9 Senior Financial Management Tips for Family Caregivers

We’re are concerned about keeping our finances strong and hope to retire with enough money to be happy and healthy. This may not be easy, especially for our senior loved ones who have not been putting away enough for retirement or survive hits such as those from health issues or downturns in the economy.

Our own financial condition can weigh on us, certainly, but theirs can be as stressful on us as our own at times, or even more, especially if we feel frustration from lack of control over the situation but see ourselves as being in the role of their safety net.

Sometimes our help can come in the form of financial management assistance for our senior loved ones. This can be tricky, though, because involving children or grandchildren in financial planning is difficult or embarrassing for many, especially if finances are strained. The process may be a challenge on both sides, but one that can reduce the burden on all when completed.

Financial Management Tips

Know the actual situation    Learn how much money is available, where the money is coming from, and where it goes each month. Knowing and tracking your senior’s expenses and income will help them stay on a strong path. Write down the information you gather to most effectively keep track. List the expenses of your senior that are fixed, such as rent, mortgage, insurance premiums or a car loan. Be sure to include expenses that are variable, such as food or non-essential spending. Use your senior love one’s various statements to help you remember what was spent, such as utilities, credit cards, bank records and other statements or bills.

Budget    Once you know all your senior’s expenses and income, work with them to set up a budget. Many people may not like thinking they are on a budget, but it can be helpful in identifying which expenses are practical or doable and which are not. Looking at the information you tracked in the first step, calculate the income versus the expenses. Is there any money left or not enough to pay all the expenses? When you arrive at this number, what adjustments need to be made? Will there be items in the budget that should be eliminated or money left over to save for something special or put toward debt?

A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.” –William Feather

Retire debt   If your senior is getting ready to retire or has recently retired, it may be time to retire consumer debt too. If a significant share of a senior’s income goes directly to credit card bills or loans and they can only make the minimum payment each month, it is time to take action. When you created the budget in step 2, was there extra money which could be used to pay off more on the credit cards? The sooner you can pay off the debt you have, the less interest you will have to pay over time. While you are paying off your credit cards, try to use cash so that you won’t be adding to the credit debt. Pay off the credit card with the greatest rate first.

Set up reserves    Plan for emergencies by suggesting they assure they have readily available enough money to cover expenses for six months (their monthly budget times six). This fund can be used for out-of-the-ordinary expenses, such as those required for repairs, accidents or illnesses, or other unforeseen expenses. The key is making sure the funds are readily accessible; if it is tied up in an asset or mutual fund, for example, it won’t be easy to use in an emergency.

Plan legacies    If your senior’s goal is to leave a legacy then having a careful plan with a specific goal will help them achieve it. Help them set a realistic goal, one that is achievable based on their monthly budget and the expenses you determined to be essential.

Consider annuities    Some find safety in a lifetime fixed annuity to assure a regular cash flow. Before they do, help them make sure it is one that meets their needs, as the offerings of different companies (and the quality of the companies themselves) can vary significantly. This is one area where professional advice, from an adviser paid a fee rather than working on commissions, can help in avoiding costly mistakes.

Continue saving    If your senior loved one is still working, suggest they join the 401K plan and begin contributions or contribute to their own retirement plan. 

Diversify    If they have stock and bond investments already, they should be diversified. Help them assure their portfolio is not exposed to more risk than they find comfortable.

Insure    Protect your seniors’ health into their golden years by investigating the possibility of getting long term care insurance. Learn as much as you can about what is covered, what benefits could be obtained and discuss it together with a professional.

If you and your senior loved one would like more information on how to create a plan to manage their finances, there are abundant worksheets, more tips and online calculators to help you make a sound plan. You can pay for packages but many good ones are available free of charge.

Do you have more tips to share with other family caregivers to help them protect senior’s finances? We would love to hear from you.

Tips for Grandfamilies: When Seniors Are Head of the Family Household

There are more than 2.5 million grandparents, a third of whom are over 60 years old living in grandfamilies. In almost one third of these families, affecting over one million children, the parents are absent and grandparents are solely responsible for their grandchildren. It is reported that these seniors have typically been responsible for their grandchildren for more than five years.

What is a Grandfamily?

A grandfamily is a type of arrangement in which a family is headed by grandparents. These senior adults share their homes and lives with their children, grandchildren or other family members such as nieces and nephews. Many seniors are assisting with caregiving or the subject of caregiving. This term has in the past specifically referred to the instance when grandparents were responsible for raising relative children but is now beginning to include those multi-generational households where caregiving is required for the whole family and the task is shared.

Grandfamilies can be found in all income levels, races and ethnicities, and all areas of the country.

Why is This Happening?

With the recent downturn in the economy, we are finding more families looking for solutions to care for all members of the family and have adopted this non-traditional (for Americans in current times, at least) family lifestyle. It is also another way in which family caregivers can more efficiently care for their aging loved ones. Grandparents are also being asked to raise their grandchildren in the absence of their own children for a multitude of reasons, often at a time in their lives when they are planning to slow down or even physically need to slow down.

What are the Benefits for Families?

There are many benefits from which extended, multi-generational family households can benefit by living together.

One big benefit is that often times the home of the senior has been paid off, thereby decreasing the living expenses of the younger people in this arrangement. Due to the economy and home foreclosure rate, this is a welcome solution for many families – especially in the short term – and likely to extend into the long term as it benefits the senior.

The second is that healthy seniors can provide child care and oversight for the grandchildren and other family relatives in the house. This allows the family members to work freely outside the home without the expense of childcare or babysitting. In the absence of parents, the grandparents can provide a safe haven for children.

A third benefit is that the family is together. Everyone in the family is being cared for in whatever manner is required. The seniors also are role models and guides for the younger generation living amongst them, which may not appear to all participants to be a benefit, but will likely be seen that way in the years to come when the children look back on the wisdom and love that was imparted by their grandparents – often missing in today’s long distance families.

What Problems Might be Experienced?

Having to give up their privacy and personal space at this point in their life may be a stressful situation for many seniors. If their retirement plans become derailed, it may be a negative outcome with some lifelong dreams being put on hold yet again and possibly forever.

There may also be a stressful financial burden placed upon the seniors, who now must support children and grandchildren. Their health may be failing, with chronic medical needs also placing a financial burden on their nest egg. Stress could also increase the likelihood of development of, or worsen a current, chronic medical condition.

Grandparents, seniors, are often isolated from resources that might help not only themselves in a grandfamily but also the children for whom they care, such as programs, benefits and laws.

Tips for Seniors & Families Who Become Grandfamilies

  1. Seniors and their family members should review carefully their current finances and budgets, looking at long term financial options. The seniors’ retirement funding needs to be protected, as they may inadvertently drain their savings and be left with nothing to care for themselves and their aging health.
  2. One expert advises that seniors do not dip into the principal of their retirement income but instead set up a plan where they only use the earnings for living expenses.
  3. Seniors are cautioned to spend only that amount of money which is in excess of their living expenses and budget and not use their medication money on “spoiling” the grandchildren.
  4. Seek financial advice from a specialist who can advise seniors and their families about certain options, such as setting up a trust to ensure their finances are protected.
  5. Seniors should not discontinue their life insurance, especially if they are the primary caregiver for their grandchildren. If that is the case and the grandchild has special needs, establishing a special needs trust and Medicaid benefits plan will assist this child with his or her future medical needs in the event of the senior being unable to provide care.
  6. If a senior becomes the primary caregiver for any grandchildren in the absence of their parents, be sure the legal paperwork is completed granting rights and responsibilities so that legal guardianship is complete and the grandparents have the ability to take any actions that are needed.

Links for More Information

The joy of being together as a family and helping each member as a collaborative is undeniable, but we all must be aware and get prepared for not only the joys but also the pitfalls that this arrangement can bring.

Do you have a grandfamily story you can share to help others learn from your experience? We’d love to hear from you!

Prostate Cancer and Our Senior Men

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer. The current rate of cancer in 2012 includes 241,740 newly diagnosed cases of prostate cancer and 28,170 men will die of prostate cancer. It generally strikes men after age 50 with an average age at diagnosis of 67 years old.

It is estimated that one in every six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime, which is why it must be addressed as part of Men’s Health Month.

Due to these unsettling statistics, we feel it is important to be sure that we are taking the necessary steps to learn about prostate health, get screened early if your doctor agrees and treat prostate cancer because most men who are treated promptly will survive.

What are the risk factors for prostate cancer?

Currently there are no clear studies that correlate a particular risk factor with the development of prostate cancer. However there are some patterns that have emerged.

  • Age-the risk for development increases greatly in men over 50 years and doesn’t usually strike younger men
  • African American men are more likely to be diagnosed unfortunately in the later stages when death is more likely
  • It may run in families and can actually double your risk if your father or brother has been diagnosed
  • A diet high in fat and red meat may trigger prostate cancer

Because we don’t yet know how prostate cancer is caused, prevention steps are not known at this time. Hopefully ongoing research will resolve this for us.

Ways to Detect Prostate Cancer Early

Detecting cancer without symptoms requires screening. One way to screen is to perform a blood test called a PSA or prostate-specific antigen. Another way is to have a digital rectal exam to manually determine whether the prostate gland is enlarged.

However, the research is still unclear as to when or if screening is necessary or helpful in men without symptoms. Some prostate cancer can develop so slowly that it does not harm the individual and treatment is not necessary. There are also false positive or negative tests, which mean that the accuracy of the blood test results is questionable at this time.

The American Cancer Society recommends that all men communicate with their doctors about the risks and benefits of screening beginning at age 50 for those without strong risk factors and at age 40 for those with greater risk (as described above).

It is important to get information and be ready to discuss prostate health with your senior’s doctor.

As we have said many times, knowledge is power and healthy lifestyle choices will help your senior age gracefully.

Follow up note: We have gotten some feedback from valued medical professionals recommending men at average risk be sure they fully understand the risks and potential benefits before being screened (sounds like good advice for all men). This is one area where it makes sense to get all the facts and speak frankly with the doctor before deciding how to proceed, especially since new studies don’t support some of the traditional thinking and practice.

Finding Specialized Technology Products for Seniors: We Know Where

Technology products to improve the lives of our senior loved ones and make us more effective in our role as caregivers are a key focus area at Senior Care Corner (but then, you already know that, don’t you!)

The tech industry has enhanced many areas of our lives with innovations. Even though they’ve barely scratched the surface in products for seniors, there are some great ones and – we’re convinced – much more to come.

One question we get from time to time when talking about technology products is where they can be purchased. People go to their Walmart or consumer electronics store and find a big selection of TVs, smartphones, computers and many other devices but few of the senior-specific devices such those that make it easier for aging adults who are on their own, aging in place.

If you caught our conversation with Rich Lobovsky of Lifecomm you heard him discuss the reasoning behind their initial retail strategy. Rick told us that there is a high cost associated with offering a new product in the typical retail channels, particularly for specialized products. That fits so many of the products for our senior loved ones that it very well explains why we don’t see them in our favorite brick and mortar retail outlets.

One of our favorite stores is Amazon.com, which offers so much of what we want without having to run around. Many sellers of specialized products, including those for seniors, have found Amazon a great place to reach a lot of potential customers at a low cost. That’s why we set up the Senior Care Corner Bookstore to offer products found on Amazon, with all transactions processed through Amazon.

Cost is just one challenge faced by those offering new products to specialized markets, especially the smaller companies offering some of the more innovative products (remember, even Apple started small). A number of businesses offering technology products tailored to meet the needs of seniors formed AgeTek, the Aging Technology Alliance, to gain some of the advantages of larger companies by working together. We first learned about AgeTek at the International CES, where they had a prominent presence that none likely could have done on their own.

Some of the products we have covered in posts and podcasts, including Sonamba, GrandCare Systems and Lifecomm, are members of AgeTek. We applaud the efforts of the AgeTek members and encourage you to keep them in mind when you are looking to meet the needs of aging loved ones or yours as family caregivers.

The technology section of the Senior Care Corner Bookstore has some technology products you might find helpful. As with the rest of the products in the store, all purchases are through Amazon so you can feel secure in making purchases. We list some great products and there are more available directly through the company or other specialized channels.

As you start to assemble your Christmas and other gift ideas for senior loved ones and want to get them something they will actually use, specialized technology products are one place to look. Of course, tablets, computers and smartphones are great gift ideas too – – and provide a path for our senior loved ones to access the web and social media, for many opening a whole new world.

Not too early to start thinking. After all, it is often so tough coming up with something we really feel good giving aging parent and grandparents. Now there are new options that they just might like!

Family Caregivers: Tending the Gardens of Our Lives

All of us, whether we realize it or not, are gardeners.

We all tend gardens in one way or another – sometimes in multiple ways – every day.

Many of our senior loved ones have spent years enjoying tending their flower or vegetable gardens, sharing their bounty with friends and family and quietly enjoying the soothing moments spent communing with nature.

Many seniors love their time spent gardening and continue to talk about their memories of gardening long after they are able to continue.

I also enjoy tending my garden. Well, gardens.

Here are some photos of my pride and joy that I spend time tending:

 

I am sure you noticed I include a family photo with my flowers and fruits. I value tending my family and myself, not just my plant garden, as I am sure you do too!

It is important as caregivers to tend all things with care and concern – our senior loved ones, our spouses, our children, our friends and especially ourselves.

Time and energy devoted to our seniors and other loved ones are as important in yielding the best results as the devotion we provide to our beautiful plant gardens!

It may be difficult at times to make everyone happy and provide what they need, especially when caregivers have so many needs to meet.

It might be helpful to gather inspiration and encouragement from nature to continue being a vital caregiver, taking a brief time out for yourself to take a deep breath and recharge your battery. Look around you today: view the beautiful summer flowers, breath in their fragrance, listen to the chirp of the birds and watch the serene flight of a butterfly.

These stolen moments may help you cherish the blessings that are your family and inspire you to face the challenges of a new day. What you are doing as a caregiver is one of the most important things you will do – tending your garden.

Here are some gifts for yourself or others that might also inspire you:

Please remember to tend to your own needs as well as the rest of your gardens – – after all, you know what happens to a garden when the gardener is no longer able to tend it!

Favorable Technology Trends for Seniors and Their Family Caregivers

Milestone achieved – – more than half of US seniors are now using the internet. Still many left to get on the web, and especially social networks, but the rapid growth of late is reason for optimism. It is also something we see as a very favorable trend for technology that can address the needs of seniors, family caregivers and other loved ones.

This episode of the Senior Care Corner podcast discusses that and other favorable technology trends we see today, trends that show technology developers and marketers there is real profit potential in developing and offering technologies to meet the needs of seniors, especially those aging in place & living independently.

Favorable Tech Trends for Seniors & Family Caregivers

  • Growth of internet usage among seniors reflects a willingness to consider and adopt new technology, as does the willingness of many to make online purchases and sign up for discounts and freebies.
  • More than three fourths of baby boomers are already active online. With that group rapidly becoming seniors, that market segment is becoming ever more technology ready.
  • Younger adult family members, already tech-savvy, are frequently caregivers of senior family members, whether local or from a distance. This younger group is often influential in the technology decisions made by seniors, frequently making the tech purchases themselves.
  • Attention being given to tech products for seniors by large, well capitalized companies. While smaller companies have long been the source of senior technology products – and will most certainly continue to be the greatest source of innovation – larger companies have the finances to develop, market and support products for large-scale markets.
  • Smaller technology companies in the senior market have banded together to form AgeTek, the Aging Technology Alliance, to gain some of the benefits that larger companies see in marketing to seniors.
  • Technology developers, many of whom don’t understand the needs of seniors, are working with those who have that knowledge to accelerate the growth of tech products meeting the needs of senior and their family caregivers.

We will continue to follow technology trends and are already looking forward to what the 2013 International CES (the big consumer electronics show) will have to offer. We will also continue to present conversations with those offering technology solutions to improve seniors’ lives. While waiting for the technologies our senior loved ones will need, as family members we can help them prepare by getting comfortable with the technologies available today, such as cell phones and the internet. Understanding as much as we can about the needs of our loved ones will also put us in the best position to advise them about the technologies that will best serve them.

News Items for Family Caregivers in This Episode

  • Studies focus on prevention of muscle loss as key to healthy aging
  • A downside of aging in place – – loneliness
  • Could slow walking foreshadow early dementia
  • Deciding about treatments that prolong life
  • How to start the tough conversation with Mom and Dad

As always, we hope you’ll enjoy this episode and will leave us your comments and suggestions, either as a comment to this post or on our Facebook wall.

Podcast Transcript – so you can follow along or read at your convenience

Eye Health Basics For Seniors: Don’t Let Them Miss Out on Seeing!

Seeing the beauty, hazards and even the everyday life around us is precious – – but an ability we often take for granted.

While we often accepted diminished eyesight as a part of growing older, aging can bring with it problems up to and including total loss of the ability to see.

It is important to help keep our senior loved ones’ eyes functioning properly to avoid these problems.

Seniors’ eyes change over time and oftentimes vision can become impaired. Vision health needs to be protected as we age because it is often lost for good when trouble occurs, since much eye damage cannot be reversed.

We need to urge our senior loved ones to get get the recommended dilated eye exam annually and have an eye care professional examine them, not only for eye damage but also other potential signs of chronic diseases that can be seen under exam. Looking directly at the retina is the best way for your doctor to help our seniors keep their vision intact and spot trouble early.

Important parts of the eye to protect include the lens, cornea, retina and optic nerve.

The retina is the lining at the back of the eye which receives light through the lens, creating a picture that is sent to the brain. This is what we see. If the retina is not functioning properly, it will have difficulty sending the image on to the brain. This is what we know as impaired vision and even blindness.

Doctors can see blood vessels in the retina, which helps them uncover other chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. These annual inspections of your senior’s retina can lead to early detection and treatment of these other diseases.

Eye Diseases of Concern for Seniors

Age-related macular degeneration is a disease in the center of the retina, known as the macula, which results in a loss of central vision. It can impact seniors’ ability to drive, read and complete other daily activities.

Glaucoma is caused by pressure and damage of the optic nerve. This eye disease progresses, usually without symptoms, but can be treated to improve your senior’s vision.

Cataracts occur when the lens of eye loses clarity and becomes cloudy, impairing the ability of the eye to focus light. Surgery with lens implants can help to repair loss of vision.

Presbyopia is a condition of aging in which the lens has difficulty focusing structures in the eye, causing difficulty with reading and up close vision. Unfortunately, this condition affects many of us and is not preventable. Usually correction with glasses, contacts or surgery is required to clarify our vision.

Dry eyes are a common occurrence as we age since our eyes lose their ability to lubricate, often resulting in blurred vision. Artificial tears and medications that increase natural tears will help.

Keeping Seniors’ (& Our Own) Eyes Healthy

  1. Eat healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids found in fish
  2. Limit fat in the diet, as well as alcohol which can block blood vessels
  3. Wear sunglasses, even when you are driving
  4. If smoking, stop
  5. Participate in regular exercise to keep circulation flowing
  6. Don’t forget that annual eye exam!

We have so much to enjoy with our eyes – grandkids, family, spouse, friends, flowers, birds, butterflies, blue skies and rainy days. Help senior loved ones to maintain healthy eyes to continue to enjoy taking in the views as long as possible.

Benefits of Reminiscing with Seniors Plus Some Story Starters

We all love to talk about “the good old days” and so do our senior loved ones. Of course, we can also argue about whose good old days were better.

Reminiscing is a great way for all seniors, especially those affected by Alzheimer’s disease, to recall memories from their distant past.

You can reminisce in an informal way through storytelling, questions and answers or triggering the story by starting it yourself and letting your senior loved one finish it in whatever way he or she remembers it.

You can also reminisce in a more formal way through capturing via video or writing or by having a professional capture the moments. Your senior’s memories should come naturally and flow from them without forcing.

Whether you reminisce in a very casual way or in a more formal way to retain the memories for the future, the effects can be very beneficial for your senior. Often times, elders feel isolated from their identity as they age. Being able to relive and relate their life stories can give them a sense of purpose and self-worth. It can help them relieve boredom and also gain a feeling of companionship with the person that is interested enough in them to listen to their life stories.

Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease who have impaired short term memory and, as such, may not be able to remember what they ate for lunch usually can remember and fully recall their lifetime memories.  Sharing between family caregivers and seniors may allow a renewed understanding as well as a new bond to form, hopefully replacing some of the frustration caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can bring.

Here are some fun facts that could get you and your senior reminiscing today. Use these at your own risk – they just might turn into some long stories!

1950 Compared to Now

Cost of Living and Prices of Things:

  • Gallon of milk cost 82 cents
  • Load of bread cost 14 cents
  • A dozen eggs cost 65 cents
  • Postage stamp cost 3 cents
  • Gallon of gas cost 20 cents
  • New car averaged $1,750

Favorite TV Shows:

  • Hopalong Cassidy
  • The Toast of the Town
  • Your Show of Shows
  • The Lone Ranger
  • You Bet Your Life

Best Movie of the Year:

  • All About Eve

President and Vice President:

  • Harry S. Truman
  • Alben Barkley

We have seen seniors who have immensely enjoyed telling a story and love having an audience doing it. We hope these fun facts will get you started having a great reminiscing session soon. You may not believe the stories you will hear and may even get a good chuckle! Enjoy!

Men’s Health Week: Highlighting Melanoma in Senior Men

Men’s Health Week is an effort to get men to focus on their own health – – and their loved ones to encourage them to do so. In commemoration of this important week, Senior Care Corner encourages men of all ages to participate in activities that will improve their health, such as regular health check-ups, preventive screenings, physical activity, smoking cessation, and a healthy diet.

We regularly post information on health and wellness for seniors and encourage our readers to look back through those posts.

Our focus, for Men’s Health Week, is to inform senior men of a risk that is not publicized as much as others and thus about which they may not be aware. The growing number of men who are being diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, has become a health concern.

It was recently reported that older men are increasingly developing melanoma, largely because they are not using proper sun protection (sunscreen and protective clothing) or checking themselves for signs of skin cancer. The US Preventive Services Task Force reports that fair skinned men with atypical moles or more than fifty moles are a far greater risk for melanoma and should be screened and all others should remain alert to skin changes.

Many men spend time outdoors pursuing a variety of activities, including yard chores and sports, but are not following basic precautions to protect themselves from harmful ultraviolet light. Sun damage can occur with only fifteen minutes in the sun if you are unprotected.

Sun Protection & Melanoma Statistics

  • 29 percent of men surveyed reported protecting their skin while outside while 43 percent of women do.
  • 39 percent of men stated that they preferred to enjoy the sun and not worry about its harmful rays compared to 28 percent of women.
  • If caught and treated in the early stages before melanoma spreads to any lymph nodes, the survival rate is 98 percent.

Protecting Your Skin

  1. Use sunscreen with adequate SPF, a minimum of SPF 15 (higher is better) that protects both UVA and UVB rays of light. Re-apply your sunscreen after two hours, after swimming or any activity that causes you to sweat. Be aware that sunscreen expires, so check the date for freshness. Keep the sunscreen handy so you will use it regularly!
  2. Wear sunglasses when out in the sun, even when driving.
  3. Wear a large brimmed hat.
  4. Protect your lips with a lip balm containing SPF.
  5. Wear clothing that covers and protects skin from harmful rays.
  6. Avoid being out in the sun during peak sun exposure times between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm or stay in the shade. Remember that sun protection is needed whether it is cloudy or sunny, since clouds do not block harmful UV rays.
  7. Check your skin regularly for any changes, such as bleeding, freckles or moles changing, or any area of concern. Ask a family member to help you do a skin check.
  8. Visit a dermatologist for a check-up if any areas are noticed.

We will close with a special quote for Men’s Health Week – “To insure good health: Eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” — William Londen

We wish you the best of health!