My 91-year-old great-aunt lives nearby. She has outlived her husband and her daughter. While she seems very spry for her age, I do worry about her living alone. My wife and I convinced her to give up driving several years ago after she experienced a few fender benders. We have been her primary sources of transportation since then.
Recently, I’ve noticed some changes that leave me wondering if it might be time for her to move to an assisted living community. I think she might be receptive to the idea, but I’m not sure how to tell if this is the right choice. Do you have any suggestions?
Steven in Saginaw, MI
Common Signs a Senior Needs Assisted Living
When a family member first notices physical or behavioral changes in a senior loved one, it’s natural to wonder if it’s normal aging or a red flag for something more serious. One factor to keep in mind is your aunt’s generation is known for being independent and reluctant to admit when help is needed. Asking for help or admitting she might need to make a change may not be easy for her.
So, how can you objectively assess if she needs to transition to an assisted living community? While many signs may be subtle, here are some common red flags that indicate a senior loved one needs help:
- Lack of housekeeping: Is her once-tidy house beginning to look a little rough? Are dirty dishes piled up in the sink? Is the kitchen trash overflowing? Is spoiled food in the refrigerator? Does the home just look messy in general? Odors are another clue a senior is struggling.
- Change in personal appearance: A change in an older adult’s personal appearance can be another warning sign. Clues to look for include disheveled hair, body odor, and clothing that isn’t clean or is inappropriate for the season.
- Lack of interest: Other worrisome behavioral changes include withdrawing from favorite activities, skipping church services, or losing interest in friends and family. It might be a sign of depression. Isolated seniors are at increased risk for it.
- Evidence of falls: While research shows falls are the leading cause of disability in older adults, many believe the numbers are much higher. That’s because older adults don’t always inform loved ones when they suffer a fall. Look for scratches or bruises, especially on your aunt’s arms and legs. Another sign might be if she sticks close to her favorite chair and isn’t up and about as much as usual.
- Unintended change in weight: A noticeable and unintentional change in weight can signal potential problems. She might be having difficulty preparing healthy meals. Or it could be a host of other problems, such poor appetite from a medication she takes, ill-fitting dentures, or depression. Weight change is an important issue that should be discussed, possibly even with her physician.
- Mismanaging finances: Keeping household finances on track can be tough at any age. If your aunt is paying some bills twice while neglecting others entirely or seems to be spending more money than usual, there may be something wrong. She may have fallen victim to a financial scam or identity theft.
While these are some of the most common signs a senior might need assisted living, it’s important not to overlook the many benefits communities offer. They range from making new friends to having dedicated caregivers to provide support around the clock.
If you have questions about assisted living or would like to set up a personal tour, we invite you to call the Heritage location nearest you.
Being the family caregiver for a spouse or parent who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can present many new challenges. From safety and security to quality of life, loved ones often struggle for solutions. One is figuring out how to help the older adult live their most meaningful life.
If you are new to caregiving or just looking for some new ideas, we hope this information will be useful.
What to Remember When Planning Activities
As you begin creating a list of activities a loved one with dementia might enjoy, keep a few safety tips in mind:
- Exercise caution in public places: Large crowds can increase agitation for people with Alzheimer’s. They can also put you and your loved one at greater risk for being separated. You might want to invest in a GPS tracking watch or device just in case the worst happens and your family member wanders from you.
- Consider best and worst times: Most caregivers get to know when their loved one is usually at their best and when they struggle most. Working around those times can help. For example, restricting activities to the early hours of the day can help prevent evening wandering and agitation if your family member experiences Sundowner’s syndrome.
- Plan snack and hydration breaks: People with Alzheimer’s sometimes fail to recognize thirst and hunger. It can increase their risk for dehydration, especially on hot days. Keep water with you on outings and remind your senior loved one to drink frequently. The same is true of snacks and meals. Pack a lunch with foods you know your family member can easily consume.
Activities to Enjoy with Loved One with Dementia All Year Round
Keep this list in a convenient spot so you can refer to it easily when you need a new suggestion:
- Take photos of your garden or a nearby botanical garden and create a collage.
- Plan a kitchen herb garden or a container garden in an easy-to-access spot.
- Buy fresh produce at an indoor farm store or farmer’s market, weather permitting.
- Make homemade ice cream, frozen fruit pops, or smoothies.
- Blow bubbles with a grandchild.
- Hang an attachable bird feeder on a window to enjoy feathered friends.
- Pick a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch and paint a fun face on it.
- Enjoy a nature walk or drive along the shore of a river or lake.
- Deadhead flowers in the garden or do a little weeding.
- Feed the ducks at a local park.
- Rake leaves and bag them up to compost.
- Water or feed plants in the garden.
- Watch family videos or look through old family photos.
- Take the dog for a long walk in the morning.
- Go bird-watching and try to capture photos of the different types you see.
- Listen to old music while you have a dance party in the living room.
- Visit a fruit farm and pick fresh blueberries or strawberries.
- Enjoy the aromatherapy that comes from baking an apple pie, cookies, or bread.
- Arrange fresh flowers in a vase or place them in a press to make notecards.
- Purchase craft kits or supplies from a local hobby store to use when you need an activity in a hurry.
We hope this gives you some fun ideas to help make a loved one with dementia feel more productive!
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Caregiving for a senior loved one can come with many rewards. It may give family members who’ve drifted apart the opportunity to reconnect and reminisce. There’s also the warm feeling that comes from lending support to someone who cared for and nurtured you. But there are also difficult realities caregivers encounter.
Depression associated with witnessing the decline of a loved one’s health can be serious. So can isolation family caregivers often experience, especially those caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
The following tips might help you find holistic ways to beat the caregiver blues.
Steps Caregivers Can Take to Protect Mental Health
- Eat a healthy diet: It’s tempting to load up on comfort foods and sugary treats when you are feeling down and lonely. While that often provides a short pop of energy, it makes the situation worse over time. Researchers have found a strong link between diet and depression. People who eat healthy foods are less likely to suffer from depression than those who consume a diet high in processed foods and sugar. By contrast, a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean protein helps people enjoy a better overall wellness.
- Get regular exercise: Don’t mistake the hustle and bustle of hectic caregiver days for exercise. Unfortunately, the tasks associated with the business of caring for a loved one don’t usually equate to physical fitness activities. By engaging in 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, you’ll likely see your mental health improve. Researchers say that’s because working out releases endorphins that improve mood as well as the quality and duration of sleep.
- Make sleep a priority: Sleep problems are all too common among family caregivers. Some family caregivers have trouble falling asleep while others can’t stay Stress, worry, and fatigue are often the underlying causes. Regardless of why, sleep deprivation can worsen depression. If you just can’t get a good night’s rest no matter what you try, talk with your primary care physician. They may need to order a sleep study or check for other health conditions that may be the culprit.
- Visit with loved ones remotely: Socializing is essential to feeling connected and supported. Yet, caregivers often feel guilty making fun a priority when there are so many tasks they think they should be doing. Spending even a few hours a week with friends and family can restore the spirit and make you feel less alone. If you can’t visit in person, use a video chat platform to connect virtually. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most people have become familiar with video chat programs like Skype and Zoom.
- Take time off: To be a good caregiver, it’s essential that spouses and adult children take time for themselves on a regular basis. Book a massage, have lunch with a friend, work on an art project, or watch a comedy to unwind. If you don’t have someone close to you who can help, explore respite care at a local assisted living community or adult day programs. Both of these short-term solutions will keep your senior loved one safe while you take time to yourself.
Plan for the Future by Visiting a Heritage Community
One final suggestion for caregivers is to create a care plan for the future. While no one likes to think the worst will happen, there might come a time when a senior loved one will need more or different care than families can provide. That’s why it’s a good idea to explore local senior care options.
For four generations, family-owned Heritage Senior Communities has long been recognized as an industry leader. Call the community nearest you to set up a personal visit to learn more today!
My husband and I have been helping my mom finance home care for a few years now. Over the holidays, we decided that moving to an assisted living community might give her a better quality of life. Because we live almost two hours away from her, we can’t visit her as often as we’d like. Other than her home care aides, she’s alone in her apartment quite a bit.
We are working on a budget for this move. Because her income is fairly limited, my husband and I will likely pay for most of her monthly fees. We are happy to do that but wonder if assisted living expenses might be tax deductible.
Christine in Holland, MI
Assisted Living Expenses and Tax Deductions
It’s common for adult children to help pay for care if a parent’s income and assets fall a little short. Like you, families often wonder if assisted living costs are tax deductible. Unfortunately, the answer is somewhat complicated.
Some families aren’t aware that they may be entitled to a tax deduction. Others know about it but find the process too confusing to navigate. Much of the uncertainty stems from the challenge of determining what portion of a senior’s monthly fees are considered medical care. Another difficulty is figuring out if a senior meets the criteria to be a dependent.
There isn’t a quick answer to either of those issues. Some senior living providers offer a breakdown on which monthly expenses are considered medical and which are custodial. This can help address the first issue. The second is more complex.
Because we aren’t in the business of offering tax advice, we generally suggest enlisting the services of a tax advisor with knowledge of the senior care industry. Before your meeting, it may be helpful to review several areas of the tax code that pertain to senior care and tax deductions:
- IRS Tax Publication 502: This publication outlines medical and dental expense regulations. It will give you a better understanding of what the IRS considers to be medical care and what financial threshold you must meet. This section of the IRS code also defines what a “qualifying relative” is. That’s important to help determine if your relationship to your family member meets the criteria.
- IRS Tax Publication 503: Like publication 502, IRS publication 503 further explains what dependent care expenses are. It also outlines which expenses you can deduct for a loved one’s medical care.
Finally, I want to mention a few additional programs that might help pay for your mother’s move to an assisted living community:
- Aid and Attendance Benefit for veterans
- Long-term care insurance, which often helps pay for more than just nursing homes
- Bridge loans to cover expenses while families liquidate other assets
- Life settlement funding that pays you more than the face value of a life insurance policy
If you visit and tour a Heritage community in Michigan for your mother, one of our experienced team members can walk you through the programs listed above.
I hope this information is helpful! And I hope you and your mom will put Heritage on your list of assisted living communities to consider.
Most people associate fitness with physical activity. We visualize people walking, cycling, swimming, weight lifting, or performing aerobics. While that’s a vital part of healthy aging, another type of fitness is important, too. That is giving your brain a daily workout.
One way to do that is by becoming a lifelong learner. Here’s what we know about continuing to challenge your brain with new information and hobbies as you grow older.
Brain Health and Continuous Learning
After you retire, it’s easy for bad habits to sneak up on you, like spending too many hours sitting in front of the television. Not only is a sedentary lifestyle bad for your physical health, it’s bad for your cognitive health, too.
Just like with muscle mass, the phrase “use it or lose it” applies to cognitive health. When you settle into a routine and your brain isn’t stimulated by new things, cognitive well-being can decline. But when you make a point of learning something new every day, your brain responds by staying alert and active.
A few ideas to make brain health a part of your daily fitness routine could include:
- Learning a new language: Learning another language is a great way to test and expand your mind. While it might be fun to take a class at a local community college or learning annex, online platforms may be more convenient and cost-effective. Duolingo and Babbel earn high praise from users. By spending two hours a week on either one, you’ll be able master a basic understanding of a new language in four to five months.
- Taking a class: Many universities and colleges offer seniors the option to audit classes or take a course at a deeply discounted rate. You could learn more about marine biology, art history, or literature with students of all ages. Another choice might be to take advantage of programs top tier colleges offer online. For example, you could choose Marketing Analytics through the University of Virginia or Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies at Harvard University. No matter what your educational background, you can sign up for a class of your choice. Most are free.
- Creating music: The benefits of music are well documented. It has the power to soothe, uplift, or calm the spirit. That’s why it’s used as therapy in settings like hospitals and hospice care centers. Learning how to play a musical instrument stimulates the brain. Explore sites like Music Go Round and Reverb to find and purchase used musical instruments from guitars to drum sets. If classes aren’t offered by any music stores near you, try Simply Piano or Simply Guitar by JoyTunes. It’s a great option whether you need a refresher or are new to learning an instrument.
- Dabbling in art: The process of creating, even if you don’t think you have any artistic skills, challenges the mind and boosts the spirit. If you don’t have a nearby art museum or school that offers classes, you can find one online. Sites like Creative Live and Skillshare host virtual art classes on topics ranging from photography to drawing. And don’t forget about YouTube. You can find a variety of free educational videos to watch and learn from there.
- Reading a book: Another activity that stimulates the brain is reading. Whether it’s the latest thriller or a new science fiction release, a good book can be brain food. If you don’t have the space to add more books to your collection or are trying to stick to a budget, ask your local library about e-lending programs and apps like Libby that allow you to read online.
Opportunities for Learning Abound at Heritage Senior Communities
We understand that staying mentally and physically active is an essential part of healthy aging. Therefore, our residents have a variety of programs and events to participate in every day. From stretching and walking groups to religious services and art workshops, Heritage communities are a thriving place to call home. Call the location nearest you to ask for a copy of our monthly activities calendar, and join us for a program of your choice!