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Boom Calendar for Grown-ups
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There is a host of scientific evidence showing that social isolation has a major impact on a person’s overall health and survival. One statistic suggests that social isolation has the same health impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Now, to combat social isolation, many older adults are turning to homesharing. In most cases, it is a matter of finances, but the benefits stem far beyond the monthly costs of living.

Mona Kessel, who recently retired from working at NASA for more than 30 years, has been planning to homeshare with her two sisters for more than 40 years. Kessel, who is 66 years old, lives in Maryland and her little sister Becky, who is 65, lives in Georgia. Her oldest sister Rachel, who is 68, lives in Kansas. While drinking toasts to this plan decades ago, the group would say, “Here’s a toast to Toast Ranch.” Over the years, the plans have evolved and become much more solidified.

“The name Toast Ranch comes from the fact that there is nothing you can do with old white bread except toast it,” said Kessel. “Until the last couple of years, it was only a concept. It is a little more than that now with a likely location of Kansas City. Climate change hasn’t greatly affected that region yet, but the models have recently changed to show it will be heating up a lot over the next 30 years,” said Kessel.

Over the past 24 months, several other cities were considered but climate change curtailed their choices. “I have a very rough sketch of a central common area surrounded by private living space connected by indoor/outdoor walkways. Several separate guest spaces are also envisioned for friends and family to visit” said Kessel.

Gayle Slentz has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years. Now, she is moving from Craig to Tucson, Az., to live with her sister Kris and brother-in-law Ken Howell. Slentz, who is 67 years old, cannot manage her home on her own and the rental market in Craig is virtually nonexistent.

How does it work?

Rebecca Scanlan is with Silvernest, an online roommate-matching platform. While the mantra for many older adults is to age in place, they now find they are faced with skyrocketing living costs on fixed budgets. Scanlan says these new economic realities are leading many older adults to the sharing economy. They can leverage their home and generate extra income for mortgage payments, home improvements, taxes, and other living costs.

Silvernest links retirees, empty nesters, and other older adults with compatible housemates for long-term homesharing. Scanlan said through homesharing homeowners can earn $850 a month on average in extra income. It helps renters pay far less than market rent, saving an average of $750 a month compared to a one-bedroom apartment. “Both enjoy companionship and the efficiencies that come with sharing a space,” said Scanlan.

Silvernest provides the technical tools to match housemates based on behavioral profiles and demographic preferences. The site allows for homeowners to conduct full background checks, and communicate securely without sharing personal details.  It also helps generate state-specific leases and manage automated payments.

Silvernest was launched in late 2015 and while it is designed to help those 50 and older find housemates, it supports most anyone’s needs. “Post-pandemic, we have seen the most significant growth and new interest,” says Riley Gibson, president of Silvernest. We have grown through word-of-mouth and some advertising in a couple cities. We have also seen growth through incredible partnerships with Area Agencies on Aging and other non-profits that help spread the word to their communities.”

A sense of safety and security

Scanlan said the average age among those listing their homes is 60, but the average age of the housemates is around 40. Qualified housemates can be any age that a homeowner desires. It’s up to both parties to decide what works best for their situation. “We’re actually seeing quite a few intergenerational pairings across all parts of the country,” said Scanlan.

While extra income is the driving force, there are the added benefits of companionship, connection and the ability to stay in your own home. There’s also the safety and security that comes with sharing a home with someone else. Scanlan said homeowners can choose to offer reduced rent in exchange for home maintenance, cleaning, and other around-the-house help from their housemate.

“Homesharing is still relatively new and unfamiliar,” said Gibson. “We are working to normalize the idea and improve the experience every way we can.”

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.  He can be reached at medicalminutes@gmail.com. Becky, Rachel, Mona and Bob having a late lunch at Captain Daniel Packer Inn in Mystic, Conn.

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Data on Billions of Vaccinated Adults Demonstrate COVID-19 Vaccines Are Safe and Effective

Many Americans say they want to “make sure the shot is safe” before getting vaccinated. Well, the studies are completed and from the more than 2 billion people vaccinated worldwide researchers now know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe. The risk for adverse reaction to a vaccine pales in comparison to the risk of long-term issues from a COVID-19 infection.

In his nearly 30 years studying vaccines, Dr. Paul Goepfert, who is director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has never seen any vaccine as effective as the three COVID vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) currently available in the United States. “A 90% decrease in risk of infections, and 94% effectiveness against hospitalization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is fantastic,” he said.

But what makes vaccine experts such as Dr. Goepfert confident that COVID vaccines are safe in the long term? We have all seen billboards and TV infomercials from law firms seeking people harmed by diet drugs or acid-reflux medicines for class-action lawsuits. What makes Goepfert think that scientists would not discover previously unsuspected problems caused by COVID vaccines in the years ahead?

There are several reasons why that would not be true. Vaccines, given in one or two shot doses, are very different from medicines that people take every day, potentially for years. Decades of vaccine history provide powerful proof that there is little chance that any new dangers will emerge from the current COVID vaccines.

The majority of Americans who have not been vaccinated or who say they are hesitant about vaccinating their children report that safety is their main concern. Nearly a quarter of respondents in Gallup surveys in March and April 2021 said they wanted to confirm the vaccine was safe before getting the shot. “Many people worry that these vaccines were ‘rushed’ into use and still do not have full FDA approval since they are currently being distributed under Emergency Use Authorizations,” Dr. Goepfert said. “But because we have had so many people vaccinated, we actually have far more safety data than we have had for any other vaccine.”

In 1976, a vaccine against swine flu that was widely distributed in the United States resulted in rare cases (approximately one in 100,000) of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which involves the immune system attacking the nerves. Almost all of these cases occurred in the eight weeks after a person received the vaccine. It is important to note that the flu itself also can cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome and it occurs 17 times more frequently after natural flu infection than after vaccination.

“Vaccines are just designed to deliver a payload and then are quickly eliminated by the body,” Dr. Goepfert said. “This is particularly true of the mRNA vaccines. mRNA degrades incredibly rapidly. You wouldn’t expect any of these vaccines to have any long-term side effects. And in fact, this has never occurred with any vaccine.”

Protecting Your Pets from COVID-19 Infection

Another reason to get vaccinated may be to protect your dog, cat or other pets. New research shows that cats can catch COVID-19 from sleeping on their owner’s bed. COVID-19 infection is common in pet cats and dogs whose owners have the virus, according to new research presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) held online this year.

Cases of owners spreading the disease to their dog or cat have been documented before but are considered to be of negligible risk to public health.  However, as vaccination and other measures reduce human-to-human transmission of the virus, it is becoming imperative that we understand more about the potential risk posed by animal infections.

Researchers at Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands, studied dogs and cats of people who had tested positive for COVID-19. A mobile veterinary clinic visited the homes of owners who had tested positive in the past two to 200 days and oral and rectal swabs and blood samples were taken from their cats and dogs.

The swabs were used in PCR tests, which provide evidence of current infection, and the blood samples were tested for antibodies, which provide evidence of past infection. Some 156 dogs and 154 cats from 196 households were tested. Six cats and seven dogs (4.2%) had positive PCR tests and 31 cats and 23 dogs (17.4%) tested positive for antibodies.

Eleven of the 13 owners whose pets had positive PCR tests agreed for them to undergo a second round of testing one to three weeks after they were first tested. All 11 animals tested positive for antibodies, confirming they had had COVID-19. Three cats still had positive PCR tests and were tested for a third time. Eventually, all PCR-positive animals cleared the infection and became PCR negative.

Eight cats and dogs that lived in the same homes as the PCR-positive pets were also tested again at this second stage to check for virus transmission among pets. None tested positive, suggesting the virus wasn’t being passed between pets living in close contact with one another.

With pets in 40 out of 196 households (20.4%) studied having antibodies for the virus, the researchers concluded that COVID-19 is highly prevalent in pets of people who have had the disease.

“If you have COVID-19, you should avoid contact with your cat or dog, just as you would do with other people,” said study investigator Dr. Els Broens with the Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. “The main concern, however, is not the animals’ health. They had no or mild symptoms of COVID-19, but the potential risk that pets could act as a reservoir of the virus and reintroduce it into the human population.”

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Older adults may be doing better during this pandemic than many people may realize. A new study involving older adults with pre-existing major depressive disorder has found no increase in depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers from five institutions, including UCLA, found that the older adults, who were already enrolled in ongoing studies of treatment resistant depression, also exhibited resilience to the stress of physical distancing and isolation.

“We thought they would be more vulnerable to the stress of COVID because they are, by CDC definition, the most vulnerable population,” said study investigator Dr. Helen Lavretsky, who is a professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, Los Angeles, California. “But what we learned is that older adults with depression can be resilient. They told us that coping with chronic depression taught them to be resilient.”

Researchers further determined that participants were more concerned about the risk of contracting the virus than the risks of isolation. While all maintained physical distance, most did not feel socially isolated and were using virtual technology to connect with friends and family. While they were coping, many participants said their quality of life was lower, and they worry their mental health will suffer with continued physical distancing.

Participants were upset by the inadequate governmental response to the pandemic. Based on the findings, the study authors write that policies and interventions to provide access to medical services and opportunities for social interaction are needed to help older adults maintain mental health and quality of life as the pandemic continues.

Dr. Lavretsky said further research is needed to determine the impact of the pandemic over time. The findings offer takeaways for others while weathering the pandemic. “These older persons living with depression have been under stress for a longer time than many of the rest of us. We could draw upon their resilience and learn from it,” said Dr. Lavretsky.The authors further emphasized that access to mental health care and support groups, and continued social interaction are needed to help older adults weather the pandemic.

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