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As our loved ones get older, the challenges grow. We need to figure out how to help them live safe, healthy and happy lives, even as they struggle with physical, mental and emotional health problems.
Being proactive now can help loved ones feel safe and secure down the road. Following are nine tips to prepare them for their golden years.
1. Put their affairs in order
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Senior-living experts urge you to get financial documents and contingency plans in place while aging loved ones are still capable of helping.
Tony Rovere, founder of the website Stuff Seniors Need, learned this the hard way with his mother.
Rovere was overwhelmed trying to find bank records and retirement statements he needed so Medicaid would cover his late mother’s stay in a nursing home after she had a heart attack in 2012.
“You want to focus on the health of your loved one,” Rovere says. “You don’t want to be focusing on the finances.”
Since the experience with his mother, Rovere has become proactive. He has both power of attorney paperwork and a health care proxy for his father. These give him the authority to make medical, legal and financial decisions on his father’s behalf if his father can’t make them.
Rovere also has his father’s bank account and retirement account information so he can step in when his father — now in his late 70s — can no longer manage his financial affairs.
If your loved one does not have end-of-life paperwork in order, check out the tips in “8 Essential Documents for Estate Planning.” Having this paperwork in place helps ensure a loved one’s wishes are honored.
2. Get them in-home help
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Nursing homes and assisted living homes are expensive — assisted-care facilities cost an average of $3,628 per month in 2016, according to a study by insurer Genworth. So it makes sense that many elderly residents prefer to live in their homes or apartments as long as possible.
Perhaps your parent or older loved one can manage at home with some modest help. Check with your state’s Area Agency on Aging. There are about 625 of them across the country — some are nonprofit organizations and others are government agencies.
Their goal is helping older adults “age with dignity” living in their own homes “as long as possible,” says Mary Lynn Kasunic, president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging for Phoenix and Maricopa County, Arizona.
These organizations arrange for an array of partners to provide services as needed, including meal deliveries, medication management and assistance with bathing. The services are free, but people are asked to make a donation if they can.
3. Find them proper transportation
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When you’re busy working and taking care of children, it can be difficult to also drive Mom to her doctor’s office or the grocery store.
For seniors who are no longer driving, many communities offer Dial-A-Ride, a shared-ride service for senior citizens and disabled people.
Passengers call ahead to request a ride, and give details about what time they need to be dropped off and picked up. Drivers are trained to help people get into the vehicle if they use a wheelchair or cane.
Prices are typically just a few dollars — or even less — for a one-way trip.
To find a Dial-A-Ride or similar service in your community, contact the public transit agency that provides bus service in your area. Or, contact your Area Agency on Aging.
4. Consider senior-living options
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If your elderly family member needs more help than he or she is getting at home, you may want to explore senior-living options.
You can educate yourself on the different types of housing on the American Seniors Housing Association website.
Generally, independent living communities — which are often apartments — are for more “active, healthy seniors,” who may just want a little help with housekeeping, transportation and meals, said David Schless, president of American Seniors Housing Association.
Assisted-living centers are suitable for people who need help with bathing, doing laundry, keeping tabs on their medications and grooming. Some assisted-living centers offer memory care support for residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
If your loved one has serious medical issues, a nursing home or skilled nursing facility might be the best fit.
A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is a campus where residents can move across various levels of care, including independent living, assisted living and sometimes skilled nursing.
The SeniorHomes.com site lets you compare the average costs for independent living communities in your state.
For more information on housing options for seniors, visit the Where You Live Matters website.
5. Get the scoop on Medicare, Medicaid
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Explore Medicaid and Medicare to learn more about which types of care and services the government will provide for your elderly loved one.
Medicaid provides health coverage to millions of people in the U.S., including elderly adults, low-income adults of all ages and people with disabilities.
Medicaid will pay for someone’s stay at many nursing homes around the country, but that patient must meet specific financial requirements, said Sharon Grambow, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Sun Health Senior Living in Arizona.
“You have to have virtually spent down the majority of your assets,” Grambow says.
Some assisted-living centers in some states will accept Medicaid payments, but many do not accept them.
Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people ages 65 and older, as well as some younger people who have disabilities. If your loved one is approaching the end of life, Medicare will cover many costs for hospice care. Medicare also will cover limited stays in nursing homes.
6. Know the drill for dental care
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Getting your mother, father or other elderly loved one the dental care they need can be challenging as they age. That’s because Medicare does not cover most dental care.
Rather than skip trips to the dentist, seniors can save money by visiting a dental school for treatment. Experienced instructors supervise students who work on patients.
Your senior family member can also save money on dental care by going to a dental hygiene school or visiting a federally funded health center.
For more tips on saving money on dental visits, check out “5 Ways to Slash Dental Care Costs.”
7. Get them free tax help
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AARP continues to offer free tax preparation and filing around the country. There’s no minimum age requirement to get the free help.
Volunteers trained by the IRS will help you do taxes for free at community centers, offices and malls around the U.S.
To find a location near you, visit the AARP Foundation website, or call 1-888-OUR-AARP (1-888-687-2277).
8. Help them find good exercise options
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Exercise is a great way for your aging loved one to stay healthy physically and mentally.
There are a lot of free or inexpensive ways senior citizens can exercise. For example, you can view free exercise videos on the AARP website.
If your elderly family member likes to work out at the gym or take yoga, dance or other exercise classes, check out the SilverSneakers program. More than 13,000 gyms and fitness centers around the U.S. participate in the program.
9. Make sure they get meals
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If your elderly loved one has trouble getting out of the house or can’t afford a nutritious meal, check out the Meals on Wheels America program in your community.
The nonprofit organization provides meals to senior citizens, many of whom struggle with mobility and have trouble affording food. The meals are delivered by volunteers to homes, senior centers and other locations through this public-private partnership.
“Meals on Wheels is more than just a meal,” says Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America. “It’s a nutritious meal prepared specially to meet the nutritional guidelines for seniors.
Click here to find a Meals on Wheels program in your loved one’s community.
What are your concerns or suggestions regarding the care of elderly loved ones? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.