Tips for Avoiding Social Isolation with Seniors

Whether you’re an adult child concerned about an aging parent or growing concerned about your own social isolation, recognizing the signs and symptoms is often the first step to be taken to protect yourself.

Sadly, isolation for senior citizens is a relatively common issue. It’s something that family members and the senior should pay attention to. Family members can play a crucial role in supporting an elderly loved one by being aware of the risks and signals of isolation and by stepping in to help with transportation.

Here are several tips that can help avoid social isolation:

  • Make sure that a loved one who has maintained church attendance continues to do so by identifying carpool opportunities or making other transportation available
  • Keep neighbors in the loop for regular check-ins and encourage weekly or regular social gatherings or meals.
  • Attend regular vision and hearing tests, as many seniors may be avoiding social interaction due to embarrassment about being able to see or hear properly. Making these tests easily accessible with transportation can be very helpful for a loved one.
  • Plan regular family interactions that include the elderly loved one. A weekly check-in or Sunday night dinner can give a senior something to look forward to and it’s a chance for family members to monitor health and nutrition issues in the elderly loved one.

Social isolation, when ignored, could lead to anxiety and depression. It can also amplify the impacts of cognitive and other healthcare issues.

If you’re concerned about an elderly loved one and want to ensure that he or she has properly planned for the future, consult with an experienced elder law attorney.

Your area Council on Aging might also offer programs to assist with these issues and some even offer free or reduced transportation. The following resources may be a great place to start:

Arlington

Woburn

Winchester

This Holiday, Honor Caregivers with Random Acts of Kindness

Nursing homeThe news is filled with horrifying headlines. As comfort, we remind ourselves that the world knows more kindness than tragedy, even if the former never earns the lion’s share of the coverage.

Though we seldom hear about them, millions of acts of kindness unfold on Earth every single day, big and small. I see some of them in my own clients.

America has a large and ever-growing elderly population, and many of those seniors require long-term care. For some, that involves a mix of professional services and volunteer family care. For others, a loved one’s sacrifice represents the primary or even sole source of daily care.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the long-term care provided in this country comes from unpaid family members. There are 40 million of those caregivers in the U.S. alone.

Family caregiving isn’t just an act of kindness. It is a lifestyle of kindness, defined by dedication, sacrifice, and love — day after day. These noble caregivers deserve our respect, appreciation, and shows of gratitude.

Last month marked National Family Caregivers Month, and as part of that, the AARP launched a Random Acts of Kindness Contest. They’re encouraging people to surprise caregivers with unexpected, heartfelt acknowledgements of their service. The winners will share a prize pot of $10,000.

The contest runs throughout the holiday season and on into March, so there’s still time to reflect on the caregivers in your life and devise the perfect surprise. Need inspiration? The Huffington Post offers a few ideas:

  • Send uplifting greeting cards and text messages
  • Offer to take care of time-consuming tasks, like boxing up holiday decorations after Christmas
  • Compile the latest research on whichever condition they’re providing care for (especially if the developments are of the encouraging kind)
  • Pay for their next meal or grocery list
  • Chocolate (because who doesn’t love chocolate?)

Whether those are bold enough to win a contest remains to be seen (AARP insists you don’t have to break new ground or get especially creative to win). Winners or not, though, they are guaranteed to lift the hearts of those who could probably use a pick-me-up now and then.

In my own practice as a Massachusetts elder law attorney, I see the wonderful work and tremendous sacrifice of family caregivers every day. To those people, I am proud to say thank you, bless you, and Happy Holidays.

November Is National Family Caregivers Month

æ??ã??握ã??Every November, the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) gives a formal, month-long salute to elder care’s unsung heroes: the unpaid, volunteer, in-home family caregiver. They call it National Family Caregivers Month.

More than 90 million Americans currently provide some sort of unpaid care to a loved one dealing with disability, disease, chronic illness, or simply the challenges of old age. CAN is a non-profit organization that helps to link those caregivers with helpful online and community resources.

Each National Family Caregivers Month is assigned a theme. 2015’s is RESPITE. It sounds almost like an Aretha Franklin song, and much like “respect,” “respite” is an R-word that America’s volunteer caregivers could use a lot more of.

CAN reminds us that, for these hardworking heroes, respite isn’t just a request. It’s truly a need. None of us can help others if we don’t also take time for ourselves. In recognition of that fact, the organization has taken this year’s theme and made it an acronym for the various ways that caregivers can help themselves to some peace of mind this holiday season:

Rest and relaxation — An hour on the couch to watch some TV, an afternoon on the beach, or a day at the spa can work wonders for rejuvenation.

Energize — All of us reenergize in different ways. Ask yourself where you find your “happy place” in life and make a point of spending some time there to recharge.

Sleep — In a way, caregivers are really sleeping for two. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep each night. I’m not saying you should aim for 16, but don’t cut yourself short with four or five either. As CAN notes, insomnia and other sleep disorders are notoriously common among caregivers. If you’re dealing with those, talk to a doctor. Solutions are available.

Programs — This year, CAN has partnered with the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to offer local programs throughout the country that help to accomplish National Family Caregivers Month’s goals.

Imagination — The brain needs a break too. Read a book. Doodle. Daydream. Let your imagination run free.

Take Five — Little breaks matter as much as big ones. Resolve to allowing yourself five-minute or ten-minute “breathers” throughout your busy days.

Exhale — Take a deep breath! Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and add energy to your daily life.

As a Middlesex County elder law attorney, I work with family caregivers all year long. I know how much they need some respite (and how rarely they get it).

That’s why I’m so happy to see an acknowledgment like National Family Caregivers Month come along. November really is the right time for it. Few people need to hear “thank you” more than those who’re making sacrifices in their own lives for the good of others.

Thank you.

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.

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.

Signs of Caregiver Stress

So much of the discussion about long-term care in this country is focused on the patients and the payments. That makes sense. Long-term care can be very expensive and it has an inestimable impact on the lives of the elderly who need it.

In giving those issues the attention they deserve, though, we mustn’t overlook one invaluable piece of the senior-care puzzle: the voluntary family caregiver.

About Health tells us that more than 22.4 million Americans are providing some form of informal, unpaid care to elderly or disabled relatives. Their efforts are noble but they can also be incredibly stressful.

We also know that the majority of visits to doctor’s offices in this country are stress-related. Stress is a real concern and a verified cause of illness. It is important, then, for caregivers to set a moment aside for serious self-assessment.

According to About Health, the following are the most common signs and symptoms of in-home caregiver stress:

  • Anxiety that doesn’t get better after a short time
  • Crying more than usual
  • Frequent sadness or mood swings
  • Low energy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. insomnia, oversleeping, etc.)
  • Changes in eating patterns (i.e. loss of appetite, overeating, etc.)
  • Social isolation
  • Diminished interest in your usual hobbies
  • Feeling that you don’t have time for yourself
  • Tension headaches
  • Feeling angry or resentful toward the person you are caring for

If you’ve checked off more than one or two of these, the following resources can help you manage your stress, connect with other caregivers, and find some balance:

Staying in strong physical and emotional health isn’t important for only the caregiver. The elderly recipient of care also needs somebody who’s staying in good spirits and good health.

If you’re caring for someone at home and feeling a little overwhelmed, please know that it’s normal and that you aren’t alone. Allow yourself to take a deep breath and create some “me time.” If you need outside help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Remember: you can’t help anyone else until you’re taking care of yourself too.

A Marriage to Remember: A Touching Short Film on Alzheimer’s

In a new short-film documentary entitled A Marriage to Remember, filmmaker Banker White takes a starkly intimate look into his parents’ struggle with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In her youth, Pam White was a model and an actress. Later, she devoted her entire life to her family and her kids. Now, they’re paying her back with around-the-clock in-home care.

The film visits Pam at an interesting moment in the course of her disease. For the most part, she’s still in command of her mental faculties. In one candid car ride, her son asks whether the confusion has been difficult for her. Wittingly, she replies, “I’m not confused. You think I’m confused?”

She isn’t arguing or in denial. She’s just being precise. Confusion isn’t exactly her issue just yet. Ultimately, Banker agrees. That wasn’t the right word.

It’s a telling moment that keenly illustrates the sneaky progression of Alzheimer’s. Here is a woman who still recognizes, still remembers, still engages in conversation, and is clearly still quite sharp. And yet she is also undeniably struggling.

Her husband has to pull her out of bed and help her shuffle from one room to the next and down the stairs. He tells us that the change in just one year has been “profound.” Her son says there are early mornings where he’s sure she doesn’t recognize them at first. “That is beginning,” her husband says.

But while the narrative of Alzheimer’s is often a sad one, sorrow is not the prevailing sentiment in A Marriage to Remember — and that is what makes it so impactful in its brief, eight-minute runtime.

“Initially, I was quite distressed,” Pam tells us. “…But it doesn’t really change anything… I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”

Blessed. What an outlook. And truly, the film is as much husband Ed’s story as it is Pam’s. It reveals the unshakeable strength of a marriage that is so strong that not even Alzheimer’s can break it. Theirs is a love for times both better and worse. It is truly inspiring.

Silver linings and love help to redeem even the darkest diagnoses. A Marriage to Remember is a testament to that. It’s a very short film, and I think you’ll be glad you watched it. You can find it streaming for free at The New York Times.

If you and your family are currently going through an Alzheimer’s experience of your own, I also recommend getting in touch with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as they offer a number of programs and services that can be of great help.

Amy Grant’s Three Tips for Family Caregivers

Amy Grant has made a career out of inspirational storytelling in song, earning six Grammy awards and more than thirty million record sales along the way. She’s one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time, but now she also has a new job title on her résumé: long-term care provider.

Grant’s parents were each diagnosed with different but severe forms of dementia late last decade. Her mother passed away in 2011, an experience that informed most of the songwriting on Grant’s most recent album, released in 2013.

Her father, meanwhile, still suffers from dementia so profound that he has lost nearly all his ability to communicate.

Grant sat down with Guideposts magazine to share three insights she’s found throughout the heartbreaking journey she’s taken with both her parents. Her tips for family caregivers include:

  1. Frame your experience in a way that gives meaning to what you’re going through.” Grant said that the key for them was finding a silver lining in an otherwise trying experience. “This is the last great lesson that we’ll learn from our dad,” she says.
  1. Spread the responsibility. Grant recommends making a list of all the people to whom this aging person matters. Rather than allowing an excessive burden to fall on just a few shoulders, encourage extended family and friends to realize that they’re a part of the puzzle too. She concedes, though, that relating to someone with dementia can be challenging for some family members, especially youngsters.
  1. Start preparing to fund long-term care as soon as possible. While Grant’s dad was a successful doctor and she herself has gone on to enjoy superstar fame, she recognizes that most families aren’t as fortunate. She stresses the need for parents and children alike to consider insurance and long-term care planning, even if everyone in the family is still in good health.

Her advice is well taken, and it is nice to see someone in the public eye shine a light on the need for long-term care planning, even as it comes in the midst of her personal sadness. For more of Grant’s eloquent and inspiring story, watch her Guideposts interview online.

Not Your Grandmother’s Long-Term Care

I always love to see major media outlets shine a light on elder care. Not long ago, “The Today Show” aired a wonderful segment about long-term care, encouraging young people to take it seriously and start learning about it now.

Carol Levine, author of Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies, joined the hosts to talk about the changing face of long-term care in the United States.

“The newer approach to long-term care is really not your grandmother’s long-term care,” Levine explained. Today’s approach differs from the previous generations in a few key respects. Generally speaking, she says, these include:

  • A wider range of options
  • Longer time periods, as people live longer
  • Care plans that are based on what people need, not on institutions’ needs.

But some things don’t change. Long-term care is still confusing and still very expensive. “Today” cited costs that span from $40,000 to $75,000 a year —sometimes higher. Often, it’s the families that end up paying for most or all of that.

Levine’s basic advice is golden. Do your homework, she says, and begin now.

She suggested starting small. Make your parents’ homes safer, more accessible, and more fall-proof. Falls often trigger an early need for elder care.

From there, you can start to put together a financial plan that might include savings accounts, trusts, long-term care insurance, retirement funds, health insurance, and more.

Like most things in life, long-term care is a mountain best scaled one stone at a time. Starting early is the key. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and ask. I’m more than happy to help.

Picking Up Where Mom and Dad Leave Off

Forbes recently asked its readers whether they could pick up where their parents leave off. It’s an odd question, and one that a lot of children won’t have asked themselves yet.

The point Forbes is making is that parents don’t simply leave an estate behind when they die. They leave a whole life behind, too. And someone has to tend to that.

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The article described a baby boomer who was vacationing overseas when she found out her elderly mother had suffered serious brain damage after a fall. Fortunately, the mother survived and recovered, but the daughter suddenly realized that she was totally unprepared to handle her mother’s affairs had something gone horribly wrong.

But Forbes isn’t talking about just an estate plan. The mother in this story already had all that — the will, the trusts, the healthcare proxy, and so on.

But what about the deed to her house? The list of bills that would need to be paid? Automatic drafts from her bank account? Keys to her property? Newspaper subscriptions? Credit cards? Community responsibilities? Documents related to a small business that a parent might own?

Your parents will leave whole lives behind when they pass. The little details can add up to a lot, and it can be a challenge to keep track of them all during the final years of a loved one’s life.

Communication is really the key when caring for an aging parent. Remember that no detail is too minor to bother with addressing now. You’ll likely be grateful that you did.

Each of my clients receives an Estate Planning Binder at the conclusion of our planning. This binder has sections that can be completed so that all the personal information someone might need is collected in one location.