Managing Your Parents’ Finances

Managing Your Parents’ Finances

Managing Your Parents’ Finances: How to Cover the Bases

At this time of year, many folks have either met with their financial consultant or tax expert for their income tax filing or are at least in the process of gathering the necessary documents for that process. Household finances and budgets can tend to be at “top of mind” during the next several weeks up until the April tax filing deadline. If you are in a situation this year where you not only have to be concerned with your own household finances but now suddenly find yourself responsible for your parents’ finances as well, it may seem a bit daunting.

Managing your own money isn’t easy under the best circumstances, so it’s not surprising that most people feel overwhelmed when it’s time to step in and take over the management of their parents’ finances. But as is the case with any large project, what feels impossibly complex taken as a whole, becomes much more doable when separated into manageable segments. By separating the process of managing your parents’ finances into sequential steps, you’ll find yourself far less stressed. Listed below are eight steps that can help you move forward.

• Locate all accounts and documents

Your first responsibility as your parents’ financial manager is to do some investigating. If your parents are competent to discuss their finances, get a head start by asking them Five Basic Questions about their finances.
Once you’ve determined appropriate answers to your inquiries, start going through files as you’ll want a clear picture of every asset they have. Start with savings and checking accounts, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and pensions. But that’s just the beginning. You’ll also want to locate the paperwork for your parents’ mortgage (if applicable) and any other real estate holdings as well as the account statements for their credit cards. You should also find out about every insurance policy your parents have in place, including life insurance, annuities, and long-term care insurance. Discuss where they store valuables, and whether they have one or more safety deposit boxes. And…don’t forget to ask your parents if they’ve ever purchased or inherited any individual company stocks. (It’s often surprising how many seniors have original stock certificates squirreled away.

• Establish Power of Attorney

If you’ve been designated to help your parents with their money and assets, you may already have power of attorney (POA) for finances. If not, you’ll want to get this taken care of. Having Power of Attorney allows you to access your parents’ financial records so you can act on their behalf. You’ll need this designation to research account balances, transfer funds, pay bills, write checks, make deposits and withdrawals, and open safe deposit boxes. In other words, with a financial POA designation, you can take care of your new responsibilities without having your hands tied.

• Gain access to all accounts

In addition to Power of Attorney, or sometimes in place of this designation, banks and other financial institutions often have their own forms that establish access to your parents’ accounts. Once your parent signs these forms, (he/she may or may not need to be present, depending on the institution’s rules), you can write checks, make payments and withdrawals, check on account balances, and do all the other things an account holder does.

• Compile a list of debts

The first and most important of these would be the mortgage on their home. Even if it’s determined that it’s already paid off, you should if at all possible see if there is documentation that you can have in hand that 100% verifies nothing further is owed. If there is still an outstanding balance, it behooves you to find out the amount. Down the line, it may become important to understand how much equity your parents have in their home, in which case you’ll want to have the home appraised so you can compare the appraisal to the amount still due on the mortgage. Next, check if there is an equity line of credit on the house, or any other debt/lien attached to the house. If your parents have taken out a reverse mortgage, it’s especially important to understand the associated terms.

You’ll also want to make sure you have all the information you need about your parents’ credit cards and any other outstanding debts. Follow up thoroughly on any creditors’ notices you find in the mail, such as bills that have gone to a collection agency. Because it may be hard for your parents to talk about credit card debt and other debts, it may be best to contact the companies directly to find out what is owed.

• Explore Social Security benefits

It’s likely that Social Security payments make up a significant portion of your parents income, so it’s important to understand how much that benefit is. You also may find it’s worthwhile to explore, or at least ask, whether your loved one(s) is getting the maximum benefit they are entitled to. The rules surrounding Social Security are complex, particular those governing widowhood and divorce and…there are cases in which someone qualifies for more than they are receiving. An eldercare attorney or financial planner can help you with these issues.

• Make sure documents are up to date

Life is long, things change, and older adults are forgetful. Combine these three factors and the chances are high that some of your parents’ documents and policies are no longer current. Review your parents’ wills and trusts…is everything up to date? Take the time to go over the list of assets included in the trust. Is everything there that should be? All too often, people have moved money and opened new accounts, then forgot to amend the trust to include them. Check designated beneficiaries on all accounts. Is the right person (or persons) listed?

While it’s not a financial document, take this opportunity to review your parent’s Advance Health Care Directive as well, since it’s very important to make sure it still reflects your parent’s current wishes, including the right person as health care agent. If you discover that your parents do not have an Advance Health Care Directive, you are strongly urged to have those documents put in place. An Advance Health Care Directive helps loved ones, and medical personnel make important decisions during a crisis. Having an advance directive in place ensures that your parents’ wishes regarding their health care are carried out, even when they are unable or incapable of making their wishes known.

Next, you’ll want to perform more in-depth research into the terms of insurance policies, loans, and other financial vehicles such as annuities. Do the terms of insurance policies make sense for your loved one’s current situation? It’s not unusual to discover that the terms and costs of life insurance policies no longer make sense for this phase of your parent’s life. If so, your parent may be paying too much for benefits they no longer need.

• Check on taxes

You might be surprised at the number of older adults who one day no longer remember to pay their income or property taxes. And those mistakes can cost you dearly in penalties. In fact, too many years of unpaid property taxes can result in a house ending up on the auction block. Look for tax returns from the last few years and if you don’t find them, call the IRS. Your local assessor’s office should have your parent’s property taxes on file.

• Review investment strategies

If your parents have money invested in mutual funds, stocks, or other investment vehicles, now is the time to take a look at the investment strategy being employed and make sure it best suits their needs at this time of life. Since your parent is no longer saving for the distant future and may need that money soon, this typically means money should be moved away from riskier investments with a longer return, e.g. from stocks into more conservative investments such as bonds. Ultimately, your investment goal is to make sure the money is there when they need it.

5 Most Important Financial Questions to Ask Your Parents

5 Most Important Financial Questions to Ask Your Parents

1 . “Do you have a Durable Power of Attorney (POA)?”

The Durable Power of Attorney is considered one the most important personal legal documents for any older adult to have. Along with a healthcare proxy, it will give whomever your parent designates —whether it be you, one of your siblings, or someone else — the power to make financial and legal decisions (or, in the case of a healthcare proxy, to make medical decisions) if your parent is incapacitated. Without a Durable Power of Attorney in place, you’ll have to go to court to get appointed as your parent’s guardian. That’s the last thing you’ll want to have to think about in a time of crisis, and it’s a notoriously complicated and messy legal process. With a durable Power of Attorney and healthcare proxy in place, you can seamlessly make decisions and access accounts on your parent’s behalf without getting the courts involved.

2. “Have you updated your will, insurance, and retirement account information recently?”

Many people never take another look at their insurance policies or investment account beneficiary designations after they sign the initial papers, but both should be reviewed every year. Beneficiary designations — who will receive the proceeds from an account if the policy or account holder dies — can be affected by any change in family circumstance, like the birth of a new child, a death, or a divorce. A yearly financial and insurance review also provides a good moment for your parent to review their asset allocation and evaluate whether they have enough or too much life insurance (if the children are grown and the spouse has other funds on which to live if there is a death, for example, your parent could think about cutting back on the amount of life insurance they carry to save money on annual premiums).

3. “Do you have plans or insurance in place to pay for long-term care if it’s needed?


Even if your parent is in good health today, they’ll likely need some type of long-term care eventually —and cost can be substantial. Costs for nursing home care can range from $8,000 – $10,000 a month depending on the state you reside in. Typically, neither health insurance or Medicare cover any of these expenses, so your parent should have some type of plan in place to pay for such care should it be needed. Long-term care insurance is a good option and can be added to existing life insurance policies, possibly at a discounted rate. Medicaid also covers some nursing home costs, but your parent should consult an elder law attorney now to find out if they qualify for Medicaid. If not, the attorney may advise spending down assets — literally. He or she can advise you about the methodology of spending down without gifting or transferring assets until your parent meets the strict income requirements necessary to qualify for Medicaid. Without a plan in place to pay for long-term care, you and your siblings will be on the hook to pick up the cost unless your parent has very deep pockets. Another excellent resource to discuss the whole access to Medicaid is your county’s Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC). They have counselors on staff that help guide you through the process as well.

4. “Who’s advising you?”

Although most adults are fiercely private about their finances and want to maintain their independence, it’s important in case of an emergency that you know how to contact your parent’s attorney, financial advisor, accountant, and insurance agent. At the same time, as your parent ages, you can keep an eye on whether their financial and legal advisors are scrupulous, objective, and well-versed in elder financial issues, with no vested interest in selling specific products. Getting the details on exactly who is advising your parent is a good way to protect him them from scams as well as to ensure they have funds in case of an emergency.

5. “Where is all this stuff?”

If your parent has a stroke or heart attack, the last thing you’re going to want to worry about is what his/her social security number is, what health insurance is in place, or whether the mortgage has been paid. That’s why it’s important to sit down before a crisis hits and find out what kind of bill-paying system is in place, the status of any insurance, and where all the important papers are kept. Although some parents may balk at sharing this kind of personal information, you should provide reassurance that you don’t have to see any private papers now — you just need to know where they are to ensure financial well-being in the event they are not able to take care of themselves.

What Are Advance Directives and Why Are They Important?

What Are Advance Directives and Why Are They Important?

What happens if you experience a catastrophic accident or illness that leaves you unconscious or unable to communicate? How do you make sure your wishes about your medical care are known? Having an advance directive is the answer.

By planning in advance, you can get the medical care you desire while relieving loved ones of making major medical decisions during moments of grief or crisis. Advance directives help reduce confusion and disagreements about medical care.

Many people think advance directives are only for the elderly. However, unexpected end-of-life situations can happen to anyone at any age. It’s important for everyone to prepare an advance directive. There are two kinds of advance directives:

A Living Will

Living wills are legal documents. They state your wishes regarding the care you want to receive if you are incapacitated.

When you create a living will, consider the importance you place on being self-sufficient and independent. You’ll need to decide what medical interventions are acceptable and whether you want your life extended if there is no hope of recovery.

• A living will typically covers situations involving:
• Resuscitation
• Mechanical ventilation
• Tube feeding
• Dialysis
• Comfort care
• Organ and tissue donation
• Donating your body for scientific reasons

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney is also known as a health care proxy. This option allows you to name another person, such as your spouse or adult child, to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so. A medical power of attorney is not the same as a power of attorney that allows another person to handle your financial or legal affairs.

Choosing the right person to act on your behalf regarding important medical decisions is vital. Even if you have other documents covering aspects of your care, not every situation can be anticipated. The person you choose to represent you should meet the following criteria:

• Willing to discuss medical care and end-of-life issues
• Ready to adhere to your wishes and values
• Able to be your advocate if disagreements over your care arises

Important Points to Remember About Advance Directives

• States regulate advance directives differently. Click on following End-of-Life Planning – A Guide for Wisconsin Residents to view specific end-of-life information as it is outlined for residents of the State of Wisconsin.

• Advance directives can be modified, updated, and canceled in accordance with state law.

• Individuals with residences in multiple states may wish to have advance directives in each state, but you will want to research this scenario thoroughly. Will Other States Accept My Living Will & Health Care Power of Attorney?

• Ensure your health care proxy has updated copies of your advance directive.

• Give your advance directive to your doctor and other relevant medical care providers.

Advance directives are an important part of health care. No one can predict when unexpected medical situations will happen. Ad advance directive helps loved ones, and medical personnel make important decisions during a crisis. Having an advance directive in place ensures that your wishes regarding your health care are carried out, even when you’re unable to make your wishes known.

Preventing and Treating Stomach Bugs

Preventing and Treating Stomach Bugs

Preventing and Treating Stomach Bugs in the Elderly

At any given time, approximately 1% of the U.S. population over the age of 65 will fall victim to some form of stomach bug. For many people, getting a stomach ailment is simply frustrating, but some cases can lead to serious complications and even hospitalizations in the elderly who are at a higher risk for confusion and dehydration.

Read below about how to prevent and treat stomach bugs to help keep your loved ones safe.

Stomach Bugs

Children and the elderly are typically most at risk from complications caused by gastroenteritis — also known as the “stomach bug.”

Primary symptoms include:
• Chills and fever
• Diarrhea
• Headaches
• Pain in lower abdomen or stomach
• Vomiting

The most common types of stomach bugs are caused by:

Food Poisoning
You can get food poisoning when you eat food that has gone “bad.” Unfortunately, it will not always be obvious when food has been contaminated. Some common bacteria that can cause an upset stomach include:
• E. coli
• Salmonella
• Shigella

Norovirus
Norovirus is a stomach infection also known as Norwalk. The virus is spread by being in contact with a sick person, eating contaminated food or water or touching a contaminated surface. Norovirus is easily spread through group settings like daycares and nursing homes. Click HERE for some tips on Norovirus prevention.

Parasites
Even in developed countries, people can get intestinal parasites or worms in their guts. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that millions of people in the United States are living with a parasite.
Some of the most common parasites are:
• Giardia
• Pinworms
• Roundworms
• Tapeworms
• Toxoplasmosis (from contact with cat litter)

You can pick up a parasite from any contact with contaminated food or water or with stool that contains the eggs.

Usually not the subject of polite conversations, these symptoms are often hard to discuss with our elderly parents. That’s why it’s so important to know how to manage symptoms and prevent the stomach bug in senior loved ones.

Ways to Prevent Stomach Bugs in the Elderly

The number one rule for preventing stomach bugs is to: be careful what is put in the mouth! Most bacteria, parasites and viruses enter the digestive system through the mouth.
To reduce exposure to stomach bugs, use these tips:

Keep the digestive system healthy
Most stomach bugs are caused by “opportunistic” germs. This means that when the body is stressed, tired, and weak, the germs take the opportunity to make the body sick. The healthier and stronger the digestive system is, the less likely you are to get sick. Avoid foods that weaken the body and feed the system with foods that are high in nutrition. Highly processed foods that contain large amounts of sugar will feed the germs and make them stronger. Fresh, whole foods will feed the body and allow the body to fight off infections.

Washing hands!!
Make washing hands a part of everyday life. Think about where the hands have been and what they have touched before they come near the mouth.

As we age, the immune system becomes weaker. This makes it harder to fight off infections and can lead to more serious complications. The elderly also tend to have less stomach acid in their bodies. Stomach acid is nature’s way of killing the germs that make it into the stomach.

Ways to Manage Stomach Bug Symptoms
Stomach bugs can start very suddenly and cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. If your parent or senior loved one is frail, living alone, or weak, they are vulnerable to not being able to get help.

Your loved one will need care and lots of liquids to prevent dehydration. If your loved one has diarrhea or is vomiting, make sure that they are drinking electrolyte-replacing beverages and extra fluids. Offer small amounts of fluid (2-4 ounces) every half an hour.

If your loved one is showing any signs of dehydration, you will want to get them to a medical professional right away.
Look for:
• Confusion
• Dry mouth
• Feeling faint
• Not urinating regularly or urine is dark in color
• Unresponsive
• Sunken eyes and no tears

Being sick and having a stomach bug is a horrible feeling. You can take the best care of your parent or senior loved one by ensuring they receive lots of rest, plenty of care and regular fluids. Then…don’t forget to wash your own hands diligently and keep yourself healthy too!

Four Easy New Year’s Resolutions for Seniors

Four Easy New Year’s Resolutions for Seniors

The start of a new year often inspires us to make much-needed changes in our lives and offers the opportunity for a fresh start. For seniors who want to improve their physical and mental health, the start of a new year signifies the beginning of possible positive change.

Whether you prefer to set small goals for yourself or approach each new year as an opportunity for complete life “makeover,” here are four simple resolution ideas to help you kick-start the new year.

Resolution #1 – Make Healthier Food Choices

When it comes to senior nutrition, eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients is the best way to go. Eating fewer processed foods and more fresh foods will make a huge difference in the way you look and feel.

Start by eating more fruits, lean meats, whole grains and vegetables and…gradually increase your consumption of these nutrient-rich foods over time, while decreasing your intake of less healthy alternatives.

It’s also important to monitor your sugar intake as not all sugars are created equally. Consuming natural sugar as found in fruit and lactose can be beneficial and actually help to stabilize your blood sugar and make you feel fuller longer. As the name implies, added sugars are processed forms of sugar, like syrups, that are added to certain foods when they’re being made. Because these sugars are processed and not natural, they’re not as good for your body.

Another important part of a healthy diet for seniors is Omega-3 fatty acids — commonly found in olive oil and fish. The heart-healthy nutrient has been known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and other ailments. It may also protect the brain. To get enough Omega-3 in your diet, substitute fish for other meat a few times each week or talk with your physician about opting for an Omega-3 dietary supplement.

Resolution #2 – Re-Establish Old Connections

It’s not always easy remaining close to friends and family who don’t live right down the street. Fortunately, there are many resources you can use to revive your neglected relationships. One of the quickest ways to reconnect is with simple phone call. Sending a “thinking of you” card or letter is also a nice way to keep in touch. If you’re technologically savvy, social media sites like Facebook make it exceedingly easy to stay connected with friends and family from all around the world.

Resolution #3 – Remain Mentally and Physically Active

As we age, it is more important that we keep active — both mentally and physically. The more you use your mind, the better it will work. Read. Do crossword puzzles. Play cards. Try Sudoku. Socializing also gives your brain a boost, so strike up a conversation with your neighbor, finally make that phone call to your friend you’ve been putting off or join a discussion group at your local library or senior center.

Physical activity can be safe and healthy for older adults — even if you have heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis. In fact, many of these conditions get better with mild to moderate physical activity. Exercises such as yoga, water aerobics, walking, and stretching can also help you control your weight, build your muscles and bones, and improve your balance, posture, and mood. Remaining both mentally and physically active is vital to maintaining your health and can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia in the future.

Resolution #4 – Be Proactive About Fall Prevention

One in every three older adults falls each year and falls are a leading cause of injuries and death among older adults. Eliminate items in your home that are easy to trip over, like throw rugs and stray power cords. Insert grab bars in your bathtub or shower and install night lights so it’s easier to see at night.

Exercises such as walking or working out with an elastic band can increase your strength, improve balance and flexibility and help you avoid falls. Selecting appropriate footwear can also help to prevent falls. For an all-around shoe, consider walking shoes, which provide good traction and support but do not have heavy soles or rubber over the toes which can catch on carpet.

Looking To Move This Year?

If you’re a senior looking to make a bigger change this year by downsizing or relocating, we hope you will consider The Classic at Hillcrest Greens.

Although the thought of moving can result in a plethora of ambiguous feelings, many of our residents say they wish they had made the move sooner, especially after experiencing all of the services and activities our community offers.

Contact us to schedule a tour and experience The Classic for yourself.

A 2019 To-Do List

A 2019 To-Do List

Family caregivers, which most of us are likely to become at some point in our lives, have a unique and demanding role and are likely to have their own special set of plans for the new year.

You might have already resolved to lose weight, eat more healthily, or spend more time with family and friends, but have made any resolutions to help you in your role as a caregiver? Listed below are some suggestions that may get you thinking about areas of improvement you can address during 2019.

  1. Use New Time Management Tools

A common frustration among caregivers (especially Sandwich Generation caregivers) is that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. Caregivers can try new technologies to help manage their caregiving role. For example, there is an app called CareZone (available for computers, tablets, and smartphones) that can help parents and family caregivers organize files, contacts, and medications, and coordinate with family and other caregivers. You can use this app to keep track of various concerns for your parents like phone numbers, email addresses, medical appointments, medication lists, as well as a general “to-do” list. App technology allows you to keep all this information synced on all your devices.

  1. Plan with Your Parents

It can be difficult for families and seniors to have discussions about plans for long-term care or end-of-life care. Many people avoid these conversations because the topic can be awkward and emotionally wrenching. But these talks can’t be avoided forever, as aging and mortality cannot be escaped through denial. Make it a goal to overcome the awkwardness and start these tough conversations with your aging parents. For advice about how to start this conversation, and what questions to ask, read our post…10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents.

  1. Get Your Loved One’s Documents in Order

Use 2019 as an opportunity to get your parent’s must-have documents (e.g. marriage certificates, living wills, military records, etc.) in order. You never know when they’ll be needed, but you almost certainly will need them at some point. Procrastination will only make it worse, whereas you’ll find a calming peace of mind knowing that you have essential documents in order.

  1. Educate Yourself about Long-Term Care Costs

Many Americans fail to plan for, or underestimate, the cost of long-term care for themselves and their loved ones. Often times this failure is due to simple mistakes and misconceptions. Take time to educate yourself about the costs associated with long-term care and learn which insurance covers what care so that you aren’t stuck having to sort it out during an emergency. For example, it should be understood that Medicare is not long-term care insurance and won’t help cover the costs of long-term placement at an assisted living community or nursing home. Remember, as you plan, that the cost of care today is not the cost of care 10 years from now as long-term care costs are growing well above the rate of inflation. If you’re unsure whether your family is financially prepared for an older loved one’s long-term care needs, consider speaking with a professional financial planner.

  1. Help Your Parent Eat Well

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, millions of Americans are diagnosed with malnutrition each year. Seniors who are having difficulty cooking or shopping, or who have bad eating habits, are especially at risk. Learn about the unique nutritional needs of seniors and ways you can help your older loved one eat well and…enjoy it. This is another area where technology might be able to give you a leg up. If your loved one has a smartphone or iPad, put the free app, MyNetDiary on the device. Or if you are in charge of your parent’s diet, put it on your own device. It allows you to track all aspects of your or your loved one’s diet. MyNetDiary also has special versions designed specifically to help people with diabetes or heart disease eat appropriately.

  1. Visit a Senior Living Community for a Lunch or Activity

Even if you’re not sure a move is on the horizon or if your loved one has no intentions to move, take some time to visit a senior living community with your parent(s). Try to make it a relaxing visit to get you and your loved one’s “toes wet.” These visits can be genuinely pleasant if you make a point of going to see an interesting event or for a meal. Also, if your parent does eventually move to a community, you will see these preliminary visits that you made months or even years in advance of any particular need, helped to make your loved one more comfortable and at home when a need did finally arise.

  1. Get to Know Your Parent Better

Indulge your parents’ sense of nostalgia and listen to them tell some weird or wonderful stories about themselves and the history of your family. Even when we’re very close to a loved one, there’s always room to know them better. Think about recording your parent, or using other means to preserve memories of your loved one for future generations. Don’t let Alzheimer’s or dementia keep you from spending quality time with your loved one. Memory loss often jams communication, but this roadblock can often be worked around by learning how to talk with a loved one who has dementia.

 

10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

Whether an unexpected illness leads to hospitalization or a fall requires rehabilitation at a nursing home or rehab center, it’s vital that your parents have their essential legal documents in order so that you have a good picture of their state of affairs.

Are you prepared to handle difficult decisions on behalf of your aging parent? Do you know what legal planning you should have in place? You can’t predict when something might happen to your aging parent, so preparation will help in making legal and medical decisions for your loved one. Listed below are 10 questions to ask your senior parent to make sure your family is prepared for the unexpected.

  1. Do You Have a Durable Power of Attorney?

A Durable Power of Attorney designates who will take care of our affairs if you are unable to decide for yourself in the case of mental or physical incapacitation. Seniors (or any adult for that matter) can designate one person to handle health decisions (the health care proxy) and another for financial decisions (the financial proxy) or they can designate one person for both roles.

  1. What Are Your End-of-Life Wishes?

A living will, also known as an advanced health care directive, is used to indicate choices about end-of-life care. For instance, would you want a ventilator and feeding tube used to keep you alive even in an irreversible coma? Do you want CPR initiated if your heart stops, even if you are terminally ill? Make sure your health care proxy is aware of your parent(s) decisions.

  1. Do You Have a Will or Living Trust?

Wills and living trusts are the legal methods used to designate what happens to your possessions and money after you pass. A will simply specifies, in writing, who gets what and how much. A living trust is an alternative to a will. A senior who prefers a trust, puts their assets in the trust and names a person to take charge in case of death or if they become incapacitated.

  1. Do You Have Long-Term Care Insurance or Another Plan in Case Long-Term Care is Required?

In Wisconsin, the average monthly cost to reside in assisted living is currently just under $4,000.00/month or approximately $47,000.00/year. This monthly expense can decimate a senior’s nest egg rapidly, so it’s important to know if your parent has insurance to offset these costs, or some other plan in place should long-term care needs arise. If your parent does have long-term care insurance, read the policy to make sure you understand it. Call the insurer if you have questions about what is and what is not covered.

  1. Have You Made Sure That These Documents Are Current?

All of the documents we’ve mentioned need to be up-to-date and current for them to work properly. Encourage your parent to revisit estate planning and care planning measures each year.

  1. Where Can I Find These Documents If I Ever Need Them?

It doesn’t do any good for your parent to have these documents in order if they can’t be found in an emergency. Make sure you know where they are and how to get to them. For example, if they’re in a safe deposit box, see to it that a trusted family member has a key and permission to access the box. If they’re in a fire safe, someone besides the parent should have the combination.

  1. Is Someone Advising You on Financial Matters?

Older parents are often fiercely independent regarding their finances, which is understandable. Even so, it’s important to know who is advising your parents regarding financial decisions. This knowledge will not only allow you to reach the advisor in case of an emergency, but also gives you a chance to make sure your parent is working with someone who is reputable.

  1. If You Can No Longer Take Care of Yourself, Have You Thought About Where You’d Prefer Living?

Start the discussion about long-term care options before a crisis hits. Get your parent involved early, and look at options before the need arises. This gives your parent an opportunity to provide input about preferences and to get involved in the process rather than having to passively accept arrangements hastily made at the last minute by well-meaning but uninformed loved ones.

  1. Do You Visit the Doctor Regularly?

Your parent may be seeing several specialists in addition to a primary care physician. If your parent become hospitalized, information from one of these doctors could be critical. If possible, ask your parent to provide you with a list of physicians see regularly and how to contact them. On the other hand, some seniors may have the opposite issue. Their idea of a doctor’s visit may be a weekly session in front of the TV with Dr. House. This question can also help prompt a meaningful discussion about your parent’s general health and well-being.

  1. Do You Feel Like You Understand Why You’re Taking the Medicines You’ve Been Prescribed?

Many seniors end up on a dozen medicines or more. This question can help you gauge whether your parent is able to manage his or her medications independently, and also may provide a clearer overall picture of their medical status. Just as it’s important to know who your parent’s physicians are in case of an emergency, it’s also important to know what medicines your parent takes. Being able to provide this information to hospital staff in case of a medical crisis can be vital to effective treatment.

Don’t Make Decisions in Crisis Mode: Have a Game Plan When Moving to Senior Living

Don’t Make Decisions in Crisis Mode:  Have a Game Plan When Moving to Senior Living

People in the U.S. can pretty much out-plan anyone when we set our minds to it. You may have heard by now that NASA plans to have an expedition on the planet Mars in about 15 years. Preparations are well underway with meticulous consideration being made for food, fuel, and mental stimulation. Everything is being planned in phenomenal detail for the 140-million-mile journey into outer space.

Individuals or families don’t begin to rival the enthusiasm of rocket scientists, however, when it comes to their planning for the future. Sadly, only one in three people have funds set aside for retirement. More than half don’t have a will. Needless to say, few people even give serious thought to their future housing needs long before it’s time to make that important decision.

This lack of planning is a critical error and is something that would likely doom a space mission before it ever took off from earth. When people don’t plan for senior living, decisions can get made in a hurry, usually only after one’s physical or mental health takes a turn for the worse. Families then tend to go into crisis mode and make choices without adequate forethought or insight.

 

Prepare Ahead of Time

Rather than seeming like a chore to tame, early planning gives a family a stress-free opportunity to make decisions around an adult’s living situation. Adult children get a chance to learn about mom or dad’s lifestyle, interests, passions, and concerns. The older adult in turn, get to explore options thoughtfully, without the pressure of a discharge deadline or some other artificial timeline hanging over their heads.

This planning phase can be a moment of enrichment for all involved, as well as a golden opportunity to organize and prioritize — all with an eye toward setting up a loved one for the best possible housing experience going forward. Not all senior living options are the same. There is a broad and varied market with the possibility of meeting a wide array of personal needs. It goes without saying, that finding the right fit takes care and forethought.

Older adults and their families will want to consider a range of factors when planning in advance for senior housing alternatives. The following information includes some of the biggest priorities that will take some time and planning.

 

What Can You Afford?

Finances are typically the main or at the very least a primary consideration. As with any housing option, the conversation may well begin with the question: How much can I afford? This will be a calculation encompassing retirement savings, the possible sale of a home, as well as other sources of income. Online calculators and other services, including the skills of a CPA or other financial professional, can help a family get a handle on their numbers.

The flip side of that coin: How much does it cost? It pays to do one’s homework here, as the cost of senior housing is a widely variable factor. Different types of housing — independent living, assisted living, memory care, nursing home — have different financial models. Costs may vary even among similar-seeming communities. Staying at home and receiving in-home care isn’t necessarily less expensive either. It pays to do research while you are planning ahead.

 

Type of Community

The style or type of community is always a major consideration. A vibrant, engaged community like The Classic at Hillcrest Greens — one where residents have ample opportunities to express themselves, discover new interests, and engage with others, is ideal. Not all senior housing options are cast in this mold.

A little research will uncover a big difference between assisted living and nursing homes, for example. Assisted living residents generally enjoy a far higher level of autonomy. They can engage in not only the basic functions of daily living but also participate in a wide range of other activities. It’s important to note that not all assisted living communities are the same and as the trend continues to move more individuals towards this type of residential setting, early planning is essential. Many communities continue to have full occupancy, so don’t be surprised if you are told that you need to be placed on a waiting list.

 

Location, Location, Location

You must consider location as well and just as mentioned above, early planning is once again key. If parents are going to relocate to be closer to their children, a head start helps make that complex transition go smoothly. Older adults also may want housing close to a particular medical provider or near towns or sites of particular personal interest. Either way, if a move is in the cards, early planning helps make the adjustment easier because you can ensure a location will be available near you.

 

Making a Rushed Decision

Those who wait to consider even discussing the topic of moving, or putting matters off until “something” happens, often find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.  When families wait until a crisis arises to make their senior housing choices, emotions can get in the way and it can be difficult to make the right choice.

A hurried decision can lead to financial mistakes. Older adults find their choices constrained by the lack of advance planning, especially if they are unaware of the costs associated with housing. Those who don’t know the financial side typically have difficulty allocating their resources appropriately. Putting off the “money conversation” as uncomfortable or inconvenient as it may seem, inevitably leads to fewer options down the road.

Likewise, those who don’t think through the different housing types may find themselves unprepared to address the complex senior living landscape. As a result, a rushed choice may land mom and/or dad in a community that simply doesn’t fit — a place that doesn’t respond to their lifestyle needs, personality, or intentions. Forethought helps ensure a fit between the individual and the place they will be calling home. As in most major life decisions, a hurried choice typically yields lukewarm results at best.

 

Planning Early is Crucial

Finances, housing type, and location. These three key considerations significantly help inform the choice of senior housing. The sooner you and your loved ones begin exploring the options, the better. Those who fail to act and end up making a decision based on emotion rather coordinated research, often regret not having acted sooner. Early planning is more than just smart. It’s essential for those who wish to take what some find to be a daunting task and turn it into a process of joyful exploration and an enriching experience for all involved.

Celebrating the Holidays in Assisted Living

Celebrating the Holidays in Assisted Living

Celebrating the Holidays with Seniors Residing in Assisted Living or Memory Care

Holidays in assisted living & memory care communities can still be fun, festive, and meaningful even if it means embracing new traditions. The holidays are about spending quality time with people you care about. Older adults in assisted living will feel loved and included when you find ways to bring the holiday spirit to them. Remind yourself that what’s most important is celebrating together in a way that works for the current situation.

To help you find ways to celebrate, we’ve outlined answers to three typical questions that can arise.

  • Should I bring mom home to celebrate with the rest of the family?

If mom doesn’t have dementia and you can handle her physical needs and transportation, going to the family home would be a great way to celebrate the holidays. Before deciding, talk with her to see how she feels about it. She may be concerned about getting too tired or needing help with personal care. Reassure her by explaining how her needs can be met. If she’s feeling shy or afraid that she’ll be a burden during a fun time, remind her of how much the family is looking forward to seeing her.

If your mom does have Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other cognitive impairments, it may be disorienting to take her out of a familiar environment. Staff members who know her well may help you decide what would work best. Some people with dementia enjoy festive events, but others are easily rattled by changes in routine, loud noises, or crowds. If your mom is likely to get agitated, it might be better to have a quiet mini-celebration in her room or just have a regular visit.

  • My dad has dementia. This year, he doesn’t even seem to know that it’s the holidays. Will he even know or care if we celebrate with him?

Even if your dad doesn’t seem engaged with the world, he’ll still enjoy spending time with you and family. You may or may not want to take him out of assisted living, depending on how well he usually does with outings. If he typically enjoys going out, then it may be a good idea. If not, turn the visit into a festive occasion if that’s likely to bring him joy.

It’s a perfect time to reminisce over old photos, sing along or listen to holiday music, or admire cheerful decorations. Unless he becomes agitated or upset by activities or change in routine, seeing you in the holiday spirit will likely brighten his day.

  • What activities can I do to celebrate the holidays with someone in memory care?

If your loved one has dementia, a low-key approach to the holidays may work better. Overstimulating holiday activities or busy decorations could be confusing or cause agitation. Start with a few simple decorations and smaller groups of visitors and see how things go. You can always add more or take some away, depending on the reaction.

For seniors with cognitive impairment, find creative ways to help them take part in family celebrations. Reassure your older adult that they won’t be forgotten or abandoned by telling them when you’ll celebrate with them.

Try these festive activity suggestions:

  • Decorate their apartment/room together. Get a mini tree, use garland to make a tree-shaped outline on the wall and tape ornaments onto it. Put a few decorative items around the room, or hang a wreath on the door
  • Help them think of and purchase gifts for kids and grandkids and wrap them together.
  • Arrange a family visit and open presents together it’s more fun when the whole group has presents to open
  • For family members living far away, arrange video chats so they can virtual visitors
  • Accompany them to a holiday event or meal hosted by the community at which they reside
  • Sing along with or listen to holiday songs together
  • Watch a holiday-themed movie
  • Work on a holiday-themed puzzle or a fun coloring page

Holiday Visits with Seniors – Things to Look For

Holiday Visits with Seniors – Things to Look For

Long-Distance Caregivers: Things to Look for During Holiday Visits with Seniors

In a recent study conducted by the National Alliance of Caregiving in collaboration with AARP, 15 percent of the estimated 34 million Americans who provide care to older family members live an hour or more away from their care recipient. This means that a significant number of caregivers rely on regular telephone conversations and check-ins by other closer-living relatives to gauge an aging loved one’s well-being.

Unfortunately, age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing new and worsening problems. For many of these families, holiday visits are the only opportunity for them to observe their loved one in person, so it’s important to pay close attention to their physical and mental health and their living situation.

During this year’s holiday gatherings, be sure to look for the following warning signs that a loved one may need some extra help.

Weight Loss
One of the most obvious signs of ill health, either physical or mental, is weight loss. Possible causes could be cancer, dementia, or depression. Seniors may also experience reduced energy, which can make it challenging to shop for and prepare a nutritious meal as well as clean up afterwards. Furthermore, all this effort can seem especially unnecessary if they live and eat alone. Certain medications and aging in general can also change the way food tastes. If weight loss is evident, talk to your loved one about your concerns and schedule a doctor’s visit to address the issue.

Changes in Balance & Mobility
Pay close attention to the way your loved one moves and how they walk. A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or obvious pain during movement can be a sign of joint, muscle, or neurological problems. If your loved one is unsteady on their feet, they may be at risk of falling, which can cause severe injury or worse. If you notice changes in their mobility and coordination, make an appointment with their doctor to discuss options to keep them safe and mobile, such as pain management, physical therapy, and mobility aids.

Emotional Well-Being
Keep an eye out for changes in your loved one’s moods and behavior. You can’t always gauge someone’s emotional state over the telephone, even if you speak on a daily basis. Look for signs of anxiety, including withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies, and changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene. The latter can be an indicator of dementia or other physical ailments like dehydration, which often happens to elders in the winter months and can be serious. If you notice sudden odd behavior in your loved one, such as confusion or agitation, be sure to seek medical attention. These are common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is prevalent in seniors and easily resolved with antibiotics.

Home Environment
Attention must also be paid to a senior’s surroundings. For instance, if your loved one has always been a stickler for neatness and paying bills promptly, but you discover excess clutter and piles of unopened mail while visiting, it indicates a problem. Take a walk-through of their home while you’re visiting to see if they are keeping their house to the usual standards. Be aware that sometimes the signs of trouble are a bit more subtle. Scorched cookware could indicate that your loved one forgets food on the stove or in the oven, and an overflowing clothes hamper could mean they don’t have the strength and/or desire to do laundry. Be sure to check the expiration dates on their prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Also make sure they’re taking their medications as prescribed. You know your loved one and their habits best, so go with your gut if something seems off.

How to Handle Signs of Decline
While you may want to keep things light during the holiday season, do take this opportunity to address any red flags you observe. Collect any necessary information while you are in town to avoid any added frustration and confusion in the event of a crisis down the road.

The Initial Conversation
First, have a heart-to-heart conversation with your loved one about their present circumstances and any concerns you may have. Suggest making an appointment with their primary care physician for a complete health assessment. The results of this evaluation will help you both determine what the next possible steps are may be necessary to keep your loved one safe, happy, and healthy.

Identify Supportive Resources
If possible, visit your local Department of Aging office. In the Eau Claire area, this would be the Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC). Their office is located in the Eau Claire County Courthouse complex in Eau Claire. They are an excellent contact for information on resources and services available in the area. While it may be more difficult to arrange a face-to-face meeting with one of their Options Counselors during the holidays, it is still worth reaching out or leaving a message by phone at either: 715-839-4735 or 888-338-4636. You can also visit their website at: https://www.co.eau-claire.wi.us/departments/departments-a-k/aging-disability-resource-center to research the services they offer.

Sit down with your loved one to create a current list of people they interact with on a regular basis. This list should include friends, neighbors, and clergy who you trust to keep an eye on your loved one and you can contact in the event of an emergency. Double-check their addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses, and…be sure to share your own contact information with them.

Prepare a To-Do List
Now is the time to begin compiling a To-Do List that can be implemented over a period of future visits. There are three categories to this list: medical, financial, and legal.

Medical: You’ll want to develop a complete medical record for your loved one, including their health conditions, prescriptions, and their doctors’ names and contact information. This is extremely helpful for you to have on file, and your loved one can keep a condensed copy on hand for both routine appointments and medical emergencies. Have you arranged to have a health care Power of Attorney (POA)? Information regarding this document as it pertains to Wisconsin residents can be found at: https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives/f00085.pdf.

Financial: A financial list should contain all of a loved one’s property ownership, debts, income, expenses, and bank account and credit card information. This list will help minimize confusion and ensure all their bills are paid on time.

Legal: The legal aspect of this To-Do List is possibly the most important. There are vital documents that must be obtained to ensure you can access your loved one’s medical information, make health and financial decisions in case they become incapacitated and administer their estate. If they have not already done so, it is crucial for your loved one to meet with an attorney to draw up medical and financial power of attorney (POA) documents and a will. You should have access these documents and other important information, such as their social security number, Medicare information, insurance policies, the deed to their home (if applicable), and their driver’s license (if he/she is still driving).

All of these preparations may seem excessive, but it is better to be over-prepared then caught off guard when a loved one’s care needs suddenly increase. Throughout this process, remember to empower them to control their own life as much as possible. You may receive some resistance, but remind your loved one that sharing this information and pursuing supportive resources will enable them to remain independent and safe in their own home and give you added peace of mind as you return home from your holiday visit.