Senior Psychology
Is it the Blues or Depression?

In this section, we will be exploring the subject of Aging Gracefuly – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our first article deals with the mental aspect.

It's not unusual to be in a funk now and then. You can’t seem to get interested in much of anything, so you sit in front of the television–maybe even for hours–which only exacerbates your blue mood.

This general malaise could be the result of a number of things happening to you – all at the same time. You may experience something like this after you retire and/or move. Even if you were looking forward to this change, you may find that it’s hard to adjust without a set schedule. You may also experience a real loss as a result of no longer being affiliated with a group of people. As a result, your enthusiasm diminishes.

There are a myriad of other possibilities for the blues, such as menopause, changes in energy and health, chronic pain or family troubles. Sometimes such feelings can be attributed to the loss of someone or something (your home, your job, or standard of living), and grieving is an appropriate reaction to such loss. But there does come a time when such grieving is unhealthy and counterproductive. Whatever the reason is, these unpleasant kind of blah feelings are red flags telling you that your thinking and attitude may be stuck in an obsessive or self-defeating groove.

If you suspect that your blue feelings are temporary, and you want to find your way out of them, try doing something different. What if you simply need a change of scenery or environment? Try going for a walk. Look at the world around you, notice the trees, the flowers, feel the sun on your face. You can always go see a film, visit a museum, take a friend to lunch, reach out to others. Make yourself move.

Unfortunately, one of the more frequent complaints of older adults is more serious than a blue mood. Feelings of sadness or emptiness probably strike all of us at one time or another, but if you are regularly experiencing sadness throughout much of the day, day after day, something needs to be done.

Depression Symptom Checklist

Check any symptoms experienced for more than 2 weeks. If you check four or more of the symptoms, then see your doctor. Remember, your physician can evaluate you physically, to determine that the symptoms are not being caused by some other medical problem. He or she may also recommend that your talk with a therapist or psychiatrist for further evaluation:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down"
  • Sleep problems (insomnia, oversleeping, early morning waking) 
  • Eating problems (loss of appetite or weight, weight gain) 
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism 
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; a suicide attempt 
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Recurring aches and pains that don't respond to medical treatment 

If your doctor has ruled out medical causes, he or she may recommend that you take an antidepressant. Many mature adults who were always positive and outgoing people find it strange that that depression has found them.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting help for clinical depression can be a person's attitude. Many people think that depression will go away by itself, or that they're too old to get help, or that getting help is a sign of weakness or moral failing. Such views are simply wrong. Don’t look at taking a ‘pill’ as a sign of weakness. Instead, know that you are taking action to get back to feeling like yourself again.

Here’s the good news - Depression is a treatable problem! Even the most seriously depressed person can be treated successfully, often in a matter of weeks, and return to a happier and more fulfilling life. Such outcomes are a common story, even when people feel hopeless and helpless.  Take control of your own happiness and take action. The best years are yet to come!

Excerpts taken from The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies and Psychology Info

For more information on this topic, visit

Web MD -


Entertainment for Seniors

Studies show that computer games stimulate the mind and can improve skills and maintain memory. Each issue of SeniorStyle will feature a new game to entertain you! This issue we bring you Alpattack - save the planet from the alpha bombs while increasing your hand eye coordination and typing skills!


New podcast discusses when to start receiving retirement benefits
By Social Security Public Affairs Specialist - Ozella Bundy

Have you been wondering when the best time is to retire? If you have, then we have an audio podcast just for you.

Social Security’s new podcast, “Deciding When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits,” is available for you to listen to now at

In this discussion, Social Security will tell you some of the things you need to consider before making one of the most important decisions in your life. Social Security’s Deputy Commissioner for Communications, Jim Courtney and Jason Fichtner, the Acting Deputy Commissioner of the agency, explore the factors to be considered when you think about when to retire.

“There is no one ‘best age’ for everyone,” explains Fichtner in the podcast. “Ultimately, it’s a personal choice that people have to make based on their individual circumstances.”

The podcast encourages listeners to use Social Security’s online Retirement Estimator, which you can find online at The Retirement Estimator can help you “try on” different retirement scenarios, playing with such variables as when you’d like to retire and how much you expect to earn in future working years.

So stop wondering when the best time is for you to retire. Your first step to figuring out the answer to that question is to visit and to listen to “Deciding When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits.”

Then, you’ll want to subscribe to the ongoing series, or bookmark the web address and check back for additional podcasts.

To learn more about Social Security, visit the website at


Is Medicare Advantage for You?  

Now that Medicare Part D’s open enrollment is over, SHIIP reminds North Carolina’s Medicare beneficiaries that the open enrollment period for Medicare Advantage plans is going on now, Jan. 1 through March 31. Medicare Advantage plans offer various types of coverage options for beneficiaries including Medicare HMOs, Medicare PPOs, Medicare Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) Plans and Special Needs Plans. While all of the options are approved in North Carolina, their availability varies depending on location.

While some beneficiaries choose to stay with Original Medicare, others have found that Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can offer more diverse coverage. MA plans typically require additional copayments and coinsurance, but they also have an out-of-pocket maximum and eliminate the need for a Medicare supplement policy. They may also require beneficiaries to use in-network providers, which is why it is important to determine if a patient’s current doctors and hospitals accept MA plans before signing up. No matter what Medicare health insurance option beneficiaries choose, they will continue to pay the Medicare Part B premium. 

The four types of MA plans each work differently and are as follows:

1.      Medicare Health Maintenance Organizations — Medicare HMOs offer services through a network of contracted hospitals, doctors and other providers. People with Medicare who join an HMO are required to receive all their non-emergency Medicare services from the HMO’s network of providers. Typically, HMOs have small copayments for covered medical services and. require referrals for specialized medical services.

2.      Preferred Provider Organizations — Medicare PPOs also have a network of medical providers, however, PPOs usually do not require the primary care physician’s referral for specialized medical services. PPOs have copayments for medical services received from providers in the network, and higher out-of-pocket expenses for medical services received outside the network.

3.      Private-Fee-for-Service Plans — Medicare PFFS Plans are offered by private companies to provide health care coverage to people with Medicare on a pay-per-service agreement.  The PFFS plan may offer additional health benefits as well including prescription drug benefits, vision, hearing, wellness programs, and other coverages. With a PFFS plan you can go to any Medicare-approved doctor or hospital in the United States that accepts the terms of PFFS plan. Since there is no network of providers, you should check with your doctor/hospital to be sure they accept the PFFS plan. The insurance company, rather than Medicare, decides how much services cost.

4.      Special Needs Plans — Medicare Special Needs Plans typically limit their membership to people in specific institutions, such as a nursing home, people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, or people with certain chronic or disabling conditions.

Depending on beneficiaries’ current coverage, there are limitations about when they may enroll and from which plans they may choose. Generally speaking, you can only switch your coverage during the MA Open Enrollment Period and you cannot decrease or enhance your current coverage if you switch to a Medicare Advantage plan.

For example, if you currently have an Original Medicare plan plus a Part D prescription drug plan or if you have a MA plan that includes prescription drug coverage, you may only switch to a MA plan that offer prescription drug coverage — you must keep the same level of prescription drug coverage. Likewise, if you have a MA plan that does not include prescription drug coverage, you may not switch to a MA plan that includes prescription drug coverage.

For beneficiaries that are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid and who receive the Extra Help/LIS, it is possible to switch to any MA regardless of their current prescription drug coverage.

It can be extremely confusing when deciding which Medicare coverage is best for you or your loved one. SHIIP is available to help you understand your options, and it is worth it to contact us before you make any decisions about switching your coverage. To speak with a trained SHIIP specialist, call 1-800-443-9354.

For specific questions about Medicare-related questions, please contact the SHIIP Division with the NC Department of Insurance at 1-800-443-9354. For media requests about SHIIP or Medicare questions, contact the Department’s Public Information Office at 919-733-5238.


Reverse Mortgages - Understanding the basics
Stay in your home with peace of mind

Many older Americans facing retirement want to find a way to increase their monthly income. Today, more than ever before, there are new and innovative homeownership options helping seniors optimize cash flow and promote peace of mind.

One option, the federally-insured, variable Home Equity Conversion Mortgage
(HECM) enables seniors to borrow against the equity in their home without repaying
the debt for as long as they live in the house. That’s the “reverse” part of this kind of mortgage loan. Instead of making monthly payments, you can receive money. The loan proceeds can be used for any purpose, and taken out as a lump sum payment,
fixed monthly payment, line of credit or as a combination.

“It’s exactly what the name implies,” said Walt Schaefer, a reverse mortgage sales manager for Wells Fargo based in Cornelius, N.C. “Reverse mortgages give older homeowners an opportunity to secure financial independence.”

The HECM reverse mortgage is the most popular reverse mortgage available today. Through the program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development insures mortgages that allow homeowners age 62 or over to convert their home equity into tax-free income. The program has insured over 300,000 reverse mortgages since 1990.

“As many seniors approach retirement, they begin to realize their major asset is likely to be their home,” Schaefer said. “By the time the average person retires, they own a house that’s usually worth more than they paid for it.”

When you take out a reverse mortgage, nothing happens to your home. You remain the owner for as long as you live there, and you will never be forced to move. If you decide to sell or move from your home, the outstanding balance of your reverse mortgage becomes due, just as it would with a traditional mortgage. Unlike a traditional mortgage, however, your balance can never exceed the value of your home when you sell it.

The maximum loan amount for a reverse mortgage is based primarily on four factors: the age of the youngest borrower, the location and value of the home, and the current interest rate. You must occupy the home as your principal residence for a majority of the year. The property must be a single-family or two-to-four unit dwelling. Townhomes, detached homes, condominium units, planned unit developments and some manufactured homes are eligible.

The home doesn’t have to be owned free and clear to qualify for a reverse mortgage. You may qualify for a reverse mortgage if the home has a low remaining mortgage that can be paid off at the closing with proceeds from the reverse loan. Borrowers are responsible for paying their taxes, insurance and upkeep on the home.

“For those baby boomers nearing retirement age, now is a good time to talk to a tax or an estate-planning advisor to see if a reverse mortgage is in their best interest,” Schaefer said. “Even though reverse mortgages have been around for awhile, most people don’t hear about them or even talk to a financial planner until after they retire. Reverse mortgages are a solid option for financial planning.”

Reverse mortgages offer a real solution to senior homeowners hoping to improve their quality of life. One of the biggest selling points: flexibility. These funds can be used at the homeowner’s discretion to pay for things such as home improvements, medical expenses, long-term health care insurance premiums or even a vacation.

“In some cases, we are taking people who are just getting by on their Social Security checks and helping them find a way to enjoy retired life,” Schaefer said.

To be eligible for a HUD reverse mortgage program, HUD requires that the homeowner live in the home as his or her primary residence, be at least 62 years of age or older, and own the home free and clear, or only have a low remaining mortgage balance that can be paid off at the closing with proceeds from the reverse loan. As a key consumer protection, all borrowers are required to participate in a free educational session with a HUD-approved counselor in order to determine if a reverse mortgage is the best option.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage is the nation’s leading retail originator of reverse
mortgages in the nation and is in a unique position to serve consumers. Wells Fargo is among only a few lenders to offer a network of reverse mortgage lending specialists across the country.

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