Nursing Homes Replacing Hospitals for Primary Senior Care

We always hear about the rising number of Americans who turn to hospitals (particularly Emergency Rooms) as their primary source of healthcare. Likewise, we hear a lot about the constantly rising costs of nursing homes in America — especially here in Massachusetts and throughout New England.

I was struck, then, by a recent New York Times article that makes a surprising report: senior citizens are increasingly less reliant on hospitals for healthcare, as nursing homes are able to step up to the plate in their place.

Why the shift? Here are a few factors:

  • Healthcare Mobility — As the Times notes, many complex procedures like blood transfusions used to require several days spent in an outpatient hospital wing. These days, those same procedures can practically be done on the go. Nursing homes can give their residents a quick lift to a nearby medical center for a transfusion in a matter of hours. All of the follow-up care, including IV therapy, can be done back in the resident’s own room.
  • Risk of Injury and Infection— Despite popular belief, the hospital isn’t the safest place for the elderly. Falls, bedsores, depression, and hospital-acquired infections are all dangerous and increasingly common risks of any hospital stay. While those perils are present in nursing homes too, the rates of occurrence tend to be a little lower there.
  • Costs — Nursing homes are extremely expensive, but so are hospitals. Regularly relying on hospital clinics or Emergency Rooms can prove even more financially taxing than the monthly nursing home bill. That fact has insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid urging nursing homes to ramp up their roster of hospital-like services.

Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Amazingly, many of today’s nursing homes still don’t staff registered nurses 24/7, and not all homes offer the same easy access to nearby outpatient clinics.

It is encouraging to know, though, that alternative approaches to senior care are developing quickly. Within the next few years, we may see seniors spend less and less time in hospitals, and that should hopefully translate to financial savings, fewer infections, and a lower rate of hospital-related injury.

Naturally, though, paying for nursing home care remains a real challenge, regardless of how much additional time gets spent in a hospital. Fortunately, proactive planning can make those costs much more manageable. To that end, my office can be of some help. Give me a call today to talk about setting up a plan that makes sense for you.

10 Ways to Live Longer (And They’re Easier Than You Think)

I write a lot in this blog about the ever-expanding lifespan of the average American, and much of that is thanks to truly incredible developments in medical science over the past few years. But living longer can be a personal victory too.

Medical Daily recently published a list of ten easy practices we can all put in place to earn a longer life. Many of them are common sense, but the important thing is to bundle them all together in the same lifestyle. When carried out in concert, these simple “life improvements” have been proven to lead to a longer and more fulfilling life.

  • Exercise — The more the better, but even a little walking and standing can help. This one’s at the top of the list because it’s more effective than all the rest.
  • Don’t Smoke (or Stop Smoking Now) — Every month you quit could add a year onto your life!
  • Avoid Drinking & Hard Drugs — It’s no secret that illicit drugs can ruin the body and brain in no time, but it’s important to remember that “softer” drugs like alcohol take nearly the same toll when consumed in excess.
  • Feel Young— Research shows that people who feel younger inside actually live longer. Mind over matter!
  • Stop Sitting So Much — Some studies show that a sedentary lifestyle can be as deadly as smoking. For reasons we don’t entirely understand just yet, the physical act of sitting is almost toxic to the body. Do as little of it as possible.
  • Eat Well — Fruit, vegetables, whole foods, etc. Whether you go organic, Mediterranean, or even adopt a diet all your own, be sure to avoid excessive sugar, calories, chemicals, processed foods, and all those other tempting vices. Opt for heart-healthy foods!
  • Keep Your Mind Sharp — People who stay mentally active into old age are known to have substantially lower rates of dementia.
  • Stay Social— Loneliness isn’t just depressing; it’s deadly. Some studies find that loneliness and obesity yield identical early-death rates.
  • Maintain Positivity & Purpose — People who maintain a positive outlook and a sense of purpose have drastically lower levels of stress. Since stress is a major source of internal bodily damage, avoiding it can extend your life considerably.

Chances are, you’re doing a lot of these already. Why not make a couple of changes so you can score a perfect 10 out of 10? The proof is in the pudding, after all. These little changes make a big difference!

Apple and the Tech Giants Want to Revolutionize Elder Care

Giants are on the loose, and they have their eyes set on seniors… in a good way.

The titans of the tech industry, Apple and Google among them, have decided to make elder care one of their next big targets for technological integration. That might seem like a curious choice. The elderly have never been poster children for next-gen apps, Internet connectivity, or electronics. Studies tell us that many seniors haven’t even adopted smartphones yet (though that’s quickly beginning to change).

So why’s Silicon Valley so interested?

Well, for one thing, the mobile adoption rate is changing… and fast. Developers see the writing on the wall. The mobile industry is set to witness unprecedented growth in senior device adoption over the next couple of years. It’s an untapped market that the big tech companies are ready to make the most of.

There’s also the “cool” factor. Smartphone developers and medical scientists have teamed up to develop some amazing, revolutionary, and potentially life-saving technologies for mobile devices. Already, people can use their phones to check heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and a host of other vital signs in real time. And that’s only scratching the surface.

We’ve seen other developers come up with communication platforms that give seniors instant access to health care providers, emergency responders, family members, and close friends.

MarketWatch reports that “tons” of promising startups are on the horizon too — companies determined to develop platforms that will piggyback on multi-billion-dollar investments in the elder care marketplace by the likes of Apple, Google, and IBM.

In fact, CEOs Tim Cook (Apple) and Virginia Rometty (IBM) have even pledged to “disrupt” senior care (a trendy term for fundamentally changing the way things work). As part of that, they’ve just rolled out an initiative to put elder-oriented technology in the hands of Japan’s seniors.

All of this in a matter of mere months. Imagine where we might be a few years from now. Technology has never been so exciting. It’s all fun and games until it saves a life, and then it starts to really matter.

What Senior Care Looked Like Sixty Years Ago

Nearly 60 years ago, in 1959, LIFE magazine ran a four-part photo essay that spawned national outrage and spurred the country toward change. Billed as a real-life kind of horror show, the magazine captured in stunning detail the harrowing experience of America’s senior citizens.

This was before Medicare, before Medicaid, before our modern medical advances, and just a couple of decades into Social Security. If the elderly are still fighting for visibility in today’s society, they were all but veiled then. Most Americans were blissfully unaware of the typical conditions in a senior care facility, which were far worse than the still-lacking nursing homes we know today.

Shot in haunting black and white, the pictures shook readers to their cores. There was nothing especially graphic or grotesque in them, but the stifling unhappiness of these people’s lives was nearly tangible. LIFE challenged readers to picture their own parents or grandparents “stored away like vegetables,” reminding the young that a similar fate awaited them, too.

Then the editors went beyond merely showcasing the problem. They called for action and solutions. Looking back, we might consider it one of the many impetuses for Medicare and Medicaid. Indeed, in a new retrospective on the original photo essay, TIME/LIFE credits Medicare with much of the change we’ve seen since then.

Unfortunately, Medicare and Medicaid still don’t solve all of senior’s problems, and securing their benefits can prove entirely too difficult. In my office, I work with the elderly and their families every day to ensure that their own senior-care experience paints a much better picture. With the right strategies and plans in place, there is no reason that today’s elderly can’t enjoy extremely happy and fulfilling lives throughout old age.

If you’d like to look back into the past, you can view many of the 1959 photos on the TIME/LIFE website. Meanwhile, if you’d like some help with your own senior care planning here in the present day, please feel free to give me a call. I’m here to help.

For Some Families, Estate Planning Is People Planning

Some of the best sitcom episodes are those in which the protagonist family goes on vacation. Invariably, they mess up. Tickets are left, bags are lost, plans derail, and tempers fly off the handle.

That’s how it goes, isn’t it? Nobody’s family is fully functional 100% of the time, and life’s “big events” only seem to turn up the pressure.

Along those same lines, there’s a new editorial in Forbes, arguing that people are the most important ingredients in your estate plan — and the author isn’t talking about beneficiaries. Instead, it’s the people you leave in charge who might make a mess.

“Estate planning is less about having the proper paperwork in place and more about managing the people in your life,” writes Charles Sizemore, a chief investment officer who decided to give all his documents to his own estate planning attorney for safekeeping.

“The fact is,” he says, “you can do all the ‘correct’ paperwork and have an airtight will and testament in place, but it won’t matter if your spouse or heirs can’t remember where it is or what to do with it.”

That’s a bigger problem for some families than others. Which kind is yours? The vacation comparison is a useful indicator. Are you a smooth-sailing clan? Or is the Home Alone airport frenzy an annual reenactment for you?

If your immediate loved ones aren’t always the most organized or cool-headed in trying times, you might want to look for a more suitable party to serve as your personal representative or even as a “documents keeper.” Then, as Sizemore suggests, give everybody else in the family that person’s business card.

Who should you pick? There’s no right answer. It doesn’t have to be a family member, nor does it have to be your estate planning attorney. In the right circumstances, I can provide that service for some of my clients, but I also help people strategically select other third parties who happen to make sense in their situations. Give me a call and we can talk about the right choice for yours.

Artist Ages a Woman from Baby to Old Age in Mere Minutes

It’s often said that life goes by in the blink of an eye. Now, an artist has created an incredible video that shows it happening almost that quickly, and the effect is deeply moving.

Korean artist Seok Jeong Hyeon, better known as “Stonehouse,” uses the magic of computer illustration and animation to age a woman from infancy through old age in a matter of minutes. Impressively, the basic features of her face and body remain constant, and yet he moves her through different fashions and states of maturity, all achieved with the smallest of changes.

You can watch the video on the Daily Mail website. Be prepared, though, especially if you’ve had children of your own — tears are likely!

The video really impresses upon us two inescapable themes of life: it changes fast, and yet somehow a central part of us remains the same. Watching Stonehouse’s work, it’s easy to recognize my own journey in much of that progression, and I’m sure that’s true for many of yours too.

It’s especially moving to consider that somewhere along the middle of the piece, the artist’s young subject may have had a baby of her own, starting the “circle of life” all over again.

Life is as precious as it is rapid, and that’s true at every single stage along the way. The more we change, the more we stay the same. Growing up and growing old really are art forms all their own, and nothing could be more beautiful.

Daily Exercise Promotes Mobility and Wards Off Dementia

Confirming what experts have suspected for a while now, a new scientific study by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago finds that daily exercise has a profound limiting effect on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As an added bonus, daily movements also prevent the kind of brain damage that could impair mental and motor function as you get older.

The study adds to our growing understanding about how non-medicinal lifestyle changes may largely ward off the worst parts of growing old. Its findings are reported in greater detail at WebMD.

Most interestingly, the researchers reveal that you can claim these protective health benefits for yourself with only a moderate amount of pleasurable physical activity. In other words, you don’t have to run a marathon.

That’s very important because the biggest reason that people avoid an active lifestyle is that extreme exercise simply isn’t fun. Given the prospect of working up a daily sweat on a miles-long hike, many choose to settle in on the couch instead.

But that’s a false dichotomy. Seniors needn’t choose between extreme sports and couch potato-dom. Researchers found that even more moderate amounts of enjoyable movement could be equally effective, so long as it’s safe and daily.

Their advice isn’t only for the elderly, either. The earlier in life you adopt daily physicality, the more fully you can protect against future brain damage (and the sooner you can start reversing any damage already done).

Given the fact that dementia is on the rise all around the world, I’m thrilled to see so many new reports about simple lifestyle changes that we all can make to meaningfully reduce our risk of disease.

Of course, it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t a guaranteed cure-all, and even the most active senior is likely to experience an increase in healthcare costs as they age. Even in a future that could see substantially fewer cases of dementia, long-term care planning remains important. The good news, though, is that it’s a future we can really be excited to plan for.

Elderly Entrepreneurs: Small Business & Old Age Go Hand in Hand

We sometimes tend to think of upstarts and entrepreneurialism as a young person’s game. Not so! The truth is that American businesses span the whole age spectrum, and the aging-and-elderly populations make up a bigger portion than you might think.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released its Business Dynamic Statistics from 2014, and the results are surprising:

  • 16% of small business owners are under the age of 35
  • 33% are ages 35-49
  • 51% are ages 50-88!

Additionally, the Census found that the average age of a first-time business founder is 39. Similarly, the report shows that most of America’s small businesses have already been around for decades, and their owners are much older now.

That tells us a few things. For one, as I often mention, so-called “old age” isn’t always the slow-paced lifestyle it’s made out to be. It isn’t uncommon for someone in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the business world.

The study also demonstrates that a great many Americans need to consider their small businesses as part of an estate plan. Someone will need to take over those businesses — or at the very least, manage their affairs — in the event of unexpected death. Practically speaking, that requires a lot more than simply transferring ownership interest to somebody else in a will.

If you own a business in Massachusetts and aren’t sure whether your existing estate plan adequately safeguards your company against worst-case scenarios, I’d be happy to talk with you about options for shoring up those plans.

Small businesses and old age go hand in hand. Together, we can make sure yours will stay in good hands too.

Who Takes Care of You If You Don’t Have Kids?

When it comes to growing older, there is one great insurance plan that you simply can’t buy from an agent: your children.

Family members provide the majority of senior care in this country. They do it with little training, no pay, and in spite of their own busy lives — all out of the goodness of their hearts. The situation isn’t ideal, but given the cost of senior care (especially for those suffering with illness), it’s often the only practical option.

But what happens if you don’t have kids to care for you?

A new study shows that a growing number of people in the U.K. are choosing not to have children there. That could mean major changes to their healthcare system in less than a generation’s time. A few years ago, The New York Times told us that a similar trend is happening here in the United States.

Potentially, an increase in childless seniors could spell catastrophe for the healthcare system. But so far, that hasn’t been the case.

Studies find that childless couples do not receive less care on average than those with kids. Nor do they score any lower on the happiness index. Very few express regret over the decision not to become parents, just as those who did have kids are happy to have done so. It seems most people are more or less happy with their lot in life by the time they reach the end of it.

Still, the Times notes, older Americans do worry about who’ll help them down the road. For many, “chosen family” networks — friends, volunteers, and support groups — fill the void.

Will that continue as a viable system-wide solution as the number of childless elders grows? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, one of the best steps you can take for yourself is to begin a long-term care plan as soon as possible. Making legal and financial arrangements today could spare you a lot of hardship and anxiety in later years.

There’s no reason for anyone to fear the future, regardless of the lives they’ve chosen for themselves. If you’d like to talk about your options, feel free to give me a call. We can put together a plan that will give you peace of mind.

Estate Planning Disasters!

A solid estate plan is a great disaster-avoidance tool. The majority of Americans don’t have so much as a Last Will and Testament in place, and that’s a recipe for family feuds and assorted complications.

Every now and then, though, an estate plan can actually cause a disaster. Almost always, it’s because the person doesn’t consult with a professional first, or because they forget to update their plans following major changes in their lives.

Forbes recently assembled six such scenarios, all of them real-life stories about families learning the hard way that prudent planning matters. Some are amusing, others distressing, and they all serve as encouragement to give our estate plans a second look.

There was, for instance, the man whose wife died, followed a short time later by his own death. Since she was the only beneficiary listed in the will, his estate went to his next of kin — a woman he’d never met living in a country far away and his late wife’s estranged daughter. Not quite what he intended!

Another woman was distressed to learn that her husband had never updated his will after divorcing his first wife. Much to his widow’s surprise, most of his major assets — including a big life insurance policy — went to his ex. Meanwhile, the widow had to split the rest of the estate with her mother-in-law (as you might have guessed, they don’t get along).

Gleaning a few life lessons out of these cautionary tales, Forbes offers the following bits of advice to all of us who are still among the living:

  • Chose your Personal Representative with care. Just because a child was born first, doesn’t mean he or she is the best choice.
  • Update your will and ensure that it’s valid (don’t simply assume).
  • When crafting wills/trusts, dispose of your estate’s assets with specificity.
  • Amend your list of beneficiaries after any birth, death, wedding, etc.
  • From a tax perspective, never underestimate the value of your personal property.
  • Don’t give large sums of money to minors without restrictions.

Sage advice, certainly! Having an estate plan is very important, but it’s equally essential that it be capable of carrying our your intended wishes. An outdated or sloppily drafted estate plan can have unfortunate and unforeseen consequences. Diligence really does pay off.

If you’d like to make doubly sure that your own estate plan is safely outside the “disaster zone,” please don’t hesitate to contact me for an easy review.