How to Protect Your Older Loved One’s Identity During Tax Season

How to Protect Your Older Loved One’s Identity During Tax Season

Dear Donna,

I know that older adults are often the targets of financial fraud. How can I help protect my mother’s identity, especially during tax season?


Gina in Saline, Michigan

Protect Your Senior Loved One From Identity Theft This Tax Season

Dear Gina,

Tax season is stressful for everyone, especially older adults and their caregivers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, seniors are especially vulnerable to identity theft.

Because cognitive decline may impair an older adult’s ability to make financial decisions, caregivers should take special care to protect their loved ones.

How to Protect Senior Loved Ones During Tax Season

  1. Determine if your loved one needs to file.

Many seniors do not need to file federal tax returns if their gross income is under the IRS filing requirements. Gross income includes all income not exempt from tax, as well as Social Security benefits.

If your mom does need to file, determine how she should file (single or married, for example). If her husband passed away during the tax year and she has not remarried, your mom can file a joint return and receive deductions for the deceased spouse.

  1. Enlist the help of a trustworthy expert.

A licensed, educated accountant or financial advisor can assist with navigating tax laws and help you get the most out of your deductions. An appropriate advisor will explain the rules and their recommendations without pressuring you and will keep your information private.

  1. Secure personal and financial documents.

It may be a good idea to keep documents that are not often needed, such as wills, in a safe deposit box. If you keep important documents at home, lock them up when other people are visiting, and keep them out of sight in high-traffic areas. Shred unneeded documents, including receipts.

  1. Talk about common scams with your senior loved one.

Every year, the IRS publishes a “dirty dozen” list of common tax schemes. These include phone scams, in which criminals call people and impersonate IRS agents to demand payment or pose as fundraisers for fake charities.

Talk about these potential scams with your loved one and discuss how they should respond if they are targeted.

  1. Keep track of your loved one’s finances.

Caregivers can protect their loved ones by watching for unusual financial activity. Check bank balances for insufficient funds or unexplained withdrawals. Watch for unpaid bills, unusual attempts to send money, or suspicious signatures on checks.

Also watch for unexpected or suspicious changes to your loved one’s will or power of attorney, especially if your loved one cannot explain it or seems confused about the change.

  1. Consider an identity theft protection program.

The AARP Identity Theft Protection program offered through TrustedID is a program specially designed for seniors. From monitoring credit to identifying potential threats, you will likely find it to be helpful.

A Safe Environment for Senior Living

Heritage Senior Communities provide a safe, comfortable residence with numerous amenities for older adults. Contact us today to learn more, including details about our newer residences in Saline and Holland, Michigan.

How to Make Caregiving Easier for You and Your Loved One

How to Make Caregiving Easier for You and Your Loved One

Dear Donna,

I am my dad’s primary caregiver, but lately I have been struggling with the stress and to-do list of caregiving.

Do you have any advice that can help me while still respecting his personal needs?

Barbara in Grand Rapids

Tips for Making Caregiving a Little Easier

Dear Barbara,

Caregiving is a big job, and it certainly gets stressful. Fortunately, the right approach to your role can make things easier. Here are a few ways you can improve your caregiving while still preserving your loved one’s dignity.

  1. Let your loved one do what they can.

Reduce feelings of stress and burnout by letting your loved one do as much as possible. This not only reduces your workload but lets them preserve some independence.

Whenever possible, you should let an aging family member make their own choices, such as what to wear or when to eat.

If your elder loved one lives independently, look for changes you can make in their home to help them stay independent. For example, installing additional safety bars can help them get around.

Consult with your loved one about their wishes for housing, medical care, and other important choices. As a caregiver, seek to be your loved one’s advocate, not to take over their life.

If you are not sure about how much choice to give, talk to your loved one’s primary health provider. They may be able to provide more insight or suggestions.

  1. Get extra help before it’s needed.

Illness and other emergencies may prevent you from caring for your loved one. If that happens, do you know who to call? If not, it’s time to start asking other family, friends, and community resources for help. This will allow you to have a back-up plan in case of emergency.

Create a list of people and organizations you can reach out to. For example, ask other relatives to help out with regular tasks like lawn care or transportation. Search local groups for things like meal deliveries, home health visits, or social activities.

  1. Be patient and flexible with yourself and your loved one.

As a caregiver, you will make mistakes sometimes. When that happens, you can acknowledge them, learn from them, and forgive yourself. In your journey as a caregiver, you can get better at making decisions and understanding your loved one’s needs.

When you feel impatient with your loved one, remember what they are experiencing. Aging is a frightening and frustrating process, so be patient as you and your loved one face many changes. Things may not always go according to plan, and that is okay.

You can become a better caregiver.

Being a caregiver does not have to mean that you take over your loved one’s whole life. Respecting their wishes, asking for help, and learning patience can make you a better, more balanced caregiver.

If you need additional help with providing for your loved one’s needs, we are here for you. Contact Heritage Senior Communities to talk about how we can help you provide the best care for your loved one.

Holiday Fire Dangers and Seniors in Michigan

Holiday Fire Dangers and Seniors in Michigan

Dear Donna,

I have a great-aunt who really loves to decorate her house during the holidays. Before having everyone over on Christmas Eve, she spends hours decorating. Lately, I’ve heard that seniors are more likely to experience holiday house fires than other age groups, much of which seems to be caused by decorations.

My aunt really goes all out! I don’t want to spoil her fun or seem condescending, but I do want to keep her safe.

What can we do for her in terms of fire prevention without dampening her spirits?

Kind regards,

Chris in Saginaw

Holiday Fire Safety for Seniors in Michigan

Dear Chris,

Thanks for asking such a great question! Unfortunately, you’re right about older adults and their risk of house fires during the holidays. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, the rate of house fires goes up dramatically during major holidays. And people older than 65 are twice as likely to be the victim of a home fire during the holiday season as younger adults.

This doesn’t mean that your great-aunt can’t enjoy herself during the holidays. But it is important that she and the rest of your family understand the things that put her at risk so you can take the necessary precautions.

Let’s have a look at what those risks are and what you can do to reduce them.

Fire Risk Factors for Seniors during the Holidays

The sources of holiday home fires often include:

  • Burning candles
  • Damaged or defective holiday lights
  • Live Christmas trees that dry out
  • Electrical outlets and extension cords

The best way to broach this subject with your great-aunt is probably to share this information with her. Express your desire to help her have a joyous—but safe— holiday season. Then, offer to provide assistance in helping her reduce these risks so she can focus on staying merry.

Here are some ways to address the risk areas I mentioned above:

  • Invest in electrical candles that mimic natural flames
  • Only use high-quality indoor lights and make sure to inspect each bulb carefully for cracks or other damage
  • Purchase an artificial tree Christmas tree made of flame-retardant materials instead of a live one
  • Don’t overload electrical outlets with splitters, extension cords, or adapters
  • Design a detailed escape plan in case of a fire —one that takes any mobility problems into account

Thanks so much for the question, Chris. I hope this information is helpful and that you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season.



Do you have a senior care question?

Donna loves to help caregivers with questions about their senior loved ones. But if you have a number of questions or have one that needs answered immediately, please contact us. We’d be happy to answer any senior care questions you have or arrange an in-person meeting at one of our senior living communities.

Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna:

My mom has always looked forward to the holiday season, but this year, she doesn’t seem to have her usual enthusiasm.

 She is sleeping more and is less interested in her favorite holiday activities. What can I do to help her prevent the winter blues?

Kelly in Traverse City


Take Steps to Prevent the Winter Blues


Dear Kelly,

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” is a common form of depression among people in colder climates. Symptoms include low energy, overeating, sleeping more, and less interest in social activities.

There are many ways to help your mother feel better this season.

Eat a balanced diet to improve mood.


Many people with SAD indulge in carbohydrates and other “comfort” foods. This can cause weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and cardiovascular risks.

Help your mom choose more vegetables, fruits, and lean protein, and avoid snacks with refined sugars or sodium. Look for sources of vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, which may help with symptoms of SAD.

Physical activity improves overall well-being.


Research shows that staying active can improve cardiovascular health, maintain weight, and keep blood sugar levels stable. Physical activity has also been found to improve mood and memory among seniors.

If your mom has trouble getting around, she can start small. Just walking around the house, lifting light weights, or doing easy stretches can help.

Fitness centers and YMCAs have many low-impact options like walking tracks, treadmills, or swimming pools. An active video game, such as Wii bowling, is another way to get moving.

Try light therapy to reduce the winter blues.


Many people experience SAD because limited exposure to natural daylight during winter months can cause sleep disruptions and changes in brain chemicals. Special “light boxes” that imitate outdoor light may help.


Do some research to determine which type of light box is best for you. You may wish to speak to your doctor, especially an eye doctor, before making a purchase.

Stay connected to stay happy this winter.


Even if your mom doesn’t feel like socializing – a common symptom of depression – a small get-together with friends or family can make a big difference.

Encourage her to have coffee with a neighbor or invite family members over for the holidays. Joining a local group, such as a book club, also can prevent feelings of isolation.


Talk to a health care professional about seasonal depression.


If your mom is showing symptoms of SAD, it can help to see a doctor.

A healthcare provider may order tests to rule out problems such as anemia or hypothyroidism. He or she can also help determine the best treatment and prescribe medication if necessary.

As a caregiver, help is available to you!


Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caregiving? Heritage Senior Communities offers short-term options for seniors who need some type of assistance.

We provide a variety of lifestyle options that help our residents ward off the winter blues. Communal dining, physical activities, and medication assistance are just a few of the amenities we offer. Contact us today to learn more about our senior living options!


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How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

Dear Donna,

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I have what some people might think is a strange question. Last year, around mid-December, I noticed that my Mom seemed to be feeling down a lot.

She’s 80, and I’m wondering if she was feeling a touch of the holiday blues. I’ve heard of this, but I’m not sure what causes it. I’d like to keep this from happening again. What can I do to keep her spirits up this holiday season?

Thank you,

Beth in Grand Rapids

The Holiday Blues and Older Adults

Dear Beth,

Thank you for asking this question. It’s not a strange one at all!

Mental health is an important issue this time of year, and you’re very perceptive for wondering about your mom’s frame of mind. Here are a few reasons why she may be feeling down, plus some suggestions about how you can help.

Commons Reasons Seniors Develop the Holiday Blues

  1. Long Distance Family

We all like to think this is the ‘season of joy’ but not everyone experiences the season in quite the same way. For some seniors, the holidays can actually bring sadness—especially if their children and grandchildren live far away.

From your letter, it sounds like your mom lives near you in Grand Rapids. Are there other family members, perhaps outside of Michigan, that she yearns to see? Can you arrange for them to visit during the holidays?

  1. Loss of Significant Other or Others They Hold Dear

Even seniors who are surrounded by family members all year long can still suffer sadness. One reason is they may be facing their first holiday season without their spouse. Many have lost friends or other family members, and the holiday season can highlight their absence, too.

Has your mom recently lost someone dear to her? If so, there’s no denying the sadness she may be feeling. You can help by being there for her. If and when she wants to talk, be a good listener. Encourage her to express her feelings to you at any time. Check in with her every day and let her know that you care.

  1. Thoughts of Better (Healthier) Times

This season triggers memories of past holiday celebrations in all of us. For older adults, those memories may only heighten their awareness of aging. Some older adults get the holiday blues because they’re mourning the loss of their own mobility or other physical capabilities.

Has your mom been experiencing health issues? Is she frail or experiencing a loss of appetite?

If you think the symptoms of aging might be causing her holiday sadness, try to plan some fun outings in the upcoming weeks. How about a spa day? Museums or a show? Holiday shopping? Be sure to plan outings that are manageable day for her.

Distracting her from any health issues she may have can help improve her mental well-being. Plus, proving that she can still get out of the house and have fun–despite her health issues–should help lift her spirits.

  1. Set Aside Lots of Time Together

Finally, some people find that the cure-all for many issues is spending quality time together. For your mother, any loss that she’s experienced can spark strong emotions. It doesn’t matter if the loss is a spouse, a friend, a pet, or the ability to dig in her garden.

If she’s like a lot of people, she may feel those losses more deeply during the holidays. Facing those emotions all at once during what’s supposed to be a joyous season is enough to bring on the blues in anyone.

Spend quality time with your mother so she doesn’t have to face all those emotions alone. Ask her for help with holiday prep activities, make her feel needed and included, and most of all, show your love in a variety of ways.

Beth, I hope this has helped you to understand your mom a little better. May you and your mother have a blessed holiday season, from everyone here at Heritage Senior Living.


Heritage Senior Living Communities Invites Your Questions

Beth’s question raised a lot of important issues and we are glad we could help shed some light on her mom’s situation.

Do you have a question for Donna?

Send it our way and we’ll make sure she gets it.

Dear Donna – Can I Do Anything to Prevent Alzheimer’s?

Dear Donna – Can I Do Anything to Prevent Alzheimer’s?

My mom has Alzheimer’s and watching her slowly slip away is so awful.

It also makes me worry that I will develop this awful disease. I’ve read some researchers think there may be genetic links to some forms of the disease.

While I know there is nothing I can do about my family history, I wonder if there are any steps I can take that may help me prevent Alzheimer’s? 

I would appreciate any insight!


Stacey in Grand Blanc, Michigan


Can Alzheimer’s Disease be Prevented?

Dear Stacey:

Alzheimer’s is definitely a devastating disease a senior and those who love them. It is understandable that you would be concerned about developing the disease yourself.

Researchers are still struggling to learn more about Alzheimer’s. Although there is no proven method of preventing the disease, there are steps you can do that may help reduce your risk

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

Research has shown that seniors following the MIND diet have lowered their risk for reduced brain functioning by 35 percent. Even people who were so-so about maintaining the diet were 18 percent less likely to have reduced brain function.

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet with a few tweaks. The diet is pretty simple: eat lots of green vegetables and fruit, particularly berries. Include whole grains, nuts, poultry, and fish.

Salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are especially good for preventing Alzheimer’s because they contain omega-3 fats.

Dairy products, in moderation, are OK if they are low in fat. Olive oil is on the diet, but red meat, sugar and salt should be limited. Also, limit alcohol intake.

Smoking cigarettes is not recommended on this diet.

Anyone who puts effort into following the MIND diet will likely see a payoff. It can include a better functioning heart, healthy blood vessels, and optimal blood pressure—all of which are factors that decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise For Your Life

For years, studies have shown that exercise can benefit the brain and delay the start of Alzheimer’s. People who are less active have a higher risk of developing this disease.

Exercise helps to keep the blood flowing and increases the chemicals that protect the brain. The key is to exercise several times a week for 30 minutes or an hour. In a relatively short time you will feel the benefits of exercise: sharper thinking, improved memory, and better decision making.

Reduce Stress Daily For Your Memory And Mood

In a study looking at how stress impacted the brains of mice, researchers found that stressed mice had high amounts of a protein called beta-amyloids in their brains. These proteins cause memory problems.

Other research has linked these beta-amyloids to Alzheimer’s. Avoiding stress may be one way to keep your brain healthy.

But, let’s face it, stress in life is unavoidable. So it’s especially important when you are a caregiver for a parent with Alzheimer’s  that you find ways to de-stress.

  • Take advantage of community support through online resources or phone help lines.
  • Use relaxation techniques: breathing exercises, visualization and muscle relaxation.
  • Take time to express yourself. Self-expression through music, art, writing, private dance or movement can all help.
  • Find ways to leave your problems behind for a little while. That might be by taking a walk, going to a movie or watching funny videos of babies or pets. There are days when just a long shower or an early bedtime can be a big help.
  • Use positive affirmations and self-encouragement to reduce stress.
  • If you have faith, use it to find peace and comfort while you are caring for your loved one and taking steps to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

When The Stress Gets Too Much

Finally, it might help you to consider using respite care at the Heritage Senior Communities. Short-term breaks can do a lot to restore balance, energy, joy and hope.

My very best wishes to you and your family, Stacey.