Skip to content

December 2017 Columns

Savvy Senior – December Columns

  1. Simple Home Modifications That Can Help Seniors Age in Place

  2. Financial Help for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

  3. Recognizing and Treating Depression in Retirement

  4. How to Divvy Up Your Family Belongings Peacefully and Sensibly

Simple Home Modifications That Can Help Seniors Age in Place

Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend to help make a home safer for aging-in-place? My 76-year-old mother wants to stay living in her own home for as long as possible, but she doesn’t have the money for any big renovations.
Concerned Son

Dear Concerned,
There are dozens of small adjustments and simple modifications you can do to help make your mom’s home safer and more fit for aging-in-place, that won’t cost her much if anything at all. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Eliminate Trip and Slip Hazards
Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors, a good place to start is by arranging or moving your mom’s furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through. Position any electrical or phone cords along the wall so they won’t be a tripping hazard. If she has throw rugs, remove them or use carpet tacks or double-sided tape to secure them. And pick up items on the floor that could cause her to trip like papers, shoes or clothes.

In the bathroom, buy some non-skid rugs for the floors, and a rubber mat or adhesive nonslip strips for the floor of the tub or shower to prevent slipping, and have a carpenter install grab bars in and around the tub/shower and near the toilet for support.

Improve Lighting
Good lighting is very important for safe aging-in-place, so check the wattage ratings on your mom’s lamps and light fixtures, and install the brightest bulbs allowed. Purchase some nightlights for the bathroom and in the hallways that are used after dark. And consider adding under-cabinet task lighting in the kitchen, and motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway.

Hand Helpers
If your mom has hand arthritis or problems griping, install lever-style door handles (or doorknob lever adapters), which are easier to use than doorknobs. The same goes for twist knob kitchen or bathroom faucets, which you can replace with a single lever, touch or sensor-style faucet. And consider replacing knobs on cabinets and drawers with easier-to-grip D-shaped handles.

Easier Living
To help make your mom’s kitchen easier to use, organize her cabinets so the things she uses most often are within easy reach without a lot of stooping or using a step stool. Also, consider installing pullout shelves beneath the counter and Lazy Susans in corner cabinets for easier access. And get her a kitchen stool so she can sit down while she’s working.

In the bathroom for easier and safer bathing, consider purchasing a shower chair and install a hand-held shower so your mom can bathe from a seated position if need be.

Accessibility Solutions
If your mom uses a walker or wheelchair, you can adapt her house by installing ramps on entrance steps, and mini-ramps to go over high thresholds. You can also install “swing-away” or “swing-clear” hinges on her doors to add two inches of width for easier access.

Safety Improvements
To keep your mom safe, set her hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent scalds. If she has stairs, put handrails on both sides. Also, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of her house, and place a lightweight, easy-to-use ABC-rated fire extinguisher in an easily accessible location in the kitchen.

For more tips, get a copy of AARP’s “HomeFit Guide” that’s filled with dozens of aging-in-place recommendations. You can access it at AARP.org/homefit, or call 888-687-2277 and ask them to mail you a free copy.

Also note that all the previously mentioned products can be purchased either in local retail stores, home improvement stores, pharmacies or medical supply stores, or online at Amazon.com.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Financial Help for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any financial assistance programs that can help grandparents who are raising their grandkids? I’m raising two grandchildren and could use some help.
Struggling Grandma

Dear Struggling,
Money is often an issue for the millions of U.S. grandparents who are raising their grandchildren today. To help with the day-to-day expenses, there are a variety of government programs and tax benefits that can make a big difference in stretching your budget. Here’s where to look for help.

Financial Assistance Programs
For starters, find out whether your family qualifies for your state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which may include cash assistance, food stamps and free or low-cost daycare. Or, if your household income is too high to qualify as a family, ask about the “child-only grant” for just the grandchild’s support alone. Also, find out if your state offers any additional programs like guardianship subsidies, non-parent grants or kinship care.

Contact your state TANF program (see ACF.HHS.gov/ofa for contact information), or call your county social services office for more information on these programs.

You also need to find out if your grandkids are eligible for Social Security, including benefits for children, survivor benefits or SSI. You can find this out at your local Social Security office, or call 800-772-1213 or visit SSA.gov.

And finally, use BenefitsCheckUp.org, a comprehensive website that lets you search for additional financial assistance programs that you may be eligible for, such as lower energy bills, discounts on prescription medications and more.

Tax Benefits
In addition to the financial assistance programs, there are also a number of tax benefits that may help you too like the Dependency Exemption, which allows you to deduct $4,050 in 2107 on each qualifying grandchild.

There’s also the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC which is available to those with moderate to low incomes, or the Child Tax Credit if you make too much money to qualify for the EITC.

If you’re working, and are incurring childcare expenses in order to work, there’s a Child and Dependent Care Credit that can help. And, if you choose to legally adopt your grandkids, there’s an Adoption Credit that provides a federal tax credit of up to $13,570.

There are even education-related tax credits that can help your grandkids go to college, like the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit.

To learn more about these tax benefits call the IRS at 800-829-1040, or visit IRS.gov. You can also call the IRS publication line at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you the publications that further explain the aforementioned benefits. Ask for publications 501, 503, 596, 970, 972.

Health Insurance
If your grandkids need health insurance, depending on your income level, you may be able to get free or low-cost health insurance through your state’s Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. See InsureKidsNow.gov or call 877-543-7669 for more information.

Legal Aid
You also need to talk to a family law attorney to discuss the pros and cons of obtaining legal guardianship, custody or adoption. Without some sort of legal custody, you may not be eligible for many of the previously listed financial assistance programs, and there can be problems with basic things like enrolling your grandkids in school, or giving a doctor permission to treat them. For help locating affordable or free legal assistance, visit www.FindLegalHelp.org, or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 for referrals.

For more information and resources see the Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center at GrandFamilies.org.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Recognizing and Treating Depression in Retirement

Dear Savvy Senior,
Since retiring a few years ago, my husband has become increasingly irritable and apathetic. I’m concerned that he’s depressed, even though he may not admit it. Where can we turn to get help with this, and what, if anything, does Medicare pay for?
Concerned Spouse

Dear Concerned,
Depression is unfortunately a widespread problem among older Americans, affecting approximately 15 percent of the 65-and-older population. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and resources for screening and treatments, and how Medicare covers it.

Identifying Depression
Everyone feels sad or gets the blues now and then, but when these feelings linger more than a few weeks, it may be depression. Depression is a real illness that affects mood, feelings, behavior and physical health, and contrary to what many people believe, it’s not a normal part of aging or a personal weakness, but it is very treatable.

It’s also important to know that depression is not just sadness. In many seniors it can manifest as apathy, irritability, or problems with memory or concentration without the depressed mood.

To help you get a handle on the seriousness of your husband’s problem, a good first step is for him to take an online depression-screening test.

He can do this for free at Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization that offers a variety of online mental health screening tools at MentalHealthAmerica.net – click on “Take a Screen” in the menu bar. Or at HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org, which is offered by Screening for Mental Health, Inc.

Both of these tests are anonymous and confidential, they take less that 10 minutes to complete, and they can help you determine the severity of your husband’s problem.

Get Help
If you find that he is suffering from depressive symptoms, he needs to see his doctor for a medical evaluation to rule out possible medical causes. Some medications, for example, can produce side effects that mimic depressive symptoms – pain and sleeping meds are common culprits. It’s also important to distinguish between depression and dementia, which can share some of the same symptoms.

If he’s diagnosed with depression, there are a variety of treatment options including talk therapy, antidepressant medications or a combination of both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective type of talk therapy, which helps patients recognize and change destructive thinking patterns that leads to negative feelings.

For help finding a therapist who’s trained in CBT, ask your doctor for a referral, check your local yellow pages under “counseling” or “psychologists,” or check with the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (FindCBT.org), or the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (AcademyofCT.org).

And to search for therapists that accept Medicare, use Medicare’s Physician Compare tool. Go to Medicare.gov/physiciancompare and type in your zip code, or city and state, then type in the type of profession you want locate, like “psychiatry” or “clinical psychologist” in the “What are you searching for?” box.

Medicare Coverage
You’ll be happy to know that original Medicare currently covers 100 percent for annual depression screenings that are done in a doctor’s office or other primary care clinic. They also pay 80 percent of its approved amount for outpatient mental health services like counseling and therapy services, and will cover almost all medications used to treat depression under the Part D prescription drug benefit.

If you and your husband get your Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they too must cover the same services as original Medicare but they will likely require him to see an in-network provider. You’ll need to contact your plan directly for the details.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

How to Divvy Up Your Family Belongings Peacefully and Sensibly

Dear Savvy Senior,
What’s the best way to distribute my personal possessions to my kids after I’m gone without causing hard feelings or conflict? I have a lot of jewelry, art, family heirlooms and antique furniture, and three grown kids that don’t always see eye-to-eye on things.
Planning Ahead

Dear Planning,
Divvying up personal possessions among adult children or other loved ones can often be a difficult task. Deciding who should get what without showing favoritism, hurting someone’s feeling or causing a feud can be difficult, even for close-knit families who enter the process with the best of intentions. Here are a few tips to consider that can help you divide your stuff with minimal conflict.

Problem Areas
For starters, you need to be aware that it’s usually the small, simple items of little monetary value that cause the most conflicts. This is because the value we attach to the small personal possessions is usually sentimental or emotional, and because the simple items are the things that most families fail to talk about.

Family battles can also escalate over whether things are being divided fairly by monetary value. So for items of higher value like your jewelry, antiques and art, consider getting an appraisal to assure fair distribution. To locate an appraiser, see Appraisers.org or AppraisersAssociation.org.

Ways to Divvy Up
The best solution for passing along your personal possessions is for you to go through your house with your kids or other heirs either separately or all at once. Open up cabinets, drawers and closets, and go through boxes in the attic and/or basement to find out which items they would like to inherit and why. They may have some emotional attachment to something you’re not aware of. If more than one child wants the same thing, you will have the ultimate say.

Then you need to sit down and make a list of who gets what on paper, signed, dated and referenced in your will. You can revise it anytime you want. You may also want to consider writing an additional letter or create an audio or video recording that further explains your intentions.

You can also specify a strategy for divvying up the rest of your property. Here are some methods that are fair and reasonable:

  • Take turns choosing:Use a round-robin process where your kids take turns choosing the items they would like to have. If who goes first becomes an issue, they can always flip a coin, draw straws or roll dice. Also, to help simplify things, break down the dividing process room-by-room, versus tackling the entire house. To keep track of who gets what, either make a list or use adhesive dots with a color assigned to each person to tag the item.
  • Have a family auction:Give each person involved the same amount of play money, or use virtual points or poker chips to bid on the items they want.

For more ideas, see “Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” at YellowPiePlate.umn.edu. This is a resource created by the University of Minnesota Extension Service that offers a detailed workbook or interactive CD for $12.50, and DVD for $30 that gives pointers to help families discuss property distribution and lists important factors to keep in mind that can help avoid conflict.

It’s also very important that you discuss your plans in advance with your kids so they can know ahead what to expect. Or, you may even want to start distributing some of your items now, while you can still alive.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Leave a Comment