How to transform your backyard | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

We asked the pros how to install magical, twinkling outdoor lights — on a budget.

This year’s hottest venue? Your own backyard. Maybe you’ve got the plants and furniture down, but you want to take the space truly over the top, so it looks just as incredible as your favorite restaurant’s outdoor dining setup. Short of splurging on a fancy firepit area building outdoor awnings, there’s a functional, budget-friendly move you can make that’ll totally set the mood. And that’s installing outdoor lighting like a pro.

Many restaurants hire lighting companies to put up their twinkly string lights, but that can set you back thousands. With the right tips and tricks, you can totally DIY. That’s why we turned to event and experience production company Cloth and Flame. Their team is so adept at installing lighting, they can rig it up in the even the most remote places (think: the top of the Grand Canyon or the middle of a dessert). Here is their creative, resourceful advice.

Choose the Right Type of String Lights

Google “string lights” or “café lights” and hundreds of different varieties will pop up. Nathan Lesueur, the lead designer at Cloth and Flame gives us guidance.

Avoid interior lights. Stay away from Christmas lights or anything that’s labeled as an interior light, because these won’t be weather-proof.

Read buyer reviews. Amazon and Costco are great sources for inexpensive string lights, but terms on sellers’ pages like “industrial” or “commercial” don’t mean much. “My only reliable source, no matter what I’m buying is doing the research and reading verified reviews of what other people have experienced that item,” Lesueur says.

Make sure the bulbs are generic and replaceable. Bulbs might break when you install the lights, and they’ll burn out over time. You want to make sure that you can buy generic replacements that screw in. Proprietary bulbs will be more expensive and harder to source down the line.

Buy long strands instead of connecting strands end to end. 25-feet-long lights are the most common, but for safety reasons there’s usually a limit to the number you can plug together. To achieve lots of light yardage, look for 50-foot or even 100-foot light strands.

Use warm light, not cool light. “Warm bulbs are more natural and better on skin tones that bright white daytime lights or LED bulbs. Warm light is like the glow of the sun as opposed to a bright refrigerator light,” explains Lesueur. Plus, warm light photographs better than cool light. “It’s fun to create a sanctuary at home that’s also photographable so people want to share it,” says Lesueur.

Install Your String Lights with Upcycled Materials

There’s no need to buy a crazy expensive lighting kit. Instead, there are some simple, inexpensive ways to repurpose items around your home as lighting poles. “The best things you can use are practical, everyday things and are also reusable for other functions,” Lesueur says.

Some smart ideas? Home Depot sells flagpole yard inserts, which lots of people use. You can also buy inexpensive electric polls that are usually used as conduits. Home Depot will cut these lightweight polls to whatever height you’d like — they’re easy to mount to a wall, stick in the ground in your yard or even secure upright in an umbrella stand. If you prefer a wooden look, head to Ikea, and snag some wooden poles.

If you don’t want to hang your lights between poles, use natural suspension points like the side of your house or the support beams underneath a deck ceiling.

One thing to keep in mind? You should hang your lights so they fall in arches. “I’ve noticed with a lot of installations of this type of light, people trying to pull the lights too tight and that causes tension issues on the poles,” Lesueur explains. Plus, allowing the lights to drape down adds dimension from multiple angles — above you and to the side of you.

Make Your Setup Pop with Other Lighting Too

Click here for the rest of the story… and some great photos too!

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7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive Shield Insurance Agency

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

It feels impossible to book cheap flights at the moment, but experts say there are still deals to be found.

If you’ve tried to book a flight lately, you might have noticed a couple of things: The prices are looking high, and the options are looking limited.

This isn’t particularly surprising. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration says, it screened 2,167,380 passengers at airport security checkpoints, the highest volume since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, airlines have not yet resumed offering as many flights as they did pre-pandemic, after making schedule reductions over the past 15 months. The result is higher demand and lower supply ― ergo, expensive tickets.

“As of June 2021, it seems flights have rebounded back to their pre-pandemic pricing,” said Rocky Trifari, travel blogger at The Rocky Safari. “In some cases, I’m noticing flight costs are even higher than they were during the summer of 2019. I believe prices are especially expensive at the moment because of all the last-minute travelers who are looking to take advantage of the summer to travel now that many domestic and even international destinations have reopened.”

Although air travel is generally pricier now compared to a year ago, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal. Below, Trifari and other experts share their advice for securing cheap flights.

Prioritize cost over date and destination.

“To book cheap flights, you must make cheap flights a priority,” said Darci Valiente, a senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“All too often when people think about booking a vacation, they first sit down and think about where and when they want to go,” she explained. “Imagine you and some friends are planning to take a trip together and it is decided, ‘Let’s go to Greece for the last two weeks of August.’ As a result, when you go to book your flight, you’ll likely end up paying $1,200 round-trip for one ticket to Athens for your dates.”

It’s common to prioritize destination and dates over cost, particularly for families limited by school holiday schedules. But if you’re able to take another approach, Valiente advises beginning your search by asking, for example, “Where are there cheap flights to out of our airport?” and “Are there any destinations that are cheap in August?”

“In [this] scenario, you might find that there are $480 roundtrip fares to Rome available for the first two weeks of August,” she said. “You and your friends book these tickets instead, have a great time in Italy, and save $720 per person on airfare.”

Use flight search engines.

“If you’re looking to find affordable flights, you should always use a source that aggregates flights from numerous airlines so you can compare the rates,” Trifari said.

This can be useful for search purposes even if you intend to book through the official carrier ― though you may change your mind.

“You may find certain websites can shave a bit off from the bottom price, scoring you an even better deal than had you booked directly through an airline’s own website,” Trifari said.

He advised checking out websites like SkyscannerExpediaGoogle Flights and CheapOair to score good deals. Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of The Points Guy, told HuffPost he recommends OrbitzTravelocityHotwire and CheapTickets as well.

In addition to comparison-based search engines, there are other tools aimed at helping travelers find affordable options.

If you’re willing to give up “some of the comforts of travel such as taking direct flights, you can use booking tools like Skiplagged to discover connecting flights that have layovers to secure a better deal,” Trifari suggested. “The trade-off is that it will take you longer to arrive at your destination, since you may have to stop at one or two other airports along the way.”

Set up alerts.

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Recovering your business after a storm Shield Insurance Agency

Property losses to anticipate after a severe weather event

Recovering your business after a storm: 5 property losses to anticipate after a severe weather event

As natural disasters become increasingly costly, property damage claims are on the rise. Since 2011, the U.S. has seen at least $20 billion a year in estimated insured property losses. Alarmingly, that number has risen annually, culminating in a 2020 insured property loss of more than $74 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Property claims are often a given in the aftermath of a severe weather event, meaning that business leaders need to have a plan to prepare for potential property loss or damage. Follow along to learn about five common property losses businesses can expect after an extreme weather event.

1. Property damage

After the storm has passed, evaluating and addressing the damage done to your business’ infrastructure is a pressing concern. Extreme weather events like hail, tornadoes, flooding, and even strong winds can cause extensive property damage, and you’ll need to work with your insurance provider to determine the extent of the damage and the estimated funds required for repair. If property damage has destroyed your building or rendered it temporarily uninhabitable, you should have a contingency plan in place to resume normal business operations, store equipment, and protect existing inventory.

2. Equipment breakdown

Weather events, particularly those that involve flooding or heavy rainfall, can damage equipment needed to maintain business operations. Servers, electrical systems, heavy machinery, and other equipment might be damaged or destroyed entirely. Before reopening, ensure your equipment is functional and safe for use. You should also talk to your insurance provider about how to account for unexpected wear and tear, which may shorten the life of your equipment and lead to financial losses down the road.

3. Theft and vandalism

During and after natural disasters, many business owners worry about theft and vandalism, although sometimes it can be hard to determine whether looting has occurred, given the existing property damage. Regardless, vacant buildings can be susceptible to vandalism and theft without proper security and oversight. If your property requires post-event construction, you should work with your insurance provider and contractor to discuss potential liabilities during rebuilding. You can also take precautions, like hiring security, to help reduce your risk.

4. Business interruption and continuity plans

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Best podcasts for when you're on vacation, traveling, or taking a road trip | Shield Agency Blog

Best podcasts for when you’re on vacation, traveling, or taking a road trip

Let these podcasts take you away from it all.

Entertainment > Podcasts

After over a year of isolation, wanderlust is swirling in the air, as many seek safe ways to re-emerge into the world with much-needed vacation or reunion trips. Whatever that re-emergence looks like for you, there’s definitely a podcast that can help heighten the experience.

But make no mistake: mid 2021 is certainly not the wholesale Back To Normal we might’ve hoped for, especially in countries and communities with low vaccination rates. The delta variant of COVID-19 is a real threat for the unvaccinated. The only way to move toward a true return to life before the pandemic is to increase vaccination rates around the globe.

With the right safety measures, though, vaccinated folks are now being given the green light to travel and reconnect with each other in person again. That also means you’re going to need travel-friendly entertainment to keep you company along the way.

As an audio-only medium that doesn’t require eyeballs or even WiFi to enjoy, podcasts make for ideal travel companions. Whether you’re getting to your destination via road trip, train, or airplane ride, a great podcast can make the boring parts of going on vacation more exciting. Even if you’re just taking time off to go on a local stay-cation or far-off hiking trail, you’ll have some free time to kill.

Whatever your travel plans may be, these podcasts can help you kick back, relax, and explore the big wide world. Just be sure to remember to pack your AirPods.

1. Atlas Obscura

What it is: This 15-minute daily travel podcast is home to all the world’s strangest, most unbelievable wonders. Host Dylan Thuras and other Atlas Obscura field reporters transport you to a variety of incredible places around the globe, be it a museum or ancient monument. Listen to the people, stories, and histories that make these amazing destinations ideal spots for the curious traveler.

Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Regain that sense of wanderlust that reminds us why every corner of the globe has a unique adventure worth exploring.

2. Stuff You Should Know

What it is: A favorite of many podcast listeners, the long-running Stuff You Should Know was so popular it spawned its own dedicated network (including other daily podcasts in a similar vein, like Stuff You Missed in History Class.) Since it covers everything under the sun, it’s important to note that hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant admit to not being experts on all these topics. Some with deep knowledge of certain subjects might even find their summaries frustratingly surface level. But they do a great job of at least sparking interest in a lot of important things we should all know about, which hopefully inspires listeners to research beyond what can be tackled in only an hour. [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup]

Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Regain that sense of wanderlust that reminds us why every corner of the globe has a unique adventure worth exploring.

3. The Experiment

The American experiment, often repackaged as the American dream, is one of the biggest sources of miseducation in our country. In this WNYC Studios and Atlantic collaboration, host Julia Longoria applies the ideals of America’s past that were held to be self-evident, then measures them up against our current reality. Bringing the high ideals of this country’s founding to everyday experiences, The Experiment can even find lessons in trash reality TV shows like 90 Day Fiancé. [From our Best Educational Podcasts roundup]

Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Even if you’re a resident of the country you’re traveling through, there’s still so much to learn about the place we call home.

4. Blood Ties

What it is: Fiction podcasts are going through something of a renaissance lately, with Blood Ties as a great example of the genre’s evolution in the mainstream. While it isn’t “true” crime, the wildly popular mini-series scratches that same itch for an engrossing story. Follow Eleanore Richland (voiced by Community’s Gillian Jacobs) as her annual family vacation turns to catastrophe after her parents’ plane crashes under mysterious circumstances. While the story itself may not be real, the themes certainly apply to the real world, as Eleanore uncovers family secrets that test her ability to stay true to her morals even when it hurts her loved ones.

Be sure to check out the other 18 podcasts in this great article!

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Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus Shield Insurance Blog

Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus

Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus

TOKYO (AP) — Fans will be banned from Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas when the Olympics venues begin to open in two weeks, the city’s governor said Thursday after meeting with organizers of the pandemic-postponed games.

That means the Olympics will be a largely TV-only event, after the Japanese government put the capital under a COVID-19 state of emergency because of rising new infections and the highly contagious delta variant.

The declaration was made by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and the spectator ban was agreed to by Japanese Olympic organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, and the metropolitan government of Tokyo.

It was a serious blow for Japanese taxpayers and local organizers of the games, which already had been postponed from 2020 by the coronavirus. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket revenue will be lost, and that must be made up by the government. Fans also have endured months of uncertainty about whether the Olympics will go ahead.

“Many people were looking forward to watching the games at the venues, but I would like everyone to fully enjoy watching the games on TV at home,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said after the meeting. “It’s gut-wrenching because many people looked forward to watching at the venues.”

Fans from abroad were banned months ago, and the new measures will mean no spectators in stadiums and arenas around Tokyo — both indoor and outdoor venues.

The ban covers Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures — Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. A smattering of events in outlying areas, like baseball in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, will allow a limited number of fans.

The state of emergency begins July 12 and runs through Aug. 22. The Olympics, which open July 23 and run through Aug. 8, fall entirely under the emergency period, while the Paralympics open Aug. 24.

“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said.

In principle, the July 23 opening ceremony at the new $1.4 billion National Stadium will be without paying fans, although some dignitaries, sponsors, IOC officials and others will be allowed to attend.

“We will have to review the situation about the dignitaries and stakeholders,” organizing committee President Seiko Hashimoto said of the opening ceremony.

“No fans was a very difficult decision,” she added.

Hashimoto acknowledged some regrets, particularly about the decision coming so late.

“We had no choice but to arrive at the no-spectator decision,” she said. “We postponed and postponed, one after another. I have done some soul-searching about that.”

The emergency declaration made for a rude arrival for IOC President Thomas Bach, who landed Thursday in Tokyo for the games. He attended the virtual meeting on fans from his five-star hotel for IOC officials where he was self-isolating for three days.

“What can I say? Finally we are here,” Bach said, sounding upbeat as he opened the late night meeting that ended close to midnight. “I have been longing for this day for more than one year.”

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, said many sponsors, federation officials and others would be considered to be “organizers” and thus would be allowed to attend venues. He said some might occupy public seating, but he said he did not know “the numerical details.”

Organizers had expected to generate about $800 million in ticket sales. Any shortfall — and it could be almost the entire amount — will have to be made up by Japanese government entities.

Japan is officially spending $15.4 billion on the Olympics, and several government audits say it’s much larger. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

Two weeks ago, organizers and the IOC allowed venues to be filled to 50% of capacity, with crowds not to exceed 10,000. The state of emergency forced the late turnaround, which was always an option if infections got worse.

On Thursday, Tokyo reported 896 new cases, up from 673 a week earlier. It’s the 19th straight day that cases have topped the mark set seven days prior. New cases on Wednesday hit 920, the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympics-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face requests to stay home and watch the games on TV.MORE ON TOKYO OLYMPICS:

“How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.

The rise in infections also has forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off the streets, allowing it only on remote islands off the capital’s coast.

“The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser.

He urged authorities to take tough measures quickly ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching.

Omi has repeatedly called for a spectator ban, calling it “abnormal” to stage an Olympics during a pandemic.

A government COVID-19 advisory panel on Wednesday expressed concerns about the resurgence of infections.

“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC’s income flow. It gets almost 75% from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled altogether.

About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, along with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters and media. The IOC says more than 80% of Olympic Village residents will be vaccinated.

Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.



More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin - 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin: 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

Retail banking, bonds, and Bitcoin: 3 financial institution trends to watch in 2021

“The banking industry can uniquely act as a primary source of stability,” McKinsey journalists wrote in an article on U.S. banking and the pandemic in May 2020. Despite the fluctuating economy, financial institutions rose to meet the challenges posed by the pandemic. They stayed strong for the last year and a half, acting as a stabilizing force for both national and local economies—and that stability makes them an attractive market for sureties in 2021 and beyond. But stability isn’t permanent. In this piece, we’re investigating three trends that will likely shape financial institutions and their relationships with surety agents this year.

1. Banks expand in underserved communities

In the surety underwriting space, larger financial institutions remain strong, particularly in major metro areas like New York City. While the pandemic has shifted the need for retail space across the industry, many banks continue to grow their retail footprint in select growth markets and underserved communities. According to a recent article from S&P, many large consumer banks experienced a net growth in retail space—particularly ATM locations—in select urban areas, despite a net decline in retail space for financial institutions nationwide. JP Morgan’s 2020 Annual Report reflects that trend. The report states that the bank will open “16 new community branches in traditionally underserved neighborhoods and hire 150 community managers by 2022… Another 100 new branches are being opened in low- to moderate-income communities across the United States as part of the firm’s market expansion initiative.”

For surety underwriters, this trend offers the opportunity to provide major consumer banks with several types of bonds:

  • Mechanic’s lien bonds, which protect contractors that have filed a lien by guaranteeing that any payment that is due to them (including interest) will be paid should they win the case.
  • Site improvement bonds, which protect the local government by guaranteeing that the improvements will be done in accordance with the applicable regulations.
  • Utility bonds, which protect utility companies by ensuring the banks pay for their utilities on time

3. The rise in court bonds

In the aftermath of Covid, many industries—not just financial institutions—will likely experience a greater need for appeal bonds. A type of court bond, surety firms offer these bonds to guarantee payment of monetary damages from civil lawsuits during and after the appeals process.

The need for additional appeal bonds across industries is due primarily to pandemic-related litigation. One study by an analytics company tracking the rise in Covid-related court filings found more than 1,500 cases in just four months, from March 1 to July 4, 2020. By May 2021, that number had increased to 6,900 Covid-related cases, with pandemic-related filings likely to continue for months, or even years. For some companies, audits and investigations prompted by pandemic-related suits may uncover other areas for potential scrutiny—for example, if a company is not following a proper procedure.

Surety companies should anticipate a rise in appeal bond demand for years to come, both from pandemic-related filings and cases brought to light by Covid-era investigations.

3. Accelerated interest in cryptocurrency

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Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone | Shield Insurance Blog

Should You Buy a Refurbished Phone?

A pre-owned model can be a great deal, according to CR members, as long as you know what to look for.

Refurbished phones account for a small fraction of industry sales. But they can be a great option for anyone looking for significant savings—especially these days, when the price of a new model can easily exceed $1,000.

On Apple’s website, for example, you can purchase a refurbished iPhone XR with 128 gigabytes of storage for $470. A new XR with that much space costs $550.

Samsung offers a refurbished Galaxy S20 for $650, and that’s pretty much the only way to get one of those. All three of the S20 models scored well in Consumer Reports’ labs, but they were discontinued earlier this year. Buying the latest version, the Galaxy S21, will cost you $800.

And according to a spring 2018 survey, CR members have been generally satisfied with purchases like those, not to mention their overall shopping experience.

Among the 3,211 people who reported buying a refurbished phone since Jan. 1, 2016, 82 percent said they were highly satisfied with the product.

In fact, in our survey 67 percent of the owners of refurbished phones said they had no complaints. That’s just a hair less than the 69 percent of new smartphone owners who said the same thing.

“People are way more satisfied with refurbished phones than I would have thought,” says Karen Jaffe, who oversaw the refurbished phone survey

Know What You’re Buying

Not every company defines refurbished the same way. The bottom line is that you’re buying a used phone, one that someone probably bought a year or two ago and traded in for a discount on a new device.

The refurbished phones sold by Apple—online and in its stores—are restored with the same replacement parts used in new models, the company says. They come with a new battery, a new outer shell, new cables and accessories, and even a fresh white box.

Samsung uses similar standards for the refurbished phones sold on its website. It promises restoration to “like new” condition and a one-year warranty. 

But refurbished phones offered by other retailers don’t necessarily include new batteries. Only 52 percent of our survey respondents said the model they purchased came with one. Most (89 percent) said the phone came with a charging cord, but far fewer arrived with the earphones originally made by the manufacturer.

So look for products that are “certified pre-owned.” If they don’t meet that standard, ask the vendor for information on its restoration process, specifically whether it includes battery replacement, the standard accessories, and parts supplied by the manufacturer.

Amazon, the Apple Store, Consumer Cellular, and eBay are good places to start shopping. All earned favorable marks for overall satisfaction in our refurbished phone retailer survey.

AT&T and Verizon are among the lower-rated options.

Make Sure You’re Protected

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Safeco Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV

Safeco® Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV

Do you have an off road vehicle? Safeco will insure all-terrain vehicles with four or six wheels, a wide variety of utility-terrain vehicles (UTV), side-by-sides, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, golf carts, and other select off-road vehicles. Talk with a Safeco agent to get details about all the vehicles types we cover. Connect with your Safeco independent agent today to get the details and determine the best coverage options for your off-road vehicle: http://spr.ly/6053yTUUv Disclaimer: Subject to policy terms, conditions, and limitations. Discounts and savings available where state laws and regulations allow and may vary by state. State insurance requirements apply. Insurance offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and affiliates, Boston, MA.

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Set sail with peace of mind | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Set sail with peace of mind

Safeco® Captain’s Package Coverage: Set sail with peace of mind

Four reasons you can set sail with peace of mind when you enroll in the Safeco Captain’s Package. One New Boat Price Protection: in the event of a total loss, replaces boats/watercrafts less than two years old with a new boat/watercraft. Two Roadside Assistance: covers the boat/watercraft, trailer, and the car or truck you tow it with. Three Personal Effects Protection: increased protection limits to your base coverage. Four Emergency Assistance: Increases this coverage to $1,000. Connect with your Safeco independent agent today to find out more: http://spr.ly/6051yTUv3 Disclaimer: Subject to policy terms, conditions, and limitations. Discounts and savings available where state laws and regulations allow and may vary by state. State insurance requirements apply. Insurance offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and affiliates, Boston, MA.

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How to Assess When an Older Adult Requires Caregiving Assistance Shield Insurance Blog

How to Assess When an Older Adult Requires Caregiving Assistance

Sometimes an older adult’s need for additional help is obvious. It could be that he or she is having a hard time getting to appointments, seems confused by instructions or perhaps isn’t paying bills on time. More often, though, the change happens gradually. That’s where a professional assessment comes in. This comprehensive review of all aspects of person’s mental, physical and environmental condition is one way to determine if your loved one needs assistance. This helps to evaluate his or her ability to remain safely independent and identify risks and ways to reduce them.

A family member or caregiver also has an opportunity to evaluate how a loved one is doing in terms of health, safety and quality of life. “The goal,” says Ardeshir Hashmi, M.D., section chief of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, “is to pick up clues early, before they start to impact day-to-day life a significant way, so we can do something about them.” Here are red flags to look for, which may signal a loved one needs further evaluation — and possibly more support.

Mobility

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, more than 1 in 4 older adults will have a fall. To make sure your loved one isn’t part of that statistic, evaluate their living space, including potential fall hazards: unsafe indoor or outdoor stairs (especially without railings) or slippery throw rugs. Are they using unsafe stepladders or stools to reach for items on kitchen shelves? Do the soles of their shoes have good traction?

Pay particularly close attention to how well your loved one is getting around. A lack of mobility not only takes a physical toll, it can also have psychological repercussions. Lindsey Yourman, M.D., a geriatrician affiliated with the University of California, San Diego Health-Jacobs Medical Center, points to something known as life space, which is the area that you can walk to safely — meaning the environment that is available to you on a regular basis. “Decreased life space can mean decreased interactions with other people and decreased engagement in activities,” Yourman says, “which can lead to isolation and depression.”

There are some ways to evaluate a person’s mobility to see if he or she is steady on their feet. One is the timed up-and-go test: Mark a line about 10 feet from a chair. At the word “go,” ask your loved one to stand up from the chair, walk at a normal pace forward to the line, turn, walk back to the chair and sit down. On average, people who take 12 seconds or more to complete the test are at a high risk of falling. Also, observe them walking across a room and take note of their gait speed and the movement of their feet. Are they shuffling or dragging them? How far apart are their feet when walking? When someone spreads their feet far apart, that tends to indicate difficulty in balance. Other signs that may indicate strength or balance issues: difficulty rising from a chair, using furniture or a wall for support when walking, and difficulty pivoting. “If they walk down the hall and come back, how many steps does it take to turn? More than three steps may indicate a mobility issue,” Yourman says.

What to do: A certified aging-in-place specialist (CAPS) can suggest modifications to make your loved one’s home safer. These may include handrails on both sides of stairs, grab bars for getting in or out of the shower or a walk-in bathtub, a higher toilet seat or added ramps. In the kitchen, make it easier to reach everyday items by storing them in lower cabinets. Add inexpensive sliding pantry organizers and shelving to cabinets for easier access. A physical or occupational therapist can also evaluate the person’s home environment and mobility. A therapist can also recommend the best aid for your loved one and make sure they use it correctly. Pick-up walkers take a lot of effort, and their use can lead to a decrease in activity for someone with congestive heart failure or COPD who gets winded easily. “With a cane, you want to be sure it’s the right height,” Yourman says. “If it’s too tall or too low, it can throw off the mechanics of how you’re walking.”

Mental health

Depression can be tricky to spot in older adults. It’s normal for an older person to feel down every once in a while — perhaps frustrated by health problems or worried about money. What’s more, there isn’t necessarily a mood component. “We have a stereotype of depression as not getting out of the chair all day, kind of folding inward,” says Luci Draayer, a Denver-based clinical social worker and therapist. “That can be part of it, but there are other symptoms.” Among them: changes in energy levels; irritability or anger; loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities; difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more than usual; eating more or less than usual; and thoughts of death or suicide.

Dementia, meanwhile, is more a memory change or impairment. The common theme is forgetfulness, more than people would expect with normal aging. “Early on, changes and difficulty with what we call instrumental activities — financial management, managing medications and driving — on a daily basis may indicate impairment caused by dementia,” Hashmi says. Another cognitive issue, says Draayer, is “a loss of insight or poor judgment — say, the bathtub was left running and overflows because they left to go watch a movie.”

Depression sometimes gets misdiagnosed as dementia, since an older adult with depression may exhibit dementia-like symptoms. “People who have depression may not concentrate as well, and that may sometimes look like memory loss and dementia — we call that pseudodementia,” says Katherine O’Brien, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine, Division of Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Being able to distinguish between the two is important. “Depression is eminently treatable,” Hashmi says. “And when depression is treated early, memory and concentration can also improve.”

What to do: Ask your loved one if they’re feeling sad or anxious about something. A chronic illness or limited mobility increases a person’s risk of developing depression. Listen and offer emotional support. If you don’t live nearby, ask friends and neighbors to look in on your loved one. Also, work with the Area Agency on Aging to develop a support plan. Or consult a geriatric psychiatrist, a doctor trained to recognize and treat mental illnesses in older people. Treatment can include antidepressants, talk therapy or a combination of the two. Visit the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry’s website to find a specialist near you. Finally, ask your loved one’s primary care physician or pharmacist if a specific medication — or combination of drugs — could be causing their depression. If you suspect dementia, you may want to contact a neurologist.

Money matters

What you’re looking for: stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills, uncashed checks, and key home or legal documents that haven’t been dealt with. Another flag: unusual transactions or amounts of money going to charities. “During the pandemic, my clients have been bombarded with telemarketing scams,” says Robin Mansfield, a geriatric care manager and social worker at Aging Network Services.

What to do: The solution may be as simple as help sorting the mail and prioritizing. Offer to help with the more complicated matters while your loved one continues handling day-to-day household and personal finances. For example, help your loved one open another checking account that he could use for cash and basic needs, and pay the bills from his primary account. “You could suggest getting online access to at least look over their banking to see if something’s run amok,” says Virginia Morris, author of How to Care for Aging Parents. “You’re not managing or taking over their financial affairs, just acting as another set of eyes.” Also, many banks will arrange, with your parent’s permission, to have bank statements sent to you. You may also need to help your loved hire a financial manager. Finally, Morris says, be sure they have legal documents in place, so you are able to help manage affairs in an emergency.

Driving

By 2030, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, and about 85 percent will be licensed to drive. In fact, seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years, according to AAA. Multiple accidents or a number of tickets means it’s time to have a talk. “It can be subtle, like scratches or dings on the car,” Hashmi says, “particularly if your loved one can’t remember how they got there.”

What to do: Tag along for a ride and keep your eyes peeled. Is your loved one having close calls or getting lost on very familiar roads? Does there appear to be a cognitive problem or vision difficulties? It may be time for a medical evaluation. Poor vision may be easily fixed with a new pair of prescription glasses. Suggest that they refresh their driving skills by taking a driver safety course. AAA RoadWise Driver is an online course designed to help seniors adjust to age-related physical changes. The AARP Smart Driver course, available online or in a classroom, helps drivers 50 and older sharpen their skills — and may entitle you to a discount on insurance.

If it is time to hang up the keys, look for other transportation options to help your loved one get around and maintain their independence — from Uber and Lyft to senior shuttles in their town. The Independent Transportation Network of America (ITNAmerica) is a national nonprofit network of community-based transportation programs for seniors age 60 and older.

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