Tax Benefits to Lighten Financial Load of Family Caregivers (at Least a Bit)

The end of the year is upon us and hope for what the new year will bring.

Once we get the celebrations behind us, it’s time to start thinking about getting our income taxes done and filed.

Sorry, I don’t mean to spoil your fun!

On the bright side, there are tax savings for which you might be eligible as a caregiver.

They are going to make you reach, but just might be of some help in meeting the financial costs of caring for a senior loved one.

Remember, tax laws are complex and we don’t know which tax breaks may be applicable to you but want to point you in the right direction to find out.

Tax Credits for Caring

Family caregivers can get credits on their personal taxes for caring for a dependent senior and should include these benefits when completing tax returns.

Generally, the person for whom you care should be living with you, dependent on you for care or you provide more than half of their support during the year in order for you to claim tax credits.

Tax deductions and credits may be available for people who care for elders who have a chronic disease documented by a medical professional within the last 12 months.

Family caregivers who provide care for qualifying relatives can claim deductions and credits for a range of out-of-pocket expenditures such as:

  • Dental treatments
  • Cost of transportation to get to a medical appointment
  • Health insurance premiums
  • Long-term care services

According to the IRS, medical expenses include the costs of diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of diseases, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body.

For a full list of allowable medical expenses, see IRS Publication 502 at www.irs.gov.

Cost of Caregiving

The unpaid cost of caregiving for those providing care has been estimated to total $395 billion a year!

As a caregiver, you often pay many expenses straight out of your pocket with no help from medical insurance or the seniors for whom you care.

The cost of care is very high, especially when caring for a person with dementia in your home.

For example, a homemaker can cost $19 an hour and a home health aide can cost $21 an hour — or more. These costs can add up quickly over the course of a week or month, especially if they help when you can’t be there.

There are costs that many family caregivers may not realize are affecting their finances including:

  1. lost wages
  2. your own medical costs due to the strain on your physical and mental health
  3. future employability, failure to get promotions, re-entering the workforce if leave for caregiving
  4. loss of retirement savings or Social Security credits (47% of caregivers surveyed have used up most or all of their savings)

These costs are often not felt immediately but are uncovered over the long term.

It is important for family caregivers to protect their own financial status and one way is to gain all the tax benefits you can from your role as caregiver.

Costs* You Have Paid This Year May Be Eligible For Tax Credits

Be aware that some of these change year to year so check them out before getting to work on your taxes. If you use a paid preparer, be sure to address these.

  • cost of medical insurance premiums, including long term care insurance
  • prescriptions, doctors bills unpaid by insurance, hospital fees not covered by insurance, dental treatments
  • payments made to in home caregivers for medical or nursing care
  • transportation costs to receive medical care and appointments, including a mileage deduction if you or your senior do the driving
  • in-home specialized care such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy
  • personal care items such as diapers, briefs, or special foods
  • costs of facility care, such as assisted living or nursing care, if for medical purposes rather than personal care
  • aging in place in-home modifications you have made, such as ramps, grab bars, stair glides, wider doors
  • dentures, glasses, prosthetics, Braille books
  • equipment such as oxygen supplies, wheelchair, hearing aids, and batteries

(*medical costs typically can be deducted if they are over 10% of your adjusted gross income; check with your tax preparer or IRS materials for full details)

The AARP also offers free assistance and tax tips for seniors through its Tax-Aide program. You can look for a preparer in your area using the AARP locator.

Don’t forget to investigate which of these costs are also deductible on your state taxes.

Many states allow deductions for medical costs for caregivers in addition to your federal taxes.

Remember, though, tax laws are complex and mistakes are easy to make — and may be very costly.

If you are not sure if an item is deductible, check with the IRS or your own tax expert.

Once you investigate all the options available to you and your senior to get the credits you deserve, you will be happy you did!

Happy New Year!


Dream vs. Reality – Is Retirement in the Cards for Family Caregivers?

We all dream of a time when we can stop doing the 9 to 5 (or is it 7-7?).

Even when we love our jobs, we strive to travel the world, go fishing, try something new or just read a good book without interruption.

Retirement — living out our golden years seeking personal fulfillment, exploration, and new hobbies — seems to be a thing of the past.

We no longer look at our 65th birthday as a time when we pack up our desk and get the gold watch, walking into the sunset to greet a new path.

How will working past traditional retirement age affect family caregivers who may be caring for one or more older adults?

Health Consequences of Traditional Retirement

Some have said that when a person retires they are left waiting to die.

This may not be too far from the truth, as research shows. Retiring from a stimulating environment to sit on the front porch isn’t good for our senior’s physical or mental health.

One study found that people who retired had a 40% greater risk of heart attack or stroke (both men and women) than their peers who continued to work. The first year of retirement seems to be the unhealthiest.

Did you know that retirement was ranked 10th of the 43 most stressful life events?

Researchers in the Study of Adult Development found that retirement is more successful when you create a new social network, as you lose the daily contact with colleagues; play at life keeping active in many pursuits; keep your brain active and participate in creative activities; and never stop learning.

Doing these things made life more enjoyable in turn keeping you healthy.

Maintaining structure in your life will also help keep you healthy in retirement. How you manage your lifestyle when you are in charge of your own time will dictate how healthy your retirement may be.

Pew Research Study on Retirement

Because we are all desiring to be in charge of our time and activities including our senior loved ones, retirement seems like a great option. However, we need to stay connected and may feel fulfilled through our work.

A recent Pew Research study found that more people over 65 are working now than since the turn of the century. They found 9 million people over 65 reported being employed either full or part-time and that number has been quoted at 33 million for those over 55 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This increase in older workers can be see steadily in those 75 and older as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that older workers outnumbered teenage workers in 2015 for the first time since 1948!

Older adults of all ages are working full-time. Compared to all adults, seniors are working in similar sectors of the job force to other workers, except with lower numbers in foodservice, computing, and construction.

The National Council on Aging reports that older workers are staying in jobs longer due to financial reasons to remain independent, to pay for care needs of those for whom they care, to stay engaged, and because they enjoy it.

Family Caregiving and Retirement

Family caregivers often don’t have the ability to decide whether they will retire or continue working based solely on their own desires.

Often, caregivers must make decisions based on what older adults in their care require.

Are the medical costs too high, requiring caregivers to earn a living?

The amount of time they are needed in the caregiver role also dictates whether they can continue to work past the typical retirement age or are forced to retire early especially if they are needed for daily care at home.

If a caregiver is responsible for a spouse, they are more likely to retire as soon as possible in order to meet their needs personally, according to research by the Cornell Retirement and Well-Being Study.

Perhaps a caregiver will opt to transition from full-time to part-time so that they can provide care more frequently themselves.

“Forced” Retirement for Caregiving

When a caregiver retires due to the demands of caregiving, this is considered to be involuntary retirement. Many caregivers call their retirement forced when they feel they don’t have total control in deciding their fate.

In addition to financial consequences, caregivers who perceived their retirement to be forced and have limits placed on their daily living due to caregiving, had a higher rate of depression. They remark that their retirement plans were “spoiled.”

Changing work life and retirement plans based on caregiving needs often results in a financial loss to the caregiver, not just in wages but also retirement benefits, social security earned credits and, as we have discussed, their own health.

A MetLife study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers estimated a loss of benefits and wages as a result of caregiving for men to be $280,000 and women more than $320,000.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

Caregivers who near retirement and begin considering their options should investigate the financial outcomes of their decision in addition to feeling the need to be the primary caregiver before they decide.

Finding alternate strategies to meet the caregiving needs of your senior loved one while you pursue a work life could be important for many caregivers.

This is a personal decision for caregivers and asking yourself if you love your job or are just doing it for the paycheck could help you make your decision.

Caregivers can:

  1. Request that their employers adopt a flexible work schedule to allow a balance work that is loved with caregiving responsibilities
  2. Try to job share or go to part-time status
  3. Ask if the employer will consider unlimited paid sick time for caregiving responsibilities (research found this policy actually resulted in lower use of sick time as respite was available for caregivers to remain healthy)
  4. Seek out Employee Assistance Program resources
  5. Connect with community organizations to get support and local resources
  6. Determine if the senior can benefit from government help through BenefitsCheckup.org
  7. Stay organized so that you can reduce stress
  8. Care for yourself, ask for help and accept it when offered!

As a caregiver, our fate is in our hands.

How caregivers balance work and home life and also care for ourselves, whether we retire early or stay working as we age, impacts our own physical and mental health.

Medicare Cards Will Soon Change to Stop Needless Risk of ID Theft

Security concerns associated with the latest digital technology is a topic we frequently discuss at Senior Care Corner® to raise awareness.

We remind you to secure your senior loved ones’ experiences with social media and internet banking, to make wireless connections secure, to refrain from using unsecured Wi-Fi, and avoid paper statements that can get into the wrong hands if not shredded.

Sometimes we need a reminder that all the threats aren’t in the digital realm, but can exist in things as simple as good old paper ID cards.

The scams perpetrated against our seniors grow daily, with many unscrupulous people trying to take over your senior’s nest egg. It is important to make our seniors aware of how to avoid being the victim of scams, giving money to fake charities, and even answering the door to strangers.

We have reported in the past about how our seniors continue to remain open to identity theft by carrying their Medicare cards, which they are told by the government they need to do.

One would expect that, in this age of technology, our government would do all they can to protect our vulnerable seniors from identity theft.

One would be wrong, so far at least, but that is finally going to change.

Medicare Card Security Risk

The Medicare card that most of our seniors carry around with them in their wallets currently exposes them to identity theft should it be misplaced or stolen, though most are unaware that this little card opens them up to potential risk that can be expensive and time consuming to repair.

After all, their government gave them the card, right?

How could this happen? Their Medicare card uses their Social Security Number (SSN) to identify them. Using this number as an identifier was stopped on other important things like our driver’s license and private insurance cards years ago.

Identity theft can occur when someone gains access to our senior’s (or our own) personal information and uses that information to pose as our senior for financial gain. It is a crime.

Protect from Identity Theft

The consequences of identity theft, which we have personally experienced, can be severe. It’s victims can suffer from ruined credit ratings, drained bank accounts, and has even been known to lead to individuals being arrested and jailed because a criminal used their identity to commit crimes.

At best, identity theft takes time to resolve and leads to emotional stress that many seniors and their already-stressed family caregivers have difficulty handling.

Therefore, doing everything you and your senior can do to take the necessary steps to protect your identity from theft is worth it.

Identity theft can occur even if the crooks don’t get a social security number, but their task is so much easier when they have it. That’s why including social security numbers on Medicare cards and telling seniors they need to carry those cards is exposing them to seemingly unnecessary risk.

Medicare Cards Get Updated

Unfortunately, Medicare continues to use a SSN to identify our seniors because they estimate the cost to change the cards of all seniors to be prohibitive.

Finally, this security risk has gotten the attention it deserves and a change is coming.

Recently, President Obama signed The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

This bill mandates that social security numbers are to be removed from Medicare cards by April 2019.

The best part is that this Act has set aside funds for this transition which could cost $320 million over four years.

New Medicare cards will be sent out to beneficiaries no earlier than April 2018.

Protect Your Senior’s Identity

Until Medicare is able to provide its cardholders with a card using a unique account number instead of a personal SSN, there are things that you can do to help protect your senior’s identity.

Stop carrying a Medicare card until the change is made!

Your senior probably visits the same doctor and likely hospital and has developed a medical record. Their card is already on file and doesn’t need to be presented at each visit so isn’t needed to be carried around everywhere they go.

If it is needed, the experts recommend we photocopy the Medicare card and cut out or mark over all or part of the social security number. We can tell it to those people who ask that we feel worthy of providing.

Also, you can not be turned away from treatment in an emergency if you don’t have your Medicare card under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This is a federal law which requires anyone be given emergency treatment regardless of insurance (or producing a card).

Read all credit card and bank statements frequently!

Check for suspicious activity on the cards or the accounts of your senior. The best idea is to manage financial accounts online (with very secure passwords) and stop receiving paper statements that can get in the hands of criminals, either from the mail or the trash.

Contact the company or bank immediately to report any charges or withdrawals that were not made by your senior. Know when the bills are expected and if they don’t come contact the company.

Read your insurance explanation of benefits.

Check through all explanation of benefits or bills for medical care. Be sure that all claims were actually services provided to your seniors.

Shred all compromising documents!

Shred all your senior’s documents, mail, statements, voided checks, etc. that have vital information that can be stolen. Criminals can use this information to take over their identity.

Review credit reports annually

You should review your senior’s credit report annually using a free service. This will let you know who has been looking at it, if any incorrect or felonious charges have been added or if there has been a breach.

Freeze credit bureau files

Freezing credit bureau files stops new accounts from being added by creditors who check credit first. In many states this can be done free and the rest of the states with only a small charge.

Don’t give information over the phone

Educate and remind your senior that the bank will not call, IRS will not call, and no one needs their personal information over the phone.

Don’t tell anyone their social security number, credit card number or banking PIN.

Keep internet secure

Help your seniors use the internet safely, protect passwords, and avoid giving personal information out via unsolicited emails. The bank will not send you an email or ask for your PIN.

Learn more about identity theft and how to prevent it from the Federal Trade Commission.

We encourage you to take steps to keep your senior’s identity secure in their wallet, at home, on the internet, and in the community.

Brain Games – Are They the Answer to Helping Seniors Fight Dementia?

Brain games can help our senior loved ones win the battle against dementia, right?

Or can they?

Recent reports are mixed on whether brain games are effective at stimulating our brains and keeping dementia at bay.

That’s not what we want to hear, either for loved ones or ourselves.

Family caregivers are counting on keeping our brains sharp as long as possible, both for our own health and so we can provide our seniors the care they need.

So many of us are starting to use brain games, which are popping up everywhere. While there are free apps and online games, many programs are costly.

The real question is will their use give us a false sense of security or keep us from doing other more helpful things to preserve our brain function and overall health?

Neuroscientists Against Hype

Neuroscientists have been calling into question the ‘scientific findings’ that propose that brain games can improve memory, processing speed, and problem solving and even as they are touted to prevent Alzheimer’s disease since 2008.

They believe that the science blurs the differentiation between improvement in skills, such as memory on a task, and overall cognitive ability.

Some argue that it is acceptable to use brain games for fun but there may be other more effective ways to keep the brain sharp, such as exercising. Spending time seated completing brain games may not be as stimulating for overall cognition as physical activity.

Gains found in gaming, they feel, may be fleeting compared to lifestyle activities like spending time with family or playing an instrument.

The scientists feel that standard video games may be as effective as those specifically marketed as brain fitness games.

These findings were disputed by other scientists who feel that scientific evidence does support the use of brain games to improve memory.

Psychological Science in the Public Interest

A study recently published in the Journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest found through a review of 130 scientific studies that data hasn’t supported the claims that brain fitness games improved cognitive abilities.

This group investigated the discrepancy between the two neuroscience factions at odds about the effectiveness of brain games.

This review found that improvements were made in a specific task given to subjects. However, they did not find evidence of overall improvements in memory or thinking.

They do hold out hope if the brain games are used for a longer period of time or more intensely so that cognitive improvements can be measured. Mental effort is required for positive changes.

Fighting Alzheimer’s-Caused Brain Decline

Lifelong learning has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and that is often encouraged by experts.

Taking classes, learning a new skill, study a foreign language, playing an instrument and other mentally stimulating activities may outpace brain games in preventing cognitive decline.

There is some concern that brain game players expect to see an improvement and therefore they see one – the placebo effect.

Scientists do agree that the science of studying what will prevent dementia and improve our overall brain health and processing is moving in the right direction so that better data can be found to dispel these rumors while guiding us to make the most of our brain health activities.

All agree that participating in mental, physical and social activity likely plays a role in keeping our brains sharp.

Lifelong mental stimulation and keeping the brain as active as possible seems to improve essential neural connections.

Keeping Brains Sharp

The Alzheimer’s Association offers this advice for all of us to keep our brains sharp:

  • Stay curious and involved — commit to lifelong learning
  • Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles
  • Attend lectures and plays
  • Enroll in courses at your local adult education center, community college or other community group
  • Play games
  • Garden
  • Try memory exercises

Caregivers and seniors can help prevent decline in our brain fitness by making healthy lifestyle choices every day, including eating right, exercising, socializing, and trying new things.

Doing these things not only helps your brain but your whole body and may prevent other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

It’s a Win-Win!

Using a Food Thermometer for Safe Eating – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Cooking for our senior loved ones is an activity that brings benefits and risks.

They and you love it when they can get some of their favorite foods made with love.

But sometime that food may not love them.

Sometimes food that has been prepared or stored at the wrong temperature or time can lead to foodborne illness.

Seniors are vulnerable to food poisoning due to a reduced immune system response, multiple chronic medical conditions, and sometimes the medications they are taking.

They are more at risk than younger adults to suffer from ill effects of contaminated foods, therefore it is very important that we encourage them to follow food safety guidelines and we do as well when preparing food for them.

Food Thermometers

One important technique that home cooks of any age should be using is monitoring safe food temperatures with a food thermometer.

Knowing our foods are prepared, reheated and stored at the proper temperature can be a good step towards reducing the risk of food poisoning in your senior loved one.

Tips for Using a Food Thermometer

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests the right way to use a food thermometer:

  1. Select the right type of thermometer for your needs, from pop-up to digital to manual. Be sure to follow product instructions.
  2. Use either ice water or freezing water to make sure the thermometer is accurate.
  3. Wait the recommended amount of time before you read your thermometer.
  4. Ensure you know the safe temperature for the type of food you are cooking.
  5. After using, always clean your thermometer with hot, soapy water.

Here is a guide for proper food temperatures to use once you have your food thermometer that you can printout and keep handy in the kitchen.

Additional Resources

Here are more stories that can help keep your senior food safe!

26 Practical Actions to Be Healthy and Happy All Through the Year

As we look forward to the new year, we may be wondering what we can do to help to make our new year healthy and happy.

Most things are easy and they can make us or others for whom we care happy and healthy too!

There are things we can all do each day.

They aren’t that hard and can make a big difference in our health and outlook!

Attitude is Everything

Studies show that when you have a positive attitude, your health is impacted positively.

Happy people get sick less often (yes, really!).

Depression and even anxiety can lead to illness but good attitude can protect us from diseases like heart disease, asthma, diabetes and maybe even cancer.

Even sick people who have a positive outlook recover quicker.

Dr. Ellen Idler, an Emory University professor, who studies attitude and illness states “People should occasionally turn their attention away from risks to their health and focus on the resources they have to stay healthy.”

Ways To Be Happier And Healthier Everyday!

Here are some actions you and your senior loved one can take each day to improve not only your health but also your happiness!

  1. Smile — it will make you feel better and it’s contagious
  2. Dress right for the weather
  3. Visit the dentist regularly
  4. Get plenty of rest
  5. Make sure your hair is dry before going outside
  6. Eat right
  7. Get outside in the sun every once in a while
  8. Always wear a seatbelt
  9. Control your drinking of alcoholic beverages
  10. Brush twice a day! Don’t forget to floss!
  11. Don’t over indulge yourself
  12. Bathe regularly
  13. Read to exercise the brain
  14. Surround yourself with friends
  15. Stay away from too much caffeine
  16. Use the bathroom regularly and drink a glass of water each time you go
  17. Get plenty of exercise
  18. Have your eyes checked regularly
  19. Eat plenty of vegetables and enjoy a rainbow of nutrition
  20. Believe that people will like you for who you are
  21. Forgive and forget
  22. Take plenty of vacations
  23. Celebrate all special occasions
  24. Pick up a hobby
  25. Love your neighbor as yourself
  26. Have a nice day and spread it to others!

Most of these things are easy to do and we already practice them at times.

Getting a reminder to incorporate these activities into our daily routines, so that they become habit, can help caregivers and their seniors obtain a better quality of life.

We hope you all enjoy spreading your attitude with others as we begin a New Year and continue it throughout the new year!

Because They’ll Use Them: Reason to Give Seniors Smartphones & Tablets

We’ve heard variations on the theme many times over, through responses to our tweets and Facebook posts, comments to our articles, and one-on-one conversations . . .

“Mom will never use a tablet, she’s too set in her ways to even try something like that.”

“Getting Dad a smartphone would be a waste of money, since he would only use it to make calls.”

Gratitude is now what we hear each time we have convinced family caregivers to give a senior loved one a smartphone or tablet over those objections.

Fortunately, we are hearing a growing volume of “I didn’t think they would really use it, but …”

Seniors Getting Smartphones & Tablets

Regular visitors to Senior Care Corner® have heard us advocating the ownership of mobile devices by older adults for some time.

Not only do seniors benefit from the use of smartphones and tablets themselves, but we see those as gateway devices. For those who were not “born digital,” mobile devices can build comfort with technology and make it easier to welcome into homes the technologies that will improve health, safety, and comfort for older adults.

While we are gratified to get feedback from many regarding the mobile device adoption by their own senior loved ones, we are pleased the statistics are consistent with our anecdotal evidence.

68% of seniors (65+) in the US own smartphones, as reported by Nielsen Online Insights based on research conducted in 3rd quarter 2016. That is higher than the number reported by AARP based on July 2016 research, which found 68% of those aged 60 to 69 had smartphones but only 29% of those 70 years of age and older.

While fewer older adults own tablets — 40% of those 50+ according to AARP, which is in line with the findings of the Consumer Technology Association earlier in 2016 — there are growing numbers with those devices as well.

Mobile device ownership alone does not ensure our senior loved ones are benefiting, of course. They have to use them.

And they are!

Much More Than Phone Calls

One concern we have heard over time from family caregivers is that their senior loved ones would use smartphones just for making phone calls, making them expensive and complicated telephones.

According to the AARP research, as published in its 2016 Technology Trends among Mid-Life and Older Americans, very few older adults with smartphones use them for calls only. Only 20% use them for just calls and email, the basic function for most mobile device owners.

How did AARP find older adults to be using smartphones?

  • Email and/or text messaging by 92% of those 60-69 and 78% of those 70+
  • Directions or traffic info by 75% of those 60-69 and 62% of those 70+
  • Web surfing is done by 68% of those 60-69 and 42% of those 70+
  • Using a social networking site (such as Facebook or Instagram) was named by 56% of those 60-69 and 40% of those 70+

Significant percentages of older adults also said they did such things as make online purchases, play games, and even do their banking on their smartphones.

Yes, seniors with smartphones WILL use them!

That doesn’t even take into account the number of seniors who no longer have to worry about lugging around a camera because they have joined the millions who use their smartphones for photography.

Tablets Replacing Traditional Computers

While tablets are still not as common as laptop or desktop computers among older adults, tablet use is growing while the other computing devices are falling in popularity.

Tablets are being used for most of the same tasks as smartphones. Their larger screen size makes them better suited for many applications, especially for those with diminished eyesight or dexterity. That same large screen puts tablets on par with many traditional computing options with the added benefit of greater portability.

It remains to be seen whether seniors migrate to smartphones with larger screens, often called “phablets” as a hybrid of smartphones and tablets, as is being seen with younger mobile device users.

Seniors ARE Using Social Networks

We have advocated the use of social networks, also called social media, even longer than the use of mobile devices (see our article “5 Benefits of Social Media for Seniors – Let’s Help Them Get Online!” which is one of our most read). We are also gratified by both anecdotal and published progress in that regard.

Accord to the Pew Research Center’s “Social Media Update 2016” . . .

  • 62% of online seniors use Facebook
  • 20% of online seniors use LinkedIn
  • 18% of online seniors use Pinterest

Older adults are much less likely than those in younger age groups to use Twitter and Instagram.

Connecting with Family & Friends

We have long pointed to the ability to stay connected with those they know and love as a primary benefit of mobile device and social networking use by seniors. Based on their usage, seniors seem to agree.

AARP found, in its research, over 70% of older adults who have digital devices use them to stay connected to friends and family.

While email and text messaging are most popular, 64% of those aged 60-69 and 46% of those 70+ who use tech to communicate connect with friends and family using social networking. That’s no surprise, since social networking spans all generations.

Almost one third of those aged 60-69 and a quarter of those 70+ using digital devices to communicate with friends and family using video chat, which includes FaceTime, Skype and other applications. We see these numbers only growing as seniors discover how easy digital devices make face to face communication.

But Will Your Senior Use Them?

The evidence is clear – – millions of older adults have smartphones and/or tablets and are receiving benefits from using them.

What if your senior loved one is not among them?

All individuals are unique so the fact that other seniors love their smartphones doesn’t mean yours will.

But it could be enough to justify giving it a try, giving them a chance?

This is not to say simply wrap a device up as a gift and give it to them to figure out on their own. Maybe the most valuable part of a device gift is including your time to help set it up, help them learn to use it, and let them get an initial taste of the benefits to come.

Remember, it’s not about adding your loved one to the statistics but improving their lives, both now and in the future. A positive experience with a smartphone or tablet could improve the likelihood your senior’s elder years are enhanced by technology solutions to come.

That prospect is exciting to us!

Traveling with a Loved One Who Has Dementia – Family Caregiver Tip

Caregiving for a person with dementia can be difficult at times, especially as the disease progresses.

Yes, helping meet their needs takes a lot of effort, but being there watching what your loved one goes through is heartbreaking.

Being able to spend time with family is important, not only for the person with dementia but also their family caregivers.

Caregivers need to stay connected, get support, and share their emotions with those that love them and visiting during the holidays is a great way for this to occur.

However, many family caregivers fear traveling with loved ones with dementia because of the unknowns they may encounter.

How will they respond?

What happens if they exhibit behaviors in public?

How can you handle situations that might occur without the safety net of home?

A little planning will help make your holiday trip less stressful and more enjoyable!

Tips for Traveling

Here are a few activities that you can do to plan ahead for a smoother and safer trip:

  1. Be aware of the needs of your senior. As the disease progresses, their needs will change. Early on they may love to travel but in the later stages they may fear it or be overwhelmed.
  2. Have a good idea what you may face and plan accordingly. Don’t try it if you feel your senior will be disoriented or out of control since neither one of you will enjoy it. In that case, seek respite care for your senior and travel yourself.
  3. Stay alert to the warning signs of anxiety during the trip and be ready to change plans as needed.
  4. Alert the family of what to expect and how best to approach your senior. They may not have seen them lately and are unaware of changes. Tell them your senior’s schedule and stick to it as closely as possible. Tell them about the food they enjoy so it can be available.
  5. If your senior may wander during the trip, take necessary precautions such as getting a medical bracelet or GPS shoes so if they leave your view you will be able to find them quickly.
  6. Keep the trip short and the stops brief. Allow adequate rest periods and keep the crowds down to avoid confusion and agitation. Visit with a few people at a time, not the entire family at once.
  7. Keep their medications, snacks, important papers, phone contact information, ID, and other essentials with you at all times. Consider a backpack that is easy to carry.
  8. Pick a hotel that can accommodate any needs your senior may have. There are disability-friendly hotels and modifications available.
  9. Travel at the time of day that best suits your senior. If they nap in afternoon, perhaps driving then will be good for you both so they can nap and not interfere with your attention to driving.

Additional Resources

Here are a few articles that you might enjoy about traveling with seniors and dealing with dementia.

MADD’s Red Ribbons for Safe Driving Celebrates 30 Years of Saving Lives

Driving safety is essential, especially during the holidays when many are on the road traveling, partying, and visiting with family.

The time frame between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is the most dangerous on US roads.

This is the perfect time to remember national safety Tie a Red Ribbon On for Safety campaign this week as MADD celebrates 30 years protecting us and our loved ones.

According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), the red ribbons represent drivers’ pledges to drive safe, sober and buckled up, reminding other drivers and passengers to do the same.

As part of the celebration, we want to review some tips that will help caregivers evaluate whether your senior is safe to keep driving.

Senior Safety on the Road

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) tells us that the risk of injury or death behind the wheel or in the car rises with age.

Here are some chilling statistics that bear that out:

  • An average of 586 older adults are injured every day in crashes.
  • Older Americans are involved in some 15% of all traffic deaths.
  • In 2012, more than 5,560 older adults were killed in motor vehicle crashes.
  • In 2012, more than 214,000 older adults were injured in car accidents.
  • This amounts to 15 older adults killed and 586 injured in crashes on average every day.
  • Fatal crash rates increase starting at ages 70‒74 and are highest among drivers age 85 and older.
  • Older Americans were involved in almost 20% of all pedestrian deaths.
  • Most accidents occur during the daytime on weekdays and engage others in the mayhem.

Age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes, may affect some older adults’ driving abilities.

We have all heard horror stories of the senior who drove into the bus stop or went the wrong way on the freeway.

But just because loved ones are aging doesn’t mean they are unsafe or have to stop driving.

Keeping Safety First

As our seniors age, there are steps that they can take to improve their safety and prevent accidents from happening.

Here are some considerations that family caregivers can ask themselves and their seniors to help them stay safe on the road or decide when it is time to hand over the keys.

  1. How is their vision? Can they read road signs, see someone crossing the street, or see the lines in the road? Have their vision checked and urge them to wear corrective glasses keeping the prescription up to date as needed. Don’t wear sunglasses at night or frames that block your vision. Position in your seat in order to can see 10 feet in front of the car.
  2. How is their physical function? Can they turn their head to see behind and around them? Can they move their feet and legs to apply the pedal controls? Can they fasten their own seat belts whenever they are in the car?
  3. How is their attention span? Do their medications make them sleepy or dizzy? Can they react quickly to all the distractions on the road?
  4. Do they get lost while driving? Have they been stopped by police for erratic driving or been involved in a fender bender?
  5. Do they always wear their seatbelt?
  6. Do they drive while under the influence of alcohol?
  7. Has the doctor suggested your senior stop driving?

Caregivers and senior loved ones should pay attention to the signs.

Lowering Your Senior’s Risk

The CDC offers these tips for older adults to be safer when in a car:

  • Exercising regularly to increase strength and flexibility.
  • Asking your doctor or pharmacist to review medicines–both prescription and over-the counter–to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Having eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year. Wear glasses and corrective lenses as required.
  • Driving during daylight and in good weather.
  • Finding the safest route with well-lit streets, intersections with left turn arrows, and easy parking.
  • Planning your route before you drive.
  • Leaving a large following distance behind the car in front of you.
  • Avoiding distractions in your car, such as listening to a loud radio, talking on your cell phone, texting, and eating.
  • Considering potential alternatives to driving, such as riding with a friend or using public transit, that you can use to get around.

Your senior can learn strategies to improve their driving and thereby protecting themselves and others at Driving Safely While Aging Gracefully.

There are options for seniors who are no longer safe to drive such as public transportation, ride sharing such as Uber or Lyft, senior services transportation, taxi cabs and family or friends transporting them where they need to go.

Losing independence that comes with driving is difficult for many seniors to accept but, if they are unsafe, it is the right thing to do for them and others on the road.

Let’s all tie on a red ribbon for safety during the holidays!