Thursday, November 30, 2017

Faith and Dementia: One Man's Story

I often have the privilege of attending assessments for seniors moving into adult family homes.  Last spring I got to meet Bill, 83, his daughter-in-law Jennifer and Sylvia, RN, the nurse.

"Does faith play a vital role in your life?" Sylvia asked.

It's a question worth asking for all of us, whether we work with seniors, are an adult child of a senior, or are seniors ourselves. 

Bill's answer to the faith question?  What? I don't understand."  His blank look told me it wasn't just hearing loss that kept him from comprehending.  The nurse was speaking clearly, and he had heard the other questions.  But that word--faith--tripped him up.  It had slipped away from his word bank. 

"Faith" is abstract and that category of noun often is the first to be lost to dementia.  Concrete nouns are remembered longer and better.  So how do we translate faith into a concrete noun that makes sense to Bill and others with dementia?

Sylvia tried another tactic.  "Is religion important to you?"  Bill's response was the same.  No dice.  Blank stare.

Bill's daughter-in-law Jennifer tried a crack at the question.  "Do you believe in God, Bill?" Bill relaxed,  a glimmer of recognition crossing his face.  I could tell they were making progress.

Jennifer continued her query into Bill's soul.  "You know Jesus, don't you?"  Suddenly Bill lit up.  "Jesus, oh Jesus!" 

"I don't think He is very happy with me now.  I haven't done much for him lately." 

Jennifer responded, "None of us has done much for Jesus.  But He loves us anyway,  He loves you, Bill.  He loves you!"

Note:  My role as a senior care housing and care specialist with Silver Age Referrals in this assessment was to provide support to the nurse and family.  Jennifer, the family member, led into the discussion of God and ultimately Jesus.  As professionals, we ask about faith as we see an openness on the part of the family or the senior.  And sometimes exciting things happen!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Group Effort: Writing a Legacy Letter to an Aging Loved One

What do these occasions have in common for an elderly person?
  • A big birthday, such as 80, 90 or even 100.
  • A big anniversary.
  • Thanksgiving.
  • Christmas.
  • A move from one home to one with more care.
Answer:  They all call for a big celebration. 

In our family, we're not only celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. It's also the day my mother-in-law turns 90.  A birthday luncheon and a Thanksgiving dinner:  what a day!

My husband, his sister, and the grandchildren have all been working on a Group Legacy Letter.  See Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 3 A Sample Legacy Letter.)  It will be read at Mom's birthday luncheon.  They each wrote expressions of love and appreciation, including examples and stories.  They were asked to answer:  What has she taught me by her life and her example?  I combined their letters into a whole, editing and trying to keep their individual voices.

My husband, Don, will read the letter aloud to his mother at the luncheon. 

I'm pretty sure Mom will be pleasantly surprised.  After all, most of these kinds of tributes are presented at a funeral.  Though 90, Mom is very much alive, and we wanted her to know how much she means to us and to others.

How have you and your family celebrated the "Big Occasions" in your elderly loved one's life?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Senior Care Pros: Ways to Build Trust with Boomers, Parents

You work with seniors and their families.  What's the most important key to success?

It's not intelligence.  Nor experience. Nor charm.  It's trust.  Seniors, and all of us, for that matter, need to trust a professional before we will part with our dollars or our good will.

Earning trust isn't instant and it isn't  magical. But it happens little by little.  In my case, I've worked with seniors and their children for 20-plus years.  I've learned from them what works and what doesn't.  Some of the following tools came to me from mentors, others from reading, and still others from making my own mistakes.

1.  Be on time, or a little early.  If you say you will email or call by a certain date, do it.  And if you can't, explain why.  Tardiness has always been a fault with which I've struggled.  With seniors, especially, I've learned promptness the hard way.  One day on my way to an appointment I lost cell coverage, and my battery's juice dipped as it tried to find a signal.  When I finally arrived, I was very late. At the end of the presentation, the husband said, "My time is very precious.  And you wasted it."  Ouch!  Seniors are used to waiting for doctors, and grousing about the wait.  But we are not doctors, not even close.  We need to value our clients' time.

2.  Value the relationship over the products or services you're providing.  When I first started in the business of serving seniors, I heard a short sentence that sets the mark for my work.  "People over paper."  That means we value people even over the paper (money) we receive from our work.  And if we can help provide a good experience for our clients in a difficult situation, all of us benefit.  Sometimes putting people first means we will help them find a solution that doesn't involve our company.  And that's okay.

3.  Ask questions and don't be pushy.  Seniors and everyone, for that matter, want to be heard.  That means when we ask questions, we listen to their body language, and their questions behind the questions.  As far as pushiness goes, don't even try.  Seniors have experienced professionals of all kinds over their lifetime, and they know how to practice selective hearing, if needed. And they talk to their friends about "that pushy sales person."  It's a reputation I don't want to have.

4.  Don't ignore the senior.  Have you ever had a conversation in which the adult child dominates and his or her parent is lost in the dark?  I have. I've also seen marketing professionals lead a community tour, speaking only to the adult child, and walking ahead of the elder. In any situation, I need to remember who we're serving, whether they're quiet or not, in good health or not. 

Can you think of other ways we can build trust with our senior clients and their children?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Great Eldercare Help: For Free, Pt. 3

Free sources of eldercare help are generally found on websites.  Not always, though.  The following offer in-person assistance. Check them out.

Senior centersNorthshore Senior Center in Bothell, Washington, is an example of a senior center offering lots of good educational social opportunities, mostly for free.  There's a caregiver support group, a social worker who does one on one counseling, plus an array of classes on everything from financial planning to nutrition to exercise.  There's even a hiking club!

Senior Referral Agencies:  I'm proud to work for a senior referral agency, Silver Age Referrals.   Our company and similar organizations help families find quality care for their loved ones, usually in retirement communities, assisted living communities and adult family homes.  Agents are similar to teachers, social workers and realtors rolled into one, helping families choose the right care setting, based on budget, care needs, location, etc.  Families don't generally pay for these services.  Instead, the care providers (assisted living communities or adult family homes) pay a commission on move-in.  Senior referral agencies are commonly used on both the East Coast and the West Coast and in other areas of the country with a high population of seniors.  In Washington State, the Association of Senior Referral Professionals of Washington is a good resource for finding referral agencies who are ethical and professional.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Great Eldercare Help, for Free, Pt. 2

OK, there may not be a free lunch.  However, there are some great websites that can give you
eldercare help, for FREE.  I promise.

Nursing Home Compare--this website is terrific if you or a loved one is looking for a skilled nursing facility, either for rehab or for long term care.  The site ranks nursing homes in several different areas, giving a 1 to 5 rating for each category.  Each nursing home also receives an overall  rating of 1 to 5.  In addition, you can input the names of up to three facilities, and the site will give you a comparison table instantly.  Another feature:  if you don't know what facilities are available in a certain area, the you can input a city, and the site will give you a list of nearby facilities, along with quality scores for each.  This website is helpful in choosing a nursing home if used with other sources including professional referrals, friends' references, etc.

State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPS)--When questions about Medicare arise, and they inevitably will, you can contact a nationwide program that uses trained volunteers to offer free help, either by email or by phone.  They could come in handy soon, when the Medicare open enrollment period begins on October 15.  It runs through December 7.   During that period you can make some changes to your parents' or your Medicare plans. You can switch from original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Program and vice versa.  You can switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another.  For help in understanding the plans and their costs, a trained volunteer can give you information without trying to sell a product.

My next post will discuss two more sources of free eldercare help. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Great Eldercare Help: For Free, Pt. 1

A few days ago I spoke on the phone to a nursing home social worker who had a problem. Perhaps you can relate.

The social worker needed online information on a local adult family home.  She typed the home's name without much success. The listings she found included the name and the address, but no phone number or detailed information.  Instead, she was redirected to an 800-number of a senior referral agency with a sales person on the other end.

The social worker didn't want to be sold; she just wanted help. And she wanted it for free.

 I suggested she and I try the DSHS website. DSHS website The site gives basic information on all the nursing homes, assisted living and adult family homes in Washington State.   There are similar databases in other areas of the country as well.

On the site, we found the owner's name and phone number, number of rooms, and Medicaid policy.  The site allows people to search for eldercare options by city, county or zip code.  They can also look up enforcement letters which spell out fines levied on the communities or adult family homes.  Some communities also have their services listed in detail in a document called "Disclosure of Services."

Your next step--calling a live person--will be easier, now that you have the FREE information.

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Powers of Attorney: Frequently Asked Questions

Attorney in Fact.  Do you have that title for a loved one?  Bradley J. Frigon, Member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, gave a recent presentation on this subject to the Certified Senior Advisors.

Powers of Attorney are specific documents that give authority to an agent to act in the best interests of a principal.  Often the agent is a child, a spouse or other relative.  Perhaps you fill that role.

1.  Why is the word "durable" so important in a Power of Attorney document?  That word gives
the Power of Attorney continued effectiveness after the principal loses capacity. The document endures.

2.  What are the two categories of Powers of Attorney?  Financial Power of Attorney and Medical (Health Care) Power of Attorney.  Their spheres of responsibility are different, but the main role is the same:  to act in the best interests of the principal, whether managing finances or making decisions about health care.

3.  Are Power of Attorney documents standard throughout the country?   Not entirely.  However,  since 2010, well over 30 states have signed the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. in an effort toward standardization.  Most states have variations on their individual documents, and notarizing requirements so Frigon advises that when someone moves to a different state, they take the current documents to a lawyer to make any needed changes.

4.  What are Springing and Standing Powers of Attorney?  These refer to when the documents take effect.  A Springing Power of Attorney takes effect after a certain event, often when a licensed physician or physicians determine that the principal is incapacitated.  A Standing Power of Attorney takes effect as soon as it is signed by the principal.  It gives the agent immediate authority.

5.  Who can be the agent?  This is the most important role.  He or she must be 21 years old and someone whom the principal trusts.  The principal must ask permission of the person he or she wants to fill the agent role.  It's important to name a successor.  Frigon advises to limit the number of agents to avoid confusion and conflict.

6.  Anything new in this field?  We are used to agents managing financial portfolios, real estate, etc.  But what about Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, emails and photographs electronically generated?  Some states have provisions in their Power of Attorney documents which include this information.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 3: A Sample Legacy Letter

 My mother-in-law will soon celebrate her 90th birthday.  Our family has discussed possible ways to remember this special day.  We know what she DOESN'T want.  No big parties or lavish gifts.  She'd prefer a family-only get together at her favorite restaurant or at one of our homes.

Perhaps you're thinking through how you will help your aging loved one celebrate his or her big day.  You might consider a Legacy Letter, a type of tribute to the wonderful contributions he or she has made to you, your family and to the broader community. A Legacy Letter can stand alone or be part of a celebration, big or small. 

The previous two posts discuss the four parts of a Legacy Letter in more detail. 

1.  The Why:  Think about what you want to say and how you want the receiver to feel after reading the letter.  Focus on the values he or she has imparted to others.

2.  The Story:  Include things that highlight your main idea.  These are the concrete things that make your letter ring true.  Things like taking hikes together, doing crossword puzzles, attending football games,  proofreading college term papers.

3.  The Reflection:  Phrases such as "You have taught me..." and "You helped me understand..." show your gratitude to them for the impact on your life.

4.  The Love:  Tell the person how much you love them.  Show how grateful you are that they are an important part of your life and the lives of others.

A Legacy Letter will be part of my mother-in-law's celebration.  We're working on a draft
right now.

Dear Mom,

If I had to choose a word to describe you, both on your 90th birthday and throughout your life, that word would be "Giver."  You have showed generosity to every member of our family and to countless others whom we don't know.

For example, you hosted family dinners well into your 80s, and were generous in baking pies, cookies and other desserts.  We certainly knew that when we left your home, we would be "stuffed to the gills," with yummy food and good memories.  At Christmas, you gave the children special personalized treats which they didn't receive at home.   And when your great-grandchildren began arriving, their parents could count on a baby afghan, hand-made by you--blue, pink or white.

Your church family and retirement community also received your gifts of time and talent.  People could count on you to attend services and other functions and to do what you were able to do to help others.  You worked at the senior community annual bazaar for years, making sure the pies were cut just right and the coffee replenished.

You have helped me understand the meaning of hospitality and the importance of doing my part to help others.  Our whole family would echo this sentiment:  you are a giver, and we thank you for it.

Our children are blessed to have a generous Grandma and Great-Grandma for their children.



We have some time to revise the letter, and I'm sure we will think of more to say about this woman's legacy.

Good luck on your own legacy letter!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 2: Writing a Legacy Letter

It's a big occasion:  birthday, anniversary, holiday.  Your aging parent or loved one deserves something special. But what do you give to the person who has everything? 

Health Advocate Melanie Vetter of Wellfleet Circle as a ready response:  legacy letters.  She explained the concept in a presentation for the Certified Senior Advisors called "Legacy Letters:  Valuable Tools for You and Your Client." 

Legacy letters are a bit like eulogies, except the receiver is alive.  Generally written in second person, they address the person directly rather than speaking about the person in the style of a business recommendation. The letter highlights the person's positive key value, such as generosity, moral strength, humor, leadership.  True stories and memories follow to illustrate the impact of the person's life.

A bonus of a legacy letter is that it can be read over and over again. It can be read in front of a group, or to the recipient alone.   Either way, the person is honored and recognized for the legacy he or she leaves the world.

Vetter offers these tips for writing a legacy letter, whether it's to an elderly loved one or other family member or friend.  You can also write a legacy letter to a younger person, perhaps at graduation or marriage.

1.  The Why:  Think about what you want to say and how you want the receiver to feel when he or she reads the letter.  Focus on the values, traditions and wisdom he or she has imparted to others.

2.  The Story:  Include things that highlight your main idea.  These are the concrete things that make your letter ring true.  Thinks like taking hikes together, doing crossword puzzles, attending football games,  proofreading college term papers.  Your list will be as personal as the relationship between you and the recipient.  How have these memories shaped the person and illuminated their values?

3.  The Reflection:  Phrases such as "You have taught me..." and "You helped me understand..." show your gratitude to them for the impact on your life.

4.  The Love:  Tell the person how much you love them.  Show how grateful you are that they are an important part of your life and the lives of others.

Do you have experience writing a legacy letter?  Would you like to write one?

Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 1: Defining and Honoring It

Two words: Inheritance and legacy.  Are they the same?  And how do they impact you and your aging parent, and perhaps your children as well?

According to Psychologist James Dobson among others,  "inheritance" refers to tangible assets, the "stuff" we can see and touch: money, stocks and bonds, real estate, etc. "Legacy", on the other hand,  often has financial implications, but it is broader:  it speaks to the values a person has and gives to others, especially to subsequent generations.  A legacy could include such values as generosity, kindness, self-discipline, humor.

My father, for example, was a pastor in a small church in the Midwest.  By the time he died, he was on Medicaid.  A small life insurance policy, split three ways between my siblings and me, gave me enough money to buy a laptop.  Not a huge inheritance.

His legacy, though was larger.   I remember his kindness to parishioners given in big and small ways.  Every summer for 15 years he drove a carload of giggly kids some 650 miles to church camp along winding mountain switchback-laden roads.  I also remember him listening periodically on the phone as an alcoholic sputtered out his story at 2 am.  And there were the countless funerals in which Daddy gave himself unconditionally to the grieving families.  I value his example:  his legacy. 

How do we speak about legacy with our parents and with others?

First:  We honor the legacy we see in our parent's lives, now, and over the course of their lives.  If your parent has always been a giver, talk about that generosity with your family.  Stories are a wonderful way to do that.  In our family, we receive jams and jellies from my mother-in-law and little gifts of special cookies, crackers, and more.  Sometimes the stories illustrating
generosity are humorous, like the time our sons wanted Grandma to teach them how to make a pie crust.  A master baker, she tried, but both boys had all thumbs, and the session ended in laughter.

Second:  We think hard about our own legacy, and work to make it happen.  I'm not gifted in many ways,  but I can express my thoughts reasonably well in writing.  Hopefully my legacy will include memories of my notes, emails and other pieces of writing.  I also enjoy teaching my grandchildren how to bake and sew.  Small things, but they become part of a legacy.

Third:  We can write legacy letters to our loved ones , including our aging parents.  These letters highlight important aspects of a person's life and are illustrated with stories.  The next post will give more detail on writing these letters.  Health Advocate Melanie Vetter, of Wellfleet Circle, contributed much of the content on legacy letter writing.

Do you have any experience with celebrating a loved one's legacy? 
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