-sitting and babysitting are in demand.

Move somewhere less expensive. The cost of living varies greatly from state to state. Look for states that don’t tax Social Security and that offer a lower cost of living and a relatively low income tax rate. However, check your Medicare benefits. Medicare Advantage and Part D plans vary from state to state. If you have supplemental insurance through Medigap, the cost of your plan may change.

If so much of your retirement income budget is based on Social Security, be prepared to make some changes. You can stretch those benefits and, at the same time, lessen your stress.

Reference: Globe Gazette (October 14, 2019) “Disappointed in Your Social Security Raise? 3 Steps to Take”

Suggested Key Terms: Social Security, Retirement, Cost of Living, Part Time Work, Medicare Advantage, Part D, Relocation

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