Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holding a Family Meeting

by Emily Anderson

I met a family once that was very organized and had equally divided the responsibilities for caring for their father so that everyone had a role, but no one felt overburdened.

For most of us, no matter how much we love or dislike our family members, getting them coordinated is like herding cats. Nonetheless, family is one of the most important sources of support that you can call on.

Why call a meeting

Anytime is a good time to start coordinating your family to support you and your loved one, but there are two times when it can be especially helpful. Ideally, you start organizing your family when you first realize that your loved one will need more help. For some families, that realization hits with an unfortunate accident or diagnosis, like a broken hip or finding out that your loved one has cancer. For other families, the caregiving role develops gradually. Maybe you've seen some hints here or there, or been gradually picking up more responsibilities. If you're starting to notice some issues with your loved one, it's a good time to call a meeting.

You might not be new to caregiving though, you may be well down the path but feel like you are falling to pieces. Unfortunately, many people wait to ask for help until they are on the brink of desperation. No matter where you are when the idea occurs to you, it's not too late to get some help.

Many people wind up as the primary caregiver simply because of proximity. It’s not practical to have an out-of-state family member try to take on day-to-day tasks, but they can still lift some of your responsibilities. They might be able to take over monitoring the checkbook and the insurance policy or come to town to offer you periodic breaks. Sometimes a family member who can't offer time can offer financial support. Most importantly though, family can offer an emotional outlet for you to share your frustrations and other difficult emotions.

Feeling reluctant?

Many people are reluctant to call a meeting because they don't want to be a burden. This is particularly true if the people you are about to ask for help are your children. If your family is not being helpful, first ask yourself the following questions: Do they really know what's going on with your loved one? Have you shared how difficult it can be for you? Do they maybe want to help but don't know how? Sometimes, people are just waiting to be asked. A family meeting can help clarify the situation, its impact on you, and some ways they can be helpful.
Other times, people don't want to call a meeting because they are afraid all their relatives will say, "No, I won't help you." That response would leave you feeling more alone and hopeless than ever. But you never know until you try. If they do refuse to help, you're just in the same place you started, but now you can start making plans to find other supports

How to have a meeting

1. Ask to meet

Whether you talk to each person one-on-one or send out a group email, the first step is to suggest a meeting. Stick to simple observations about the things you're concerned about with your loved one and don't get too far into expressing your frustrations. You want people to come to your meeting, not get defensive. 
Say this: Lately Mom needs me to drop by every day and it is getting to be a lot for me to handle. I’d like a chance to talk with you all about what’s been going on.
Not this: Mom is so demanding I'm the only one doing anything for her. I can't keep doing this forever, you all need to step up and help out more.

2. Suggest a date and location

This is sometimes the hardest part. Consider letting people join the meeting by phone or Skype. If you can't find a time when everyone is available, pick the largest group and tell the remaining people you'll fill them in separately. You may choose to have the meeting in a familiar and comfortable environment, or you might choose to meet on neutral ground like a coffee shop or a park.

3. Make an agenda

The first meeting is often about helping everyone understand what is going on with your loved one, so be prepared with recent medical information, bills, or whatever else you think you might need. Write down your agenda so you don't forget what you wanted to talk about in the heat of the moment. Recognize that you probably won't get to everything on your agenda, so plan to talk about the most important things first.

If you are asking your family for help, sit down before the meeting and write down specific tasks they could take on, such as “Get groceries each week” or “Call to ask how I’m doing.” You are more likely to get support if you have some details about what you’re asking them to do.

4. Set some guidelines

When everyone is gathered for the meeting, consider starting with a statement about the goals and guidelines for the meeting. You won’t solve everything in one meeting, so pick a few urgent goals that you want to focus on at each meeting. Good guidelines for the meeting could include using "I" statements, being respectful, and trying to stay on track. For more on how to set guidelines at meeting, check here.

5. Hold the meeting

It's going to get sidetracked a few times, you won't get to talk about everything you planned, and your family will raise issues that you didn't expect. That's OK, that's how meetings go. Keep some notes about what people volunteer to do and topics that you’ll need to revisit.

6. Wrap it up

You might feel like you reached a conclusion or you might not, but meetings must end. Offer a summary of what you talked about, what you decided and what issues are still up for discussion. If you can, set up a time another meeting to continue the discussion.

And then good job, you did it! Repeat as needed. How often you need to meet and how enthusiastically they respond to your call for help will vary in each family.

Sometimes family members rush to help out in the beginning, especially if your loved one had a health crisis. The average caregiving situation lasts five years, though, so you want people to remain committed over the long haul. Often it takes several tries and several meetings to organize your family into some kind of coordinated plan. Don’t give up! It is OK to ask for help, and your efforts may pay off in the form of support for you and a better life for your loved one.

For more tips on conducting a family meeting, try this article from the Family Caregiver Alliance. PBS Newshour also has this excellent article with tips on "sharing care" between siblings.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Alert: Medicare Open Enrollment Ends Dec. 7th!

By Emily Anderson

When you turn 65, you get a special seven-month window to enroll in Medicare, consisting of the three months before your birthday, the month of your birthday, and the three months after your birthday. You also get a special chance to enroll in Medicare if you are under 65, but have a disability. Find out more about Medicare and how to enroll here.

Once you’re signed up, though, you only get a two-month window called “open enrollment” to make changes to that plan. Medicare open enrollment is going on now, and closes on December 7th. If you or your loved one has health insurance through Medicare, this is your chance to make changes to your coverage. For example, you might select a more or less expensive plan, enroll in parts C or D, or change your network to make sure you can see the doctors you like.

Help Enrolling in Medicare

It can be pretty overwhelming to figure out what health insurance is best for you, but thankfully, each state has a State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to help you figure it all out. In Allegheny County our SHIP is called APPRISE, though if you live outside the county you can find your SHIP here. APPRISE is an independent benefits counseling agency, meaning that they have no financial interest in which plans you choose. They exist to help you understand the different options out there and make good choices based on your needs.

APPRISE is active year-round and available to help you or your loved one when you hit that magical 65-year mark, but they are especially busy at this time of year. Check out some more information on APPRISE here, or give them a call at (412) 661-1438 to talk to one of their experts.

Other Healthcare Options

If you are under 65 and don't qualify for Medicare just yet, it is also time to enroll for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Open enrollment through goes until January 31st, but don’t wait until the last minute! The sooner you start the more time you’ll have to consider your options.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Benefits: Resources to Help

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Today is Veterans Day! It is a day when we recognize and thank our military veterans for their service to our country and dedication to protecting its citizens (although every day is a good day to thank them!). Our veterans have given so much to their country and provided care for their fellow citizens, and they deserve to be taken care of as well. There are many programs and services in the community to help veterans, their spouses, and families, but it can be hard to know where to begin looking for help and support. We hope that we can give veterans and their families helpful information on what programs are out there in our local community to help, as well as state and federal programs that may be in your area.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (The VA)

First and foremost, local veterans and their families should look into available services with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and get in contact with their local Office of Veterans Affairs. In addition to many physical and mental health services, the VA offers many programs for qualifying veterans, including:
  1. compensation and pension benefits,
  2. health care and local services,
  3. burial and memorial benefits,
  4. home loans, and
  5. education benefits. 
The Aid and Attendance benefit might be of particular interest to caregivers. For people who are eligible for the VA Pension, the Aid and Attendance benefit provides some additional income for those who are homebound or need assistance in activities of daily living, like dressing and bathing. This includes people who are paying for help at home and people who are patients in a long-term care setting, like a nursing home.

There are over 59 VA facilities providing care and services to veterans in Pennsylvania and eight medical centers in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh. To learn more about federal programs for veterans, call (800)-827-1000, or visit the VA website.

State Veterans Services

There are also helpful state veterans services. The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs have a variety of programs to assist veterans and their families, including pensions for people with disabilities, tax exemptions, and other financial grants. Veterans can even qualify for free hunting and fishing licenses!

To learn more about these state programs, contact your nearest County Director of Veterans Affairs and discuss benefits and eligibility (for Allegheny County, call 412-621-4357). You can also contact the nearest office of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs or visit their website. You can reach Pittsburgh’s Office of Veterans Affairs at 866-754-8636.

Benefits and Rights Assistance: Community Programs and Advocacy Organizations

Despite the wealth of programs and services available to veterans, it may be hard to navigate and figure out the programs and benefits for which you, your spouse, and your family may qualify. If you still have questions or concerns after contacting your local VA, there are some community programs and advocacy organizations that may be able to help:

1. The Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans Services—Obtain a comprehensive listing of programs, benefits, and services for veterans and their families in PA. Contact them at (800) 547-2838. 
2. The Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation—This new organization provides assistance and support to the Commonwealth’s veterans and families. They ensure vets have access to up-to-date information and assistance to qualify for state and local benefits. To contact them, follow this link to the PVF
3. Protection Against Abuse and Fraud—hotlines are available to protect veterans and their families against financial fraud and scans. Contact the Department of Aging’s Elder Abuse Hotline at (800) 490-8505 or the Office of the Attorney General at (717) 783-1944. 
4. VetAssist Program—A program to help veterans and their families apply for the Aid and Attendance benefit with the VA, monitor your home care once you receive benefits, and provides you with community resources. Contact (888) 314-6075 or visit their website
5. Operation Veteran Benefits—A program that works with veterans, spouses, and families to ensure eligibility requirements are fulfilled for the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact (724) 591-8475 or visit their website
6. Veterans Care Coordination—This program assists veterans and their families in completing the application for the VA’s Aid and Attendance Pension benefit, provide care services, and assist with monitoring medical expenses to ensure eligibility. Contact 1-855-380-4400 or visit their website.

There are a lot of programs available to help and support veterans and their families. Don’t miss out—take advantage of community and financial supports! Our veterans have protected and supported us throughout the years, and it’s time to do the same for them. If you know a veteran or are a veteran, look into these helpful programs and services—and remember to thank them for their service, today and every day! Happy Veterans Day!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Happy National Caregivers Month!

From Emily Anderson and Deanna Leyh

By presidential proclamation, November is the official month during which we recognize and appreciate the efforts of the millions of people in the U.S. taking care of a loved one. Here’s a little reminder of what you all do:

  • In the U.S., nearly 44 million older adults need help at home. About 15 million have dementia.
  • The family and friends who help them (that’s you, caregivers!) make up almost a third of our adult population.
  • On average, you all spend twenty hours a week or more on caregiving duties. Half of you do that on top of keeping a regular, full time job.
  • You help you loved ones stay home an average of an extra 4.6 years, but about 1 in 5 of you will help your loved one live happily at home for more than ten years.
  • Collectively, the work that you do for your loved ones is worth more than $600 billion a year in the U.S.

Whether you do a lot or a little, you are a part of something big. Take some time this month to
acknowledge all that you do and give yourself a little reward, whether that’s a deep breath and a cup of coffee, a gold star sticker, or just a pat on the back. Thank you, caregivers, for all that you do!

Want to read more statistics on caregiving in the U.S? Check out the 2015 report from the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.