Create a Roadmap to Your Important Information

The “Save It or Shred It” guide has been updated 2020 and you can download a free copy of this white paper to help understand:

  • Why it is important for every adult to organize their personal information
  • Which papers are important to gather
  • What information you should document/record
  • Which papers to keep and which documents you should shred

The reality is that MOST of us will need someone to have this information so they can help us. Many of you have probably already experienced this. You need to step in and help someone, and the hardest part is getting a handle on the information you need to help them.

When you are done, I promise you the roadmap you create will save you TONS of time and frustration. Shared.

Aging in Place and Social Distancing

I am thankful that right now I don’t have to balance my children’s needs, my client’s needs, and my aging parents. My parents have both taken a celestial departure from this earth, but in just imaging them being around now … I feel my chest tighten.

I am working with several families who have a loved one that someone from my company works with in the metro-DC area. Our goal is to support our clients by assisting, managing in tandem, or by just handling the day-to-day financial matters (bills, home maintenance, long term care and insurance claims). After caring for two parents who had different types of dementia, I am very attuned to how much it means for them to live their life and manage their affairs.

So here we sit with several clients who still live alone in their homes. Some have stopped all external visits from health care managers, cleaning services, and personal care assistants while others doubled down and now have 24/7 help and care in their home.

There is no right or wrong. There is just right for each individual.

The initial two week social distancing came and went. Now we are looking at near isolation for some or escalating care expenses for possibly three months. I am curious to see how we all emerge and adapt after this experience.

What I have noticed in working with adults with cognitive disabilities is that the more they interact with others, the higher they function when we sit with them to do basic bill pay tasks. However, most of those isolated at home are now getting regular calls from the family, and are having to manage in their home all on their own. In calling many of them regularly, they are doing fine and have managed to adapt to our virtual support.

Will any of us win this experiment? Will those on their own emerge stronger after showing us all how they can manage? For those that could not manage on their own, will they do better than those in communities when it comes to exposure to Covid-19?

All I know is that we are all doing the best we can with the information we have at this time, and within the resources we have at our disposal. We may just see how well our American ingenuity shines at a time when modern medicine can’t protect us.

I’m looking forward to being able to see this one in my rear-view mirror. Wondered.

Help with Healthcare is a Great Place to Start

Staying at home has given me a lot of time for Spring Cleaning. I finally went into the last box of my parent’s papers this weekend and found this note from my Mom.

When my parent’s were still coming over for dinners on Friday and we recognized something was amiss, but were unsure what, my Mom asked if I would join her for the annual physical. She had mentioned that they were having trouble keeping up with the medicines and she was worried about my Dad … would I join? This was the note she gave me summarizing all of their medications. I attended and sat quietly and watched as concerns were raised and then mostly dismissed.

Within a year, my mom had a minor stroke and she readily accepted my rides to the doctor. However, this was the beginning of the trouble in some regards. My Mom was in disbelief that she had a stroke, and started to challenge that I was making it up. She began to debate me on the way to the appointments when I would simply report that we were going to see the neurologist. When she asked “why” and I reported it was because of her stroke, she would guffaw in disbelief. At the appointment, she argued with the neurologist. Good times. ; <

I wish I had know about Anosognosia. From the Stroke Connection: “Anosognosia (pronounced an-a-sog-NO-sia) refers to a person’s lack of awareness of their own motor, visual or cognitive deficits. It can happen in people with stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Looking back, I realize that even just stating that she has a stroke created an emotional response in my Mom that left her feeling like I did not have her best interests. She became very protective of her information and in return, insisted that she could manage her own affairs.

I learned over time that my parent’s responded with emotion to information or events. Any information citing they were unable to manage their own health and welfare pushed them into a defensive mode. If I arrived for a visit stressed, they would absorb my anxiety and we would have a terrible visit.

During this time my siblings and I watched as:

  • Their licenses were revoked and they continued to drive their cars;
  • They failed to pay their bills regularly and ran into issues with water and electricity;
  • Ultimately, their retirement community threatened to kick them out if they would not move from independent into the assisted living community.

I was ready in the wings when it was time to act, but it was more than two years before I was allowed back in to help. When I did re-enter I had learned a lot about how best to support and respond to my parent’s needs.

The current state of affairs may be a bridge that opens to invite you in to help. While many families are isolating themselves from their loved ones to protect them, others are including them in the shelter in place orders.

May you and your family find peace, joy, and common ground on which to move forward. Wished.

Two things you can do today if no power of attorney is in place.

Please know that I am not a lawyer, but was a caregiver to my parents for over five years and offer this advice as a practical end-around to frustrations I faced trying to use the legal tools to help them.

While my parents listed me on their power of attorney, I had a devil of a time getting banks, insurance companies, and financial services firms to recognize it. It was less than 2 years old and Virginia has a statute in place that frees them of liability if they do recognize it (my simple non-lawyer explanation).

There are simple ways to set up a safety net
for loved ones.

Instead of spending more hours fighting them (they received it but then didn’t do anything and then I would languish in their phone trees on hold), I worked with my parents to set up online access. In most cases I could do most things for them online.

As we enter this next phase of novel coronovirus and state and federal mandates, I am worried for the large numbers of older adults who don’t have someone who can step in and pay bills should they become sick.

Some things you can do today to prepare include:

  1. Go to the bank with your loved one, and sign their power of attorney. It will put you on the account immediately. They may also offer to add you to the account, but this could be an issue since then you become a “joint account holder” that brings other possible complications and risks.
  2. Set up online access to the account. You can do many things with online access and at minimum it will allow you to monitor the account or step in and help pay bills if your loved ones needs help.

It’s a shame that so many American’s do not have powers of attorney (POA) in place. I believe it should be a right of passage upon turning 18 to set up your first POAs. I did pay for my son to set up a Durable Power of Attorney, and a Medical Power of Attorney for his 18th birthday. I do hope I never have the cause to use them.

We are in strange times. I hope this gives you some ideas of how you can help should you need to step in and help a loved one who doesn’t have their estate plans in place.

If you have the time, now is a GREAT TIME to create POAs, and get a Will in place and have a discussion about the finances. To find a local elder care attorney, you can visit the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Recommended.

Will the bank accept your Power of Attorney?

As the adult family caregiver named as power of attorney, I had an incredibly difficult time getting my Mom’s banks to recognize her power of attorney so I could officially support her. It was less than 2 years old, I provided the original, but since my Mom was alive, they wanted her to come with me to the bank and to sign their power of attorney documentation.

My Mom was so unsteady on her feet she needed a wheel chair. It was difficult and uncomfortable for her to go out. She never wanted to be in a wheel chair and half our journey’s out were battles over getting her to sit down. She was also incredibly frail and the task of just getting into the car would wear her out.

Wasn’t that the point of the Power of Attorney (POA)? I was very frustrated when the banks just failed to recognize my POA. In Virginia I could have pursued a legal suit … but I was already busy enough as my Mom’s family caregiver.

I am not alone as The New York Times story “Finding Out Your Power of Attorney is Worthless” confirms. Sadly, it is not just an issue of the Power of Attorney, but family members are still reporting difficulty getting banks to release funds after death. Here is a recent NBC News story about how difficult it was for Maggie Mulqueen when working with Citibank.

For years, I just used the online banking access to manage my parent’s finances. When I ran into issues, I would either have my Mom sign checks to move the money or just shut down the accounts. When USAA wouldn’t recognize the POA, I didn’t pay to renew my parent’s insurance and moved the account to a new insurance provider. There are some ways to end-around the roadblocks, but it seems ridiculous to have to out- maneuver the bank.

This past week, I walked into two banks to establish myself as Power of Attorney for a client. I need to get her past banking history since no taxes were filed since 2017, and need to be able to sign checks on the days when she is too weak to help. Remarkably, both banks (SunTrust and Wells Fargo) were extremely accommodating. I even had a note from the doctor stating she was unable to manage her own affairs, but did not have to provide it.

I learned two things:

  • You can’t have an active credit freeze. As Power of Attorney, they will create a new bank profile (requires a credit check) for you that is attached to the individuals bank account(s).
  • They view adult children differently than professionals that act as Powers of Attorney.

My logical brain understands this, but my journey as the adult child who was trying to help my parents DETESTS this varied treatment.

Maybe things are changing? Adult family caregivers … what are you finding? Curious.

THANKS to Ashley — Good food for thought and was a tactic I used when I was caring for my parents. Her lawyer suggested she not disclose the information to the bank. Thankfully, her parents added her to their bank account. After I hit a few roadblocks, I just set up online access to most of my parents accounts and did as much as I could digitally and in the spirit of their Power of Attorney. When I hit roadblocks and went to the bank with my POA was when I learned how difficult it was to get them to honor it.

You have been diagnosed with Dementia. Now What?

I am guessing that many of you share my fear of dementia. For those of us with loved ones who have lived with it, we know how devestating it is for the individual as well as the loved ones that surround them. But it doesn’t have to be. Once diagnosed, you have so much opportunity to direct, manage, and guide your life.

When the outcome wasn’t quite what you wanted.

I believe that the numbers reported are low because many people just don’t pursue a diagnosis. It is important to get a diagnosis for many reasons. The first is planning. If you know what you are facing you will be better prepared to plan the rest of your life.

As a Daily Money Manager who works mostly with individuals who have cognitive impairment or dementia, I know that not planning ahead or documenting personal wishes about future care and life choices most often results in guilt for those around you that will help. How will they know what you want if you are not explicit?

I know this after being the local adult child caregiver to my two parents with dementia. My parents had advanced care directives, but the most valuable guide for me in their care was the conversations we had around the dinner table. I knew that my parents wanted QUALITY of life over QUANTITY.

When my Dad was diagnosed with a tumor on the back of his tongue and in a moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, nothing in his care directives spoke to such an unusual situation.

When my mother broke her hip and the Doctor wanted to lift the Do Not Resuccitate order at the hospital to operate on her, I knew she would want me to tell them to let nature takes it’s course.

Ohhhh, but I still have guilt plaguing me about my decisions. I made the best decision I could at the time with the information I had.

The best way to ensure you get the care and support you want as you are living with dementia is to provide written (or video) of your specific care wishes. Use real-life sceanarios around you to tell someone what choice you would make if you were in a similiar situation.

Even if you have estate plans in place, now is the time to visit an attorney to update your plans. There are a variety things you can do to be an active driver for the rest of your life.

There are a wide variety of adults living well with a dementia diagnosis. Check out my favorite champion (who has gotten 3 advanced degress since being diagnosed more than a decade ago under the age of 50) Kate Swaffer https://kateswaffer.com/. Awed.

Gaining Mom’s trust.

Many of us have been seeing a parent struggle with their memory and ability to manage their own affairs long before there is ever a diagnosis.

It took time for my Mom to adapt to having me pay the bills and help her. She felt that she was managing just fine. My Dad recognized she was having trouble and asked me to help. When I started I had trouble learning how to assist without offending my Mom. My Mom never recognized that the stroke she had impacted her memory or her ability to manage. She would tell me her “brain is bad today” but that wasn’t impacting her ability to manage her life (in her own mind). When I reminded her that she did have a stroke, she would accuse me of making it up.

I slowly worked to gain her trust by doing things in tandem that she asked for help on. I found the less I pushed, the more opportunity to help I was given.

When it came to the mail and the bills, I would take the piles of mail that were lying around and triage issues as I uncovered them. Thankfully, my parents added me to the bank account so I could reverse engineer many of their household finances. I visited with a large purse that allowed me to easily drop in piles that were dispersed around their home.

One day I walked in to visit, and my Mom had created a mail pile for me that included a bill and a check. She even put a label on the pile for me. Earned.

What you Should Know if Dementia is in your DNA

For those of us caring (or have cared) for parents with dementia, you should know there are a variety of factors that we can control that will reduce our risk.

The first is good news for those of us that worry that genetic factors have sealed our fate.

Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia (JAMA, July 2019) The study sought to determine if a healthy lifestyle was associated with lower risk of dementia, regardless of genetic risk. They found that a favorable lifestyle was associated with a lower risk of dementia among participants with high genetic risk. There is considerable evidence that individuals who avoid smoking tobacco, are physically active, drink alcohol in moderation, and have a healthy diet have a lower dementia risk.

The next study reports that higher levels of daily physical activity may protect against the cognitive decline and neurodegeneration (brain tissue loss) from Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that alters the lives of many older people. This was from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Exercise offers protection against Alzheimer’s (JAMA Neurology, July 2019)

I noticed what a difference exercise made for my Dad who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I worked to encourage him to get exercise, but it got to the point that the only way it worked was when I would challenge him to play Racquetball with me. He had a group of friends that he regularly met in the mornings, but after he fell on the Racquetball court and broke his hip, he was just unable to return more because he couldn’t manage to plan ahead and would not allow me to help. When I did get him moving he was just more communicative. I do need to add that he recovered from his hip surgery and was still able to beat me. While I could run, I just couldn’t outsmart his crafty shots.

I have also seen this with the older adults I work with. The more they are engaged with others and active, the better they seem to manage when it comes to working on daily finances and household chores. I have many that really want to stay in their homes but also don’t realize how isolating that can be.

The middle stage is hard to navigate as our loved ones think they are managing but are unable to recognize what they are not able to do or follow up on. If there is anyway to incorporate friends who can help them return to an activity they shared it will give them both a social and a physical boost?

The research has proven that we aren’t predestined to the fate of our parents if we have a favorable lifestyle. The good news for our loved ones is that exercise will help them even after a diagnosis. Let me know if you have had some success getting your loved ones that have been diagnosed moving again. Encouraged.

Moving Choices: Aging in Place – Part 2 of 3

The first in the series The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities is a general overview of of how they are structured, the reality of the choice, and some things to know and consider if you are looking into this option.

I’m not gonna nove and you can’t make me.”

Now it is time to share some of the common issues and themes I see when a spouse is working to stay in the home with their loved one who needs more care as well as when adult children are helping a parent live at home alone.

In the beginning, it can be less expensive to layer in the care to support staying in their home. However, especially for a spousal caregiver, the care needs and isolation can become overwhelming in addition to the drain it takes on the health of the caregiver. According to the Family Caregiving Alliance, spousal caregivers ages 69 to 96 have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than noncaregivers in the same age group.

Often, the individual living with dementia doesn’t understand why their spouse is hiring outside help. Many living with dementia cannot recognize the necessity that someone help them through their day or the need for their spouse to be off the clock. The caregiving spouse starts to lose their outside connections and support in addition to skipping their own medical appointments and care needs.

Even though the couple is together, I am seeing that they both begin to feel isolated. The loss of a partner can also be more devestating since their partner might be their only engaging social connection. I saw this with my parents.

For those that choose to stay in their homes either with or without a spouse, there are engaging adult day programs for the individual with dementia. Isolation can actually lead to a faster cognitive decline and studies have likened the health risk to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Generally, I see many couples and individuals supported by an adult child living at home alone resist outside support. Unfortunately, about half the time a critical incident occurs and blows up this option and a scramble to employ support occurs. If no prior plans are made, the available options are usually not the best fit. A little support layered in early can be an ounce of prevention and provide more options should care suddenly be needed after an event.

Living at home can also end if an individual living with dementia starts to wander or becomes combative.

The successful couples and families managing a loved one living at home have been able to integrate supports for daily engagement through personal care assistants or the use of an adult day program for the individual with dementia. I know how challenging it can be to start so just ask them to try it out for a few hours and days. Forced changes usually are met with solid resistance.

As a security measure, individuals and families that plan ahead have also selected at least one community that might be a fit if they need to make a change and gotten on the wait list. You can always decline the space when it becomes available but remain in the queue.

PROS:
– Familiarity in the home environment can help someone living with dementia stay independent longer since they have long-term patterns established.
– Expense. If you only need some part-time support or help, or even sign up for an adult day program, the total cost of living is less expensive.
– The individual with dementia wants to stay in their home.

CONS:
– Isolation impacts health and cognitive function in negatives ways. Even introverts (like me) will benefit from social engagement.
– Spousal caregivers have an increased risk of death.
– When something happens, there is no quick solution to provide support (unless you have already planned ahead or gotten on a wait list at a local community).
– Moving after dementia has been diagnosed usually means that learning new things will be more difficult. It can be tougher to make friends and engage within a new community.
– Expense. There is a tipping point when bringing all the services to you can be more expensive.

RECOMMENDATION:
– Make a plan for social engagement and find ways to make it happen. Call your county Area Agency on Aging to find out what resources in your community are availble to help.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing the best option for your loved one and their primary caregiver — Just the best option for them and the caregivers when you need to make a choice. Advised.

Up Next, Moving As Needed

The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities

The discussion about if to move, when to move and where to move is an inevitable topic if you are caring for loved ones with dementia. Most people want to “age in place” and view a move as a huge negative … initially. However, there are many times when moving is better for the individual living with dementia as well as their caregiver — especially for a spousal caregiver.

What I have seen playing out with my family, friends and their families, and clients is that the “move” that created so much angst and difficulty is generally not the last move.

My hope is that knowing that may help you discuss what is really just the best move to make for now.

I’m going to walk through some scenarios in hopes that it will help you and your family make better informed decisions about caring for a loved one. There are no wrong or right choices … just the best choice for your loved ones RIGHT NOW.

Buying Into a Life Care Community

My parents bought into a “Life Care Community” and handed over nearly a half a million so they would “never be a burden to their children.” The Life Care Community model typically offers Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care, and Skilled Nursing options all on the same campus. The idea is that you moved through the system as needed.

The community helps with the activities of daily living (eating, bathing, walking, dressing …) but they do not help pay bills, manage lifestyle desires, cater to medical choices and preferences, or act as personal advocates. Because my parent’s had the belief that moving in meant their adult children would never need to be involved, caring for them was actually harder than it should have been.

At one point the community asked us to petition for guardianship because my parent’s were a danger to themselves and others. We refused and worked hard to manage through their needs while allowing them to retain their personal dignity.

My parent’s were eventually forced out of Independent Living and had to either move into Assisted Living or move out of the community. The smaller apartment and proximity in the community to the action was a big bonus and my parent’s were actually happier than I had seen them in years.

After Dad died my Mom struggled. In this community, the section for Memory Care only had people in very late stages of dementia. My Mom was always moving and needed a community that would give her space indoors and out to move. We moved Mom out of the community they bought into and oddly enough actually paid less monthly for a better care model for her needs.

The good news is that the “buy in” model is fading away. However, before you plop down a stack of money know that the community may not be the right fit for your loved one as their care needs change. In many communities, Assisted Living is filled with many individuals who have mild to moderate dementia. I watched as those that just needed help with dressing and bathing avoided my Mom who couldn’t remember their names or hold a meaningful conversation any longer. For a variety of reasons, the next level of care needs for your loved one may just not be a strength of the community care offered in a Life Care Community.

There are a lot of positives for these communities. Make sure you met with your Financial Advisor or run through the numbers if you can choose to either “buy in” or just pay a monthly rent. The unknown is if an when you may need to leave the community you are moving into. I know it’s a horrible wrench to throw into this difficult decision… but it is a very likely scenario that should be considered before a large financial investment is made.

PROS:
– Integrate and build friendships in Independent Living and have a place and connection for the rest of your life
– Some communities are now letting you move into your apartment and bring the varied level of care to you versus having to move through the different communities.

CONS:
– Have to move when your care needs change and the community doesn’t have the best fit for your needs.
– Expensive. Many now don’t require a lump sum payment. In our area we have a lot more choice and now they have different models for payment.
– It’s often hard to make new friends when you move into an established community.

RECOMENDATION: Ask if the community has a trial period so you can move in and see if it is truly the right fit for you now and can serve needs into the future.

I hope this helps you and your family as you are starting to have these discussions. Witnessed.

Up next, Aging in Place …

Making the Best Choice Medically for Mom & Dad

One of the toughest challenges I faced when caring for loved ones with dementia were the medical choices for non-dementia care issues that erupted and threatened my parent’s well-being.

A recent opinion piece in The Washington Post by an Emergency Room physician titled Doctors are torturing dementia patients at the end of their life. And it’s totally unnecessary illuminates the reality of the choices families face when caring for aging parents.

My family faced these difficult choices twice.

My father in a moderate stage of Alzheimer’s had a tumor on the back of his tongue. Knowing our parents were doing better together than they would alone, and in the hope that we would eliminate the pain my dad was feeling but could not verbalize sent us on a path to try and treat his tumor. After a week of medical visits we saw that our dad was not up for a fight with cancer. We worked to find him some relief through hospice care. Thankfully, his end came quickly.

When my Mom broke her hip in her Memory Care community and ended up in the hospital, I knew the end was near. The recommendation was to perform surgery but that required we lift the Do Not Resuscitate order. My mom no longer knew my name and I wondered if the stress of the trauma resulted in another stroke. I had to repeatedly ask that we let “nature take its course” while the hospital kept trying to certify my mom for surgery. My mom was clear that qualify of life was more important than quantity, and I knew the surgery would be painful and not provide improved quality to the rest of her life. Thankfully, the medical team agreed that she was able to survive surgery and we moved her into hospice care.

I still end up in tears recounting both of these stories, however I know it is important to make sure other families know that it could be one of the greatest acts of love you offer by taking the path of least medical intervention. I’m glad to see Dr. Geoffrey Hosta share his medical insight that reaffirms the choices my family made. At least I know we did our best to honor their end-of-life wishes. Reflected.