Senior Living Blog

Should You Volunteer After Retirement?

Here’s what to consider when weighing your options

Throughout the country, millions of people have found fulfillment donating their time to causes and organizations whose missions interests them. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that finances and runs AmeriCorpsSenior Corps, the Volunteer Generation Fund, and others, estimates that more than 64 million Americans volunteer nearly 8 billion hours each year.

A recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center reported that two-thirds of respondents ages 55 to 70 who hadn’t yet retired said they plan to spend more time volunteering in retirement.

By helping others, volunteers not only contribute untold value to their chosen organizations, but they also reap benefits themselves. Studies have connected volunteering with reduced depression and enhanced brain activity. Active volunteering also correlates with living longer, healthier, more meaningful lives.

“The biggest thing is to find an opportunity that suits you,” Samantha Warfield, a spokeswoman for the CNCS, told Consumer Reports. “Do what you’re passionate about.” 

In many cases, finding the right volunteer work isn’t so different from seeking a job that pays. Here are factors to consider.

Capitalize on your background—or not. When you contact an organization, mention the skills honed in your career. However, be aware that the very things you did while working won’t always translate into volunteer success, says Robert Laura, retirement expert and Forbes columnist. He talks about a recently retired social worker who was burnt out from all the heartache and stress caused by her job. Yet, after six months of retirement, she was bored, so she put her people skills back to work by volunteering in the very sector she’d left: social work. Not surprisingly, within three months she was burnt out again—and not even getting paid. Worse yet, she felt guilty about quitting because they were understaffed.

Take another direction. A retiring school administrator wanted to be a part of something that had definitive start and end dates, and a finished product to see and touch. This contrasted with her past work life that consisted of policies, curriculums, and procedures needing constant reviews, updates, and revisions. Nothing ever got finished. She signed up with Habitat for Humanity, whose mission is focused on building (and completing) physical structures to shelter real families.

What do you care about? To define how and where you want to spend your time, ask yourself, “What do I want do something about?” What do you want to change? What issues and conditions bother you? Your answers can give your volunteer efforts more purpose. You will be positioned to seek organizations that fit your goals and offer you the chance to make a difference in ways that matter to you.

Start small. Begin volunteering in brief stints—an hour per week reading to a preschooler or two hours in a food bank. If you’re tentative, bring along a friend for support. Keep in mind that that as a “newbie,” you may not get the plum assignments right away. Also, keep asking yourself, Is this the work I want to do?

Don’t forget an “exit strategy.” Your role with the organization may or may not turn out as you’d envisioned. Before you sign on, ask about the organization’s exit strategy in case you feel uncomfortable, the work doesn’t match your skills or interests, causes physical challenges, or doesn’t meet other expectations. A process to communicate your concerns or, if necessary, resign your position allows both you and the staff to make changes or to part ways without hard feelings and misunderstandings. 

How to find opportunities. Ask for recommendations from friends, family, and colleagues, check the websites of organizations of interest, or use search engines to find the types of volunteer opportunities available. Start with the websites VolunteerMatch.orgServe.gov, and for a long-term, full-time commitments, NationalService.gov.

April Is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month

Groups raise awareness of the disease and its treatments 

More than 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease, says the National Parkinson Foundation, and as many as 60,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over age 60. Parkinson’s strikes 50 percent more men than women. The average age at onset is 60, but some are diagnosed at 40 or younger.

Parkinson’s involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. The job of some of these dying neurons is to produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, these brain neurons produce less and less dopamine, and the person loses movement control.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms vary from person to person, but primary motor signs include the following:

  • Tremor or the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Slowness of movement
  • Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Instability of posture or impaired balance and coordination

Medications and Treatments

Many medications and treatments are available to help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s, but none yet reverse the effects of the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may also suggest lifestyle changes, especially ongoing aerobic exercise. Physical therapy that focuses on balance and stretching may also be effective. Speech-language pathologists may help improve speech difficulties. In later cases, surgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation may be recommended.

What’s New in Parkinson’s Treatments?

Deep brain stimulation. For two decades, deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy for Parkinson’s patients has been successful, says the National Parkinson Foundation. Evidence shows that DBS has meaningfully helped tens of thousands of patients worldwide, improving tremor, dyskinesia (involuntary movements), on-off fluctuations (reduced effectiveness of levodopa medication), and other Parkinson’s symptoms. DBS has fallen short in slowing disease progression, including walking, talking, and thinking. Some scientists advocate using guide tubes (straws that DBS leads are fed through to precisely place them into the brain) to deliver growth factors to improve brain function. There is also interest in developing DBS leads connected to pumps that could continuously supply factors to the brain while maintaining the electrical current derived from the DBS device.

The relationship between the gastrointestinal system and Parkinson’s disease. Evidence has been mounting in support of a relationship between the gastrointestinal (GI) system and Parkinson’s disease. Many pathologists and neurologists believe that Parkinson’s may start in the gut. Studies have found that many GI symptoms, such as constipation, occur as prominent and disabling Parkinson’s symptoms. People with Parkinson’s who are experiencing motor fluctuations that cannot be controlled by medication adjustment are advised to ask their doctor to test for H. Pylori (a common type of gut bacteria) infection.

Good News! Recent Study Shows Fewer Seniors Are Developing Dementia

Dementia sufferers are also developing the disease at older ages

For years we’ve heard dire predictions that dementia rates would skyrocket as the population ages, grows increasingly overweight, and develops more diabetes and high blood pressure. But a recent data analysis published in the January 2017 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine has found that the prevalence of dementia is actually decreasing.

The nationally representative report showed that adults 65 and older with dementia dropped from 11.6 percent in the year 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012. Those results support another, smaller-scale study released in 2016, which found that dementia rates dropped by 44 percent since the late 1970s through 2008.28

The New York Times reported that the downward trend is “statistically significant and impressive,” according to Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania who was not associated with the study.

Further, in 2000, people received a diagnosis of dementia at an average age of 80.7; in 2012, the average age was 82.4—indicating that the disease is starting at older ages.

Researchers are analyzing the data to determine the causes for the lower dementia rates. Currently, medical experts are looking at two factors: education and heart health. Researchers have found that seniors with more education are less likely to develop dementia than seniors who didn’t finish high school.

Scientists theorize that further education enhances brain development and gives people “cognitive reserve” that allows them to lose cognitive function to aging without developing full-blown dementia, or delays the onset of impairment.

Many doctors believe that the biggest reason for the decline is improved heart and circulatory health. Vascular dementias decreased the most in the study, likely because of better treatments for stroke, heart disease, and blood-vessel disorders. Regular exercise can bolster cardiovascular health at any age, which may help stave off or lessen age-related cognitive decline. Doctors advise people who already have heart health issues or chronic conditions like diabetes to carefully follow their treatment plans to reduce risk of dementia and other disorders.

 

March Is National Nutrition Month

This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward”

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign held every March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices, developing sound eating practices, and committing to physical activity habits.

The theme for 2017 is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which reminds us that each bite counts. Small shifts in our food choices can reap benefits over time. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest starting with gradual changes—one forkful at a time—to create healthier, lasting habits for years to come. Whether you are preparing meals at home or making selections when dining out, Put Your Best Fork Forward helps develop the healthy eating style that’s best for you and your family.

“How much we eat is as important as what we eat, which is why this year’s National Nutrition Month theme inspires us to start with small changes in our eating habits,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Kristi King.

Key Messages of this Year’s Campaign

  • Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  • Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  • How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you.
  • Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  • Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences, and health-related needs.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education, and advocacy. Visit the Academy at eatright.org.

Who Qualifies for Senior-Care Tax Deductions?

Tax season can be especially stressful for seniors on a fixed income and for family caregivers of elderly loved ones—groups that include millions of budget-conscious Americans looking to keep expenses down.

The good news is that seniors and caregivers may be eligible for tax deductions for medical and dental expenses. Another bright spot in 2017 is that final tax returns are due Tuesday, April 18, three days later than the standard April 15 date. This year the 15th falls on a weekend and Monday, April 17, is Emancipation Day, a federal holiday, giving tax filers until April 18 to complete their returns.

Seniors receiving medical care in assisted living may qualify for tax deductions. This includes residents with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia who require substantial supervision to protect their health and safety.

Taxpayers married to or related to seniors requiring care may be eligible for deductions if the senior qualifies as the taxpayer’s dependent according to IRS requirements. Detailed information on dependency can be found at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p554/ch05.html. Additionally, the caregiver must provide more than half of the support for the senior during the year.

Which Senior Living Expenses Can Be Deductible?

For certain assisted living expenses to be tax deductible, the resident must be considered “chronically ill.” A doctor or nurse needs to have certified that the resident either:

  • Cannot perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, toileting, transferring, bath, dressing, or continence; or
  • Requires supervision due to a cognitive impairment (such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia). 

To qualify for the deduction, the senior’s personal care services need to be provided according to a plan of care prescribed by a licensed health care provider. This means a doctor, nurse or social worker must prepare a plan that outlines the specific daily services the resident receives.

Typically, only the medical components of assisted living costs are deductible and ordinary living costs like room and board are not. But if the resident is chronically ill and the facility is acting primarily for medical care and the care is being performed according to a certified plan of care, then the room and board may be considered part of the medical care and the cost may be deductible.

Residents who are not chronically ill may still be able to deduct the portion of their expenses that are attributable to medical care, including entrance or initiation fees.

Which Medical Expenses Can Be Deducted?

  • Premiums for insurance policies that cover medical care are deductible, unless the premiums are paid with pretax dollars. Generally, the payroll tax paid for Medicare Part A is not deductible, but Medicare Part B premiums are deductible.
  • Payments made for nursing services.
  • Medical fees from doctors, laboratories, assisted living residences, home health care, and hospitals
  • The cost of long-term care, including housing, food, and other personal costs, if the person is chronically ill.
  • The cost of meals and lodging at a hospital or similar institution if a principal reason for being there is to receive medical care.
  • Home modifications costs such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars, and handrails.
  • The cost of dental treatment.
  • The cost of travel to and from medical appointments.
  • Personal care items, such as disposable briefs and foods for a special diet.
  • Cost of prescription drugs.
  • Entrance fees for assisted living.
  • Room and board for assisted living if the resident is certified chronically ill by a healthcare professional and follows a prescribed plan of care. Typically this means that they are unable to perform two activities of daily living (ADLs) or require close supervision due to dementia or other conditions.

To claim the deduction, the medical expenses have to be more than 10 percent of the resident’s adjusted gross income. (For taxpayers 65 and older, this threshold will be 7.5 percent through 2016.) In addition, only medical expenses paid during the year can be deducted, regardless of when the services were provided, and medical expenses are not deductible if they are reimbursable by insurance.

For more information on what can and cannot be deducted for medical expenses see Publication 502 on the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.

Free Tax Preparation Help for Seniors and Caregivers

Preparing tax returns for seniors and caregivers can be complex, and tax rules may change from year to year. Need help? Consult a tax adviser, or get expert advice at an IRS-sponsored tax center free of charge. To find out what services these tax help centers offer, how to find one near you, and what you’ll need to bring when you visit, go to the IRS Web site at https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

 

Support and Recognition for Caregivers’ Contributions

Caregiver’s “Bill of Rights” stresses self-care and dignity

The concept of a Caregiver Bill of Rights is not new. Its origins are sometimes disputed, but many agree that it arose more than 30 years ago after the publication of a book called CareGiving: Helping an Aging Loved One by Jo Horne (AARP Books, 2015). A landmark work that is still relevant to caregivers today, the book addresses all aspects of day-to-day caregiving, and emphasizes the vital relationship between the care provider and recipient.

Caregivers handling the stresses, challenges, and emotional toll of caring for an aging family member—especially caregivers who often feel undervalued, abandoned, overburdened, and overwhelmed—should familiarize themselves with these basic tenets that champion all caregivers’ rights to practice self-care, preserve their own individuality, seek help from others, take pride in their contributions, and to expect acknowledgement and respect for what they do.

Caregiver’s Bill of Rights by Jo Horne 

I have the right:

  • To take care of myself. This is not an act of selfishness. It will give me the capability of taking better care of my loved one.
  • To seek help from others even though my loved ones may object. I recognize the limits of my own endurance and strength.
  • To maintain facets of my own life that do not include the person I care for, just as I would if he or she were healthy. I know that I do everything that I reasonably can for this person, and I have the right to do some things just for myself.
  • To get angry, be depressed, and express other difficult feelings occasionally.
  • To reject any attempts by my loved one (either conscious or unconscious) to manipulate me through guilt, and/or depression.
  • To receive consideration, affection, forgiveness, and acceptance for what I do, from my loved ones, for as long as I offer these qualities in return.
  • To take pride in what I am accomplishing and to applaud the courage it has sometimes taken to meet the needs of my loved one.
  • To protect my individuality and my right to make a life for myself that will sustain me in the time when my loved one no longer needs my full-time help.
  • To expect and demand that as new strides are made in finding resources to aid physically and mentally impaired persons in our country, similar strides will be made toward aiding and supporting caregivers.

Free Caption Phone Helps People with Hearing Loss Stay in Touch

Phone conversation is displayed in text on a large screen

Because using the telephone can become difficult (if not impossible) for people with hearing difficulties, many tend to avoid phone conversations. Not only does this diminish their social and business interactions, but it also robs them of a valuable lifeline if they need help.

The CaptionCall® captioned telephone works like a regular telephone—just dial and answer calls as usual. Speak and listen using the phone handset. The caption phone displays the live phone conversation in easy-to-read text on a large screen.

Provided by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for those who have professionally certified hearing loss, the phone and caption service are free of charge for those who qualify. Simply complete a form on the CaptionCall website and have a doctor in one of the approved areas of practice sign the form.

If you’re unable to get a doctor’s signature, you can pay a one-time $75 fee to self-certify the phone user’s medically recognized hearing loss. There are no extra charges for delivery, installation, or customer support.

 Before you order, make sure the phone user has the following:

  • Medically recognized hearing loss
  • High-speed Internet connection
  • Standard home phone connection
  • Standard electrical outlet

 For hearing-impaired iPad users, a free mobile app enables CaptionCall customers to make and receive calls directly on their iPad.

After you order the phone, a local trainer helps install the device in the house. The trainer then shows the user (and his or her family) how it works. The trainer also helps complete the paperwork required by the FCC.

Five Habits of Successful, Loving Older Couples

This Valentines Day, remind yourself how stay in love for years

Everyone knows couples who’ve been together for decades—perhaps you’re among them—and whose relationships still seem genuinely happy and harmonious. Our communities are filled with couples and those who understand how love lasts. What behaviors, traits, and tactics might be key to their long-term relationship success? Relationship experts- and many seniors often cite these five habits.

Notice and stay open to changes. Don’t assume your partner is the same person he or she was decades ago—although, of course, there will be similarities. Learn your partner’s goals, dreams, and future plans. Keep in tune with who your partner is in the moment and open yourself to who he or she might become.

Accept the challenges of aging. Vulnerabilities arise over the years. Support each other as you deal with physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges and feelings about aging and death. Share thoughts on what lies ahead and face the future as collaborators who will be there for each other throughout the difficulties.

Don’t be afraid to fight fairly. All couples, including the most successful ones, have arguments and conflicts. Happy couples don’t hide from fights. They listen, speak their mind, negotiate, and tell the truth while trying not to be hurtful. After “good fights,” the smoke clears—and issues and complaints tend to get resolved.

Apologize and bounce back. Connected couples don’t shy away from hashing it out, but they also tend to bounce back quickly. They’d rather forego drawn-out grudge holding, pouting, silent punishing, lasting resentments, and late-night “rebound fighting.” These couples get bored with continuous bickering; they’d just as soon get on with being a contented twosome. But apologies are not skipped over. Sincere apologies build respect, empathy, and belief that the other person was truly listening.

Take care of yourself. People in lasting partnerships know their own shortcomings and emotional issues, and take responsibility for seeking counseling and practicing self-help. Strong partners also know that they cannot be “everything” to each other. They create relationships, pursuits, and hobbies that thrive outside of the twosome—and often make the relationship stronger.

February Is American Heart Month

This month is also marks the “Go Red for Women” campaign

Ever since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the first American Heart Month in 1964, the month of February has been dedicated to cardiovascular health awareness. Cardiovascular disease is the nation’s No. 1 cause of death for both men and women, killing an estimated 630,000 Americans each year. At our communities we make sure that a healthy diet and exercise are part of everyday living.

In the U.S., the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Men and women can greatly reduce their risk for CAD through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication. The American Heart Association conducts research and raises awareness to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans. Throughout February awareness about heart health is evident everywhere- from grocery stores to sporting events.

Since 2004, February also has been the signature month for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign to spread the message that heart disease is not only a man’s problem.

National Wear Red Day

On Friday, February 3, the American Heart Association and Go Red For Women celebrate American Heart Month and raise heart disease awareness by encouraging participating in National Wear Red Day. Every 80 seconds, one woman is killed by heart disease and stroke. That’s 1 in 3 deaths among women each year. Eighty percent of these deaths can be prevented with education and action. By wearing red and using the social-media hashtag #GoRedWearRed, you can help raise women’s awareness and support education on cardiovascular health.

What’s Ahead From Our New President?

At this writing, the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump plays out, and the country’s emotions remain divided with celebrating and protesting.

It’s bound to be another year of healthcare upheavals as we wait to see if the incoming administration will follow through on its promise to “repeal and replace” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and call for other reforms that would potentially affect Medicaid funding, pharmaceutical regulation and the health insurance industry.

…read more at Senior Living News