AGING ALONE? PREPLAN!

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Old age is  like everything else.  To make a success of it you’ve got to start young.”   That is especially true if you plan to age alone, without the benefit of children or close family.    I am most likely going to age alone and I am preplanning for that.  You should too.

Today’s 80 is the new 70 and 70 the new 60.  Most of us don’t plan on giving up work, volunteering or travel until we’re well into our 70s or 80s.  I have friends who were volunteers at the Key Biscayne Tennis Tournament for over 20 years — the only reason they didn’t volunteer this year was because he became sick and couldn’t.  

As we grow older those of us aging alone have to make plans while we’re fully functional.  We have to discern what resources are available to us in whichever community we choose as our ‘last home’.  With today’s service industry and technology there is a huge advantage . . . there are healthy meal services (both for profit and non-profit), ride share and in many neighborhoods free ride services.  We also have medical care right here on the Island.  

But, as I state over and over again, it’s about preplanning.  You need to have a trusted friends or advisors who can be named as your Power of Attorney for Finance and Health. You need to decide now how to disperse your jewelry, money and tangible goods and write it down.  You should also plan to stay out of probate court.   

You also need to give your passwords for your bank, phone, computer and any other technological device you have, to trusted friends.  Sometimes the best thing to do is find a disinterested third party, such as elder care lawyer, and give it all to him or her.  Yes, you have to pay them but it’s a simple business transaction devoid of emotion.  You should also think of who is going to manage your health care from an insurance point of view so you’re not selling your tangible goods to pay for unwanted or unneeded health care.   You will need an advocate and that takes preplanning.

To review:  If you live alone now or believe that you will age alone without the benefit of family, now is the time to decide where to live, who to trust, who to choose as your beneficiaries and who to have as your Power of Attorney.  I strongly advise you consult with an elder care attorney for all the correct documentation and to have an advocate for you when you can no longer advocate for yourself. 

RETHINKING THE “I’M OLD” MYTH

Now that I’m a senior advocate and activist, I find that many things that used to be funny are now insulting.  Recently, Julie Andrews did a performance to benefit AARP at Radio City Music Hall. It was her 79th birthday.  To be funny she rewrote the words to “My Favorite Things”, here is one of the four verses: “Cadillacs and cataracts, hearing aids and glasses, Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings  . . . these are a few of my favorite things”

Is this funny?  Not to me.  Yet, she received a four minute standing ovation and several encore requests.  Apparently, I’m in the minority.  However, I think the truth lies in the difference between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.  Ms. Andrews is part of the Greatest Generation and I suspect her audience was, as well.

First, Cadillacs are no longer and “old peoples car”, secondly cataracts now mean that if you have them and remove them — there is a lens placed in your eye so you no longer need glasses!  Hearing aids?  I’m confident that one day I might need them and with any luck Bose will have them for $500 instead of $5000.  I don’t need Polident or Fixodent and neither did my Mother and she was 88 when she died.  If you go to my dentist, Dr. Friedman. you won’t need them either!

More importantly, let’s think of how lucky we are!  In today’s world of we know how to fix things – falling thighs, exercise!  Cataracts — Medicare pays to have them removed and new lens inserted which means no more glasses! (Or at a a minimum, only for reading tiny print.)  For our teeth, we have implants!  And, if you want to tuck in the chin, eyes, tummy, face —- well, there is my doctor, John Martin and Mike Kelly.  Both are Key Biscayne residents and Dr. Kelly has a column in this paper. 

Bottom line – yes, growing older takes its toll but in todays world we can fight against it.  We’re all aware of exercise and diet.  We know if we simply walk 3 or 4 times a week we live longer,  And, yes, fried foods are a guilty pleasure  . . . which, from time to time we should indulge!  But, for the most part, let’s celebrate those lines  . . . and, if you don’t like them — get rid of them.

Medicare Supplement Insurance . . . It Can Be Tricky

George, an 85 year old, was surprised when he received a $4000 bill for his pacemaker replacement procedure, after he was told that it would cost him $250.   He’d called his Medicare Advantage plan before the procedure and was told that he would be responsible for a $250 inpatient hospital co-pay.  Unfortunately, the hospital and the doctor’s office did not tell him that his procedure would be done as an outpatient with an overnight stay.  He stayed overnight but since he was never an inpatient, the bill was applied to his $6500 deductible for outpatient services.  

It’s a constant refrain!  You’re a senior, on medicare, you do everything you’re told but somehow you still owe $4000.  Again – these insurance companies DO NOT WATCH OUT FOR SENIORS and make the simplest of “medical procedures” complicated on the non-medical side.  A simple medical procedure mixed with insurance is like a game with no rules.  It doesn’t matter what plan you choose, there is still many a “slip between cup and lip”.  No other industry in the U.S. is allowed to operate this way.  It’s illegal!

This is especially true if you have a Medicare Advantage plan. These plans are less expensive than regular Medicare with a supplement for a reason.  They may add extra benefits, but they are often more complicated to understand. So what do you need to do to avoid surprises or issues? Plan ahead, ask a lot of questions and advocate for yourself, your partner, your family members or call Parent Your parents.  We can do it for you. 

Parent Your Parents is pleased and proud to announce the advent of Ann McGuire, R.N. to our growing group of experts.  Besides being a RN she is also a certified case manager and knows the pitfalls of senior insurance issues.  Please go to our website, ParentYourParents.com to see her photo and biography.  She and I will be collaborating on more articles to assist you with getting through the insurance maze  . . . little things like what to do if you’re sent to the emergency room.

Bottom line:  remember – insurance when going to a clinic or hospital for any procedure can be very tricky.  It’s not because the doctor wants to charge you more, it’s because of the intricacies of how Medicare Advantage plans work.  

THE PERILS OF HOSPITALS

HOSPITALS — once synonymous with a place to go when you’re REALLY sick is now the last place you want to be unless it’s prescheduled surgery with a doctor you trust.  If you’re elderly and/or on Medicare you are treated as a money machine — not a person.

Here’s how it works  . . . depending on how sick you are is how quickly you’re seen.  If you have an HMO or PPO assigned to your Medicare plan then everything is a predetermined price.  If you only have a medicare card then the patient becomes an ATM. This means that the nurses and techs will run as many

tests as reasonably possible (that insurance will pay).  The Doctor will review the chart for a “diagnosis” which, in my experience, is usually “inconclusive.”

The first time you go to the ER they will probably let you go home after the inconclusive tests BUT should you go back within 72 hours the hospital will admit you.  This is because the insurance companies won’t pay for a second ER visit without a diagnosis and admittance.

Now, here’s what is very important — you cannot let your elderly Mom, Dad and/or relative stay in the Emergency Room by themselves.  Here’s why — the administration will have them sign consent forms for numerous tests that do nothing except take up time.  Secondly, the treat them horribly!  Here is my story:

I took my 90+ Dad to his HMO doc.  He was having balance issues with other symptoms that portend  a stroke.  We rush to the ER and sit in highly uncomfortable chairs with all types of sick people.  After approximately 2 hours they call Dad into a “room.”  The medical techs hook him up to a glucose drip and leave the room.  For the next 3 hours he is taken from one machine to another for test after test. Because my Father is elderly he meekly goes where he’s told.  At the end of this interminable afternoon we receive an “inconclusive diagnosis” and he is allowed to go home.

Two nights later the same symptoms occur — my brother calls 911 and Dad is whisked off to the hospital.  I get home in time to follow the ambulance to the same hospital where we’d spent the afternoon.  I stay with my Father — they finally move him to an ER room and begin to do THE EXACT SAME TESTS they did 48 hours earlier.  I question every one.  It is now 1 am in the morning — I find blankets and sleep on the floor next to Dad’s bed because they are going admit him.  (Remember, if they don’t admit him the hospital won’t be paid.)  In every case, with every test, the results were the same as the ones 48 hours earlier BUT now the diagnosis is not inconclusive  . . . it’s we need more tests and observation.  After two days they allowed him to leave with the diagnosis of dehydration!

Bottom line, if you have an elderly parent or grandparent do not trust the hospital.  When either of my parents stay in the hospital overnight we hire a “babysitter”.  Yes, it costs money but your loved one doesn’t wake up to an empty room trying to figure out where he or she is.  Further, I check the chart constantly to see what is diagnosis and medicine is being used.  Truthfully, it’s like having a child — the difference, I’m grateful to be able to reciprocate what was done for me.

SENIORS SHOULD NEVER SUFFER . . . BUT THEY DO

This is an editorial to the Miami Herald written by H. Frances Reaves, Esq., President of Parent Your Parents,  in October of 2017.  This was written after Hurricane Harvey and Irma and the mirror placed on Senior Services. As we suffer through a very cold winter these words are still prophetic.

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN the video of the residents of a nursing home in Houston, Texas sitting in waist high water simply search “video of seniors in waist high water” in your browser – the You Tube video comes right up.   School children were evacuated, families were evacuated and who was left behind  . . . seniors.  Two weeks later, in the aftermath of Irma, 14 seniors die from overheating in a Broward County Nursing Home.

If these seniors had been children the outcry would have been much louder and punishment swifter.  An excellent example is the most recent earthquake in Mexico.  The school caved in on top of 24 children and four adults.  The volunteer rescuers were there within minutes and the TV crews transmitted  the entire search and rescue for more than three days.  That would not be the case if this had been a senior citizens facility.

Fariola Santiago wrote in her September 24th column that “the elderly are like children, frail, unable to care for themselves, and vulnerable to abuse and negligence.  Those who don’t have money or advocates and require round-the-clock care end up in places with deplorable conditions  . . .”  I agree with Ms. Santiago regarding the elderly but disagree that all nursing homes have deplorable conditions.  We also need to remember that, with the exception of one “lonely soul,” everyone had a family  . . . and the family did not take them from the ‘deplorable home’ even after they knew about the power failure.

Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials beware — you, too will be a senior!  Seniors, are an older version of who we are today. We espouse the sentiment that, “I only want to live a long life if I have a quality of life” but legally we don’t have a choice once our mind collapses.

What we don’t discuss is that dementia does not take away your intellect, mental pain or physical pain.  Dementia takes away the ability to communicate effectively.  It also absconds with your memory – which allows we the children to believe that with memory loss there is a loss of all senses.  That is not the case.  The 14 elders who died felt pain and the first to die truly suffered because they did not have the benefit of hospice care.

No doubt, the staff at this nefarious nursing home was negligent, incompetent and uncaring and they were allowed to function as “caretakers” for years.  It took a hurricane and power outage to bring it to light. Had this been a daycare center the negligence would not have been allowed to continue.

As the President of a company who advocates for seniors, finds resources, counsels families and assists in medicaid preparations, my experience shows that most of us face living in a medicaid facility.  Unless you have a healthy pension or half a million dollars you will not have the money for dementia care in a private facility.  Today that runs between six to seven thousand dollars a month.  If you qualify for medicaid, nursing homes run about $700.00 and  medicaid picking up the balance.

We must look in the mirror!  let’s begin the process of treating our elderly loved ones as our children.  Treat them as you treat those around you.  Hold the Assisted Living Centers and Medicaid Facilities accountable and — START SAVING!!

 

NURSING HOMES – HOW TO FIND A GOOD ONE

I am confident most of you heard the news about the  fourteen seniors who died from overheating.  They were all in a licensed “nursing home” in Hollywood Hills.   ‘Nursing Home’ is a euphemism for a home for seniors who are at the poverty level and qualify for medicaid.

Nursing homes are like every other industry — they have to make money to survive.  In the case of nursing homes they’re paid by the state medicaid fund and it’s per patient.  This fund is made up of state and federal dollars.  Obama Care expanded medicaid in the states who took the federal dollars but Florida is not one of them.

Bottom line, these are not the luxurious environments for either staff or residents.  In my parents case, Mom had been in a lovely residential facility where she was one of three or four people.  Her Long Term Care Insurance paid for it.  She outlived her two year policy and we had to place her in a Nursing Home.  It was our only realistic option as Mom’s care in an Alzheimer’s facility would be close to $7000,00 a month.  Mom and Dad couldn’t afford it and neither could the children.

In pursuit of the best we could find, I  went to several nursing homes and learned more than I needed to know.  All these homes are very austere and it’s a shock!  Bare floors, usually  a formica, and waiting rooms with plastic chairs.  Almost all the receptionists were behind a barrier — some better designed than others.

The patient population is made up of mostly Alzheimers and Dementia sufferers.  All the residents are in a wheel chair, a portable bed or never moved from their beds.

Another surprise, the aides often use pulleys attached to patients to change their clothes, move them to the shower or simply change their diapers.  Depending on the home, these medical aides must change and clean about 19 patients each.  Some work in tandem others work solo — it all depends on the chore.

Further, most patients are only bathed twice a week, maximum three times a week.  During one of these showers their hair is washed.  Bottom line, it’s not how we envision our last days, weeks, months or years of life.

On the good side, the ‘better nursing homes’ have excellent care.  They hire a team of Geriatric Doctors that include Psychiatrists.  These Geriatric groups come to the Nursing Home through a PPO and the doctors physically visit once a month.  There is usually a Podiatrist group that also visits once a month (Medicare pays for podiatry services) and a dentist who comes once a quarter. The day to day care is with the Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Professional Nurses (LPNs), physical therapists and medical technicians.  They also have a contracted Hospice service.

Here are some tips when you need to look for a nursing home:

What is the turn-over rate of its employees

Needless to say, the less turnover the better the place.  If the staff is not leaving then something is going well — usually their paid above average wages

Is there a hair salon

If there is a hair salon then there’s a market for it.  This means the residents take pride in how they look.  People who take pride in themselves care about their environment.

Is it clean

As we all know, cleanliness is godliness

Is there a smell

Again, if it smells that means it’s really not clean – no matter how good it looks

Is there a smile on the faces of the staff

A smiling staff means a happy staff

Again, hopefully it doesn’t come to this but if it does, know how to choose the best one.

The Expected is Still Unexpected

On July 28th, at 1:00 am in the morning my phone rang, it was the hospice nurse informing me that Mom had died at 12:28 a

Mom and her skydiving team – Frances, Jeff and Elizabeth

And yes, our hospice nurse had prepared us for this  . . . he said as nicely as he could that she was “leaving”, that “it was time”  . . . using gentle words to describe death.  Still, when the call came early Friday morning I wasn’t’t “prepared.”  Why?  Because no one ever is.

As you know if you’ve been reading my columns, the family had done all we could to prepare for death.  So the lesson learned was PREPLAN.  My brother and I had  hired a funeral home which allowed us to make our father the focus of our lives in the the immediate days after his partner of 63 years died. He insisted on seeing her one last time, my brother called the funeral home and they prepared her for Dad’s visit.  My father insisted on a small, familial memorial service — not a problem, we focused on the service and the reception after.  Caterers were hired, programs were printed and music abounded.

And yes, all this costs money but there was no “guilt money”.  We knew what we could spend and had done all the budgeting when hiring our funeral home.  In fact, we told the director that when Dad dies he wants his ashes placed in a military cemetery in Ft. Worth, TX – next to one of his best friends, our cousin General Akin,  “so they can pal around.”  The funeral home takes care of that, as well.

So, yes it all worked to our benefit.  Mom was cremated, some of her ashes placed in the ground at the nearby churchyard and the rest to be mixed with Dad’s when we take them to their final resting place.  What doesn’t go away, nor should it, is the grief.  it comes in waves.  At the service when I spoke I didn’t shed a tear.  Two days later, telling a ‘stranger’ the story, my eyes welled with tears.

Grief counselors tell you this is what happens.  I was shocked at myself, I knew Mom was close to death but when the finality happens it hits hard!  We even had time for last rites, last songs, last moments  . . . but death is final and no amount of preparation prepares you for it.

Revel in the memories, think of the good times and admire your loved ones for all they accomplished  . . . including you!  Yes, they do live on in our hearts.

Observations After a Disaster

If you haven’t seen the video of the residents of a nursing home in Houston, Texas sitting in waist high water simply search “video of seniors in waist high water” in your browser.   School children were evacuated, families were evacuated and who was left behind  . . . seniors.  Two weeks later, in the aftermath of Irma, 14 seniors die from overheating in a Broward County Nursing Home.

If these seniors had been children, the outcry would have been much louder and punishment swifter.  An excellent example is the most recent earthquake in Mexico.  The school that fell down on top of 24 children and four adults had rescuers there in minutes with TV crews transmitting  the entire search for more than three days.  I fear that would not be the case if this had been a home where senior citizens lived.

It is this dichotomy that led me and my partners to found Parent Your Parents (PYP)(parentyourparents.com).  How could anyone allow their “charge” to drown or die from overheating.   Yes, these Assisted Living Centers and Medicaid funded nursing homes are negligent but isn’t that also the case for the families who left them there?  Would they have ever done that to their children??

There is no criticism here — simply a look in the mirror.  If your parents or grandparents are in one of these homes today the chances are EXCELLENT that you will be as well. Yes, we can buy Long Term Care Insurance  but today’s policies don’t cover you for the duration of your life.  We are living longer and unless you have a minimum of $5 million there is a very good chance you will use all your money in the last five years of your life for healthcare.

As a child of an aging parent or loved one there comes a time and you must take charge.  It isn’t easy and it wasn’t easy for them when you were a cute kid begging for a kitty and they said no.  But, if it’s time – face it .

First, honestly asses where they are mentally and physically.  Discuss options with your siblings and present a united front — just like your parents did when you were a child.  You must have a Living Will, you must have a Power of Attorney – one for finance, one for medical.  You must go to the doctor with them and make certain they are receiving the best medical care.  The   doctors MUST know that you are on top of their health.   (Remember, I fired my parents doctor, see Article 2 – How to Get the Best Care Through Medicare),

Secondly — ask them what insurance they have  . . . is it life insurance, supplemental health insurance, burial policy, Long Term Care —- and, the most difficult question — what is their financial status?   None of this is easy but none of it takes financial acuity — it takes emotion, love, tenderness and hand holding.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents took you through some of life’s trials with the same skills?

Disasters like Irma, Maria and earthquakes bring out the best and the worst.  Now is the time to be the best.

The Search Begins – First Steps for Choosing An Assisted Living Center

You walk into the lobby and take a deep breath. How did you get here? Why is this necessary? How did my very competent ‘elders’ all of a sudden need assistance living? Other questions pop into your head, will they be happy here? Will they be fed well? Will they like the people here? Whether you’re 40 years old or 80 years old — these are real moments. Change is coming and it seems to be screaming down the train track right at you. Do you jump or simply lie down? Before you decide ask:

  1. Do the elders want to live near family or friends? If both are in the same location the question is moot. Otherwise, this question comes first. It’s not about YOU as the child it’s about your parent’s quality of life. We all think Mom and Dad should be close to us, family, but that’s not necessarily what THEY want. If they have a life in a separate location and want to stay, keep them there. Today, with UBER and LYFT the ability to drive is not a necessity.
  2. What is your budget for a senior care center? Certainly this makes a small difference in the food or housing (food and maintenance are fairly comparable) but the big difference is location. You ask yourself — how long will it take to get them to their synagogue or church? How far is it to their favorite restaurant? What other bills will need to be paid?
  3. How much money is there? Can Mom and Dad afford this on their own or are will the kids have to assist financially? What other sources of monies can be tapped? Are there VA benefits? Widow/widower benefits? Can social security disability come into play?
  4. Can this facility be trusted? We’ve all heard those horror stories of badly treated seniors and none of us want that happening to our parents. There are many resources and most of them are online. You can look up assisted living centers and many will pop up — most with ratings right next to the name. There is also AARP ratings, YELP ratings and Facebook.

Bottom line: You will have to do some searching — online and in person Peace of mind is what you want in any location. As the children you want your parents well treated — as the residents you, too, want options in food, activities and people. The most important aspect of this is that you and your parents feel comfortable and secure.

Our company, Parenting Your Parents takes no fees from assisted living centers. Our concern is you and we want the option of defending you against them — which can sometimes happen.

Hospital to Rehab – The Great Medicare Scam

 

 

You have phones in hospitals — don’t be afraid to use them.

This is one of my all time favorites — the “Hospital to Rehab” scam. Here’s how it works:

A medicare, assisted living center client needs to go to the hospital . . . usually dehydration, a urinary tract infection or some “non-death” reason. The person is transported to a hospital ER and the battery of tests begins. (For purposes of this hypothetical it’s the second time the patient has come to the ER because to get paid the hospital MUST admit them.)

The elderly patient becomes totally disoriented (happens 90% of the time in the over 80 crowd — only 80% in the over 75 crowd!). Think about it, strangers come in at all hours of the day and night, sticking needles in your arm, taking blood pressure and sleep is constantly interrupted. Time is indistinguishable. Once again, the elderly have no control and in many cases become combative because they don’t want to be there and no one explains what is going on. Medication is given to calm them down — the heavy sedative. Usually security is in the room to assist. Imagine how it must feel to be held down and given a shot. It gets better — the patient becomes woozier — powerful sedatives plus loss of control . . .

Next step, an alarm is added in case you get out of bed (like to go to the bathroom) so this very loud noise adds to the alarm and loss of control. Bottom line, you end up laying in bed, woozy, scared and not understanding who you are or where you are. Then — boom — the diagnosis, a UTI! OK, one day of treatment (antibiotics) and you can go home! NOT SO FAST! You’re weak, you need physical therapy, the drugs are not through your body . . . a myriad of excuses as to why you must go to rehab.

[An aside here, once the insurance company approves physical therapy they will pay for ALOT of sessions. Hence, these rehab centers love physical therapy patients. Most of them are also medicaid nursing homes.]

Oops — Bad news —- you can be discharged on Saturday but the rehab doesn’t take transfers on the week-end because they don’t pay people to do the paperwork on Saturday and Sunday. Now we offer to pay for a private physical therapist to come to the assisted living center and work with the patient in his/her home. Nope — can’t do that either because the hospital will only discharge you Against Medical Advice (AMA). Medicare doesn’t’ pay AMA claims.

Bottom line, the elderly patient has to stay in the hospital for two extra unnecessary days before rehab will admit him. There is a five day minimum and now a UTI is a 13 day hospital stay! Who wouldn’t be stark raving mad!?!