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.

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.

Simple Ways to Protect Finances.

While likely under-reported, the National Council on Aging estimates elder financial abuse and fraud costs to older Americans range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. Older American’s that have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated.

After caring for two parents with dementia, I remind myself how much the checkbook meant to my mother. She had always managed the household finances and pointing out to her that she was failing to manage the finances was something that needed to be left unsaid. If you are concerned, first work with the person to support their efforts before suggesting they hand over the checkbook and finances. Some easy ways to help may be:

  • Create a monthly schedule of bills and maintenance due dates
  • Log in to the banking websites and credit card sites to monitor spending and confirm no fraudulent or suspicious transactions and fill in the bill pay gaps
  • Set up a checking account they can use that has a minimal balance to keep in their purse or wallet for writing checks and use a different account for bill pay needs

My mother kept losing her purse that included her checkbook. So dealing with that was very time consuming. My Dad recognized this and took me to the bank to set up a new checking account for my Mom. We funded it as she needed money but no longer had to worry that the account that received their retirement funds and paid for the mortgage was at risk. We automated many of the home bills (mortgage, utilities) and I would monitor the spending behind the scenes.

Utimately, I wanted to help but not be invasive or diminish my parent’s ability to manage their finances.

Some other tools to consider include:

  • Get a tile and insert it into the wallet so you can easily find it if it get’s misplaced. You can use their online portal to track it’s location.  
  • Set up a TrueLink card. It is basically a pre-funded credit card where you can set up limits on how much can be charged as well as products and services that it won’t fund. There is a fee for it, but the small expense is worth the money it will most likely save in potential losses.

If you have a variety of personal care assistants coming into the home, or your loved one is in a community, I hope you will consider some of these options.

I have worked with families both at home and living in communities that have been a victim of caregiver exploitation. One got my client to write her a small check, one purchased some face cream for my client and asked her for repayment of $85, and another apparently kept asking for gas money. Most agencies and communities require their caregivers agree to never accept money or gifts from clients. Should a client give them money, it needs to be reported to the community or agency. In one month, I had to report three caregivers for violating this condition of employment. Sadly, I know they will just turn up at another agency.

Managing the finances for many may be one of the few remaining freedoms that offer a sense of control. Some are giving up car keys, volunteer activities they love, hobbies they can no longer maintain and the checkbook can offer an empowered sense of self.

If you have been diagnosed, or are a family member and unable to do this for your loved one, you can contact a Daily Money Manager who can fill this roll.

With billions at risk, take some time to ensure someone is minding the finances. I hope these options help you and your loved ones. Suggested.

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.

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 into a Care Community that Matches Your Current Need

The move discussion is difficult for many couples and families. I did a three-part series on the topic to help provide a quick overview into some of the key learnings I have discovered. Here are the first two:
1) The Angsty Discussion About Moving: Life Care Communities
2) Moving Choices: Aging in Place – Part 2 of 3
and today is a final consideration on planning.

I do recommend you consider hiring a local Aging Life Care Manager to help navigate these choices and the current community options near you or your loved ones. I worked with one to help with my Mom and have seen them help with this discussion and process over and over with many clients.

The One Client Story That Illustrates How This Can Work

I started to work with Marge when she was living in her home. She had missed some bills, overpaid others, and was giving out her credit card number over the phone to charities daily.

After a year, it was time that she moved into an Assisted Living Community because living at home was just no longer a safe choice at 89. The new community was a combination of Assisted Living and Memory Care residents. She initially moved into an Assisted Living apartment but after about a month would wake up in the middle of the night and wander the halls in her nightgown worrying and sometimes tried to leave. They moved her into the Memory Care community so she would have more support and she would be in a secure section of the building. However it was hard for her to get integrated into a group of women and eventually she managed to actually break out. The community was just no longer a good fit so the Aging Life Care Managers searched for a better fit.

In addition to not really finding companionship with other residents, Marge had to pay for additional personal care assistance. Her monhtly community fees with the extra staff support now rang in at over $20,000 a month.

Six months ago she moved into a residential setting. She lives in a home with 5 other women with moderate stages of dementia and it’s a great fit for her needs. While this was not the right place for her initially, it is right now given how her dementia has progressed and the type of personal care that is best for her.

There is an Aging Life Care Manager who has been helping the family along the way, and while everyone thought the first community move was a great choice – and it was a great fit for a while – eventually it just wasn’t the right place for her needs.

Now at 93, we hope that she has made her last move. However, considering a move to a better fit is still an option and if she ever needed Skilled Nursing care. Her new community is now a third of the cost and she has found a loving group of residents and caregivers that are helping her find some happiness daily. It is the ideal fit for her right now.

I’m in the metro-DC area and we now of dozens of choices. I’m amazed at how many communities are still arriving.

Please know that you will make the best choice you can with the information you have at the time you need to make a decision. It will be easy to look in the rearview mirror and second guess choices made. I hope this has given you some insight into how to look at living options if you have loved ones living with dementia. Hoped.

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 …