Medicaid Coverage of Nursing Home Care: Who Qualifies, Who Doesn’t

On our radio program and in our seminars, one of categories of questions we receive most frequently involves Medicaid.  This social health care program for individuals and families with limited means has been around since 1965, and it’s true that many changes have been enacted through the years. Yet the level of misunderstanding and misinformation about Medicaid continues to surprise us.

For a good, straightforward primer on Medicaid, we suggest this recently updated article on the website Caring.com. It explains some of the basics of the Medicaid program including what it covers and who qualifies. But be advised that this article is not specific to Washington State, and since Medicaid is a state-administered program, each state has its own set of rules. (We found plenty of detailed information about Washington’s regulations here on the website of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.)

Before we dive into this topic, let us remind you from the outset that here at AgingOptions our professional staff members have many, many years of experience in dealing with the twists and turns of Medicaid. Once you’ve read the Caring.com article we’re certain you’ll still have questions, because this is a complex subject. We urge you to contact us, or to attend one of our LifePlanning Seminars so we can answer more of your Medicaid questions in person. You’ll find seminar information at the end of this article.

First, let’s consider the bare bones of Medicaid – what it is and what it does. It’s a federal program, administered by each state, which pays long-term nursing home costs for people with low income and almost no assets. In order to qualify for Medicaid, a person has to be unable to care for himself or herself at home, and he or she has to meet the state’s stringent income and asset requirements. These requirements differ significantly depending on whether the person seeking Medicaid coverage is single or married. Under Medicaid, a person can move into any level of nursing home that will accept them – but as you’ll discover when you start searching, the availability of Medicaid beds is sometimes strictly limited, and you may find far fewer options open to you or your loved one that you had expected.

Some people get confused because they have heard that Medicare also covers nursing home care. This is a misunderstanding based on a partial truth. Medicare does cover some forms of rehabilitative care in a skilled nursing center – for example, if you need to be in a nursing home for a short stay while recovering from surgery. But this coverage is strictly limited, with plenty of restrictions: it typically kicks in only after hospitalization and generally can last no longer than 100 days. By contrast, with Medicaid (unlike Medicare) the patient is not required to have come from a hospital stay in order to qualify, and he or she is not required to be housed in a skilled nursing center. With Medicaid, once a person qualifies and assuming their circumstances remain unchanged, there’s no limit to how long his or her coverage will continue. Medicaid pays the full costs of room and board plus any therapies that are part of resident care, along with other personal services. There are no co-payments to make. For many people who lack other options, the Medicaid program is the only program that allows them to live securely, in relative safety with some degree of dignity, albeit with new frills.

What often disqualifies a person from Medicaid coverage is the simple fact that they have too much money. The rules can get complex, so we encourage you to contact us to review your specific circumstances, but the basic requirement for a single person is that you have no more than $2,000 in total assets to your name in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage. For married people the rules are different: the spouse of the person needing care can have a home, a car, clothing and personal effects and a higher amount of savings on hand.  A decade ago when one of our own family members needed to go on Medicaid, her husband was permitted $40,000 in savings and he retained his own Social Security and pension income, but his wife’s Social Security check went straight to the nursing home to help pay for her care. As we said, each situation can be unique and the rules can change from year to year.

If the asset requirements are so stringent, some people still ask, why can’t I simply give my money and other possessions away before claiming Medicaid coverage? The answer is what’s called the Five-Year Lookback. Medicaid will examine your finances once you apply, and if they discover that you have transferred assets any time within five years of your application, coverage will be denied or delayed.  The short answer is, you need to prepare ahead of time.

So, will Medicaid be the right solution for you? The answer is, “perhaps” – but with Medicaid, as with all aspects of retirement, it is absolutely essential that you plan ahead. Waiting until you need the coverage before getting your financial affairs in order is a serious and costly mistake. This is yet another area of retirement where you need expert advice – the kind you can count on from the professional staff at AgingOptions.  Your best bet is to plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars where we go over all aspects of retirement planning: medical needs, including long-term care coverage; financial plans to protect your assets; housing options, to make sure you are never a burden to those you love; the legal protection your estate requires; and how best to communicate your wishes to your family. To register online for the seminar of your choice, click here, or contact us during the week.

Don’t let fear or confusion about Medicaid – or any other aspect of retirement – make you fearful or discouraged. Contact AgingOptions today. You’ll be very glad you did.

(originally reported at www.caring.com)

Dreaming of a Happy Retirement? Read These 10 Surprising Secrets

Here at AgingOptions we’re always searching for good, solid, practical information about retirement, the kind our clients, readers and radio listeners can use. Unfortunately, we run across a lot of bad retirement advice – which makes it so refreshing when we discover the good kind. The article described below is a case in point.

On a website called Money and Career Cheat Sheet (www.cheatsheet.com) we found this article called “Retire with a Smile: 10 Surprising Secrets to a Happy Retirement.”  As we read this list we were pleased and surprised to find ourselves nodding in agreement. The author, Megan Elliott, really captured some common sense tips that we think can make a lot of difference as you plan ahead for your retirement years. The philosophy Elliott proposes mirrors much of the advice we give our clients.

There’s a lot to love about retirement, but sometimes it can bring disappointment.  “Some people who dreamed they’d leave all their worries behind once they quit working are finding retirement isn’t quite as blissful as they dreamed it would be,” Elliott begins. She cites research from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) that reports that only about half of current retirees describe their retirement as “very satisfying.”  That’s a significant drop of 11 percentage points over the past 18 years. What’s more, “retirement satisfaction is falling across the board” among both wealthy and not-so-wealthy retirees.  “Money, it seems, isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to enjoying a happy retirement. Even the rich can find themselves with a frown on their faces if they make planning mistakes.”

Researchers say the exact reasons for this drop in retirement satisfaction are unclear, but several factors could be involved. Retirement tends to last longer than it used to, for one thing. At the same time, rising health care costs are triggering retirement anxiety among many seniors, which can make retirement less satisfying. Also, more and more people of retirement age are continuing to work, some by choice and some out of necessity, so the dream of a restful retirement is proving elusive for many. The point is, just as society at large is experiencing all sorts of change, retirees are hardly immune. So with that in mind, are there things you can do, or not do, to help boost retirement satisfaction? The answer is yes.

We won’t try to cover all ten “surprising secrets” here, but we’ll do our best to summarize – and we do suggest you click on the link above and read the piece for yourself. The first secret, Megan Elliott writes, is that it’s not all about the money.  “You shouldn’t assume money alone will make the other problems in your life disappear,” the article says. “Retirement planning involves running the numbers. But it also requires looking inward to think about what’s going to make you happy in the next phase of your life.” But at the same time, secret #2 is don’t ignore your finances. We found this statement interesting: “People with consistent sources of retirement income, such as a pension, were more financially confident and less likely to feel pressure to cut spending than those who relied on money from their investments.” If you’ll contact us here at AgingOptions we can refer you to a qualified financial planner who will show you ways to maximize the money you have for greater peace of mind.

Under the topic of finances, we should also highlight retirement secret #5: don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. We totally agree. “Pressure to keep up with your friends and neighbors when it comes to vacations, home improvements, and hobbies can derail your retirement finances — and your happiness,” Megan Elliott writes. We’ve seen this all too often. Our advice: if your friends are leading you down the wrong financial path, you may need to find new friends!

Many of the retirement secrets aren’t “secrets” at all, just good common sense. For example, #3 is stay healthy. As the article points out, 80 percent of those who described their health as excellent said they were very satisfied with their retirement. Among those who said their health was poor, the “very satisfied” segment plummets to 26 percent, according to EBRI. Secret #4 is to find your purpose, which means you start before you retire to consider what brings you joy and satisfaction. “Retirement frees up your schedule,” says Elliott, “and for some people all that unstructured time is a little overwhelming. If you’re not careful, an absence of purpose can lead to boredom, depression, and relationship stress.” If you are one of those whose identity has been closely tied to your career, this can pose a particular danger.

Secret #9 asks an important question: “Should you relocate when you retire?” Maybe not. “Picking the wrong place to move is one of the biggest sources of retirement unhappiness,” says author and retirement expert Andrew Rafal.  Be particularly careful about picking a retirement location simply because it has a low cost of living or because it’s one of your favorite vacation spots. Will you enjoy the community? Do you have friends or family nearby?  Moving too soon “can be a mistake that’s expensive to undo,” Megan Elliott writes. “In fact, pulling up stakes without considering all the consequences is one of people’s biggest retirement regrets.”

Finally, at a time when true contentment seems so elusive, retirement secret #10 is our favorite: be satisfied with what you have. “Your retirement nest egg might not be quite as large as you hoped it would be,” Elliott writes, “but that doesn’t have to mean spending your golden years in misery. Assuming you have enough to live comfortably, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your retirement, even if you can’t afford all the luxuries you might have dreamed of.” Author Andrew Rafal adds, “I think it’s coming to terms with really what makes you happy. For a lot of individuals, they don’t need a ton of money. They live well within their means (while understanding that they) can’t go on three cruises a year.”

If we were to add one more secret for achieving a joyful retirement, it would be plan ahead. No matter what your circumstances, we’re confident you will benefit immeasurably by working with AgingOptions to create a comprehensive retirement blueprint called a LifePlan, weaving together all the different strands of your retirement into one strong cord: your financial plan, your legal affairs, your housing options, your medical needs, and your family dynamics. We invite you to find out more about building a safe and secure retirement by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars in a location near you. Registration is quick and easy: simply click here, select the seminar that works best for you, and register online. You are also welcome to call us at our office during the week so we can assist you.

Creating a happy retirement doesn’t have to be a secret, if you have the AgingOptions team on your side!

(originally reported at www.cheatsheet.com)

It’s Official: Doctors Admit that Drugs Can’t Fix Most People’s Back Pain

Do you suffer from lower back pain? If you do, you’re definitely not alone. Medical studies have shown that nearly seven out of eight adults suffer periodically with this painful condition, and for about 23 percent of adults lower back pain is considered “chronic” which means it lasts 12 weeks or more. Lower back pain is one of the top reasons people see their doctor and one of the main causes for people missing work.

Because we’re no strangers to lower back pain ourselves, we were intrigued by this recent article on the news website Vox that presented a stark fact: not only are physicians still in the dark about what causes nonspecific lower back pain, but they’re finally admitting that the drug treatments and painkillers they’ve been prescribing all these years don’t work. The article is called “Doctors finally admit drugs can’t fix most cases of back pain,” and it refers to a recently released set of recommendations from the American College of Physicians.  “America’s doctors have finally admitted it,” says Vox. “Their pharmaceutical tools to treat one of their patients’ most common ailments don’t work.” In fact, the article suggests, “drugs should often be the last line of treatment” for nonspecific lower back pain.

Before we dive further into this article, let us be clear up front that our purpose here at AgingOptions is not to impart medical information particular to your situation. For that you definitely need the advice of a qualified physician who knows you and your physiology well. We highly recommend you seek out and hire a geriatrician to be your medical “quarterback,” someone who understands the medical realities of senior adults. Contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a qualified geriatric physician in your area. It could be one of the most important calls you ever make. Instead, this article talks about the kind of common back pain that periodically nails just about everybody.

According to Vox, nonspecific lower back pain is the type that has no discernible cause such as tumors, pinched nerves, osteoporosis and fractures – just a few of the detectable triggers for back pain. Most lower back pain sufferers can’t point to a specific cause – they just know they hurt. Doctors have theorized about several possible contributing links to lower back pain, including obesity and smoking, but the actual cause is both complicated and elusive. Doctors are now increasingly realizing that a big part of the underlying cause is seldom just physical – it’s often psychological and emotional, aggravated by depression, anxiety and stress.

Here’s a tidbit of information we found particularly revealing. Sometimes a sufferer with lower back pain is sent to get an MRI, and the scan seems to reveal a physiological problem, but it may not be that simple.  “In patients who have nearly identical results from an imaging test like an MRI, those who are depressed or unsatisfied with their jobs tend to have worse back pain than people who aren’t.” For this reason, says the Vox article, doctors don’t generally recommend an MRI for cases of lower back pain because they can lead to misdiagnosis and overtreatment, often with drugs that can be addictive (such as opioids).

So what does work? Anyone who has suffered with lower back can tell you that relief is hard to come by. But the American College of Physicians does have some recommendations, starting with heat therapy as what they call “a first line of defense.” After that, you might want to try massage therapy, acupuncture or chiropractic manipulation, but as Vox puts it “the evidence isn’t as strong for these alternatives.”  The best outcomes appear to result from a combination of exercise and stress-reduction. If you feel you need a painkiller, ibuprofen seems to work best, but you’ll want to check with your physician since too much ibuprofen can create health problems in some people. Also, for most people, lower back pain tends to resolve over time, so it may be best, if you can, to go about your normal routine and have patience. Typically the discomfort tends to subside – gradually

Here at AgingOptions our goal is to help seniors enjoy a happy, healthy, fulfilling retirement. Getting the right health care, staying active, controlling your weight and avoiding injury are obvious steps you can take to keep you on the right track medically. But planning for your retirement means far more than meeting your medical needs with good health and the right insurance. Your financial plan has to be well crafted to make sure your assets are protected in your retirement. You’ll need to make certain you’re fully protected with the right legal preparation. You’ll want to plan ahead to ensure you choose the right housing options to match your needs and preferences. You’ll want to know that your family is completely on board with your wishes, too. Is there a retirement plan that weaves these elements together?

Happily the answer is yes – with an AgingOptions LifePlan. You owe it to yourself to find out more about this breakthrough in comprehensive retirement planning, and you can do that with no obligation. Simply take a few hours and attend a free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Click here to select and register for the seminar of your choice,  or contact us and we’ll be glad to assist you.

(originally reported at www.vox.com)

Secret to Weight Loss: Try These 10 Simple Tips and Stick With It!

So the New Year, 2017, isn’t so “new” anymore, is it? February is more than half gone already – and we suspect some of your New Year’s Resolutions have faded away by now as well. But if one of your resolutions was to lose weight, don’t be discouraged. We have some good news for you: one of the best ways to lose weight and keep it off is to make modest, healthy changes in your eating habits and then stick with them over time. The results may not be quick, but for most of us the weight will come off – and best of all, it will tend to stay off.

So if your weight loss goals are still elusive, don’t give up. Instead, we invite you to click on this link for a very recent, very helpful article we found on the website of Time magazine. It’s called “10 Easy Ways to Slash Calories,” and since almost everyone we know is trying to do just that, we expect you’ll find it helpful. In the words of the Time article, “Cutting a few calories here and there won’t show up on the scale immediately, but making consistent changes will.” Best of all, you can implement these ten tips and “sidestep excess calories throughout your day—without missing them at all.” Let’s take a look at what Time recommends.

Tip number one makes sense but might require some adjustment: get into the habit of drinking your coffee or tea plain. The journal Public Health recently reported that leaving out the cream, sugar and other flavorings from your coffee saves about 69 calories a day, and over time that can add up, especially in combination with these other suggestions.

The second tip also begins in the morning: switch to a high fiber breakfast cereal. For starters, fiber makes you feel fuller faster so you’ll eat less. But the benefit lasts way past breakfast: a 2015 study (sponsored, of course, by Quaker Oats) showed that people who ate oatmeal for breakfast consumed almost one-third fewer calories at lunch than those who ate sugary cereal.

What about soda? Nutrition experts are sounding the alarm with ever greater urgency that the calories in those sugary drinks, combined with the effect of the sugar itself, can be a nutritional disaster for those trying to lose weight. Some studies suggest that diet soda isn’t much better. Instead, if plain water isn’t satisfying enough, Time says to try sparkling water (unsweetened). It’s a great choice, refreshing and calorie-free.

Are you getting the idea? Small changes, especially combined with other small changes, can produce big results. Here are a few more. If you eat protein throughout the day, you’re not only less likely to get hungry but you’re also less likely to succumb to the temptation to indulge in mid-afternoon sweets like a candy bar or other sugary snack. Some great sources of protein include nuts, seeds, lean meat, soy and dairy. But be careful with so-called “healthy” snacks like flavored yogurt which – even in low-fat form – is usually loaded with sugar. And when you decide to “go healthy” by having a salad for lunch, beware of the last several items on the salad bar: the bacon bits, croutons, extra cheese and fat-filled dressings.  These add-ons can quickly turn your wise choice into a dietary disaster.

We won’t go through all ten diet tips – once again, the link to the Time article is here – but let us summarize a few more that all have to do with cooking meals at home. Did you know, for example, that a cleaner kitchen can cause you to eat less? “When it feels like everything around you is cluttered and chaotic,” Time magazine writes, “keeping your diet under control may seem like less of a priority.”  Instead, researchers at Cornell University discovered in a 2016 study that “women who spent 10 minutes in a messy kitchen ate twice as many cookies”  than women who spent time in a kitchen that was clean and organized. And speaking of cooking at home, this is one habit that helps you cut calories. “A 2015 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition found that people who cooked dinner six or seven nights a week consumed about 150 calories fewer per day than those who cooked once a week or less, says Time. When you eat at home you not only consume fewer calories but you tend to make healthier eating choices.

So if losing weight remains high on your To Do list, read the Time article and try some of these tips. But maybe your hopes for 2017 are more substantial. Maybe this is the year you’ve decided you need to finally get your retirement plan in place. If that’s the case we have the perfect solution for you: there’s no better way to get started with the process of retirement planning that to attend one of our free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminars.

LifePlanning is the term we use to describe our truly comprehensive approach to this complex topic. Too many so-called experts think a financial plan is all you need, but they’re wrong. Finances are vitally important in retirement, but so is your need for legal preparation. So is your decision about the right housing choice for you as you age. Your medical coverage is a critical issue, both for the short term and the long term. And what about your family? You need to know that those closest to you are aware and supportive of your wishes as you age. These five facets of retirement – financial, legal, housing, medical and family – need to work together for your plan to be successful, and with a LifePlan they will.

To find out more about LifePlanning, take a few hours and attend an upcoming seminar. There’s no obligation whatsoever.  For upcoming dates, times, locations and online registration, simply click here, or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to seeing you!

(originally reported at www.time.com)

Reverse Mortgages Can Be Wonderful – but Beware of Scam Artists

It should come as no surprise to friends of AgingOptions that we’re big fans of reverse mortgages – in the right circumstances. Over the past year or more we’ve noted with interest how a growing number of financial experts have begun singing the praises of this once-maligned financial instrument. For some seniors in some situations, using the services of a reputable mortgage professional, a reverse mortgage can be the perfect solution to help them remain securely in their homes.

Sadly, however, wherever there’s a chance to make a dishonest dollar, you’ll find scam artists poised to take advantage of the uneducated and unprepared. With that in mind, we strongly recommend you take a look at this very recent article on the website Investopedia. If you’re interested in a reverse mortgage, or if you have a parent or other loved one looking into the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage, this article can give you some danger signs to watch out for. (Let us add one more suggestion: if a reverse mortgage is something you’re interested in, contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to one of our trusted professional partners.)

“Of all financial con artists,” writes Investopedia, “reverse mortgage scammers are arguably the worst. They abuse their standing as trusted advisors or lenders – or supposedly professional contractors – to take advantage of elderly folks who need funds. They convince them to sign up for a financial product that’s complicated even for well-educated, fully cognizant people to wrap their heads around, much less someone whose mental capability may have diminished with age. Then they steal the proceeds, leaving the borrower with little but new debt on his home, and even – worst-case scenario – the loss of it.”

These are powerful words, but we concur 100 percent. Because you have to be 62 or older in order to qualify for a reverse mortgage, the prime prospects are seniors with plenty of home equity who dream of remaining in their own homes. Tragically, these seniors can often be the most vulnerable and easily manipulated. Investopedia describes a few ways in which these scams take place.

According to the article, sometimes unscrupulous home repair contractors will approach an elderly homeowner trying to sell remodeling or repair services. When the homeowner says the work is too expensive, the shady contractor persuades the victim to take out a reverse mortgage, which may definitely not be in the homeowner’s best interests. Once the client has paid the contractor, there’s little or no guarantee that the work will ever be satisfactorily completed.  “Any home-improvement vendor or contractor who suggests that you pay for the work with reverse mortgage proceeds probably isn’t someone you want working on your house,” advises Investopedia, adding, “Who knows: Their work could be as shoddy as their advice.” Home repairs might be a good reason for a reverse mortgage, but it needs to be something you as the homeowner decide to do – not something you’re persuaded to do.

Sometimes so-called financial advisers have cajoled seniors into taking out a reverse mortgage to pay for financial products they don’t need, such as stocks, paid-up whole life insurance or an annuity. Tragically, there have also been documented instances where people to whom senior homeowners have entrusted their financial affairs through a Power of Attorney have taken out a reverse mortgage on the elderly person’s house and diverted the funds to their own accounts. There was even a 2009 case in Orlando cited by Investopedia in which a title insurance firm confessed to stealing more than $1 million in reverse mortgage proceeds.  Instead of using the funds to pay off the borrowers’ original mortgages, the company kept the money, and the unsuspecting borrowers soon received notices of foreclosure.

There are more such warnings in the Investopedia article and we encourage you to read it. But in our view, in order to protect yourself from these scams, the most important thing is to work only with a trusted professional reverse mortgage expert who will give you accurate, objective advice. “Taking out a reverse mortgage is a decision that requires careful consideration and a complete understanding of the details and consequences,” Investopedia warns. “If a reverse mortgage lender is making you feel rushed, stressed out or uncomfortable in any way, turn around and find another lender.” We say “Amen” to that. Fortunately, as we said above, we know some highly experienced, trustworthy reverse mortgage experts to whom we will gladly refer you to if you’ll contact us.

Have you given careful thought to the other important aspects of your retirement planning? Too many people approaching retirement focus all their attention on financial issues, but money is only part of the retirement picture. Deciding where and how you wish to live as you age quickly causes retirement to become a housing issue. Protecting your assets and your plans will trigger a legal issue. Planning for every health and long term care contingency raises a medical issue. Informing your loved ones and getting them on board in support of your plans makes retirement a family issue. Is there one retirement plan that wraps the financial, legal, housing, medical and family issues into one comprehensive approach? The answer is an AgingOptions LifePlan.

Why not invest just a few hours and find out more? We invite you to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar where you’ll learn about the dramatic power of a LifePlan. For dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, and for online registration, click on this link, or contact us during the week. It will be our pleasure to serve you!

(originally reported at www.investopedia.com)

Some Helpful Tips for Daily Life with a Loved One Who Has Dementia

Are you living with loved one who is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia? If you are, then you are suffering, too. Living with a parent or spouse whose mental capacity is deteriorating is one of the most painful, stressful, frustrating things a person can do. Besides the personal family experience we’ve had with this struggle, we hear many times each week from caregivers asking us for suggestions on what to do when the person they love is in severe cognitive decline. Because this is such an important topic, we were drawn to this recent article on an Australian website called Starts at 60. It’s titled “Living with a Loved One Who Has Dementia,” and while the article is pretty basic, it does contain a few valuable suggestions that might help you overcome some of the frustration you feel as a caregiver.

The article quotes aging expert Lisa Hee who suggests that it’s probably not so important to try to get your loved one to get their facts straight when communicating with them. Constantly correcting them about names, places and dates may only provoke more confusion and irritation. What’s worse, she writes, every time you try to correct your loved one it will seem to them like they’re hearing this information for the first time. Chances are that’s only going to compound the communication problem.

Instead, the best way to cope may be to “leave your loved one in their happy place” by going with the flow of their thoughts. For example, she states, “If they remember their life from ten years ago, then talk about life as it was then.”   This may calm them down and reassure them, and you’re more likely to keep them talking if you try to meet them, not in the reality of the moment, but in the reality of their own perception.

Another good idea from the article is to surround your loved one with personal items from various times in their lives.  This not only gives you something to talk about, but it also helps other caregivers and nursing home staff learn more about your loved one so their lives take on color, meaning and significance. A chronological photo album is a great tool to accomplish this, especially one that includes pictures of things your loved one might recognize – an old car, for example – or houses where they lived, or familiar landmarks from their home town.

We wanted to know more about this topic so we went to this extremely helpful page on the information-rich website of the Alzheimer’s Association. The heading on this particular page is “Tips for Daily Life,” and it takes a unique perspective: these tips are written for the person with dementia. We think caregivers will find it extremely helpful, too. As promised it lists many insightful ideas, including some “coping strategies” from people who are actually living with Alzheimer’s. We strongly suggest you visit this page if you need fresh encouragement and inspiration in your role as a caregiver. Here are just a few of the ideas on how those with dementia can better cope with challenges of daily living.

First, someone with dementia needs to set realistic daily goals, and this is where you as a caregiver can help. Your loved one should focus only on what he or she can accomplish and be willing to ask for help when they require it. Keep expectations realistic.

Second, someone with dementia needs a daily routine. Again, as a caregiver you can help give their day greater predictability by assisting them in deciding what needs to be done each day and how long it should take. Then do those things in sequence. For someone with dementia, predictability is reassuring – they can tend to become fearful or uneasy when faced with sudden changes or surprises.

Third, the Alzheimer’s Association suggests those with dementia need to learn to approach one task at a time. Don’t get stuck, they say, if a task is too difficult – take a break and try again later. As a caregiver you can help redirect your loved one’s attention away from a frustrating task and toward something where they can succeed. Every small victory builds confidence.

There are more valuable ideas, but we like this final suggestion: “Use your sources of strength.” If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, you are certainly one of those sources of strength for your loved one, but there are others, including family, friends, prayer, even a beloved pet. As a caregiver, help your loved one see that he or she is not going through this journey alone. At AgingOptions we always say that aging is a family affair, and nowhere is that more true than when dealing with the effects of dementia.

Of course, the most important thing all of us need to remember as we age is that we need a solid plan for the future if we’re going to have the type of retirement we’ve always hoped for. Like most people, we’re certain you want to protect your assets in retirement. You don’t want to be forced into institutional care against your will, and you don’t want to become a burden to those you love. Is there a way to plan ahead so that your wishes will be fulfilled? Fortunately, the answer is a confident “yes.” We call our unique concept for retirement planning “LifePlanning.” LifePlanning is uniquely comprehensive because it takes into account all the critical aspects of your retirement future – your financial security, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical needs and your family support. A LifePlan is your blueprint to help you build the retirement of your dreams.

It’s easy to learn more, so we invite you to invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll find a list of current seminar dates and locations here. Once you’ve made your choice of locations, you can register online or contact us for further details and assistance. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to help guide you into a more secure and fruitful future.

(originally reported at www.alz.org and https://startsat60.com)

 

There’s a “Family Disconnect” When It Comes to Discussing the Future

Have you and your adult children had a frank and detailed conversation about your estate and your wishes for the future? Do they know about your will and about your desire for leaving a legacy?

If we were to ask those questions to an average group of parents, according to this insightful article just published on the website Insurance News Net, 70 percent would answer yes – those important conversations with adult children have taken place. But if we posed the same questions to the adult kids, fewer than half would agree. The rest, more than half of adult children, claim they’ve never talked about estate planning or other related future topics with their parents. This is a significant – and potentially costly – disconnect.

This gap in perception between adults and children was revealed in recent findings from the Family and Finance Study produced by Fidelity Investments.  The study showed that, while fully 90 percent of parents and children say that it’s important to have frank conversations about estate plans and wills, in too many cases those conversations aren’t happening. “How prepared are American families when it comes to leaving a legacy and discussing estate plans with their loved ones,” asks the Insurance News article? “Perhaps less than they may think.”

Here at AgingOptions we see evidence of this lack of communication almost every day, and we hear about it from radio listeners and guests at our seminars. Mom and Dad may think they have made their future wishes clear to their adult children, but the kids remain in the dark. Then when one or both of the parents passes away, family friction and sibling fights can quickly erupt. “Even in the simplest of family situations,” says Insurance News Net, “conversations that do not occur frequently and in detail may result in fairly substantial family disagreements and disconnects.”

Another statistic caught our eye from this article: the Fidelity study found that in about 70 percent of cases adult children had major misconceptions about the value of the parent’s estate. “On average, children underestimated that value by $278,000,” the study showed.  It seems to us that a misunderstanding of that magnitude will only increase the chances for conflicts and disagreements when it comes time to divide the estate.

Here’s one more important question raised by the Insurance News Net article: do your adult children know where to find your important documents such as wills, powers of attorney and healthcare proxies? When Fidelity asked parents that question, 80 percent said yes – but among the sample of adult kids the number who agreed was significantly less, closer to 65 percent. That’s not bad, but it still indicates that you and your adult children may not be communicating as well as you think you are.

We do take some issue with the Insurance News Net article, not because the information is incorrect, but because it seems incomplete. We concur with the basic premise of the Insurance News Net article: aging adults often fail to communicate adequately with their kids about their estate plans. But as is all too common, the article focuses almost entirely on finances, emphasizing the importance of passing along your assets to your heirs with minimal impediments and tax consequences. A solid financial plan is definitely essential, but it is only part of your retirement plan, and if all you do with your adult children is tell them how you want your money disbursed when you pass away, you are doing them a serious disservice.

Aging, as we always say, is a family affair, and that means your family needs to know – and support – all of your wishes as you grow older. Beyond finances, this includes housing, deciding how and where you want to live. It includes your legal documents, which means much more than your last will and testament. Your estate plan will be meaningless if it doesn’t take your medical needs into account, because few things will derail your plans like a medical crisis for which you have not prepared. Is there a type of retirement plan that includes all of these facets? Fortunately there is.

At AgingOptions we proudly offer a unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning called a LifePlan. Once you have prepared your LifePlan, often including a series of family conferences to make certain everyone close to you is on the same page, you’ll be prepared for a fruitful and secure retirement. You’ll be able to protect your assets while ensuring that you won’t become a burden to those you love. It’s easy to find out more – and there’s no obligation whatsoever: simply plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. Invest just a few hours, and bring your questions – and your adult children if they’ll attend with you. It will open your eyes to the power of this unique, powerful planning strategy.

For a list of upcoming seminars, including online registration, click here, or call us during the week and we’ll be happy to assist you.  Additionally, if you feel it’s time for a family conference to review your estate plans with your loved ones, we can definitely guide you. We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at https://www.insurancenewsnet.com)

 

 

Lots of Good Reasons – and some Bad Ones – for a Reverse Mortgage

Here at AgingOptions we’re always researching the subject of retirement planning. It’s a fascinating and complex field, one that seems to change every day. Sadly, however, one thing that does not change is the prevalence of bad advice, and one area where we seem to see a lot of bad advice is under the heading of reverse mortgages (also called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages).

Recently we came across an example – a one-sheet handout from a retirement planning website, called “25 Ways to Use a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage.” While about half of the suggestions might make sense as legitimate reasons to consider a reverse mortgage, in our view a significant number of their recommendations are completely wrong. These bogus suggestions reflect the kind of erroneous and shallow thinking that can quickly get homeowners into deep financial trouble from which they may never recover.

By now just about everyone knows that a reverse mortgage is a financial instrument by which qualifying homeowners age 62 and older can tap into the equity in their homes without having to move. Fortunately in our practice we have the privilege of knowing and working with some exceptionally experienced, completely ethical reverse mortgage advisors (including frequent radio guest Laura Kiel) whom we can recommend without reservation. But because reverse mortgages are complex financial instruments, manipulation and misinformation are all too common in the industry. “I want to send a message,” says AgingOptions’ Rajiv Nagaich, “that unless you are dealing with a very ethical person, sales people will take full advantage and sell you this product for the wrong reasons.”

First, however, what are some of the right reasons? On the “25 Ways” handout we saw some recommendations we support. For example, a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (or HECM) can be used to pay off your existing mortgage and eliminate a house payment. It can finance home repairs and renovations that will allow you to age in place, something nearly all seniors say that hope to do. A growing line of credit obtained through your HECM can also safeguard your financial security for the future, and for some investors a reverse mortgage can help protect assets in the event of a future stock market downturn.

As Rajiv Nagaich puts it, while there may be some exceptions, “The purpose of the reverse mortgage should be to help you stay in your own home – nothing more.”  When you are considering whether or not to take out a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, you should make certain this is your number one goal and motivation.

So if these are the “good” reasons, what are some of the “bad” reasons? A few really stood out on the “25 Ways” list. For example, more than one of the suggested reasons why a reverse mortgage is beneficial involves using the proceeds to cover monthly expenses. We can’t support this notion. “If you are having difficulty paying regular bills,” warns Rajiv Nagaich, “then taking money from the last asset you have left is not a good idea.”

What about using the proceeds to benefit someone else? One recommendation was to use HECM funds to pay for a grandchild’s education. Another was to use the money to help your adult kids with family emergencies. Rajiv Nagaich calls this “bad, bad advice.” He adds, “There are always exceptions to the rule, and if you are sure you will get the money back then you can make that call.  But generally, you should not loan money you know you will need for your own future needs.” Remember, your home is almost certainly your largest asset by far, and if you squander that equity, you may find you have too little left to live on.

Some of the ideas on the “25 Reasons” list were factually wrong, including the suggestion that a reverse mortgage would allow you to “combine proceeds with the sale of your current home to buy a new home without a mortgage.” This is erroneous advice. When we asked reverse mortgage expert Laura Kiel for her assessment of this scheme, she stated emphatically that “There is a mortgage on the home. It’s a reverse mortgage, and it may not require monthly mortgage payments, but it is a mortgage.” So we say, “Borrower beware!” Those things that sound too good to be true usually are.

The last reason on the list of 25 may sound innocent enough but we’ve seen this kind of thinking get too many retirees into trouble. One reason to get an HECM, say these self-styled experts, is to “Have fun! Buy a new car, take a dream vacation, and enjoy your retirement.” We have nothing against retirees having a good time, but financing an indulgent lifestyle you can’t afford with the proceeds of a reverse mortgage is a bad idea. Come talk to us and we’ll help you find other ways to indulge yourself – to a reasonable extent – in your retirement years. Don’t use your home equity to do it!

So-called advice like this “25 Ways” sheet should serve as a warning that the only way to make certain you are getting the complete picture when it comes to a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage is to consult with a trusted professional like Laura Kiel. “Laura stands above the rest,” says Rajiv Nagaich. “She really helps people understand their true needs. She knows the advice she gives today will impact this person’s life in future. That’s why I recommend her with such confidence.”

Expecting to Spend Less in Retirement? You Might be Surprised

Most seniors are convinced that, once they retire, their spending will almost certainly go down, not up. But what if that assumption is wrong?

This article recently published on the website Motley Fool is important for just about anyone who is beginning to get serious about retirement finances. Written by Motley Fool contributor Maurie Backman, its title shouts a loud and clear warning. “Attention, Seniors: You Might Spend More in Retirement, Not Less.” Backman opens his article by stating, “Most people count on lowering their expenses in retirement, but this doesn’t always happen.  And if you’re not prepared, you could run into trouble down the line.”

There was a time in previous generations when retirement came with a pension, one that in many case (especially when combined with Social Security) was sufficient to meet a retiree’s financial needs. But for most workers those days are gone forever. For many years, says the Motley Fool article, we’ve been admonished to save as much as possible for retirement in order to augment Social Security, which only replaces an average of 40 percent of a retirees’ working income. Typical retirees, experts say, will need 70-80 percent of their pre-retirement income in order to sustain their lifestyle. “It’s up to us, as individuals, to fill that gap,” warns author Backman.

As if that weren’t daunting enough, here’s the sobering news: your level of retirement spending may surprise you. Newly reported data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) “found that about 46 percent of households spent more money, not less, during their first two years of retirement.” For more than one-quarter of retiree households, spending was actually 20 percent higher after retirement than before.

This boost in spending didn’t just disappear after the first few years of retirement. Six full years into retirement, about one-third of households were still spending more than they did before they retired. This pattern seemed consistent across all income levels, not just among wealthy households.  Motley Fool’s Backman says, “While a fair amount of this extra spending no doubt relates to entertainment and leisure (after all, retirees have far more free time on their hands and need to occupy it), certain expenses in retirement are far less negotiable. And if we don’t save enough to cover those costs, a lot of us will be headed for trouble.”

The Motley Fool article is quick to point out that this pattern of higher spending in retirement is hardly inevitable. About half the households in the EBRI database do spend less than they did before retiring, for several reasons: they’re no longer contributing to a 401(k), for example, and they’re no longer paying costs associated with commuting. Still, some costs are very likely to climb in retirement, and seniors need to be prepared. Healthcare, for example, consumes about $500 of household income every month for the average adult aged 65-74 (this according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).  But those costs can skyrocket if you face a health crisis later in life, and they don’t include long term care expenses.

What about housing? Backman writes, “Many people assume their housing costs will go down in retirement because they’ll have paid off their mortgages by then, but more and more seniors are entering retirement with mortgage debt hanging over their heads.”  In 2011 more than 30% of homeowners 65 and older were still carrying a mortgage. Beyond the mortgage, rising taxes and increasing maintenance costs can often be overlooked when creating a financial plan for retirement, and these and other expenses can easily sneak up and bite the unprepared retiree.

What does a retiree do about this prospect of rising living costs? The Motley Fool’s advice is pretty basic: “save more.” Even if you haven’t been a retirement saver, start now and set aside what you can. But as important as saving is, we at AgingOptions take a more well-rounded view of planning for retirement, because retirement is not just about finances. Every piece of the retirement puzzle – the financial plan you set in place, the legal framework you need, the housing decisions you make, the medical coverage your health demands, and the open, honest communication your loved ones require – has to fit together into a seamless whole. We call this approach a LifePlan, and with your LifePlan in place you’ll be far better equipped to meet every challenge retirement can throw your way, including the challenge of rising costs.

So if this talk of the high cost of living in the Motley Fool article leaves you feeling uneasy, we urge you to come to one of our LifePlanning Seminars and learn more about the AgingOptions approach to this vital topic. If you’ll invest just a few hours of your time hearing about the power of retirement planning done the right way, we’re confident you’ll gain not only invaluable knowledge but true peace of mind. Interested in taking the next step?  Simply attend a free seminar – no risk or obligation whatsoever. Click here for dates, times, locations and online registration, or contact us during the week and we’ll gladly assist you.

(originally reported at www.fool.com)

Study Shows Seniors Face Health Decline When They Stop Driving

Among the “hot button” issues that create conflicts between seniors and their family members, one of the hottest can involve driving. Older adults generally want to keep on driving as long as they can, enjoying the benefits of freedom and mobility. Meanwhile their adult children worry about slower reflexes, cognitive decline or increased reaction time, all potentially dangerous when Mom or Dad gets behind the wheel. (We wrote about the issue of cognitive decline and its effect on driving safety here on the AgingOptions Blog in this article we published just a few weeks ago.)  The topic of when and how to take away the car keys comes up frequently in conversations with clients and radio listeners.

But there’s another side to this issue. We’ve just discovered this recent article on a website called Knowridge Science Report that presents a side of the driving story we frankly hadn’t heard much about.  The article is based on an extensive research project conducted by Columbia University. The study found an unfortunate side effect to giving up driving: for many seniors it marks the beginning of rapid physical and emotional decline. The article is called “Health goes downhill when older adults stop driving.”

This is important information for any loved one involved in persuading a parent to give up their car. While you may be improving their physical safety and that of others by getting them off the road, you had better prepare yourself for some potentially negative consequences.

According to the Knowridge article, there are more than 29 million American adults 65 and older, and about 80 percent of those are still licensed, active drivers. From our teenage years, Americans are conditioned to equate driving with freedom, independence and control. So when a senior has to give up driving privileges, their sense of control over their life can diminish or disappear along with the driver’s license. As the Knowridge article states, Columbia University researchers surveyed the results of16 separate studies of adults 55 and older and made a stark discovery:  “Data showed that older adults experienced faster declines in cognitive function and physical health after stopping driving.”

As if these negative effects weren’t bad enough, researchers also noted that, when older adults stopped driving their own vehicle, the size of their social network – friends and relatives with whom they stay in close face to face contact – shrinks by roughly 50 percent. At a time of life when socializing is particularly important, seniors find they are losing their ability to engage with others as their circle of friends shrinks.  Researchers even found that those who have been forced to give up their driving privileges are nearly five times more likely as current drivers to be institutionalized, even after adjusting the data to compensate for marital status and other factors.

Why does the loss of driving privileges trigger faster emotional and physical decline?  One Columbia professor who co-authored the study explained that losing the ability to drive means seniors become less mobile and potentially more house-bound. “As older ex-drivers begin substituting outside activities with indoor activities around the home, these activities may not be as beneficial to physical functioning as working or volunteering on the outside.” This means that those closest to a senior who can no longer drive need to pay special attention to keeping their aging loved one active and engaged.

Is your parent or loved one showing signs of age-related physical or cognitive decline? Are you worried whenever they get behind the wheel and take to the road? It is certainly time for a heart to heart conversation about your concerns for their safety and the safety of others. But as the Knowridge article demonstrates, this difficult issue is fraught with conflicting considerations. As part of our services here at AgingOptions, we can offer to host a family conference in our office where everyone involved can gather in a neutral setting with our trained professional staff as moderators and facilitators. We strongly recommend this type of family conference as a means of clearing the air regarding a whole host of issues that have the potential to create family conflict in the future. After all, aging is a family affair, and the sooner you all get on the same page, the better.

We would also add that the sooner you get a fully-developed retirement plan in place, the better – and that’s why we urge you to investigate the service we call LifePlanning. A LifePlan is a unique and comprehensive type of retirement plan in which all aspects of your retirement living – financial security, legal affairs, housing choices, medical coverage and family communication – fit together like pieces of a puzzle. We invite you to learn just how powerful LifePlanning can be for you and those you love. Invest just a few hours and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, scheduled in locations throughout the area. For dates, times, locations and online registration, click the link, or contact us during the week. Let us be your guide as you chart the course for the retirement future you’ve dreamed of. We’ll see you soon!

(originally reported at https://knowridge.com)