Dementia Reality Tour

I had the opportunity to participate in a dementia reality tour that our firm co-sponsored at Pacific Gardens.  The premise behind the tour is to experience what it is like to have dementia and to gain compassion and understanding from the experience.

The tour began by dividing the participants into small groups and outfitting us with shoe inserts, special gloves, goggles and headphones.  The affects were uncomfortable and a little disorienting.  We were then led to a typical efficiency apartment with the expected furnishings and personal items.  A voice in the headphones gave each individual a series of daily tasks to complete.

It was hard to complete the tasks and no one in the groups that I met with was able to complete all of the tasks that they had been given through the headphones. Most of the participants were very surprised when they had the opportunity afterward to read the actual instructions that they had been given.  The written list did not match their recollection of the verbal list. In the debriefing afterward some of the participants were adamant that the tasks had been impossible to complete because the necessary items were not available to complete the task.  It turns out that everything that was necessary was available to complete the tasks, but we experienced the frustration of perhaps not finding things where we expected them to be.

I think that for me the hardest part was to remember all of the instructions that were given quickly amidst the distractions that were caused by the equipment I was wearing, especially the noises from the headset. The point that came across most strongly to me was that I need to be patient with someone with dementia.  I need to give them time to respond to one thing at a time and understand that I may need to repeat an instruction when they are bombarded by distractions, some of which may not be distractions to me. I can also imagine how isolating it must be to live in this disorienting world and how much I would need the patient assistance of others.

* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.



Determining Your Present and Future Social Security Benefits

Since 1999, the Social Security Administration (SSA) mailed annual Social Security Statements to you three months before your birthday.  These statements were a way to inform you about the amount of Social Security benefit that you would be entitled to receive at different retirement ages (based upon your current earnings), the disability benefit that you, your spouse, and dependents would receive if you became permanently disabled, and the benefit available to your survivors in the event of your death. They also showed a record of your annual earnings.

Depending on the month of your birth, you may have noticed that you have not received the statement. In April 2011, the Social Security Administration decided to stop mailing annual Social Security statements to workers to save money. By suspending mailings for all workers over age 25, SSA is expected to save approximately $70 million in annual printing and mailing fees.  For several months the only way to obtain this information was to go to the social security office.

SSA plans to eventually resume mailing statements to people age 60 and over. In the meantime and for those under 60 going forward, the SSA website has recently added calculators that can be used to compute these values. The tool is an estimator and does not show the actual values that were available on your statement.  The SSA has provided a number of tools at the website to assist you in planning retirement, but has not yet included a feature to access the actual values associated with your social security number.

For those who are currently receiving SSA/SSI benefits, there is an electronic form now available at the website to obtain a Proof of Income Letter that can be used as proof of your income when you apply for a loan or mortgage, income for assisted housing or other state or local benefits, current Medicare health insurance coverage, retirement status, disability, and/or age.  You will have the option to select the information you would like in the letter. This form is a request for the letter, so it will take at least 10 days after submitting the form to receive the letter.

* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.

Increase in Small Estates Limits

As part of an estate administration, it is typical to use a small estate affidavit to claim assets that may have not been titled in the name of a trust, or assets which were “lost or forgotten” by the family.  Previously we were limited in the usefulness of this process, as the asset limit for a small estate process was $100,000.  Often, when a number of accounts were located which needed to use this process, the total would exceed $100,000 which would then require a full probate proceeding to be opened.

As of January 1, 2012, California Probate Code section 13100 has been updated to allow for small estate transactions where the estate does not exceed $150,000.  This increase in dollar amount should help us avoid the need to open a probate for small estates and to claim assets in a much easier manner.

It is likely however that banks and financial institutions will be resistant and unaware of this change.  Most financial institutions have pre-printed forms which list the old $100,000 limit on them.  Unless the financial institution has updated their forms, the clerks processing the paperwork will be unaware of the change and refuse to process transactions in excess of $100,000 but less than $150,000.  In addition, for financial institutions out of state, it is likely that they will also be resistant to processing a transfer in excess of $100,000 and will need to be educated as to the recent change in California law.  While we may have to educate the financial institutions regarding the law change, overall this new law will greatly ease some of the estate administration issues and avoid the need for probate proceedings for estate less than $150,000.

* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.

Solutions to Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects 50% of people over age 85, most commonly men.  Poor hearing diminishes quality of life. It may bring on frustration in daily interactions with others. It can even be at the root of withdrawal from social activities. Hearing loss also carries risk, because you may not notice a shouted warning or may misunderstand a doctor’s instructions. Fortunately, there are some solutions.

HEARING AIDS  – The current generation of hearing aids bears little resemblance to those of old.

  • Appearance. With new technology, hearing aids today are barely visible. Even the traditional behind-the-ear style is smaller. Only a slender tube extends into the ear canal.
  • Quality of improvement. According to Consumer Reports, 73% of people with hearing aids are satisfied with their purchase. Behind-the-ear, open-fit designs are ranked highest for the most difficult hearing situation: loud, social gatherings.
  • Comfort and use. Many styles and types are available. Choose a provider who offers follow-up service to fine-tune fit and volume. Be sure the purchase includes a trial period and refund.

Cost remains a challenge. A pair of hearing aids costs $1500 – $7000 (average $3000). Medicare covers the diagnostic exam but not the hearing aids. A supplemental health plan may provide coverage.  Help is available to Veterans through the VA.

ASSISTIVE DEVICES – A number of stand-alone assistive devices are also available. These support hearing in specific situations. Look for personal amplifiers, which fit in the pocket. They are an easy, inexpensive first step. You might also consider TV earphones and special telephone options.

If you have a relative that has hearing loss that has not been corrected, you can also try these tips to improve communication:

  • Face your relative.
  • Speak a bit slower than usual.
  • Turn off or avoid background noise. Move to another room if need be.
  • Stop shouting! Volume is only part of the problem. Seniors with hearing loss tend to have difficulty with high tones (pitch) and certain consonants. If you can, make your voice lower and only slightly louder.

Learn more at the website of the Hearing Loss Association of America.

* The information contained in this Blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion of counsel.