Archive for the ‘Senior Living News’ Category

Coping with Swallowing and Eating Difficulties

Swallowing seems an innate function for younger people, but our swallowing ability is actually a function that often declines with age. It’s often frustrating for older adults when a meal that’s always been enjoyable suddenly proves challenging because of swallowing difficulties.

Deterioration in swallowing function is sometimes attributed to weakened or absent teeth, loss of moisture in the mucosal surfaces of the mouth and throat, or decreased muscle strength in the throat that slows swallowing and increases the difficulty of swallowing hard or dry solid foods, according to Today’s Geriatric Medicine. Swallowing Difficulties in Older Adults

Dysphagia is a term used to describe “problems with neural control or structures in any part of the swallowing process.” Swallowing difficulties are often a consequence of a medical condition, such as stroke, diseases that impact the nervous system (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis), and even surgeries affecting the head and neck.

When swallowing difficulties are a more serious concern

If you notice your loved one is no longer enjoying mealtime or has difficulty eating, it’s a good idea to discuss these changes with their physician because sometimes swallowing difficulties can be a sign of a more serious problem or even lead to a more serious condition such as aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration occurs when food or liquid enters the windpipe, causing coughing and choking during eating. This frequently occurs in older adults with later stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, who, over time, lose their ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), including eating. If aspiration happens frequently, the person is at risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. When decreased swallowing function is the result of a neurological disease, cancer, or stroke, it is often difficult to prevent the eventual loss in function.

How to preserve swallowing function

Maintaining an adequate nutritional intake is a concern for older adults, even without swallowing difficulties, so difficulties with swallowing or dysphagia only exacerbates this challenge. Often, normal changes in swallowing ability occur gradually, and older adults simply adapt to these changes over time. The Swallowing Disorder Foundation outlines several strategies which you can have your loved one use to maintain swallowing ability and prevent minor swallowing difficulties from becoming more severe, including:

  • taking good care of their teeth
  • practicing good oral hygiene
  • chewing carefully
  • taking smaller bites

If your loved one often experience coughing during swallowing, having them tuck their chin to their chest prior to swallowing can help to protect their airway. There are also swallowing tests that can help diagnose the problem so that appropriate treatments can be prescribed from physicians or speech-language pathologists.

Liquid thickeners and other solutions for swallowing difficulties

Older adults who have swallowing difficulties may be referred to a speech therapist who can help older adults retain as much swallowing function as possible through the use of targeted exercises. For older adults who have difficulty swallowing liquids, thickeners are helpful for reducing aspiration. Thicker liquids travel more slowly down the throat, giving the person’s muscles and nerves more time to complete the swallowing process before the liquid enters the lungs and places the person at risk of pneumonia.

Ensuring their loved ones continuing to receive proper nutrition should be a top priority for caregivers. Often older adults who have trouble swallowing may avoid eating because it’s no longer enjoyable. Foods with a thicker consistency, but are not solids, such as Jell-o, yogurt or pudding, are often good choices. Other foods that are naturally easier to chew and swallow, such as oatmeal, beans and pasta, are also good to incorporate into meals.

Parentgiving offers several valuable tips for coping with swallowing difficulties, including:

  • avoid foods that crumble, like crackers, which can lead to gagging
  • make sure your loved one drinks enough water (6 to 8, 8-ounce glasses each day) to help maintain moisture in the mouth and throat
  • offer gum or candies between meals, as this helps to keep the mouth moist by inducing glands to produce saliva
  • puree or blend foods to break them down into a smooth consistency that is easier to swallow.
  • choose moist foods, mashed potatoes is a good starch option, whenever possible over dry, rough foods such as grains.
  • steam foods such as vegetables for a softer, easier-to-chew consistency

If your loved one is experiencing difficulty swallowing, talk with their physician to determine if further tests are needed to pinpoint a cause and rule out more serious conditions. Whether swallowing difficulty is a normal progression of aging, caused by a chronic disease, or the result of a stroke or similar event, there are strategies you can use to ensure your loved one receives adequate nutrition. A speech therapist or speech-language pathologist can help you formulate a specific treatment plan to help your loved one retain as much swallowing function as possible and develop modifications to ensure your loved one continues to receive adequate nutrition and avoids the negative consequences of poor nourishment and dehydration.

Vision Loss: A Normal Part of Aging, or Something More?

When you enter your 40s, 50s and 60s, you may begin to notice that it becomes more difficult to read small print. You may find yourself squinting to read books you easily read when younger. It may become difficult to decipher the dosage instructions on a box of medication. Difficulty seeing clearly when reading and other close work is one of the most common problems adults develop between the ages of 41 and 60, according to the American Optometric Association.

Some vision loss is a normal part of aging

Some vision loss is actually a normal change in the eye’s ability to focus which occurs with age. Known as presbyopia, this condition gradually worsens over time. There are other common vision challenges that occur with age as well, including:

  • needing more light to see clearly
  • problems with glare from vehicle headlights or sun reflecting from windshields or pavement
  • changes in color perception, making it more difficult to tell the difference between certain shades
  • reduced tear production

Cataracts, considered an aging-related disease of the eye, is such a common condition among seniors that many experts consider cataracts a normal part of aging. According to a report by the CDC, more than half of all people age 65 and older have cataracts. Normal changes in vision can often be corrected with eye glasses, contact lenses, or laser eye surgery, or in the case of cataracts, with cataract surgery.

When vision loss becomes a problem

However, substantial vision loss is one of the most common causes of elderly losing their independence. The CDC reports that 1.8 million non-institutionalized elderly people in the U.S. report some difficulties with activities of daily living at least in part due to visual impairment. The most common danger caused by visual impairment is an increased risk of falls and fractures, leading to hospitalization, nursing home placement, disability or even premature death.

To put it in perspective, 92 percent of adults age 70 and older wear prescription lenses. Eighteen percent also use a magnifying glass for reading and other close work. The number of seniors who have difficulty seeing clearly even with corrective measures increases with age, ranging from 14 percent among seniors aged 70 to 74, up to 32 percent among adults age 85 and older.

Visual symptoms can be warning signs of serious underlying conditions

Vision changes in middle age and beyond can also be a warning sign of a more serious underlying condition. The American Optometric Association points out several visual symptoms that can indicate a more serious condition:

  • Vision that fluctuates - If the clarity of your vision fluctuates from day to day, this can be a sign of hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Floaters and flashes - Seeing floaters from time to time is actually normal; these are typically shadowy images of particles that float in the fluid that fills the inside of the eye. However, if you suddenly see more floaters than normal, and they are accompanied by bright, flashing lights, it could be an indication of retinal detachment (a tear of the retina).
  • Loss of peripheral vision - A loss of peripheral vision, or side vision, can be a warning sign of glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease in which the optic nerve becomes damaged and no longer transmits visual images to the brain. Unfortunately, symptoms often don’t appear until damage to your vision has already occurred.
  • Distorted vision - Do straight lines now seem warped or wavy? Is there a blind spot in the middle of your visual field? This can be a sign of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease of the macula, a part of the eye’s retina that’s responsible for the central visual field, where visual acuity is typically sharpest.

How to cope with loss of vision

Some diseases of the eye are treatable, like some normal vision loss can be corrected with corrective lenses or surgery. However, other diseases of the eye cause permanent damage that is not correctable by corrective or surgical procedures. Whether your vision loss is correctable or not, there are some general tips and strategies you can use to decrease your risk of falls, fractures and other accidents as a result of poor vision in your day-to-day life.

  • Have regular eye exams - A regular visit to your optometrist can pinpoint problems like glaucoma and other diseases of the eye before you begin having symptoms that can lead to permanent vision loss.
  • Keep your environment well-lit - If you have trouble seeing in dim lighting, make sure your home has ample lighting to illuminate the areas where you spend the most time, as well as in difficult-to-navigate areas, such as stairs and hallways.
  • Remove clutter -For seniors with visual impairment, it can be difficult to discern objects such as cords that extend across a room or hallway or a throw rug with a turned-up edge. These hazards can easily lead to dangerous falls. Keep your home as clutter-free as possible, removing hazards and spacing out furniture to allow for ample walking room.
  • Wear sunglasses in bright sunlight - Ultraviolet light can lead to the development of cataracts, so protect your eyes when you’re out enjoying the sunshine.
  • Mark the edge of stairs with brightly-colored tape - If navigating stairs proves especially challenging, marking the edges with brightly-colored tape makes it easier to discern individual steps to avoid trips and falls. In fact, contrasting colors are helpful visual aids when it comes to things like doors and door frames, plates and place mats, and other everyday objects that may not be easy to differentiate from the objects next to or behind them.
  • Decide when to give up the keys - If your vision loss is severe and not correctable with corrective lenses or other measures, it may be time to give up driving for your own safety and the safety of others. Talk with your optometrist, your primary physician, and your family to determine when it’s time to hang up the keys.

While some vision loss is considered a normal part of aging, you should be mindful of warning signs that could indicate a more serious problem. Having a regular eye exam is the best way to pinpoint these problems before they become major issues. Even with substantial vision impairment, it’s possible for many seniors to live happy, independent lives with the right support and safety precautions.

Planning to Pay for Care: Is Long-Term Care Insurance the Right Choice?

It’s no secret that the cost of long-term care is high, and costs have been rising for several years. The rising costs are an obstacle, but many seniors find no way to avoid the eventual need for long-term care services. In fact, 75 percent of all people over the age of 65 will eventually need long-term care, according to a study by Mutual of Omaha.

Even more disheartening are other long-term care statistics: The average cost of a one-year stay in a skilled nursing community, according to sources like AARP and CNN Money, are estimated between $50,000 and $80,000. It’s no surprise, then, that many seniors spend their retirement savings within a year or two of a long-term care need arising.

For these reasons, planning for long-term care at a younger age is essential. Long-term care insurance is one option to ensure that your care needs will be met as you grow older. A typical long-term care insurance policy covers not only nursing home services, but home healthcare, assisted living communities, respite care, and even services such as adult day care and hospice care.

But knowing whether long-term care insurance is right for you, what tax implications exist, and what your policy should include aren’t easy questions to answer. Our guide to long-term care insurance, “Long-Term Insurance: Planning for Your Future,” outlines the basics of long-term care insurance and how these policies work to offer financial protection and ensure that you or your loved ones will have access to the care you need as you grow older.

For more information about the costs of long-term care, how long-term care insurance works, consumer protections, and how to determine if long-term care insurance is right for you, read our comprehensive article here.

Navigating the 2015 Tax Season: Helpful Tax Advice for Seniors and Caregivers

Tax season is in full swing, much to the chagrin of many tax payers and even a few overwhelmed accountants. But for seniors and caregivers, tax season means it’s time to round up medical expenses, mileage, and other expenses associated with your own care or the care of a loved one for the 2014 tax year. It’s no secret that taxes can be confusing, so it’s often difficult to know what tax benefits you or your loved ones are eligible to receive. (And to make things a little more complicated, tax credits, deductions, and thresholds often change from year to year.) These tips will help you navigate this tax season successfully and minimize your tax burden.

Deducting out-of-pocket medical expenses

For many tax payers, the threshold for deducting out-of-pocket medical expenses has increased from 7.5% of adjusted gross income to 10% of adjusted gross income for the 2014 tax year (for which you’ll file in early 2015). But if you or your spouse are over the age of 65, you’re exempt from that increase through the 2016 tax year (to be filed in 2017). What that means is you’re eligible to deduct the amount of your out-of-pocket (unreimbursed) and allowable medical and dental expenses that exceeds 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Tax advice for seniors and caregivers

In other words, if your total out-of-pocket, allowable medical expenses equals 10% of your adjusted gross income, you may deduct the 2.5% that exceeds the 7.5% threshold, but not the entire 10%. Travel expenses for medical care are also eligible, including mileage on your vehicle, bus fares, parking fees, and related expenses. A complete list of all qualifying medical and dental expenses can be found here.

Determining if your care recipient qualifies as a dependent

For caregivers, one of the most common questions to arise is whether the care recipient qualifies as a dependent on the caregiver’s tax return. A general rule of thumb is that an individual may qualify as a dependent when the care provider provides more than 50% of the recipient’s support for food, housing, medical care, transportation, and other basic needs.

The care recipient must also be a relative to qualify as a dependent, such as a mother, father, grandparent, mother-in-law, or father-in-law, but the dependent need not live with you as long as you are providing at least half of the person’s total support.The care recipient’s adjusted gross income must be less than $3,950, and he or she may not file a joint return with his or her spouse in order for a caregiver to claim the individual as a dependent. The good news is that if your loved one meets the eligibility requirements as a dependent, any out-of-pocket costs you contribute to his or her care will count towards your personal 7.5% or 10% threshold for the medical expense deduction.

Assisted living and other long-term care costs

If your loved one resides in an assisted living community, dementia care community, or other long-term care community, some or all of these costs may be deductible on your taxes, as well. According to MarketWatch, medical professionals must deem your loved one “chronically ill” in order for you to be able to deduct the full cost.

“The IRS defines this as either having severe cognitive impairments that require round-the-clock supervisory care, or needing help with at least two activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating, dressing and using the toilet. Full basic monthly expenses can be deducted for those who meet these definitions,” explains retirement reporter Elizabeth O’Brien. If your loved one is not deemed chronically ill, you may still deduct the portion of assisted living or long-term care fees that go toward medical care and expenses, such as nursing services, certain therapies, and medications.

What about long-term care insurance?

Qualified long-term care insurance premiums also count towards your out-of-pocket medical expenses. According to IRS Publication 502, “a qualified long-term care insurance contract is an insurance contract that provides only coverage of qualified long-term care services.” The Publication further clarifies that in order to qualify as a medical expense deduction, a long-term care insurance contract must:

  • Be guaranteed renewable,
  • Not provide for a cash surrender value or other money that can be paid, assigned, pledged, or borrowed,
  • Provide that refunds, other than refunds on the death of the insured or complete surrender or cancellation of the contract, and dividends under the contract must be used only to reduce future premiums or increase future benefits, and,
  • Generally not pay or reimburse expenses incurred for services or items that would be reimbursed under Medicare, except where Medicare is a secondary payer, or the contract makes per diem or other periodic payments without regard to expenses.

There is also a per-person limit on the amount of premiums that may be deducted, as follows:

  • For those age 40 and under: $370
  • For those age 41 to 50: $700
  • For those age 51 to 60: $1,400
  • For those age 61 to 70: $3,720
  • Age 71 or over: $4,660

Elderly Dependent Care Credit

IRS Publication 503 outlines the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which allows caregivers to receive tax credits if they paid someone to provide care to a dependent in order to be able to work outside the home or seek outside employment. These payments cannot be made to a person whom you could claim as a dependent on your tax return, a spouse, or to the parent of the qualifying person. The Qualifying Person Test will help you determine if you are able to take this deduction.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit may be up to 35% of your qualifying expenses, with other limits and criteria applying to the total eligible amount. For instance, you (and your spouse, if filing jointly) must have earned income in the tax year in which the credit is claimed, and the total qualifying expenses “must be reduced by the amount of any dependent care benefits provided by your employer that you deduct or exclude from your income.”

Credit for the Elderly or Disabled Tax credit for the elderly or disabled

If you turned 65 prior to December 31, 2014, retired on permanent and total disability, and have taxable disability income, you may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. IRS Publication 524 outlines the eligibility requirements and income limits in more detail. Figure A will help you determine your eligibility, and Table 1 can be used to determine if your income exceeds allowable thresholds to qualify for the credit.

The amount of the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled ranges from $3,750 to $7,500, depending on a variety of factors such as filing status, age, the status of any dependents, and whether one or both spouses are 65 or older and retired on total disability.

Just a few years ago, there weren’t many tax benefits available to family caregivers or even senior citizens. But as the population ages and more individuals are serving as primary family caregivers to an aging loved one than ever before, the government is beginning to implement credits and eligible deductions to help seniors and caregivers reduce their tax burdens. Caregiving is stressful both emotionally and financially, so these tax benefits are a welcome relief that enables some caregivers to continue providing much-needed care and support to their aging loved ones. If you’re a senior or a family caregiver, be sure to talk with an accountant about all the possible tax benefits available to you to minimize your tax burden or maximize returns.

Finding Love in Your Golden Years: Weddings are Big Events in Senior Living Communities

With a longer life expectancy, many people today are living well into their 80s, 90s, and even 100s. It’s not uncommon for couples to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. But as couples sometimes get divorced, and in other cases, one spouse outlives the other, more seniors are finding a special someone to share the rest of their lives with long into their senior years. In fact, many of these unions happen in senior living communities, so it’s only appropriate when staff and residents alike get involved in planning a big celebration on the grounds.

Whether senior lovebirds opt to get married in the beautiful senior living communities where they reside or go the traditional route and wed in a church, many senior couples are opting to tie the knot in grand celebrations or intimate, romantic ceremonies. These lovely couples once again found love in their golden years, celebrating their new unions in a variety of ways—but always filled with love. marriage in the golden years

Eugene (Gene) and Edith Godfrey

In 2013, residents at Brightview Mt. Laurel in Mt. Laurel, N.J., renewed their wedding vows more than 65 years after they first married in 1947. Eugene (Gene) and Edith Godfrey, the happy couple, have resided at the community since 2012. The couple renewed their vows in front of friends and family, Brightview associates and special guests. Brightview describes the Godfreys as “a dynamic pair with a storied history and a lifelong commitment to service and altruism.”

Jerry and Carolyn Peck

In July 2014, Treeo Senior Living experienced its very first wedding between residents when 78-year-old Carolyn Ormond wed Jerry Peck, 80, on the bride’s birthday. Two of the community’s very first residents, the pair met at Treeo and quickly became friends. In fact, Bishop Steve Downey of the Orem 1st Ward, who performed the ceremony, said he saw the two lovebirds playing a game of cards during one of their very first days at the community. “I don’t know if I’ve seen them apart since,” Downey told the Herald Extra. “They’ve really had a wonderful friendship, relationship, and they’ve been good for each other.”

Jim and Jean Mongin

The summer of 2014 was sizzling with love stories. In August 2014, Jean Rohloff, 91, and Jim Mongin, 97, wed at the Good Shepherd Assisted Living community in Seymour, Wis., where the couple resides. These lovebirds met two years beforehand and had formed a strong friendship. The night after their first date (two years after they first met), Jim called and asked Jean to be his wife. Friends and family joined in the celebration, joyous that their loved ones had once again found that special someone to bring joy to their lives.

Arthur and June Burns

Arthur Burns, 94, and June Edwards, 79, didn’t get married on the grounds of a senior living community, but they did meet in the community where they reside, and chose to marry in a nearby church. The pair had a “whirlwind romance,” according to Athelhampton House & Gardens, meeting in April with a simple lunchtime “Hello.” Edwards took the initiative and suggested marriage to Mr. Burns, who readily agreed to marry the woman he says, “makes him feel young again.”

Gogo Sarah Mokoena and David Mthembu

Gogo Sarah Mokoena, 87, and David Mthembu, 98, of South Africa, decided to celebrate the country’s Heritage Day a little differently in 2014: They got married at the Mohlakeng Old Age Home where they reside. A timely event, it also happened to coincide with the Mohlakeng Old Age Home’s 25th anniversary, so the community tied the two events together and held a fabulous celebration that was also attended by Randfontein Local Municipality Executive Mayor Sylvia Thebenare.

Jose Manuel Riella and Martina Lopez

Jose Manuel Riella and Martina Lopez had been together for 80 years, and joined in a civil union for 40 of those years, when they decided to make it official with a wedding ceremony in 2013. Riella, 103 at the time the couple wed, and Lopez, 99 at the time of the wedding, had never been married in a church despite being recognized as a civil union for the 40 years prior. The couple has eight children, 50 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren. So why the decision to finally tie the knot in a church ceremony after all those years? According to the couple, they chose to have a ceremony to “satisfy their family.” There sure are many loved ones to satisfy, but we’re betting their family thought this lovely couple was deserving of a true, romantic wedding ceremony.

As these touching stories illustrate, it’s never too late to find love again or to make it official even when decades and decades have passed. More and more, seniors are throwing old ideas out the window and embracing the idea that you’re never too old to celebrate your love. Love is in the air, not just in the U.S., but all around the world. Whether you’re 50, 65, 75, 90, or 100+, if you’ve been lucky enough to find someone to spend the rest of your life with, don’t be afraid to share your joy with the world through a grand wedding ceremony or even a small, romantic exchange of vows. You deserve it!

Mom or Dad Getting Remarried? Here’s Some Advice

If you’re an adult child and your aging mom or dad introduces you to a new friend, your first reaction is likely happiness that they have found companionship. It’s often well and good while it seems like a friendship or casual relationship. But when they break the news that they’re tying the knot, suddenly, your stomach may feel like a knot, too. Maybe you didn’t realize things were quite so serious, or maybe you just never considered the idea that your mom (or dad) would once again find someone with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life.

The reality is that more people over the age of 65 are getting remarried than ever before, and longer life expectancy may contribute to that trend. When Aging Parents Remarry

Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist and AARP’s love and relationships expert, points out that people getting married at age 65 could easily have a marriage that lasts for 30 years today. For some seniors, the idea that you can spend many more viable years with a significant other makes the prospect of marriage more attractive.

Emotions run high when mom or dad remarries

For the adult children of these seniors, however, the idea of mom or dad remarrying someone new is not quite as rosy. It’s not uncommon for adult children to experience a range of emotions ranging from feelings of abandonment to suspicion that mom or dad’s new paramour is not in the relationship for the right reasons. You may suspect that a new love interest is really only interested in your parent’s money, for instance, and does not truly appreciate your mom or dad for who they are. Of course, the strongest emotions are usually those of wondering whether your other parent would approve of the new match or would offer a blessing for the surviving spouse to find someone new with whom to share their golden years.

Curb your reactions until the shock has passed

First and foremost, you should try to curb any outward reactions until the news has digested and you’re over any surprise or shock you may be experiencing. Once you’re able to look at the relationship objectively, it’s easier to empathize with your parent and look at how the relationship could actually be beneficial to your mom or dad.

Don’t make accusations. Your parent most likely has already experienced ample guilt over entering a new relationship with someone other than the person they intended to spend their whole life with—your other parent. If mom has made the decision to remarry, it’s likely that she’s already worked through most of her guilt and has come to terms with her decision, at least on some level. Adding to lingering feelings of grief not only isn’t fair to your mom or dad, but it can create unnecessary strife between your parent and his current partner. In any case, it certainly won’t add to anyone’s happiness, including your own.

Another issue that commonly arises is dislike of a parent’s new partner. Whether there’s a genuine personality conflict or these feelings are arising out of resentment. It’s important to avoid making comparisons between your parent’s new partner and your deceased parent. Work on finding a common ground, shared interests, or other commonalities that will allow you to respect and appreciate your parent’s new spouse as an individual who brings joy and happiness to your aging parent’s life.

Finances can be tricky when an aging parent remarries

But what about finances? Often one of the biggest concerns when an aging parent remarries, the new partners combining assets can impact inheritance, estate plans, and the like. For this reason, many older adults who choose to remarry opt not to combine previously owned assets and debts to avoid creating unnecessary challenges in estate planning or impacting their children’s inheritance.

A prenuptial agreement is sometimes a good idea for aging adults who choose to remarry. Talk with your mom or dad about how they plan to share or maintain separate assets with their new partner. Talking with an estate attorney or financial planner is a good idea to steer you in the right direction and avoid hassles down the road.

The good news is a parent remarrying doesn’t have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to mean a strained relationship with your mom or dad, or even their new partner. Focus on the positives while talking honestly with your parent about the legal and financial aspects of remarriage to put worries aside so you can appreciate your parent’s new partner for once again bringing joy to your mom’s or dad’s life.

How to Help a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

Coping with the loss of a spouse is a devastating challenge; likewise, losing a parent is one of the hardest obstacles many people have to face throughout life. When you’re facing your own tremendous grief over the loss of a parent, how can you possibly provide your surviving parent with the support needed to overcome their grief over losing their beloved partner? It’s a situation faced by many adult children. While there are no easy solutions, there are some valuable tips and strategies you can employ to help ease your parent’s grief while managing your own.

Grief Differs Dramatically From Person to Person

Everyone experiences grief differently. It’s a different grieving process for someone who has lost a spouse versus someone who has lost a parent. Even two people who have lost a spouse may grieve in entirely different ways. Grief, while it may have a predictable series of stages for most people, is a very individualized experience. Grieving the loss of a spouse.

Because grieving can be dramatically different from one person to the next, it’s important to let your grieving parent express her emotions and communicate her needs. One person may merely want to know that family and friends are there to listen and provide a shoulder to lean on, another may be so devastated that she is unable to bring herself to get out of bed for several days following the passing of a spouse.

Help Fill in the Gaps for Everyday Tasks

One of the biggest challenges that come with the death of a spouse is coming to grips with the new reality of everyday life. Not only is there an empty hole in your parent’s heart, but your parent may now be faced with handling everyday tasks once handled by her spouse.

For instance, spouses often divvy up tasks like cooking meals, paying bills, cleaning, and taking care of household maintenance. If the surviving spouse never handled the couple’s finances, suddenly being thrown into tasks once taken care of by a spouse can be overwhelming. Often, adult children are aware of which parent handled what duties generally around the house, so lending a helping hand in these new areas is often much-needed support.

If you’re not able to handle some of these tasks yourself, something as simple as making arrangements for the teenage boy down the street to mow your mother’s grass can ease substantial stress. A more immediate need is handling funeral arrangements, notifying financial and government entities, and taking care of other legalities, which may be too painful for your grieving parent to handle alone. Step in and offer to help or take care of these essentials, in cooperation with siblings and other family members as needed.

What to Do with All This Time?

For surviving spouses who were also serving as primary caregiver to an ailing spouse, the biggest need upon a spouse’s death may be something to keep him or her occupied. Devoting every waking hour to caring for a loved one can be even more emotionally draining when you’re suddenly no longer needed, contributing to incredible feelings of loneliness and loss.

The question of what to do with yourself now that you have hours and hours of free time is not an easy one for a grieving spouse to answer. Look into support groups or local activities that might interest your parent. Reach out to your parent’s friends and ask them to check in from time to time or invite your parent to take a walk, have dinner, or catch a movie. Often, getting out of the home shared with a spouse, where memories are painful reminders of the recent loss, is a welcome distraction. While there is no acceptable standard of how long it should take anyone to grieve the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse, do watch for signs that your parent is really struggling to overcome her grief and make arrangements for her to talk with a doctor or counselor if you’re concerned.

Don’t Forget to Take Time for Your Own Grieving Process

Maybe you’re the type of person who copes best with grief when you’re busy taking care of someone else. If that’s you, stepping in to help your grieving mom or dad take care of all the necessities and the new reality of day-to-day life is probably an excellent way to keep your mind off of your own grief. But do recognize that you have the right and the need to grieve your own loss, as well.

While the grieving process for losing a parent is different than that of losing a spouse, you may need to take a time-out to reflect on your loss. Giving yourself the opportunity to do so when needed will help you be more supportive to your grieving parent when you are present. So don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Many people want to help friends and family who have just suffered a tremendous loss, but they are fearful of interfering or intruding. When you let loved ones know what they can do to help, they are often happy to have the opportunity to feel – and be – useful.

It’s not easy helping a parent cope with the loss of a spouse, particularly when you are navigating your own grieving process. Watching and listening to learn how your grieving parent is coping with the loss provides valuable clues to how you can be most supportive and helpful. Listen, ask, and help in the ways that your parent most needs. You’ll find that being able to help your surviving parent cope with such a substantial, life-altering loss will help you work through your own grief, as well.

Your Community is Sold—Should You Be Concerned?

What most people don’t realize about the senior living industry is its similarity to Monopoly: buying, selling and improving properties is all part of the game to remain profitable while delivering a safe and supportive setting for seniors.

But what happens to the residents and their families who are caught between these business transactions? After a lifetime of home ownership, it might seem unnerving to realize your loved one’s home can be sold so easily. And you will likely fear the worst—beloved staff members losing their jobs or a community change for the worst.

Sold SignWe decided to shed some light on this issue by asking several senior living companies to discuss their approach to purchasing communities and how they work with residents during the transition. What they shared reveals that a management transition can, if handled properly, be a welcome change and provide a better quality of life for your loved one.

Greenfield Senior Living

For Greenfield Senior Living, a Virginia-based senior living provider, a community’s existing culture supersedes other metrics when considering the acquisition of a community. Greenfield is a “customer-centric” company with a focus on culture, says Jonathan Barbieri, vice president of marketing for Greenfield Senior Living. “Can the culture we bring improve, enhance and brighten the community?” With a focus on the senior, Barbieri says, “we want people to say ‘Wow’” after seeing how a Greenfield community treats its residents.

The purchase negotiation determines how soon a Greenfield management team is on site to work with existing staff for the transition. Sometimes Greenfield may not be on site until the actual close, Barbieri says, adding they like to be there as early as able to develop a relationship. Developing this relationship involves introducing the new team to Greenfield’s vision of the industry. “We really want people to walk away from the meeting saying, ‘This group of people cares,’” Barbieri explains.

After meeting with staff, the Greenfield management team meets with the residents and their families. Barbieri says the exact introduction depends on the care levels offered at the community, but it generally includes a presentation of Greenfield’s operating philosophy and a question-and-answer session to create “open and transparent dialogue.”

One question frequently asked is whether there will be staff turnover. Barbieri says Greenfield’s approach is to support the staff because “the last thing you should be doing is turning people over.” Another concern is whether rent will increase, which Barbieri explains is already baked into the acquisition, adding that Greenfield “doesn’t want anyone to leave the community due to a price increase.” Sometimes new leases are issued because some states require issuing a new lease following the purchase of a community, but in those cases, the previous lease is still honored.

As far as community life is concerned, Barbieri says residents should only see improvements after a sale. “We want each community to be its own cruise ship, offering as much as you can possibly offer … by offering more we can engage our residents,” Barbieri says.

“Seniors know what they want,” Barbieri adds. “We get very good feedback about the resource we bring.”

MBK Senior Living

Robin Craig, corporate director of marketing for MBK Senior Living, explains in basic terms her company’s approach after acquiring a new community:  “Add value in the way we manage. … We place a value on creating a comfortable, well maintained contemporary community setting.”

Part of the decision to acquire a new community is based upon whether the culture and management is similar to MBK’s. Craig explains that the management team does due diligence in assessing the community and knowing who is managing the building before a contract is signed. That contract, and/or state regulations, determines whether residents know in advance that their community is being purchased by MBK, and Craig says that former owners may announce the transition before MBK is on site.MBK Senior Living - Logo

Once on site, the first step is making the associates comfortable with MBK’s management because “The associates are the voices the residents hear,” Craig says. “We try to not make changes when coming in.” After associates have been oriented to the new MBK management team, the transition is announced to residents.

Residents can expect to have their questions and concerned listened to and addressed. Craig says they invite family members to attend the presentations and the management team is available for questions. In her experience, families are more concerned about the details of the pricing than learning more about MBK. The company is honest about future rent increases, Craig says, and strives to create a comfortable situation for those discussions. She also assures residents and families that following an MBK acquisition that things are on equal footing or better. “Because we are owner-manager, we feel that is a better scenario for the family.”

One of the changes residents may see right away is more choices for care, and their beloved caregivers will likely be on staff. “As much as we can appropriately keep the associates there, we will,” Craig says. There may also be more food choices and activities, because “typically we don’t take things away.”

For MBK COO Daniel Morgan, communication is crucial to a successful management change. “Change is difficult for people no matter the age,” Morgan said via email. “The key to our success has been to effectively communicate that change is coming, what the change will be, the reason why the change will occur and when the change will occur. … If for any reason we are unable to fulfill any part of what has already been communicated regarding the change, it is important to get back in front of the residents with updates.”

Senior Lifestyle Corporation

Within two months of acquiring a community, the new Senior Lifestyle management team holds a Family Night with residents, their families and staff to share the life story of Senior Lifestyle. But it’s meeting every person that Tim Marzec, vice president of operations-community integration, says residents particularly appreciate. “I just can’t say enough about the reception we [receive], with some residents saying we’re the first person to come and visit us.” The residents “want to know you as a person.”

Among the criteria Senior Lifestyle uses to determine acquiring a community is how it “fits within how our company operates,” Marzec says. In his role, Marzec is charged with integrating the new community’s staff into Senior Lifestyle’s business systems, whether it is navigating the payroll system or who to contact when needing a question answered.

Once Senior LIfestyle receives approval to enter an acquired community, it meets with the employees to discuss the community change, sharing who the company is and what to expect in the coming months, Marzec explains. Once a community is acquired, Marzec says he is among the first of the Senior Lifestyle management team that the staff members meet. Marzec says the first 60 days of a transition are spent simply observing the community, and “we try to be very mindful that it’s a pretty big change [with the community being purchased]”

One of the questions Marzec frequently answers is what will happen to the staff. He says it’s in the company’s best interest to retain good employees, as they are the backbone of any community.

Residents usually don’t see a change until 90 days into Senior Lifestyle’s ownership, at which point, they might see changes in the menu or a reformatting of the activity program. For pricing, the billing statement might look different, and a new residency agreement is updated. “Generally all the pricing stays the same” and care levels remain consistent, though there might be a reassessing of the care plan, Marzec says.

During Marzec’s tenure in this Senior Lifestyle role, “I’ve found in the beginning a lot of people are nervous. … Once they get to you know and … once they see that you’re here to help, I have found the reception warm and welcoming.”

Final Thoughts

If it is news to you that retirement communities are bought and sold so easily, you’re not alone. Craig says that in her experience, residents “think of just that community, not the companies behind it.” And thinking that only large communities are acquired isn’t true. Sometimes, family-owned communities are sold to a larger company, or a community is spun off from a large company to become independently-owned and managed. Further complicating the matter is that sometimes the company that owns a community isn’t the same company that manages it.

So what can you do if your loved one is at a community that is recently purchased? Because contract negotiations are confidential (and if you are in a state that doesn’t require advance notice of a sale), you might not know the community is sold until after the transaction is finalized. Attending the community-wide introduction is important so you can ask questions about what the change in management means for your loved one’s lifestyle. Your state’s laws will determine whether your loved one receives a new lease—if so, you should review it to determine whether the existing lease is being honored or if there is a change in pricing. State regulations often specify that you should receive advance notice of rate increases, and if a community fails to follow that statute, it can be cited.

Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts

Senior Living Companies Spread Their Wings Internationally

It’s no secret that the senior living industry is exploding in the U.S., but U.S.-based senior living operators are now expanding overseas in countries like China. The Seattle Times reports that Seattle-based senior living companies such as Cascade HealSenior living growth in Chinathcare and Merrill Gardens are spreading their wings and opening senior living communities in places like China, where senior living communities like those found in the U.S. are not widespread.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million by 2050, representing the impact of a period of rapid growth between 2012 and 2050. In fact, the 83.7 million figure is nearly double the estimated 65+ population in 2012: 43.1 million.”The baby boomers are largely responsible for this increase in the older population, as they began turning 65 in 2011. By 2050, the surviving baby boomers will be over the age of 85,” according to the U.S. Census report.

But the U.S. is not the only country experiencing rapid growth in its aging population. In China, 9.4 percent of the population is 65 or older, or about 132 million people. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that 22.7 percent of China’s population, or 332 million people, will be age 65 or older. China’s economy, however, is still under development, and the country does not currently have a strong system in place for long-term elder care.

Not only is China looking to companies like Cascade Healthcare and Merrill Gardens to fill gaps in long-term care, but also as a means to learn models and managerial practices from successful U.S. operators. Eventually, China-based companies will likely enter the market building on the concepts introduced by U.S. senior living operators, while incorporating cultural values unique to China.

The growth of the aging population in the U.S. isn’t slowing down, but the U.S. is not alone in the mounting challenge of ensuring adequate long-term care options for the elderly. With the aging population experiencing explosive growth in many countries through 2050, senior living providers have abundant opportunities both in the U.S. and abroad to serve the needs of older adults.

What You Need to Know About Guns in Senior Living Communities

Keeping residents safe is a priority of retirement communities, whether this means having an emergency call system in all apartments or documenting all dispensed medication to reduce medication errors. These safety features are why many families elect to have their loved one join a retirement community rather than living alone. In keeping with this safety-focused culture, there is one policy that is nearly universal across the senior living industry. Though this policy means that a resident’s freedom is curtailed, its adoption maintains a safe environment for everyone at the community—residents, staff and families.

In spite of the debate calling for expanding the number of places that firearms are permitted, the senior living industry has already taken a position on the issue—weapons have no place at a retirement community.

“It just makes sense,” Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of Public Policy for the Assisted Living Federation of America, says of why the policy was adopted 15 years ago by the senior living industry. While communities want residents to have the same freedoms they enjoyed living on their own, “when you have people living in a congregate setting, we want to keep them safe,” she explains.

This no-weapons policy was one voluntarily adopted by retirement communities rather than being mandated by state requirements. For example, Pennsylvania statute 2600.108 states that “Firearms and weapons shall be contained in a locked cabinet in a place other than the residents’ room or in a common living area,” and “If a firearm, weapon or ammunition is the property of a resident, there shall be a written policy and procedures regarding the safety, access and use of firearms, weapons and ammunition. A resident may not take a firearm, weapon or ammunition out of the locked cabinet into living areas.”

In California, for all community care facilities regulated by the Department of Social Services, statute 80087(g)(1) states that “Storage areas for poisons, and firearms and other dangerous weapons shall be locked and (2) In lieu of locked storage of firearms, the licensee may use trigger locks or remove the firing pin.” However, in Texas, statute 92.125(b)(I) of the Resident’s Bill of Rights and Provider Bill of Rights states that a provider has a right to “maintain an environment free of weapons…”

The 2001 National Gun Policy Survey of the National Opinion Research Center: Research Findings reports that 37.2 percent of adults 65 and older had a gun in their household. Of their gun-carrying behavior, 48.6 percent said they carry for protection and 67.4 carry concealed.

So, what should you do when your parent, who is one of the 37.2 percent, is moving into a retirement community and wants to bring a firearm? First, ask the community whether the weapon is permitted.

Tim Marzec, vice president of operations-Community Integration for Senior Lifestyle Corporation, says his company doesn’t permit firearms in their communities, a policy decision that Vice President of Marking Jonathan Barbieri echoes is the same for Greenfield Senior Living. ”We have a no-weapons policy, even for collector weapons.”

If your parent carries a gun for protection, that should not be necessary at a retirement community. With 24-hour staffing, one of a retirement community’s benefits is built-in protection. If your parents have collector weapons they wish to bring, ask the community if this is allowed, as this might be permitted on a case-by-case basis. Residents should also alert family members that weapons are not permitted at the “community, a policy that is the same for staff.”

But is it really possible to prevent weapons from being smuggled into a community? Bersani acknowledges that “people will break [the rule] if they want to,” but there can be consequences if that happens, such as the community being cited for failing to secure a weapon or failing to protect their residents should something happen.

What the senior living industry fears happening isn’t a mass shooting, as has been the cases at schools and other public places. Instead, it’s a possible murder/suicide incident, such as one that happened last year in Indiana. Bersani says the industry has just started discussing this and recognizes the need to do a better job of empowering people with end of life decisions.

Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts.