My husband and I have been providing emotional and physical support to his uncle for several years now. However, a recent change in health has made that very difficult to continue doing. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease about 8 months ago.
Uncle Jim has been a widower for over 10 years. He’s very independent and fiercely proud. But the changes we started detecting about a year ago made us concerned about his safety. After convincing him it was time to see a doctor, we were sad to receive this diagnosis.
Though we live fairly close, he is alone all day long and many evenings. My husband, children, and I are in and out, but I think he needs more. I worry he will wander from home, become lost, and something awful will happen to him.
Our uncle is on a fairly tight budget, but since he’s a veteran he might be entitled to more assistance from the Veterans Benefits Administration. My friend told me there is a benefit that specifically helps finance senior care and different health care needs.
Could this benefit help pay for a move to a memory care community? While we are sad not to be able to care for him at home, we know that his safety and well-being will likely be better in a community known for caring for people with dementia.
Can you help connect us with information about this benefit for veterans?
Jake and Jenny in Midland, MI
Understanding the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit for Senior Care
Dear Jake and Jenny:
I’m glad your friend talked with you about this benefit. It’s sometimes overlooked because veterans and their families aren’t aware it exists. It is known as the Aid and Attendance benefit and was created to offer financial support to veterans and their spouses or the surviving spouses of deceased veterans.
Veterans aged 65 or older who served at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of which was during an acknowledged period of war, may be eligible for this support. This benefit also extends to surviving spouses of veterans.
Here’s a quick overview of what veterans and their loved ones should know:
- Demonstrate need: The veteran or surviving spouse must be able to demonstrate the need for assistance. The Veterans Benefits Administration conducts an evaluation to make this determination. Factors such as the senior’s ability to independently perform daily activities and any disabilities one or both spouses have are used in the assessment.
- Financial qualification: The Veterans Benefits Administration will look at the family’s yearly income and total net worth when deciding if they qualify for assistance and in determining how much they will receive. These guidelines are established by Congress and are adjusted each year.
- Current pension recipient: Applicants must already be receiving a VA pension or must be eligible to apply.
- Honorably discharged from service: A veteran must have parted from their military service in good standing. Those who received a dishonorable discharge are usually not eligible for these benefits.
- No service-related injury required: One myth is that the veteran must have sustained an injury during their time in military service to qualify for help. That’s not true. A qualifying health condition does not need to be related to their time in the service.
Finally, the Veterans Benefits Administration mandates that a veteran must have served least 90 days of active military service to receive this benefit. At least one day of that service must have taken place during an acknowledged period of war. This is the current list of wars and conflicts that meet the period of war requirement:
- World War I (April 6, 1917–November 11, 1918)
- World War II (December 7, 1941–December 31, 1946)
- Korean conflict (June 27, 1950–January 31, 1955)
- Vietnam era (November 1, 1955–May 7, 1975 for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period; otherwise, August 5, 1964–May 7, 1975)
- Gulf War (August 2, 1990–a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)
I hope this information is helpful to you and your uncle. If you have questions, I encourage you to contact one of the Heritage Senior Communities. Our team members are well-versed in the Aid and Attendance benefit and may be able to help you find answers.
Because many families have loved ones scattered around the country, face-to-face gatherings might only take place a few times a year. During phone calls throughout the year, an aging parent or family elder might say they are doing fine and don’t need anything. Then a trip home during the holidays suggests otherwise.
Sometimes, adult children and family members aren’t sure if the changes they see in their senior loved one are normal signs of aging or something else. They also wonder how to tell if an older adult is safe at home or if it’s time to consider making changes.
Having the family together in person might provide an opportunity to talk about a senior loved one’s hopes for the future and where they see themselves living as they grow older. You might be surprised to discover an independent senior wants help but hasn’t known how to go about finding it.
What to Look for during a Holiday Visit with a Senior?
If you will be traveling to an aging parent’s or grandparent’s home during the holiday season and it’s been a while since you’ve visited in person, you may notice some changes. It could be the condition of their house and yard or their personal appearance.
“Warning Signs an Aging Parent Needs Help” is a good article to review and learn from. It can help you identify if the changes you notice in a senior loved one are normal signs of aging or a red flag for something more serious. It can be tough to distinguish between the two sometimes.
If you decide a family member does need a little extra help, whether it’s home care or a transition to assisted living, it can be difficult to figure out what to do next. Just bringing up the subject can be awkward. In fact, adult children often avoid having this discussion entirely and just hope for the best. Then a crisis occurs and families are forced to rush what should be a more thoughtful process of finding care.
Even if you initially think of it as a backup plan, becoming familiar with senior care options is important. The holidays are a great time to visit an assisted living community.
Why Families Should Visit Senior Living during the Holidays?
While it may seem like a terrible time to visit an assisted living community, the opposite is usually true. Communities are often festively decorated and have a wide range of activities taking place. Here are just a few reasons to schedule a tour when you are home for the holidays.
- Faraway family members can participate.
When an older adult is beginning the search for an assisted living community, it’s important to visit in person at least once. It’s even better if you can tour the community several times. Having different sets of eyes evaluate any community you are seriously considering is helpful.
One of the most popular benefits of assisted living communities is the wide variety of social opportunities residents have. During the holidays, things are even more lively. Most communities are festively decorated and bustling with activity. High school choirs often perform, youth groups visit, and special family nights filled with goodies are planned.
- Meet current residents and their families.
Just as your family is reuniting during the holidays, so are those of assisted living residents. When you schedule a tour, ask if you will have an opportunity to talk with current residents and their family members. This can help you gain a personal understanding of a community’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Beat the post-holiday rush.
January is a busy time of year in assisted living communities. The phones are ringing with families who realized that their loved one needs help after a holiday visit. You can beat the post-holiday rush by exploring your options before the end of the year. Another bonus of visiting and planning a move now is that you will have first choice from open or soon-to-be-open apartments. If the community has a wait list, your senior loved one can be placed on it sooner.
Schedule a Holiday Visit to Heritage
With locations all across Michigan and one in Indiana, you’ll likely find a Heritage community near you. We invite you to call today to set up your private tour!
I’ll be in Michigan to visit my dad for a few weeks during the holidays. When I visited over the summer, we decided it was time for him to start preparing for a move. While we discussed downsizing to a condominium, we finally agreed that a senior living community might be better.
When I’m back next March, we plan to look for senior living communities that offer independent and assisted living. That way he can enjoy an independent living apartment while having peace of mind that help is available if and when he needs it.
Since my visit will be longer than usual over the holidays, my dad and I thought it might be a good idea to get started. We want to tackle some of the downsizing we’ll need to finish before he moves. He is still living in the large house that he and my mom raised all five of us children in. They weren’t always great about getting rid of things, and he’s been especially bad since she passed away two years ago. So, we have a big job ahead of us.
Do you have any suggestions for how I can get this process started? I don’t want to disrupt his house too much since he will likely be there until May or June. But I think I need to take advantage of the free time we’ll have when I’m in town.
Lisa (and my dad, Steve) in Sutton’s Bay, MI
Downsizing a Senior’s Home & Preparing for a Move to Senior Living
Dear Lisa and Steve:
It sounds like you have a solid timeline for your anticipated move, so you are off to a good start! Downsizing is one of the biggest challenges families face, especially for older adults who’ve lived in their house for many years.
Here are a few tips that might give you a head start on moving without being too disruptive for the remainder of the winter and spring:
- Start in the rooms least often used: Since you mentioned five kids grew up in your parents’ house, I’m betting there is a lot of childhood memorabilia left behind. It might be good to begin your clean-up efforts in rooms storing these items. It’s usually a good idea to set up different boxes and label them by their ultimate destination. For example, “Charity,” “Family,” or “Other.” You’ll likely need some big trash bags, too. As you make your way through each room, toss items into these boxes or the trash. This is a good system to help you work your way through every room.
- Make decisions about furniture: Most independent living apartments are smaller than a senior’s current home. I’m sure that will be the case for your dad since he’s coming from a big house. It might be a good time to walk through the house and think about what furniture will move with him and what will need to find a new owner. If he has valuable antiques, it might be worthwhile to host an estate sale or to try to sell them online. You can also find out what charities nearby might arrange to pick up furniture and other large household items he will no longer need.
- Consider hiring a senior move manager: Because it sounds like you live far from your father, one more suggestion is to hire a senior move manager. These professionals help handle all of the details of a transition to a senior living community from assisting with the packing process to hiring the movers. They could keep the downsizing process moving during the winter when you won’t be there.
Finally, one more resource you might find helpful is “10 Tips for Downsizing and Moving a Senior Loved One.”
Visit a Heritage Community in Michigan During the Holidays
The holidays are a great time to schedule a tour of a senior living community. The hustle and bustle of the season combined with the festive decorations make these communities feel especially inviting. We extend an open invitation to families to call a Heritage community and set up a time to stop by!
Indiana and Michigan winters are known for being cold and snowy. The rough weather can take a toll on the immune system, especially for older adults. Then there are concerns about the viruses that reappear or worsen during the winter months, such as influenza, RSV, and COVID-19. While they can be annoying and uncomfortable at any age, these viruses can be especially dangerous for seniors.
At this time each year, we try to share a few tips to help seniors and their family members pump up their immunity. It’s important because a healthy immune system is vital for everything from warding off disease to protecting you against infections.
Tips to Help Seniors and Caregivers Boost Their Immune System
A few ways you can give your immune system the boost it needs before the worst of winter arrives include:
- Adopting a healthy diet: When the days are frigid and gray, many of us seek comfort. We might spend more time on the couch curled up watching television or with a book. Our need for comfort often includes overindulging in foods that are high in carbs and sugar. While you might get a short-term boost from those types of snacks and meals, they will leave you feeling more tired and sluggish in the long run. Winter might be a great time to explore a new way of eating. One diet that receives the highest marks from experts year after year is the Mediterranean Diet. Rich in lean protein and fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s believed to help guard against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and some forms of cancer. The Mediterranean lifestyle also places high value on hydration, whether it’s drinking water or eating fruits and vegetables known for being hydrating.
- Being active: Winter weather often forces people to spend more time indoors. Doing so makes it much too easy to slip into unhealthy habits, such as watching too much television and skipping exercise. That combination is bad for your body’s natural immunity. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Fortunately, there are many options for exercising indoors during winter Tech products, such as an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, can remind you it’s time to get up and move. Tai Chi, Pilates, cycling on a recumbent bike, using resistance bands, and practicing chair yoga can be done in the privacy of your own home.
- Protecting mental health: When the winter winds blow, people often feel melancholy and sad. Others experience higher amounts of stress and anxiety. Each of these can negatively impact your body’s immunity. Another health matter to be aware of is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It can lead to a serious case of depression. That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place for nurturing the spirit. A few options to explore are meditation, arts and crafts projects, journaling, or music therapy.
- Sleeping well: Insomnia and other sleep problems increase with age. It can be the result of a lack of exercise, a medication, sleep apnea, and more. If you are struggling to get a good night’s rest, talk to your physician. They might have some suggestions for you to try, including referring you for a sleep study to help identify the root cause and potential treatment options.
- Updating vaccines: If you haven’t seen your primary care physician this year, schedule an appointment for a physical. That will provide you with an opportunity to check in with your doctor about which vaccines you need. From an annual flu shot to the new RSV vaccine, there are good tools for protecting against common viruses. If you do come down with the flu or COVID-19, for example, being vaccinated helps you avoid hospitalization.
Try Respite Care at Heritage This Winter
If the idea of you or a senior loved one spending winter months at home alone causes stress, you might want to consider a respite stay at Heritage. You can be our guest for a few weeks or months. During your short-term stay, you’ll enjoy the same amenities and services as our long-term residents.
From opportunities to socialize to well-balanced meals, it’s a great way to make the winter a little less cold and lonely. Call a Heritage community near you to learn more!