Savvy Senior — March 2021 Columns

Savvy Senior – March Columns

  1. How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic
  2. A Social Security Perk for Older Parents
  3. Technology That Can Help You Locate Things You Misplace
  4. Keeping Your Balance as You Age

How to Choose a Quality Nursing Home During a Pandemic

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you give me some tips on how to pick a good nursing home in the COVID era? My mother had a stroke a while back and can’t use her legs any longer. I’ve been taking care of her at home, but her health has declined to the point that I absolutely can’t do it any longer.
Need Help

Dear Need,
COVID-19 has hit nursing homes hard over the past year, making it extremely difficult for people attempting to choose a nursing home during this time.

While many eldercare experts suggest avoiding nursing homes during the pandemic if at all possible, some families, like yours, find themselves in difficult situations needing long-term or rehabilitative care for their elder loved one now.

To help you find a good nursing home in the COVID era, and avoid a bad one, here are some steps to follow.

Make a list: There are several sources you can turn to for referrals to top nursing homes in your area including your mom’s doctor or nearby hospital discharge planner; friends or neighbors who may have had a loved one in a nursing home; and online at Medicare’s nursing home compare tool at Medicare.gov/care-compare. This tool will not only help you locate nursing homes in your area, it also provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall rating.

Also keep in mind that it’s always best to choose a nursing home that’s close to family members and friends who can check in often, because residents with frequent visitors usually get better care.

Do some research: To research the nursing homes on your list, put a call into your long-term care ombudsman. This is a government official who investigates nursing home complaints and advocates for residents and their families. This person can tell you which nursing homes have had complaints or problems in the past. To find your local ombudsman, call your area aging agency (800-677-1116) or visitLTCombudsman.org.

You should also visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website (data.cms.gov), which provides updated data on U.S. nursing home reported COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Contact the nursing homes: Once you’ve identified a few good nursing homes, call them to see if they have any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept Medicaid.

Also, find out their staff-to-patient ratio and staff turnover rate; their COVID infection-control procedures; the percentage of residents and staff that have been vaccinated for COVID; and their facility visitation policy.

If visitor restrictions are in place, see if they offer smartphone, tablet or laptop technology assistance so you can have Facetime, Zoom or Skype video calls with your mom.

Tour your top choices: The best way to evaluate a nursing home is to visit it in person, but because of COVID, some facilities may offer limited or virtual tours only. To help you evaluate and rate a facility, Medicare offers a terrific checklist of questions that you can print at Medicare.gov/NursingHomeCompare/Checklist.pdf.

Paying for Care
With nursing home costs now averaging $255 per day nationally for a semi-private room and nearly $290 for a private room, paying for care is another area you may have questions about or need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100 days of rehabilitative nursing home care, which must occur after a hospital stay of at least three days.

Most nursing home residents pay for care from either personal savings, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid once their savings are depleted.

The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information website (LongTermCare.acl.gov) is a good resource that can help you understand and research your financial options. You can also get help from your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues. To find a local SHIP counselor visit ShiptaCenter.org or call 877-839-2675.

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.
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A Social Security Perk for Older Parents

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve been told that my two children, ages 14 and 16, may be eligible for Social Security when I file for my retirement benefits. Is this true? What can you tell me?
Viagra Daddy

Dear Viagra,
It’s true. If you’re age 62 or older and are still raising young children, there’s a Social Security benefit strategy that can put some extra money in your family coffers.

Here’s how it works. When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, your minor children can get money on your work record equaling half of what you would receive at full retirement age, now gradually rising from 66 to 67. Even if you were to take a smaller benefit by claiming earlier, your kids will still get half of your full-retirement age amount.

To qualify, your daughter – whether she’s biological, adopted or a stepdaughter – must be unmarried and under age 18. Kids that are over 18 but still in high school, can collect too until they graduate or turn 19, whichever comes first. (Other rules apply to kids that are disabled.)

But that’s not all.

Because one of your children is only 14, your wife (if you’re married) can collect Social Security benefits on your work record too, and it doesn’t matter if she’s just 40 years old. The minimum age requirements to collect retirement benefits (62) or survivor benefits (60) does not apply when it comes to collecting benefits as the caregiver of a young child. The spouse’s benefit, which is also worth up to half of your benefit, will stop when your daughter turns 16.

But note that there are limits to the amount of money that can be paid to a family. The Social Security “family maximum payment” is determined by a complex formula and can range from 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit amount. If the total exceeds that, each person’s benefit, except yours, is cut proportionately until it equals the maximum.

Here’s an example of how that’s figured. Let’s say, for example, that your full retirement age benefit is $2,400 per month. That would make your family maximum benefit (according to the Social Security formula at SSA.gov/oact/cola/familymax.html) roughly $4,200 per month.

Subtract your $2,400 benefit from the $4,200 family maximum benefit, which leaves $1,800. That’s the monthly amount that can be split between your two children – $900 each. If your wife wants in on it too, the individual checks are smaller, at $600 a piece, but the family amount is the same.

You should also know that minor children can collect up to half of a disabled parent’s Social Security disability benefit. And if the parent dies, they will get a survivor’s benefit, which is up to 75 percent of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit.

To learn more, see the SSA publication (No. 05-10085) “Benefits for Children” at SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf.

One Caveat: Social Security benefits for your kids may not be available before full retirement age if you are still working. In 2021, you will lose $1 in benefits for every $2 earned over $18,960, except in the year you reach full retirement age. In that case, the earnings limit is $50,520, with $1 in benefits withheld for every $3 earned over the limit.

If you lose your benefits, your dependents also lose theirs. You can recoup those payments later, but your kids can’t.

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.

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Technology That Can Help You Locate Things You Misplace

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend any good devices that help seniors with tracking down misplaced items? My wife misplaces everything including her car keys, eyeglasses, cell phone, purse and more.
Always Searching

Dear Always,
There’s actually a wide variety of tracking devices that can help you and your wife find items that are commonly misplaced. Here are some top options to consider depending on how tech savvy you are.

Bluetooth Trackers
If you or your wife uses a smartphone or tablet, you can easily track down lost or misplaced items like keys, a purse or wallet, remote control, smartphone, tablet or even a laptop with a Bluetooth tracker. While there are several different types of tracker products on the market today, the best is Tile (TheTileApp.com), which pairs with Apple and Android apps to help you locate missing items.

All you do is attach a small battery-powered Tile to the items you want to keep track of with an adhesive sticker, a key ring or you can just slip it inside the item.

Then, when a tagged item goes missing, you simply access the app on your smartphone or tablet to see how far away you are from the item or last known location on the map. If you’re within 150 to 200 feet, you can make the Tile ring so you can follow the sound to easily find it.

Or, if your wife loses her phone, the Tile work in reverse, allowing her to double press the button on her Tile to make her phone ring (even if it’s on silent) as long as it’s nearby.  Tile also works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri to find misplaced items. All you have to do is ask.

To fit your tracking needs, Tile offers a variety of different sized trackers including the Tile Mate ($25) that’s ideal for keeping track of keys, purses or backpacks; Tile Slim ($25), which is the size of a credit card that can be put into a wallet or attached to a laptop; Tile Sticker ($40 for a 2-pack), the smallest finder that can attach to things like remotes, bikes and more; and Tile Pro ($35), which is the most durable tacker that has a 400-foot range and extra loud ringer.

Glasses Tracker
Since Tile doesn’t offer a glasses tracker, a great product to help your wife keep tabs on her eyeglasses is Orbit Glasses (FindOrbit.com; $40). This is a tiny rechargeable Bluetooh device that sticks to the inside arm of the glasses so it’s not noticeable.

So, when your wife’s glasses aren’t on her head, but are nearby, she can use the free Orbit app to make them ring so she can find them quickly. Or, if she’s out of Bluetooth range, she can check the last known location that will be shown on the map.

Radio Frequency Finders
If you or your wife don’t have a smartphone or tablet, there are also radio frequency devices like the Esky Key Finders (EskyNow.com), sold through Amazon.com, that can help you find misplaced items.

These devices come with an item locator remote and four to six tags with prices ranging between $20 and $30. Attach a tag to the items you want to keep track of with a key ring or adhesive. Each tag is color-coded and corresponds to a colored button on the finder.

When an item goes missing, you simply press the colored button on the locator remote and the tag will flash and beep. The signal will go through walls and cushions and have a tracking range of around 100 feet. Make sure you keep the finder fob in a safe spot, because if you misplace it, you won’t be able to find the tagged items.

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.

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Keeping Your Balance as You Age

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about balance exercises? I’ve fallen a few times over the past year and have read that balance exercises can help me regain my steadiness, but I’m not exactly sure what to do.
Unsteady at 70

Dear Unsteady,
Most people don’t think much about practicing their balance, but they need to. As we age, our balance declines if it isn’t practiced, which can lead to falls that often result in a broken bone.

Every year more than one in four people age 65 and older fall, and the risk increases with age. Here’s what you should know about balance problems, along with some different exercises that can help you improve it.

Aging Affects Balance
Balance is something most people take for granted until it’s challenged by a medical condition, medication or advanced age, which dulls our balance senses and causes most seniors to gradually become less stable on their feet over time.

Poor balance can also lead to a vicious cycle of inactivity. You feel a little unsteady, so you curtail certain activities. If you’re inactive, you’re not challenging your balance systems or using your muscles. As a result, both balance and strength suffer. Simple acts like strolling through a grocery store or getting up from a chair become trickier. That shakes your confidence, so you become even less active.

Balance Exercises

If you have a balance problem that is not tied to illness, medication or some other specific cause, simple exercises can help preserve and improve your balance. Here are four exercises you can do that will help:

  • One-legged stands: Stand on one foot for 30 seconds, or longer, then switch to the other foot. In the beginning, you might want to have a wall or chair to hold on to. Or, for an extra challenge try closing your eyes, or standing on a throw pillow or Bosu ball (an inflated rubber disc on a stable platform).
  • Heel-to-toe walking: Take 20 steps while looking straight ahead. Think of a sobriety test.
  • Standing up: Without using your hands, get up from a straight-backed chair and sit back down 10 to 20 times. This improves balance and leg strength.
  • Tai chi: Research has shown that the Asian practice of tai chi – which uses a combination of slow, graceful movements, meditation and deep breathing – can help reduce the risk of falls.

For more information on different balance exercises you can do at home, there are a variety of balance and strength exercises and beginner Tai Chi DVDs you can purchase at Amazon.com or through Amazon Prime video.

There are also senior fitness programs, like SilverSneakers (silversneakers.com) and Silver&Fit (silverandfit.com), that offer online classes that can guide you through a series of exercises you can do at home during the pandemic.

See a Doctor
I do, however, want to emphasize that if you’ve already fallen, are noticeably dizzy or unsteady, or have a medical condition affecting your balance, you need to see a doctor. They might refer you to a physical therapist or to an appropriate balance-training class in your community. It’s also important to know that many medicines and medical conditions – from Parkinson’s disease to diabetes to inner-ear disorders – can affect balance.

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.

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