When you’re depressed during the holidays

Grief can get in the way, but don’t feel like you have to fake it

By Emily Gurnon for Next Avenue


Credit: Thinkstock


In the midst of frenetic advertising, pressure to shop for gifts and the ubiquitous seasonal music, the holidays can be an especially hard time if you’re depressed or missing a lost loved one.

The contrast between the “ideal” of the holiday and how we feel inside can be enormous, making the bad or painful feelings all the more pronounced.

“We feel guilty at this time of year if we personally cannot live up to the standard to be ever-cheerful and happy and joyful,” said Dr. Arthur Hayward, national clinical lead in elder care at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif.

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What you need to know about tech support scams

Chances are, an offer to repair your computer is bogus

By Steve Baker for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

Over the last year or two, tech support scams have exploded. The fraudsters want to “remote in” (take control of a consumer’s computer), claiming there’s spyware or another dangerous problem, and offering to fix it. But there normally nothing wrong, and consumers pay $500 or more to fix a nonexistent “problem.”

Often, residents in senior living facilities fall victim to the scams.

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3 easy ways to give the perfect gift this season


Do you ever struggle to find the perfect Holiday gift for loved ones, only to settle for something just so you can cross them off your shopping list?

We’ve all done it—given a gift that we know the receiver won’t love. This season, consider a gift they won’t want to return. If you know someone who values the meaningful work we do at Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America, consider making a donation in his or her honor. These tribute gifts are also a great way to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.

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What loneliness is doing to your heart

As social creatures, we suffer when cut off from one another

By Emily Gurnon for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

You may have heard that loneliness is hazardous to your health — and can even lead to an early death. Now, an analysis of 23 scientific studies gives us numbers that reveal just how sick it can really make you.

People with “poor social relationships” had a 29 percent higher risk of newly diagnosed heart disease and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the study, published July 1 in the British journal Heart.

That puts loneliness and social isolation on par with other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as anxiety and job strain, the researchers said. And it exceeds the risk posed by physical inactivity and obesity, said lead researcher Nicole Valtorta, of the Department of Health Sciences, University of York, England.

Given the results of the study, Valtorta said, “interventions to prevent coronary heart disease and stroke should take loneliness and social isolation into consideration.”

Such interventions could be relatively inexpensive, she added, especially given the fact that cardiovascular disease remains the most costly disease in the United States. It accounted for direct medical costs totaling $193 billion, according to a 2015 study from GoBankingRates.com.

There’s a difference

Loneliness and social isolation do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be lonely in a crowd, or you can be by yourself and feel perfectly content. But when your experience is negative — you are not happy with the quality of your social interactions, or you’re grieving a loss — that “can be really disastrous for well-being,” Valtorta said.

Unlike other studies, Valtorta’s (which was published online in April) was the first to focus on whether people experiencing loneliness and isolation were at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It excluded people who were lonely but already had the disease.

Studies involving 181,000 people living mainly in the U.S., Europe and Japan were examined as a part of the meta-analysis, and they were tracked for a range of time — between three and 21 years. Among those people, there were 4,628 heart attacks or related events and 3,002 strokes.

The age of the subjects varied, and it wasn’t possible given the data to conclude whether a 75-year-old lonely person was more likely to have a heart attack than a 50-year-old, Valtorta said. The researchers did not find evidence of a difference between men and women.

Other research on isolation and health

A separate 2015 meta-analysis by Brigham Young University researchers concluded that both actual and perceived isolation were associated with early death.

Social isolation corresponded with a 29 percent greater risk of premature death; loneliness corresponded with a 26 percent greater risk and living alone corresponded with a 32 percent greater likelihood, according to the study, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation and loneliness threatened longevity as much as obesity did, the study said.

Two of the Brigham Young researchers were also involved in a 2010 study that found loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The problem is only getting worse, the scientists said.

“Humans are naturally social. Yet, the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships … over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants,” the study said.

All of the studies reinforce the growing recognition of loneliness as a public health issue.

A nonprofit coalition in Britain has responded by initiating the Campaign to End Loneliness, which among other things aims to broaden the services and activities available to those who may be lonely.

What we should be doing

Brigham Young researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad told Time magazine that nurturing close relationships as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. She said that policies to alleviate loneliness may be difficult to imagine but could include encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients and rethink the way neighborhoods are designed, the magazine said.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?’” Time quoted Holt-Lunstad as saying. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

Joy finds peace and love at Presbyterian Village

img_8953-2 Is she named after the emotion, or is the emotion named after her? When you meet Joy Ngatia for the first time, you’d probably say both. She’s effervescent, with a happiness bubbling forth that can’t help but touch the lives of those around her. Of course, anyone would be this happy after winning the lottery. Joy’s jackpot, however, didn’t come in the form of a large check, but rather, admission to the United States.

“I’m originally from Kenya, and I applied for the lottery to be able to get a green card and go to the United States with my family and work. I was among the lucky people who got to come to the U.S. I came with my husband and two daughters. That was six years ago,” said Joy. “My husband got a job as a machine operator at Wardcraft. Back in Kenya, he hadn’t been paid at his job for a very, very long time. We have two daughters, ages 21 and 14. They were so excited to come here. The young one prayed about it; she said she prayed to come to America.”

An answered prayer is certainly what it was for Joy’s family, and their gratitude and exuberance hasn’t faded in all these years. So how did they end up in Kansas?

“My brother-in-law Steven Mohatta is a preacher here at the Presbyterian Church in Fort Scott. He really loved this town and told us it would be a great place for us, and it is! We love it here. Everyone is so friendly. We’re from Mombasa, the second most populous city in Kenya. We love living in a small town now.”

Joy’s experience in Kenya included work for the postal authority, but she chose a different career path once in the U.S.

“When I started, I went to college to be a CNA, but when I got the job in dietary, I knew it’s where God wanted me to be. I don’t want to do any other job here,” said Joy. “Interacting with tenants is my favorite thing. I feel connected with them. The hardest thing is sometimes not having enough time with them. I just want to sit and listen to their stories, but I have to balance work, too.”
“I take time to give them encouragement, though. Whenever they are down, I go see them. God gave me that gift.”

Of course, with moving from one country to another, Joy’s family had many new things to adjust to, including how people simply called each other by their first name, which seemed so informal to her.

“I’ve had many things to learn here at Presbyterian Village. I hadn’t worked with seniors before; it’s all new. But my boss was so welcoming! The staff and the administrative department welcomed me, and I knew I belonged in this place,” said Joy. “And my oldest daughter has even worked here, too, and is now in school to be an RN. We’re meant to be here. I don’t even feel homesick. People here are so lovely.”

Former P.E. professor finds path to healing

img_8995-2 While everyone who calls Presbyterian Village home may have similar things they enjoy about living here, everyone has a unique story about how they came to live here — like Donna Needham, a former physical education professor who utilized the respite program after an injury. She lived on campus while she received physical therapy from the local hospital.

“Before I fell, I hadn’t considered living here. I was doing fine in a duplex on my own and enjoying an active lifestyle. On Labor Day, I fell and broke my hip. The only good thing was that the surgeon said if I had to break it, I broke it in the right place,” said Donna.

For someone who’d spent her whole life being active and teaching others how to be active, this was a frustrating development for Donna. She’d spent 35 years teaching and coaching the swim team at Cottey College and had spent another eight years before that at Hutchinson Community College. She lives to move, and as it turned out, making the move to Presbyterian Village is helping her live in a whole new way.

“I came here to recover after my surgery. I was in the rehabilitation program. But I liked it so much I decided to stay. Everyone is really nice, very kind. It takes a bit to get acquainted with how things work here, but I quickly felt like family.”

Donna goes to Health for Life for physical therapy at Mercy Health Center several times a week, and she is regaining her mobility and strength.

“I don’t want to be homebound. I enjoy the ability to go there and use the equipment to exercise. My whole life I’ve been active. I used to own a ski boat, even. I haven’t participated in any activities here at Presbyterian Village yet, as I have too many doctor appointments right now. But pretty soon, the orthopedic surgeon will turn me loose, and I’ll have more time to explore options here. I’d like to participate more soon.”

Donna, with her warm personality and zest for life, is a welcome addition to Presbyterian Village. She’s already made some new friends and has gotten reacquainted with some old ones.

“It’s lovely here. I am so pleased with my apartment. I’ve been overwhelmed by kindness.

Turkey With a Twist: Rethinking Thanksgiving

Our readers tell how they’ve adapted tradition to changing times

By Liza Kaufman Hogan for Next Avenue


As Next Avenue readers gather together for Thanksgiving, many will be surrounded by family and friends they’ve celebrated with for years, sharing the same dishes they wouldn’t think of leaving off the menu.

And while they treasure tradition, some have adapted their customs to accommodate changes in their lives.

Last year, we asked our readers how they’ve reinvented the holiday to suit their needs and make the day more meaningful. Here’s what they said:

Popsicles and pinatas

Pamela Hastings from Port Angeles, Wash., says her family tired of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner years ago. Instead, she began hosting themed celebrations for her self-described family of foodies.

Three years ago, it was Thanksgiving-on-a-stick, with a menu that included stuffing muffins on sticks; a cherished family corn casserole made into balls and deep fried; pie folded over popsicle sticks and the turkey impaled by a large dowel. Another year it was all pies (potato pie, squash pie with pumpernickel bread crust, ricotta pie, artichoke pie, elk mincemeat pie and assorted dessert pies). Hastings once hosted a Mexican Thanksgiving, complete with a turkey piñata. This year the theme is Mediterranean, inspired by a friend’s baklava.

Goodbye, perfection — Hello, simplicity

Not everyone was as willing to be as creative with their meals as Hastings. Some readers said it was important to prepare a holiday meal that would make their grandmother proud with oven-baked, shiny brown turkeys and comfort food sides. Others traded in the Norman Rockwell-worthy turkey and trimmings for a simpler, low-stress meal.

“I don’t spend all day preparing food. We have a much simpler meal that includes some food prepared by our wonderful local grocery store and some made by myself or other family members,” says Elizabeth Y., of Virginia Beach, Va. ”In addition, I am working at job where I don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off — so, the holiday is no longer a four-day schmooze fest. It’s a simple gathering with those I love.”

Susan B. of Hudson, Wisc., says: “I always felt compelled to cook dinner like my mother, which was everything traditional.  Now my children just make their favorite dishes. It is always enough.”

Switching to healthier dishes

Let’s be honest, the average Thanksgiving meal packs a lot of calories. While some are happy to treat Thanksgiving like a $12.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, others prefer to stay on track with their healthful ways. Cooks, in turn, are finding ways to cut calories and fat from the sugary, butter-drenched dishes they grew up with.

“I don’t make the big feast my grandparents and parents used to, with all the calorie-laden dishes and three different pies!” writes Judy B. from Escondido, Calif. ”Mashed potatoes are now cauliflower mashed ‘potatoes.’ I don’t make stuffing because no one liked it except me, and I don’t need the extra calories. During the football games, we have changed from chips and dip to veggies and hummus.”

Katherine C. of Grand Rapids, Mich., says: “Pecan pie is no longer served. It should be called sugar pie with nut topping.”

Tofurkey roast and gluten-free foods

No matter how small the gathering, many hosts will have one or two guests who cannot eat certain foods or who follow a special diet. In the past few years, a lot of us have added gluten-free stuffing, vegan gravy and sugar-free fruit pies to the standard menu.

While her tofurkey roast may not make the cover of Martha Stewart Living, reader Linda Gonzalez, of Philadephia, Pa., says she’s thrilled to have it on her table, since she doesn’t eat meat.

Barbara Hoskins of Mesa, Ariz., says: “We have had to change the recipes to accommodate food allergies. Our turkey has to be gluten-free with no additives … We have stopped using dairy products because of dairy allergies. We have experimented with dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, garlic-free, and many other options.”

Family food wars

Of course, at times you do not want to mess with tradition. Families get used to certain dishes, and you change the menu at your peril.

“Every year we argue about the corn,”  says Janet S. of New Athens, Ill. ”We had scalloped corn for many years and then along came the corn casserole, the one made with cornbread mix. The first year I brought the ‘new recipe,’ they had a fit. I was told to go back to the old recipe and leave it that way. We are so locked in our traditions.”

At least two readers confessed to liking the canned, jellied cranberry over the various homemade versions that adorn Thanksgiving tables (and tablecloths) this time of year.

In an attempt to peacefully resolve the great cranberry sauce debate, we’ve put together a user poll (below) to settle once and for all whether ’tis better to serve homemade relish or just ease it out of the can (ridges and all), hoping it doesn’t slide off the other side of plate.

For those who want to add homemade cranberry sauce and a little kick to the meal, reader Dot Dickinson shared her friend Sherry’s recipe for Bourbon Cranberry Relish. We didn’t have time to run it through the Next Avenue test kitchen (a.k.a. the breakroom), but it looks lovely. Dot adds this helpful hint for the Thanksgiving cook in need of a break: “This is best if you taste the bourbon before adding it to the saucepan. It may take a couple of sips to make sure it is okay to add it to the cranberries.”

For something more traditional, try Pamela Hastings’ cranberry sauce, adapted from a Country Living recipe.

Shifting the calendar

Even if you are not hosting and cooking for a big family with different tastes for Thanksgiving, just getting there can be a stressful experience, as you try to not be trampled at the airport or tailgated on the highway.

Leah Antignas, of Oakland, Calif., figured out how to avoid the Wednesday evening turkey race a while ago. She says: “Instead of taking off work the day before to travel to family, we take off work the Monday after. My husband and I drive early Thanksgiving day from the Bay Area to L.A. so we can avoid the Wednesday traffic and arrive in time for the gathering. Long drive but little traffic — what a relief. We made this shift years ago and have never turned back.”

Meals with special guests

Some Next Avenue readers have decided to have their Thanksgiving meals with special people beyond their family members.

“Instead of inviting people to our home, we bring food to our church where we host a meal for those who have nowhere else to go. We serve and eat there, meeting many remarkable people,” Doroth Van Haaften of Idaho Falls, Idaho, wrote in to say.

Julie Tomlinson of Cary, N.C., says the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering is stressful and she winds up eating too much. Instead, she says, “I plan to create a family of my choosing, comprised of women in my age group, living with or near one another, helping and caring for each other. The Golden Girls dream of women across the country, and beyond. We will create new traditions. My contribution will be healthier meals.”

“It used to be all about the immediate family,” writes Susan H. of Mahopac, N.Y.  “However, with older parents (and) relatives passing away and some other family members who grow up and start their own family traditions, it’s more difficult to try to organize the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The last few years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with our friends instead of family.”

New families, new traditions

As families grow and add new members, the menu has inevitably changed. “We try to incorporate a special dish that each guest remembers from her family’s tradition: e.g. kimchi for a Korean-American; Brussels sprouts for our New England friends; mince pie for our English guests, along with our own family recipes,”  says Lynnett Evans of San Francisco, Calif.

“Our son married a New England girl, so squash on our table is a must (though the marriage is over)! One daughter married a fellow from the South, so we added sweet potato casserole to the menu … he’s still with us!” says HelenMarie M. of Fort Washington, Penn.

Moving more, sitting less

Even with crustless pumpkin pies and cauliflower mashed potatoes on the menu, our tendency is to eat beyond our recommended daily calorie intake. Many readers say they have added nature walks and hikes to their Thanksgiving Day traditions, for exercise and to enjoy the outdoors together.

We always walk after the meal. Well, most of us!” writes Leanna from Lewes, Del.

What they’re watching

Some traditions die hard: Many people wrote in to defend spending time on the couch watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football and holiday movies. But Deborah R. of Churchville, Md., wrote poignantly of the change her family has made to make the day enjoyable for her mother-in-law who has dementia. “Instead of a more adult movie we might prefer, we watch ‘Peanuts’ cartoons she can understand and that we enjoy as well.”

Being thankful

And lest the meaning of the day get lost under all that food, many readers said they take time to focus on giving thanks.

Claudia Skelton, of Seattle, Wash., says her family uses the holiday to recall happy memories thinking “about previous family Thanksgiving events and (writing) a few words about those memories. Those memories are what I am thankful for.”

“The one tradition we will never change is having each person at the table tell something he or she is especially thankful for,” says HelenMarie of Fort Washington, Penn. ”This will probably be my dad’s last Thanksgiving. He is 97 and is having more difficulty negotiating the travel from his personal care community. So it will be special in that way.  Future family celebrations will evolve.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

How to keep off extra pounds during the holidays

These seven practical steps can make a difference

By Rashelle Brown for Next Avenue


Credit: Thinkstock

With the holidays right around the corner, your calendar is probably already filling up with friendly parties, formal dinners and family gatherings. All of that celebrating can take a toll on the body. Polls and scientific studies estimate that many Americans gain between one and five pounds during the holiday season.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of us won’t lose that weight over the next year. By the time we reach our fifties and beyond, the accumulation of those holiday pounds can pose a significant health risk. To help you enjoy this holiday season without gaining extra weight, here are seven tips you and your family can use:

7 practical, everyday tips

These seven tips are specific little things that are easy to implement throughout the holiday season and will help keep you from consuming more calories than you burn.

  1. Eat before attending events. Knowing that you have a holiday party coming up in the evening, you might think it’s a good idea to eat less throughout the day, but that’s actually setting yourself up for an overindulgence disaster. By eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, you’ll ensure a constant supply of energy and reduce the likelihood of party-time cravings and the associated bingeing.

Your best buffer against consuming a ton of empty calories at a party is to eat a fiber- and nutrient-dense meal or substantial snack right before you head to the party. Some good options are a lightly dressed salad with plenty of veggies and legumes, a bowl of bean soup or a healthy whole grain pilaf.

  1. Employ the every-other rule with alcohol. One of the biggest calorie culprits at holiday gatherings is that cup of cheer. Alcoholic drinks can contain 80 to 500+ calories per serving and, what’s worse, studies have shown that drinking alcohol makes it likely you’ll consume more food calories as well. One of the tactics I describe in my weight-loss book, Reboot Your Body: Unlocking the Genetic Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss, is what I call the “every-other” rule, which requires you to drink a full glass of water between every alcoholic beverage you consume. Doing this makes you feel fuller and keeps you hydrated, which can be important for regulating hunger signals.
  2. Go green, and red and orange. Some holiday events are more formal affairs, involving sit-down dinners rather than roaming appetizer platters. In those instances, you can greatly reduce the number of calories you consume by opting for the plant-based entrée and by starting with a large salad free of meats, cheeses and creamy dressings. By filling up on fibrous vegetables, legumes and whole grains, you’ll be less likely to overeat when the dessert tray comes rolling by.
  3. Double down on exercise. Another good way to fight holiday weight gain is by offsetting extra calories consumed with more calories burned. If you already exercise regularly, now is the time to ramp up your routine, either by adding more minutes or by upping the intensity.

If you don’t exercise, but are healthy enough to do so, then starting now — rather than waiting for Jan. 1 to roll around — is a good idea. If you can’t dedicate a big chunk of time to exercise every day, look for ways to work more activity into your normal daily routine. Breaking up a workout into two shorter sessions is one good strategy, but doing many short bouts of exercise throughout the day is just as effective in terms of the calorie burn. These short “activity snacks” can also be a good way to re-energize whenever you find yourself feeling sluggish.

  1. Rethink your holiday traditions. There’s no doubt that food and drink are important elements of many holiday traditions, but I encourage you to ask yourself whether they should be the central elements of those traditions. Imagine a holiday season that places more emphasis on the gathering and fellowship among friends and family and less emphasis on the meals and treats.

At my family’s gatherings, many things change from year to year, but one thing remains the same: There is always too much of everything. By taking a more moderate approach and limiting your holiday smorgasbord to a very few delicious traditional dishes, you can actually create a greater sense of enjoyment. With less competition on the buffet table, guests can slow down and better appreciate what’s in front of them.

  1. Start your day by setting your intentions. This is a quick and easy strategy to implement, and by doing it every day it becomes powerfully effective. When you first wake up, before you do anything else, take one or two minutes to set your healthy habit intentions for the day. Think about the events you’ll be attending and how you plan to navigate them. Remind yourself that the holiday season is about connecting with others and practicing gratitude and compassion, and that the overconsumption of food and drink doesn’t need to be a part of that.
  2. Share your goals with family and friends. One of the keys to behavior change I write about in my book is building a strong social network to support your healthy habits. By telling others about your healthy holiday goals you gain two advantages. First, you reduce or eliminate potential obstacles; once your friends and family know about your goals, they’ll be less likely to put you in tempting situations and more likely to offer emotional support. Second, by making your intentions known to others, you add an important accountability check against your actions. You won’t be as likely to grab another cookie or glass of champagne in front of a friend who’s part of your accountability circle.

By implementing these tips, you can create and participate in a holiday season that’s festive, full of enjoyment, and missing nothing but the extra pounds.

I don’t know about you, but this holiday season I’m looking forward to a Jan. 1 that doesn’t involve an emergency weight loss plan!

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

Moving together to reduce the risk of falls

Strength and conditioning classes focus on fall prevention and connecting with others

By Sherri Snelling for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

Dance is for everybody. I believe it came from the people and it should always be delivered back to the people.

– Alvin Ailey

Verine Morris, 42, has spent more than a decade with a fear of falling. Wheelchair-bound for 10 years after a nasty fall at work, followed by a terrifying car accident, she decided she needed to overcome her anxiety and learn how to move independently again. This epiphany led Morris to Celeste Carlucci’s New York City-based classes, Fall Stop MOVE STRONG.

Carlucci, a former Alvin Ailey dance student who performed with Broadway’s legendary choreographer Bob Fosse (Chicago, Cabaret), has spent more than 20 years as a fitness and wellness expert teaching movement and body strengthening. Her fall prevention-designed class technique was created primarily to help those over 50 focus on proper alignment, posture and what she calls “the joy of movement.”

Fall prevention through ‘fun and community’

It is this last element that draws so many older adults — most of whom are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s — to her weekly classes. Or as Carlucci states, “We keep up with exercise when it’s joyful and not spoon-fed medicine. That is what makes these classes unique — it’s the sense of fun and community.” (Morris is more than a decade younger than the average student in Carlucci’s classes. But she says the older students have become both friends and mentors and she finds her older dance mates “inspiring — I want to be able to move like them when I’m 90.”)

“A good teacher is an entertainer and that is what Celeste delivers — great entertainment that makes us forget about age for a while,” says Tom Grubb (pictured below), 76, who has been taking her classes for the last five years.

A physician directed Grubb to Carlucci’s classes after Grubb fell and broke his arm. He had been walking his dog on a Manhattan street that was slippery with melting snow. He also had balance problems.

As a pianist and music teacher at The Juilliard School, Grubb says, “I understand that nothing gets better without practice, so I have dedicated myself to the routine of taking Celeste’s classes twice a week. One thing I like is that Celeste doesn’t treat us like old people.”

While the Fall Stop MOVE STRONG classes average a ratio of 10-to-1 women to men, a study showed men over 50 are more likely to fall than women of the same age.

All too common

Every year, 2.8 million older Americans are treated in emergency departments and 800,000 patients are hospitalized because of a fall injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, more than one out of four older people fall each year. But less than half tell their doctor.

Falling once can double the chance of falling again, according to research from the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence at the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology School.

Often, older adults who have fallen restrict their activity by not leaving the house. Yet statistics show 55 percent of falls among the older population occur in the home.

Fall season means falls prevention

While health professionals say falling is not a normal part of aging, the causes for falling — especially as we age — can include: trip hazards in the home (such as throw rugs, poor lighting, lack of grab bars in bathrooms); medications that cause dizziness and poor vision or hearing.

However, the most important risk for falling is lack of good balance, strength and flexibility, which makes finding an appropriate exercise (or other) program to address these physical issues imperative as we grow older. In fact, the CDC website states that, “When a person is less active, they become weaker and this increases their chances of falling.”

Starting on Sept. 22 (the first official day of fall) and running through Sept. 28, awareness campaigns on preventing falls are promoted across the country, many of them at the 26,000 local senior centers and supported by the National Council on Aging (NCOA).

As one of NCOA’s Healthy Aging initiatives, this is the ninth year of the National Falls Prevention Awareness program. It encourages local social and community-based services to offer activities educating older adults on falls prevention. The NCOA provides resources and information through its Falls Prevention Resource Center.

Finding power in the body and the community

Morris says that after taking Carlucci’s classes, her fear of falling has diminished and she now has the courage to take risks.

In fact, risking getting out of the wheelchair is a goal she has accomplished. Morris now frequently walks without assistance around her Manhattan neighborhood and told me, “I hear Celeste’s voice when I’m walking on my own and I feel empowered. I have my freedom back.”

Morris has lost 57 pounds since starting the falls prevention classes a little over a year ago. But the more important achievement, she said, is conquering her anxiety about falling.

“Celeste is a godsend,” added Morris. “I spent 11 years living in fear and in a wheelchair but these classes have challenged my body to work hard and I’ve gain a renewed confidence in exactly what our bodies are made to do. And with my new friends at these classes, I am not alone anymore.”

Watch Carlucci teaching a Fall Stop MOVE STRONG class.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

The best new personal finance apps and sites

Help for car buyers and investors, plus a chatbot craze

By Richard Eisenberg for Next Avenue


Credit: Getty Images

Not long ago, new personal finance apps and sites were all the rage. They’d help you size up your finances (Mint, FlexScore), manage your debt (CreditKarma, Credit Sesame) and invest smarter and for less money (Wealthfront, Betterment, Future Advisor, Blooom). But based on what I saw at the annual Finovate conference in New York City last week, I’d say: Game over.

Sure, there are still a few eager entrepreneurs conjuring up clever money-management tools for your smartphones, laptops and tablets. I’ll tell you about two shortly.

But the 10th annual FinovateFall program, presenting the latest in fintech to 1,500 attendees, was mostly about helping banks add electronic arrows to their quivers through online banking so they can attract and keep customers — especially Millennials.

“In the early days of Finovate, we saw more presenters trying to disrupt the banking model and go around banks,” Greg Palmer, the vice president of Finovate and host of FinovateFall 2016, told me. Back then, they were dreaming up personal financial management (PFM) tools. “Now, companies are realizing they need to go through banks. Also, I’ve noticed on the flipside, that banks are more willing to engage in technology. There’s a fear of being left behind — no bank wants to be the last one,” said Palmer.

Prime target: Millennials

And why the Millennial magnet?

“A lot of bankers are concerned about losing that generation,” said Palmer. “Millennials are in a bucket all their own at the moment for banks. That’s either fantastic or terrifying, depending on your point of view.”

The low-hanging fruit is ripe. Many Millennials are worried about their financial future; according to a Wells Fargo survey I blogged about, 64 percent think they won’t accumulate $1 million in savings over their lifetime. But Millennials are also three times more likely than boomers to bank using mobile devices, the 2016 FIS Consumer Banking PACE Index noted. They’re also four times more likely to use mobile apps from their primary financial institution than another source.

Do you want to chatbot?

The top trend at this year’s Finovate (I’ve been attending since 2012): Chatbots for bank customers, with pseudohumans texting, emailing and conversing, answering your questions like: how much you’ve been spending; whether your paycheck was deposited and what to do with a bonus you received as well as helping you transfer cash between accounts; pay bills or find a nearby branch.

Finovate featured Clinc’s BankCoach (“a supersmart Siri for your finances,” said Clinc’s Andrew Bank), Yodlee’s Envestnet (“dynamic intelligence to make better financial decisions”) and Kore’s Banking Bot, among others. Kore’s Executive Vice President, Sales David Schreffler told the audience: “It’s not whether to have a bot, but how soon can you have one in the market?’

Perhaps the better question is: Are chatbots ready for customers?

A recent Forrester Research report warned that most banks should hold off offering chatbots for two to three years, until the artificial intelligence technology has improved. Said Forrester analyst Peter Wannemacher: “While someone may not fret much when ordering a taco is clunky or doesn’t work, the stakes are too high when it comes to actions and advice related to people’s money.”

Two new offerings worth considering

Chatbots aside, I was intrigued by two offerings for Next Avenue’s 50+ audience: the AutoGravity car-financing service and the M1 Finance roboadviser.

AutoGravity, one of the six presenters voted Best of Show by the audience, aims to disrupt the new-car financing process. The premise: Know your payment options before walking into the dealership. Serge Vartanov, AutoGravity’s chief marketing officer, says the current system “is suffering from a customer experience gap and a technology gap. It’s where travel was 10 years ago and the taxi industry was five years ago.”

Currently, AutoGravity offers a useful research tool that lets you compare new-car payments on particular models by downloading the app on iOS or Android or by going to the AutoGravity site. If you live in California, you can also use AutoGravity to zip through a financing application and get approved; that feature is due to expand to the 10 largest states by the end of this year and nationwide next year.

You’re not necessarily guaranteed the best financing terms that you might find by shopping around on your own, though. AutoGravity’s finance deals are with its affiliate lenders, which include carmakers and big banks. “We give you a set of options compared to the current experience where you need to spend hours researching,” Vartanov told me.

M1 Finance bills itself as an online roboadviser “for long-term investors.” Translation: You buy stocks and stock- or bond ETFs (no mutual funds) through M1 and note your investment allocation preferences — percentages to keep in different stock and bond sectors. M1 will then automatically rebalance your portfolio as necessary.

For example, when you want to sell a certain dollar amount, M1 will look to see which parts of your portfolio comprise a higher percentage than you initially wanted and will first sell from there. Similarly, when your stock dividends arrive, M1 deposits them in portions of your portfolio that are underweighted.

“It’s automation, but with customization,” said Brian Barnes, CEO and founder of M1 Finance. “It’s as easy to manage as a savings account.” And if you’d like to select one of M1’s template portfolios (savings, general investing, retirement), you can do that, too.

The long-term part? “Traditional wirehouse firms are trading platforms and charge by commission, so they push customers to make a ton of trades and you’re charged 10 bucks every time,” said Barnes. M1 charges a flat 0.35 percent per year and takes its cut quarterly.

In the future, he said, M1 hopes to add checking services and bill-paying features. But no chatbot for now.

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