Ninety-nine percent of us over the age of 40 had chickenpox when we were kids. That virus is still in our bodies ... and it can reactivate at any time as shingles.
Do you know someone who has had shingles? Did their experience make you want to rush to the doctor for the shingles vaccine? If you did get the vaccine years ago, do you feel confident knowing it offers a protection rate of only 50 percent, and only for a few years?
Fear not, they say ... there's a new, more effective shingles vaccine, available since 2017.
Shingrix offers protection at a 90 percent rate. It's taken in two doses, two to six months apart. Unlike the old vaccine, this one will still be at least 85 percent effective four years after you get it.
Researchers say one in three of us will get shingles because our immune systems decline as we age. If we're over the age of 50, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we should have the Shingrix vaccine. If we had the old vaccine between the ages of 50 and 59, we might not be covered in later years.
Finding the new vaccine, however, might be a problem. It's easy to find locations that give the shot, but whether they have it on hand is another matter. Start by calling your doctor's office to see if they have it in stock and if you should have it. (There might be reasons you shouldn't.)
If you need it but the doctor doesn't have it, put your ZIP code in the search box on vaccinefinder.org and start making calls to local pharmacies.
Be sure to specify Shingrix. You might be put on a wait list.
And don't forget your Medicare or insurance card. Shingrix is expensive.
Help in deciding where to retire
If you plan to move when you retire, where will you go? What is important to you, and how will you decide? U.S. News & World Report, working with Aetna, has released a report about the healthiest communities in the country. While all of the 81 characteristics they compared aren't about health, they do affect quality of life.
Their ranking calculated the scores on 3,000 counties across the country, broken down into 10 categories: population health, equity, education, economy, housing, food and nutrition, environment, public safety, community vitality and infrastructure.
To see the rankings, go online to www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/rankings. Scroll down the page and you'll see the list of the top 500 counties and how they ranked in each of the categories.
On the first page, however, you can specify the county name or ZIP code of an area you're interested in. After you click, you'll see the rankings for your selected area, with individual category scores, as well as a state and U.S. average. Scroll down for the details of each one. You'll find everything from the smoking rate to voter participation, the poverty rate, changes in housing values, crime rates — information on all 81 metrics. Be sure to click or mouseover everything because there's more to it than appears.
At the very bottom of the page you'll find sliders for each of the 10 categories where you can shop for your ideal retirement location. Customize your preferences by moving the sliders, and a list of your best communities will appear on the right of the screen.
Even if you're not ready to decide about a move right now, this report will get you thinking about what's important to you about where you live. All in all, this report is very well done and comprehensive in the amount of information it provides.
What have studies learned about us?
We seniors must be fascinating to researchers because it seems they're always studying us. Here are a few things they've learned through Pew Research Center studies:
Identifying the truth: With all the drama nowadays about "fake news," and with our age-enhanced ability to sniff out lies, it would seem that we'd be excellent at discerning what's real and what isn't. Not so, according to a study. Five thousand participants of all ages were presented with five factual statements and five opinion statements. Turns out the younger age groups were much better at identifying both the factual and opinion news items than we were.
Having religion: Seniors are more likely to be religious, which researchers identified as meaning being part of a religious group, attending weekly services and praying daily. It's not just in here in America — they got the same results for most of the rest of the world.
Getting political: When it comes to politics — do we even want to go there? — both the baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and the Silent Generation (late 1920s to 1945) are more conservative, with the Silents more staunchly conservative than the boomers.
Using technology: Although more of us are becoming technologically savvy, seniors are still 42 percent behind other age groups in the percentage of us who have cellphones or roam the Internet. Half of us say we need help setting up new devices, which is where more training classes at senior centers would come in handy.
Changing relationships: Those of us over the age of 50 are divorcing at a rate that has doubled during the past 30 years. For those over age 65, the rate has tripled.
If you want to read through more research results like these, go online to Pew Research Center (www.pewresearch.org) and search for seniors or elderly.
Medicare scammed out of $1.7 billion
Scammers have billed Medicare $1.7 billion in phony invoices for selling hundreds of thousands of us pieces of medical equipment we don't need. Federal agencies have brought charges for peddling unnecessary braces for knee, wrist, shoulder and back.
How did this happen? We answered TV and radio ads aimed at Medicare beneficiaries. By calling them for more information, we were offered "free" devices we didn't need.
Per the Department of Justice news release, medical doctors were bribed into prescribing the devices to patients they had never even met or those they'd only talked to via brief phone conversations. Once we gave them our Medicare numbers and personal information, our calls would be switched to a foreign call center, and they were then able to bill Medicare. It was a complicated scam, involving doctors, company executives, call centers, 130 companies, bribery, kickbacks and more.
Scary, isn't it?
If you see an ad on TV about free medical equipment you can get because you're on Medicare, write down the information and give it to your doctor. Ask whether that device or service is something you really need. If it is, and if it's something approved by Medicare, you can still get it for free. In fact, whether it's for free medical equipment, or insurance coverage, or for any reason, if it's related to Medicare, all the scammers really want is your Medicare number.
In other Medicare scams, they'll call you and say they need to update your information, including your bank account number where your Social Security is deposited. Whether they use sympathy, offers of help or aggressive tactics ... don't let it fool you. Hang up.
Remember, once the scammers have your Medicare card number, they can use it again and again.