THE PLEASURES OF OLD AGE

“Old age has its pleasures, which, though different, are not less than the pleasures of youth.” W. Somerset Maugham.   

With maturity comes an ‘ease of being.’   It’s true, we don’t stay up until the wee hours of the morning (often) but we can still have a fabulous time and be in bed by midnight.  Recently, I went to Philadelphia for my cousin’s 80th birthday celebration.  It was three full days of partying — everyone had a blast!  Yes, bed time was earlier but the enjoyment the same.

Most Assisted Living Centers happy hour starts at 3:00pm!  Personally, I loved going to Dad’s Happy Hour . . . let the party begin!  Dad and his fellow residents also loved Happy Hour and still had time for a nap before 6:00pm supper!  

Another pleasure of old age is being able to play 18 holes of golf instead of a “quick 9”.  I remember when we were kids, Dad had Saturday golf every week — and he didn’t get home until after lunch.  That did not go over well with the Mother of his children.  After the children left, it was 9 holes with Mom once a week and 2 rounds of 18 holes weekly  . . . ahhh . .  the decadence!

Now, it’s the little things that give us much more pleasure; taking a grandchild to their first ballet or play, hearing the newest member of your family call you “Grandma” or “Nona”.  The family getting  together to celebrate a wedding or birthday  . . . all give us a chance to luxuriate in the foundation we have created for the generations to come.

And to those baby boomers reading this — remember, how you treat your loved ones is how you’ll be treated.  Paul said it best in his Epistle to the Galatians:  for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

WALKING ON THE MOON DOES NOT KEEP YOU FROM AGING

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is 88 years old and has met his fourth wife.  The bad news, the kids don’t like her.  

Here’s what we know from media reports; Dr. Aldrin has sued two of his (3) children and his former manager.  Two children, Andy and Jan, had asked a court to name them as guardians citing his loss of cognitive function and dementia. Warrior that he is, Colonel Aldrin (ret) came out fighting!  He sued the kids, claimed they had transferred monies from his foundation for their personal use and used his credit cards without his permission and sabotaged his love life.  He made an appearance on Good Morning America excoriating his children and accused them of exploiting the elderly.  

The  ousted manager, Christina Korp, states that “almost a year ago, some people began to exert undue influence on Buzz.  These individuals began to actively try to drive a wedge between Buzz, his children and me, for what I fear is their own benefit.”  Her  argument is that because he has dementia he is vulnerable to manipulation.

My argument is that the kids and manager he is suing are doing exactly the same thing.  This ‘fight’ is about who gets to manipulate Colonel Aldrin.  His estate is valued at approximately $12 million. The two children are paid by the Aldrin foundation, as was the former manager. 

Lisa LaBonte met Buzz Aldrin because of their shared interest in STEM education (Science, Technology, Electronics, Mathematics).   She works for Carnegie Ventures and because of Colonel Aldrin’s work has become a part of his business life.  They are great friends.  

Colonel Aldrin also has a girlfriend (unnamed) and the relationship has blossomed into something more.  One can speculate as to her motive but the same can be said for the kids and former manager.  Further, If Buzz Aldrin is happy  . . . who cares?  Doesn’t  he deserve it?

All of this will be solved fairly soon as the “mental health’ tests have been administered and the Courts will review the three different opinions.  I’m only sad that a man who gave his life to service for our country (his children did not) has to defend his honor.  The children did nothing for the $12 million but now feel as though its theirs to protect.  I say, Buzz Aldrin’s life speaks for itself.  Good for him making a last stand – no matter what the outcome!

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. 

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.

Elder Rage: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents

We at Parent Your Parents think this is a terrific “true experience” article authored by Jacqueline Marcell.  Jacqueline is also the Author of Elder Rage @www.ElderRage.com.  Check it out!

 

Jacqueline Marcell, Author, Elder Rage www.ElderRage.com

For eleven years I pleaded with my challenging elderly father to allow a caregiver to help him with my ailing mother, but he always insisted on taking care of her himself. Every caregiver I hired soon sighed in exasperation, “Jacqueline, I just can’t work with your father. His temper is impossible to handle and he’s not going to accept help until he’s on his knees himself.”

When my father’s inability to continue to care for my mother nearly resulted in her death, I stepped in despite his loud protests. It was so heart-wrenching to have my once-adoring father be so loving one minute and then some trivial little thing would set him off and he’d call me nasty names and throw me out of the house. I took him to several doctors and even a psychiatrist, only to be flabbergasted that he could act charming and sane when he needed to.

Finally, I stumbled upon a thorough neurologist, specialized in dementia, who put my parents through a battery of blood, neurological, memory tests and PET scans. After ruling out numerous reversible forms of dementia such as B-12 and thyroid deficiency, and evaluating their many medications, he shocked me with a diagnosis of Stage One Alzheimer’s in both of my parents – something all their other doctors missed entirely.

What I’d been coping with was the beginning of Alzheimer’s, which begins intermittently and appears to come and go. I didn’t understand that my father was addicted and trapped in his own bad behavior of a lifetime of screaming and yelling to get his way, which was coming out now in intermittent over-the-top irrationality. I also didn’t understand that “demented does not mean dumb” (a concept not widely appreciated) and that he was still socially adjusted never to show his Mr. Hyde side to anyone outside the family. Conversely, my mother was as sweet and lovely as she’d always been.

Alzheimer’s makes up 60-80% of all dementias and there’s no stopping the progression nor is there yet a cure. However, if identified earlythere are some FDA approved medications (more in clinical trials) that in most patients can mask dementia symptoms and keep patients in the early independent stage longer.

Once my parents were treated for the Alzheimer’s, as well as the often-present depression in dementia patients, and then my father’s volatile aggression, I was able to optimize nutrition and fluids with much less resistance. I was also able to manage the constant rollercoaster of challenging behaviors. Instead of logic and reason, I learned to use distraction and redirection. I capitalized on their long-term memories and instead of arguing the facts, I lived in their realities of the moment. I learned to just go-with-the-flow and let the hurtful comments roll off while distracting with a topic of interest from a prepared list.

And most importantly, I was finally able to get my father to accept two wonderful live-in caregivers and not drive them crazy and to quit. Then with the tremendous benefit of Adult Day Health Care five days a week for my parents and a support group for me, everything finally started to fall into place.

Alzheimer’s disease afflicts more than 5.4 million Americans, but millions go undiagnosed for many years because early warning signs are chalked up to stress and a “normal” part of aging. Since 1 in 6 women and 1 in 11 men are afflicted by age 65, and nearly half by age 85, healthcare professionals of every specialty should know the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and educate their patients so everyone can save time, pain, money, heartache… and a fortune in Kleenex!

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

As I’ve discussed in several articles the discussion of money is a must but can also be a monster rearing its ugly head.   We’ve discussed having  Powers of Attorney in place for our elderly loved ones.  Most states require  one for finance and one for medical — two different trusted representatives should be chosen.  This allows for shared responsibility and shared communication.

Although the trusted loved one is normally fine and nothing happens, it can be a slippery slope which is why I recommend any financial moves to be as transparent as possible and shared among the siblings or trusted loved ones. The vast majority of family members rarely swindle or take advantage of their parents or elderly loved ones but it does happen and the idea of unrestricted funds can be a temptation.  This is why we recommend that there be an “informal transparency” to protect your elderly loved one and you.

Following is one system to implement – one trusted representative is a signatory on the elderly loved one’s checking accounts and a second trusted representative has access to it (i.e. – given the user name and ID).  When a separate account is created to pay for care, we suggest two trusted representatives on the account.

The other pitfall are the family members, friends and care takers who will try to manipulate your elderly loved one into private gifts, be it through money, credit card purchases, a car for their grandchild (we’ve seen this) or simply write them into the will.  Again, this is why financial transparency is a must.  If the monitoring is spread among many it is much more difficult for one to have undue influence.

The elderly community is rife with stories of hired “trusted” caretakers who steal little things — trinkets, jewelry, food and petty cash.  (See my column on hiring and monitoring Caretakers).  Again, anything valuable should be removed from the house and gifted to the different loved ones and/or trusted representatives.  If the family doesn’t agree we suggest outside assistance in the form of attorneys and psychiatrists.  I always hesitate to use either because  . . . they cost money!

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.

Tough Love – Parenting Your Parents

It’s not easy to parent your parents — it’s not a pleasant role — it means Mom, Dad or both are getting weaker and none of us want to admit the role reversal has begun.

When I consult with clients I hear time and time again — Mom doesn’t want to leave her home, Dad is not going to allow any one else to pay his bills,  There is no need to force anyone — the name of the game is to persuade in an assertive, caring and respectful manner.  For their sakes and yours, embrace the role!

After Mother’s decline into Alzhiemers, my brother and I were thrown into the role reversal with little or no direction.  Here’s what we learned:

Accept Your Role. No one else can do it with your love so embrace it and consider it an honor.  But for them, you wouldn’t’t be here.

Be Assertive.  Yes, at times you will have to tell Mom or Dad (or both) what to do.  Of course Mom doesn’t’t want to move from her home — you have to tell her (gently and politely) that she must.  You explain the reasons, answer her questions and, as she did with you, persuade her that “this’ is the best way.

Pay Attention to the Basics.  Are your parents showering regularly?  Are they having regular meals?  Are they taking their medication on a timely basis?  If not, see above — it’s time to be assertive and decide how best to move them forward.

Insist.  Or, if you prefer, be firm.  When your parents resist keeping on insisting.  “Dad, we have to do this, we’ve gone over it a million times – let’s not fight about it.”  Again, no yelling or shoving – just gently insist.

Prepare all the financial and legal documents.  Taking the helm of your parent’s finances is a daunting but necessary task.  Make yourself, or your sibling, a signer on their checking accounts then have them sign a Power of Attorney for both financial and medical decisions. This must be done before they lose their mental capacity.  If you don’t do this it will be much more difficult and costly when they lose their ability to make decisions.

At the end of the day, here is what you have to remember – when it comes to parenting your parents you have three choices:

  • You care for your parents yourself
  • You hire someone to care for your parents
  • You allow them to enter a Medicaid facility

These alternatives all have pluses and minuses.  Most of the decisions are based on finances and nothing and no-one is perfect so after you’ve been assertive, and insistent forgive yourself – your parents did!

LAST RITES OR LAST RIGHTS?

My nephew was getting married — everyone in our family was thrilled — we love his wife, love him and love that they found each other.  The wedding was in Texas — Mom and Dad live in Atlanta.  Mom is extremely ill and cannot travel.  Dad had just gotten out of the hospital and we could not travel.  Our big fear — what if one died the weekend of the wedding? 

My brother and I called several funeral homes to discuss options.  We also consulted friends and my brother’s priest. During the course of this journey we discovered that family owned, multi generational funeral homes tend to be more gentle and understanding.  They listen to what you want and explain what you need.  There are several here in Miami — the oldest is Van Orsdel who took care of Eddie Rickenbacher and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.

Most of us hate the idea of ‘visiting the funeral home.’  The idea of death and its finality brings discomfort.  In this particular case Mom and Dad are both alive and we were there for selfish reasons – not wanting a wedding interrupted by death.  Yet, as I write this, it was the smartest decision we ever made (more on that later).

There is nothing INEXPENSIVE  about the simplest of funerals.  The entire “funeral experience” has changed.  It used to be 30% of the deceased were cremated and 70% buried.  Today it’s the opposite, The average cremation costs in Miami are $2000.  Then you need an ash container (beginning at $100.).  Caskets range from $3000 up and add to that the burial plot, the actual burial and the memorial service  . . . bare bones cost is about $6000.00.   And then there’s the celebration of life . . . shiva  . . . wake . . . which, arguably is the most important part of this process.

The first decision is the manner of ‘the goodbye’ – cremation or a burial?  This brings me to insurance policies for burials.  There are policies that cost from $50.00 to $100.00 a month which will pay out enough to cover the cost of  the funeral and burial.  It’s all a question of how much you want to pay.  I know many of us on Key Biscayne think we have the money to bury a loved one but do you really have $7,000 to $15,000 sitting around for a burial?

Once that decision is made, it’s time for the legalities.  Each state is different but all require notarized signatures.  An example – although I am my Mother’s Power of Attorney (POA) for everything, my father had to sign the document allowing her cremation.  However, Dad is not the person who signs for his own cremation — that was my brother and me as mother is non compos mentis (not of right mind).

Lastly, the choice of the receptacle or casket – another big financial hit – or not, depending on what you choose.   Today, many funeral homes offer rental caskets (a variety of pricing) for the memorial/viewing or church service of the family member who will be cremated.  A new trend is  “cremation viewing”  . . . in other words you can watch your loved one enter the cremator. 

My brother and I went through this entire experience together.  My advice — do not do this alone — no matter how lovely the people at the home there is an emotional toll.  Having another person with you is calming. 

We now have everything in place so when “it” happens we will not be making decisions with heavy hearts or guilty minds.  And,  the icing on the cake – my Father asked me what arrangements we had made. I  asked him if he wanted to hear what we had in mind and he said yes.  I told him that he and Mom will be cremated and after both have died (and I used that word) we were flying their ashes to Ft. Worth, Texas (Dad’s a Texas boy).  There we will do a memorial service at their church and a party at Riviera Country Club.  Dad loved the idea!   Rites and Rights – done!