What’s in an Alzheimer’s test?

There is no single test that can determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. But a combination of several different tests can identify if memory and thinking problems are due to one of the many conditions that result in symptoms of dementia.

By process of elimination, doctors can determine what may be the root cause of thinking problems. Some conditions are treatable. Others are not.

Advantages to getting tested early. If changes in memory and thinking are getting in the way of doing what you need or want to do in your life, ask your doctor for a checkup. Even if the source of your problem is not curable, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible has benefits. You can make lifestyle changes that might help slow disease progression and take advantage of medications that can lessen troublesome symptoms. You also become eligible to participate in clinical trials, which puts you in line for cutting-edge treatment. And knowing sooner rather than later gives you time to prioritize what you want to do in the near future, and to complete paperwork and make plans with your family about your wishes for later in the disease.

The components of a full evaluation. To get a complete picture of your brain’s health, figure on visits with several different specialists, each providing a unique perspective.

  • Medical history and physical exam. Your primary doctor will check your heart, hearing, vision, and medications, as well as do a quick memory screening. Expect to discuss your symptoms, your medical history, and your family’s. Also, your lifestyle habits such as exercise and alcohol and recreational drug use.
  • Lab tests. Typically, this involves blood work and a urinalysis. Bladder and kidney problems can point to conditions other than Alzheimer’s that trigger memory issues. Lab work will assess thyroid, liver, and kidney function and screen for infections anywhere in the body. Genetic tests may be offered, but they are controversial at this stage because they provide nothing conclusive. Just probabilities.
  • Brain imaging. A neurologist may order a CT scan, MRI, or PET scan to look for structural changes in the brain. Perhaps you have had a small stroke or several mini-strokes. There may be bleeding, a tumor, or excess fluid in the brain.
  • Tests of your thinking and mental health. Dementia and depression each cause fuzzy thinking and memory loss. Testing by a neuropsychologist can zero in on the distinction, which is key to finding the correct treatment. The exams are mostly question-and-answer tests or puzzles. They assess arithmetic, memory, concentration, language, problem solving, and spatial recognition skills.

Are you worried you have Alzheimer’s?
Let us guide you through the screening process. Call (208) 321-5567.

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Aging with purpose: Defining your true north

Aging with purpose: Defining your true north

Study after study reveals that older adults with a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning in their lives, enjoy greater well-being and live longer than those without a life focus. They also have better cognitive and physical health and suffer less from depression, suggesting that purpose is an important component of a healthy and satisfying elderhood.

To explore possibilities for yourself, try this simple two-step process.

Begin by composing a purpose statement

  • What topics or activities captivated your interest before the responsibilities of adulthood: Photography? Music? The study of space? Writing? Drama? Other cultures?
  • What contexts give you a sense of well-being now: Creative activities, quiet contemplation, helping others, time in nature, achieving a goal?
  • What do you want to experience more of in your life: Serenity and calm? Community and belonging? The excitement of new horizons?

Complete this sentence using your answers from above: “In order to experience more ____, I’d like to spend time [context], perhaps focusing on [interests].”

Merge with activities. Unless your focus is on solitude and contemplation, consider the three types of activities below that research has identified as generally gratifying for older adults. Which of these best supports your purpose statement?

  • Learning and growing. Find a local tutor or class for whatever it is that interests you. It’s not too late! Or try online learning. OasisEverywhere.org offers online courses specifically for older adults. National periodicals have Zoom sessions with opinion leaders. Accredited classes are offered by well-known universities through Coursera.org. Or view video lectures through companies like Great Courses and Wondrium. And locally, many senior centers offer educational programs and day trips.
  • Giving to others. One study of older volunteers found that 94% said volunteering improved their mood; 78% said it lowered their stress levels and 76% said it made them feel healthier. Look for activities on VolunteerMatch.org. Or try mixing travel and volunteering. Google “volunteer vacations for seniors” to find international programs specifically tailored for older adults.
  • Starting a second career. As an “encore,” some people open a business, turning a hobby into cash. Others enjoy the perks of working part time in a sociable, low-pressure job. Check out Encore.org and AARP.org/work for later-life career guidance.

Looking for a life with purpose? We understand the challenge!
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

Shopping tips for Medicare prescription insurance (Part D)

Shopping tips for Medicare prescription insurance (Part D)

From October 15 to December 7 each year, Medicare enrollees have the option to change their insurance plans. For prescription drug coverage, which is only offered by private insurance companies, it pays to shop around. Even if you have been happy with your current plan, drug prices and premiums change from one year to the next. It’s a good idea to compare. There could be hundreds of dollars at stake.

The federal government makes Medicare prescription plan rules, so some things are the same no matter the company. For instance, the point at which the initial coverage stops and the coverage gap begins—sometimes called the “donut hole”—is up to $4430 in 2022. But how soon you get to that number depends on drug pricing, which varies from one insurance company to the next.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • The price of your medicines. To compare plans, you must research the prices in each plan’s “formulary” for each of your prescriptions. A plan that charges $200 for a month’s worth of pills will land you in the coverage gap sooner than a plan that charges $100.
  • The cost of the deductible. This is what you must pay before insurance kicks in. Some policies have a $0 deductible. Others go to the 2022 Medicare maximum: $480.
  • The cost of copays. Typically, once the deductible is met, you need to pay a set fee per prescription or a percentage of the price of each drug. This is called the “copay.” It varies widely from one company to another, as does the price or percentage that is required in the coverage gap.
  • The price of the monthly premium. The lower the premium, the higher the copays.
  • Customer service. Each plan has a Medicare star rating based on customer satisfaction and other performance factors. These are updated yearly. A rating of fewer than four stars probably indicates slow service, which could cost money or cause health problems.
  • Other services tied to the drug plan. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, prescriptions may be bundled with your coverage for doctors and hospitals. A plan that might be better for medicines may not include the doctors you have been seeing. You may need to choose which is more important.

Get help comparing plans. Go to Medicare.gov for an online comparison tool. Or use free telephone assistance at 1-800-MEDICARE. There, you can get help weighing the costs and benefits so you can select the best coverage for your money.

Got the Medicare blues?
We have tips and solutions! Call us at (208) 321-5567.

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When your children won’t talk to you

If your adult child has cut off contact, you are not alone. An estimated 11% of parents are estranged from their adult kids. That’s 1:8. But you wouldn’t know it to hear others talk.

There is such a stigma around the issue that estranged parents rarely talk about it with others. Instead, they tend to cover things over.

That means carrying around feelings of shame, guilt, and deep sadness, often in isolation. Sound familiar?

Why do adult children sever the tie? There are myriad reasons. Two-thirds (67%) of estranged parents say they have never been told the reason why. On some level, perhaps the specific details of “why” are not material. In the end, it may be wise to simply conclude that everyone remembers family dynamics differently.

Should you try to reconcile? Reconciliation involves both parties, although parents usually initiate the effort. Be flexible about the outcome. Estrangement may be the best outcome. The important part is how you process it.

Begin with yourself. A child’s rejection is not a measure of your worth as a person or a parent. Even fantastic parents go through periods when their children want nothing to do with them. Reach out to others so you have support. There are online and in-person groups for estranged parents. Talk with a counselor.

What adult children say they want. Surveys indicate that children who have split away want to “be heard” and to have their parent apologize for past actions. Expressions can be as simple as a sincere “I’m sorry. I wish I had been more ______.” Some also ask their parent to accept boundaries, such as a limit to the type or frequency of contact.

Things to avoid. Don’t issue repeated requests to meet. This can backfire: Your child may feel harassed. Try a light overture. If it is rebuffed, wait a significant time before trying again. If the door opens, prepare to just listen and empathize. “Correcting” them or stating your own feelings will likely bring everything to a halt. In fact, your child may never be open to hearing what it was like for you. And if those are the terms of reconciliation, you need to decide if that’s okay with you. For some parents, it’s simply not.

The goal is healing. Ideally, the healing involves getting back together. If it doesn’t, use your support system to help you get to a healthy resolution inside yourself. No more isolation. No more shame.

Considering a reconciliation? We can help.
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

Planning to “retire” from driving

Planning to "retire" from driving

Did you know that we usually outlive our ability to drive safely by six to ten years? As we age, we naturally modify how we drive to address physical changes: Stiff joints, poor vision, slow reflexes. But a time will come when it’s simply unwise to continue behind the wheel.

We do plenty of planning and preparation before retiring from work. Similarly, it’s smart to take a moment and consider the probability that you may not be driving your last few years. How can you retire from driving without giving up an active life?

Most people find it works best to have more than one driving alternative. Check these out:

  • Family and friends. This is by far the most common strategy.
  • Ride-sharing apps. Services such as Lyft and Uber can be extremely helpful (and not that expensive when you factor in the costs of a vehicle, gas, insurance, etc., that you are being spared). Both services are exploring senior options with door-to-door assistance. No smartphone? Consider a phone service such as GoGoGrandparent.com.
  • Local transportation programs. Many churches and senior centers have volunteer driver programs that are free or low cost. These are ideal for errands or doctor appointments. Think about “paying it forward” by serving as a volunteer driver now.
  • Public transportation. Standard buses are an option. Some have a “buddy program or a “senior training day” to help you get oriented. Many public transit companies also provide “paratransit” services. This is a low-cost, door-to-door service available for those who meet disability criteria. Rides must be scheduled a day or two in advance.
  • Special service vans. Senior centers often put together ride packages to cultural events. Leave the driving and the parking to someone else! Medical or cancer treatment centers may offer transportation. Take shuttle services to the airport.
  • Self-driving cars. Wonderful to anticipate, but they are some time off as yet.
  • Online services. Spare the trip! Order online and take advantage of delivery services. Arrange for appointments to be done by video chat when possible.

Considering a move or downsizing? Factor in driving retirement. Would your new abode allow for easy walking to where you want to go? To public transportation? For assisted living, is there van service to doctors or shopping?

Find out now what’s available. Check out ridesinsight.org or call 855-607-4337 (toll-free, nationwide) to find local driving alternatives.

Learning how to age in your own style?
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

Age-friendly exteriors

Age-friendly exteriors

When imagining an age-friendly house, many people think of ramps for wheelchairs and walkers. Indeed, ramps are essential—if and when they are needed. There are, however, modifications for the outside of a home that simply make daily life and basic maintenance easier. They help prevent falls by addressing the common conditions of arthritis, poor eyesight, or limited balance.

Some safety suggestions also deter thieves.

Lighting. To reduce shadows, point lights down rather than across. And use frosted glass fixtures or bulbs to reduce glare (a notable hindrance to seeing well as we age). Consider adding lights that come on automatically in low-light conditions or when motion is detected. Put them along all pathways and stairs, and at the corners of your house. Also install them at common destinations, such as all entry doors, the mailbox, a trash enclosure, and the garage door. Abundant light illuminates hazards while also discouraging burglars!

Stairs. Several modifications can make a stairway safer. Handrails, ideally on both sides, that are at least 1½ inches in diameter so they are easier to grip. And a textured or nonskid surface on the tread of each stair. Also take care to repair any broken steps so they are level and soundly anchored. Even out the rise of each step so they are all the same height. To make it easier on knees and hips, plan for the rise of each step to be no more than 7 inches and no less than 4 inches. The tread—space allotted for the length of your foot—should be no less than 11 inches. If you are reinstalling a staircase, plan for a landing for every 12 feet of vertical rise.

The entryway. Many activities occur at entryways: Opening a locked door, bringing in groceries, greeting visitors, retrieving delivered packages. In addition to good lighting and nonskid surfaces, consider elements that might facilitate these daily tasks. A lever doorknob is easier for arthritic hands. A keyless lock avoids the need to juggle groceries while finding the key. Perhaps a bench where you might set groceries down. A hinged chest/seat would enable delivery people to safely hide your packages. You might also consider a video doorbell to easily view who is there before opening the door. Video can also dissuade thieves—or at least get a recording if someone steals a package left on the doorstep.

Simplifying home maintenance. Add gutter covers to minimize the frequency of cleaning out leaves. (After a certain age, ladders are not your friend! Bones are too brittle if you fall.) Change to brick or vinyl siding to reduce the need for ladder-based maintenance of a wooden exterior. Similarly, resin-based decking will save hours of on-your-knees upkeep.

Looking to age in place?
We are the experts! Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

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Splitting the pie fairly

Splitting the pie fairly

If you have more than one child, deciding how to distribute your assets among them may prompt some angst: If and how should your will or trust reflect your understanding of their different needs? According to a Merrill Lynch study, two-thirds of parents over age 55 are open to the idea of unequal bequests.

“Fair” does not necessarily mean “equal.” If one child has invested considerable time caring for you during health challenges—perhaps giving up valuable income-earning years—should that be reflected in their inheritance? Again, two-thirds of parents think it should. (Not all children agree.) If one child is in a lucrative profession and the others are not so well paid, should you bequeath equally or according to need? Should a health-challenged child get more? What if some of your kids have children and others do not? Should the nonparents get less?

Money does not equal love. This is a self-evident truth. But as a culture, we tend to view money as a proxy for affection. Differing amounts can bring up old resentments. “Dad loved you best …” These feelings may even play out in a court battle. (Sigh)

There are myriad ways to divide the pie. Here are three common scenarios:

  • Equal parts in the will, but gifts as needed before you go. What you give to your children in the normal course of life need not be up for family discussion. It’s between you and each individual child.
  • Acknowledge prior financial help given as a “draw down” on the inheritance. Some children may have needed more help (a down payment for a house, rehab for substance abuse, assistance due to the pandemic). Deducting your past financial support from that child’s “fair share” may quell resentment from other siblings.
  • Unequal bequests with a description of your reasoning. Leave a note with your will or trust that affirms your equal love and explains your logic.

Talk with your kids ahead of time. It’s advisable to discuss your plans with your children individually. (You could learn that the prosperous child prefers that more be given to a less financially stable sibling because it reduces the chance of their being tapped for aid later.) You might then review your plans with everyone in a family meeting. If these conversations seem daunting, let’s talk. We can serve as an objective sounding board to help clarify your thoughts, prepare for the discussions, and perhaps even facilitate your family conversation.

Work with an estate planning attorney. There may be options you hadn’t thought of and details you need to include. You will need an attorney to draw up the final documents.

Are family dynamics a source of worry for you?
We are experts in the needs of aging families. Give us a call: (208) 321-5567.

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Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and what you can do

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and what you can do

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the medical name for memory problems that exceed the “normal forgetfulness of aging” but are less than associated with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. If you have received a diagnosis of MCI, you are at risk for continued significant cognitive decline. Each year about 10–15% of persons with MCI receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as compared to 1–3% of all older adults.

That said, many people with MCI do not experience further decline. And some people even improve–if their memory loss was caused by something fixable like a medication reaction or untreated depression. For all these reasons, it is important to have symptoms reassessed every 6–12 months to monitor changes.

There are things you can do. While there is no medical treatment as yet for MCI, some everyday activities can help prevent or slow its progression. The goal is to increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, and keep your mind active.

  • Manage your blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure within the normal range has a profound effect on delaying memory problems.
  • Practice healthy habits. Get regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. Aim for eight hours of sleep. Eat a diet low in processed foods and high in fruits and vegetables. Limit alcohol. Quit smoking. Manage other conditions (e.g., diabetes, depression).
  • Wear your hearing aids. A loss in hearing means a loss of stimulation to the brain. Studies now connect this loss with a decline in brain function. (Plus, some things you are “forgetting” may in fact be from conversations you didn’t fully hear.)
  • Participate in social activities. Even if you don’t talk much, the stimulation of spending time with others is beneficial.
  • Learn a new skill. Make your brain exercise! Try something you’ve never done. Brush your teeth with the “opposite” hand. Or have some fun: Ping-pong? Drumming?
  • Engage your mind with puzzles. This is brain calisthenics. Keep your neurons firing with activities that make you think.

Memory aids. Accept that you are forgetful and support yourself for success. Make ample use of to-do lists, big calendars, and notes or alarms on your phone. Leverage the power of routines. Put your keys and glasses, purse/wallet in the same place every time. Set yourself up for environmental cueing, consciously putting things where you will see them when needed, such as leaving your morning pills by the coffee maker.

Worried about MCI?
Give us a call. We can help. (208) 321-5567

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How to pay for care

How to pay for care

Most people are surprised to learn that Medicare pays for only a limited amount of the daily care you are likely to need in your lifetime (about 14%).

Medicare covers only services delivered by medically trained professionals. That means you need to have savings or insurance and rely on a collection of local programs. Or family and friends who may be able to pitch in with labor or funds.

Assisted living and memory care $$$–$$$$
As nonmedical services, these settings are usually paid for out of your own savings. If you are a qualifying veteran or you have long-term care insurance, your costs may be covered. Contact the Veterans Administration or state Veterans Council. Check your long-term care insurance policy for eligibility requirements. Also ask about waiting periods. Is there a lifetime cap on the total amount they will pay?

Skilled nursing/rehab or nursing home $–$$$$$
Provided your stay follows a qualifying hospitalization, original Medicare—the government’s health insurance for seniors—will typically cover some portion of the costs for the first 100 days. You use your supplemental insurance for your copay. Or pay out of pocket if you do not have supplemental insurance. Starting day 101, you pay 100% of the cost. Medicare Advantage plans vary, so review the coverage with your insurance provider. If you have private long-term care insurance, check your policy for skilled nursing coverage. The Veterans Administration offers special facilities for qualifying vets.

The very poor may qualify for Medicaid. This program will pay 100% of costs. However, there are only a limited number of Medicaid openings available in any given facility. Those living long term in a nursing home usually exhaust all personal savings and assets. Then they switch to Medicaid. If you think you may need Medicaid, consult an elder law attorney early. Also, your financial planner for advice about liquidating your assets.

Continuing care retirement communities $$$$$
This is a very different model of care that merges housing and insurance. With a continuing care retirement community—also known as a “Life Plan Community”—you invest a substantial sum up front (often in the six figures). You also pay a monthly service fee. Start while you are healthy and live on campus to enjoy the deluxe amenities. Move to the most appropriate building as your care needs change. This is paid for almost entirely out of your own savings. If you have long-term care insurance, check your policy to see if it covers continuing care retirement communities.

Worried about paying for care?
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

Learn more about our aging life care planning services.

Choosing a home care provider

Choosing a home care provider

Frank knows they need help at home. His wife’s dementia is getting worse, and he has his own health problems. She can’t be left alone anymore.

Doing all the cooking and cleaning, and now helping with bathing … it’s just too much.

Frank needs to take breaks. But a Google search reveals a dizzying array of home care providers. How to choose?

Allowing a stranger into your home can leave you feeling quite vulnerable. It’s important that you trust the individual and the company that does the background checks, verifies training, and puts together the schedule.

You also need to interview each company to find out pricing and minimum number of hours, and to see if they have independent quality ratings.

How do you know which one to trust?
This is where an Aging Life Care™ Manager can help.

On the basis of past experience with other clients, he or she knows which companies put an emphasis on training. Which have difficulty filling a shift if a caregiver calls in sick. Which have high staff turnover resulting in the need for you to orient a new employee every few months. Which have a strong team, with employees who love their work.

Wise home care companies will let you and your Aging Life Care Manager interview several caregivers before making a choice. They know that an Aging Life Care Manager understands you as the client and understands what will result in an optimal match.

Both you and the provider and the caregiver want a good fit the first time so all of you can work together positively for the duration of your need. It makes the difficult transition to home care that much easier if a knowledgeable advocate can set expectations and provide an objective viewpoint.

Even with adult day care and medically trained services, such as home health and hospice, not all providers are alike. An Aging Life Care Manager knows the reputation and the management style of each company. He or she can look up Medicare reviews and complaints.

An Aging Life Care Manager can also coordinate care across multiple service providers and work with your physician to ensure that all the different players are aware of your changing needs.

Want to find the best fit the first time?
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567.

Learn more about our aging life care planning services.