A Fresh Approach to Fighting MS

The first sign of trouble came when Jim Swartwood, now 56, couldn’t read the license plate on his pickup truck from 20 feet away. Swartwood, of Big Lake, Minnesota, saw an eye doctor, then a neurologist.  Tests revealed he had 19 lesions on his brain, a sign of multiple sclerosis.  More symptoms of this debilitating nerve condition soon came, and the MS drugs he tried didn’t do much.  In 2013, Swartwood’s doctor got him into a clinical trial for a medication called Ocrevus. His symptoms subsided.  The dreaded relapses didn’t come.

Most treatments for MS focus on T cells, a kind of white blood cell.  But in 2001, Stephen Hauser, chair of the neurology department at the University of California, San Francisco, teamed up with Genentech to test Ocrevus, which targets a different kind of white blood cell called B cells.  Last March, the drug was approved by the FDA.  It’s not a miracle cure, but it slows the disease’s progression and reduces relapses.

Swartwood now lifts weights and plays racquetball.  “Who knows what will happen tomorrow?” he says. “But I know I will be blessed no matter what.”—David Ferry for AARP Magazine, October/November 2017

What’s new

A Scan for Memory Loss?…The brains of people with mild signs of early dementia have smaller-than-normal medial temporal lobes, according to MRI scans done by Canadian researchers. Scans can’t currently predict Alzheimer’s disease, but in the future they might allow for preventive treatment.

Digital Tremor Blocker…Parkinson’s disease patients often benefit from electric current delivered to the brain through implanted electrodes. Abbott’s Infinity Deep Brain Stimulation system now lets neurologists direct electricity to specific therapeutic targets, which patients control using an iPod Touch.

Novel Drug for ALS…For the first time in 22 years, a new medication designed to temper ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—is on the market. Radicava was originally developed to treat strokes.  But clinical studies in Japan showed that it slowed the progression of ALS, a devastating degenerative illness.

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Lunch Break Money Boosters:

1)  Locate lost cash:   Businesses or institutions that owe you money but can’t find you are required to hand the cash to the state rather than keep it, says Patti Spencer, a PA wills-and-trusts attorney.  To claim your due, search online for “escheated property” and a state name; that should take you to a searchable database. Claiming money is free.  California alone holds $8 billion in unclaimed cash of 32.5 million people or groups.

2)  Split your paycheck:  If you direct deposit your paycheck into a checking account, change to a split deposit, which will send a small amount to a savings, vacation or emergency fund. It’s worth it: Research shows that people save an extra $1,080 a year when they use divided deposits. If your company doesn’t offer that, set up automatic transfers on paydays.  And think about sending a chunk to your credit card bill on the same schedule; never pay a late fee again.

3)  Save for future health costs:  Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) let certain people save, tax free, for future medical expenses.  If you can afford it, increase your savings to the max (in 2017, $6,750 if you have a family health plan; $3,400 for individual coverage). But don’t use the account for current medical needs.  Pay those costs out of pocket; use the HSA to save for medical expenses after retirement (HAS dollars can accrue indefinitely).

4)  Download a shopping or coupon app:  Many free apps provide discounts on demand when you shop.  Coupon Sherpa, for instance, delivers retailer coupons to your phone for in-store scanning and sends promo codes to use online. Card-Star stores your merchant loyalty cards on your phone so you won’t miss out on discounts.  Paribus searches for price drops on items you bought online, then contacts retailers to ask them to refund you the difference.

5)  Review your credit card bills:  First, check for charges that don’t make sense; for example, some scams involve generating small credit card charges each month, in the hopes you won’t notice them.  Action items:  Contact your card provider and contest suspicious charges.  Next, look for recurring charges for services you don’t use, such as a forgotten subscription to an e-greeting card service.  Action item:  Cancel them.  Finally, study your spending patterns.  Do you mean to spend that much on food or clothes in a month?  Action item:  Find ways to start saving money.