Airbnb a boon for Florida seniors

May 21, 2018

18,000 older hosts in the state earned $150 million in 2017

Florida’s senior citizens enjoy a healthy stake in Airbnb’s home-sharing and vacation-rental market. More than 45 percent of the hospitality company’s 40,000-plus hosts in the Sunshine State are senior, and those 18,000 hosts earned more than $150 million through the company’s platform in 2017, Airbnb reports.

Globally, the value of the entire vacation rental industry is expected to soar from $100 billion in 2016 — with the United States accounting for a fourth of the total — to $169.7 billion in 2019, according to smarthosts.org. Since Airbnb launched a decade ago, the world’s largest online rental platform has amassed 5 million listings in more than 191 countries. The company has booked 300 million “guest arrivals.”

A Sarasota experience

Dave and Sara Plank of Sarasota realize a steady income from the private apartment attached to the back of their house, averaging $1,200 to $1,400 a month, with nightly fees ranging from slightly more than $50 to slightly more than $60, depending on the season. The current list price is $53.

Dave, 82, and Sara, 78, have hosted guests from Australia, England, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the United States and elsewhere for about four years.

“We’re are booked for the month of May,” Sara Plank said. “Some of our guests have been here three or four times.”

Their daughter, Betsy Christner, books guests and officially ranks as an Airbnb superhost — described by the platform as “experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests.” She’s already getting reservations for the fall.

About Airbnb

Founded in 2008, Airbnb describes itself as a “global travel community that offers end-to-end trips, including where you stay, what you do and the people you meet.” Airbnb’s technology allows property owners and travelers to communicate and provide the latter a place to stay and the former a chance to make money as “hospitality entrepreneurs.”

Airbnb’s e-marketplace offers access to millions of places to stay in more than 191 countries, from apartments and villas to castles, treehouses and B&Bs.

The furnished apartment has a kitchen, bedroom and living area. A third guest would have to sleep on an air mattress on the floor. “It’s nothing fancy, but it’s comfortable,” Sara Plank said.

The “Sweet Apartment in Sarasota,” as the place is called on Airbnb, is behind their home on Bahai Vista Street but offers a private entrance and an expansive screened lanai with a dining table and a sitting area in front of a fireplace. Firewood is included, Dave Plank said.

Everything needed for a beach day is, too. Noodles, pails, small shovels, chairs, an umbrella, a cooler and a boogie board are stored in the lanai.

“We’ve had some great guests,” Sara Plank said.

“The most interesting people were the Italian real estate students” who were here with a professor on an educational trip, Christner said. “They were so nice.”

Senior hosts dominant

Southwest Florida is the most prominent Sunshine State hub for senior hosts, with over 50 percent of hosts in the region aged 55 and up. Throughout the state, seniors account for the fastest-growing and the best-reviewed Airbnb host demographic, the company said. Their number is growing 46 percent year-over-year.

Seniors in Sarasota County accounted for 30 percent of all hosts, or about 480 seniors, and they raked in $3.8 million. In Manatee County, the corresponding numbers are 17 percent, 130 senior hosts and $1.9 million in earnings. In Charlotte County, those figures are 45 percent, 160 seniors and $720,000 in income.

“These senior hosts play a major role in helping the region expand lodging capacity during Spring Training — particularly in Manatee and Charlotte, where the hotel inventory is a bit more limited,” Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit said.

“Tons of baseball fans were able to find safe, affordable accommodations through the Sarasota-Manatee-Charlotte senior host community when otherwise they might have been out of luck,” he said. “So it’s good for those seniors to bring in some supplemental income but also for the small-business community to benefit from the economic impact.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit is the extra income and sustainable retirement for older generations. The typical Florida senior host earns $6,400 a year through Airbnb, the company said.

“We’re happy to see seniors throughout our state utilizing technology to take full economic advantage of their properties and sustain their retirements,” said Jeffrey S. Bragg, secretary of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

And there are other advantages, said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s Florida state director.

“Many older Floridians are realizing that sharing their home provides benefits like preventing isolation, which itself is a significant risk to physical and mental health while offering the opportunity to continue to learn and grow by encountering new ideas and cultures that come from interaction with other people,” he said.

Top ratings for seniors

Seniors are the best-reviewed Airbnb hosts in the state — 85 percent average top ratings in the six categories, the Planks among them, company figures show. Airbnb reports that 100 percent of their guests submit ratings in the six categories — the accuracy of the host’s statement on Airbnb; communications with the host; cleanliness of accommodations; location; check-in, and value.

Kelly from Sussex, New Jersey, wrote about her stay this month in the Planks’ apartment: “Pictures don’t do this place justice. It’s quaint and perfect for 2 people. We had use of the outdoor patio, which was awesome to sit at night and hang out. Very quiet neighborhood and lovely hosts.”

Mike from Champaign, Illinois, posted this about his April stay: “Extremely wonderful. Close to stores and restaurants. You have everything in a cozy place to stay. No need to buy nothing. Definitely will be back!”

Both Kelly and Mike are veteran Airbnb guests, having signed up with the site in 2016. Hosts can review guests, too, and Christner wrote of Kelly’s party: “Wonderful guests, so glad they chose to stay with us.”

To date, the Planks’ apartment has garnered stellar ratings from 160 guest reviews. In one week it was viewed 460 times on Airbnb.

Their apartment is minutes away from Nathan Benderson Park and the Mall at University Town Center, as explained on the host’s Airbnb web page along with other details on accommodations and the host’s rules on pets and smoking. Per Airbnb policy, exact locations are not revealed until booking, but maps locate properties’ general areas.

Guests cannot communicate with hosts directly but must go through the Airbnb website after registering. Messages can be read via personal inboxes. “We encourage all hosts and guests to complete their bookings through our website before meeting in person to best ensure their safety and privacy,” the company states on the site.

Host and guest profiles include the number of reviews, verifications and description. Reservation and payment details are shown, as are confirmation, check-in and cancellation policies.

Christner applauds the company’s approach to business. “Airbnb is so good to the Florida people,” she said, citing its billing, tax additions and other accounting and security policies

SOURCE: Herald Tribune

Trump health secretary pushes back against Medicare drug negotiation

May 14, 2018

Trump health secretary pushes back against Medicare drug negotiation President Trump’s health secretary pushed back Monday at critics who said Trump’s drug pricing plan moved away from his campaign pledge of having Medicare negotiate drug prices.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar dismissed the idea — backed by many Democrats — that Medicare can save money by negotiating directly with drug companies.

“The only way that direct negotiation saves money is by doing something this administration does not believe in: denying access to certain medicines for all Medicare beneficiaries, or setting prices for drugs by government fiat,” Azar said in a speech at HHS headquarters.

Still, Azar hinted that Trump has not completely abandoned the idea.

“The idea of direct negotiation in Medicare has come up” during his meetings with the president, Azar said, but they determined the approach first announced by President Trump on Friday was the “smart, effective way.”

In remarks to reporters following the speech, Azar said Trump wants Medicare to negotiate more effectively, “rather than trite, gimmicky, political proposals.”

Instead of allowing direct negotiation, Azar said Trump’s plan would “bring negotiation where it doesn’t exist” by merging drugs in Part B, Medicare’s program for doctor-prescribed drugs, with the Part D prescription drug benefit.

In an interview with "The Hugh Hewitt Show" on Monday morning, Azar suggested that moving Part B drugs into the Part D program could require legislation. But Azar told reporters later he won’t need congressional approval for such a sweeping change to the system, so long as it’s conducted as a demonstration project first.

Former President Obama proposed reforms to Medicare Part B drug payments in 2016, but eventually scrapped the plan in the face of fierce resistance from doctors and drug companies.

SOURCE: The Hill

Nursing homes confronting elderly bullies

May 12, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — The unwanted were turned away from cafeteria tables.

Fistfights broke out at karaoke.

Dances became breeding grounds for gossip and cruelty.

It became clear this place had a bullying problem on its hands. What many found surprising was that the perpetrators and victims alike were all senior citizens.

Nursing homes, senior centers and housing complexes for the elderly have introduced programs, training and policies aimed at curbing spates of bullying, an issue once thought the exclusive domain of the young.

“There’s the clique system just like everywhere else,” said Betsy Gran, who until recently was assistant director at San Francisco’s On Lok 30th Street Senior Center. “It’s like ‘Mean Girls,’ but everyone is 80.”

After the cafeteria exiles and karaoke brouhahas, the On Lok 30th Street Senior Center teamed up with a local nonprofit, the Institute on Aging, to develop an anti-bullying program.

All staff members received 18 hours of training that included lessons on what constitutes bullying, causes of the problem and how to manage such conflicts.

Seniors were then invited to similar classes, held in English and Spanish, teaching them to alert staff or intervene themselves if they witness bullying. Signs and even placemats around the center now declare it a “Bully Free Zone.”

“I think in the past I would have just stayed out of it,” said Mary Murphy, 86, a retired real estate agent who took the classes. “Now I might be inclined to help.”

Robin Bonifas, a social work professor at Arizona State University and author of the book “Bullying Among Older Adults: How to Recognize and Address an Unseen Epidemic,” said existing studies suggest about 1 in 5 seniors encounters bullying.

She sees it as an outgrowth of frustrations characteristic in communal settings, as well as a reflection of issues unique to getting older. Many elderly see their independence and sense of control disappear and, for some, becoming a bully can feel like regaining some of that lost power.

“It makes them feel very out of control,” Bonifas said, “and the way they sort of get on top of things and make their name in this new world is intimidating, picking on people, gossiping.”

There is far less recognition of bullying as a problem among seniors compared with young people. Even among those who have been called bullies, many are unaware how problematic their behavior is until it’s labeled. Campaigns around the country have sought to spread the word, including a booklet circulated last year by the National Center for Assisted Living.

“In the life cycle, it doesn’t go away,” said Katherine Arnold, a member of the city Human Rights Commission in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, which created a public service announcement on its community-access station that included a portrayal of a man who was excluded from a card game and became the subject of gossip by other seniors. “There’s really not a lot of escape.”

Most senior bullying isn’t physical but rather involves name-calling, rumors and exclusion, said Pamela Countouris, a longtime schoolteacher who now runs a Pittsburgh-based consultancy that offers training on bullying. Women constitute the bulk of the bullies Countouris encounters among seniors, a reflection of lifespan disparities and the gender makeup of those who live at or participate in programs at senior facilities.

Countouris’ business began with a focus on school bullying but now centers exclusively on seniors. In the next month alone, she has more than a dozen training sessions planned.

After four years immersed in the wrath of older bullies, Countouris has heard all manner of stories.

At a senior high-rise, a woman who saw herself as the queen of the parking garage would key the cars of those who crossed her.

Elsewhere, laundry rooms became vicious places where the bullied had their detergent stolen and their clothes thrown on the floor.

Bingo rooms so often devolved into battlefields – with lucky newcomers badgered and accused of cheating by veteran players – she came to call it “the devil’s game.”

“I didn’t realize it was an underground society where people could be mean to each other,” Countouris said.

SOURCE: Press Herald

Anxiety in middle age linked to dementia later

Apr 30, 2018

(Reuters Health) - People with moderate to severe anxiety in middle age may be more likely to develop dementia as they get older, a recent study suggests.

Researchers examined data from four previously published studies that tracked a total of almost 30,000 people for at least a decade. In each of the smaller studies, there was a clear connection between anxiety in midlife and dementia later on, researchers report in BMJ Open.

“If people are living with moderate to severe anxiety we would encourage them to seek help,” said senior study author Natalie Marchant of University College London in the UK.

“Therapies already exist that have been shown to be effective for treating anxiety (for example talking therapies and mindfulness-based interventions), and while we do not yet know whether they would also reduce risk of developing dementia, alleviation of anxiety symptoms and stress would be a definite benefit to (the) patient,” Marchant said by email.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how anxiety might directly contribute to the development of dementia. Researchers were also unable to formally pool all the data from the four smaller studies, so they couldn’t calculate the magnitude of the increased dementia risk associated with anxiety.

It’s possible dementia might follow an anxiety diagnosis in middle age because moderate to severe anxiety appears to increase stress hormones, and chronic elevation of these hormones may consequently damage brain regions such as those associated with memory, Marchant said.

Scientists don’t yet know whether treating anxiety, and thus reducing the chronic elevation of these hormones, would reduce risk for dementia, Marchant added.

Anxiety can also be a symptom of dementia, and that makes it difficult to firmly establish whether it’s also an independent risk factor for dementia, said Dr. Costantino Iadecola, director of the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

“Anxiety disorders need to be treated in their own right, independently of potential associations (causal or not) with cognitive impairment later in life,” Iadecola, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “I would stress the importance of treating anxiety disorders as an essential step in maintaining mental health, not because of possible links to dementia, which remain unproven.”

The current study isn’t designed to explain how anxiety and dementia might be connected, Iadecola added.

“We cannot say with confidence that anxiety is a cause (risk factor), an early manifestation of the dementia, or only coincidentally associated with it,” Iadecola added.

SOURCE: bit.ly/2HCKWXP BMJ Open, online April 30, 2018.

SOURCE: Reuters

Researchers propose new Alzheimer's definition based on biology

Apr 10, 2018

(Reuters) - Alzheimer’s researchers have proposed a radical change in the way the disease is defined, focusing on biological changes in the body rather than clinical symptoms such as memory loss and cognitive decline.

The new research framework, released on Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging, is meant to provide scientists with a common language for describing the disease in research studies based on measurable changes in the brain that set Alzheimer’s apart from other causes of dementia.

“Much of the general public views the terms dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as interchangeable, but they are not,” said Dr. Clifford Jack of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who helped craft the guidelines published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The proposed changes follow guidance announced earlier this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to encourage the testing of new Alzheimer’s medicines based on biomarkers, rather than on clinical symptoms.

The moves would allow companies to test drugs in people before symptoms appear, offering a better chance of intervening before the disease has destroyed too many brain cells.

Under the proposed research framework, Alzheimer’s would be characterized by three factors: evidence of two abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s - beta amyloid and tau - and evidence of neurodegeneration or nerve cell death, all of which can be seen through brain imaging or tests of cerebral spinal fluid. It also incorporates measures of severity using biomarkers and a grading system for cognitive impairment.

The hope is that the new definition will help researchers pick better subjects on which to test new Alzheimer’s treatments, which may help improve drug companies’ search for treatments.

So far, experimental Alzheimer’s drugs have had a dismal track record, with more than 100 failures, including most recently a treatment from Merck, while Pfizer said in January it was quitting the field.

Most of these drugs have focused on removing beta amyloid from the brain. Recent imaging studies have shown that about 30 percent of the people who have taken part in clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs did not have beta amyloid in their brains.

Jack said the new framework puts Alzheimer’s more in line with other diseases, such as hypertension or diabetes, and it will allow researchers to study interventions that interfere with the underlying changes that lead to Alzheimer’s dementia.

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Chris Reese

SOURCE: Reuters