Seniors Keep Busy with Winter Activities

by Julia Little

The weather outside may be gloomy, but that doesn’t mean people in senior living have to cut down on their level of activity. During the winter months, older individuals have a host of options for keeping busy, either by themselves or with friends. Here are a few ideas to keep away the winter blues:

Arts and culture
Do you have a talent for hands-on activities? Consider sharing your passion for the arts by holding a crafting afternoon with some friends. You don’t have to break the bank to provide everything you need for a few hours of fun. If you have a specific craft in mind, pick up materials from a local art supply store, or try one of Sunrise Senior Living’s ideas for simple but creative holiday decorations. You might want to whip up a few snacks as well. Turn on some music and it’s a real party.

If you feel like heading away from home for the day, consider an afternoon outing to a nearby art museum or gallery. Check online or with your local community center for exhibitions going on in the area, and finish off your trip by visiting a café or restaurant for dessert or a bite to eat. Going to local galleries might also give you inspiration for your own artistic endeavors in the future. Many art institutes offer classes in different mediums, such as clay molding, sculpture, oil painting, drawing or watercolors.

Games and sports
Arts and crafts may not be your cup of tea, but that’s alright – there are many options for a fun afternoon or evening. Consider meeting up with a few people to play cards or a board game, or invite everyone to bring over a favorite activity. A few simple but perennially popular options include Crazy Eights or Swedish Rummy, I Doubt It, and Go Boom. These and other games can be a great way to get to know new friends as well, and learn about an activity you may not have discovered on your own.

It might seem like winter is the worst time to get into a new sport, but there are a lot of indoor options for staying active and socializing. For example, many community centers offer classes in Pilates or water aerobics that combine fun and fitness. You might also enjoy an afternoon of bowling, which can be played with aids like bumpers and a ball guide. If you’re the tech-savvy type, you can try a video game such as Wii Sports, which offers virtual options of your favorite activities and a great way to keep moving.

Explore your space
No matter how long you’ve lived in a city or town, there’s always something new to find. Scan the paper for upcoming events, such as concerts, book talks or lectures that might be of interest. You can also try checking out tourist information from a local community or welcome center that outlines some of the highlights of your home town. Maybe there’s a popular museum that you haven’t been to in a while, or a favorite restaurant that serves up some of your most-loved dishes. Play tourist for the day and explore your hometown like a traveler might. You can also turn this activity into a fun way to interact with younger family members, especially those who are visiting from out of town. Take them to see your favorite spots or locations where you’ve built fond memories over the years. Encourage them to share their own stories of places near and far that are important to them.



Pecan Pie

By: Deb Perelman

I realize this is an unpopular opinion and that you might even revoke my internet food ranting license for saying this, but I’m not particularly bothered by corn syrup in recipes. For me, it’s more of a math thing. It mostly shows up in things nobody is eating for underlying health benefits and we all understand we’re only supposed to enjoy in moderation (candies, caramels, etc.) so it’s hard to get up in arms over a glug of it in a recipe that yields a few dozen tiny items one might eat one or two a day of a few times a year. [I will now duck until you’re all done yelling.]

What does bother me about it however is that it’s just plain bland — it tastes like sweet nothingness, and while I can shrug this off in small quantities, in larger amounts, it’s particularly a bummer. I mean, if we are going to eat something that’s largely comprised of sugar, wouldn’t we rather that sugar taste like something? And this is why when it comes to pecan pie, there’s a whole extra dynamic of deeply toasted, luxurious flavor that can be instantly tasted by using golden syrup instead of corn.

Thus, here is the pecan pie recipe I’ve been promising you for most of the decade this site has been around. There’s no excuse for taking so long, I just figured most people were happy with the way they already made it and didn’t need my help, especially when help came in the form of an ingredient that must be tracked down. But then I made pecan pie both ways and the one with golden syrup, dark brown sugar and deeply toasted nuts was not even on the same level, it doesn’t even feel fair to compare them. These three things will send your pecan pie game into the stratosphere, into the other wordly realm. If I’m going to make pecan pie just on

Pecan Pie

Here are my rules for a really excellent pecan pie:
1. Toast your nuts! You must, you must. Do you want it to taste intensely like pecans, or just a caramel crunch? Toast your nuts.
2. Dark brown sugar trumps light brown because more molasses, more flavor.
3. Golden syrup tastes amazing here, and is worth the trouble of tracking it down. (See more, below.)
4. If you use golden syrup, do not add more than a pinch of salt. It contains a bit of sodium, more than corn syrup, and I’ve learned the hard way.
5. A tiny bit of cider vinegar (trust me) really helps balance out the aching sweetness of a gooey caramel pie.
6. Finally, if you gild the lily (of course you do), add some chocolate: After rolling out and par-baking your crust (if desired), place it in the freezer until solid, about 15 minutes. Melt 4 ounces of semi- or bittersweet chocolate chunks with 1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream until smooth. Spread over bottom of cooled crust. Freeze the crust again until the chocolate is solid, about another 20 minutes, before pouring in pecan mixture.

More about golden syrup: Golden syrup a light treacle or cane sugar syrup and if that didn’t sound delicious enough, it’s lightly toasted with a pinch of salt, giving it a caramel-ish vibe that’s so incredible, it’s no wonder it’s not just used as a sweetener in candies but straight out of the bottle over pancakes and hot cereal. (Something that would be flat-out gross with corn syrup.) In a classic pecan pie? Incomparable. A UK product, it’s becoming more and more available in the U.S. as people look for corn syrup alternatives. It’s easy to buy online, and if you have a local store that reliably sells it, give it a shout in the comments and I’ll try to make a list.

1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) fine sea or table salt
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/4 cup (60 ml) very cold water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup golden syrup (see Note up top)
A pinch or two of sea salt
2 cups (225 grams) pecan halves
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Make the pie dough:

  • By hand, with my one-bowl method: In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and sugar. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. (Some people like to do this by freezing the stick of butter and coarsely grating it into the flour, but I haven’t found the results as flaky.) Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • With a food processor: In the work bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and pulse machine until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Turn mixture out into mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup cold water and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together, right in the bottom of the bowl. If necessary to bring the dough together, you can add the last tablespoon of water.
  • Both methods: Wrap dough in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes. Longer than 2 days, it’s best to freeze it until needed.

Form the crust: On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a 12 to 13-inch circle-ish shape. Fold dough gently in quarters without creasing and transfer to a 9-inch standard (not deep-dish) pie plate. Unfold dough and trim overhang to about 1/2-inch. Fold overhang under edge of pie crust and crimp decoratively. If not par-baking, place in fridge until ready to fill. If par-baking, place in freezer for 20 minutes, until solid.

Par-bake the crust: [Optional, but will lead to a crispier base.] Heat oven 400°F (205°C). Line frozen crust with lightly buttered or oiled foil. Fill with pie weights, dried beans or pennies. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and let cool a little before filling.

Heat oven: (Or reduce oven heat, if you just par-baked your crust) to 350°F (175°C).

Prepare filling: Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice so that they toast evenly. Set aside until needed. If you like smaller bits, you can chop them, or as shown here, chop half of them (although I usually leave them whole).

In medium saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and stir in pecans, cider vinegar, vanilla and bourbon (if using). Pour into a bowl (so that it cools faster) and set the mixture aside to cool a little, about 5 to 10 minutes. Then, whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Pour mixture into prepared pie shell.

Bake: For 40 to 45 minutes. The pie is done with the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is slightly firm to the touch but still has some jiggle to it. Cool on a rack. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.



Let’s Do More to Fight Dementia

by Jeannine English, AARP President, October/November 2015
Do you ever forget the name of an actor or a song or someone you knew in school or the PIN for your ATM card? If you’re like a growing number of people, you might start to worry that something is wrong with your brain.

But in most cases, you needn’t worry. We all forget things on occasion. It’s usually normal and no cause for alarm.

Still, the growing anxiety over brain health reflects an ominous trend: The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is increasing sharply. And that trend could take a devastating toll on individuals, families and the entire health care system.

Costs for treating dementia are rising astronomically. One study found that by 2050, $1 out of every $3 spent by Medicare will go to dementia, and overall costs will exceed $1 trillion.

We cannot afford to stay on this course.

It’s time for society to recognize the magnitude of this problem and respond much more aggressively.

While the ultimate goal is finding a cure, we need ways to slow the progress of dementia after it has begun.

Also, we can do much more to improve care for people living with dementia. Family caregivers need support to help their loved ones live comfortably at home for as long as possible. More specialized training for health aides can improve care and lower costs.

Although we don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer’s, there is some evidence that people can reduce their risk of cognitive impairments by adopting certain lifelong habits that promote good health.

The AARP Staying Sharp initiative recommends that people get regular exercise, eat right, reduce stress, stay socially engaged and continue to learn throughout their lives.

I believe we all should support the development of a cure for dementia. But in the meantime, while we await that much-needed breakthrough, I hope you will join me in the challenge to practice good habits for your brain health every day.

Obama Administration Campaign Will Publicize Health Care Subsidies

by Robert Pear
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday said that it would wage a national advertising campaign to counter a perception among people with low incomes that health insurance under the Affordable Care Act was not affordable.

The television advertisements say that most people who sign up for insurance at can “qualify for financial help to make coverage more affordable,” with images showing that people who work in restaurants and at other low-wage jobs can slash their premiums with such assistance.

A three-month open enrollment period, during which people can compare and select health plans, begins Sunday.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, said officials were running the ads because “affordability is a big issue in terms of how people make decisions.”

Research by the government and private organizations shows that many consumers are not aware that financial help is available for those with lower incomes who buy insurance in the federal and state marketplaces. The subsidies are provided in the form of tax credits that lower monthly premiums. In most cases, the money is paid directly by the Treasury to insurance companies, not to consumers.

Administration officials said that many people who had the greatest need and desire for insurance had signed up in the last two years.

“We know it’s going to be harder, but we have to work smarter,” Ms. Burwell said of the coming enrollment period.

She said last week that she expected 10 million people to be enrolled in coverage through the federal and state marketplaces at the end of next year — a modest increase over the 9.9 million enrolled at the end of June.

In 2015, as in 2014, enrollment has been declining since early in the year. Ms. Burwell said officials did not fully understand why. “It’s an important question we continue to ask ourselves,” she said.

Some people who sign up for coverage lose it when they fail to pay their share of premiums. Others obtain insurance from employers or government programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

Many health plans offered on the public exchanges have high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. Ms. Burwell said the administration hoped to educate and empower consumers to help them understand the trade-offs between premiums and deductibles — the amount that people pay up front for medical care, before insurance begins to pay.

“Financial literacy is important,” Ms. Burwell said, and consumers can often save money by shopping around and switching to different plans. Insurance policies with lower premiums often have higher deductibles, and higher-priced plans often have lower deductibles.

Ms. Burwell said that the government would, as expected, emphasize that people who go without insurance in 2016 would face higher penalties. The penalty will be $695 for each uninsured adult or nearly 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater, compared with $325 per uninsured person or nearly 2 percent of income this year.

Ten federal insurance cooperatives created under the Affordable Care Act have collapsed or decided to cease operations under pressure from federal and state regulators concerned that they were losing money and might not be able to pay claims in the future. More than a half-million people insured by the co-ops will need to find other insurance for next year.

Ms. Burwell said those consumers could shop for alternatives in the public insurance marketplaces.

“All those people right now hopefully can use window shopping to figure out what they might want to do and choose as their alternatives,” Ms. Burwell said.

“Across the country,” she added, “the marketplace is stable. There are choices in most counties.”