Speak freely about realities of death, experts urge

Taboos around death and dying are increasing the risk of elderly patients “on their dying journey” being subjected to unwanted and invasive medical procedures against their wishes, experts say.

By Lucy Stone

Associate Professor Magnolia Cardona, from the Gold Coast’s Bond University, has led a PhD study into the use of rapid response system treatments on elderly hospital patients nearing end of life.

Professor Cardona said the research, published in the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Public Safety, studied the files of more than 700 patients who received calls for medical emergency teams during hospitalisation at a large Sydney teaching hospital.

A medical emergency team usually consists of two or three specialists from the intensive care unit focused on maintaining life when a patient is in a hospital ward.

The research further focused on patients aged 80 and over, and found that 40 per cent were subjected to invasive procedures such as intubation, intensive monitoring, intravenous medications, transplants and resuscitation attempts.

Ten per cent of those patients already had medical orders in place limiting treatment, or requesting do-not-resuscitate.

“Those orders … are usually issued by their doctors in consultation with families,” Professor Cardona said.

Professor Cardona said the research showed the conflict between increasingly rapid medical advances, public perception of the capabilities of medical experts to revive or prolong life, and the emotive issue of death.

The findings were similar to those of 2017 studies conducted in Europe, but Professor Cardona said the Australian researchers had expected to find a smaller percentage of such incidents.

The research found that elderly patients in their last year of life were frequent users of ambulance and hospital services, including intensive care units, and that health professionals often felt under pressure to administer “aggressive” treatments.

“Health professionals do not always fully discuss a prognosis with families, or may lack the confidence to discuss patients’ preferences for care and treatment at the end of life,” the research said.

“They may decide to continue intensive treatment based on concerns about the family’s legal or emotional reactions, or in an attempt to avoid an in-hospital death, generally perceived as a ‘failure’.”

“Often these frequently heroic medical interventions do not improve patient survival and instead prolong suffering and adversely affect the quality of death.”

The study found that while patients under 80 years of age may benefit from such aggressive techniques, patients over 80 were less likely to benefit.

Professor Cardona also said it was critical that families and elderly people, or people with terminal illnesses, had open conversations about the decisions ahead, and wrote on paper their personal wishes, or appointed someone trusted as their medical representative.

Due to techniques such as CPR being treated as a cure-all on television shows and movies, Professor Cardona said the public often had some misconceptions about the safety and appropriateness of such techniques, particularly for elderly people.

She said the research would hopefully encourage both families and medical professionals to have fresh conversations about patient needs and values, and ensure the wishes of elderly patients were respected as they neared the end of life.

Professor Cardona said she hoped medical professionals could also think critically about the “do no harm” principle when faced with patients facing death of natural causes.

“The conclusion of the study that perhaps clinicians need to take a step back when they identify these flags of imminent death and offer a different alternative of management,” she said.

“That is the pathway of care of comfort care, and that includes giving the patient pain relief, other symptom control, psychosocial support and grief counselling for the families.

“And all of these of course preceded by an honest conversation with the patient and family about the poor prognosis, the inevitability of death and the fact that not every death should be considered a failure.

“Death is just a natural part of the life cycle.”

Complete Article HERE!

Many physicians not prepared for end-of-life talks with patients

While nearly all physicians say end-of-life conversations are important, many report lacking the training to have such conversations, according to a brief report published online May 23 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Terry Fulmer, Ph.D., from the John A. Hartford Foundation in New York City, and colleagues conducted a 37-item telephone survey to measure attitudes and perceptions of barriers and facilitators to advance care planning among 736 physicians (primary care specialists; pulmonology, cardiology, oncology subspecialists) regularly seeing patients aged ≥65 years.

The researchers found that 99 percent of respondents agreed that it is important to have end-of-life conversations, yet only 29 percent reported that they have received formal training for such conversations. Younger physicians and those caring for a racially and ethnically diverse population were more likely to have had training. The strongest motivating factors in having advance care planning conversations were patient values and preferences. The vast majority of respondents (95 percent) reported supporting a new Medicare fee-for-service benefit reimbursing advance care planning. Time was the biggest barrier reported to advance care planning, as well as not wanting a patient to give up hope and feeling uncomfortable.

“Given the gap between what people want at the end of life and the care they receive, we need to build on available training tools and embed them systematically into practice,” the authors write. “Addressing clinician barriers to to meet the needs of their older and families requires the integration of existing, proven tools into a three-pronged strategy that includes education and , formal systems, and reimbursement for these critical conversations.”

Complete Article HERE!

Implantable defibrillators may cause dilemmas for older patients

By Carolyn Crist

Defibrillators implanted in the body to kickstart the heart can be lifesaving for some people, but as patients age they may face difficult conversations about when to replace or deactivate the devices.

Conversations about end-of-life care, in particular, can drive a wedge between patients and doctors and create difficult decisions for families, an international team of cardiologists writes in the American Journal of Medicine.

“The standard consent process does not fully inform patients receiving (the device) about all the downstream implications,” said co-author Dr. Arnold Eiser, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and a professor of medicine at Drexel University.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) differ from pacemakers, which control abnormal heart rhythms. Pacemakers prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate through electrical pulses, whereas ICDs monitor heart rhythms and shock the heart to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

Older patients may face a difficult choice of when to stop using an ICD, especially if shocks become painful or it continues life longer than desired, said Eiser.

“Downstream decisions include whether the device no longer serves the patient’s best interests,” he told Reuters Health by email. “We believe a well-informed patient is an important aspect of ethical medical practice.”

The informed consent process could prompt this conversation, the study authors note. When patients agree to surgery for a device, they should be aware of the benefits and risks, and the information should be presented in a way that families can easily understand. Current consent forms tend to concentrate on short-term risks and benefits rather than broader device-related issues that may emerge later in life, the authors write.

By talking about advance care planning and next-of-kin choices regarding heart care and treatment options, doctors can document what a patient’s wishes are before facing a clinical crisis at the end of life. Regular conversations during check-ups would help as well.

“It will be better to prepare all parties for the decisions that come into play as the patient’s medical condition changes,” Eiser said. “It is an unusually complex decision, but it’s not always presented in that way.”

The decision-making process should be clarified as well, the authors urge. Older patients often listen to advice from authority figures such as their doctors. This may lead to a bias toward implantation.

Instead, ICD decisions should include the patient’s multifaceted health conditions and the future effects on wellbeing, prognosis and end-of-life, the authors write. The patient’s primary care physician and cardiologist should be included in conversations with the patient and family.

“We have to have an ongoing discussion with these patients about the possibility of deactivation,” said Dr. Annika Kinch-Westerdahl of Danderyds Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, who wasn’t involved in the essay.

Kinch-Westerdahl and colleagues have studied the high risk of painful shocks ICD patients may feel near the end-of-life. They’ve also researched what cardiology, internal medicine and geriatric specialists understand about ICDs. Although cardiologists were well-versed in the risks and benefits, most internal medicine and geriatric doctors needed more training.

“We need to support our patients in their choices throughout their lifespans, not only at a point when they have to accept a new treatment – but also when it is time to terminate an existing treatment,” she told Reuters Health by email.

To maintain communication with ICD patients and their families, primary and cardiac care teams should appoint a doctor to stay in touch and regularly check on the patient’s decisions. Systems should be in place in primary care and specialist offices to make sure staff know how to manage ICD devices, talk about them, and reprogram or deactivate them when needed, the authors write.

“It’s important that patients are aware that turning it off is an option, especially as their goals of care shift to the end-of-life,” said Dr. Rachel Lampert of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, who wasn’t involved in the paper.

“The important question is how to improve communication between patients and their physicians,” she told Reuters Health by phone. “We all need to feel comfortable talking about it.”

Complete Article HERE!

What does a good death look like when you’re really old and ready to go?

David Goodall a day before his assisted death in Switzerland.

By

[H]awaii recently joined the growing number of states and countries where doctor-assisted dying is legal. In these jurisdictions, help to die is rarely extended to those who don’t have a terminal illness. Yet, increasingly, very old people, without a terminal illness, who feel that they have lived too long, are arguing that they also have a right to such assistance.

Media coverage of David Goodall, the 104-year-old Australian scientist who travelled to Switzerland for assisted dying, demonstrates the level of public interest in ethical dilemmas at the extremities of life. Goodall wanted to die because he no longer enjoyed life. Shortly before his death, he told reporters that he spends most of his day just sitting. “What’s the use of that?” he asked.

Research shows that life can be a constant struggle for the very old, with social connections hard to sustain and health increasingly fragile. Studies looking specifically at the motivation for assisted dying among the very old show that many feel a deep sense of loneliness, tiredness, an inability to express their individuality by taking part in activities that are important to them, and a hatred of dependency.

Of the jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal, some make suffering the determinant (Canada, for example). Others require a prognosis of six months (California, for example). Mainly, though, the focus is on people who have a terminal illness because it is seen as less of an ethical problem to hasten the death of someone who is already dying than someone who is simply tired of life.

Why give precedence to physical suffering?

Assisted dying for people with psychological or existential reasons for wanting to end their life is unlikely to be supported by doctors because it is not objectively verifiable and also potentially remediable. In the Netherlands, despite the legal power to offer assistance where there is no life-limiting illness, doctors are seldom convinced of the unbearable nature of non-physical suffering, and so will rarely administer a lethal dose in such cases.

Although doctors may look to a physical diagnosis to give them confidence in their decision to hasten a patient’s death, physical symptoms are often not mentioned by the people they are assisting. Instead, the most common reason given by those who have received help to die is loss of autonomy. Other common reasons are to avoid burdening others and not being able to enjoy one’s life – the exact same reason given by Goodall. This suggests that requests from people with terminal illness, and from those who are just very old and ready to go, are not as different as both the law – and doctors’ interpretation of the law – claim them to be.

Sympathetic coverage

It seems that the general public does not draw a clear distinction either. Most of the media coverage of Goodall’s journey to Switzerland was sympathetic, to the dismay of opponents of assisted dying.

Media reports about ageing celebrities endorsing assisted dying in cases of both terminal illness and very old age, blur the distinction still further.

One of the reasons for this categorical confusion is that, at root, this debate is about what a good death looks like, and this doesn’t rely on prognosis; it relies on personality. And, it’s worth remembering, the personalities of the very old are as diverse as those of the very young.

David Goodall died listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
 
Discussion of assisted suicide often focuses on concerns that some older people may be exposed to coercion by carers or family members. But older people also play another role in this debate. They make up the rank and file activists of the global right-to-die movement. In this conflict of rights, protectionist impulses conflict with these older activists’ demands to die on their own terms and at a time of their own choosing.

In light of the unprecedented ageing of the world’s population and increasing longevity, it is important to think about what a good death looks like in deep old age. In an era when more jurisdictions are passing laws to permit doctor-assisted dying, the choreographed death of a 104-year-old, who died listening to Ode to Joy after enjoying a last fish supper, starts to look like a socially approved good death.

Complete Article HERE!

SENIORS COPING WITH LOSS OF INDEPENDENCE

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Help Seniors Cope with the Loss of Independence

A loss of independence is a fear many seniors have. When this fear is realized, there are several ways caregivers need to help. According to an AARP study conducted in 2012, 57% of seniors over age 70 do not find it easy to live alone and need help with daily tasks. This loss of independence can have a toll on senior’s psychological and physical well-being. Most people begin to live and perform daily life tasks independently by the age of 20. About 50 years later, many find that independence is no longer safe or viable. The loss of independence seniors face can often result if grieving, frustration, and other emotional upset. Caregivers can help seniors by understanding the process.

Types of Independence Seniors May Lose

As seniors’ bodies and/or minds degenerate, they can experience a variety of types of losses. Their independence can be impacted in ways that change their lifestyles and even their understanding of the world. Some types of independence seniors may lose include: • Mobility • Ability to live alone • Memory • Comprehension/decision-making skills • Strength to perform daily tasks • Energy to clean or cook • Social life • Sight • Hearing

How to Help Seniors Cope with Increased Dependency

Relying on other people’s assistance for basic tasks like bathing or common activities like driving can be frightening and frustrating for seniors. With the loss of independence, seniors also tend to lose some control over their schedule, freedom, preferences, and more. Caregivers can help make decreased independence more bearable using strategies like these:

Maintain a Standard of Dignity

Requiring assistance with activities like bathing or shopping does not mean that seniors need to give up their dignity. Caregivers should always guard seniors’ privacy. It is also wise to use the terms a senior does when referencing body parts, activities, or even hygiene products.

Ask Instead of Telling

Caregiving for someone who has lost a type of independence is a supportive role, not a leading role. Caregivers should ask seniors about their preferences, needs, etc., instead of telling them. For example, if a senior cannot cook for themselves, a caregiver should ask for input for meal planning. Give Options for Caregiving Since dependence requires trust and can be very personal in nature, it is important for seniors to have choices. Learn if a senior prefers same-sex caregivers, certain routines, etc.

Stay Organized and Consistent

Dependence means a loss of control. Seniors have to wait on others for assistance, which can be stressful. Caregivers should remain consistent in their routine so that seniors don’t need to be anxious about when or how their care will be provided. Organize necessary materials so they are accessible to seniors who cannot mobilize independently as well.

Offer Reminders That You Can Be Counted On

Depending on other people for help, especially with essential tasks, requires trust. This can cause seniors anxiety and stress. Remind a nervous senior that he or she is in good hands and is being taken care of to assuage their fears.

Ask Instead of Telling

Caregiving for someone who has lost a type of independence is a supportive role, not a leading role. Caregivers should ask seniors about their preferences, needs, etc., instead of telling them. For example, if a senior cannot cook for themselves, a caregiver should ask for input for meal planning.

Complete Article HERE!

Dementia Patients and Grief

 

[T]he death of a loved one is difficult for anyone, but it is a special challenge when someone in the family has dementia. It’s hard for family members to know how and when to tell the person with dementia about the death. And what should they do when the person doesn’t remember?

Coping With Losses

People with dementia have had many “little deaths” in the course of their disease — things like losing their independence and the ability to drive, read, cook, or enjoy hobbies. Memories and relationships are huge losses.  These losses are stressful for people with dementia and their families.

How people with dementia cope with loss is affected by many things, including: the stage of their dementia, their relationship to the person who has died, how often they were in contact with that person, and their personal way of grieving

Grief Process

For people without dementia, recovery from a death usually involves accepting the reality of the loss, learning to live with it, and finding a new “normal.”  For most, the pain of the loss can transform into beloved memories.  For someone with dementia this process is often impossible.

People with dementia who are grieving are often agitated and restless. They may sense that something is not right, something is missing. They may confuse one loss with another. A recent death may stimulate the memory of loss from childhood. It can be stressful for family members to decide when and how to tell them about the death of a loved one — and even how often to tell them. Repeatedly telling a person with dementia about a death can make family members’ grief more painful.

Telling About a Death

Here are some hints for telling a person with dementia about a death:

    • Tell the news as soon as possible. They will sense that something is wrong and need information to understand, even if just for that period of time.
    • If you are too emotional to talk to them, find someone else — maybe a friend or healthcare professional.
    • Choose a time to talk when the person with dementia is well rested.
    • Use short, simple sentences. Don’t give too many details; this may overwhelm them.
    • Answer questions as honestly as possible.
    • Use clear words like “died” instead of “passed away” or “at peace now.”
    • Try not to protect the person from the truth by suggesting that the person who has died is away and will return later. This can cause worry and agitation later when the person does not return.
    • You can support them with physical touch, such as a hug or holding hands.
    • Consider involving the person with dementia in funeral planning, assigning a simple task. This will help the death be more real for them. They may recognize the rituals around death and act appropriately.
    • Plan for someone to be with the person during services who can also take them out if they become agitated.

Accepting Death

Here are some ideas of ways to help the person with dementia accept the death:

    • Speak in the past tense about the person who has died. For example, “I loved Mom’s holiday cookies.”
    • Talk with them about the person who has died and express your sadness. “I sure miss Dad. He always made birthdays so fun, didn’t he, Mom? Remember when he….” Bring out pictures and tell stories if this helps their grief process.
    • Accept how often they want to talk about the person who has died—perhaps frequently, not much, or maybe not at all.

If over time they continue to ask for the person who has died, there are some things you can do. In the beginning, gently remind them that the person has died. If reminding them becomes upsetting, you can try these ideas:

    • Respond to the emotion under their words, feelings like sadness, longing, fear, distress, suspicion, anger, concern, or confusion. You can respond to what you see:
      • “You sound really frightened (or lost, or angry, etc.) to me. Let me help you with that.”
      • “You must really be missing her. Tell me what you miss most.” Share your own feelings: “I miss her, too.”
    • Check their mood at the moment. If the person is unaware and not distressed, you don’t need bring up the reality of what has happened.
    • Look for patterns in the times they ask for the person who has died. Look for an unmet need. For example, if the person who has died usually brought them coffee in the morning, the change in this routine could be distressing and remind them that their loved one is not there.
    • Use distraction only when other ways of dealing with their grief are not working.

Each family has to find what works for them, and then try to be as consistent as possible. You may want to write out a simple plan for all family members and visitors to follow.

You can be most supportive to the person with dementia if you also take care of your own needs and get support.  We encourage family members to find support to help them cope with the painful, frustrating, lonely and sad feelings that they may feel. Supporting the person with dementia takes patience, but family members should remember to be patient with themselves as well during this stressful experience.

Complete Article HERE!

Taking Over Your Aging Parents’ Finances

When to step in — and how to guide their financial future

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[I]n the year 2011, the Baby Boomer generation started turning 65. Over the next 13 years, 10,000 Boomers will reach retirement age every day.

For the adult children of the Baby Boomers, these are not abstract statistics but real-life turning points that can provoke uncertainty and anxiety. But consider the advice of certified financial planner and author Lise Andreana:

“There is no time like the present to begin preparing for your aging parents’ financial future. Being proactive can help minimize a great deal of stress and uncertainty down the road — for your parents, yourself, and your entire family.”

The Simple Dollar is here to help you begin the journey of guiding your parents through this stage of their lives. We’ll cover how to approach the conversation, documents you’ll need, costs to consider, and more. Let’s get started.

Table of contents

Broaching the subject
Power of attorney
Document checklist
Long-term care costs
The sibling situation
Glossary
Additional resources

The Talk: How to handle a sensitive subject

Every family is different, and yours may have its own quirks or hangups about money. Although no size fits all, here are some suggestions on having The Talk with your parents:

When is the right time?

Many senior care experts recommend following the 40/70 Rule. As you approach 40 and your parents approach 70, it can be the most opportune time to discuss financial issues, as well as long-term care, estate planning and other relevant topics.

It’s better to address the situation proactively than to wait for a crisis to unfold, which could force your family into making decisions on the fly.

Are my parents already having trouble?

Be on the lookout for warning signs that your parent may be struggling to manage his or her finances, which can include:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Bounced checks
  • Calls from creditors
  • Unusual or frivolous purchases

What’s the right approach?

To help prevent conflict with your parents when you talk about finances, consider the following.

  • Keep the circle small.
    Discussions involving a few key people can be less intimidating than a full-blown family meeting that could leave your parents feeling like you’re ganging up on them.
  • Focus on positives, not negatives.
    Don’t frame your concerns in terms of physical or mental decline. Keep the focus on a bright future for the entire family.
  • Treat them as peers and equals.
    Help your parents understand that you’re trying to look out for them, not look after them. Invite them to join an ongoing conversation.
  • Find an ally.
    Your parents might be more receptive if your family attorney or financial planner joins the discussion in the role of an objective third party.
  • Make a show of solidarity.
    This subject presents an opportunity to do a thorough check of your own finances to see that everything’s in order. This way, your parents might not feel that you’re singling them out or passing judgment.
  • Avoid fighting words.
    Certain words and phrases — including always, never and nothing — have a tendency to put people on the defensive and shut down communication. It can happen in any kind of personal relationship, including parent-child.

When in doubt, preserve your parents’ dignity. Be aware of the potential for wounded pride — speak respectfully and tread lightly.

Expert opinion

“Start the conversation early. Put in place a plan your family can follow when your parents can no longer make decisions on their own. … It’s important to ask questions and help your parent come to a decision on his or her own terms.”

Terri Rasp
Director of Sales, Analytics, and Training

StoneGate Senior Living, LLC

Power of attorney

A power of attorney, also called a POA, is a legal document that grants a person or organization (known as the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to act on behalf of someone (the principal) in specific financial, legal and health-related matters.

A POA with you as the agent and your parent or parents as principal could play an integral role in helping you protect their financial well-being. With a power of attorney in place, you will be able to act quickly if a parent suffers a medical emergency, for example, or experiences a steep decline in mental competence.

Should I use a lawyer for a POA?

The answer is, most likely, yes. You don’t necessarily have to go through an attorney, but it’s probably the wisest course of action. The power of attorney process can vary from state to state, and trying to go it on your own could result in a costly oversight.

Unless you’re an attorney or a financial adviser, you may not have the expertise to navigate these waters. Also important is the fact that a professional often brings some much-needed objectivity to a situation where emotions can cloud the issues.

Can I get a POA on my own?

Some legal advice websites let you download a printable version of your state’s POA form. However, bear in mind that you’re dealing with the complexities of legal documents and contracts. There’s no shame in seeking the advice of your family attorney, your financial adviser, or both to help you craft a POA that addresses your family’s specific needs.

What’s the best time to get a POA?

The key factor in a child-parent power of attorney is obtaining it proactively, before the parent loses the ability to manage their own affairs.

What kind of POA should I get?

A lot depends on the current status of the parents and when the family wants the POA to take effect. An attorney may recommend a durable power of attorney, which contains a durability provision to ensure it remains in effect if the principal’s condition changes. The change in status could be a sudden medical issue that leaves the parent debilitated or a deterioration in mental capacity.

A power of attorney covering financial affairs differs from a health care POA, which means you’ll need to address those issues separately.

What if my parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Depending on the laws of your state, getting a POA for a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may require a letter from a physician affirming that your parent understands what the POA means and can legally consent. If a parent is deemed unable to meet that standard, another option may be for the child to become an adult guardian or conservator instead — a process that would require a judge’s approval.

Is a power of attorney the same as a living will?

No, there’s a difference. A living will expresses the signer’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event he or she loses the capacity to make decisions (for example, whether extraordinary measures should be taken to preserve their life or resuscitate them). This kind of document is sometimes called an advance health care directive.

As with a power of attorney, state-specific versions of living wills are available online. Still, it’s wise to consult an attorney about the specifics of your situation.

Obtaining power of attorney: 3 key steps

Expert opinion

“Prior to cognitive decline, I advise my clients to help their parents establish the proper paperwork. This includes the creation of a will, durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and advanced directives. The power of attorney forms are very powerful documents that should only be in the hands of somebody your parents trust. Whether that is a family member or a professional, it is up to them.”

Nate Byers
CPA/PFS, MBA

JBC Wealth Advisors, LLC

Financial document checklist

Here’s a list of important documents for reviewing a parent’s finances. These records will help you get a better idea of income and financial obligations. Double-check this list with your financial adviser to see if anything needs to be added.

_ Bank accounts
_ Credit card statements
_ Monthly bills (utilities, rent/mortgage, subscriptions, etc.)
_ List of loans and other debts
_ Social Security statements
_ Social Security benefit verification letter
_ Pension, 401k and annuity documents
_ Tax returns (for three to seven years)
_ Investment documents (savings bonds, stock certificates, brokerage accounts, etc.)
_ Insurance policies — life, health, and property
_ Vehicle titles
_ Property deeds
_ Dues-paying memberships (HOA, AARP, clubs, etc.)
_ Birth certificates and marriage licenses

Don’t forget …
_ List of their usernames and passwords for online customer portals
_ Combination/keys to their safety deposit boxes

Expert opinion

“The first thing that children should do is to start aggregating information on the parents’ financial information. Help your parents consolidate their holdings. Fewer bank accounts can save you tons of time.”

Scott W. Johnson
Owner, WholeVsTermLifeInsurance.com

Long-term care costs

When looking at long-term care solutions, be aware that private insurance and Medicare have some limitations. While Medicare and insurance do provide coverage for medical treatment and prescription drugs, custodial care such as long-term care facilities and home health care may be a different story. As a 2013 study points out, Medicare:

  • Pays only for “medically necessary care in a skilled nursing facility” — which is not the same as an assisted living center.
  • Pays for home health care “under very limited circumstances and for brief stretches of time.”

In some unfortunate cases, coverage gaps in Medicare and private insurance can lead to families exhausting financial resources (known as “spending down”) until their parents qualify for Medicaid. To help prevent this worst-case scenario, you may want to consult a financial planner about some proactive options such as:

Long-term care insurance (LTCI)

Expenses covered by long-term care insurance generally include assisted living, nursing home, adult day care, Alzheimer’s care facilities and hospice. The key is encouraging parents to buy coverage early, before they develop health problems.

Pros and cons include: LTCI can be pricey, although it could cover some expenses that Medicare or private insurance do not.

Long-term care benefit plan

This option involves converting a life insurance policy into funding specifically for long-term care. These insurance conversions are also called life care assurance, Medicaid life settlement, or life care funding. It’s commonly used as part of a spend-down strategy to receive Medicaid eligibility.

Pros and cons include: This strategy can provide an immediate source of funding. However, the family will lose the death benefit that an unconverted insurance policy would have provided.

Reverse mortgage

Some aging homeowners turn to reverse mortgages (also called home equity conversion mortgages) to turn their equity into cash while still retaining ownership.

Pros and cons include: Although it can provide a cash infusion, using a reverse mortgage to pay for senior care is a potentially risky, “last resort” type of move. Not everyone will qualify, and defaulting could lead to loss of ownership.

Medicaid

Unlike Medicare, Medicaid is jointly administered by the federal government and individual state governments. As a result, eligibility requirements and other rules vary from state to state.

In general, though, Medicaid recipients must have low incomes and assets with very low value. The program is intended to benefit the poorest Americans, so many middle-class families likely don’t qualify.

To get more information, check with the agency that manages Medicaid in your state. You can also contact an elder law attorney in your state or visit these websites:

Claiming your parents on your tax return

To claim a parent as a dependent, your financial support for them must be substantial — at least 50% of the total cost for housing, food, medical care and other items. Also, the parent can’t earn more than the personal exemption for that tax year (which was $4,050 in 2016).

So, unless your parent has a very low income and you pay more than half the cost of keeping them cared for, they probably wouldn’t qualify as a dependent. If the parent does qualify, you could receive tax benefits such as the Dependent Care Tax Credit and reduced taxable income.

To get definitive answers, ask your tax preparer. You can also call the IRS or make an appointment at a local Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Expert opinion

“When budgeting for an aging parent, Medicare costs need to be factored in. They pay a monthly premium for Medicare Parts B and D for life and then also a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan to pay for the things like deductibles and coinsurances that Medicare doesn’t cover.”

Danielle Kunkle
Co-founder, Boomer Benefits

The sibling situation

Among adult siblings, the care of aging parents has the potential to spark conflict like few other subjects. Handling parents’ finances is no exception.

It’s not uncommon for someone who takes the lead as caregiver to feel overburdened and resentful toward a sibling taking a less active role. Fortunately, a personal care contract or caregiver agreement can help ensure that the sibling who makes the most sacrifices is at least financially compensated.

Under this type of agreement, parents or other family members agree to reimburse the family member acting as caregiver. Compensation options include:

  • Direct payments (the income will be taxable)
  • An estate plan, or additional consideration in the parent’s will
  • Transferring homeownership to the caregiver
  • A life insurance policy with the caregiver as beneficiary

An elder law attorney can help you draw up a caregiver agreement. As for the form that compensation takes, families should think carefully about options that could lead to future conflicts between siblings (specifically, an estate plan or home transfer).

About those conflicts…

Even if you have a financial arrangement in place, don’t forget that sibling caregivers often have emotional needs in addition to financial ones. Expert tips on how to defuse conflict and increase support include:

  • Stay in communication, even if it’s just a weekly call
  • Arrange for someone else to step in every now and then so the caregiver can have time off
  • Ask for outside help (family counselors, social workers, clergy, etc.) when conflict becomes unmanageable

Expert opinion

“Personal care agreements are valuable for two very different reasons. One is emotional, for the family caregiver to feel as though they have a ‘real’ job and have at least a written record of what they need to do. Many have to cut back on work or stop working during a period of caregiving. The agreements can also serve as a record of the work done for siblings.”

Michael Guerrero
Senior Benefits Adviser

Elder Care Resource Planning

Complete Article HERE!