Is It Time for Assisted Living?

Is It Time for Assisted Living?

Dear Donna:

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

Dear Steven:

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.

Kind regards,


Are Assisted Living Expenses Tax Deductible?

Are Assisted Living Expenses Tax Deductible?

Dear Donna:

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.

Kind regards,

Christine in Holland, MI

Assisted Living Expenses and Tax Deductions

Dear Christine:

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.

Kind regards,


Is Your Senior Loved One Experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Is Your Senior Loved One Experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Does your aging parent or a senior in your family have a case of the “winter blues” they just can’t seem to shake? More than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 55 are impacted by seasonal depression. Shorter days, less sunlight, and more time spent indoors can increase feelings of sadness in the wintertime.

This change in mood could be a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD. It primarily occurs during colder months.

Recognizing the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors

If your loved one’s depressed mood has lasted for two weeks or more, it is probably time to seek professional help. Mayo Clinic warns caregivers to look for the following symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:

  • Unintentional weight gain or weight loss
  • Anger, irritability, or agitation
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty socializing
  • Self-isolation
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Trouble falling asleep, insomnia, or oversleeping
  • Hopelessness
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for carbohydrates

If the symptoms outlined above could describe your senior loved one, you probably need to take action. Here are a few ideas that may be useful.


How Family Members Can Help a Seniors with SAD

  • Get outside: A lack of sunlight, common in most parts of the world in winter, disrupts the sleep-wake cycle and brain chemicals. One way to help an older loved one feel better is to get outdoors each day. Accompany your loved one on a stroll around their neighborhood. Soaking up natural light helps to reset vitamin D levels and boost mood.
  • Open the blinds: Brighten up the spaces where your loved one spends most of his or her time. Open blinds and curtains to allow sunlight into rooms. Turn on all of the lights. It might also help to add plants and greenery to the home to simulate a more natural environment.
  • Consider light therapy: Using a light therapy lamp for 30 to 45 minutes a day can bring relief to seniors struggling with seasonal depression, says Harvard Medical School. These devices give off nondamaging UV rays that mimic natural sunlight and help regulate brain chemicals.
  • Promote an active lifestyle: Staying physically active may help your loved one manage his or her SAD symptoms. Chair stretches and low-impact exercises like swimming at a local fitness club not only help seniors feel vital, but can also alleviate symptoms of depression.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Since some experts believe SAD may be a result of vitamin deficiencies, consuming a well-rounded diet rich in nutrients may also lessen symptoms. Encourage the senior to prioritize fruits, vegetables, and lean protein in their diet.
  • Encourage mindfulness: Try to urge your senior family member to engage in activities like meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga, which are offered at many senior living communities. Because they nurture the body, mind, and spirit, they often help combat depression.

If you suspect your loved one is struggling with seasonal affective disorder, encourage them to schedule an appointment to talk to their doctor. They are the most qualified to evaluate the situation and determine a course of treatment.

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What to Ask during Your First Call to an Assisted Living Community

What to Ask during Your First Call to an Assisted Living Community

Dear Donna:

My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few months ago. Fortunately, his primary care doctor spotted the symptoms early and proactively referred Dad to a neurologist. While we know there is no cure for the disease, we are working with the physician to try to slow the progression.

Since my mom passed away three years ago, my dad has been living alone. He’s decided that instead of moving in with my family or my brother’s, he would like to move to an assisted living community as soon as possible. Though it isn’t what I wanted for him, it is his preference.

I’ve been researching assisted living communities close to our home. There are so many choices! Before I visit communities in person, I think I should make some phone calls and narrow down the list. Because this is all so new to me, I’m not sure what questions I should be asking. Do you have any suggestions?


Mary in Midland, MI

Creating a List of Questions to Ask an Assisted Living Community

Dear Mary:

It sounds like your father has put together a thoughtful plan for his future. There are many benefits to moving to an assisted living community sooner rather than later, such as:

  • Having a chance to get to know the community’s staff and residents
  • Participating in on-site wellness programs
  • Getting peace of mind from knowing he’ll have access to care when his needs change
  • Becoming familiar with the community early in his diagnosis

I understand the search process can feel overwhelming, and that’s true even for people who’ve been through this before. The best way to make an informed decision is by visiting potential communities in person a few times.

As you narrow your list to those communities you want to schedule appointments at, knowing which questions to ask is important. These are a few I would recommend:

  • Does the community have any current openings in assisted living? If not, how long is the waitlist?
  • Is there a dedicated memory care program for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia?
  • Does the memory care program have a waitlist?
  • How does the community help ensure a resident makes a smooth transition from traditional assisted living to memory care?
  • What are the monthly fees for assisted living and for memory care?
  • In addition to the monthly fees, what extra expenses is your dad likely to incur?
  • Is there a dedicated dining room for the memory care program?
  • Does the community have consistent staffing in the memory care program? Do team members who work in this area receive specialized training?
  • How will the community decide when it’s time for your dad to transition from assisted living to memory care?

I hope this information helps make your calls more productive!

Also, I’d like to invite you to put Edgewood Assisted Living Center on your list. It’s our Heritage community located in Saginaw, which is close to your Midland home. We offer assisted living, memory care, and respite services for older adults. Call us to arrange a tour at your convenience!

Kind regards,


How to Beat Caregiver Depression during the Holidays

How to Beat Caregiver Depression during the Holidays

Dear Donna:

My mom has been my dad’s primary caregiver for almost three years now. Winter is a tough time for her. My dad has mobility issues that make it difficult for him to get around, especially during bad weather. Even though I visit often, they are fairly isolated during the long Michigan winter.

My mom’s case of the blues seems to begin around the holidays and lasts until warmer weather returns. I’d like to prevent that from happening this year and wondered if you had any suggestions.


Luke in Gladwin, MI

Helping a Loved One Prevent Caregiver Depression

Dear Luke:

Winter can be a difficult season for many people, especially caregivers. Isolation is linked to a variety of health issues ranging from depression to weight gain. The coldest season of the year is also linked to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder. So, there are many reasons to take extra steps to prioritize mental health during the winter.

A few that might help you support your mother this holiday season and winter include:

  • Eating a healthy diet

When you are feeling blue, it is tempting to load up on comfort foods and sugary treats. While it can help in the moment, it actually makes the situation worse in the long run. Researchers have identified a link between diet and depression. People who follow a healthy diet are less likely to suffer from depression than those who consume processed foods and sugar.

  • Getting regular exercise

The demands on a busy caregiver’s schedule might make exercise feel like a luxury. However, physical fitness is good for the body, mind, and spirit. Encouraging your mom to exercise thirty minutes most days of the week might help protect her mental health. Two fifteen-minute exercise sessions a day will yield the same results as thirty continuous minutes.

  • Making sleep a priority

Sleep issues are another common challenge for family caregivers. Some people have trouble getting to sleep, while others can’t seem to stay asleep. This can occur for many reasons, most notably stress and fatigue. Regardless of the reason, sleep deprivation can contribute to seasonal depression. Talk with your mom to see if this is a problem for her. She may need to consult with her primary care doctor for advice if it is.

  • Encouraging remote check-ins

Socializing is essential to feeling connected. Spending even a few hours a week with friends and family can restore the spirit and make a caregiver feel less alone. If your mom isn’t able to visit with friends and family in person this winter, use a video chat platform to connect virtually. During COVID-19 lockdowns, many people became comfortable using programs like Skype and Zoom for video chats.

  • Considering respite care services

Caregivers need a break on a regular basis, including the holidays. Whether it’s a few hours a week or a couple of days a month, encourage your mom to take time for herself. Respite care at a senior living community can help. These short-term programs allow family members to keep a loved one safe while the caregiver takes a break.

I hope these tips are useful to you and your mom this winter!

Kind regards,


Schedule a Tour of a Heritage Senior Community

Taking a proactive approach to caring for a senior loved one often includes researching local care options. With communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage Senior Communities has a variety of locations from which to choose. Call us today to learn more and schedule a personal tour!

How Is Assisted Living Different than Home Care?

How Is Assisted Living Different than Home Care?

Dear Donna:

My parents are both older and have been struggling to stay in their own home. I live several hours away from them on the opposite side of Michigan. In addition to having a family of my own, I work full-time outside my home. It makes it tough to be there as often as my parents need me.

I’ve just begun to research options for senior care and it’s a little confusing. My parents live in the house they bought together over 40 years ago. They raised their family there and have so many fond memories attached to their home. However, it’s not very senior friendly. It has old bathrooms and lots of stairs to navigate. I find myself worrying that one of them will suffer a fall.

It seems like home care could be an option, but assisted living might be a better choice. Can you please help me understand the differences between these two types of senior care? Any advice would be much appreciated.


Theresa in Grand Rapids, MI

Comparing Home Care with Assisted Living


Dear Theresa:

This is a struggle we frequently hear from adult children. Their aging parents are unable to maintain their independence, and loved ones aren’t sure where to turn for help. The senior care industry has so many options available, it can be overwhelming. As you described, debating between enlisting the services of a home care agency or relocating to an assisted living community is common.

While both choices have similarities, there are distinct differences to better understand before making any decisions.

Home Care Basics

Home care, also referred to as in-home care or private duty care, brings services and support to people in their own house. It sometimes allows seniors to age in place, at least for a while. Depending on the older person’s situation, these professional caregivers help with anything from bathing and grooming to light housekeeping and meal preparation.

This type of senior care might be good for those who live independently and only need minimal to moderate assistance. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Home care assists seniors with routine tasks, such as morning showers and meal prep. It does not help with tasks that occur at random times, like nighttime trips to and from the bathroom.
  • Care is generally nonmedical in nature and doesn’t require a licensed nurse.
  • While it can be cost effective, home care is meant for seniors who need only a few hours of support each day, not for extended periods of time.
  • The older adult should live in a safe, senior-friendly home that doesn’t present fall risks.

Some families find home care is a good temporary solution while they search for an assisted living community. It helps keep senior loved ones safe so the family has time to make an informed decision for the future.

Understanding Assisted Living

Assisted living is often described as the best of both worlds: residents have their own apartment or suite, but caregivers are on-site around the clock. It’s a solution that allows older adults to maintain a greater sense of independence.

This type of senior housing can be ideal for people who:

  • Have mobility problems that put them at higher risk for a fall.
  • No longer drive a car and don’t have access to reliable transportation services.
  • Aren’t willing or able to plan menus, go grocery shopping, or prepare well-balanced meals.
  • Live with chronic medical conditions or are at risk for health issues linked to isolation, such as depression or cardiac disease.
  • Have difficulty managing their medications, including taking the right dosage at the proper time.
  • Are seeking an environment that makes it easier to make friends and stay actively engaged with life.

You might find the article “6 Ways Assisted Living Supports Independence among Older Adults” to be helpful in learning more.

If you have any more questions or would like to visit a Heritage Senior Community for a personal tour, please call us today! One of our experienced team members will be happy to help.

Kind regards,