Are There Senior Care Benefits for Veterans?

Are There Senior Care Benefits for Veterans?

Dear Donna:

My great uncle lives alone in northern Michigan. Since his wife passed away, he’s been getting increasingly isolated. While I visit as often as possible, my home is almost three hours away. He’s finally decided he would be better off in a senior living community. We are going to start searching for potential options with a goal of moving in the spring.

A colleague told me his father qualified for special financial assistance because he is a veteran like my uncle. How can I learn more about this program? My uncle has always been careful with his money, but he could benefit from a little help paying for care.



Veterans Benefits for Senior Care

Dear Nicole:
Thank you for asking this question! It provides me with an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite programs. Like you, many veterans and their families aren’t aware of it. Commonly referred to as the Aid and Attendance benefit, it was created to ensure that those who served our nation and their surviving spouses receive the care they need.

Your uncle must meet certain eligibility criteria, including having served 90 days of active-duty service. At least one day of that service must have been during a recognized period of war.

Other eligibility requirements veterans such as your uncle must meet include:

  • Age or disability: To receive this benefit, a veteran must be at least 65 years old or be totally and permanently disabled. Seniors who live in a nursing home or receive skilled nursing care may be eligible, as can veterans who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
  • Financial criteria: There are both income and asset thresholds for veterans applying for the Aid and Attendance benefit. The Veterans Administration will look at the veteran’s overall net worth when determining eligibility.
  • Physical condition: The veteran and/or their surviving spouse must also meet one of these conditions to be eligible:
    • Be bedridden
    • Live in a nursing home due to mental or physical limitations
    • Be blind or nearly blind
    • Require the aid of another person to perform everyday living tasks (e.g., dressing, bathing, feeding, toileting)

While families might think the process is too complicated, it’s important to know it can make a significant difference to veterans who qualify. The financial rewards change every year or two, but can range from $14,761 a year for a surviving spouse to $27,194 for a veteran with a spouse or child.

You can learn more by visiting the Pension Benefits area of the US Department of Veterans Affairs online. The staff at Heritage Senior Communities will also be happy to help answer questions. Call the community nearest you today!

Best of luck in your search, Nicole!

Kind regards,


What to Ask on a First Call to an Assisted Living Community

What to Ask on a First Call to an Assisted Living Community

Dear Donna:

After visiting my mother in Michigan for Christmas, I realized she’s no longer safe living alone. While she is a little reluctant to move, she agreed that she may be happier in an assisted living community.

We decided that I would do some research online and make phone calls to communities that seemed like a good match. Having never done this before, however, I’m not sure what to ask. It all seems a little overwhelming.

What questions do you suggest I put on my list beyond availability and price? I’d be grateful for any input you could offer.



Important Questions to Ask Assisted Living Communities

Dear Stephanie:

The initial phone call to an assisted living community is important. Like you, many family members aren’t sure what to say or ask. Price is understandably at the top of the list, but there are a number of equally essential questions you should add.

Here are a few suggestions I hope you will find helpful:

  • How does the community recruit and train caregivers?

Quality care depends on attracting experienced, compassionate caregivers and providing ongoing training. Be sure to ask each community how their team members are recruited and screened. Then ask what kind of initial training staff receives. Remember, training shouldn’t stop after orientation. Make sure staff development happens regularly.

  • What is the community’s turnover rate?

When the community’s staff turnover rate is low, residents, caregivers, and families are able to develop meaningful relationships with one another. It promotes better continuity of care and more engaged residents.

Caring for seniors can be difficult, however, in ways other types of employment aren’t. It is physically demanding and emotionally challenging. Befriending an older resident and then watching their health decline isn’t easy. Yet assisted living team members do it throughout their careers. Keep that in mind.

  • What is the staff to resident ratio?

Another factor that influences the quality of care at an assisted living community is the number of experienced caregivers compared to the number of residents. Having time to build relationships translates to better care. The bond between caregivers and residents makes it easier for staff to identify and intervene in potential problems early.

  • What happens when a resident’s needs change?

While no one wants to imagine the worst, it’s essential to look ahead and plan for changes. Ask what will happen if your loved one’s care needs change.

For example, how would they respond if your mother develops an illness like Alzheimer’s disease? Can they provide the help she needs or will she have to move to a nursing home?

  • How can you review the community’s state survey results?

Assisted living communities are regulated at the state level. The laws in each state are a little different. One common denominator, however, is that states conduct surveys to ensure communities are complying with regulations.

Survey results, including family complaints, are public for anyone to review. Most states make these available online. In Michigan, you can review the last two years of survey results here.

  • What safety measures are in place to guard against COVID-19?

Lastly, make sure you ask how the community is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of cases ebbs and flows, a community’s approach might change. It’s important to understand what procedures are in place to lower the risk to residents and staff.

I hope this information helps you create your list, Stephanie! I’d also like to invite you to call the Heritage community nearest to your mother when you begin your search.

Kind regards,


How Do I Talk to My Husband about Giving Up Driving?

How Do I Talk to My Husband about Giving Up Driving?

Dear Donna:

My husband has been our only driver since my battle with colon cancer two years ago. However, I need suggestions for talking to him about hanging up his car keys for good too. I’ve seen plenty of news stories about older drivers who harm themselves or others in an accident, and I don’t want him to be one of them.

He is 84 years old and has a variety of health conditions. Some of his medications have tough side effects, including drowsiness and dizziness. My husband’s reflexes are slow and he just isn’t flexible enough to stay safe behind the wheel.

I’m not sure how to broach this subject with him. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Margie in Midland, MI

Older Driver Safety Week Kicks Off

Dear Margie:
You’ve expressed a fear many spouses and adult children have. It can be a contentious topic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the perceived lack of alternate transportation options. Older adults often tell us that knowing they would be able to give up driving played a key role in deciding to move to a senior living community.

Your timing in asking this question is great! The first full week of December is designated as Older Driver Awareness Week each year. It gives me a good opportunity to shine the spotlight on safety and senior drivers.

As you mentioned, tackling the subject with a loved one isn’t easy. A few tips for talking with your husband include:

  • Explore transportation options: Before you talk, explore alternative transportation options in your area. Having a list of choices ready to share with your husband may make him more willing to entertain the idea of giving up his keys.
  • Ask how he feels: A good way to open the conversation might be to ask your husband how he feels about driving. You might be surprised to learn he is a little fearful about it. He might not have mentioned it before because he thinks the two of you have no other options. Once you agree it’s time for him to stop driving, you can work on a transportation plan together.
  • Show him evidence: If your husband isn’t onboard with the idea of hanging up his car keys for good, be prepared to kindly and gently share your concerns about his fitness for driving. Point out any bumps and dents on the car. He might not even know they are there and it could be a wake-up call. Also talk to him about the medication side effects you are noticing.
  • Enlist his physician: There are other steps you can take if your husband won’t agree to stop driving. One is to visit his primary care physician together and seek his or her advice. The doctor can perform a physical, including checking his reflexes and flexibility, and objectively review the situation.

I hope these tips make this discussion go a little easier, Margie!

Kind regards,


Heritage Senior Communities Offer Transportation

Transportation is one of the most popular services at Heritage Senior Communities. Depending upon current COVID-19 conditions, residents can utilize transportation for physician appointments, lunch outings, shopping trips, and more. Call the Heritage community closest to you to learn more!

Where Can I Learn More about Alzheimer’s?

Where Can I Learn More about Alzheimer’s?

Dear Donna:

My grandparents live about six hours away from me. We’ve suspected my grandfather was having health issues, but never imagined it would be Alzheimer’s. While relatives visit them almost every month, we never noticed signs of Alzheimer’s.

A few weeks ago, my grandfather became lost while walking the dog. It was terrifying for my grandmother and led to his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

My family and I are trying to learn all we can about the disease. I’m especially seeking advice on how to discuss this with my children. Do you have any suggestions?

Best regards,


Alzheimer’s Disease Resources and Tools

Dear Alyssa:

While some people with Alzheimer’s exhibit the classic sign of forgetfulness early, the symptoms can be more subtle in others. They might include withdrawing from social activities or making mistakes with finances. Then a major event occurs, like your grandfather becoming lost, and the disease becomes more obvious.

You are on the right track in trying to learn about the disease. It will teach you how to support your grandfather now and in the future. Fortunately, resources and tools are much more readily available than in the past.

Visit these sites to read and learn more about Alzheimer’s disease:

  • What is Alzheimer’s Disease?: The Alzheimer’s Association created this very comprehensive online resource. It covers everything from symptoms to disease progression and research.
  • Inside the Brain: If you like to know the “why” behind everything in life, this brain tour will be of interest. It starts with a detailed explanation of how the brain works and moves on to how Alzheimer’s impacts brain function.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet: Created by the National Institute on Aging, this fact sheet is actually a series of links to useful articles. Topics include clinical trials, treatment, and caregiver support.

Finally, I encourage you to bookmark and follow the Heritage blog. We regularly publish articles like Talking with Kids about Alzheimer’s Disease and Activities for Kids to Do with a Grandparent Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease.

I hope these resources are useful, Alyssa! Feel free to call any of the Heritage Senior Communities if you have any questions about Alzheimer’s disease or memory care. One of our experienced memory care team members will be happy to assist you.

Kind regards,


Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

Family owned for four generations, Heritage Senior Communities is a respected name in dementia care services. With communities throughout Michigan, we encourage you to visit Specialized Dementia Care to learn more about our unique approach to caring for adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

How to Avoid Caregiver Depression This Holiday Season

How to Avoid Caregiver Depression This Holiday Season

Dear Donna:

I am a full-time caregiver for my father, who has dementia. I took on the role several years ago, and it has become increasingly demanding. The holidays are especially tough. Because he can’t be left alone, I’m unable to attend any family gatherings. The coronavirus has made everything worse this year.

As we head into the holidays, I know I need to proactively boost my spirit to avoid holiday blues or depression. I already connect with friends and family on Facebook, but do you have any other ideas?

Thank you in advance for your help,

Cindy in Saginaw, Michigan

Staying Connected: Holiday Ideas for Caregivers

Dear Cindy:

Your struggle is one we often hear from caregivers, especially when their loved one has some form of dementia. This year’s coronavirus worries have made caregiving even tougher. The good news is the forced isolation has also brought to light more opportunities for making virtual connections.

While there’s nothing better than being face-to-face with loved ones during the holidays, we have some ideas that might boost your spirit until that is possible again:

  • Virtual game night: For many families, games are an essential part of holiday gatherings. Platforms like Houseparty, Zoom, and Skype make it easier to play virtually. Houseparty, for example, allows you to play games together no matter your location. This app has games like Finish the Lyrics and Heads Up: Act It Out.
  • Cookie exchange: Another idea might be to bake and share cookies with friends, then follow up with a video chat. Make a few batches of your signature cookies and divide them up among friends. You can arrange for pickups from your house or mail them to faraway friends. Ask them to do the same with their specialties. You can sample cookies via video chat while enjoying a few laughs.
  • Holiday caroling: While you might feel awkward initially, singing a couple of favorite holiday carols together can actually be a fun intergenerational virtual event. Create a playlist ahead of time with input from the entire family, young and old. Consider having your loved ones download an app like Sing Along Christmas Carols or Christmas Carols Countdown 2020.

One more suggestion is to join an online caregiver support group. They can provide support to family caregivers who can’t leave home to attend an in-person meeting. You’ll be able to chat virtually with peers who understand and empathize with your situation. How to Connect with an Online Support Group offers useful tips for exploring your options.

Finally, I would encourage you to take a few minutes each day to call a friend or loved one. Even a quick chat can make all the difference.

I hope this information is helpful, Cindy!

Kind regards,


Heritage Senior Communities

If you have questions about senior living or are a caregiver wondering what type of care might be best for a family elder, we’d like to make sure you find answers. Call the Heritage community nearest to your Michigan or Indiana home, and one of our experienced team members can help!

Flu Prevention during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Flu Prevention during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Donna:

My grandmother is an active 92-year-old. Due to coronavirus concerns, she meets with friends and family outdoors, which I’ve heard is safer. However, I worry that she is still out and about a little too much.

As flu season approaches, I think the time has come for me to talk with her about prevention. While I love that she is so independent, I worry her risk for getting seriously ill will be even higher.

Do you have any tips I can share with my grandmother to help her avoid the seasonal flu?


Kaisey in Grand Haven, MI

Seasonal Flu Prevention in a Time of COVID-19

Dear Kaisey:

Sounds like your grandmother has been blessed with good health, and her active lifestyle probably helps. That said, you are right to be concerned about her safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict this flu season could be rough.

Here are a couple helpful tips to share with your grandmother about flu prevention:

  • Get the annual flu vaccine: Unless your grandmother’s physician advised her against the flu shot due to an allergy or other health concern, it’s one of the best prevention steps adults of all ages can take. The general recommendation is to get vaccinated in early- to mid-October to give the body time to build immunity. Advise your grandmother against waiting to see how bad the flu season gets, as some seniors are prone to do.
  • Practice healthy self-care: It’s important for you, your grandmother, and anyone else she regularly comes in contact with to take good care of yourselves. That can help each of you build immunity and avoid catching a bug and passing it to one another. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is a great start. Exercising for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week is vital, as is getting a good night’s sleep. Hydration also matters. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day and consuming foods high in water content (e.g., cucumber, melon, and leafy greens) can both prevent dehydration.

Many of us have heard these final suggestions repeatedly since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, but it’s good to revisit them:

  • Maintain physical distance: Physically distance from people in public. When flu season is peaking, avoid crowds as much as possible. If you must be in public, maintain a distance of 6 feet from others.
  • Wear a mask: While initially debated, mask wearing became essential as researchers learned more about the novel coronavirus. Doing so is a good prevention measure for both the seasonal flu and the coronavirus.
  • Practice good hygiene: Washing your hands for 20–30 seconds in warm, soapy water several times throughout the day is another must. For times when you don’t have access to soap and water, keep a small hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse. Make sure it contains at least 60% alcohol.

I hope these tips help, Kaisey! Wishing you and your grandmother good health and many more happy times together.

Kind regards,


Learn More About Flu Shots

At Heritage Senior Communities, we take the seasonal flu seriously. That includes creating informational resources for residents and their families to read. “Seniors, It’s Time to Get Your Flu Shot!” and “Flu Shot Questions from Alzheimer’s Caregivers in Michigan” are both useful articles to help you learn more.