Talk to a Parent Suffering from Dementia during the Pandemic

If you have a parent living in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, or they’re at home, caregivers need to know how to explain the current coronavirus pandemic in an appropriate and clear manner—and in a way that protects and cares for your own personal health. With the busy holiday season behind us, you may have noticed new struggles with your parents.

Long Island Weekly’s recent article entitled “Caregiving During The Coronavirus” explains that older adults often have more health complications, like heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. As a result, they’re more susceptible to the complications of the coronavirus. Review the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) for protecting you and your family, especially your elder parents, from exposure.

And although some people suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia may not fully understand the complexity and severity that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our communities, they can sense what’s happening. They can read your personal energy and can sense your stress. This may cause them to show more symptoms of anxiety, agitation, cognitive decline and confusion. Communicate as best you can to your parent frequently and clearly about what’s happening. While they may not need to have all the details, let them know that there’s a virus spreading within the community and that we need to wash our hands thoroughly and stay indoors.

For those still being cared for at home, take the necessary precautions as you’d do for yourself. Modify your grocery shopping trips, since stores are adding special senior hours, reschedule unnecessary doctor visits, stock up on needed medications and talk to your doctors about any concerns.

For those in a facility, understand the visitation policies, because many have adjusted their policies to limit or prohibit personal visitation. Ask the administration about visitation and what your parent’s care facility is doing to ensure for proper care.

Although you might be frustrated that your parent’s facility is limiting or cancelling visitation, remember that the new rules are designed to protect the residents. You may be able to schedule a time to speak with your mother or father on the phone every few days, or you can deliver food or items, like photos albums or other gifts to stay connected. Try to be reasonable and understand that these facilities may be understaffed.

Here are a few key points that may be helpful to get through this crisis:

  • Have a talk with your parent and with the facilities in which they’re living, so they can understand the new policies.
  • Be careful yourself. Take reasonable precautions for yourself and your family member.
  • Avoid public spaces. This includes routine, or non-essential doctor visits, grocery shopping and other visits.
  • Stay upbeat. Know the latest news and guidelines but try to remain calm, because your parent may sense your stress and reflect that.

Be reasonable and understanding and try your best in these uncertain times—for yourself and your parents.

Reference: Long Island Weekly (April 12, 2020) “Caregiving During The Coronavirus”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Disability, Elder Care, Caregiving, Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease

Will the Pandemic Affect My Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Social Security Shocker: Pandemic to Reduce Benefits by 9% for Americans Turning 60 in 2020” explains that retirees can mitigate some of the damage, by waiting to claim their benefits. For every year you delay benefits past your full retirement age until age 70, you’ll receive an increased benefit of about 8%.

Eligibility for Social Security benefits requires a senior to have earned no less than 40 “credits.” You can earn up to four credits a year, so it takes 10 years of work to qualify for Social Security benefits. In 2020, you have to earn $1,410 to get one Social Security work credit and $5,640 to get the maximum four credits for the year.

Your benefit is based on the 35 years in which you earned the most amount of money. If you have fewer than 35 years of earnings, each year with no earnings is calculated as a zero. You can increase your benefit by swapping out those zero years, by working longer, even if it’s only part-time. However, don’t worry about a low-earning year replacing a higher-earning year. It won’t happen. The benefit isn’t based on 35 consecutive years of work, it’s based on your highest-earning 35 years. As a result, if you decide to ease into retirement by working part-time, you won’t wreck the amount of your Social Security benefit at all, if you have 35 years of higher earnings. If you earn more money, however, your benefit will be adjusted upward—despite the fact that you’re still working while taking your benefit.

There is a maximum benefit amount you can get. However, it depends on your age when you retire. If you retire at full retirement age this year, the maximum monthly benefit is $3,790.

In the past, a great perk of Social Security benefits was that every year, the government would adjust the benefit for inflation. This is called a cost-of-living adjustment, or “COLA.” It’s an inflation protection to help seniors keep up with rising living expenses during retirement.

The COLA is automatic and is quite valuable because purchasing inflation protection on a private annuity can be expensive.

The COLA is calculated based on changes in a federal consumer price index (CPI). The amount of the COLA depends largely on broad inflation levels determined by the federal government.

For 2021, Kiplinger anticipates that there won’t be a Social Security cost of living adjustment. That is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 30, 2020) “Social Security Shocker: Pandemic to Reduce Benefits by 9% for Americans Turning 60 in 2020”

What are Young People Doing to Help Seniors in Isolation?

With the pandemic continuing to be a part of our world, family caregivers are increasingly concerned about loved ones isolated at home or in facilities.

Many seniors and their family caregivers have little human interaction in “normal” times, and the pandemic makes it even worse.

Research shows that isolation and loneliness are as detrimental to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Teens Reach Out to Isolated Older Americans Through Online Programs.”

However, some new programs and approaches that have come about in the coronavirus quarantine can have a positive impact far beyond the pandemic. Young people have become pivotal in helping alleviate the lonesome burden for our seniors. Let’s look at three virtual intergenerational programs that bring hope for the future.

Music and Games to Brighten Spirits. Fifteen-year-old Maya Joshi and her twin sister, Riya, started daily video calls with their grandparents when the pandemic took hold. Seeing how much their grandparents enjoyed it, Maya decided to do something to help other isolated older adults. She launched Lifting Hearts with the Arts in April. The intergenerational program involves young teen volunteers connecting online with senior residents in 17 Illinois nursing homes and assisted living facilities. They present musical performances, games and 1:1 video chats.

These virtual activities are making a significant impact and are improving the senior residents’ moods, said the director of programming at a nursing home in Springfield, Illinois. After one resident grew more comfortable with the technology, she began initiating video calls with her friends and family. These seniors now have something to look forward to and they like seeing young smiles on the screen.

Meals and conversation To Eliminate Loneliness. The Los Angeles-based Youth Movement Against Alzheimer’s (YMAA) YouthCare program, in partnership with the University of Southern California, has been training their young students to provide in-home nonmedical respite and cognitively stimulating activities for people living with dementia.

The program was suspended when the COVID-19 lockdown began. As a rapid response to the pandemic, YMAA reached out to their chapters in high schools and college campuses across the country to create Meals Together. It’s a program where young students have virtual visits during mealtime with those in early stages of dementia and their caregivers.

In only three months, 39 YMAA chapters are participating in the expanding program. They now serve 175 senior users. They partner with nonprofits, like Meals on Wheels and assisted living facilities, to identify older participants. Seniors can also sign up on their own.

Natashia Townsend, YMAA’s director of caregiving programs, says they describe the program to participants in early stages of dementia as a way to help the students as they prepare for their careers. “It makes them feel empowered to help someone else,” Townsend explains. The youth volunteers also find it rewarding. “It’s just a great way to connect, and a lot of our seniors are feeling lonely at this time; they just want to feel like they have a friend,” she says.

Reference: AARP (July 27, 2020) “Teens Reach Out to Isolated Older Americans Through Online Programs”

Can I Afford In-Home Elderly Care?

Staying in-home long-term isn’t always affordable, according to a recent US News and World Report article. The article, entitled “Can You Afford In-Home Elderly Care?”, says about 80% of seniors are concerned about being able to afford in-home health care costs, based on a 2019 SCAN Health Plan survey. Paying for personalized in-home elderly care can add up quickly and isn’t always easy on a senior’s tight income.

If you’re thinking about in-home elderly care, review these criteria to determine what costs to expect and the different payment options available for this type of care.

Find Out the Services Included in In-Home Care for the Elderly. In-home care can vary a lot, depending on your health conditions and needs. You might get helpers if you’re recovering at home from an illness or injury, and you could also have home care workers help you with daily activities, such as preparing meals and personal hygiene. Home care services often include rides to and from appointments, monitoring heart rate and blood pressure and in-home physical and cognitive therapy sessions.

Think about the Level of Care Needed. If you can do most daily activities on your own, but could use help with certain activities, such as cooking or cleaning, home care might be a wise option. In-home care is focused on the service, and it’s supposed to help those who are living on their own as long as possible. When more care is required, moving to a place with more health support may be necessary. Elderly persons who have significant needs may often look to assisted living as an alternative. Assisted living facilities offer more services, like 24-hour emergency care and ongoing supervision for seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other disabilities.

Check Out the Cost of In-Home Senior Care. Homemaker services cost about $22.50 per hour on average and include tasks to help a person with daily duties like laundry, grocery shopping and light housework. An in-home health aide charges an average of $23 per hour, and may help with administering medicine at scheduled times, supervising and monitoring chronic illnesses and helping with walking aids. Of course, the exact cost of these services depends on where you live and the amount of help you need. The monthly cost for in-home care ranges from $4,290 for homemaker services to $4,385 for home health aide care. This typically costs more than the monthly median cost for an assisted living facility—but less than the median cost per month for a room at a nursing home facility.

Know Your Insurance Coverage. If you’re on Medicare, you may be able to get coverage for some short-term home services. To do so, a doctor will need to indicate that skilled nursing care is needed for a short period of time. Medicare will cover speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. You can also use it to help with the purchase of durable medical equipment and safety additions to your home. However, Medicare won’t typically cover long-term in-home care services.

Medicaid will cover some health services at home, like cleaning and meal preparation, rides to and from medical visits and personal care. The Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) is available in some states, if you have Medicare or Medicaid. It provides some care and services in the home to elderly persons who need a nursing home level of care. If you have long-term care insurance, some in-home services may be covered by your policy.

Look at Other Payment Methods. If your insurance won’t cover in-home care, you might have to pay out-of-pocket. One way to lower costs, is by asking family members to help. If you need to hire more help over time, the cost for services will increase accordingly. If that doesn’t work, they may help pay for in-home elderly care. You can also look at a reverse mortgage, which lets you borrow against your home’s value.

Reference: US News and World Report (June 10, 2020) “Can You Afford In-Home Elderly Care?”

When Do We Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Kiplinger’s article “When Elder Care Requires Legal Advice” explains that this is when a lot of panicked calls are made to elder law attorneys. These elder law attorneys specialize in planning for the legal complications that can arise in old age. However, seldom do people think to consult one preemptively to avoid making that panicked phone call in the first place.

Elder law attorneys work in the best interests of the older person, although how that is accomplished may differ. If the senior is competent and contacts the attorney, it can be fairly straightforward. However, if an adult family member or friend is an agent or has power of attorney for an elderly person—and asks for help, the attorney is representing the agent. In any event, anyone who has power of attorney has a fiduciary responsibility to do what is best for the elderly person granting them that authority.

If a power of attorney isn’t in place and the elderly parent is incapable of giving it, the family is required to go to court to have someone appointed as a guardian, which can be a time-consuming option. If a parent is cognitively capable and doesn’t want help, there’s nothing an attorney can do about it.

Although state laws vary, elder law primarily concerns these topics:

  • The client’s wishes and health
  • Family dynamics; and
  • The client’s financial assets and income.

An elder law attorney will also make sure that all important documents are in place and up-to-date, according to state laws. This includes a will, a trust, a power of attorney and an advance directive that includes a health care proxy.

Elder law attorneys also help moderate tough decisions, like when family members can’t agree about how a loved one wanted to be buried.

In addition, elder care lawyers understand the complex laws for Medicaid and VA benefits. An elder care lawyer can speak to many other issues, ranging from long-term care insurance to capital gains taxes.

A key when meeting with an elder law attorney is that you feel comfortable, that you’re not rushed and that your questions are answered.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 15, 2020) “When Elder Care Requires Legal Advice”

Pandemic Impacts Visiting Nursing Homes

In nursing homes where visits have resumed, they’re much changed from those before the pandemic. Nursing homes visits have been limited as long-term care facilities are taking steps to minimize any chances of transmission of COVID-19 to grandma and grandpa. To date, virus has been found in about 11,600 long-term care facilities, causing more than 56,000 deaths, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

AARP’s recent article entitled “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?” explains that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided benchmarks for state and local officials to use, in deciding when nursing home visits can return and how to safeguard against new outbreaks of COVID-19 when they do. The CMS guidelines are broad and nonbinding, and there will be differences, from state to state and nursing home to nursing home, regarding when visits resume and how they are handled. Here are some details about the next steps toward reuniting with family members in long-term care.

When will visits resume? As of mid-July, 30 states permitted nursing homes to proceed with outdoor visits with strict rules for distancing, monitoring and hygiene. The CMS guidelines suggest that nursing homes continue prohibiting any visitation, until they have gone at least 28 days without a new COVID-19 case originating on-site (as opposed to a facility admitting a coronavirus patient from a hospital). CMS says that these facilities should also meet several additional benchmarks, which include:

  • a decline in cases in the surrounding community
  • the ability to provide all residents with a baseline COVID-19 test and weekly tests for staff
  • enough supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning and disinfecting products; and
  • no staff shortages.

Where visits are permitted, it should be only by appointment and in specified hours. In some states, only one or two people can visit a particular resident at a time. Even those states allowing indoor visits are suggesting that families meet loved ones outdoors. Research has shown that the virus spreads less in open air.

Health checks on visitors. The federal guidelines call for everyone entering a facility to undergo 100% screening. However, the CMS recommendations don’t address testing nursing home visitors for COVID-19.

Masks. The federal guidelines say nursing home visitors should be required to “wear a cloth face covering or face mask for the duration of their visit,” and states that allow visitation are doing so. The guidelines also ask nursing homes to make certain that visitors practice hand hygiene. However, it doesn’t say whether facilities should provide masks or sanitizer.

Social distancing. The CMS guidelines call on nursing homes that allow visitors to ensure social distancing, but they don’t provide details. States that have permitted visits, state that facilities enforce the 6-foot rule.

Virtual visits. Another option is to make some visits virtual. Videoconferencing and chat platforms have become lifelines for residents and families during the pandemic. Continued use after the lockdowns can minimize opportunities for illness to spread.

Here at the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C., we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted your daily life. With visits limited, having a loved one living in a nursing home can take an emotional toll.

Reference: AARP (July 22, 2020) “When Can Visitors Return to Nursing Homes?”

Important Medicare Deadlines

Here are the important dates for Medicare enrollment:

  • You can initially enroll in Medicare during the seven-month period that begins three months before you turn 65.
  • If you continue to work past 65, sign up for Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or group health plan or penalties apply.
  • The six-month Medicare Supplement Insurance enrollment period starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B.
  • You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
  • Medicare Advantage Plan participants can move to another plan from January 1 to March 31 each year.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss” takes a look at when you need to sign up for Medicare and the penalties that can be imposed for late enrollment.

Medicare Parts A and B Deadline. Individuals who are getting Social Security benefits, may be automatically enrolled in Parts A and B, and coverage starts the month they turn 65. However, those who haven’t claimed Social Security must proactively enroll in Medicare. You can first sign up for Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance during the seven months that starts three months before the month you turn 65. Your coverage can start as soon as the first day of the month you turn 65, or the first day of the prior month, if your birthday falls on the first of the month. If you fail to enroll in Medicare during the initial enrollment period, you can sign up during the general enrollment period between January 1 and March 31 each year for coverage that will begin July 1. Note that you might be charged a late enrollment penalty when your benefit begins. Monthly Part B premiums increase by 10% for each 12-month period you delay signing up for Medicare, after becoming eligible for benefits.

If you or your spouse are still working after age 65 for an employer that provides group health insurance, you must enroll in Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or the coverage ending to avoid the penalty.

Medicare Part D Deadline. Part D prescription drug coverage has the same initial enrollment period of the seven months around your 65th birthday as Medicare Parts A and B, but the penalty is different. It’s calculated by multiplying 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium” ($32.74 in 2020) by the number of months you didn’t have prescription drug coverage after Medicare eligibility and rounding to the nearest 10 cents. That’s added to the Medicare Part D plan that you choose each year. As the national base beneficiary premium increases, your penalty also goes up.

Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan Deadline. These plans can be used to pay for some of Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements and some services that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover. The enrollment period is different than the other parts of Medicare. It is a six-month period that starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this open enrollment period, private health insurance companies must sell you a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan, regardless of your health conditions. After this enrollment period, insurance companies can use medical underwriting to decide how much to charge for the policy and can even reject you. If you miss the open enrollment period, you’re no longer guaranteed the ability to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan without underwriting, or you could be charged significantly more, if you have any health conditions.

Medicare Open Enrollment Deadline. You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period from October 15 to December 7. During this period, you can move to a new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, join a Medicare Advantage Plan, or stop a Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare. Changes take effect on January 1 of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Deadline. Participants can move to another plan or drop their Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare, including purchasing a Medicare Part D plan, from January 1 to March 31 each year. You can only make one change each year during this period, and the new plan will begin on the first of the month after your request is received.

Reference: Yahoo News (July 27, 2020) “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss”

When Planning for Retirement, Don’t Forget About Long Term Care Insurance

Roughly 60% of those turning 65 can anticipate using some form of long-term care in their lives, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Those individuals may be faced with a nursing home, assisted living, or in-home care.  The costs associated with these types of care make elder law planning extremely important.  This is one reason individuals should consider the possibility of long-term care insurance.

CNBC’s recent article, “Not having long-term care insurance can be ‘the single biggest devastator’ of your financial plan,” reports that over 8 million Americans have long-term care insurance. However, the cost of that insurance is rising. The increase is due to several factors, including the fact that companies under priced their policies for years and misjudged how many would drop coverage.  Because of those rising premiums, some individuals may choose self-insurance.  That means saving a pool of money to earmark for long-term care. Coverage is also available through Medicaid, which has eligibility requirements.  Despite these increases, when planning, one should consider purchasing  some form of coverage. This is because not being insured can be the biggest devastator of a financial plan.

long-term care checklist

The rule of thumb has been to buy LTC coverage at age 55. However, it really depends on your situation. The big unknown is health, and the odds of being able to qualify for coverage at age 60, compared to age 30 or 40, is vastly different.

A traditional LTC policy will cover the costs of care for a certain period of time, generally up to six years. The amount of coverage is based on the average cost of care for your location. Most insurers offer it in the form of a monthly benefit, and possibly with some inflation protection.  There’s also a hybrid policy that covers long-term care costs, but becomes life insurance paid to heirs, if it’s not used. Of the 350,000 Americans who purchased long-term care protection in 2018, 85% chose the hybrid coverage. It’s also called combo or linked-benefit. The big difference between a traditional LTC policy and the hybrid policy is you’ll pay more for the hybrid policy.

The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to discuss your options for long term care planning and the benefits of long term care insurance so you have piece of mind that your assets are preserved and left to those who mean the most to you.  If you are looking for long-term care planning in Orland Park, Illinois or the surrounding suburbs of Chicago, please give us a call.

Reference: CNBC (October 14, 2019) “Not having long-term care insurance can be ‘the single biggest devastator’ of your financial plan”