Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights — Helping Us Protect Our Seniors

The number of seniors who have transitioned from home or hospital to a nursing home has begun to dwindle slightly as more are able to age in place, but their numbers remain strong.

As of 2014, according to the CDC, there were 1.7 million licensed nursing home beds and 1.4 million nursing home residents.

Is your senior one of those residents?

Nursing homes provide a crucial need in our country for healthcare services. They are staffed by trained professionals and regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Long-term care services include a broad range of health, personal care, and supportive services that meet the needs of frail older people and other adults whose capacity for self-care is limited because of a chronic illness; injury; physical, cognitive, or mental disability; or other health-related conditions”  — HHS/CDC report

Long-term care services include help with activities of daily living such as dressing, bathing, and toileting and instrumental activities of daily living such as medication management.

Long-term care services assist people to improve or maintain an optimal level of physical functioning and quality of life.

Need to Ensure Seniors are Protected

Most nursing homes provide excellent care for the elders in their care.

At the same time, no facility is perfect. Some days things may not go as we expect and create concern your senior loved one is not being treated properly.

Do caregivers or seniors have any recourse to be sure that they are treated with dignity and their basic needs are being met?

They do — and it helps to know the rights of your senior loved one as a resident of a long term care facility!

Bill of Rights for Residents

Under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law, all nursing homes are required by law to provide a specific level of care that promotes quality of life to residents living in a nursing home/long term care facility.

A Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, which describes the rights of the residents, is mandated for all facilities regulated by CMS.

Nursing homes are required by law to make these policies available to any resident who requests them.

The Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights should include and define (but not be limited to) the following rights:

  • The Right to be Informed of Your Rights and the Policies of the Home
  • The Right to be Informed about the Facility’s Services and Charges
  • The Right to be Informed about Your Medical Condition and Treatment
  • The Right to Participate in Planning Your Care and Medical Treatment
  • The Right to Choose Your Own Physician
  • The Right to Manage Personal Finances
  • The Right to Privacy, Dignity, and Respect
  • The Right to Personal Possessions
  • The Right to be Free from Abuse and Restraints
  • The Right to Voice Grievance without Retaliation
  • The Right to be Discharged or Transferred Only for Medical Reasons
  • Rights of Access
  • The Right to be Informed of Your Rights and the Policies of the Home

The nursing home must have written policies about your senior’s rights and responsibilities as a resident.

The responsible party (this could be the senior or the person holding the senior’s healthcare power of attorney) must sign a statement saying that they have received and understood these rights and the rules of the nursing home when your senior is admitted.

As a resident, you have the right to be fully informed before or at admission of your rights and responsibilities as a resident and to be notified of any changes or amendments to those rights and responsibilities.

Right to be Informed about the Facility’s Services and Charges

Every resident has the right to be fully informed of the services available in the facility and of the charges related to those services. These charges include services not covered under Medicare or Medicaid and charges that are not covered in the facility’s basic rate.

Right to be Informed about Your Medical Condition and Treatment

Every resident has the right to receive medical care, nursing care, rehabilitative and restorative therapies, and personal hygiene in a safe, clean environment. Also, every resident has the right to be fully informed of his/her medical condition unless the physician indicates in the medical records that it is not in the best interest of the patient to be told.

Residents have the right to be advised by a physician or appropriate professional staff of alternative courses of care and treatments and their consequences.

Right to Participate in Planning Your Care and Medical Treatment

Residents must be given the opportunity to participate in the planning of their medical treatment. Residents have the right to refuse treatment and to refuse to participate in experimental research.

Right to Choose Your Own Physician

Every resident has the right to choose his/her own physician and pharmacy. Residents do not have to use the nursing home’s physician or pharmacy.

Right to Manage Personal Finances

Residents have the option to manage their funds or to authorize someone else to manage them. If someone else is authorized to handle a resident’s funds, the resident has the right to: know where the funds are and the account number(s); receive a written accounting statement every 3 months; receive a receipt for any funds spent; and, have access to his/her funds within 7 business days.

Right to Privacy, Dignity, and Respect

Every resident has the right to be treated with consideration, respect, and dignity in full recognition of his/her individuality. This includes privacy during medical treatment and care of personal needs.

People not involved in the care of the resident should not be present during examinations and treatment without consent from the resident.

Right to Personal Possessions

Every resident has the right to retain and use his/her personal clothing and possessions as space permits, unless doing so infringes upon the rights of other residents or constitutes a safety hazard.

Right to be Free from Abuse and Restraints

Residents have the rights to be free from mental (humiliation, harassment, and threats of punishment or deprivation) and physical (corporal punishment and the use of restraints as punishment) abuse.

Residents also have the right to be free from chemical and physical restraints unless authorized in writing by a physician for a specified and limited time period or when necessary to protect the patient from injury to him/herself or to others.

Right to Voice Grievance without Retaliation

Every resident should be encouraged and assisted to exercise his/her right to voice grievances and recommend changes in policies and services to facility staff and/or outside representatives of his/her choice without fear of coercion, discrimination, or reprisal.

Right to be Discharged or Transferred Only for Medical Reasons

A resident may only be discharged or transferred for medical reasons or for his/her welfare or that of other residents. Residents must be provided with a written notice 30 days prior to transfer or discharge.

The law provides residents the right to appeal discharge or transfer.

Rights of Access

Residents may receive any visitor of their choice and may refuse visitors to enter their room or may end a visit at any time. Residents have the right to immediate access by family and reasonable access to others. Visiting hours must be at least 8 hours per day and be posted in a public place.

Members of community organizations and legal services may enter any nursing home during visiting hours. Communication between the resident and visitors are confidential. Visitors may talk to all residents and offer them personal, social, and legal services. Visitors may help residents claim their rights and benefits through individual assistance, counseling, organizational activity, legal action, or other forms of representation.

Source: National Long Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center

Attention by Family Caregivers Needed

As with other aspects of life, the existence of rights is not the same as assurance those rights will be protected when nobody is looking.

Our senior loved ones still need the protection of the eyes and ears of the family caregivers who visit.

That means we need to understand the rights of our senior loved ones and what actions to take if needed.

Tips to Fight Seasonal Allergies in Seniors – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Spring is upon us. The flowers and trees are starting to bloom.

The budding flowers and trees are beautiful, the birds are singing, and the sun is shining, but it also marks the start of seasonal allergies for many.

It is estimated that more than 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from allergies each year.

Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Allergies are often unrecognized — and therefore untreated — in seniors.

It is an inflammatory condition that can have a greater impact on seniors than in the younger population due to age-related changes in their immune systems.

As the pollen level rises, you may hear people say they have hay fever, which is another term for seasonal allergies. They aren’t allergic to hay but seasonal pollen or other irritants.

Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

There are a number of symptoms associated with affliction by seasonal allergies.

  1. itchy eyes, nose and throat
  2. sneezing
  3. coughing
  4. stuffy or runny nose
  5. tears
  6. fever
  7. dark circles under your eyes
  8. aches and pains
  9. fatigue and weakness
  10. sleep disturbance

Recognize these in your senior loved one or yourself?

Tips to Prevent Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies

You can take some action now to prevent symptoms from slowing your senior down. Some symptoms can lead to more serious illnesses, including sinus infection, ear infections and upper respiratory infections.

  1. When pollen counts start to rise, limit time outdoors
  2. Keep your windows and doors closed when pollen is at its peak
  3. Change your air conditioner filter, keep the air circulating to filter the outdoor air or use an air purifier indoors to clean the air of pollen
  4. Wash your hands frequently especially when returning from the outdoors
  5. Avoid outdoor activities that stir up pollen, such as lawn mowing, and wear a mask if they cannot be avoided
  6. Dry your laundry in the machine, not outdoors on a clothes line, to keep pollen off your clothes and bedding
  7. Avoid visiting with people who have colds
  8. Learn about what triggers your senior’s allergies and avoid the trigger

Hopefully your senior can prevent some of the uncomfortable symptoms from happening to them this spring and summer!

Additional Resources

Here is an informative story which might help you learn more about allergies:

Here are a few articles about spring safety reminders that might be needed at this time of the year too!

Intestinal Health in Our Senior Loved Ones – To Use or Not to Use Probiotics

Does your senior suffer from irregularity?

Does your senior have bloating, cramping or rumbling in their tummy?

It’s hard to avoid television, magazine, and grocery store ads telling us the importance of gut health.

Not only that, but also how their products can help us feel regular and like ourselves again.

Active cultures from a variety of food sources are the latest health craze, not just for women but all of us.

What exactly are these products and why should we take them?

Seniors’ Bowel Health

Many seniors are unaffected by problems with their tummy.

They experience no untoward effects while others have irregularity, constipation, gas, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or irritable bowel syndrome.

There can be medical conditions or prescription drugs that interfere with a regular bowel pattern and those need to be checked by your senior’s physician.

There is no one right time for passing stools or the frequency of bowel movements that is ‘normal’.

We are all a bit different depending on a number of factors including diet, exercise, health and medical conditions for example.

Knowing When There’s a Problem

Having a bowel movement everyday should not be your senior’s goal and they are not automatically constipated if they don’t move their bowels daily.

When their stools change in frequency, size, contain blood or require straining to pass, it is time to talk to the doctor.

Many seniors who are having a stool pattern that is different from the norm for them is reason to begin to search for a way to get back to their normal pattern.

When seniors (all of us, really) feel their usual habits need a helping hand, they often turn to these products advertised on TV to seek relief.

Foods containing active cultures or probiotics that can repopulate the bacterial flora in our seniors GI tract (or gut) may help them feel better and become more regular.

Understanding Probiotics

Food products that contain probiotics have been advertised to relieve tummy troubles and make seniors regular again.

Probiotics are microorganisms that are added to the intestines to produce a beneficial effect.

Probiotics are live active cultures and yeasts that can keep our gut healthier.

Our bodies contain both good and bad bacteria. Bad bacteria can make us sick as in food poisoning, but good bacteria such as in the gut can keep us well.

Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics which aren’t the microorganism but are indigestible compounds that stimulate the existing gut bacteria causing it to grow.

Two of the most common types of good bacteria that help our intestines include:

  • lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus casei, lactobacillus acidophilus)
  • bifidobacteria (bifidobacteria bifidus)

These active live cultures are appearing in more and more brands of yogurt, soy products, and supplements to help our intestinal health and are considered “friendly bacteria.”

Reading labels will tell you if a particular product contains probiotics.

Look for “live active cultures” or lactobacillus in foods such as buttermilk, yogurt, acidophilus milk, kefir, tempeh fermented soy, brewer’s yeast or miso.

Benefits of Probiotics

There are some instances that using a probiotic can be beneficial.

  1. Probiotics are often used to improve your own gut bacteria after using antibiotics, which can destroy your friendly bacteria.
  2. Some people with lactose intolerance find that using probiotic products help them feel better.
  3. Probiotics have been found helpful in preventing/treating urinary tract infections and yeast infections.
  4. Those suffering from clostridium difficile have gotten some relief using probiotics in the length of their illness.
  5. People who have irritable bowel syndrome may also benefit from the use of probiotics.

Some seniors may be taking probiotics in pill form, prescribed by their doctors, related to a medical condition or illness. These supplements contain these same strains of good bacteria and act in the same way as foods you may be adding to your diet.

Don’t stop taking the medication prescribed by your doctor thinking that a yogurt a day will be the same because the strain of culture or amount may not be equivalent and your senior’s health could be negatively impacted.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you decide to include probiotic products in your diet, be aware that you might experience some intestinal symptoms such as gas or bloating and even loose stools as your body adjusts to a new balance in friendly bacteria.

As a side note, continued research into the effects and benefits of food products containing live cultures so that accurate package claims can be made is ongoing.

If your senior has a normal, healthy intestinal system, he probably doesn’t need to go out of his way to eat these products. However, if your senior feels she could use more help to be regular, adding a few of these foods with active cultures might help her bowel health.

Either way, don’t forget yogurt is a good source of nutrients including protein and calcium, whether you are looking for intestinal health improvements or not!

Not to mention that yogurt tastes good, too!

Wish List of “Rules” for Caregivers from Your Loved One with Dementia

Caregivers, both family and paid, who lovingly care for people with dementia find joy and sometimes frustration when dealing with day to day tasks.

It is important that we treat the person with dementia as a human being and not just someone that needs our help. They have thoughts, feelings and emotions now, just as they did in the past.

Nurturing them, both physically and mentally, and treating them with the respect they deserve may not always be our priority when safety concerns and personal care seem overwhelming, but it is vital nonetheless.

Inspiration in the Form of Rules for Caregivers

We found a very thought-provoking list of rules for those who care for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

It was written by a dementia practitioner and blogger named Rachael Wonderlin and can be found on Dementia by Day.

The list was born of experience dealing with people at all stages of dementia.

It is a great reminder that having dementia doesn’t mean that they can’t interact with you. We need to remember the contributions that individual made to our lives, community, and world prior to their diagnosis.

People with dementia are unique, loving, and worthy of our respect — despite their progressive disease process.


by Rachael Wonderlin

If I get dementia, I’d like my family to hang this wish list up on the wall where I live.

  1. If I get dementia, I want my friends and family to embrace my reality. If I think my spouse is still alive, or if I think we’re visiting my parents for dinner, let me believe those things. I’ll be much happier for it.
  2. If I get dementia, I don’t want to be treated like a child. Talk to me like the adult that I am.
  3. If I get dementia, I still want to enjoy the things that I’ve always enjoyed. Help me find a way to exercise, read, and visit with friends.
  4. If I get dementia, ask me to tell you a story from my past.
  5. If I get dementia, and I become agitated, take the time to figure out what is bothering me.
  6. If I get dementia, treat me the way that you would want to be treated.
  7. If I get dementia, make sure that there are plenty of snacks for me in the house. Even now if I don’t eat I get angry, and if I have dementia, I may have trouble explaining what I need.
  8. If I get dementia, don’t talk about me as if I’m not in the room.
  9. If I get dementia, don’t feel guilty if you cannot care for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s not your fault, and you’ve done your best. Find someone who can help you, or choose a great new place for me to live.
  10. If I get dementia, and I live in a dementia care community, please visit me often.
  11. If I get dementia, don’t act frustrated if I mix up names, events, or places. Take a deep breath. It’s not my fault.
  12. If I get dementia, make sure I always have my favorite music playing within earshot.
  13. If I get dementia, and I like to pick up items and carry them around, help me return those items to their original places.
  14. If I get dementia, don’t exclude me from parties and family gatherings.
  15. If I get dementia, know that I still like receiving hugs or handshakes.
  16. If I get dementia, remember that I am still the person you know and love.

Being a caregiver is not always the most exciting thing we can imagine doing but it is a rewarding and fulfilling role that you will be happy you accepted in the years to come.

It may feel thankless at times but we and many others….

thank you for caring!

Email Safety for Seniors (and the Rest of Us) – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Many seniors took their time in adopting technology such as smartphones and getting online in general.

Fortunately, most are now realizing the benefits and frequently communicating with family, friends and others via email.

They can use a traditional computer or a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone.

The challenge continues to be keeping them and their private information safe during their time spent interfacing with technology.

Email, especially, can be a source of scams and malware for all segments of the population.

Seniors, who are unsuspecting and give away more information than they should, can be even more susceptible. They are trusting and unknowingly too forthcoming with items such as social security numbers and passwords.

How to Keep Seniors Safe When Viewing Emails

According to recent Pew Research reports, such as those Barry often discusses with us, seniors in growing numbers are getting connected and active on the web.

Older adults are keeping up with family and friends via email not only on their home computers but now on smartphones.

Here are a few tips, really reminders, to stay safe when using email:

  1. Never open an email from someone you don’t know. It is very tempting, after all it came to the phone in your pocket, but don’t do it. These are all too often filled with scam offers and viruses that you don’t want.
  2. Don’t give any personal information out through email, including address, social security numbers, passwords or any other private information. Your bank or Credit Card Company should never contact you via email to get information. Don’t even share this personal information with family via email since it can end up in the wrong hands.
  3. Remember that emails are written in ink and can be forwarded to anyone. Be careful what you say because chances are the email you least want others to see will be forwarded all around. Think twice sending an email complaining about your neighbors’ misdeeds or your family arguments — it might just come back around to you.
  4. Don’t open attachments unless you know who is sending it AND you are expecting that from them. Attachments can infect your computer and may come in emails that look like they are from a friend or family member.
  5. Don’t be tempted to click on websites contained in emails. If you want to visit a website identified in an email, type the address directly in the browser because emailed links can mask the real destination and send you to a site with malicious intent.

Additional Resources

Home Improvements and Upgrades for Senior-Friendly Aging in Place

Aging in place is no longer a movement but a lifestyle.

Our senior loved ones want to live in the home of their choice as long as possible — hopefully the rest of their lives.

For some seniors it may mean living in a home that isn’t suited to the needs of an aging adult, putting them at risk.

Adjustments or even renovations may be needed to enable them to live safely in their homes, which could be aging around them and falling into disrepair.

Most homes simply won’t accommodate needs such as wheelchair access or senior shower time unless built with the needs of senior adults in mind.

Home renovation once was done primarily to improve resale value or upgrade features of a home but now it is fast becoming a means for seniors to remain in their homes safer and longer.

Renovation Statistics

A recent report from Home Advisor found that seniors wishing to age in place completed the following renovations:

  • 76% added grab bars to one or more rooms in the home
  • 64% added a ramp to the home’s entrance
  • 44% widened doorways
  • 35% added a bathroom on the home’s first floor
  • 30% added lever handles on doors

Repair and Renovation

In order for your senior to age in place in their current home, they may need to consider potential repairs and improvements.

  • Is their house safe for them to live without injury or illness?

Are the floors strong, the windows sealed, the front porch steps secure, the temperature controlled, is it free of mold or radon, the stair treads secure or other maintenance issues?

  • Is there adequate lighting to prevent accidents?

Are there wayfinding lights so that they can find their way to the bathroom at night? Is there enough light in the hallway or closets to avoid tripping? Is there enough footlight in the living area or kitchen to light tasks? Is there a porch light or light in the yard to see in the dark when coming and going or checking for intruders?

  • Do they have stairs that they will no longer be able to climb just to get to bed at night or to the bathroom?

Will they have to be able to climb stairways to get to bed at night or the bathroom or to do the laundry? What happens when they have mobility issues and can’t climb stairs? Is there a step into the house or to the garage?

  • Do they live nearby to family, friends and necessary shopping venues?

Are they close enough to family and friends to stay engaged and socialize? Will they need to have transportation to meet all their needs such as banking, shopping or medical care? Is anything within walking distance?

Can they get themselves from place to place? Is there public transportation available? Is there a family caregiver, friend or neighbor available to drive them wherever they need to go?

  • Is their doctor or hospital conveniently located to them in case of an emergency?

How far away is an ambulance or fire station? Is the hospital close in case of an emergency so that life saving treatment can be obtained? Is there a choice of doctors and specialists in their community to meet their individual medical needs or does it require travel to see a consultant to treat a specific condition?

  • Do they have access to a system to call help in an emergency such as a life line? If not, can this be installed in their home?

Does the community offer a lifeline system that they can use in the home in case of a fall or injury? Is there internet access available in their home to set up a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS)?

  • Can they get into and out of their house with a walker or wheelchair? Do they need a ramp built?

Does their home have easy access from the driveway, garage and front door? Can they get to the mailbox safely? Do they have a handrail at the front door? Are the steps and walkways in good repair or do they present a tripping hazard in all weather?

Do they live where snow or ice can impede their safe walking to the car or mailbox? Do they need a ramp to get in and out? Does the width of the front door accommodate a wheelchair or even a walker?

  • Are the bathrooms accessible? Do they need to install grab bars to make personal care safe?

Bathrooms can pose a serious threat to the safety of seniors. Is the door wide enough for safe passage? Are the floors free of trip hazards? Can you remove throw rugs? Can they get into the bath or shower safely or do they need a curbless shower? Can they use grab bars at the sink, toilet or shower?

Do they need a raised toilet seat? Do they need lever faucets? Do they need a different hot water setting to prevent scalding from overheated water? Do they need a shower chair or bench and a hand held shower to safely bathe themselves? Is the temperature in the bathroom adequate for showering – too hot, cold or steamy?

  • Are their living areas free from hazards such as throw rugs, electric cords and general clutter?

Can they safely move through the house without danger of tripping and falling? Are there extension cords in the walking path? Can throw rugs be removed? Can the furniture be rearranged or minimized to open up lanes of walking? Is clutter removed to allow safe walking? Are the floors a non-skid material? Are the floors in good repair with no loose floorboards or peeling linoleum?

  • Can they afford their current home mortgage or bills to keep it functioning safely?

Is your senior able to pay their mortgage or rent plus utilities and taxes in addition to their other costs of living, including insurance, prescriptions, and food? Can they afford the upkeep of an aging home to keep it safe in the upcoming years?

  • Would they benefit from smart home features?

There are more and more products that can be added to a home for safety and connectivity with caregivers. Can these be added to your senior’s home? Can your senior operate them or learn to operate them? Is there web access or a smartphone available to allow for their operation?

Many of these concerns are easily remedied.

Adapt Their Home — or Consider a New One?

If the needs of your senior can’t be met in their current home, such as location to medical services or family members, it might be time to make a change and relocate to a more suitable community and home.

Plan ahead for their needs so that your loved one can safely age in place, whether it means finding a new home or adapting their current home before its needed.

If you decide that a home renovation is needed, there are professionals who are specially trained in this type of home remodeling. A certified specialist in aging in place (CAPS) in your area can be located through the National Association of Home Builders.

Checklist for Family Caregivers

We have compiled a list of items in a checklist format that family caregivers can use to determine what renovations or remodeling need to be done to keep your senior loved one safe at home.

You may determine after reviewing this list that it is too much and another home might better serve your senior loved one. You can then communicate effectively with your senior about the options and agree on a course of action that works for everyone.

Download our free Home Seniorization Checklist for ideas and next steps!

Tax Time Savings and Safety Tips for Seniors and Family Caregivers

Two things are unavoidable for us all.

Just one of them happens more than once, though.

Yes, it is tax time again!

Family caregivers and their senior loved ones all deserve the opportunity to have their taxes prepared in an efficient, accurate, timely and stress-free manner.

Caregivers can use all the financial help they can get when caring for older adults and want their tax return to be sure to include every benefit it can.

Unfortunately, caregivers need to be aware, and sometimes in charge, when it comes to getting the right person to complete senior loved ones’ taxes. Nothing ever comes easy it seems, especially taxes.

Tax Preparers

More than half of us rely on someone to prepare our taxes for a fee.

We give them all our personal and financial information in confidence, hoping they will help us pay only what we owe and ensure we get back all that we deserve, without fear of errors and audits.

The reality is that errors and purposeful fraud are not uncommon.

Falsification of eligible deductions, which increases the refund amount just to make the customer happy and improve word of mouth for their service, is one factor that leads to fraud.

Simple data entry errors, especially when speed is expected, is one way our returns could be submitted incorrectly.

Tips to Protect Caregivers and Seniors

There have been efforts by advocates to put regulations in place so that training and competency of preparers would be required to reduce errors, but nothing has yet been passed.

Until there are more safeguards in place for consumers, here are some tips for you when getting your taxes prepared.

  1. Be aware of the qualifications of the person who will prepare your taxes, even if they are employed by a large company. There are no minimum education or training standards for preparers, so errors, omissions or even fraud occurs. Ask what their training entails – does it include basic skills and ongoing education? Tax preparers are often licensed as certified public accountants or credentialed by the IRS as enrolled agents.
  2. You are ultimately responsible for any errors or problems with your return and could face an audit, fines or criminal proceedings. Your tax preparer is required by law to sign your return but it is your responsibility for its accuracy.
  3. Try to get an estimate of the cost of preparation based on your needs. Because it is unregulated, comparison shopping for the best rate can be difficult. You may find a great deal of difference in the cost of tax preparation. Can they give you a printed disclosure of their fees?
  4. Beware of additional up-selling of products you don’t need. Some tax preparers may try to sell you other ‘products,’ such as refund anticipation checks (RAC) or loans (RAL). This added expense may sound hard to refuse but it is not needed.
  5. Look for free tax preparation assistance for seniors. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and other tax help are available at 1-800-906-9887. The IRS also offers a free filing program for qualified taxpayers that allows for free online filing. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) is another program to seek out by calling 1-888-227-7669.
  6. Your senior can add you, their family caregiver, as a third party designee. This allows the IRS to discuss the return with you, including directing questions that might arise during preparation or after your taxes are filed.
  7. Determine if your senior should file a standard deduction or itemized deduction return. Remember to claim deductions for which they are eligible, including medical expenses or large charitable contributions if itemizing.
  8. If a senior loved one died during the tax year, you may need to file a tax form for them as their personal representative.
  9. Some income is not taxable, such as government benefits for energy, and nutrition; Veteran’s benefits; reimbursement from select volunteer service; and reverse mortgages. Because reverse mortgages are considered loan advances and not income, the amount your senior receives isn’t taxable. Check your senior’s documents to be sure it is a loan.

Tax Savings for Seniors

There are some valid tax credits that seniors and family caregivers should investigate, they may benefit you when filing your return this year.

You may want to review the IRS publication 554, which details tax information for seniors.

  • If your senior was disabled and receives disability income they may qualify for a credit.
  • If your senior is 65 or older, he or she can deduct the part of their medical and dental expenses that exceed 7.5% (10% for those under 65) of adjusted gross income according to IRS.
  • If your senior improved their home for the purpose of medical care, these costs can be itemized.
  • Nursing care in the home (not household chores) can be included in medical cost deductions.
  • You can include the cost of long term care insurance and long term care services received during the year in your senior’s medical deductions.
  • Medicare Part B and prescription coverage under part D plans are also deductible expenses.
  • There are more. For a complete list, Table 4.1 in IRS publication 554 details what is and isn’t included for medical and dental deductions.

Are They Required to File?

No matter you or your senior loved one’s age or employment status, an income tax return must be filed if you meet the requirements for gross income levels. There is a chart available to guide you on the IRS publication 554, Table 1-1.

You might find it a good idea to contact a certified public accountant (CPA) or elder law attorney to discuss your senior’s tax needs, especially when issues of retirement income, home sale, IRA distribution or other more complex matters may apply to their return.

Protecting their financial assets from fraud and incompetency is one of the many roles caregivers play to help the seniors they love!

Helping Seniors Stay Safe Behind the Wheel – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Age should not be the measuring stick we use to decide if someone should be on the road and behind the wheel.

Driving helps our senior loved ones stay mobile and independent.

We need to determine whether that driver is safe, medically able to drive safely and free from unsafe distractions while driving.

There are accommodations that can be made for seniors in the automobile that they drive as well as more driver’s training, even driving rehab, that can improve the safety of our senior drivers.

Tips to Keep Your Senior Safely in the Driver’s Seat

To help keep drivers safely on the road for a lifetime we have these tips from The Hartford.

  1. Be a healthy driver — getting your senior’s eyes checked, knowing effects of any medications, getting exercise regularly, and getting medical checkups to be healthy behind the wheel.
  2. Keep learning — reminders are helpful, so have your senior attend defensive driver classes in your area; they may even get a break on their automobile insurance.
  3. Adjust to changes in skills as your senior ages; make changes in driving as your senior’s ability changes, such as limit night driving, limit driving in busiest traffic at rush hour or long distance trips.
  4. Choose a safe car that fits your senior-consider comfort and control.
  5. Be sure your senior learns about their car’s safety features to ensure they are used properly.
  6. Keep your senior’s car properly maintained following manufacturer guidelines.
  7. Use the seat belt every time in every car whether you are the driver or a passenger.
  8. Limit driving when the conditions are limited, such as darkness and poor weather.
  9. Don’t drink and drive, limit distractions such as phones, eating, loud music or talking with passengers.

Driving is important to your senior’s independence so help keep them, their car and others on the road safe.

Additional Resources

In addition to these quick tips, we have more information that might help you and your senior loved one learn more about safe driving.

March for Meals — Help End Senior Hunger with Meals On Wheels

More than 9 million seniors in the U.S. struggle with hunger.

That’s more than 9 million too many!

The statistics on food insecurity and hunger among America’s seniors are alarming and heartbreaking.

They should spur us on to action.

In 2014 it was estimated 3 million households with seniors lived in food insecurity — which means they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food — and 1.2 million households with seniors living alone were food insecure.

Feeding America reports

  • 60 percent of seniors are more likely to experience depression
  • 53 percent of seniors are more likely to report a heart attack
  • 52 percent of seniors are more likely to develop asthma
  • 40 percent of seniors are more likely to report an experience of congestive heart failure

In addition, “food insecure seniors were 2.33 times more likely to report fair/poor health status and had higher nutritional risk.”

SNAP May Help, But Only if They Use It

According to the National Council on Aging, over 4 million low-income adults over age 60 rely on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to stay healthy and make ends meet.

On average, they receive $113 per month to help put food on the table.

The unfortunate truth is that 3 out of 5 seniors who qualify for SNAP don’t participate in this program. That means more than 5 million seniors who could get this help are not.

Thousands of people are working to do something about that through local organizations such as Meals On Wheels.

We can all help seniors by promoting and supporting March for Meals, a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of senior hunger and encourage action at the local level.

March for Meals

In March we have the opportunity to learn more about how Meals on Wheels serves the seniors of our country as we celebrate the March for Meals.

2016 marks the 14th annual March for Meals, which hopes to bring awareness, volunteers and fundraising to sustain these community based organizations so that they can continue to feed and provide a valuable safety net for millions of homebound seniors.

Across the nation, Meals on Wheels is a system of independently run programs that provide home-delivered meals and a daily safety check-in to the seniors they serve.

Meals on Wheels provides

  • nutritious meals
  • peace of mind for long distance caregivers
  • reduced hospital stays for seniors
  • reduced medical costs with fewer ER trips
  • delay need for facility care
  • improved quality of life with nutrition, socialization and independence for aging in place
  • volunteer opportunities

Some programs, depending on their funding and community support, also provide pet food, home repairs and transportation to the doctor.

Volunteers Get More Than They Give

For some of the seniors who receive a meal from Meals On Wheels, it is often the only hot, nutritious meal they get each day.

It may also be the only other person they will see that day!

You can imagine how fulfilling it is to be the one able to hand them that meal and give them a smile.

It would not be exaggerating to say that you are a life saver!

Our grandparents loved the time they spent delivering Meals On Wheels, not just bringing food to seniors who could not get out but the opportunity it gave them to spend time chatting with people who often don’t get many visitors.

They even received an award from the local organization recognizing the fact that they delivered meals longer than anyone else had, especially considering they volunteered into their 80s.

We wish there were a local Meals On Wheels organization where we live so that we could help.

Getting Involved with Meals on Wheels

Those seeking to provide a hand for seniors in your local community, perhaps even your own senior loved one, should check with the Meals On Wheels Association of America to find out if there is an organization in your community and, if so, how to get in touch with them.

If you are a long distance caregiver and feel separated from the hands on caregiving of your own senior, delivering Meals On Wheels in the local community can be an outlet. You can volunteer to help other seniors in your community by volunteering with Meals on Wheels near you.

You can make a difference even with just one day each month.

Because time is in short supply for many, you can also make a difference with a financial donation to support their efforts.

Meals On Wheels is also a great cause for support by local youth organizations and school or church groups with their community projects and fundraising efforts.

Not only is it a way to make a difference locally, but it can bring the generations together for mutual understanding and appreciation.

Alone we can’t solve the hunger problem for millions of seniors but we can make a difference to those in our communities!