Essential estate planning documents

Although it may be difficult to think about, having an estate plan in place ensures that you and your assets are cared for by someone you trust when you are no longer able to do so yourself. No matter your health or your age, it’s never too early to begin arranging your end-of-life plan and to share your wishes with those you trust.

The first step in planning your estate is speaking to a lawyer who is knowledgeable on state laws and required documents, and can answer any questions you may have.

A typical estate plan includes instructions for how your health care, assets, and funeral should be handled as well as who has the authority to make these different decisions. Several different legal documents should be in place to make up a comprehensive estate plan.

The most important documents for every estate plan include:

  • Power of attorney for health care: This document designates another individual to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become unable to do so. A backup individual can also be selected.
  • Living will: Also known as an advanced health care directive, this document specifies your wishes for end-of-life care or in the case of a catastrophic illness. Discussing these wishes with your designated health care power of attorney can help make a difficult time easier.
  • Durable power of attorney: This enables you to choose who will handle your finances as well as how you would like them to be handled. Without a power of attorney, a court may be left to determine the distribution of your assets.
  • Authorization for final disposition: While “next of kin” is legally authorized to make funeral and burial arrangements, this document lets you specify a different individual if desired and also detail how you wish your funeral and burial to be handled.
  • Trusts and wills: These documents instruct what should be done with your assets (money, possessions, real estate, etc.) upon death, and who will be in charge of carrying out your wishes.
  • Inventory of assets: This document contains all of the vital information necessary for someone to manage your estate, including bank information, credit card numbers, attorney contacts, pensions, insurance, and more.

Once these documents are in place, it’s important to review them regularly and make sure they are in line with your current needs and wishes. Discuss the plan with those involved and be sure to store the documents in a safe, accessible place.

When “fine” is not really fine

As the child of an aging parent, it can be difficult to notice signs that things may not be as “fine” as the parent claims them to be. Those who live far away and may be consumed with their own busy lives can easily miss changes that can affect their parent’s safety, health, and overall well-being.

When visiting a parent or loved one, the signs listed below are just some of the things to keep an eye on to make sure they are continuing to manage well at home. Spending the night at a person’s house can often provide more insights than a short visit, and can allow you to observe hygiene, cleaning, and nutrition habits.

  • If things are piling up, the lawn and garden are overgrown, and laundry is not done, household chores may be too much to handle.
  • In the kitchen, charred pots and pans or burn marks on the countertops can indicate potential safety concerns. Expired food in the refrigerator may mean that nutrition needs are not being met.
  • Scratches on the side of the car could indicate it’s time to give up the keys.
  • Even when living with a spouse, the partner who serves as caregiver may be overwhelmed and in need of support.

A parent or loved one who insists they are managing fine by themselves will likely be resistant to accepting help. They may be too proud, in denial, or trying to avoid feeling like a burden. It’s important to approach any conversation with sensitivity and not just force a solution upon the person.

Adjustments to help a loved one manage at home can be small and may not require much disruption to personal routines. Hiring a cleaning service, transportation, or home care to assist with daily activities can help an older adult maintain their confidence and remain independent in their home.

Agreeing to check in every few months can help to identify potential issues and find solutions before they get serious. Maintaining an open dialogue about the changes that lie ahead can help to avoid surprises and avoid children having to “parent” their older parents.

How much exercise do I actually need?

Senior couple riding bikes

No matter your age, physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. It can help reduce the risk of certain health conditions, keep muscles strong, and help you maintain your independence for longer.

Any activity is better than nothing, but the CDC recommends achieving certain levels of activity to gain maximum benefits from exercise.

For those over the age of 65 with no limiting health conditions, it is recommended to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that target all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

What kind of exercise should I focus on?

While 150 minutes per week can sound like a lot, it’s much more manageable when broken down into smaller increments. You might spend 30 minutes exercising five days out of the week—or you might break that down further into 10-minute segments.

Aerobic activity should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time to get the heart beating faster. These activities can range in intensity from mild to vigorous and it’s important to note that one minute of vigorous activity is roughly the same as two minutes of moderate activity. Aerobic activities can include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Taking a dance class
  • Riding a bike

Muscle-strengthening activities help keep muscles strong and should be done as repetitions (8-12) in a set. You can strengthen your muscles through:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using resistance bands
  • Heavy gardening
  • Yoga
  • Doing push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises that use body weight as resistance

Exercise is for everyone

Many people also believe the misconception that if they are living with a chronic condition or disability, physical activity may not be safe for them. In fact, physical activity provides important health benefits for everyone, as it can improve quality of life and help reduce the risk of developing certain conditions. Inactivity can be more dangerous than activity for your overall health.

It’s recommended to speak with your doctor to determine the best types and amounts of exercise for you.

Finding focus in an increasingly distracting world

attraktive, grauhaarige Frau genießt das MeerThese days, just reading an article online can seem like an impossible task—with pop-up ads, related links, email notifications, and more competing for our attention as we read. Even offline, cell phones, television and radio ads, or a knock at the door make distractions feel more ubiquitous than ever.

 

Organizations, advertisers, and even our loved ones are constantly trying to compete for our attention. This endless stimulation can have negative effects on our ability to focus on one task. Research shows that after a distraction, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to the original task.

 

As we age, not only do we have to contend against the endless distractions of the modern world, but we also are battling nature’s effects on the brain, with an increase in memory problems and brain fog. Getting through a to-do list can seem almost impossible.

 

Fortunately, there are steps to help restore or enhance focus and feel confident in your productivity.

 

  • Keep a notepad and pen nearby to jot down any reminders that you think of in the middle of a task—avoiding having to interrupt yourself with something new. While multi-tasking is a common goal, the brain can really only handle two simultaneous thoughts.

 

  • Practice mindful meditation to train your brain to stay clear throughout your day. This can be as simple as taking a few seconds to count your breaths.

 

  • Schedule time for important tasks and commit to completing them (and nothing else) during that time.

 

  • Train your focusing abilities on something you enjoy. Read a book or watch a movie to enhance engagement and absorb yourself in the story. These skills can be recalled when working toward a goal.

 

  • Exercise your mind every day. Crossword puzzles, passionate discussions, or making something keeps your mind active and strong.

 

Focus may not be attainable in ways it once was, but with mindful behavior it can still be achievable for maintaining a productive way of life.

 

Being Prepared: Learn About Advanced Directives

It’s not an easy thing to think about, but planning ahead for end-of-life care can prevent stress and anxiety among family members and make sure your wishes are met whenever the time comes.

The most effective way to set your wishes in place is to develop an advance directive. Requirements for this legal record vary by state (find your state’s requirements here), but do not typically require help from a lawyer and can simply be a notarized statement of your wishes.

An advance directive is actually made up of two separate documents: a living will and a health care power of attorney. Some states combine these documents into one, so be sure to check.

  • A living will is a written plan for what types of medical or life-sustaining treatment a person wants when they are unable to speak for themselves.
  • A healthcare power of attorney designates someone to make health care decisions on the person’s behalf when the person cannot communicate for themselves. This is different from a regular durable power of attorney, which usually is for financial matters.

Despite the importance and relative ease of creating an advance directive, they’re not quite as common as you’d expect. According to The American Journal of Medicine, only 26.3% of Americans report having an advance directive in place. And the California Healthcare Foundation reports that only 7% of people reported having an end-of-life conversation with their doctor.

Sharing this information with family members, your doctor, and the person you have chosen to serve as your health care proxy can help provide peace of mind for your loved ones. An advance directive can be changed at any time, as long as the person is considered of sound mind to do so.

To learn more about end-of-life care and ensuring your wishes are met, check out the following resources or look for an informational class in your area.

 

The New Old Age

Since 1900, life expectancy has increased more than 30 years—and numbers continue to rise. What was once considered “old age” has shifted as people live longer, work longer, and maintain their independence for longer.

So when does old age begin now? Most people consider “old age” to be some number older than their current age, but a study by the Pew Research Center states that the average response is age 68. But the saying “age is just a number” certainly holds true—as 68 years can look vastly different for different people.

For those in good health, life in later decades can be quite an enjoyable time that exceeds the expectations held at a younger age. There’s plenty of time for family and hobbies, more financial security, and less stress in these “golden years.”

Technology is also catering to the older generation and new products are constantly being developed to help people stay safe and connected as they continue to live alone.

While longer life expectancy means more time to spend with loved ones and more life experiences and milestones to enjoy, it can also include increased and prolonged living costs, more required care, and more time spent in deteriorating health.

A controversial article published last year by The Atlantic detailed author Ezekiel J. Emanuel’s stance that living to age 75 is long enough for him. Emanuel argued that for many people, living too long renders people deprived of their former selves and changes the way others relate to and remember them. Age 75 represents a complete life as well as one that is past its prime.

While Emanuel’s article presented some valid points, it doesn’t appear to be a shared view. In the same Pew Research Center study mentioned earlier, when asked how long they’d like to live, the average response was 89 years. Most adults over the age of 65 report happiness levels comparable with those in younger age groups. And of adults over the age of 75, only 35% reported feeling that they were old.

Whatever your age, what’s more important than the number is how you feel and your outlook on life.

Resources:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2009/06/29/growing-old-in-america-expectations-vs-reality/

Staying Protected Against Senior Scams

Male and female mature students working together on a computerFinancial scams are one of the most growing crimes in this increasingly technological age. These low-risk crimes can have devastating effects on a person’s well-being and financial security.

These days, we need to stay cautious of potential financial scams coming through the mail, the phone, our emails, websites, and the front door. The best protection against such scams is to be informed and alert when it comes to spending your money.

While these types of scams can happen to anyone, seniors are often targeted. Scammers may believe that seniors have a significant amount of money in their accounts—or that they would be more susceptible to believing the false claims purported. They are also less likely to report a scam to authorities.

Some of the most common types of scams targeting seniors include:

  • Health care/health insurance fraud
  • Counterfeit prescription drugs
  • Funeral and cemetery fraud
  • Anti-aging products or “miracle” cures
  • Investment schemes
  • Sweepstakes
  • Reverse mortgage scams

In addition to being aware of the common types of scams, there are general precautions to help identify red flags and keep your finances protected.

  • Avoid making on-the-spot decisions. An offer that requires you to “act immediately or miss out” is likely a scam.
  • Avoid giving out personal banking information, credit card numbers, or social security numbers over the phone to someone who has called you. Always verify the name and company or organization of someone asking for money over the phone.
  • Do not hire someone who shows up at the door claiming that work needs to be done on your house.
  • Do not sign anything that you don’t fully understand—and don’t be afraid to ask for help or further clarification from someone you trust.
  • Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call registry to limit phone calls from telemarketers. Call 888-382-1222 or visit donotcall.gov to sign up.

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam, tell someone. Don’t be embarrassed by what has happened—know that you’re not alone. Reporting these crimes can help save someone else from becoming a victim, as well.

The FBI provides details on several different types of frauds frequently targeted to seniors as well as tips to avoid all types of scams. Visit their website for valuable information.

fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors

When is it time to give up the car keys?

Making the decision to stop driving can be a scary, life-changing experience for many. Fears of giving up independence and not being able to meet basic needs are certainly common and not unfounded.

It can also be a sensitive subject to broach with someone—as driving and owning a car can be a matter of pride. Studies have shown that reduced mobility, such as losing one’s ability to drive, can be a major cause of depression.

But it’s important to value safety and consider the potential risks to yourself and others if your driving abilities are questioned.

There are several age-related factors that can affect a person’s driving abilities, including:

  • Impaired vision
  • Impaired hearing
  • Slower mental process
  • Side effects of medications

Fortunately, even without a car, there are several ways for older adults to get around. Family and friends can often help with basic needs. Public transportation, senior centers, and retirement communities can provide supplemental options, as well. It’s often a pleasant surprise to find that getting around can be easily accomplished—without the cost, maintenance, and stress of owning a car.

Staying safe

Ensuring safety behind the wheel requires regular evaluation by an impartial third party. Other steps to take include taking a driver safety course (often offered by AARP), exercising regularly to keep the mind and body sharp, and being cognizant to identify personal high-risk areas, such as driving at night, in bad weather, or on unfamiliar routes. A doctor can also provide a clinical assessment to evaluate an older driver.

If you think driving may no longer be safe for you or a loved one, the following resources can help identify warning signs:

Always put safety before pride when it comes to driving.

An active mind is a healthy mind

crossword puzzle and pencils

As we age, we often think about a decline in physical health and how we can work to keep our bodies active. But just as important as maintaining physical health is the health of our brains.

When we’re young, we are continuously learning. At some point in life, we become primarily a user of mastered skills and abilities and no longer engage the brain to acquire new abilities. Most of what we do are things we are familiar with. We apply skills unthinkingly and tend to look for non-stressful paths to things. But this can be detrimental to mental health.

A lack of challenging activities combined with the gradual shrinking of the brain’s volume with age can lead to brain cell damage and an acceleration of natural cognitive decline.

Fortunately, many of the ways we work to keep our bodies healthy also apply to enhancing brain health. These include staying physically active, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular mental and social activity.

According to a clinical trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, this combination is proven to slow cognitive decline. Slowing this decline can help keep memory language skills, perception, reasoning, and judgment strong—plus keeps brain cells healthy to fight off dementia.

Activities that challenge the brain are key. This can include reading the news and discussing it with others, learning a new skill, taking a class, or playing stimulating games. Helpful online resources for keeping your brain active can be found at the following sites:

Additional steps you can take to keep your mind sharp as you age include controlling cholesterol and blood pressure levels, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, and avoiding excessive smoking or drinking.

It’s important to remember that while occasional memory lapses are normal, significant memory loss is not a regular part of aging, and any cognitive changes noted should be discussed with your doctor.

A natural remedy with plentiful benefits

Portrait of a mature woman receiving shoulder massage

We often think of massage therapy as a spa-like indulgence to help us relax and relieve stress, but this ancient practice has plenty of health benefits, as well. It can be a valuable form of treatment for a variety of conditions, while also helping to help feel younger, healthier, and balanced.

The benefits of massage therapy are vast! Depending on each individual, massage can help:

  • Relieve pain
  • Improve range of motion
  • Enhance immunity
  • Increase joint flexibility
  • Alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Relax injured, tired, and overused muscles
  • Release endorphins—the body’s natural painkiller

Different types of massage can help serve different purposes, each utilizing different types of movement and levels of pressure.

Massage for older adults tends to differ from traditional massage practices, and usually includes gentle stroking, kneading, and light pressure on specific points. Targeted pressure can help lubricate joints, which relieves the pain and stiffness of arthritis. The relaxation and communication promoted during massage can often help those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

And unlike many medications, massage is a natural way to stimulate the nervous system and increase blood circulation. In fact, according to Massage Today, regular massage can often help reduce the need for medications.

In the middle of July, the Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals (ABMP) group sponsors EveryBody Deserves a Massage Week to raise awareness of the health benefits of massage and bodywork. Many organizations offer discounted massages during this week—check with those in your local area for a great chance to treat yourself.

Massage therapy can benefit most people; however, it may not be appropriate for those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood-thinning medication; people with deep vein thrombosis; or when you have open or healing burns or wounds. Speak to your doctor before scheduling your first massage.