What you need to know about tech support scams

Chances are, an offer to repair your computer is bogus

By Steve Baker for Next Avenue

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Credit: Getty Images

Over the last year or two, tech support scams have exploded. The fraudsters want to “remote in” (take control of a consumer’s computer), claiming there’s spyware or another dangerous problem, and offering to fix it. But there normally nothing wrong, and consumers pay $500 or more to fix a nonexistent “problem.”

Often, residents in senior living facilities fall victim to the scams.


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3 easy ways to give the perfect gift this season

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Do you ever struggle to find the perfect Holiday gift for loved ones, only to settle for something just so you can cross them off your shopping list?

We’ve all done it—given a gift that we know the receiver won’t love. This season, consider a gift they won’t want to return. If you know someone who values the meaningful work we do at Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America, consider making a donation in his or her honor. These tribute gifts are also a great way to remember loved ones who are no longer with us.


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What loneliness is doing to your heart

As social creatures, we suffer when cut off from one another

By Emily Gurnon for Next Avenue

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Credit: Getty Images

You may have heard that loneliness is hazardous to your health — and can even lead to an early death. Now, an analysis of 23 scientific studies gives us numbers that reveal just how sick it can really make you.

People with “poor social relationships” had a 29 percent higher risk of newly diagnosed heart disease and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the study, published July 1 in the British journal Heart.

That puts loneliness and social isolation on par with other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as anxiety and job strain, the researchers said. And it exceeds the risk posed by physical inactivity and obesity, said lead researcher Nicole Valtorta, of the Department of Health Sciences, University of York, England.

Given the results of the study, Valtorta said, “interventions to prevent coronary heart disease and stroke should take loneliness and social isolation into consideration.”

Such interventions could be relatively inexpensive, she added, especially given the fact that cardiovascular disease remains the most costly disease in the United States. It accounted for direct medical costs totaling $193 billion, according to a 2015 study from GoBankingRates.com.

There’s a difference

Loneliness and social isolation do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can be lonely in a crowd, or you can be by yourself and feel perfectly content. But when your experience is negative — you are not happy with the quality of your social interactions, or you’re grieving a loss — that “can be really disastrous for well-being,” Valtorta said.

Unlike other studies, Valtorta’s (which was published online in April) was the first to focus on whether people experiencing loneliness and isolation were at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It excluded people who were lonely but already had the disease.

Studies involving 181,000 people living mainly in the U.S., Europe and Japan were examined as a part of the meta-analysis, and they were tracked for a range of time — between three and 21 years. Among those people, there were 4,628 heart attacks or related events and 3,002 strokes.

The age of the subjects varied, and it wasn’t possible given the data to conclude whether a 75-year-old lonely person was more likely to have a heart attack than a 50-year-old, Valtorta said. The researchers did not find evidence of a difference between men and women.

Other research on isolation and health

A separate 2015 meta-analysis by Brigham Young University researchers concluded that both actual and perceived isolation were associated with early death.

Social isolation corresponded with a 29 percent greater risk of premature death; loneliness corresponded with a 26 percent greater risk and living alone corresponded with a 32 percent greater likelihood, according to the study, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation and loneliness threatened longevity as much as obesity did, the study said.

Two of the Brigham Young researchers were also involved in a 2010 study that found loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The problem is only getting worse, the scientists said.

“Humans are naturally social. Yet, the modern way of life in industrialized countries is greatly reducing the quantity and quality of social relationships … over the past two decades there has been a three-fold increase in the number of Americans who say they have no close confidants,” the study said.

All of the studies reinforce the growing recognition of loneliness as a public health issue.

A nonprofit coalition in Britain has responded by initiating the Campaign to End Loneliness, which among other things aims to broaden the services and activities available to those who may be lonely.

What we should be doing

Brigham Young researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad told Time magazine that nurturing close relationships as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. She said that policies to alleviate loneliness may be difficult to imagine but could include encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients and rethink the way neighborhoods are designed, the magazine said.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?’” Time quoted Holt-Lunstad as saying. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

Turkey With a Twist: Rethinking Thanksgiving

Our readers tell how they’ve adapted tradition to changing times

By Liza Kaufman Hogan for Next Avenue

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As Next Avenue readers gather together for Thanksgiving, many will be surrounded by family and friends they’ve celebrated with for years, sharing the same dishes they wouldn’t think of leaving off the menu.

And while they treasure tradition, some have adapted their customs to accommodate changes in their lives.

Last year, we asked our readers how they’ve reinvented the holiday to suit their needs and make the day more meaningful. Here’s what they said:

Popsicles and pinatas

Pamela Hastings from Port Angeles, Wash., says her family tired of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner years ago. Instead, she began hosting themed celebrations for her self-described family of foodies.

Three years ago, it was Thanksgiving-on-a-stick, with a menu that included stuffing muffins on sticks; a cherished family corn casserole made into balls and deep fried; pie folded over popsicle sticks and the turkey impaled by a large dowel. Another year it was all pies (potato pie, squash pie with pumpernickel bread crust, ricotta pie, artichoke pie, elk mincemeat pie and assorted dessert pies). Hastings once hosted a Mexican Thanksgiving, complete with a turkey piñata. This year the theme is Mediterranean, inspired by a friend’s baklava.

Goodbye, perfection — Hello, simplicity

Not everyone was as willing to be as creative with their meals as Hastings. Some readers said it was important to prepare a holiday meal that would make their grandmother proud with oven-baked, shiny brown turkeys and comfort food sides. Others traded in the Norman Rockwell-worthy turkey and trimmings for a simpler, low-stress meal.

“I don’t spend all day preparing food. We have a much simpler meal that includes some food prepared by our wonderful local grocery store and some made by myself or other family members,” says Elizabeth Y., of Virginia Beach, Va. ”In addition, I am working at job where I don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off — so, the holiday is no longer a four-day schmooze fest. It’s a simple gathering with those I love.”

Susan B. of Hudson, Wisc., says: “I always felt compelled to cook dinner like my mother, which was everything traditional.  Now my children just make their favorite dishes. It is always enough.”

Switching to healthier dishes

Let’s be honest, the average Thanksgiving meal packs a lot of calories. While some are happy to treat Thanksgiving like a $12.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, others prefer to stay on track with their healthful ways. Cooks, in turn, are finding ways to cut calories and fat from the sugary, butter-drenched dishes they grew up with.

“I don’t make the big feast my grandparents and parents used to, with all the calorie-laden dishes and three different pies!” writes Judy B. from Escondido, Calif. ”Mashed potatoes are now cauliflower mashed ‘potatoes.’ I don’t make stuffing because no one liked it except me, and I don’t need the extra calories. During the football games, we have changed from chips and dip to veggies and hummus.”

Katherine C. of Grand Rapids, Mich., says: “Pecan pie is no longer served. It should be called sugar pie with nut topping.”

Tofurkey roast and gluten-free foods

No matter how small the gathering, many hosts will have one or two guests who cannot eat certain foods or who follow a special diet. In the past few years, a lot of us have added gluten-free stuffing, vegan gravy and sugar-free fruit pies to the standard menu.

While her tofurkey roast may not make the cover of Martha Stewart Living, reader Linda Gonzalez, of Philadephia, Pa., says she’s thrilled to have it on her table, since she doesn’t eat meat.

Barbara Hoskins of Mesa, Ariz., says: “We have had to change the recipes to accommodate food allergies. Our turkey has to be gluten-free with no additives … We have stopped using dairy products because of dairy allergies. We have experimented with dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, garlic-free, and many other options.”

Family food wars

Of course, at times you do not want to mess with tradition. Families get used to certain dishes, and you change the menu at your peril.

“Every year we argue about the corn,”  says Janet S. of New Athens, Ill. ”We had scalloped corn for many years and then along came the corn casserole, the one made with cornbread mix. The first year I brought the ‘new recipe,’ they had a fit. I was told to go back to the old recipe and leave it that way. We are so locked in our traditions.”

At least two readers confessed to liking the canned, jellied cranberry over the various homemade versions that adorn Thanksgiving tables (and tablecloths) this time of year.

In an attempt to peacefully resolve the great cranberry sauce debate, we’ve put together a user poll (below) to settle once and for all whether ’tis better to serve homemade relish or just ease it out of the can (ridges and all), hoping it doesn’t slide off the other side of plate.

For those who want to add homemade cranberry sauce and a little kick to the meal, reader Dot Dickinson shared her friend Sherry’s recipe for Bourbon Cranberry Relish. We didn’t have time to run it through the Next Avenue test kitchen (a.k.a. the breakroom), but it looks lovely. Dot adds this helpful hint for the Thanksgiving cook in need of a break: “This is best if you taste the bourbon before adding it to the saucepan. It may take a couple of sips to make sure it is okay to add it to the cranberries.”

For something more traditional, try Pamela Hastings’ cranberry sauce, adapted from a Country Living recipe.

Shifting the calendar

Even if you are not hosting and cooking for a big family with different tastes for Thanksgiving, just getting there can be a stressful experience, as you try to not be trampled at the airport or tailgated on the highway.

Leah Antignas, of Oakland, Calif., figured out how to avoid the Wednesday evening turkey race a while ago. She says: “Instead of taking off work the day before to travel to family, we take off work the Monday after. My husband and I drive early Thanksgiving day from the Bay Area to L.A. so we can avoid the Wednesday traffic and arrive in time for the gathering. Long drive but little traffic — what a relief. We made this shift years ago and have never turned back.”

Meals with special guests

Some Next Avenue readers have decided to have their Thanksgiving meals with special people beyond their family members.

“Instead of inviting people to our home, we bring food to our church where we host a meal for those who have nowhere else to go. We serve and eat there, meeting many remarkable people,” Doroth Van Haaften of Idaho Falls, Idaho, wrote in to say.

Julie Tomlinson of Cary, N.C., says the traditional Thanksgiving family gathering is stressful and she winds up eating too much. Instead, she says, “I plan to create a family of my choosing, comprised of women in my age group, living with or near one another, helping and caring for each other. The Golden Girls dream of women across the country, and beyond. We will create new traditions. My contribution will be healthier meals.”

“It used to be all about the immediate family,” writes Susan H. of Mahopac, N.Y.  “However, with older parents (and) relatives passing away and some other family members who grow up and start their own family traditions, it’s more difficult to try to organize the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The last few years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with our friends instead of family.”

New families, new traditions

As families grow and add new members, the menu has inevitably changed. “We try to incorporate a special dish that each guest remembers from her family’s tradition: e.g. kimchi for a Korean-American; Brussels sprouts for our New England friends; mince pie for our English guests, along with our own family recipes,”  says Lynnett Evans of San Francisco, Calif.

“Our son married a New England girl, so squash on our table is a must (though the marriage is over)! One daughter married a fellow from the South, so we added sweet potato casserole to the menu … he’s still with us!” says HelenMarie M. of Fort Washington, Penn.

Moving more, sitting less

Even with crustless pumpkin pies and cauliflower mashed potatoes on the menu, our tendency is to eat beyond our recommended daily calorie intake. Many readers say they have added nature walks and hikes to their Thanksgiving Day traditions, for exercise and to enjoy the outdoors together.

We always walk after the meal. Well, most of us!” writes Leanna from Lewes, Del.

What they’re watching

Some traditions die hard: Many people wrote in to defend spending time on the couch watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football and holiday movies. But Deborah R. of Churchville, Md., wrote poignantly of the change her family has made to make the day enjoyable for her mother-in-law who has dementia. “Instead of a more adult movie we might prefer, we watch ‘Peanuts’ cartoons she can understand and that we enjoy as well.”

Being thankful

And lest the meaning of the day get lost under all that food, many readers said they take time to focus on giving thanks.

Claudia Skelton, of Seattle, Wash., says her family uses the holiday to recall happy memories thinking “about previous family Thanksgiving events and (writing) a few words about those memories. Those memories are what I am thankful for.”

“The one tradition we will never change is having each person at the table tell something he or she is especially thankful for,” says HelenMarie of Fort Washington, Penn. ”This will probably be my dad’s last Thanksgiving. He is 97 and is having more difficulty negotiating the travel from his personal care community. So it will be special in that way.  Future family celebrations will evolve.

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.

How to keep off extra pounds during the holidays

These seven practical steps can make a difference

By Rashelle Brown for Next Avenue

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Credit: Thinkstock

With the holidays right around the corner, your calendar is probably already filling up with friendly parties, formal dinners and family gatherings. All of that celebrating can take a toll on the body. Polls and scientific studies estimate that many Americans gain between one and five pounds during the holiday season.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that most of us won’t lose that weight over the next year. By the time we reach our fifties and beyond, the accumulation of those holiday pounds can pose a significant health risk. To help you enjoy this holiday season without gaining extra weight, here are seven tips you and your family can use:

7 practical, everyday tips

These seven tips are specific little things that are easy to implement throughout the holiday season and will help keep you from consuming more calories than you burn.

  1. Eat before attending events. Knowing that you have a holiday party coming up in the evening, you might think it’s a good idea to eat less throughout the day, but that’s actually setting yourself up for an overindulgence disaster. By eating healthy meals and snacks throughout the day, you’ll ensure a constant supply of energy and reduce the likelihood of party-time cravings and the associated bingeing.

Your best buffer against consuming a ton of empty calories at a party is to eat a fiber- and nutrient-dense meal or substantial snack right before you head to the party. Some good options are a lightly dressed salad with plenty of veggies and legumes, a bowl of bean soup or a healthy whole grain pilaf.

  1. Employ the every-other rule with alcohol. One of the biggest calorie culprits at holiday gatherings is that cup of cheer. Alcoholic drinks can contain 80 to 500+ calories per serving and, what’s worse, studies have shown that drinking alcohol makes it likely you’ll consume more food calories as well. One of the tactics I describe in my weight-loss book, Reboot Your Body: Unlocking the Genetic Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss, is what I call the “every-other” rule, which requires you to drink a full glass of water between every alcoholic beverage you consume. Doing this makes you feel fuller and keeps you hydrated, which can be important for regulating hunger signals.
  2. Go green, and red and orange. Some holiday events are more formal affairs, involving sit-down dinners rather than roaming appetizer platters. In those instances, you can greatly reduce the number of calories you consume by opting for the plant-based entrée and by starting with a large salad free of meats, cheeses and creamy dressings. By filling up on fibrous vegetables, legumes and whole grains, you’ll be less likely to overeat when the dessert tray comes rolling by.
  3. Double down on exercise. Another good way to fight holiday weight gain is by offsetting extra calories consumed with more calories burned. If you already exercise regularly, now is the time to ramp up your routine, either by adding more minutes or by upping the intensity.

If you don’t exercise, but are healthy enough to do so, then starting now — rather than waiting for Jan. 1 to roll around — is a good idea. If you can’t dedicate a big chunk of time to exercise every day, look for ways to work more activity into your normal daily routine. Breaking up a workout into two shorter sessions is one good strategy, but doing many short bouts of exercise throughout the day is just as effective in terms of the calorie burn. These short “activity snacks” can also be a good way to re-energize whenever you find yourself feeling sluggish.

  1. Rethink your holiday traditions. There’s no doubt that food and drink are important elements of many holiday traditions, but I encourage you to ask yourself whether they should be the central elements of those traditions. Imagine a holiday season that places more emphasis on the gathering and fellowship among friends and family and less emphasis on the meals and treats.

At my family’s gatherings, many things change from year to year, but one thing remains the same: There is always too much of everything. By taking a more moderate approach and limiting your holiday smorgasbord to a very few delicious traditional dishes, you can actually create a greater sense of enjoyment. With less competition on the buffet table, guests can slow down and better appreciate what’s in front of them.

  1. Start your day by setting your intentions. This is a quick and easy strategy to implement, and by doing it every day it becomes powerfully effective. When you first wake up, before you do anything else, take one or two minutes to set your healthy habit intentions for the day. Think about the events you’ll be attending and how you plan to navigate them. Remind yourself that the holiday season is about connecting with others and practicing gratitude and compassion, and that the overconsumption of food and drink doesn’t need to be a part of that.
  2. Share your goals with family and friends. One of the keys to behavior change I write about in my book is building a strong social network to support your healthy habits. By telling others about your healthy holiday goals you gain two advantages. First, you reduce or eliminate potential obstacles; once your friends and family know about your goals, they’ll be less likely to put you in tempting situations and more likely to offer emotional support. Second, by making your intentions known to others, you add an important accountability check against your actions. You won’t be as likely to grab another cookie or glass of champagne in front of a friend who’s part of your accountability circle.

By implementing these tips, you can create and participate in a holiday season that’s festive, full of enjoyment, and missing nothing but the extra pounds.

I don’t know about you, but this holiday season I’m looking forward to a Jan. 1 that doesn’t involve an emergency weight loss plan!

© Twin Cities Public Television – 2016. All rights reserved.