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Real-life Story

My clients were the sons of a 94-year-old gentleman. One son lived in town, and the other lived out of state. At the time they contacted me, their father was living at home, could ambulate with a walker, and was having short-term memory issues. He needed assistance with meal preparation, hands on help with bathing and dressing, and a lot of cueing. But his biggest issue was that his body retains a lot of fluid due to medical issues. He has a catheter that has to be emptied at least four times a day. While he is capable of inserting the catheter on his own, the sons had been setting up the catheter and lubricating the tip for him. They also had an aide from a non-medical home care agency helping him several times a week for four hours at a time. Because their dad needed 24-hour supervision, the sons were taking turns watching him for 2-3 weeks at a time. Both were exhausted: One is still working full-time, and they told me they just couldn’t manage his care anymore.

The catheter immediately presented an issue because assisted living licensing does not allow assisted living communities to provide catheter care. Those services must be provided by an outside agency licensed to do so. Unfortunately, the cost to provide the needed service, four times a day, would be an additional $100 per day. Therefore, the cost for the catheter care would be an additional $3,000 a month on top of the $6,000 to $8,000 base cost for assisted living. This gentleman is not yet ready for a nursing home.

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When I am asked to place a couple that is looking for a 2-bedroom apartment in assisted living, I often cringe.  That is because when the assisted living areas of many of the communities were built, the plans just didn’t include many 2-bedroom options.  The majority offer only studios or one-bedrooms.  Some communities offer nothing but studios.  Those places that offer the option of a 2-bedroom apartment assisted living usually are full with a waiting list.  In one instance, the Administrator at a senior living community went as far as knocking down a wall between 2 studios in order to accommodate my clients (a couple) so they could stay together.  Timing and luck play a huge part in finding a 2-bedroom in assisted living, as illustrated in my Real Life Story.

Real Life Story

My clients were a couple in need of two different levels of care.  Although both individuals had significant health issues, one was able to remain at the independent living level of care.  The spouse had experienced several hospitalizations and needed assisted living. The couple hired me at the suggestion of their children.  This was a second marriage for both members of the couple.

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I have vivid memories of the seniors picking on each other many years ago while I was an Admissions Director at a Continuing Care Retirement Community. If they weren’t fighting over the seats at Bingo that had been “saved,” they were sniping at each other in the line for flu shots at the nurse’s office. A vicious gossiper could get another resident sequestered to sitting alone at a table in the dining room by starting a rumor. There was a certain independent resident who was constantly poking fun at the assisted living residents, not realizing that one day she would be in assisted living herself. I just took it with a grain of salt.

However, there was another notorious independent living resident Bully who I will refer to as Dee. Dee had a reputation of bullying just about everyone, and was feared by every resident. One of my favorite residents was a t former Chicago policeman who was tough as nails and had a mouth like a drunken sailor. Dee even posed a problem for him. She tried to bully me by asking all sorts of intimidating questions and telling me, ” I do not like the people you are letting in here.” She harassed the wait staff horrifically by complaining about the food and the manner in which they served it.  Several of the servers were often in tears. She had endless insulting conversations with the Director of Dietary that often didn’t end well. If she didn’t care for something that another resident was doing, she would literally tail them up the hallway with her purse dangling and calling out insults after them.

At one point, I admitted a very attractive older woman who I will refer to as Lee. She was well dressed, personable, and the rest of the residents liked her. She befriended one of the male residents, who I will simply refer to as Jay. After dinner every night, Jay and Lee would get together in Jay’s room. The door was always open, and they would talk late into the night, sometimes until one o’clock in the morning. Dee had this terrible habit of walking the hallways late into the night. The other residents told me that the fact that the two residents were talking late into the night didn’t bother them. The weren’t making any noise and the door was always open so they knew nothing was happening. Apparently, Dee didn’t have the same reaction. She was often seen on the third floor walking back and forth in front of Joe’s room.

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When I placed my mother in a long-term care community at the age of 95, the cost of her care in assisted living was about $6,000 per month. That was over 3 years ago. Now the cost of assisted living can run between $6,000 to $9,000 per month depending upon how much help a person needs and which community is chosen. Skilled nursing care can run $9,000 to $17,000 per month depending upon the community.

My mother purchased her policy in the 1980s when long-term care insurance was a newer product on the market. She asked me if I thought the purchase was a good idea, and I said, “Absolutely!” What she purchased was a policy that paid $100 per day, up to a maximum of $143,000. She had a 90-day waiting period, which meant she had to pay the first three months of her care out of her own pocket, or $18,000. She didn’t purchase an inflation guard rider, which would have increased the benefit by several percentages on an annual basis in order to keep up with inflation. Therefore, the policy covered a little over half of what her care cost on a monthly basis. She had to pay the balance of $2,500 a month out of her pocket.

Now, there are different types of long-term care insurance available. Some are traditional like the policy my mother bought. Others are hybrid products that consist of life insurance products with a long-term care rider. In any event, trying to self-fund a stay in a long-term care community can be devastating. Illinois is one of the toughest states in which to obtain Medicaid, which is the federally funded and state administered coverage for people who do not have the funds to pay for long-term care. Because the State of Illinois is so far in arrears with reimbursing nursing homes for Medicaid recipients, many nursing homes have de-certified the number of Medicaid beds they have available. Many nursing homes are also look for a resident to pay between 1 to 2 years privately before filing a Medicaid application. Therefore, Medicaid isn’t a resource to be relied upon for long-term care. In addition, Medicare only covers short-term stays in a rehabilitation skilled nursing community.

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I lost my husband to cancer of the appendix in April of 2015. I had been a member of the local chamber of commerce in Riverside, Illinois, and chose a funeral director that I knew because he was president of the chamber. When I called him at 6 A.M. the morning after my husband’s death.  It was pretty obvious that I woke him up. Yet, he was cheerful. He told me to come over any time after I was showered, and he would have coffee waiting for me. From the moment that I explained the type of arrangements that I wanted, he didn’t ask me any questions. He took the entire awful process out of my hands, and everything went very smoothly. When my parish priest refused to accommodate the time I was requesting for the ceremony, he even called another Catholic church and arranged to have the ceremony there.

As part of the services offered by Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors, I often have arranged funerals for my clients if I am named as the senior’s Power of Attorney for Health Care. In a case I was involved with recently, my client had pre-arranged her own funeral, but was very confused as to what she had purchased. I called the funeral home and asked a representative to come out to explain the contract. I shared the contract number with her and asked her to be prepared to explain any charges that still needed to be paid, and to bring the necessary paperwork.

The funeral director showed up half an hour late to the meeting, claiming that she thought it was a half an hour later. In addition, she muddled through some kind of explanation as to why my client needed to sign some burial insurance form in order for the contract to pay, then proceeded to tell me she brought the wrong paperwork. Faxed or scanned documents were unacceptable, so this resulted in having to set another meeting to sign them.

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I recently had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed on the Silver Solutions Radio show. It airs on WMRN 1410 AM in Elgin, Illinois. It is hosted by Jeanette Palmer, Jim Wojchiechowski, and Kathleen Wetters, who each independently own a Right At Home non-medical home care agency. During the interview, they graciously gave me a chance to explain how I started my career in the senior housing industry as the Admissions and Marketing Director of the St. Andrew Life Center (Now Glen St. Andrew) in Niles, Illinois. It was a faith-based community that offered three levels of care, including independent living, assisted living, and a nursing home on one campus. I was receiving so many telephone calls (mostly from the children of seniors who were calling me from the Yellow pages) from people who didn’t know how to solve their senior loved ones’ problems. I saw a niche for a consulting business. So in 2006, much to my husband’s dismay, I opened Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors in 2006.

I started my senior housing placement consulting business by touring and evaluating over 150 senior living communities in the Chicago metro area. I looked at cost and methods of payment accepted, levels of care, staffing, and quality of care. Then I also evaluated quality of life factors such as cleanliness, menus, activities, and apartment and room layouts. So, when a family needs my services, I make a face to face evaluation of the senior, their financial realities, and the location preferences of the family. Then, I select the options that fit the senior’needs so families aren’t wasting time touring places that simply won’t work long-term.  At this point I have toured and evaluated close to 500 senior communities in the Chicago metro area.

We also shared a very frank discussion about the costs of placement in a senior living community versus the costs of staying at home in the Chicago metro area.  We talked about the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

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My clients were a very pleasant, alert, 90 year old woman and her son. The son had been gainfully employed by a major corporation and had been transferred to a state out west. He liked the new location very much and remained there once he was retired. His mother had lived here in the Chicago area all of her life. When she could no longer take care of herself, the son chose to move her to an assisted living community here. She had lived in the suburbs all of her life and wanted to be in close proximity to the cemetery where her husband was buried. She had an excellent support system here, consisting of many personal friends who visited her and members of her church who came to give her communion at least once a week. In addition, the son hired me to act as her advocate for several hours a week. His long-term plan was eventually to find a senior living community for her out west where he was living. In the interim, he wanted me to monitor the visits from the nurse who was tending to a wound on his mother’s leg, ensure that her hearing aids were charged, make certain she arrived at her ophthalmologist appointments, and see that her mind was being occupied by decent activities and going outside.

At first my elderly client was rather wary of me. But we developed a wonderful relationship. She was very frank with me with regard to the staff at the local community. She was in the assisted living area of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), including independent, assisted, and nursing home living, because she needed standby assistance with bathing, dressing, and putting in her hearing aids. On occasion she needed to use a wheel chair for long distances, and was in need of 24-hour supervision. However, she complained of long waits when she pushed her wrist pendant for summoning help. She said that when she did get help, some of the staff members were nice and others were not. She often mentioned to me that the activities were not very interesting. She told me she didn’t complain to staff or to her son because her son tried so hard to do a good job. She did mention that the food was wonderful. Overall, I got the impression that she was just putting up with things and would like to be happier with better staffing and activities.

The son eventually contacted me and said he found a new community for his mom out west and gave me the dates of her departure. I met with the son and his mom to say good-bye. The son told me that his mom was going to be living in an independent living/assisted living/memory care community. He explained to me that the independent living and assisted living residents lived in the same area in the new community because state law prohibited them from being separated. He expressed concern over the potential wait time involved when she pushed her pendant button. I asked him if he had asked what the ratio of staff to residents was and he replied “No.” I asked if he had checked the activity schedule for the types of things that might make his mom happy. I did not receive a clear affirmative answer. Since his mother loved the food at her original, local community, I asked if he had tried the food at the new community out west. Again, the answer was no. When I asked why he went with a community that lacked a nursing home component, he said he was told that any of the services she needed could be brought into her apartment. I’m not certain he was aware of how astronomical the costs of ordering ala carte services into an assisted living apartment can be.

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In this month’s newsletter, I share with you advice from my colleague Renee N. Duba, a certified financial planner with Sonder Private Wealth Management. Inc. In a recent article about the impact of inflation on purchasing power, authors at Sonder observed that, in 1916, nine cents could buy a quart of milk. Fifty years later, nine cents would buy only a glass of milk. Now, more than 100 years later, nine cents will buy only about 7 tablespoons of milk. That’s a different and yet very vivid way of looking at long-term cost increases, of which we’re all aware. For details on how inflation affects seniors, in particular, I have invited Renee to share with us the following information about retirement and Medicare.

While the United States has not seen skyrocketing prices for basic goods and services for many years, it is important for families to understand how inflation affects long-term financial security. Most adults recognize that rates of inflation for education and healthcare run much higher than the overall rate of inflation in our economy, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Yet, while the funding of education for our children is a finite endeavor, funding our healthcare needs is not. Like an old car that has ever-increasing repair needs, our bodily health tends to require ever-increasing health care consumption as we advance in years.

Healthcare costs in the United States are the highest in the developed world. For example, the U.S. pays more for doctors and drugs than in 10 other developed nations. On average, Americans spend $1,443 per person on pharmaceuticals, compared to a global average of $749. As a certified financial planner, I wish to enlighten ADSLA’s readers specifically about Medicare Parts B and D, their long-term impact on your retirement income, and how you can best plan now to achieve financial security during your retirement years.

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At the request of the Illinois Chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, I was recently asked to give a presentation at their annual meeting on, “How to choose a nursing home”. Had I been asked to speak about how to find a nursing home for a person with Huntington’s disease, the task would have been much more challenging.

For those of you who are not familiar with the disease, here are some very general characteristics of the disease:

1. It is a neurodegenerative disease that causes deterioration of the brain cells. It can strike as early as the age of 30 and progress for several decades. It can also strike children and the elderly. The disease is hereditary. Its victims exhibit inappropriate behaviors that can sometime be violent.

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Being older CAN have its advantages. Among them are these potentially money-saving tips from the IRS, for those of you who have not already done your taxes.

If you and/or your spouse are 65 years old or older, you can get a higher standard deduction amount if you do not itemize your deductions. And if either you or your spouse is blind, you can get an even higher standard deduction amount.

One suggestion I would add about the Standard Deduction for Seniors: If you are unsure which path is better for you, prepare your taxes both ways: Both with itemizing deductions and without itemizing deductions and compare your results. Naturally, you’ll want to choose the path that reduces your tax burden or increases your Refund.