Three important legal documents that every adult should have are a will, a living trust, and a living will.  Each document defines your decisions for the different areas of your estate and will save your loved ones time, money and stress when you are gone.  These documents are easy to draw up, or you could have a lawyer prepare the documents for a nominal fee.

A WILL dictates how your estate and property is to be distributed after your death and can also designate guardians for children and self should you become incapable or pass away. A regular will must pass through probate court in most states before your estate can be passed on to your heirs. Most state laws do not require that you use a lawyer to prepare your will; you can use a will kit at home.  Probate court can take some time if there are any disputes, so make sure your wishes are clear when writing your will. A LIVING WILL defines your wish to be kept or not kept alive by artificial life support in the event of terminal illness or injury. A living will also give you the ability to set limits on your hospital, medical and funeral costs that can easily drain your estate and leave your loved ones with the bills. If you express your wishes beforehand, it will make the process much less stressful for those involved in your care and the execution of your final wishes. A LIVING TRUST is quite similar to a regular will, but they are different at the core.  Unlike a regular will that cannot be changed after it is written, a living trust can be amended at any time.  A living trust takes effect while you are alive, whereas a will takes effect after you pass. You can put property into your living trust at any time before your death and afterward your estate goes directly to your heirs without passing through probate court. If you ever change your mind about the definitions of your will, you can change or revoke how your estate will be divided at any time by using a living trust. A living trust will also save money and time later on because your loved ones won’t have to go through probate first.

There comes a point when you are caring for a loved one, when you have to ask yourself what is the best decision for me as well as for the person I am caring for. Whether you decide to continue to care for your loved one or start to explore other options such as a professional care home, take the time to insure your own personal health and well being. There is a reason that during the safety briefing on a plane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, then help your love ones. If you don’t take care of yourself you have no way to care for someone else. “There is a cost to caring,” states Charles Figley, an expert in trauma and researcher in the field of burnout; he comments that compassion fatigue is something that can occur when caring for someone long term. Take a moment to examine how you feel and see if you may be experiencing any level of burnout or even compassion fatigue and then take the time to explore ways to best care for yourself as well as those you love.

Before we go much further, let’s briefly explore the difference between burnout vs. compassion fatigue.  Figley describes burnout as the end result of a gradual process of wearing down.  It is the long-term consequences of unaddressed compassion fatigue, resulting in emotional exhaustion and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment and achievement.  Recovering from burnout is often a more lengthy process.

Compassion fatigue is often a result of the daily care we do, and is a more immediate specific response.   It is often characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion; symptoms resembling depression; and usually a shift in a person’s sense of hope and optimism about the future value of the care they are offering.  This may not be a constant feeling, but it something that comes and goes.  The recovery from compassion fatigue is often less lengthy then burnout.

Are you isolating yourself, bottling up your emotions, having nightmares or even physical ailments? Do you suffer from compulsive behaviors such as over eating or over spending or have difficulty concentrating. Do you feel stressed out or depressed? These are symptoms of compassion fatigue. There is no cure for compassion fatigue but by practicing good self care techniques daily can help you to be physically and emotionally healthy and decrease these symptoms.

A self-care plan begins with you.  It begins with being kind to yourself, becoming aware of how things are effecting you (both physically and emotionally), setting boundaries, expressing your needs, taking actions to aide yourself, surrounding yourself with individuals that listen and support you and being able to listen and support others around you.  Although when you care for someone it seems like you have no time, you need to take the time to have healthy eating and exercise habits. Get plenty of rest and hydrate yourself. Develop good time and self management skills even if it means saying no.  Have a support system, take breaks and try to enjoy a balance in your life. Do not give up all of your friends and hobbies.  Pick your battles and even though it is hard, consider professional care givers, if not on a regular basis then consider short term help.  You can sometimes schedule breaks, where you use a professional care giver in the home or facility for a few weeks a year, allowing yourself to have time to decompress and feel better before you can no longer care for your loved one.
For seniors in delicate health, forgetting to take medication or taking it improperly can have more dire consequences than one might think. The federal government estimates that 10% of hospital admissions are due to taking medication incorrectly, and over 125,000 people die each year as a result of this problem. Almost a quarter of nursing home admissions might be due to seniors having trouble with taking their medication. Unfortunately, this is an alarmingly common problem, with over half of all seniors taking medication incorrectly. Half of those, in turn, make the kind of mistakes that could have serious ramifications! When we consider this information in light of the challenges of seniors with dementia, it’s clear that this is a problem caregivers and family members need to be alert about. There are many devices and solutions available to help keep loved ones on track. One simple remedy is buying a pill dispenser or a similar device. Your local drug store probably carries basic versions that will both organize pills and sound some kind of alarm or another reminder. There are also more elaborate and expensive systems that might, for example, call a designated caregiver if the senior has missed a dose. There are even smartphone apps for this issue. Drug companies themselves are also trying to help, with phone calls to seniors who are taking their products. However, studies have shown that these methods don’t solve the problem. Sometimes this is because the devices are too complicated for seniors to use, or because they are not equipped to handle the typical senior’s complex medication regimen. And these systems often require input from a senior who may no longer be organized or independent enough to do what’s needed. Even if a loved one sets up the system initially, snafus like dead batteries or a malfunction could cause that effort to be useless. For this reason, the best solution is to have a family member or other caregiver help the seniors with managing their prescriptions. A human helper can also address when forgetfulness is not the issue so much as unwillingness or lack of understanding about why a particular medication is important. This can be a particular concern for dementia sufferers who are determined to hang on to control and demonstrate their independence. Ideally, there would be some kind of gadget or gizmo to make this problem go away, but this is one issue that requires a human touch.
A study in ‘The Gerontologist’ states that, “approximately one-third of 65-year-olds are single.” That’s a 50% increase since 1980 according to the U.S. Census. Aging with family and friends has been shown to result in improved health of seniors, including lower chances of cognitive impairment, and hospitalization. Research shows that socialization, companionship and hobby-building has great benefits for seniors: older adults who are surrounded by others are at a decreased risk of both cardiovascular and cognitive decline. For some seniors, moving into an Assisted Living Community is the first step they can take to help maintain or increase the quality of life as they grow older. In reputable communities, experts in the field of long-term care help coordinate between activities to create communities where older adults are able to create new memories with one another. Residents take on scheduled group hobbies such as yoga, cooking, and artistry while pursing passions both new and old. Assisted Living Communities can act as a hub for seniors to connect and make new friends. Our advice for making friends in a community? Participate and try out all the opportunities that are available. The goal is to foster an natural feeling of community with residents similar in age and circumstances.
When birthdays or holidays come around, people want to do something nice for the older people in their lives who are now assisted living residents. But figuring out what to give can be a challenge. Below are some gift ideas that senior will appreciate. Personal Mementos If the resident doesn’t have already have one, gather as many addresses as you can for them into a fancy address book. Enlarge a family photo for the wall (perhaps your loved one’s favorite photo of themselves in their younger days), or put together a photo album. You can buy items like coffee mugs or calendars that are customized with family photos. As long as your loved one can see the electronic screen, a digital picture frame will always give them something new to see. Some can even have pictures added to them remotely, which makes it easy for far-flung family to add their own contributions. Small Decorations A plant or flowers in a vase that you can refill every time you visit can really brighten up a room. If they have a tree outside their window, setting up a bird feeder for them that you refill periodically would be a wonderful treat. Give decorations related to an upcoming holiday for a festive change. Air fresheners or flameless candle burners make a strange room feel a little more like home. Media A subscription to a magazine or newspaper is a wonderful gift. Not only does the resident get reading material, but they also have the joy of getting interesting mail! You may choose a publication from a favorite town or city they once lived in. They would also love a CD or tape of their favorite music, or an inexpensive DVD player with movies or favorite TV shows. Books always make great gifts, but keep in mind that the resident may not be able to see well. Organizations that make materials for the visually impaired can be helpful resources in these situations: some even offer materials for free. Or you can just buy books on tape. There are even services that act like Netflix for audio books, so your senior will always have something new to listen to. Don’t forget headphones! Big old-fashioned ones are easier for seniors to handle than earbuds. Cozy Comforts Anything to keep residents warm and comfortable will likely be appreciated, especially if it’s easy for them to put on and remove. Bed jackets, shawls, and blankets are a great choice. Even though we think of them as being kids’ toys, a doll, teddy bear, or other stuffed animal can be very welcome. Practical Items Stationery and stamps are popular, especially for residents with far away friends and family. An electric toothbrush may be useful. A resident who uses a walker will get a lot of use out of a basket or pouch that they can attach to carry things. Anything related to a hobby that your loved one can still enjoy will help them feel good about themselves and keep their mind active. A flashlight might make them feel a little safer, and a fan is helpful if your resident tends to be hot. A clock with large numbers is also a great idea. Yourself What will make your loved on happiest is quality time spent with you. You don’t need to make awkward conversation for an hour if you’re not very talkative – instead you can choose an activity on the schedule to participate in with your resident. You can also volunteer to lead or help with an event, and allow your loved one to brag about how well you did later. Simply reading aloud to them counts as quality time. You can also videotape family events, such as a school band concert or a birthday party, and show it while recounting all the behind-the-scenes stories. Don’t forget to bring the kids! Time with children is especially welcome. Family members who live far away can record messages or stories that the senior can listen to again and again, or can send cards or letters. Your loved one may also enjoy a visit from a pet. You likely won’t be able to bring an animal into the facility, but you can bring the resident outside and have them meet the animal there. Residents will appreciate little trips outside the facility. Some ideas include a tour of the Christmas or Halloween decorations in nearby neighborhoods, getting an ice cream cone, watching a child’s sports game, or even just cruising around on a nice day. Short walks in nice weather will be appreciated too. Meals that are home cooked or from a favorite restaurant are a special treat. Even something like pizza or Chinese can be wonderful since it’s not something residents have often anymore (make sure this is OK for the resident’s diet). When buying gifts for your loved one, the key thing to remember is that this is a situation where less is more. Bulky or heavy gifts take up a lot of space, and even trinkets and magazines can easily become clutter in a small room. It’s usually best to avoid expensive gifts as it’s a real possibility that another confused resident can mistakenly wander off with something. For many seniors, at this point in their lives it’s the simple pleasures that matter most, and what will make them the happiest is knowing that you care and are thinking about them.
One of the hardest things for seniors living on their own is having meals that are both nutritious and enjoyable. Cooking for one person is tough enough when you’re young and energetic, but when everyday tasks are more difficult and you move more slowly, it’s that much more difficult. Some seniors can’t get out to the grocery store to even get food to begin with. Especially when it comes to men and others who may not have done much cooking earlier in their lives, making your own meals can seem like an impossible task. In these situations, seniors tend to go for what’s quick and easy, not what would be the most ideal choice from a health standpoint. In addition, seniors living by themselves eat alone much of the time. Having dinner with only the TV for company can be pretty lonely. Even if the senior lives with family, how often in busy homes with kids does everyone come together to share a meal? Despite the living situation the end result may be the same: a microwave dinner in front of the evening news while children stay late to deal with work responsibilities and grandchildren attend basketball practice or reherse for the school play. This scenario may make the senior feel even more cast aside. To be fair, some seniors are still excellent cooks and can fend for themselves. But the chances are good that sooner or later, food will become an issue. When it does, it can contribute to making a senior’s delicate health even worse. Poor nuturition makes people more likely to get sick, can exacerbate conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, and can lead to depression. Those who are concerned about their older loved ones should not wait for the senior to ask for help, as sometimes they will fear the loss of their independence and hide problems. Watch for clues like excessive weight loss or a refrigerator with barren shelves or expired food. Consider whether getting to the grocery store is a challenge: does the senior have trouble getting outside his or her home? You also may want to ask if he or she is having problems with swallowing or chewing or if they’re experiencing a loss of appetite. This is one area in which assisted living can make a big difference in a senior’s life. Assisted living residents do not have to worry about cooking for themselves. They get to have regular mealtimes within a community and experience the comfort of gathering together with people they know. A good assisted living facility will make sure the senior gets the proper diet for his or her specific health issues. We all feel happier when eating well and enjoying good company. Attention to this area can be a huge boost in a senior’s quality of life.
When they first see the cost of assisted living, many people are taken aback. Their first reaction is that it’s “too expensive,” especially compared to having the senior just live at home. While this initial response is understandable, it’s not quite accurate. You need to take into account all the benefits that assisted living provides, and compare it to total monthly expenses incurred outside of assisted living, before you make a judgment. To get an accurate sense of the relative cost, you need to start with an accurate budget. Look at your financial records closely and see what you really spent over the last few months. It’s easy to underestimate what you spent on food, for example, and forget about small impulse purchases. Once you do that, you are more prepared to evaluate the price tag of a given assisted living facility. The monthly fee will cover all basic needs: food, housing, and utilities. In addition, that fee also provides housekeeping, health monitoring, repairs and maintenance of your living space and yard, security, entertainment, and trash removal. You should especially consider the value of the social activities that assisted living facilities provide. Many seniors are isolated living on their own, or skimping on entertainment in order to save money. But in assisted living these things are part of the whole package. Many seniors value these living arrangements precisely because of the chance to have a good time with people their own age. Activities and socialization also help seniors maintain their physical and mental well-being. Senior couples may receive additional value from assisted living that aren’t immediately revealed by the numbers. Many wives see their workloads increase when their husbands retire, as they now have to care for someone full-time. Assisted living can finally allow both partners to take a break because someone else is worrying about the chores. Husband and wife can simply enjoy each other’s company instead. Don’t let the price of assisted living deter you from taking a closer look. People forget to take into account all the things that assisted living provides which inflate the cost of the senior living on their own. And it’s impossible to put a price on enjoying those last years without worry about the lawn or the leaky roof, and also knowing that you or your loved one has someone immediately available to help them, at any time of the day or night. You’ll likely find, as many have, that assisted living is actually a better value than your other options.