Q. My father has Medicare but needs better prescription drug coverage. When can he review his options?

BL

Answer: Medicare beneficiaries, whether on a Medicare Advantage Plan or enrolled in a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D), can explore their options during the Medicare annual enrollment period, which this year runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. To discuss your father’s situation and compare his options, you may wish to contact the Seniors’ Health Information Program (SHIIP). This is a division of the North Carolina Department of Insurance where you can get answers to questions about Medicare coverage — either over the phone or in person.

Trained SHIIP counselors are available to offer unbiased counseling appointments in all 100 counties free of charge. Your father may be eligible for the federal Extra Help/Low-Income Subsidy program if he has limited income and resources. If he qualifies, the Extra Help program can assist him by paying all or part of his monthly premiums and annual deductibles and provide him with lower prescription co-payments under a Medicare prescription drug plan. For more information, contact SHIIP at 1-855-408-1212 or visit www.ncshiip.com.

The Forsyth County coordinating site for SHIIP is the Shepherd’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem. Trained SHIIP counselors there can assist Medicare beneficiaries during their Annual Enrollment period, helping them review their drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans and assist them in making changes, if necessary. Enrollment sessions at the Shepherd’s Center will be conducted on these Fridays: Oct. 18 and 25; Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 22; and Dec. 6. All of the Enrollment Sessions will be held at the Shepherd’s Center of Greater Winston-Salem, 1700 Ebert St., Winston-Salem, NC 27103. One-hour appointments will be offered from noon–5 p.m. Space is limited. Appointments are required and can be made by calling the Shepherd’s Center at 336-748-0217.

Q. My teenage grandson was visiting last week, and I tried playing some of his video games. Beyond it being fun, are there any benefits to gaming at my age?

KD

Answer: The image that comes to mind when you say “online gamers” is that of young men, huddled in front of TVs, furiously operating joysticks and excitedly yelling into headsets. While gaming remains very popular with people fitting that description, it is definitely no longer just for millennials. More and more older adults are turning to video games for competitive entertainment, socialization and simple fun. In fact, a 2017 study found that 26 percent of video game players are adults over 50 years old. Interestingly, more women in this age group are gaming than men. Video games have been shown to offer a number of advantages for everyone, but studies show gaming provides some very specific benefits for seniors.

Many people, especially those living in a care facility, may find it difficult to engage in sports and/or other physically competitive activities as they get older. However, aging doesn’t necessarily cause a person to lose their desire to be challenged or diminish their competitive spirit. Gaming provides some seniors an opportunity to engage in meaningful competition that, while not physically strenuous, still gives them a rush similar to what they might experience with vigorous exercise. Gaming can be a great remedy for boredom and help keep you mentally sharp. It can also be empowering to master something new and see your skills improve.

One of the most substantial benefits for people over 63 years of age who play games regularly — or even just once a week — is an increase in a sense of emotional well-being. The study compared gamers and non-gamers and found gamers were happier, had improved moods, and experienced less depression.

Some games can help with balance, walking, and cognitive focus. Playing video games that require fast decision-making and visual attention can improve physical performance or slow its decline. Cognitive focus was shown to have increased for people between the ages of 60 and 77 who played a complex strategy video game for only two hours a day for just two weeks.

Gaming also helps with social isolation. It gives you a chance to connect with others online without leaving the house. Often gamers play with the same people every week, which sparks friendships. You can also game with your grandson or family members online as a way of staying connected. There is actually a site just for mature gamers, called Old Timers Guild. The motto for their site is “Laid back, not too serious, no drama … all about fun!” For more information, visit oldtimersguild.com.

All you need to get started is a TV or computer monitor with HDMI ports and a gaming console. The most popular consoles are PlayStation 4, X-box 1, and Nintendo Switch. Setting up the gaming console is fairly easy. There are many varieties of games to choose from. Tetris and Portal 2 are puzzle games in which a player can move up to new levels. World of Warcraft, NeuroRacer, and WarThunder are popular online, multiplayer games recommended for seniors. There are also free and low-cost games that can be used on a tablet or smart phone by downloading a gaming app.

Games for seniors continue to grow as a major sector in the gaming industry. Although the health and wellness benefits are showing great promise, older gamers say they like gaming for the same reason teens play video games: they simply game to have fun!

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AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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