Welcome to the Briar Blog

Providing relevant news and articles to active seniors at
Briarwood and throughout the Central Mass community.


Raising Your Credit Score

Posted in Financial Advice on July 29th, 2014

Credit ScoreAt one point or another, a fair number of people find themselves with a lower credit rating than they would like.  Perhaps they lent money to the kids for a down payment and spread themselves too thin, neglected to pay certain bills on time because funds were tight, or were stricken with an illness and medical costs kept climbing.


Fortunately, there are ways to increase an unimpressive credit score, but it usually takes time (incidentally, FICO score is the most recognized model used).  Here are a few ideas.


Be sure to send in bill payments before the due date.  Some people forget about bills until they are due.  Afterward, they figure they’ll just catch up the following month.  Yet, when this happens, late fees and less-than-stellar ratings accrue.  In fact, payment history figures prominently in credit scores: 35% of the FICO score is based on this component.  Therefore, if you regularly find yourself behind, set reminders on your smart phone or write “payment due” on a calendar you frequently check.  If you still tend to be overdue, then set up an automatic withdrawal plan through your bank.  As long as the funds are available, you’ll consistently be on time.

Ask a creditor to reduce debt.  Let’s say someone stumbled upon hard times, perhaps because of sickness or job loss, and fell behind in credit card payments.  A few late-payment notices went out, and the delinquent amount ended up in collection.  You can call the credit card company and request the debt, or at least a portion of it, be forgiven.  When extenuating circumstances exist, this option is not out of the question.  If pardoning the debt is not going to happen, then consider asking the creditor to renegotiate the interest rate (credit card interest rates can be quite high).  Once a few on-time payments are made, kindly request the past-delinquency information become removed from credit reports.

Keep a couple of credit cards, but use them carefully.  Upon reclaiming a degree of credit score footing, some people make the decision to close all their credit card accounts.  However, the action can actually lower your credit score.  What should you do?  Maintain a credit card or two and periodically make small purchases.  After that, promptly pay the items off.  Your account will show activity, and your payment history will indicate timeliness.  The longer you demonstrate a chronicle of on-time payments, the greater the probability your credit score will increase.  But you don’t want to pull out credit cards anymore?  Then consider authorizing your credit card company to automatically deduct newspaper bills or other monthly charges.  Just think, you can keep your plastic tucked away.


A lower-than-you-would-like credit score can be especially troubling.  Thankfully, there are workable ways to help improve the situation.  For additional suggestions relating to this topic, go to http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/improveyourscore.aspx


Warm Weather Hazards

Posted in Health & Wellness, Safety Tips on July 15th, 2014

Senior woman checking flowers in gardenThe next month or so is an incredible time for outdoor pleasure.  Nevertheless, it is also a period for caution, as high temperatures can make some individuals, especially those over age 65, at risk for certain health hazards.


Because the heat can lead to medical troubles, here are some risks to guard against.


Heat Exhaustion.  Heat exhaustion typically develops after extended exposure to elevated temperatures, although some people react more quickly to warm temperatures than others.  Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, weakness, headache, labored breathing, tiredness, significant sweating, queasiness, paleness, moist skin, and muscle cramping.  If you are outside and begin to experience any of these symptoms, move to a shaded or air-conditioned area, rub cool washcloths on your face, arms, and legs, and gingerly drink water.  However, if extreme nausea or vomiting occurs, promptly seek medical attention.

Heat stroke.  Heat stroke is an exceptionally serious medical condition that necessitates immediate action or fatality can occur.  This life-threatening situation takes place when the body becomes unable to properly cool itself.  Actually, body temperatures can rise to 103 degrees or above in a relatively short period of time.  Symptoms of heat stroke include pounding headache, shallow breathing, confusion, nausea, rapid pulse, lightheadedness, fever, and even unconsciousness.  If you find yourself in the presence of someone who could be suffering with this condition, call 911 and/or get immediate medical attention.  If delay is unavoidable, be sure to move the person to a cooler environment and apply cool cloths on the skin.

Senior Drinking WaterDehydration.  Dehydration takes place when the body has lost more fluid than it needs to properly function.  This circumstance can occur in any weather; however, heat is a contributing factor, and seniors taking diuretics or other medications can be especially at risk.  Symptoms of dehydration include limited or dark urine, dry mouth, irritability, headache, dizziness, nausea, and poor skin elasticity.  Naturally, if you feel you are becoming dehydrated, it’s important to drink ample amounts of water and electrolyte-containing liquids throughout the day.  Serious dehydration cases require emergency medical attention and can produce confusion, weakness, low blood pressure, and rapid pulse.


Few people want to remain indoors because it is warm outside.  Fortunately, there are precautions everyone can take to help minimize the dangers.


1.     Be sure to have access to shade no matter where you are traveling.

2.     Use an umbrella to decrease the added heat of the sun.

3.     Begin activities at a slower pace and gradually increase only if you feel up to it.

4.     Bring along ample amounts of water and be sure to regularly hydrate.

5.     Listen to your body and get out of the heat if you begin to feel weak, strange, faint, sick, or too hot.

6.     Wear a wide brim hat and lightweight, loose clothing made of natural materials.

7.     Have emergency numbers readily available in the event you need immediate assistance.


Warm weather hazards?  With proper planning, they can be beaten!


Worcester Summer Happenings

Posted in Activities, Community Events, Fourth of July on July 2nd, 2014

The longest day of the year has come and gone, and summer is officially here.  Birds are singing, the air feels glorious, and the flora is vibrant.  What better way can there be to enjoy the fruits of this coveted season than in celebration?


Here are a few of the many Worcester festivities taking place.

  • July 4th Concert and Fireworks.  Memorial Day Weekend may rouse summer cravings, but its official entry is still weeks away.  July 4th, on the other hand, is summer.  And, in celebration of Independence Day, the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra will be performing a free concert on July 3 at Cristoforo Colombo Park—East Park.  The ceremonial flag raising begins around 7:40 P.M., but concertgoers should arrive closer to 6 P.M. to better secure a spot (yes, there’ll be fireworks!).


  • Canal District Wagon Tours.  Blackstone Canal, a fascinating area pivotal in transforming once-rural Worcester to a bustling locale steeped in history, has many stories to tell.  Hence, enjoy a horse and wagon tour on Thursdays from July 3 to August 21 between the hours of 5 – 8 P.M.  The excursions are approximately 50 minutes long and begin on the half hour.  For more info, go to http://www.thecanaldistrict.com/wagontours.html


  • Cars of Summer.  For some people, cars are merely a means of transportation.  For others, they’re a passion.  If you gravitate toward the latter, be sure to check out Cars of Summer at Green Hill Park on July 4 – 6 from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M.  Automobile enthusiasts and their families not only get to see an impressive display of vintage cars, but they also enjoy activities, live music, and food.  The cost?  A three-day spectator pass for the event is $25, and a one-day pass is $10.  For each paying adult in a party, a child under 12 gets in free.  Got your engine revving?  Check out http://www.carsofsummer.com/ for added details.


  • Massachusetts Symphony Summer Concert Series.  If you take pleasure in exceptional music performed in a wonderfully serene setting, then the July 13 and July 20 Summer Concert Series taking place at Institute Park is for you.  On Sunday, July 13, the symphony will highlight assorted Broadway tunes, and on Sunday, July 20, the focus will be on Disney classics: both concerts are free and run from 7 P.M. to 9 P.M.  For particulars, go to http://www.masymphony.org/mso/Concerts.html



Worcester is always jam-packed with amazing activities, and summertime is especially exciting.  So, get out and have fun!

Great Health and You

Posted in Activities, Health & Wellness on June 12th, 2014

Better Health for Seniors

Better Health is Possible

Now that the warm weather has arrived, many people enjoy getting out more frequently.  They take invigorating walks around the park, meet up with friends for a leisurely lunch, visit a favored museum to catch the latest exhibit, and the list goes on.




If you are looking for an informative way to spend a glorious day in June, here is a great idea to consider:

Aging Gracefully Symposium: Going from Good to Great Health–Thursday, June 19, 8:30 a.m. — 3 p.m.  Almost everyone has heard the adage, “Age is a state of mind.”  In fact, the saying almost seems cliché.  Well, the impressive list of presenters lined up to share their knowledge in this edifying senior seminar will help individuals better understand the assorted notions attached to aging.  And, once presumptions are deliberated devoid of bias, amazing doors can open.  In fact, when we more fully tap into the incredible brainpower we possess, we recognize at a visceral level that great (or better) health is possible.

Who is sponsoring the event?  The Senior Focus.  The agency’s mission statement is as follows:

 “The Senior Focus is committed to serving the needs of seniors, their caregivers and their families.  Our mission is to provide education and information to senior citizens and to help them maintain the quality of their lives as they age.  We accomplish our mission through a TV talk show, symposia, seminars and other lectures, free legal clinics, and much more.”

The Senior Focus has two additional symposiums scheduled for 2014: Living Well to 100, taking place on September 16, and 4th Annual Focus on Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease, taking place on November 6.

Where will the June 19 event be held?  The Manor Restaurant, 42 West Boylston Street, West Boylston, Massachusetts.  In addition to beneficial topics shared by the notable panel of speakers, various agencies will be in the exhibit area, informing attendees as to the assorted senior services and resources available in the region.  For additional information, go to https://theseniorfocus.com/aging-gracefully-going-from-good-to-great-health/ or call 508-459-5057.  Admission is free to the general public.


Learning great ways to approach great health on a splendid day in June?  Why not?


Why Get A Living Will

Posted in Health & Wellness on May 28th, 2014

Living WillA Living Will (a.k.a., Advance Directive) is a legal document that outlines a person’s wishes regarding the type and extent of medical treatment to be implemented in the event of incapacitation.


Directions including pain relief and the degree of its use, whether or not to utilize respirators and feeding tubes, and resuscitation guidelines are the kinds of topics generally delineated in the document.  A Living Will differs from another type of Advance Directive, Health Care Proxy, in that a Health Care Proxy designates another person (e.g. husband, wife, son, daughter) to make medical decisions.


Living Wills are usually available to people 18 years of age and older.  Even so, a fair number of individuals do not begin to think about the need for this type of document until they reach middle age.


Why should someone get a Living Will?  Let’s examine a couple of reasons.

  • An individual’s health care requests will be met according to his or her dictates.  If a person encounters an unforeseen medical event and can no longer make decisions, the course of action is typically tailored to the treatment protocol outlined in the document.  Most of us want to manage our health care; a Living Will helps that happen.
  • The burden during crisis is taken off loved ones.  Oftentimes it is difficult for loved ones to make snap health care decisions.  Questions like, “Would Mom choose a feeding tube?” or “Do you think Dad would want a ventilator?” come in to play.  At the same time, there may be differing views among relatives regarding the best way to proceed.  A Living Will removes at least some of the anguish surrounding complicated medical situations.


How do you get a Living Will?


Forms may be available at certain physicians’ offices, senior centers, and hospitals: attorneys can also draw up a Living Will.


Naturally, guidelines only kick in when an individual is incapacitated.  If this happens, medical choices are based on the outlined instructions.  However, as long as a person is capable of making health care decisions, a Living Will is subject to revision.  For instance, certain people may feel at one stage in their lives they would want to be resuscitated under any circumstance.  Yet, as time goes by, they could come to view the topic differently.


Why consider a Living Will?  It puts you in control!


Unleash the Trapped Equity in Your Home

Posted in Financial Advice on May 12th, 2014

refinance your homeSeniors living on a fixed income can sometimes find it difficult to afford the necessities in life, never mind the pleasures.  While other retirees are regularly traveling, dining out, playing golf, or engaging in enjoyable activities that involve cash, people with limited coffers do not have that luxury.


Yet, some individuals may be in a position to gain greater financial flexibility from their homes.  Like everything else, though, caveats exist.  Here are a couple of thoughts to consider.


Home equity loan.  Home equity loans afford folks access to a portion of the equity in their house.  This type of loan is typically prearranged as either a line of credit or an actual loan.  If the agreement is a line of credit, the lender provides access to funds that can be taken out as needed.  If it is an outright loan, a set amount is advanced to the homeowner.  It is often best to speak with different lenders to find the best home equity loan plan available.  Actually, when certain lenders know an individual is shopping around, they may be more competitive.  Still, no matter which institution appears to be the most attractive, it is crucial to fully understand all the charges associated with the loan (e.g., appraisal fee, application fee, underwriting fee, continuing costs, interest rate, penalties).  It is also vital to check credentials to ensure the preferred institution is reputable.  A big plus?  Interest charges on home equity loans are usually tax deductible.


Refinance the mortgage.  People who have mortgages on their homes might benefit from refinancing.  Naturally, if an existing rate is comparable to what is presently being offered, then it does not make sense.  However, if there is a lower rate available, monthly payments could go down.  For example, suppose an individual has a $200,000 mortgage for 15 years at 5% interest, the payment is likely around $1580.  If the person refinances the $200,000 mortgage at 3.5% for 15 years, the monthly payments drop to around $1429 per month.  Impressively, that’s a savings of about $150 per month.  Yet, closing costs and fees generally accompany a refinance, so the bottom line numbers must be considered to ensure this route makes sense.  Adjustable rates, which are also a refinancing option, tend to be lower than fixed rates.  Despite this, they usually carry added risk, as at some point the rate can rise.  With current mortgage interest rates being as attractive as they are, a fixed rate loan may be a safer bet.  Like home equity loans, interest charges on refinances are often tax deductible.

home equity loan

Treading in the finance world can be daunting under optimal circumstances, and it can be especially scary when unscrupulous lending practices make the news.  Consequently, it is best to seek the counsel of a trusted Certified Financial Planner (CFP), or other impartial financial expert, when considering a home equity loan or refinance.  Without a doubt, thorough planning makes sound sense.


Saving With Health Care Savings Accounts

Posted in Financial Advice, Health & Wellness on April 24th, 2014

Saving with an HSANow that tax season is behind us, it’s time to start thinking about future savings.  A great way to do this is by checking out the eligibility requirements for a Health Savings Account (HSA).


What is a Health Savings Account?

It is kind of like a personal savings account.  The program was designed for individuals who have high-deductible health plans. 


How do you enroll?

HSAs can be set up on your own or through an employer, although not all employers offer the program.  Naturally, IRS rules regarding contribution limits can change from one year to another, but the 2014 calendar year maximum contribution is $3,300 for individual coverage and $6,550 for family coverage.


Some possible HSA benefits to qualified participants?

  • Within the confines of the guidelines, you choose how much money you want to go into the account for future medical costs.
  • You decide which doctor to see; thus, managing the way the money is spent.
  • Even though an employer may set up the account, the money is yours to use as you choose.
  • If you’re self-employed (or on your own) and decide to contribute $2,500 to the account, the money is tax-deductible.  If you work for an employer, pretax money is used.  Again, this only applies when the funds are spent on eligible medical expenses.
  • Unlike a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), you can carry over unused monies to the following year.  NOTE: Flexible Spending Accounts are also tax savers, so you may wish to find out if your employer offers this type of program, as well.
  • If you leave your employer, you can take your Health Savings Account with you: this is not the case with a Flexible Spending Account.

And potential negatives?

  • The plan does not make sense for people who seldom pay out-of-pocket health care expenses.  For example, some individuals have a high-deductible insurance plan but rarely visit medical practitioners.
  • You might feel pressure to use the money.  This could result in unnecessary trips to a physician’s office or other covered practitioner.
  • If your employer contributes to your HSA, you still must adhere to the same contribution limits.

Okay, so is this type of account a good deal?  It is if you tend to spend your hard-earned money on high deductibles.  Why not save some cash if you meet the requirements?

 Health Care Savings Account

For additional information, go to http://www.kiplinger.com/article/insurance/T027-C000-S002-health-savings-accounts.html



Tower Hill Botanical Garden: Bay State African Violet Show

Posted in Activities, Community Events on April 10th, 2014

African VioletsThere’s no better way to become immersed in spring than with flowers.  After all, they liven up a gloomy face, energize a tired room, bring fragrance to air grown stale, and so much more.  In fact, flowers have the uncanny ability to transport our consciousness to a surreal-like state, metaphorically speaking.

So, with flora in mind, what preferred setting can there be to celebrate these visual and sweet-smelling wonders than Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA, while enjoying the Bay State African Violet Show?


Hmm, you want to know a bit more about African violets?

Well, for starters, they are colorful, handsome, mesmerizing plants that require a proper measure of TLC to keep them vibrant.  For example, these indoor delights should have a healthy amount of indirect light.  At the same time, it is important not to over water the soil.



Over watering can leave this particular plant vulnerable to root rot and other types of pathogens.  It is vital to mention that water should be devoid of chlorine and the temperature tepid, not cold.  Moreover, do not water plants from the top but focus solely on moistening the soil.  Fortunately, self-watering saucers eliminate the lion’s share of watering worry, so they are a great option for some people.


And additional light info?

Well, these beauties do best in copious amounts of indirect sunlight.  If there is too little light, the leaves typically become pale and the plant stops blossoming.  If there is too much light, the blossoms and leaves tend to develop brown spotting (and the leaves could bend downward).

Naturally, the sun varies in intensity at different times of the day, so there is a certain degree of strategy concerning placement of the plants and where best they will thrive.


Saintpauila sp.

But you want guidance from the experts?

Then put the Bay State African Violet Show, sponsored by The Bay State African Violet Society, on your calendar.  This spring event takes place on Saturday, April 26, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Sunday, April 27, from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M.

A lecture demonstration, guided walk-through of the show, and educational displays are some of the fabulous features on hand.  For further details, go to http://www.towerhillbg.org/ then click Visit and Events Calendar (under What’s Happening).


Oh, and if you do go, have a great time!

Wireless Sleep Tips

Posted in Health & Wellness on March 25th, 2014

Using a cellphone in before sleepingThe last time we looked at a physical condition that interrupts sleep: sleep apnea.   And, we explored that insufficient sleep can encourage more menacing woes like pain, diabetes, dementia, premature aging, cancer, and heart disease.  However, did you know that external culprits (besides noise and light) might also disturb slumber?  Let’s examine a probable player.


Cell phones are a fascinating invention.  Actually, how many individuals removed from the technological world could have imagined 40 years ago or so they would one day have the ability to travel almost anywhere and have a cordless conversation using a pocket-size telephone?  And, to add to this futuristic prospect, how many would have thought they could access virtually every news outlet from that smart device?  Gosh, when you to stop to think about, this hi-tech gadget is amazing!


Yet, negatives sometimes accompany positives.  For example, mobile phones have been the focus of various studies because they emit electromagnetic radiation.  Regrettably, the body absorbs some of the waves, albeit in very small measures.


Cell phones are certainly not the only wireless units under scrutiny, but they are prime subjects.  In addition to potentially messing with sleep, other harms might be possible, as well.


What can we do?


Undoubtedly, most of us are not yet ready to chuck our coveted contraptions.  Yet, we can take steps to minimize the hazards.


Here are some thoughts.

  • Keep cell phones and other wireless devices away from the bedroom when you retire for the evening.  This includes iPods, Nooks, Kindles, computers, etc.
  • If the above suggestion is unlikely to occur, then never put a cell phone under your pillow.  Not only does this behavior have the potential to more effectively disrupt sleep, experts assert it might even have a harmful influence on the brain.
  • If your cell phone is your alarm clock and it’s going to be in the room with you no matter what, then put the device in airplane mode.  This usually stops the transmission function.
  • Okay, this has little to do with sleep, but it touches upon safety, so it warrants mentioning.  Use headphones, a Bluetooth connector, or speaker mode during conversations on your cell (better still, text!).  To be frank, do your best to keep the handset away from your head.

Wireless technology is incredible, innovative, and downright convenient.  Nevertheless, inadequate sleep is serious business, and defeating the problem requires serious measures.


For some additional sleep tips, go to http://www.sleepcare.com/index.php/lack-of-sleep-may-impact-memories-of-the-elderly/


Sleeping With Sleep Apnea

Posted in Health & Wellness on March 11th, 2014

Sleep ApneaUneven sleep is considerably more than a nuisance.  It disrupts daytime hours, leaves us feeling cranky, and sometimes results in blunders we might otherwise not make.


However, did you know that jagged sleep could even put us at a higher risk for some pretty serious medical conditions and even death?


One culprit known to disrupt slumber is sleep apnea.  The word apnea is a Greek word that means without breath/want of breath.  Apnea occurs when breathing has been interrupted.  Some people believe that only overweight or elderly individuals suffer with the problem, but that is not entirely accurate.  While it is true that excess weight and advanced age can be contributing factors in some individuals, even thin people and children experience the condition.


One obvious symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.  Nonetheless, it’s important to mention that not all snorers have sleep apnea.


Naturally, some people do not realize they snore because they are asleep when they do so.  Oftentimes, other individuals in the home alert them to the issue.  It is vital to have your doctor closely monitor the situation when loud snoring or other alarming nocturnal symptoms surface.  He or she will likely recommend a sleep study.


Let’s look at the two main types of sleep apnea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).  OSA is often characterized by paused/shallow breathing, loud snoring, gasping for breath, and/or restlessness.  This happens because an airway obstruction is taking place.  Aging, obesity, and head, neck or mouth shape can cause or worsen OSA, but even large tonsils in children can be responsible for the condition.
  • Central sleep apnea (CSA).  CSA is not as common as OSA.  This type generally occurs because the part of the brain that controls breathing sends faulty signals to the breathing muscles.  Subsequently, an inability to properly take in air occurs and breathing stops and starts.  And the cause of CSA?  It may be secondary to another medical conditions or spurred on by medication.  Loud snoring is less likely to be a symptom.


Infrequently, individuals receiving treatment for obstructive sleep disorder (OSA) develop central sleep disorder (CSA), as well.  When this happens, the condition is known as mixed or complex sleep apnea.  The mixed type exhibits symptoms of both OSA and CSA.


How do you treat sleep apnea?


Sleep apnea management is typically customized to the respective form and could include a nighttime mouth device that pushes the jaw forward, nasal strips, diet modification, a continuous positive airway pressure machine (CPAP), or other appliances/lifestyle changes.  Because the condition tends to be chronic, it is important to stick with treatment to realize a higher degree of success.


Sound sleep is much more important than many of us know.  For additional information on this topic, go to http://www.sleepapnea.org/