by Shelley | Mar 23, 2023 | Caregiving, 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
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.
by Shelley | Mar 13, 2023 | Caregiving, 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.
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.
by Shelley | Feb 13, 2023 | Dear Donna
My parents both turned 80 this year and still live independently in their own home. Recently, I’ve noticed signs that have me wondering if we’ll need to make a change soon. Their house isn’t quite as clean and cared for as it’s always been, and even my mom’s physical appearance is a little less tidy.
I think it’s time for me to start exploring senior care options. One thing I don’t quite understand is how home care is different from assisted living. Do they offer the same services? Is it cheaper to stay home and hire a caregiver? My parents have the means to do either but have always been frugal. Finances will be an issue that impacts their decision.
Haley in Traverse City, MI
Home Care versus Assisted Living for Older Adults
Planning ahead is always a great idea when it comes to aging parents and their well-being. Failing to create a backup plan often means adult children are forced to find senior living after a loved one experiences a health crisis or accident. That makes an already stressful situation even worse.
When you are assisting an aging parent who is investigating their options for care, deciding between home care and assisted living is a common struggle. It really comes down to whether a senior loved one can age in place with support like home care or if they are better off transitioning to an assisted living community.
Cost plays a key role in making this decision. Many people mistakenly believe it is less expensive to age at home. Assisted living costs can be equal to or lower than remaining in a private home.
Other factors to take into account when comparing aging in place with assisted living include your parents’ health, availability of loved ones nearby to provide assistance, and the safety of their home. Many older homes aren’t built with the needs of seniors in mind. It can put them at increased risk for falls, which are a leading cause of serious injury among older people.
Here are a few more expenses to consider when deciding between aging at home and moving to assisted living.
Costs of Aging in Place versus Moving to Assisted Living
- Home maintenance and modification
When aging parents live in a home without a mortgage, it’s easy to assume staying at home and hiring an in-home caregiver is less expensive. Sometimes it is, at least temporarily.
In addition to utilities, however, a homeowner must also pay for maintenance and upkeep, property taxes, and repairs. Appliances will need to be replaced on occasion, including major appliances like the furnace, water heater, and air conditioning.
Depending upon the home and the seniors’ abilities, safety modifications, such as installing a step-free shower or improving lighting, might also need to be made. Those will significantly increase expenses. Older adults who age at home will reach a point when they can no longer maintain their home independently. They often need to hire service providers for chores like housecleaning, lawn care, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. One benefit of assisted living communities is that these expenses are typically included in the base monthly fees.
The aging process can bring unavoidable physical changes. Some might make the activities of daily living difficult for an older couple to handle independently. Personal care tasks, such as bathing, grooming, and dressing, might require a helping hand. That’s also true for menu planning, meal preparation, and transportation.
If your parents eventually need to hire an in-home caregiver for assistance, the expense can quickly add up. The cost of private duty home care has risen significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies now charge from $28 to $40 or more an hour, and many require a minimum number of hours per visit or per week.
By contrast, assisted living residents receive much of this support as part of their monthly fee. This includes meal preparation, housekeeping, wellness programs, personal care, transportation, and more. Unlike with home care, assisted living caregivers are on-site and available around the clock.
I hope this information is helpful, Haley! Please contact the Heritage community nearest to you if you have any more questions or would like to schedule a tour.
by Shelley | Jan 23, 2023 | Dear Donna
Since I retired a few years ago, I’ve developed insomnia. While I know many people have difficulty sleeping well as they get older, it’s new for me. I’ve read sleep issues can contribute to health problems, so I know I need to beat this.
Do you have any suggestions? The fatigue is really catching up with me this winter, and the timing is bad. I’m downsizing my house so I can start exploring independent living communities in Michigan to move to next summer. It’s hard work and I need more sleep so I can get things done!
Debbie in West Branch, MI
Tips for Seniors Trying to Beat Insomnia
Thanks for writing to me! First, know that sleep challenges become more common with age. Research shows as much as 30 percent of the population suffers from insomnia. But for older adults, the number soars to as high as 50 percent! Some seniors express difficulty falling asleep and others say it’s tough to stay asleep. As you mentioned, the lack of rest can take a toll on your health.
- Eat right and exercise: When you are tired from a lack of sleep, bad habits are more likely to slip in. Eating unhealthy comfort foods, sitting too much, and exercising too little are a few. It’s a vicious circle. Try to work on making better food choices and getting regular exercise. Start small, such as taking a 10-minute walk each morning and limiting how much time you spend watching television or on social media.
- Find healthy stress busters: You mentioned you are preparing for a move to an independent living community this spring. Even when you are excited about a move, change can be tough. Try to explore a few ways to naturally manage daily stress. Some suggestions might be meditation, chair yoga, or journaling.
- Develop sleep rituals: The lack of structure retirement often brings is another potential cause of insomnia. You might be able to overcome it by developing a sleep routine and rituals. Turn off your television and other devices at least one hour before bedtime to give your brain an opportunity to rest. Creating a dark, peaceful sleep environment helps too. If you can’t sleep when it’s too quiet, try using a white noise machine or a fan. Finally, go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Limit caffeine: Another common cycle that develops among seniors who have sleep problems is consuming too much caffeine. The energy boost it provides can be hard to resist when you are feeling weary. While caffeine does help in the short term, it can contribute to insomnia. Try to limit caffeine intake to the morning. Also, take time to learn about hidden sources of caffeine in your diet. Some examples include candy, supplements, protein bars, ice cream, and pain relievers.
If you try these ideas and still can’t get a good night’s sleep, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. You might have a condition like sleep apnea that requires medical intervention.
by Shelley | Jan 16, 2023 | Caregiving, 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
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!
by Shelley | Dec 8, 2022 | Caregiving, 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
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!