10 questions to ask your parents today

10 questions to ask your parents today

As the years go by and mom and dad age, life can become complicated.  Certain things are practically impossible to prepare for, while others, like finances, can and should be organized and taken care of early on. What do you need to know about your parents’ finances?

Kurt Kazanowski, a hospice, homecare and senior care expert, who is author of A Son’s Journey: Taking Care of Mom and Dad, says children should know the answers to these 10 questions when it comes to their parents’ finances.

  1. Have they named a durable power of attorney to manage their finances? The first step is to find out if they have named a Durable Power of Attorney (POA). Without a POA in place, you’ll have to go to court to get guardianship of your parents in order to access accounts on their behalf.
  1. Where do they keep their financial records? Whether they keep their money and documents in a bank, a safe or under the mattress, you need to know where to find records when you need them.  Also find out the location of keys or codes to lock boxes or safes.
  1. What are their bank account numbers and names of their financial institutions? In addition to knowing where they keep their money, you need specifics on all account numbers.  What banks and mortgage company do they use? Do they have an investment firm? How many credit card accounts do they have and where do they keep their statements?
  1. What are your parents’ monthly expenses? Gather information on their mortgage, car payment, credit card debt, electric bills and other expenses.
  1. How do they pay their bills? If there are automatic deductions being taken out of a checking account, you need to know about them. Do they use online banking/bill pay or only paper checks?
  1. How much is their annual income and where does it come from? Do your parents receive monthly pension checks? Do they have dividends coming in from investments? Do they get money for a disability or alimony?
  1. Do they receive Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security? If your parents have become incapacitated, you may have to investigate the status and eligibility of government assistance.
  1. What kind of medical health insurance do they have in addition to Medicare? Do they have health insurance provided by an employer? If they are retired, are health benefits included as part of a pension?
  1. Do they have long-term care insurance? A “regular” health insurance plan does not cover the cost of assisted living or a nursing home. Did they purchase a long-term care insurance policy to cover the cost of those residences? If not, and they can no longer live on their own, what can they afford in terms of housing?
  1. Do they have an accountant or financial planner? Who is it and how do you contact them? Have they done any estate planning? Ask if you can meet with their financial professional with them to discuss their situations.
Caregivers Need Support When Helping Their Loves Ones Find a Medicare Plan

Caregivers Need Support When Helping Their Loves Ones Find a Medicare Plan


Caregivers are trusted allies, so it’s no surprise that many people reach out to them for advice and guidance when it’s time to choose a Medicare plan.

There’s a large and growing number of people who are serving as caregivers to their parents, relatives and friends, many of whom don’t have the resources to conduct their own research. According to the National Caregiver Alliance, “approximately 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months.”

Caregivers are also clearly stretched for time, since many of them are working full-time jobs in addition to caring for a loved one.

So, if you’re a caregiver, help is on the way. Here are five simple tips to help evaluate Medicare plan options and aid in the enrollment process for 2017:

Allow yourself plenty of time

The Annual Election Period (AEP) for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug coverage began last month and runs through December 7. As the caregiver, make sure you and your loved one start early so you can make the right decision. Great sites, such as Medicare.gov and humana.com/medicare, are excellent online resources for finding the right plans for the loved one you care for.

Confirm the prescriptions your loved one needs

Managing prescriptions drugs is not easy. When researching Medicare options, be sure to conduct an inventory of the prescriptions your loved one is taking. Write down the names, the dosages, when and how they are taken, and, where they’re being filled. Make copies of this list so loved ones and friends are in the loop, too.

Discuss preferences for doctor visits

If the person you’re helping to enroll in a Medicare plan is comfortable with a primary care physician coordinating their care within a network of Medicare-approved doctors, a Medicare Advantage HMO plan may be a good fit. HMO plans often have a low or even zero monthly plan premium, although the person you’re caring for will typically need to continue to pay his or her Part B premium. If the person you are caring for wants more flexibility in choosing a doctor, a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) plan may be a good plan option. There are also Medicare Supplement insurance plans, which allow more options for selecting a doctor. These plans don’t provide prescription coverage but a standalone prescription drug plan can be purchased as well.

Balance the budget with health care needs.

Many people with Medicare are living on fixed incomes. This makes it critical to review any current Medicare health plan and take a close look at how much has been spent on health care during the past year. Be sure to include hospital expenses, pharmacy costs and doctor bills. This will help to determine—to the best of your ability—the health care expenses expected in 2017 and whether his or her current Medicare health plan still fits within the budget and household finances.

Communicate clearly with the care team

Involve everyone who needs to take part in making these decisions – children, siblings, friends, and other caregivers. By working together as a team–like you do in caregiving—you’ll be able to gather the best information. Others may have done this before, so share knowledge as you go.

Make sure you look at all plan options, including Medicare Advantage plans, the private alternative to Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans often offer zero or low monthly plan premiums (although, Part B premiums typically must continue to be paid), set cost-share, and lower or no deductibles compared to Original Medicare. These plans also offer maximum out of pocket cost protection.

Caregiving is a difficult task, but choosing a Medicare plan doesn’t have to add to the stress if you follow these simple tips.

By Jeff Fernandez, Vice President, Humana Medicare West Segment

America’s Forgotten Youth: National Family Caregivers Month



Like a kid before Christmas, I eagerly await the start of November every year. As November marks the dedicated month for family caregivers, I hold my breath as the tributes, photo spotlights, and news features begin to trickle across my computer screen. I read every article about caregivers through Google’s daily alerts.  I read the Presidential Proclamation. I scan the websites of our national caregiving advocacy organizations. Words like “honor”, “love”, and “support” fill the pages.  I finally release my breath, realizing 2016 would be yet another year in which the millions of child and young adult caregivers in America would go without mention.

These young people provide unpaid care, support, and assistance to their family members every single day. They care for our veterans. They care for our elderly. They care for our mentally ill. They care for our loved ones with substance abuse issues. In the midst of their homework assignments, part-time jobs, and college classes, they don’t forget to look after the very people our society has marginalized and cast aside.

Yet, when National Family Caregivers Month arrives in November, we forget to recognize them.

I spent this past year travelling across the United States interviewing young adult caregivers for my doctoral research. Knowing that my research is based in both the United Kingdom and the United States, my interviewees would ask me, “What’s it like in England?” I would tell them about numerous supportive organizations scattering the country, the new national law put in place to give child caregivers legal rights to seeking support, and even the budding growth of bursaries granting young adult caregivers financial assistance to go to college. “With regards to supporting caregiving youth, the United States is, in fact, behind the rest of the West.”

, the common response from my interviewees. I don’t know what to tell them in return.  

Yet there is hope. There is Dr. Connie Siskowski’s American Association of Caregiving Youth, the only organization in our country committed to supporting children who provide care for their family. For decades, Dr. Siskowski  and her organization have worked as tireless advocates, providing practical support to thousands of children, the majority going on to postsecondary education. Her efforts through AACY have culimnated in the designation of this November as “Caregiving Youth Month” by the school district of Palm Beach County, Florida.

“I long for the day when every child and young adult caregiver in our country feels supported as they pursue their dreams.” We can start now, by making every month and every day–a day in which these young people know they are not forgotten.


*This article was originally published with The Huffington Post. *

Dementia training for caregivers: is it important?

Dementia training for caregivers: is it important?

The caregiving community is incredibly diverse, but it seems we can agree that dementia caregivers — both family and professional caregivers — should be trained. Dementia caregiving is a world where the ‘normal’ rules don’t apply and we all need guidance learning to support, motivate, and keep people with dementia safe.

Family caregivers and professional caregivers both report that they wish they’d gotten training in dementia sooner and that it makes their lives easier — while helping them take better care of dementia patients.

Even at the assisted living facility where I’m a nurse, where I’d say the majority of my residents have dementia in some form, our aides have no idea how to handle it.

One resident consistently tries to “go home,” often packing up all her things, trying to get out the doors etc. The best way to calm her, I’ve found, is to tell her something to the effect of “the moving truck broke down and they won’t be able to fix it until tomorrow.” She accepts that and goes about her day.

So many times I’ve had to coach my aides because they try to prove to her that she lives at the facility, showing her name on her door and things. This only leads to her becoming agitated, then I have to medicate her because nothing will calm her down.

I like to explain it like this to my aides: imagine you’re finishing up your shift and someone tells you that you can’t leave, you live there and it’s time for you to get into bed. You know 100% that you don’t live there. When no one lets you leave you get mad, and scared, and you just want to get out of there–these people are keeping you in captivity. You’ve got to get home to your kids, go grocery shopping, and no one will let you go home. You haven’t worked here that long and now they’re telling you that you can never leave.

Because dementia patients can’t be “taught” out of their delusions. It just doesn’t work that way. So yeah, dementia training should be 100% mandatory. – Devon C.

Here’s what our community members have to say

The focus for many places, caregiving organizations, and doctors seems to be on what the dementia patients have lost ability to do. There is still so much they can do, respond to, which if we help facilitate will make the patients daily life meaningful. – Colleen H.

One of my mother’s caregivers from the agency was up all night arguing with my mother about whether there was a baby in the house. My mother asked “Where is the baby?” The ones that had training in dementia knew to answer with, “the baby is at your daughter’s house tonight so that you can rest.” – Barbara K.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. My husband has Alzheimer’s/dementia and sometimes it is so hard for me to handle the cognitive /not cognitive moments with him. I try to just “go along” with those moments, but, it is very difficult. If there is a better way to handle it with proper training, sign me up! – Kathleen S.

I agree training would be great. Everyone doesn’t have the patience to deal with dementia/Alzheimers patients no matter how trained they are. They first need a heart to care and understand that this isn’t an easy job. – Quince J.

I’m caring for a grandparent and I was totally unprepared for the multiple bad episodes. Even her gerontologist isn’t much help. – Fern L.

There are times that you will wish you had training when they have a really bad episode. That training can make a big difference to their care and your approach. – Nicole K.

I’ve done all my own training on my own time with my own money because I adore these people and they deserve to be understood and their families deserve to know their being well taken care of. – Michelle W.

I used an agency to get a caregiver for my mom with Dementia, it was amazing how little they knew and were just trained on the cleaning part. I was training them and paying them hundreds of dollars…very sad. How do you help your client if you don’t understand their needs? I feel very bad for elderly that don’t have family around all the time to oversee the care they are receiving. – Terry F.

Caregivers who are inexperienced in this field leads to abuse because of the lack of understanding. And by abuse I mean unknowingly acting out towards the person with out intentionally meaning so. When a caregiver doesn’t understand and that caregiver starts to get caregiver breakdown, unintentional harm happens with out even realizing themselves they are doing it. I’ve personally have seen this happen way to many times. It’s a bad situation to both parties involved. – Kim S.

I hired caregivers to help with my Dad, and I was amazed at what they didn’t know about Dementia patients. I had to train them how to react, care for and converse with my Dad. – Patti K.

I take care of my Mum who has Alzheimer’s. I’m very glad I got trained in this area. It has been a stress saver. When I look at my Mum, I see the great honour I have been given to take care of her. – Melody F.

After what my nans going through on a so called dementia unit in a hospital, I think people need training. We have to go to the dementia unit and feed her everyday because they don’t have the patience. They have no idea at all. – Charlotte S.

Some comments have been edited for clarity and/or grammar.

A few days of sun

A few days of sun

My apartment looks into a courtyard, which is pretty typical for Brooklyn. It’s a nice courtyard, as far as courtyards go. The lack of direct sunlight does have benefits – my wife and I were amazed by how little we needed the A/C last summer. Sure, it’d be nice to have more sun, but we’re not home that often. Until recently. My wife’s been on disability while she recovers from surgery and we’re both going a little stir crazy.

A whole block of storefronts that didn't bother to shovel the sidewalk.

A whole block of storefronts that didn’t bother to shovel the sidewalk.

We typically clock 30 miles of walking on a weekend, so sitting in our dark apartment is not something we know how to do. Theoretically, she’s well enough to meet a friend for lunch or hang out at the neighborhood coffee shop, but the reality of New York City means that’s just not an option. The first time she took the subway we went 15 minutes away to check out a new donut shop. The place was packed, so there was nowhere to sit. We went next door instead. When we went to get back on the train we waited, and waited, and finally they said the train wasn’t running. Or maybe it was. Or maybe it was just delayed. By now Casey was exhausted and we just wanted to head home. We got tired of listening to the garbled announcements and decided to call Uber instead. But then our driver didn’t come to the correct spot, meaning Casey had to limp across four lanes of traffic and, ironically, we almost got run over by an Access-a-Ride bus running a red light. We thought we would be gone for an hour or so, but it ended being much more of an adventure than we’d bargained for.

We live in a neighborhood with many beautiful Victorian homes, which unfortunately means many of the sidewalks are slick with ice all winter. The MTA doesn’t shovel the plaza in front of our subway station and the shopkeepers only clear a path to their door, if they bother to shovel at all. If you haven’t taken the subway much, you might be surprised to discover how often people shove you on a train. The subway has a lot of stairs, the escalators are under perennial repair, the elevators serve as bathrooms for the homeless. New York is designed to repel homeless people, which means benches are scarce. Brooklyn is not a good place to be if you’re having a hard time walking.

We won’t talk about how difficult it is to bundle up for the cold. Dressing in layers when you can’t bend or twist is no easy task.

New York covered in snow

New York covered in snow

Our solution was to toss a change of clothes in a bag and book the cheapest flight we could find to somewhere warm and sunny. We were thrilled to find flights to Myrtle Beach and booked a suite overlooking the ocean with space for me to work. We have zero interest in laying on the beach, so we were happy to take advantage of off-season rates. Our room had two beds in the bedroom and a murphy bed in the main room, so Casey got to play Goldilocks and decide which one was just right.

It’s been lovely having a bit of a change of scenery. Every time I look up from my laptop the sky looks different. I love listening to the ocean waves. The beach is practically deserted, but we’re keeping ourselves entertained by making up life stories for the folks we see lounging by the pools. The snowbirds at the hotel appear to view us as unaccompanied minors, so mostly they just glare at us over the tops of their coffee cups in the morning and in the jacuzzi during the day. It feels a little bit like walking into the cafeteria on the first day of a new school, but I’m so excited about the warm weather that I don’t care that we’re in a geriatric version of Mean Girls.

Broadway at the Beach - a fake downtown for tourists designed to look like a Cape Cod village.

Broadway at the Beach – a fake downtown for tourists designed to look like a Cape Cod village.

Walking is hardly an option in Myrtle Beach, so it doesn’t really matter that Casey can’t walk for more than a few minutes at a time. It’d be hard to walk a mile if you tried. Thankfully, the car we rented this time was much more comfortable than last time – when she ended up laying in the back seat for the ride home because she was so uncomfortable. It’s the off season, so it doesn’t matter that we have not yet bothered to get a handicapped parking pass – all the parking lots are empty.

It was hard to tell which downtown motels were closed for the season and which were closed forever.

It was hard to tell which downtown motels were closed for the season and which were closed forever.

It’s a ghost town – I’d never been in an empty movie theatre before, but it was empty for both movies we watched. We drove our rental car up and down the golden mile. All the attractions are closed, so we explored the malls instead. The original strip malls lay abandoned. The early indoor malls are closed, the later models are slowly withering away. The new urbanist malls and theme park malls are both alluring and repulsive with their fake main streets in a sea of parking lots.

The Market Common is a new urbanist development at the site of a former military base.

The Market Common is a new urbanist development at the site of a former military base.

I have to remember that the charming neighborhoods of Brooklyn, with all of their character and grit, also started out as developments. Perhaps these spaces will feel authentic in a few years, only they’ll be easier to live in. We explore the real main streets, too, full of people who have been left behind. The original motels had been turned into SROs, only now they were far away from the economic center of town. I’m so curious to see it at the height of summer – do all of these empty spaces really come alive?

It was nice to get out of the apartment and have a change of scenery. It was really lovely to see the ocean and the shifting colors of the sky every time I looked up from my laptop. And I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can work flexible hours so Casey and I could explore the area. Going down South is a bit of a culture shock every time – everyone is so outgoing! It was also great to be in a space that was designed with accessibility in mind. Things were just simpler – everything had ramps, there were benches everywhere, there were different chairs to choose from and so many barriers had been removed. I’m not ready to move down to South Carolina, but we might head back again next year. Who can say no to escaping the city for a few days in the sun?20150127_102537