Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ways To Save on Your Heating Bill this Winter

by Kristen West 

As the winter months approach, the temperature outside will decrease as the temperature inside increases. The cost of heating can be expensive but with these tricks your house can stay warm without a pricey heating bill.

  • Set your thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and turn it down even more when you're sleeping or away from home.
  • Wear socks, slippers, and sweaters to insulate your body from cold surfaces instead of turning up the heat.
  • Insulate drafty windows with plastic window covers, and check under your doors for cracks that let in cold air.
  • Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as recommended.
  • Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting, or drapes.
  • Eliminate trapped air from hot-water radiators once or twice a season; if unsure about how to perform this task, contact a professional.
  • Place heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and the radiators.
  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing.
  • During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold window
  • Move around! Movement naturally keeps the body warm.

If you have trouble paying your bills:

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps low-income families pay a portion of their winter heating bill between November and March. You can qualify even if you are not on public assistance or do not have an overdue heating bill. You can also qualify if your rent or own your home.

LIHEAP offers assistance in the form of a cash grant, sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. To apply, you will need the names, birthdates, social security numbers, and proof of income for all individuals in your household, as well as a recent heating bill.

There are several ways to sign up for LIHEAP: you can apply online here, you can visit your local county assistance office, or you can call the LIHEAP hotline, Monday through Friday, at 1-866-857-7095 for assistance (individuals with hearing impairments may call the TDD number at 1-800-451-5886). For additional information about the LIHEAP Program, click here.

Crisis Grants are available in addition to LIHEAP cash programs if a household is experiencing a heating crisis, such as broken heating equipment, leaking lines, lack of fuel, or danger of being without fuel. Assistance with home heating crisis is available 24-hours a day by you contacting your County Assistance Office.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Focusing on Gratitude When Times are Tough

by Emily Anderson

You spent the week running your dad to doctors' appointments, cleaning up after his incontinence, and desperately trying to keep him from wandering out the front door without a warm coat. In between those tasks you pour over his checkbook, calculating and recalculating how long his savings will cover his new, expensive medication. This morning he appeared in your room at 5am wearing three pairs of pants and a backwards shirt, convinced that he had to go to a meeting. You yelled at him, and you're not proud of that. Three hours ago, you gave him a holiday card to sign and tried to hide your tears when you realized how hard your once bright, proud papa was struggling to sign his own name.

Then you arrive at the family Thanksgiving party and your sister-in-law chirps, "So what are you thankful for this year?" Instead of screaming and throwing your lukewarm mashed potatoes at her, consider giving some serious thought to the question.

Sometimes, caregiving feels like an endless parade of aggravation and grief, with no breaks for you to rest or recover. In light of that struggle, it can be difficult to come up with something you feel honestly grateful for. To pretend that everything is fine would be dishonest, but practicing focusing on gratitude can be important even when you're not feeling it. At worst, going through the motions of gratitude will keep you in practice for when something good does happen. At best, tapping into gratitude can heal depression and turn your struggles into a source of wisdom.

Check for Gratitude Notifications

How many times a day do you check your phone to see if there is a notification? Even if you haven't heard your special ring tone in a while, you might illuminate the screen to take a peek, just in case. You check your phone because you have some hope that there will be something interesting there--a text, a picture, an email. Tapping into gratitude even when you are not feeling it offers this same kind of hope. If you get in a habit of checking for gratitude the way you check your phone, sometimes you will be rewarded with a moment of joy.

The tricky part is breaking through your frustrations to find something you might actually be grateful about. Try thinking about things in the past that you appreciated or the good old days with your loved one. Often the things that are hardest now are difficult because they used to be very good, so take some time to remember and appreciate those good times. Or, check in to the present moment, to your senses and the people around you. Do you smell something nice? Are you warm and comfortable? Is there a person nearby who has been supportive of you?

Sometimes there are good things happening right along with the challenging things, but we are so overwhelmed by the difficulties that we forget to notice. When you're swamped with difficult times, it doesn't hurt to pause and check for gratitude notifications instead of text messages, just in case they are there.

"Every Suffering is a Seed..."

"...because suffering impels us to seek wisdom," quotes the Bodhidarma, a Buddhist monk who lived 1500 years ago. We don't get wiser just by getting older, we get wiser by going through experiences and letting them help us grow. In the midst of a difficult situation, it's hard to imagine that anything good can come from the experience, just exhaustion and frustration. Those same experiences though, have the possibility of opening our hearts to increased knowledge and compassion.

Studies with people who have experienced serious illness show that many people feel an increased sense of compassion, connection with other people in the same situation, and empathy for humanity in general. Many people tell us that their family, their coworkers, their children don't understand how challenging it is to be a caregiver. But you do now, along with hundreds of thousands of people in the US who are in a similar position.

It may be hard to see  right now, but the tough situation you're in may be shaping you for growth and gratitude down the road, if you will let it. For now, give yourself a little self-compassion break and see if you can remain open to the chances to learn and grow around you.

Let Others be Grateful for You!

You're doing a lot for your family and loved ones. Maybe the laundry isn't getting done as quickly, meals are frozen more often than not, and your motorcycle hasn't been out for a joy ride in two years, but you're making it work. If your family can recognize how much you are doing, soak it in! And if not, then at least give yourself a little gratitude for all that you are doing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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.

In addition, the American HealthCare Group is hosting free, impartial Medicare 101 talks throughout the Pittsburgh region. Check here to find a presentation near you, or call Liz Kanche at (412) 818-2328.

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 9, 2016

The Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit for Veterans

by Emily Anderson

Last year for Veterans Day we did an overview of the range of resources available for veterans. This year, we're going to dig deeper into one particular benefit, the Aid and Attendance pension increase. The Aid and Attendance benefit provides some extra income for veterans or their surviving spouses who need a lot of help with daily living. This can offset the cost of hiring home help or moving your loved one to an assisted living setting. Only about 15 percent of veterans qualify for the benefit and the application is long and tricky--but there are resources to help.

How to Qualify

The " 3 Ms" are the factors that determine eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit:
  • Military--Your loved one served 90 days, at least 1 of which was during wartime, and be honorably discharged;
  • Medical--Their medical condition is not the result of service, but is bad enough that they need help with activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, or feeding;
  • Money--Aside from a house and car, they have limited income and assets.
If your loved one was rejected for a Veterans Administration pension previously because their income was too high, they might still qualify for this benefit depending on need. Likewise if your loved one has declined recently and needs more intensive help or has moved to a nursing home, they may qualify for the benefit. If you're not sure whether your loved served that one day during a period of wartime, visit the Veterans Home Care website to see the official date ranges that are eligible. Remember that this benefit is available to a surviving spouse as well as the veteran.

How to Apply

Unfortunately, applying for the Aid and Attendance benefit is not always easy. You will need your loved one's discharge papers, proof of income and assets, and a lot of patience. Once you file the application, it can take the VA several months to review it. If you are accepted, they will pay the benefit from the date you filed the application.

To begin, you will need to collect five items from your loved one:

  • Marriage license (if applicable)
  • Death certificate (if you're applying for the surviving spouse
  • DD214 Honorable Discharge papers
  • Proof of income (including Social Security, Pension, and other incomes)
  • Proof of assets (for the last three months, excluding one home and one car)

You can apply for the benefit directly by contacting your local Veterans Benefits Administration, but there are several organizations that will help you put it together for free. Organizations and attorneys cannot charge you for helping put together an application, and your application has a better chance if you rely on experienced advice. Check these places for help filing an application:
The American Legion—Among other programs, the American Legion Service Officers can help your family apply for Aid and Attendance. Visit their website to find a post near you.
VetAssist Program—In addition to helping families apply for the Aid and Attendance benefit, VetAssist can provide interest-free short term loans to cover home care, monitor your home care once you receive benefits, and provide you with community resources for no out-of-pocket costs. Contact (888) 314-6075 or visit their website
Operation Veteran Benefits—An outreach effort by local attorneys, these volunteers work with veterans, spouses, and families to ensure eligibility requirements are fulfilled for the Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact (724) 591-8475 or visit their website
Veterans Care Coordination—Provides care services, medical expense monitoring, and eligibility tracking in addition to assisting veterans and their families in completing the application for the Aid and Attendance benefit. Contact 1-855-380-4400 or visit their website.

If you don't think your loved one will qualify for the Aid and Attendance benefit or you're looking for other services, consider contacting your local VA to see what else might be available.

Thank you for your service!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

National Family Caregiver Month Encourages People to "Take Care to Give Care"

by Emily Anderson

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. This year, the Caregiver Action Network reminds us that while caregivers are pouring their love and devotion onto their families, they often forget to take care of themselves. Caregivers are at a higher risk for stress, burnout, depression, chronic illnesses, and even death compared to non-caregivers.

When we remind caregivers to take a break, they often laugh and say, "Easier said than done." We know that between your loved one's care and all the other tasks of life you have little time left, but I assure you it is important! The stress of caregiving puts you at risk for health problems that will cut into your time--and wallet--if you don't take care of yourself now. The Caregiver Action Network recommends three steps:

1. Rest
Set aside a little time to do the things you enjoy, or at least to have some peace and quiet while you take some deep breaths. 
2. Recharge
Feed your body good food that will help you replenish your energy and protect your immune system Tap into the activities that give you more energy. 
3. Respite
Ask a family member, neighbor, or friend to pick up some of your duties for the day, or consider contacting your county's Department of Aging to see what professional help you may be able to get. 

In case you don't feel like you deserve a break, here’s a little reminder of what you and other caregivers 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.