I will no longer be using this website to blog. Instead, all new blogs and updates will be on my new website, www.BartAstor.com. Please continue to follow my ramblings and thoughts on the new site. I will keep this site up for anyone wishing to read the archived blogs. Thanks for your support and please go to my new site.

Bart Astor

Give the baby boomers some credit for this latest wave of stock market upsurge. Yeah, I know that sounds just like a boomer – arrogant and self-absorbed. But listen to my reasoning and then decide whether I’m right.

Boomers are obviously older than all but the oldest in our population. That generally results in a bit more job security because they have seniority. And, indeed, the numbers comfirm that. The unemployment rate for those over 50 is considerably lower than for those under 50. The unemployment rate for 55 to 64-year olds is about 5.7%, considerably less than the overall number which is 7.9% (the rate for 45- to 54-year olds is about 6.1%). So what does that mean and how does that translate into a bull market?

Simply put, the baby boomers are not hurt as badly by the recession as are the rest of the population. They (we) don’t feel as negative and probably have greater optimism. Why?

For one, we’ve been through a number of downtowns and have seen upswings that followed. The sky didn’t fall and we are now better off than we were a few years ago. We bought our houses longer ago than the others and even with the drop in the housing market, many of us still have some equity. In addition, we don’t tend to move as often as younger people so we probably didn’t have to sell at a loss.

Secondly, we have more money overall in our retirement accounts and other investments than do the young-uns. We don’t like seeing the returns of 1% or less that we get from CDs and other conservative investments. We are an antsy group and in this our arrogance helps us. We’re anxious to have our net worth be worthy of us!

Thirdly, we probably don’t have to plan for as many big expenses coming like college expenses for our kids. Most of this age group are already empty nesters or in the final years of paying the expenses for our kids. We’re seeing more of the light at the end of the fiscal tunnel now. We’re seeing that ahead lies our later years and we want to do what we can to be better off than it looked like we’d be. Sure many of our kids have rebounded and are staying with us. But we see that as temporary. And yes, we have other major expenses such as weddings and caring for our parents. But our kids are waiting longer to get married and the drain on us for caring for our parents is less about the financial difficulties than about the emotional strain, lack of time, complex insurance and legal concerns, and day-to-day caring concerns.

The result? We invest. We see a few hopeful signs and we move more of our money out of those safe investments into equities. We want to feel positive. We want there to be gains in stocks. As we learned long ago in our Econ 101 classes, that optimism drives the stock market higher.

So where does it go? Here’s what I think, to the extent that it matters. It goes up. Then down, then up again. It’s what the market does. In the short term we’ll see a bit more ride upwards. Then some folks will get scared or there’ll be some international news that causes jitters. Then we’ll get our perspective back and see another ride up. What we’ll experience is just like what we’ve experienced in the past. Only with more dollars and more people involved. That will cause even more volatility. But in the longer term, all that up and down will even off.

What we’ll also see is a slight decrease in the kinds of upswing returns since more of us, as we age, will heed the advice of good planners and will be more conservative with our investments. More of us will be working less or retired. More of us will be on fixed income, some just on Social Security. More of us will die.

But we won’t lose our optimism. We pronounced long ago that we changed the world and we still think we can. It’s all about us, right?

My father and father-in-law each had a leg amputated, quite some time ago. Months later, well after the amputations healed, both complained of severe pain in their foot. But neither had a foot. The pain was called “referred pain” and my wife and I dismissed it as being “in their head.” In fact, the pain was a result of the nerves that headed down that way being stimulated quite unpleasantly and was very, very real. Excruciatingly real. But I didn’t really know that then.

I know it now having just experienced it myself, thankfully not as a result of losing a leg. I had an injection in the facet of my cervical spine at level C2. The doc inserted the needle, fairly painlessly, and then administered the steroid. The pressure I felt at the injection area was expected and uncomfortable. But it was tolerable. What got me, and what freaked me out, was the real pain I felt about 6 inches higher than the injection site, at the side of my head above my ear. I was scared. I wondered if my brain was being affected. I called out to the doc, informing her of this pain. Informing might not express the fear I had. It felt as if she was pressing her thumb against the side of my head. But this doc was super. She immediately calmed me down, reminding me to breathe into the pain, and mostly easing my concern by stating emphatically that it was referred pain. I can’t tell you how weird it felt. Here I was lying on a table with a needle in my spine, with real, sharp pain coming from the side of my head. And then it went away, just like the doc told me it would.

A few minutes later she was injecting level C5, and this time I felt a sharp stabbing in the middle of my back and under my shoulder blade. Again I informed my doc, but this time with considerably less affect. I knew, and she assured me again that this was referred pain.

Many caregivers deal with people who either have lost legs or arms, often a result of diabetes, or have nerve-related disorders. Nerves are complicated things in many ways. You may have a sore leg or foot, but the root of the pain is in your back. Pressing strategic spots along the route of the nerve often has the feeling of easing the pain, even more than pressing the spot in your back where the nerve root exits the spine. Maybe that’s how acupuncture works. I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve pressed on places and the pain I felt elsewhere eased. So there’s something to this.

I hope you never have to experience it yourself. And the next time you are with someone complaining about pain you absolutely know is not coming from that spot, understand that it’s referred pain. And be sympathetic and empathetic. It’s very real, a very odd sensation, and very painful.

I'm willing to give up a little of my freedom to save the lives of innocent people. I'm willing to have the US Congress pass laws banning the ownership of automatic weapons, despite the 2nd amendment. If that requires modifying the amendment, so be it. I'm not concerned about the slippery slope; I'd rather err on the side of saving our children.

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I believe strongly in our freedom to possess firearms. It's not only about the ability to hunt. We all know you don't need automatic weapons for that purpose. It's about the freedom to protect yourself if you believe you need firearms to do so. I get it. I don't possess any firearms and I don't want to live my life that way. But others can, and they can own guns as long as they're not automatic weapons. So yes, I'll give up that freedom.

There’s an email circulating called “Crabby Old Man…take the Time” about a senior citizen who lives in a nursing who wrote a touching poem. It’s quite a tender poem about who he is and what his life was about. But after I read it, I kept hoping the poem would have ended differently. So first, here’s the poem. Then read on about hear how I would have ended it.
Crabby Old Man . . . . . THE RIPPER

What do you see nurses? . . . . . What do you see?
What are you thinking . . . . . when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man . . . . . not very wise,
Uncertain of habit . . . . . with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . . . . . 'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . . . . the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . A sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . . . lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . . . the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? . . . . . Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse . . . . . you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am . . . . . As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding . . . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten . . . . . with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters . . . . . who love one another.

A young boy of sixteen . . . . . with wings on his feet.
Dreaming that soon now . . . . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at twenty . . . . . my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows . . . . . that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five, now . . . . . I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of thirty . . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . . . . With ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons . . . . . have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me . . . . . to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more . . . . . babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . . My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . . . my wife is now dead.
I look at the future . . . . . shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing . . . . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . . . and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man . . . . . and nature is cruel.
‘Tis jest to make old age . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . . . . . grace and vigor, depart.
There is now a stone . . . . . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . . . a young guy still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys . . . . . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . . . . . gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people . . . . . open and see.
Not a crabby old man . . . . . Look closer . . . . . see ME!!

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The email goes on to say:

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within.

We will all be there one day too!

             *                *               *

You know what I wish? I wish that at the end of this moving tribute to life, the crabby old man decided to look at the people who were caring for him. I wish that he took a moment to thank all of those caregivers – nurses, aides, family – acknowledging that they were doing what they could to help him keep his dignity and enabling him to remember the joys of his life.

The crabby old man inside me says to all those who when I need it may have to bathe me, help me get to the toilet, and clean up after me, and who will still respect me as a person: “Thank you. My poem is for you.”

Note from Bart: In this space I will offer a guest blog from the experts at Hearing Direct. I am very appreciative of this information and I will look forward to future articles from them. Please be sure to visit their site, www.hearingdirect.com.  

Hearing Loss
In this, the first of hearing loss related articles, we aim to look at a topic that affects the lives of many individuals but gets very little publicity. Figures released by the national MarkeTrak VIII survey estimate the number of hard of hearing individuals in the US at 35 million and further projected that the number would grow to 53 million by the year 2053.

So what causes hearing loss and can you delay its impact on your health?

Several types of hearing loss affect our modern lives, with age related and noise induced the most common.  Age related hearing loss is a natural diminished hearing ability due to changes that the body goes through from the age of 40 years old, but more widely seen in the over 65s. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is completely artificial and caused by exposure to harmful sounds and lifestyle choices. Therefore means to reduce NIHS focus on avoiding the source of the noise often in conjunction with wearing hearing protection. When age related hearing loss is concerned, there are no means to delay its impact but plenty of means to manage the condition.   

Age related hearing loss simplified

Our hearing ability is aided by tiny hair like cells within the inner ear. These hair cells capture sound in different frequencies  (vibration and air waves) that are then sent to the brain by means of the hearing nerve. When sound reaches the brain, it is made into tangible information for us interpret. As the body matures from as early as a person’s 40s, the number of hair cells as well as their quality gradually deteriorates. Therefore slowly but ultimately hearing certain frequencies gets more and more difficult until it becomes a real burden often impacting quality of life. Certain people will seeks means to manage the condition, others will accept it as a given reality, perhaps as they are embarrassed to admit their hearing impairment or perhaps because of a lack of information. 

Symptoms Of Age-Related Hearing Loss

The level of hearing loss may vary from one individual to the next based on medical history, exposure to loud noise over the years, family history and the amount and severity of degrading hair cells within the inner ear. Symptoms can include difficulty in hearing people around you within noisy environments. Background noise may seem far too loud compared to speech.

You may also notice:

●    Sounds seem less clear
●    Not being able to hear the telephone of door bell ring when others can
●    Other people may sound mumbled or slurred
●    Inability to hear high-pitched sounds such as “s” and “th”
●    Often having to ask people to repeat themselves
●    Having the television or radio turned up much higher than other family members
●    Feeling tired after participating in a conversation held within background noise

Next time we will look at means to manage hearing loss. For now, should you have any concern about your hearing or the hearing of someone you know, your family doctor should be your first point of call.

Bio: Article by Joan McKechnie, BSc Hons Audiology & Speech Pathology. Joan works for hearing company Hearing Direct. For more information, read her guide to hearing loss.

As the election draws nearer, I would be remiss if I didn’t blog about how the presidential candidates’ positions might affect elder care, health issues (including health care and health insurance), and quality of life concerns of older folks. Because of the magnitude of this issue, I will have separate installments on the topic.

I begin with Obamacare.

First let me say that while the President doesn’t mind that the Affordable Health Care Act is referred to as Obamacare, I mind. I think it’s a total misnomer. The Act does not have that much to do with health CARE. It has to do mostly with health INSURANCE. I think the President and the supporters of the Act did a great disservice to all of us by suggesting it was about healthcare. It riled people. It scared them. All of a sudden people were feeling that there would be something – in particular, government – between them and their doctors.

But when you look at the Act, it doesn’t have anything between them and their doctors. It does create a Board that can suggest, recommend, and maybe even ultimately insist (if legislation followed) that certain things be done to streamline healthcare or that costs of drugs and medical care be reduced. But there’s nothing that will prevent an individual doctor from recommending a particular procedure for a patient. In fact, it’s not any different than what exists now under most health insurance plans. Many plans require preauthorization for certain procedures – things like MRI’s, PET scans, etc.. That won’t change under the new law. And if it did, it would be universal, not specific to one plan. Right now individual companies contract with health insurance companies to provide coverage for their employees. The companies negotiate rates and terms and companies try to get as much coverage – and more important, as much flexibility in the plan – for the money. A lot of what we used to have has changed, mostly increased in cost. But not all. Here’s an example of a way that a company improved the options for employees.

A company I’m familiar with offered 2 health insurance plans: one for just an individual employee and another for an employee and his/her family. The rates reflected the difference. But the family plan was geared for families with children, who are notoriously more sick and injured than adults. The organization negotiated with the insurance company to provide a third plan: employee and spouse/partner. Because the plan covered only two people, the rates were far lower for this couple than for an entire family.

Since the new Affordable Healthcare Act has many good provisions (e.g. covering kids ‘til they’re 26, no elimination based on preexisting condition), what’s the downside? That now everyone has to be a part of it? Hello? Is there something wrong with that? It’s just good policy for a country. The only way it can be affordable is with healthy people participating. Ergo, the individual mandate. For me, the Act protects everyone, not just those who have employers that provide health insurance. I never saw the logic in tying insurance to employment. Insurance, in particular health insurance, is about individuals and families, not about employers.

So back to the political arena. Since I believe this is a good law, and since the only candidate agreeing with me, my support goes to President Obama. Seniors, juniors, and everyone in between should be for this new law. Now if Governor Romney changes his mind (again) and decides that he really is for this law, I’d gladly revisit this endorsement. The whole law, after all, is one that he endorsed when he was governor of Massachusetts. But it’s not likely Mr. Romney will agree to be labeled with “I was for it before I was against it.”

Bottom line regarding health insurance and whether i: Obama. Stay tuned for my next political blog.

Please excuse the absence of a new blog. I've been working on my latest book and just didn't have the time to write anything else.

The new book will be out in February and it's a joint project between my publisher, John Wiley & Sons, and AARP. I'm very excited to do this book because I think it addresses something that many of us face, particularly those of us in the sandwich generation. Although my parents and in-laws are all gone now, it wasn't that long ago that we were dealing with their crises. The new book's title is long so as to maximize search engine optimization – you try to hit as many key words as possible so Google searches bring up your book. The title is AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life with a subtitle of Smart Choices about Money, Work, Insurance, Lifestyle... and Pursuing Your Dreams. Whew, quite a handle. About the only thing we missed was sex. So maybe we should have called it the AARP Fifty Shades of Gray.

Anyway, as it implies, it's about living the rest of your life. We have our families to deal with, our kids and parents. We have our careers, perhaps winding down. We face retirement concerns that include money, leisure time, and choices. We have our insurance issues with many of us on or about to be on Medicare. And we have the concerns about aging and health.

The whole project began when I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by AARP. The author Gail Sheehy talked about how she and her husband had faced serious health problems and, in fact, signed up for palliative care. The doctor came to them and asked her husband, who clearly had significant mobility limitations and other health problems, "What are your goals for this stage in life?" I thought, "Wow, what a great question." I didn't have an answer for that and I'm not facing end of life issues.

So the book also addresses goals, role models, and questions we are now or will be asking ourselves as we get older. It deals with the very practical areas we have to face as we age, including our finances and signing up for Social Security and Medicare. I guess the most important message I relate in the book is to not judge aging. We are who we are and getting older is not something to fight or shy away from. As the old joke says about getting older, "it sure beats the alternative."

In the book I create a Level of Activity scale, something that you can use to help guide you (or your aging parents).  Where you are on the scale, much more than your chronological age, will likely have more influence on your choices than anything else.

So please watch for my new book and watch this space where I will continue to blog about important issues.

Thanks for reading and please post your comments and questions.