Author: modough56

The Upside of Downsizing

What is “downsizing? Webster defines it as “to make smaller.” The term is most familiar when related to business layoffs and making a company smaller. For the purpose of this discussion, it means engaging in a number of tasks, such as:

  • Reducing household good via gifts to family and friends, sales, donations, etc.
  • Organizing, sorting household items.
  • Preparing for developing an overall moving and/or “aging in place plan.”

Are you ready to boldly sail into your future, but are still clinging to all your cherished things? Downsizing is an opportunity to create a new life in a new space. Many of our clients tell us, “Getting rid of stuff was so liberating.”

20 Tips to Declutter Your Home

It’s only worth what people will pay for it.

When deciding what to get rid of, make three piles: toss; donate; and sell.

  1. Wedding dress

If no one is going to wear it again, have some nice pillows made out of it. Or save it to wrap bouquets in your daughter’s wedding. Or clip off a piece of fabric and display it in a frame with a photo of your wedding day.

  1. Love letters

Keep them if they’re yours. But if they’re your parents’, they’re part of a romance between your parents and never meant for you. Burn them ceremonially and send the love back into the universe.

  1. Boxes of photos

Throw out landscape shots. Pick three with people in them from each vacation or holiday. With the rest, pull out the great shots and scan them for safe keeping. If you don’t have scanning capabilities, send them to an online scanning service to store in the cloud or to make albums.

  1. China set

If you like it, use it. If you don’t, sell it through eBay. Be realistic, though. Not long ago, fine china commanded a nice price. But today’s consumers want fine tableware that’s safe in the microwave and the dishwasher.

  1. Antiques

We use an online auction service. You can also take high-end antiques to a local antiques dealer, who can take them to an auction house. Find out what the house’s take is upfront (typically 10 to 15 percent) as well as where it will place the starting bid.

  1. Greeting cards

Their job is to greet you over the holidays. They did that. Now you throw them away. Or put them in the recycle bin. If you saved the envelopes, you can go through them to update your address book.

  1. Old appliances

Like a yard sale online, Craigslist is a source for usable appliances. With local buyers, you skip shipping costs. Tip: Sell only to buyers who pay cash and will pick up the item. When they come, have someone with you.

  1. Your kids’ stuff

It’s not your job to save everything from your children’s lives. Box up what belongs to the kids, and send it to them. Or tell them to claim it now, with the date you plan to have the house cleared out.

  1. Books

If you’re going to read it, or it just feels too much like family, put it on your bookshelf. If not, give it away. You can drop books off at a library or donation center. Call around for a charity that will pick up.

  1. Luggage

Few use that old high end-leather luggage anymore. That graduation gift from your grandparents? If it’s in decent shape, try sell it at your own or a neighborhood garage sale. If not, donate it to a charity such as a women’s homeless shelter.

  1. Furniture

Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity great sources.

  1. Clothes

Questions: “Do I need it?” “Will I use it?” If not, out it goes. It doesn’t matter whether “I only wore it once,” “It’s in good condition” or “It was expensive.” Then make three piles: toss, donate or sell it. We donate to local thrift stores.

  1. Jewelry

Decide what to keep, then give family members their choice. Sell the rest on eBay. Polish the jewelry and light it well, then photograph items in high resolution from several angles. Include a close-up of any label or stamp.

  1. Art

Appraising fine art is an art in itself, so you might need an appraiser. You don’t want to give away that ugly painting or sculpture only to find out it later sold for $50,000 at an auction.

  1. Old tennis racket

They’re heavy wood and outmoded. Toss it or sell it on Craigslist to a collector of old rackets.

  1. Curio collection

Select three pieces to keep, then photograph the rest, and put the photos in an album alongside the display. eBay is the place to sell smaller, more valuable items like collectibles.

  1. Musical instruments

Craigslist is already flooded with dead musical dreams. Spread the word around your neighborhood; ask your kids’ former music teacher. Even if you sell at a loss, it will fill a home with music. Just not your home.

  1. Stuffed Closets

Rather than fishing through and deciding what to eliminate, take everything out, down to the bare walls. Then physically put back items. Choosing to keep, rather than choosing to let go, will net in clinging to fewer things.

  1. Important Papers

Organize the originals and store them in your bank’s safety deposit box. For those that you use periodically, like birth and marriage certificates, school records, wills and other legal documents, scan them electronically and back them up on your hard drive.

  1. Household junk

Got Junk and similar sources will pick it up. Hold a garage sale. Put price tags on items: $5, $50, make an offer. Post signs in the neighborhood, and advertise on Craigslist and other online estate sales sources.

Downsizing Offers a Fresh Start for Older Adults

Kaye Appleman and her husband at the home they have owned for more than 30 years in Bethesda, Md. They are moving to a condominium nearby. The New York Times

By Harriet Edleson

For Dianne Welsh, 63, downsizing from her 3,400-square-foot home to a nearby two-bedroom bungalow did not happen instantly. It was at least 30 months from start to finish.

“I’m a very organized person,” said Ms. Welsh, a long-divorced government contractor who still works part time in health communications.

She started going through closets and drawers, getting rid of “quite a bit,” she said. But there was more. “Where did all this come from? It was way more than I thought.”

Like others at or near traditional retirement age — either retired or thinking about it — Ms. Welsh wanted to simplify her life. An estimated 4.2 million retirees moved to a new home in 2014, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report, “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64 percent of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

But after living in the same house for 35 years — the home where she had raised three sons — downsizing, she said, was “definitely a big stress.”

Deciding what to do with a lifetime of possessions poses a multitude of questions and typically triggers a range of emotions.

“It’s disruptive,” said Steven A. Sass, a research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. It can mean moving away from “your life, your neighborhood,” he said.

“The earlier you do it the better, physically, socially and financially,” Mr. Sass said. “It’s giving up something today for something you want or need.” The payoff is often a fresh start, lower living expenses, less house-related work, a different lifestyle with more amenities and more freedom to travel.

One of the first things to think about, experts say, is how you would like to live the next part of your life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on where you have been and where you are going.

Downsizing is more than a physical change. For some people, it’s an opportunity to create a new life in a new space. “Getting rid of stuff was so liberating,” Ms. Welsh said.

The actual process usually takes longer than expected. Possessions can be difficult to throw away, donate or sell. The best strategy is to plan well ahead. Even before you put your home on the market, “inventory your existing furniture, art and accessories and determine their use in the redesigned space,” said Dana Tydings, owner of Tydings Design in Laytonsville, Md.

Consider having your possessions appraised to determine their value. Be prepared for appraisals that may be far less than you expected. This is especially important for antique furniture, silver and accessories. Many prized items of an earlier era are almost worthless these days.

Parting with possessions is easier for some than others. “It’s the memories and the life that we lived there,” Ms. Tydings said. “I tell them, ‘You will create new wonderful memories in your new space,’ and that seems to make them happy.”

Kaye Appleman and Edward Mopsik are moving from their home of almost 33 years in Bethesda, Md., to a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium just two miles away. They are trading a house with a yard for “communal living,” no longer worrying about things like stairs and mowing the lawn in exchange for a place with lots of amenities, including indoor and outdoor pools.

Though a number of their friends have moved to the golf haven of Pinehurst, N.C., the couple said they didn’t want to uproot themselves. “I didn’t want to move to a new location,” Ms. Appleman said. “There’s a familiarity.”

How do you pare down your possessions? “You do it step by step by step,” said Ms. Appleman, a clinical social worker in her 60s who retired about 10 years ago. For her husband, 72, an oral surgeon who retired in August, parting with most medical books was practical since he can read much of what he needs online.

Many things they found in the attic, like high school yearbooks, also had to go. “We didn’t know they were there; we didn’t want to keep them,” Dr. Mopsik said. “They were gone out of our life close to 30 years.”

But they decided not to part with some antiques inherited from Ms. Appleman’s mother. They are also keeping several clocks for their new home.

“You’re empowering yourself because you’re enabling yourself to make the decision about things,” said Gary W. Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and president of the American Society for Geriatric Psychiatry. “It frees us up when we discard things.”

But don’t discount the pain involved. The difficulty in discarding things can be rooted in mortality and the realization that no one lives forever. At a certain point in life, there is more past than future, and that, in itself, can be daunting.

“We’re all mortal,” Dr. Small said. “The issue is balance.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

“It brings up all kinds of emotional issues,” said Susan Levin, who’s move management company that helps older adults and others with relocation and downsizing. “It’s not just moving things but the emotional letting go.”

Older people want to keep in touch with the past, yet “you can’t hold onto all things,” he said. “One of the upsides to downsizing is it allows us to live more in the present.”

Going through a lifetime of possessions may require professional assistance. Not everyone is comfortable, for example, with selling items on eBay. Figure out which pieces family members might want and which to sell, donate or keep. Consider archiving children’s drawings and photographs digitally. Some opt for an “estate” sale, garage sale or yard sale, depending on what they have.

Many people hang on to more possessions than they ultimately desire. “People think they want the stuff initially but later on they don’t care,” said Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist in Great Neck, N.Y., and co-editor of the book “Spiritual Assessment and Intervention with Older Adults: Current Directions and Applications.” They might store things for three months, she said, then decide they don’t want them. Once they have found a “new life,” she said, they usually want to dispose of them one way or another.

And for many people, the move is ultimately liberating. “It’s a new adventure,” Dr. Mopsik said. “This is far more positive than negative.”

7 Things You Should Know About Downsizing

An estimated 4.2 million retirees move to a new home each year, according to a Merrill Lynch and Age Wave report, “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64% of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

Most older adults downsizing needs are considerable because we have lived in our current residence 30, 40 or more years. As such, we’ve accumulated vast quantities of furnishings and treasured belongings. Organizational and physical tasks associated with planning and effecting relocating are complicated and, too often, daunting for our entire family.

When we decide to relocate from the comfort and familiarity of our longtime home to smaller and safer quarters, the path is generally kinda foggy. Evaluation requires a cool head and a clear unblinking look at a host of real life issues that transform to an easier and more enjoyable life. The right choice and the easy choice might not be the same.


1. Health: Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, failing eyesight, deteriorating balance, forgetfulness, low stamina and/or a combination of other health issues are signals that a change in residence might be beneficial to our comfort and well-being.

2. Finances: Reduced costs and less stress are precisely what the majority of seniors seek. Special needs for cash for continually increasing costs of healthcare, household taxes, insurance and maintenance are significant factors to be considered. Reducing square footage equates to lower costs of heating, cooling and keeping our home well-lighted. A smaller, or no, yard means less personal toil and eliminating the bucks associated with yard maintenance crews. Letting go allows us to live in the present. Funds resulting from downsizing add to our long-term financial security.

3. Safety: A safe and secure home is paramount to good health and happiness. When falls, driving mishaps, bruising, stumbling, etc. begin to occur, one’s safety is at risk. It’s time to consider updating living arrangements.

4. Hygiene: Neglect of personal care and hygiene are likely signs for needed help…the kinds for which a proud person is reluctant to ask. If a once impeccably attired person begins wearing the same clothing repeatedly until they become soiled and smelly, that’s a definite signal that help is needed.

5. Housekeeping: If dishes, laundry and other habitually well-managed household practices are declining, living on one’s own might be neither sanitary nor safe.

6. Meals: If one is losing weight, failing to shop for food regularly and/or is routinely retaining spoiled foods, proper nutrition is a concern. Diet neglect leads to an array of health problems.

7. Social Life: As we age, our circle of friends often diminishes. A well-chosen senior community potentially offers expanded friendship opportunities and social activities to improve our quality of life and social well-being.

Real Estate Relief for Older Adults

By Joanne B. Simms

Selling a primary residence, whether downsizing or otherwise, can be a daunting experience, especially for folks who haven’t done it in a long while. This is typically the situation with older adults, who have been in the “family home” for 40 or 50 years.

Carolyn Ambrose is a Certified Seniors Real Estate Specialist focusing on transactions that involve seniors, their children and their families. Approximately 75 per cent of her clientele are over 50 years of age. She understands the needs of seniors and draws upon the expertise of CPAs, estate planners and lawyers.

“It’s all about understanding the features of each generation,” she says. Each has to be treated with a different type of marketing and communication.” She says younger seniors tend to be comfortable with cellphones and messaging, while older ones tend to be technologically challenged. “They don’t text. They prefer to communicate by speaking on the phone or face-to-face. My job is to simplify the process as best I can, so I ask them how they’d like to communicate.”

Next, she evaluates the nature of the transaction. Downsizing and moving into a smaller less demanding residence is oftentimes the case. Maintaining the old home becomes too challenging physically and financially. Also, compelling health issues demand a change in lifestyle.

Organizational and physical tasks associated with planning and implementing relocating can be complicated and unnerving for the entire family. “With people like that you have to be very careful,” says Ambrose. “They sometimes feel they’re losing their independence, so it’s a very emotionally charged situation.” Senior Move Managers typically enter the picture at this juncture. They are specifically trained to assist older adults and their families during “aging-in-place” and/or residential downsizing and relocating.

Options is the pivotal issue with their clients. Few seniors and their families are familiar with the varying nuances and selections of independent or assisted living communities when the need arises. Ambrose partners with Senior Move Managers to provide detailed comparisons within the senior clients’ parameters, such as location, amenities, lifestyle, cost, services levels, medical care, etc. All are certified members of National Association of Senior Move Managers (NASMM), which has 985 branches in the USA and Canada.

Oftentimes, adult children will accompany their parents in an advisory role. While Ambrose acknowledges the kids extra support, she says most of her clients want to make the financial decisions on their own and she respects their wishes.

“That’s something I ask my older clients when I meet them for the first time. Do you have your family’s support in this move and would you like them involved in the process? Ultimately, if that 74-year-old, who has hired me to do the job for them doesn’t want family interference, I can’t involve the kids and/or other family members.”

Ambrose says she keeps that thought in mind even when one of the children has Power of Attorney. “That Power of Attorney is involved in every stage of negotiation, every conversation and every signing but, ultimately, it’s the owner you’re representing and you don’t want them to feel they’re being left out of any conversation.”

At Walker-Hamm Realtors, Gwen Williams and her partner George Price, too, have a large senior clientele. They emphasize that “later-in-life transactions require extra care and consideration.” You have to be mindful of the history they have in their home,” says Price. “Their kids were there too. There’s an emotional connection to the home and this is a big deal to all parties involved.”

“What do I do next?” is a familiar refrain, says Williams. She tells her older clients to tidy up the place and clear away the clutter. And that often means sifting through family mementoes, keepsakes and photos. This is an emotional and time-consuming process when the kids and/or the rest of the family can pitch in. “I always caution people that it’s going to take longer than they think,” says Williams, “because they run into sorting and packing. Everything has a story. You’re making decisions on who gets what and where it goes.” They also have to be mindful that the children aren’t necessarily desiring their parents’ furnishings, etc. They’ve established a lifestyle of their own.

When it comes to negotiations, Price agrees with Ambrose. It’s common for parents to bring their children to the real estate office, often with mixed results. “Lot of times, they ask for advice and some children are really good. They step back and say, ‘Mom and/or dad can deal with this.” On the other hand, you run into the ones that are trying to push parents in a certain direction and there’s resistance. They’re pushing for a decision and they’re impatient. With seniors, I find you need to give them space and time to make the decisions.”

The children can be overly argumentative in the mistaken belief they are protecting the parent. “Sometimes, I’ve had to go and have a private conversation with the children because ultimately my representation is to the owner on the title, which is usually the parents.”

Gloria Phillips represents Reed Homes Realty. Like the others, half her clientele are 50 years of age and over. She starts seeing kids advising their parents at a later age, when the parents are in their 70s. “That’s the biggest obstacle that we come across – the children being very protective of Mom and Dad . . . and I’m exactly the same way,” says Phillips. “I’ve got my 78-year old Dad with me and I’m very protective of him, so I understand their concern. You do have to work with the adult children, but the adult children have to understand that, by law, we have to deal with the people who are the owners.”

“I believe everybody needs to be treated with respect,” adds Ambrose. “Everybody has an opinion. It’s a conversation. If their adult child doesn’t like my style or my pricing, they’re free to get another quote.”

As for seniors surviving these later transactions, “I think they should ask a lot of questions and take their time making decisions,” says Ambrose. “And, above all, they shouldn’t feel they’re being rushed. Good communication is absolutely critical and we need to trust each other,” she says. The Senior Move Managers and I work with have the highest of ethics and compassion for our clients.”

*Joanne B. Simms is a Certified Health Advocate. She specializes in older-adults care. She applies her many years of practical field experience to teaching others how to navigate the landscape of older adult healthcare and senior housing.

Joys of Grandparenting

Like many of you, I have very fond memories of my grandparents, especially grandad. I was the first of several grandchildren and we bonded immediately. He was my favorite grownup. Grandparents and their grandchildren have unique and rewarding relationships. Fulfilling grandkids sense of security, prospering deep familial relationships and heightening their sense of family unit togetherness are compelling elements to healthy living. Grandparents relish interacting with grandkids on a level that is removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting. Periodic weekends together, afternoon play dates, an evening babysitting, summer vacations, phone chats and occasional email exchanges are enormously pleasurable. Mary Bounds’ article Grandparents: Planning a Simpler, Grand Summer, highlights the joys grandparents have experienced for generations.

Three out of four grandparents report their grandchildren are the most important, satisfying thing in their life. Not surprisingly, most Nanas and Papas look forward to spending time with their grandkids, and what better time than summer vacation! Whether it’s the entire summer or a weekend with the grands, the goal is to make meaningful, lasting memories, but here’s an important news flash: A hefty bankroll is not required!

What devoted grandparent doesn’t delight in an enjoyable summer visit from their precious grandchildren? Theme parks and sunny beach resorts are often found on a grandparent’s “Places to go” list, but not every Pawpaw or Grammy can squeeze them into their budget. Today grandparents are discovering they can have a fun, rewarding time with their second-generation offspring without breaking the bank. Here’s what they have learned.

Sharing moments with grandkids should be the focus of outings together. The point is to spend time with them! According to Sue Johnson, co-author of Grandloving: Making Memories With your Grandchildren, “The best thing you can give your grandchildren is your time. Think back to the simple pleasures you enjoyed when you were a child. It’s these things that will be meaningful and memorable.”

This may sound too simple to be true, but in the midst of a technology driven world, grandmas and grandpas are enriching grandkids’ lives through old-fashioned, back to basics activities. Grandchildren are not only fascinated by the “good old days”, they also build a sense of identity through family photographs and stories. Grandparents, in turn, are garnering sentimental satisfaction as knowledge from their lifespan is wondrously rekindled through the eyes of their grandchild.

Summertime is the perfect time for grandparents to introduce grandchildren to family traditions and activities from their past. There are countless ways to incorporate the old with the new and make lasting memories along the way. Here are a few ideas, but by no means stop here. Release your inner child and show the grandkids your kind of fun!

Scavenger Hunt. Include items such as clothes pins, watering cans and hand saws. Discuss how these items were used and what newer products are being used today. Finally bring out the old-fashioned ice cream machine and cool things off!

Cookie Master. Let the grandkids assist with baking cookies from a handed-down family recipe. Tell stories about having the same cookies when their mom or dad was young. Post a photo of each proud little cook on the refrigerator, and of course, devour the cookies!

Fly a Kite. Build a kite with your grandchild. Make the tail from clothing scraps from different family members. Plan a picnic to the beach or meadow for a trial run (video tape the flight).

Rainy Day Review. Dim the lights, then watch old family movies complete with popcorn prepared on the stove top, served with root beer floats. Upon conclusion, hand out ballots to vote for favorite family videos.

Junior Gardener. Let your grandchild select a flowering or vegetable plant at a local store. Assist with daily care and document its growth with a series of photographs. Once fully grown present the photo album to your proud little gardener. Enjoy the flowers or veggies!

Bedtime Family-Tale. In lieu of the usual bedtime story, tell true tales of special family events such as the day each grandchild was born, or their parent’s high school graduation. Make an audio tape of the stories for future listening pleasure. (Be sure to make copies of the tape as it will surely become endearing family folklore!)


The Economic Pitfalls of Caregiving

Be Considerate and Smart Protecting Your Own Money

by Jean Chatzky, January 2018

A caregiver is responsible for attending to the specific requirements of, in this discussion, an elderly person. Often primary caregiving becomes the responsibility of one or more family members. Their responsibilities can range from companionship to a host of activities in maintaining the health and well-being of a love one. Examples are preparing a medical plan, housekeeping, accessing medical services and monitoring medications, as well as assisting with other life basics. Though daunting, it’s a necessary task faced by many families. In her article, Jean Chatzky addresses several financial aspects in caregiving.

When you fly as much as I do, you can recite the safety briefing by heart, especially the part about putting on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else. The same sort of warning should be given to the 43 million American adults who are family or friend caregivers, particularly when it comes to their own finances.

According to a 2011 study, the average lifetime cost to caregivers is $304,000 in lost wages, pensions and Social Security. That doesn’t count the $7,000 in cash that 7 out of 10 caregivers pay each year (on average) from their own pockets to cover other costs. “How do you give up that much and still retire yourself?” asks Age Wave CEO Ken Dychtwald. If caregiving looms in your future — and it likely does if you’re a daughter, an only child or the one (if you are, you know what I mean) — take time now to protect your financial life.


Step 1: Calculate the gap

The average cost of a full-time home health aide is $49,000 a year; a semiprivate room in a nursing home: $86,000. Think you and your parents won’t need long-term care? So, do 63 percent of people over 50, notes Age Wave. Yet 70 percent will, a clear disconnect. So, ask your parents about the size of their nest egg, how quickly they’re spending it, whether they have long-term care insurance and how much equity they have in their home. If they won’t discuss this, a compassionate financial adviser may be able to bring you together. Compare your parents’ assets against their projected expenses and you have your gap.


Step 2: Fill the gap without going broke 

Look for free resources. Go to, set up by the National Council on Aging, to learn about federal, state and private benefits programs that apply to your charge.

Make a budget for what you can contribute, physically and in dollars. (Shockingly, 50 percent of caregivers don’t track what they’re spending.) Then ask your siblings what they can pitch in; just because you’re delivering the care doesn’t mean you have to foot the entire bill. Every dollar you don’t spend can be put away for the future, so you don’t perpetuate this cycle with your kids.


Step 3: If a gap remains, consider Medicaid

An unmarried parent may need to spend down assets to qualify (nursing home residents can have only $2,000 in countable assets in most states). If your parent is married, it’s more complicated; in general, the healthy spouse can keep one-half of assets, up to $120,900 (not including the house). Call an elder-law attorney for help. You can locate a lawyer through or, the site of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.


Step 4: Regardless of the gap, look into getting paid

Two government programs — one from Veterans Affairs, the other from Medicaid — offer additional financial support that can be used to pay family caregivers. If your parent is a veteran (or spouse of one) who served at least 90 days of active duty with at least one day during a period of war, check out what the VA has to offer. Be forewarned: Waiting lists for some Medicaid programs are so long, you might never see any money.

Have your parent pay you if assets are available. But first talk to an elder-law attorney about drawing up a contract, notes Miles P. Hurley, a certified elder-law attorney in Atlanta. This document, he says, should answer questions such as “Is this child going to quit a job to provide the care?” and “How many hours a day is the child supposed to be providing the care?” It’s crucial to do this in a way that doesn’t jeopardize Medicaid eligibility, which is why you want to involve a lawyer, preferably from the state where your parent lives.


Step 5: Protect your own earning ability

If you’re midcareer, it’s very challenging to leave a job for caregiving, then step back into the workforce at the same salary, explains C. Grace Whiting, chief operating officer of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “Sometimes physically caring for a loved one may seem to be your only option,” she acknowledges, but it may make more sense to continue to work while supporting someone else who provides care. It can also be a good idea to ask for more flexibility from your employer. Given that it costs six to nine months’ salary to replace a management-level employee, it’s not surprising that many employers believe it’s less expensive to make an accommodation. Adds Lisa Winstel, COO at the Caregiver Action Network: “Saying to your employer ‘I’m a family caregiver’ is not as taboo as it was five or 10 years ago.”


How to Check On Elderly Parents During Holiday Visits

By Laura Berrios for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

If you’re planning a holiday trip home to aging parents, you might want to do a little snooping while there.

Elderly parents aren’t always forthcoming about their health and activities of daily living when talking with their adult children over the phone.

And for good reason, says Lisa Kaufman, owner of SeniorCare Options, an Aging Life Care Management service in metro Atlanta. “They are fearful of being put away in a home, so they keep things private. They don’t want someone finding out they’re not functioning.”

If you want to know what’s really going on with your loved ones as they age in place, here are a few places to poke your nose where (your parents think) it doesn’t belong.

The garage: Fender benders, and nicks and scrapes on the sides of the car could indicate there’s a problem with driving. This could indicate that visual and spatial skills have diminished, Kaufman said. If driving is a concern, AARP’s free online seminar “We Need to Talk” can help prepare you for that conversation, says Hillary W. Thomas, senior program specialist with AARP Georgia.

The kitchen: Check out the refrigerator. Are there lots of takeout containers, or expired or moldy foods? Food poisoning is a dangerous risk for the elderly, Kaufman said.

What are they eating? Dramatic weight gain could signal a diet of unhealthy snacks instead of nutritious foods, and dramatic weight loss could indicate that they are not eating much at all, or that they don’t like to eat alone.

Observe how the Thanksgiving meal is prepared. Are they able to get the meal together, to coordinate the prepping and cooking times? Red flags should go up if they don’t appear to make a traditional dish the way they’ve always made it in the past, or if they’re using the wrong ingredients.

The bedroom: Is it as well-kept as in the past? And are its occupants as well-kept as in the past? It could be a cause for concern if they don’t smell clean, or it appears they aren’t changing clothes regularly.

The family room: Are they telling the same stories over and over again, but do not remember?

Is the place messy when it would normally be clean and orderly?

The medicine cabinet:

Ask them how they keep track of which prescription drugs to take, and when.

Family members should note anything that makes them think, “Hmmm. Something’s not right,” Kaufman said.

If the family hasn’t already had an initial caregiving conversation, the holidays are the perfect time to initiate one. Just make sure the care recipients are included, Thomas said.

She advises adult children to ask their parents what they want to do about aging, and really listen to what they say.

“The person receiving the care is an adult too,” Thomas said. When the children come in telling the parent what they’re going to do, it often leads to a combative, adversarial relationship, she said.

Even if there are concerns about the care and health of aging loved ones, families don’t always know what to do. Bringing in a care manager to assess the situation and develop a care plan can help get everyone going in the same direction. When a professional comes in, the loved one is usually more forthcoming and it takes the family out of having to be the bad guy, Kaufman said.

Families can search for care managers through the nonprofit Aging Life Care Association at

One Christmas gift that adult kids can ask of their parents is a family meeting to take care of all decisions about their aging. They can plan ahead, get all the “what if” wishes of the parents, sort out all of the finances, and gather documents such as wills, advance directives, and the power of attorney.

“Many times, parents will say they don’t want to involve their kids because they don’t want to be a burden to them. But when you don’t do things and it becomes a crisis, that’s a burden,” Kaufman said.

Thomas recommends families gather a caregiving team and develop a plan long before it’s needed. AARP lays out the specifics in “Prepare to Care: A Caregiving Planning Guide for Families,” a free source available at

7 Government Programs You Can Access For Your Elderly Parents

When my wife’s and my elderly parents reached the point of needing extended medical guidance and financial assistance as they grew older and less able to care for themselves, we struggled through a quagmire of resources to find proper the pathways to assistance. At the time, it resulted in expensive and often agonizing courses of events. According to the Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Planning, Georgia has one of the nation’s fastest growing 85+ age populations. It is expected to increase 306% over the next three decades. The 60+ population is expected to grow by 65% during the next 13 years. We wish we’d had the benefit of Marlo Sollitto’s advice to point the way. Her article below, published in Aging Care, clearly ambles us through the confusing process of financial and medical caregiving assistance for our seniors.

Caregiving for an aging parent may stretch your budget as well as your endurance. That is, if you aren’t aware of scores of federal, state, and even local government programs that can help you make ends meet. Access to assistance is as close as your computer, and, in most cases, you can apply online. Start by visiting two sites: : Gather all the information you can relating your elderly parent’s health, disability, income, assets, military service, education level and more. Visit this site and answer every question as accurately as you can. After submitting your answers, the site will respond with a list of government programs, supplements and services, including details and eligibility information. This non-profit site run by the National Council on Aging will ask many of the same questions as the site above, but may report additional programs, details and contacts that may fit your situation.


Here is a guide to the top 7 programs everyone who is caring for an aging parent should know about.

1. Medicare

There is more to Medicare than just the Part A hospital and Part B medical insurance coverage. If your aging parent is 65 or older and collecting Social Security, their insurance premiums are deducted from monthly benefits. Part D prescription drug coverage is subsidized by Medicare through payments to private company insurers who then fund an average of 90 percent of the cost of prescription drugs. If your parent is considered low income and receiving only Social Security, Medicare may subsidize all but about $10 of the monthly premiums. This option may provide substantial cost savings for your parent.

 2. Social Security

If your parent’s Social Security benefits were earned based on lower-paying jobs, and if the benefits are their only source of income, there may be a larger monthly benefit available by applying for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The program may be operated federally or in conjunction with your state government. The welfare-based Medicaid program is also administered through the Social Security Administration, though the operation may be directed by your state government.

3. Administration on Aging (AoA)

The AoA administers many national programs and services for elders, including health insurance counseling, legal assistance, protection from elder abuse and help with long-term care. The navigation bar on the home page has a link to Help and Resources, your starting point.

4. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

If your aging parent is a military veteran and has a service-related disability, you may be able to apply for an increase in benefits, particularly if the disability has worsened over time. If he or she needs continuing medical care because of the disability, an application for medical benefits, hospitalization and prescription drugs may be submitted. There are several types and levels of VA compensation and pension programs. The VA has been slow in processing claims the past few years, but there is continuing pressure by Congress and the Administration to speed up its service.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1966 provides your elderly parent privacy of his or her medical records. It is a regulation and restriction program on health care providers. The protection should be of concern to you and other family members because, unless your parent signs a form designating each of you as approved to discuss your medical concerns with the physician, he or she cannot do such, even if you prove your family connection. Better sooner than later, access the HIPAA website for the information and forms, or secure the forms from a physician, and file copies with every health care professional involved in your parent’s care.

6. United States Department of Justice

If your parent has a disability, particularly with physical movement, learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Its ADA website offers briefings and cost-free publications on the regulations to grant universal access to the disabled.

7. Food and Drug Administration

Your aging parent is probably taking a few different prescription drugs, perhaps prescribed by different doctors. As caregiver, you should be aware of every one of the drugs, know its mission in the body and, particularly the side effects and conflicts with other medications. You want to watch for a danger known as polypharmacy. The federal Food and Drug Administration offers a giant database on every drug approved by the agency, listing active ingredients, purpose of the medication, dosing recommendations and the side effects and conflicts.


Aging and Disabilities Resource Connection: Georgia’s One-Stop Network

Caregiving for aging parents may stretch one’s budget as well as one’s endurance. That is, if we aren’t aware of scores of federal, state and local government programs that can help make ends meet. Access to assistance is as close as our computer and, in most cases, we can apply online. In today’s blog, Laura Berrios details a valuable resource for the State of Georgia. (From 8/21/17 Atlanta Journal and Constitution)

Where do we go when we need services for an elderly loved one? Mom needs transportation; dad needs help with his meds. They both should move out of that big house, but where are they going to go? It’s enough to send siblings scrambling for answers and resources.

In Georgia, the Aging and Disabilities Resource Connection is the one-stop information network for all those questions.

Since 2004 it has been the main referral source to all services provided through the Area Agencies on Aging, and now has a database of more than 26,000 resources for individuals or family members who are aging or living with a disability. The network is staffed by trained counselors who can assess the need, answer questions, and point we to resources in your area.

The network can be accessed at 1-866-552-4464, or in metro Atlanta at 404-463-3333. We can also go through the assessment and peruse resources online at Counselors provided information, referrals and assessments to 91,004 Georgians in fiscal year 2016.

“They are totally focused on helping you find the best solution to whatever you need,” said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging. “And it’s conflict-free. The people on the phone are not the providers.”

As Georgia’s older population continues to surge, so does the demand for information on aging options.

Georgia has one of the nation’s fastest-growing older adult populations. The 85-plus age group is expected to increase by 306 percent over the next three decades, according to a study from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. The state’s 60-plus population is expected to grow by 65 percent by 2030.

As the population ages, Floyd said the information referral network could be overwhelmed if improvements are not made in upgraded technology and additional staffing.

To prepare for this, members of the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s elderly recently voted to place additional network funding as a top legislative priority for 2018. They’ll be asking for $4 million more in the next fiscal state budget so the system can handle the growing database of services and expected call traffic.

The coalition is also asking for an additional $10 million in state funds for the Home and Community Based Services program because so many of these services have long waiting lists.

“This is such a huge need, because at the end of getting information about available resources, we may end up on a waiting list for those resources,” Floyd said.

Last year, an estimated 900 adult Georgians were on a waiting list for services such as home-delivered meals, adult day care, respite care, home modifications and more.These services help delay nursing home care by an average of 50 months, according to state estimates.

Floyd said both of these funding requests work together to keep aging adults and adults with disabilities living independently in their homes as long as possible.

Aging advocates are also rallying behind three legislative priorities for senior adults and plan to bring these issues before lawmakers during the 2018 Georgia General Assembly.

■Medicaid Funded Assisted Living. Changes are needed in Medicaid funding so more seniors can get financial help with daily living assistance, such as eating, taking medications, dressing and bathing. The funding is currently provided through waiver programs that have long waiting lists, said Floyd, and changes in the way Medicaid pays for assisted living could provide access to more facilities and openings for services.

■ Improved Personal Care Home Requirements. Legislation would provide greater sanctions and stiffer fines for personal care homes that put residents at risk because they fail to meet licensing requirements for fire and safety codes. Floyd said the current fines and sanctions amount to a “slap on the wrist” and do little to stop the problem of unsafe homes for the elderly.

■Creation of an Abuse Registry to prevent the hiring of caregivers with a history of abuse.

Co-Age members and other aging advocates will be collaborating through conference calls and workshops over the fall months to flesh out these priorities in advance of the 2018 Georgia General Assembly.

Next month we’ll discuss  7 Government Programs You Can Access for Your Elderly Parents.

Getting Organized

Did you know that an estimated 4.2 million retirees move to a new home each year? Merrill Lynch and Age Wave reports that fact in “Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices.” Over all, 64 percent of retirees expect to move at least once during retirement.

As such, getting organized for downsizing for a new home is crucial. Having lived in our current residence 30, 40 or more years, we’ve accumulated vast quantities of furnishings, keepsakes and treasured belongings. Most of which have emotional attachments. Deciding how and to whom to distribute them is, in all likelihood, a logistical nightmare for the entire family.

In “Getting Organized,” Barb Gustafson says downsizing is the perfect opportunity to shed ourselves of much of the clutter we’ve amassed over decades.

The proven step-by-step process starts by having a purpose in mind that fits your needs for each room in your new home. This should help you decide what you truly don’t need and what to bring forward. Take measurements or have the square footage of each room to create floor plans and furniture arrangements. Carry a copy for handy reference, if you’re out shopping, especially when selecting larger pieces.

Start sorting and downsizing today. Begin by going through each room one at a time, one item at a time. Create and categorize sorting bins and label as Keep, Donate, Sell, Recycle or Garbage. Ask yourself, “Do I love it, use it or need it?” Qualified items to keep are either practical, beautiful or inspirational. Stop saving the good stuff for special occasions. Treat yourself to the best every day. Items with sentimental attachment worth creating a space for are worth saving.

You may have twice as many duplicate items as you need. Release and pass them on to someone who does. An outlet that accepts donations or a consignment store are two options. Consider replacement versus repair costs of broken items you haven’t used in over six months. Purge what doesn’t belong in your vision, and value what’s left. Remind yourself they’re just objects. In the end, you won’t miss them.

When sorting clothes, let go of anything that doesn’t fit or that you haven’t worn in the past two years that may not best complement you. Chances are they probably never will.

Paper is the number one source of clutter. Gather up all your documents, files and bills and sort into six piles, subsequently creating folders for each. Bills, bank statements, pay stubs / investments / tax returns & supporting docs / insurance policies, home & car ownerships / warranties, user manuals / will, birth & marriage certificates. Store folders in an easily accessible, portable, waterproof folder box. Shred anything that’s trash.

Simplifying our lives gives us time and energy to do the things that really matter to us.

If you feel overwhelmed or don’t have the time to declutter on your own, request help. Get the family involved or hire a professional organizer.

Whether your move is imminent or in the future, it’s never too early to get organized. With less clutter in your home – and your life – you’ll feel lighter, freer and better equipped to begin new adventures.

Barb Gustafson is a Professional Organizer and Interior Decorator based in Victoria, BC.