Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Why Does Government Deny Social Security Disability Benefits

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “3 Main Reasons Why the Government Denies Social Security Disability Benefits” says three main issues are the primary contributors to the high denial rates and prolonged appeals process:

  1. Applicants fail to satisfy work history requirements. Anyone who pays FICA payroll taxes long enough, is typically insured for SSDI. However, that doesn’t mean they’re eligible for benefits. To meet the SSA definition of disability, one must have physical or mental impairments that prevent them from being unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or have a terminal diagnosis. SGA encompasses work performed for pay or profit, and for 2022, the monthly benefit one would receive after qualification is set at $1,350 a month, or $2,260 if you are blind.
  2. Applicants provide incomplete documentation. Detailed medical evidence is required to document a disability and its impact on the person’s ability to perform SGA—it’s a crucial part of the SSDI application. This should include diagnoses, medical tests and results, treatment history, prescription drugs, surgeries, ER and doctor visits and other relevant medical details to show not just that you have a problem, but also that you’ve been receiving regular medical treatment for your issue. This, along with details about how a disability influences your activities of daily living, is especially significant if you have an invisible disability, such as mental disorders, neurological conditions or cognitive dysfunctions caused by injury or disease. Regular monthly treatments and drug therapies with specialists and mental health professionals are an important part of your claim.
  3. Applicants not knowing they have the right to an SSDI representative. The SSA doesn’t tell initial applicants they have the right to retain a representative to assist them. As a result, most people try to navigate the complicated program on their own. You need an advocate to tell the story of your disability and its impact on you and your family. Less than 30% of applicants have an SSDI representative to help them apply. Those individuals are 23% more likely to get their application approved. It also means getting benefits in six months compared with a year or two!

Representatives are taking on more SSDI cases resulting from long COVID symptoms that have exacerbated physical and mental impairments. Long COVID may affect up to 30% of COVID patients, or an estimated 25 million people in the United States, especially those with respiratory disease, diabetes and cognitive issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 16, 2022) “3 Main Reasons Why the Government Denies Social Security Disability Benefits”

Can Traveling Help Seniors’ Mental Health?

A study to be published in the October 2022 edition of Tourism Management presents the thoughts of a cross-disciplinary team of experts in both dementia and tourism. Medical News Today’s recent article entitled “’Travel therapy’ may offer treatment for dementia and benefit mental health” reports that the research hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, but experts think there may be significant benefits of travel for people with dementia, particularly in the areas of mental health and well-being.

Dementia currently has no cure, but some medications and treatments may help control symptoms.

Care is often supportive, including helping those with dementia do as much as they can on their own and helping them have a better quality of life.

Researchers are still working on how to best help those with dementia. One area of interest is how traveling may benefit people with dementia.

The researchers say that the potential benefits of tourism in treating people with dementia are called “travel therapy.” One definition of tourism the researchers used was “visiting places outside one’s everyday environment for no longer than a full year.” They note that the experience of tourism has four main components to it:

  • Affective Experience: how it impacts feelings, emotions and mood
  • Cognitive Experience: how it affects thoughts and memories
  • Conative Experience: how it impacts behavior; and
  • Sensorial Experience: how it impacts the senses.

The authors concluded that tourism may have a potentially positive impact on well-being and quality of life through a variety of components. However, the literature supporting this in the treatment of dementia is limited.

The study authors also noted that focusing on components of positive psychology, such as what people can do, positive experiences, and well-being may also benefit people with dementia.

They proposed a few options to implement components of tourism to help people with dementia, such as group travel that promotes social interactions or traveling to locations that stimulate the senses.

Reference: Medical News Today (June 30, 2022) “’Travel therapy’ may offer treatment for dementia and benefit mental health”

Can My Pet Help Me in Old Age?

Seniors who own a pet may slow their rate of cognitive decline, according to a preliminary study recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Sharp Mind in Old Age? Thank Your Pet” reports that the positive effect appears to be particularly pronounced for those who own a pet for at least five years.

The study looked at data from 1,369 older adults with an average age of 65.

All had normal cognitive skills at the outset of the study. Of the adults in the study, 53% owned pets, with 32% having had their pet for five years or longer.

After examining cognitive test data, the researchers found that after six years, long-term pet owners had a cognitive composite score that was 1.2 points higher compared than those who did not own pets.

In a press release, study author Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor remarked that the positive impact of pets may stem in part from the animals’ ability to reduce our levels of stress:

“As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings. A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health.”

However, Braley — who also is a member of the American Academy of Neurology — said more research is needed to both confirm the results and identify underlying mechanisms that may be responsible for the link.

Earlier studies have found that the presence of pets can help reduce their owners’ levels of stress and even lower their blood pressure.

Reference: : Money Talks News (May 5, 2022) “Sharp Mind in Old Age? Thank Your Pet”

Elderly Woman Thanks Firefighters for Ride to Visit Husband at Nursing Home

An senior in San Diego was so grateful for the help of local firefighters, she wanted to thank them in person with a big bag of sweets, reports NBC San Diego’s recent article entitled “Stranded La Jolla Woman, 87, Brings Treats to Firefighters Who Gave Her a Lift.”

“It was a long time I was waiting for that cab. If it wasn’t for you, I’d be there all night,” La Jolla resident Sandy Lightman recalled telling San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Captain Jordan Buller on May 10, the night of her “rescue.”

The article said that Mrs. Lightman may have needed a fire engine to haul the three dozen cookies and four cheesecakes to Captain Buller and the Station 35 crew.

The 87-year-old explained that she’d just ended one of her daily trips to a nursing facility, where she cares for her husband who’s living with dementia.

She started requesting a cab around 8:20 p.m., but it didn’t show. So, she kept calling.

Hours later at 11 p.m., while on another call to the facility, Captain Buller and his crew recognized Lightman’s distress.

“She was frantically trying to call family and call a cab and we could tell she was distraught,” he said.

“I can’t walk that well, and I was only two-and-a-half blocks from where I live but I was afraid to go on the street by myself. I didn’t know if I’d make it home,” she said.

Since the cab wasn’t coming, the San Diego fire firefighters loaded Lightman into the cab of their engine.

They strapped her into the jump seat—and even gave her headphones to wear for the trip.

“It felt so secure, it made me feel so good because they were helping me and I knew I was safe, because I was afraid,” said Mrs. Lightman.

Back home safely, the grateful woman says she’s thankful to the local news outlet that was able to help track down the station who treated her with such kindness, so she could spoil them with some sweet treats.

Lightman and her husband will celebrate 40 years of marriage next week.

Reference: NBC San Diego (May 24, 2022) “Stranded La Jolla Woman, 87, Brings Treats to Firefighters Who Gave Her a Lift”

Can a Teddy Bear Help Elderly with Dementia to Communicate?

This cuddly bear engages with individuals with memory disorders.

WGAL’s article entitled “Talking teddy bear gives patients with dementia a new way to connect” reports that Cue Teddy is the brainchild of Dr. Roger Nelson.

Dr. Nelson is a retired physical therapist whose family dealt with dementia. He saw a need that was not being met.

“They lacked this ability of being able to talk and to think and then to connect with other people,” he said.

Dr. Nelson, therefore, teamed up with Rod Tosten, the vice president of IT at Gettysburg College, to bring the bear to life.

“Cue Teddy cues the individual to move and to stay active,” Tosten said.

The bear goes through a series of questions and commands, tapping into three areas of the brain: thought, motion and touch.

“One of the things we’re testing is what colors work well and what kind of fabric works well,” Tosten said.

But why a teddy bear?

“Everybody kind of remembers their first teddy bear they ever got and the name of the teddy bear,” Nelson said.

In addition, making people remember is part of the goal.

“I hope that a lot of people adopt it and use it because it’s a valuable tool,” Nelson said.

“To be able to help other people is just amazing. I just love working on this,” Tosten said.

Cue Teddy is currently in the early stages of development. When it is ready, the two creators will be looking for a partner to mass produce it.

Reference: WGAL (Feb. 14, 2022) “Talking teddy bear gives patients with dementia a new way to connect

Can Fluffy Come to the Nursing Home with Me?

Several studies show the benefits of pets, and senior care communities are increasingly adopting pet-friendly policies.

IAdvance Senior Care’s recent post, “How Senior Care Community Design is Changing to Become More Pet-Friendly,” explains that pets can provide many valuable benefits in senior care settings, particularly because of their effects on mental and physical health. One study found that the presence of dogs was linked to less agitation and fewer behavioral issues for Alzheimer’s patients. In fact, according to News in Health, pets have been shown to help decrease the stress-related hormone, cortisol and lower blood pressure in residents who interact with our furry friends. Studies have also proven that pets can boost mood, reduce loneliness and help seniors feel they have social support.

In addition to health benefits, pets can also provide an important consistency for those who may be moving into a senior care setting. Many people see pets as family members, and a pet-friendly community that permits new arrivals to bring pets with them can avoid a painful separation.

More senior care communities are adopting pet-friendly policies, which can require design changes.

According to Natalie Ruiz, AIA, LEED, AP, NCARB, CDT, associate principal at CallisonRTKL, senior care communities that adopt a more pet-friendly approach see multiple benefits. “For residents, having a pet helps combat loneliness, increases social interaction and gives a sense of purpose,” she explains. “For communities, they see their residents thrive with increased mobility resulting from walking a dog or grooming a cat. There’s also a simple uptick in the job and happiness that comes with the residents having a sense of purpose.”

Ruiz says that in addition to designs and renovations that accommodate residents’ pets, some facilities also benefit from pet therapy programs that introduce community pets for residents to enjoy. In these instances, the facility’s residents still have access to animal companionship but don’t have the time or financial commitments of pet ownership. With the benefits of pets, care communities are increasingly requesting new pet-friendly elements. Ruiz said more and more senior care communities are working to include dog parks with dog washes and pet water fountains. Dog runs are also popular requests.

Ruiz says that while facilities can easily create dog-friendly spaces, they should also give some thought to creating a space for cat lovers. She also suggests that a care center trying to become pet-friendly should designate a pet coordinator who can help the residents with pet care.

Reference:  iAdvance Senior Care (Nov. 30, 2021) “How Senior Care Community Design is Changing to Become More Pet-Friendly”

Does Lack of Clutter Help with Dementia?

Researchers in Great Britain looked at whether people with dementia were better able to carry out tasks, such as making a cup of tea, at home surrounded by their usual clutter or in a clutter-free environment. The researchers were surprised to find that participants with moderate dementia performed better when surrounded by their usual clutter.

News Medical Life Sciences’ recent article entitled “People with dementia may not benefit from a clutter-free environment” also noted that the different environments made no difference to those with mild and severe dementia. These patients were able to perform at the same level in both settings.

Professor Eneida Mioshi, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Health Sciences, said: “The majority of people with dementia live in their own home and usually want to remain living at home for as long as possible. So it’s really important to know how people with dementia can be best supported at home – one possible route would be by adapting the physical environment to best suit their needs.”

He also noted that as dementia progresses, seniors will gradually lose their ability to carry out daily tasks due to changes in their cognitive, perceptual and physical abilities. The professor went on to say that participation in daily tasks could then be improved, by adapting the individual’s environment.

“To this end, we wanted to investigate the role of clutter in activity participation, given the potential to use de-cluttering to support people with dementia to continue to be independent,” Professor Mioshi explained. “Environmental clutter has been defined as the presence of an excessive number of objects on a surface or the presence of items that are not required for a task.”

Mioshi also said it’s generally assumed that an individual suffering from dementia will be better-able to carry out daily tasks, when their home space is tidy and clutter free. However, he noted that there’s been very little research on this hypothesis.

Occupational therapist and PhD student Julieta Camino carried out the study with 65 participants who were grouped into those with mild, moderate and severe dementia. The participants were asked to carry out daily tasks, including making a cup of tea and making a simple meal, both at their own home and at UEA’s specially designed NEAT research bungalow – a fully furnished research facility that feels just like a domestic living space.

The researchers looked at their performance of activities in both settings, and also measured the amount of clutter in the participants’ homes. The NEAT home setting, however, was completely clutter free. They believed the complete absence of clutter in the research facility would play a beneficial role in helping people with dementia with daily living activities. However, we were wrong. Overall, those with moderate dementia, in particular, performed daily tasks better at home, despite the fact their homes were much more cluttered than the research bungalow.

Moreover, it didn’t seem to make any difference how cluttered the participant’s home was. The only factor that contributed to how well they could carry out tasks at home was their level of cognition – with those with severe dementia encountering the same difficulties to perform the tasks at home and in the research facility.

Sian Gregory, Research Information Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We can sometimes make assumptions about what might help someone with dementia who’s living at home, like de-cluttering so they can concentrate on tasks like making a cup of tea. But, as this study shows, our ideas might not always be right.

“Challenging assumptions is so important for careers to understand how to help someone with dementia to live well in their environment. That’s why the Alzheimer’s Society funds a variety of studies like this one to evaluate what actually works for people living with dementia today, as well as finding treatments for the future.”

Reference: News Medical Life Sciences (Nov. 26, 2021) “People with dementia may not benefit from a clutter-free environment”

How Do I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys are lawyers who assist the elderly and their family members, and caregivers with legal questions and planning related to aging.

These attorneys frequently are called upon to assist with tax planning, disability planning, probate and the administration of an estate, nursing home placement, as well as a host of other legal issues, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring An Elder Law Attorney.”

In addition, there are some elder law attorneys who have the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), a certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation. A Certified Elder Law Attorney must meet licensing and other requirements, including specific experience in elder law matters and continuing education in elder law. However, note that an elder law attorney does not need to have the CELA certification to be an experienced elder law attorney.

There are many elder law attorneys who specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a senior’s financial assets, if they suffer from dementia or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. Elder law attorneys also prepare estate documents, such as a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs and a living will. As you age, the legal issues that you, your spouse, and/or your family caregivers must address can also change.

If you are a senior, then you should have durable powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in the event that you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help you transfer assets if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Healthy people over 65 are in the best spot to do more than having estate planning documents prepared. That’s because they have the opportunity to develop a holistic strategy beyond the legal documents. This can give assurances that the family members and professionals they’ve assembled understand the principle of supported decision-making and how it will be implemented.

For example, an elder law attorney may focus on finding the least restrictive residential environment and making other health care and financial choices. An elder law attorney can also protect seniors with diminished capacity, who are being victimized by personal and financial exploitation.

An initial consultation with an elder law attorney will help determine the types of legal services they can offer, and the fees associated with these services.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

Is a Cup of Joe Help Healthy for Seniors?

Nutrition experts and medical researchers are finding all kinds of reasons to recommend indulging in a cup of joe— most based on the fact that coffee is the single greatest contributor to total antioxidant intake, says AARP’s article entitled “Five Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee.”

“Coffee is abundant in bioactive compounds that promote health,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. As she explains, research published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that these compounds may improve the gut microbiome (made up of healthy bacteria that aid in digestion and boost immunity) and reduce what’s called oxidative stress, which occurs when free radicals outnumber antioxidants in a way that leads to disease-causing cellular damage in the body. “The beans also have a deep rich hue, and we know that the deeper the color of a plant, the more benefits we can expect for health.”

However, moderation is the key. Three to five eight-ounce cups of coffee — or up to 400 mg of caffeine — per day can be part of a healthy diet. That is plain black coffee, not cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos. Those are high in calories, sugar and fat. Let’s look at five health benefits of coffee that give you even more reason to enjoy your next cup.

  1. Lowers Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. A large review of studies published in Nutrition Reviews found that your risk of developing type 2 diabetes drops by 6% for each cup you drink per day. That’s because coffee is packed with phytochemicals that may act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, insulin-sensitivity boosters and more. The same goes for decaffeinated brews. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that those who drank two to three cups of filtered coffee a day — as opposed to unfiltered coffee (made with a pod, an espresso machine, or a French press) had a 60% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who drank less than one cup of filtered coffee a day. Those drinking unfiltered coffee didn’t see such a reduction in risk.
  2. Heart Protection. A review of three major studies published recently in Circulation: Heart Failure found that drinking one or more cups of plain caffeinated coffee a day may reduce your risk for heart failure. (Decaf didn’t yield the same benefits.) Among those without diagnosed heart disease, researchers found that drinking up to three cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of stroke, death from cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.

If possible, though, drink filtered coffee because unfiltered coffee contains two compounds that raise LDL cholesterol in some people, and high levels of LDL cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

  1. Boosts brain health. Some research suggests that regular caffeine consumption may offer brain health benefits. In one study of people ages 65 to 84, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, those who drank a cup or two of coffee daily had a lower rate of mild cognitive impairment than those who never or rarely consumed coffee. Other studies suggest coffee may also protect against Parkinson’s disease. However, some research shows that having over five or six cups a day may have an adverse health impact on the brain.
  2. Improves your mood. Drinking coffee may reduce your risk of depression by nearly one-third, according to research from Harvard Medical School. The effect may be related to coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties. Coffee also has phytochemicals that feed the good bacteria in our guts. The good bacteria may produce or enhance other compounds that act on the brain and have beneficial effects on mood.
  3. Maximizes workouts. Downing a cup before exercise can make a difference in your workout because coffee improves circulation, endurance and muscular strength. It also may reduce pain, according to a review of research published in 2019 in Sports Medicine. However, it is important to recognize that coffee can also act as a diuretic.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 20, 2021) “Five Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee”

Can Exercise Prevent Dementia?

Market Watch’s recent article entitled “How exercise can help prevent dementia” points out that although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and an estimated 3% of all cases are entirely genetic, recent research suggests that some lifestyle interventions could slow its progression.

Dr. Dean Sherzai, a clinical neurologist and co-director of the Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University in California, has developed a five-component lifestyle intervention therapy he uses with patients.

“We have people coming to us with early signs, or so-called subjective impairment, and then we have people a little more advanced, classified as having mild cognitive impairment, or MCI,” Dr. Sherzai explained. “We give them interventions, give them advice on changes they can make to their lifestyle components and we look at what happens.”

Of the five components in Dr. Sherzai’s lifestyle intervention, exercise is the one he typically recommends starting first.

“Whenever we apply behavior change to a population, we’re looking to create sustainable habits with small successes people can see right away, and nothing is better than exercise. It’s easy to implement, measurable and precise, with a fast return,” Dr. Sherzai said.

After only a couple of weeks of regular exercise, Dr. Sherzai’s patients often feel better, get better sleep and their lipid and blood glucose profiles improve. He says that these are some of the indirect ways exercise reduces risk for Alzheimer’s, because each of those factors are associated with higher rates of the disease. The doctor also mentioned three direct links between exercise and improved brain health:

  1. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which delivers more oxygen and nutrients;
  2. Exercise simultaneously flushes inflammatory and oxidative elements out the brain faster; and
  3. An increase in a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which Sherzai says, “is almost like growth hormones for neurons, but specifically for the connections between neurons.” Maintaining these neuronal connections is a key in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain scientists agree that exercise is good for preventing cognitive decline but they don’t yet know if any one type is better than another. It is something that scientists are starting to research. For now, a number of studies have shown that both aerobic and resistance training have major cognitive benefits.

Sherzai recommends exercises involving the legs, whether that’s walking, running, cycling or weightlifting he says that’s because, “your legs — not the heart — are the largest pump in the body.”

Reference: Market Watch (Sep. 28, 2021) “How exercise can help prevent dementia”