Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bringing Back Books: The Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

by Emily Anderson

We sat in Mary's living room drinking tea and she pointed to the packed bookshelves around us. "My Dad used to read anything he could get his hands on," she told me, "Philosophy, fiction, car repair manuals, you name it. There must be hundreds of books in here. His mind is still sharp, but now he seems so lazy and bored, he can hardly even watch TV."

Mary's father had macular degeneration, the leading causes of incurable vision loss. It left him able to see a few things out of the corner of his eye, but the central part of his vision was dark. In addition to making it difficult to get around, vision loss can make it challenging to enjoy hobbies and to stay engaged with the world.

There are many ways that reading and other entertainment can be more difficult to enjoy as people age. Most often, farsightedness makes it hard to read small print or distinguish words in low light. Some develop problems like macular degeneration, glaucoma, or cataracts, while other vision problems are complications of an illness like diabetes. Other physical health problems can also make it difficult to read, such as having difficulty holding a book because of  a stroke or Parkinson's.

Sitting around bored and isolated though, is not good for health or happiness. Luckily, the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) has resources for people who have difficulty reading. They offer large print editions, audio books and magazines, the equipment needed to listen to audio books, and movies with descriptive audio (if you're not sure what that is, check out a sample here). The Carnegie LBPH is free to use after you fill out a brief application, available on their website or by calling 412-622-3114. The application does ask for the verification that your loved one needs this service from an authority like a doctor or case manager.

Mary enrolled her father in the LBPH and he started listening to audio books instead of staring off into space. Mary often picked up the same book in written form, and they would have a monthly "book club," a moment she looked forward to as a way to connect to the intellectual man she had known growing up. It didn't make everything perfect, but it brought a point of joy back into their lives.

If you don't live in Allegheny County, find your library for the blind and physically handicapped by visiting the website for the National Library Service.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How to Recognize and Avoid Fraud

by Kristen West

In recent years, older adults have become the target of fraud and financial exploitation. First, let's distinguish between "fraud" and "financial exploitation." Fraud targets older adults and attempts to deceive them using promises of goods, services, or financial benefits that do not exist, were never intended to be provided, or were misrepresented. Financial exploitation, on the other hand, is the illegal or improper use of an older adult's funds or property. Fraudsters use persuasion tactics to convince older adults to give them money or valuable information that could help fraudsters gain access to money.

Identifying fraud can be tricky, but if you remember these red flags, you will be better equipped to protect yourself and your loved one from fraud.

  1. You were contacted out of the blue with an offer for free money or fast cash. If you receive an unsolicited offer, there is a good chance you have been targeted by a scam artist. The offer for fast cash or free money may be presented as lottery winnings, an easy work-at-home job, guaranteed returns on an investment, or an unknown inheritance. Scam artists will often dangle one of these rewards to gain access to personal information and solicit money. 
  2. You are pressured to act quickly. Scam artists will often tell you there is a limited time to access the offer or will encourage you to keep the offer a secret. This is designed to get you to act quickly and irrationally. If the offer is legitimate, it will still be there tomorrow after you've spoken to a trusted family member, friend, or financial advisor. 
  3. The fraudster makes you feel scared about your financial situation. Some fraudsters will try to make you believe your savings, pension, or social security is in jeopardy unless you take action. Check directly with your bank or a trusted family member before you believe these claims.
  4. It seems too good to be true. If it seems to good too be true, it probably is! Get rich quick schemes rarely work out. If an offer is truly able to enhance your financial position, it will still be there after you've done some research and thought about it more. 
Once you recognize a potential scam, it's important to refuse the fraud and protect yourself. 

  1. Never give away private information, like a Social Security number, bank account, or birth date to unsolicited contacts. 
  2. Never send a check or money wire to anyone who contacts you if you do not know them personally. If you receive an unwanted call, piece of mail or email, hang up, shred it, or delete it and do not respond. 
  3. Ask questions and research the proposed offer before taking any actions. Most scammers will shut down once you start asking questions. If they do answer your questions, research the company through the Better Business Bureau

To read more about, the types of financial scams seniors often encounter, click here. To discover other ways fraudsters might try to deceive older adults, click here.

Fraud and Cognitive Impairment

The people most vulnerable to fraud and scams are people whose judgement and decision making are impaired by cognitive problems like early stage dementia. They may be more likely to believe a wild scam will work, or more trusting of a voice on the phone asking for their information. If your loved one has trouble with memory or struggles to handle complex new things, you may need to be extra alert for signs that they have been scammed. Some strategies you can use include:
  1. Keep a close eye on your loved one's accounts for signs of suspicious activity, like a large withdrawal.
  2. Encourage your loved one to use cash instead of checks or credit cards. Cash can't be shared directly over the phone or internet, so it's harder for fraudsters to get their hands on it. Make sure your loved one always has plenty of cash or gift cards to their favorite places. If it become very problematic, you may need to remove the checks and credit cards from the house.
  3. Monitor incoming mail or calls. Add your loved one to the National Do Not Call registry and the National Do Not Mail registry. Periodically check your loved one's house for scam mail and quietly remove it if necessary.
  4. Enroll in identity protection. Even if the worst comes to pass and your loved one gets scammed, identity protection can help keep the situation from spiraling out of control.

If  you notice a scam

Finally, if your loved one has been targeted by a scam, remember to report it so you can protect others. AARP ElderWatch encourages you to call them directly at 800-222-4444 (option 2) and their volunteers can help gather information and refer you to the appropriate agency for filing the compliant. More information about reporting fraud, as well as a list of agencies who receive elder fraud complaints, can be found here

Fraud can be tricky, but with these guidelines, recognizing and avoiding fraud, can be made easier for you and your loved one. Remember, if an offer seems to go to be true, it probably is. Ask questions and get answers, and share your experiences with others.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The AD8: A New Way to Think About Dementia Screening

by Kristen West

If you took your loved one in to the doctor for a dementia test, you might have listened as the doctors asked them to recall information, report recent events, and complete a series of seemingly unrelated tasks. However, a new interview tool could be changing the dementia screening process by more actively involving caregivers.

The AD8 is an 8-question interview tool that can help to identify some of the early signs of dementia more reliably than previous tests. The interview is an information-based assessment, rather than quiz-based. Instead of questioning the patient, the administrator interviews the patient's caregiver to assess areas of cognition and functioning that may have changed. These questions look for a change in memory, understanding, decision making, and interest in activities. The questionnaire focuses on whether or not your loved one has experienced a change in these areas, rather than focusing on examining current levels of functioning.

The AD8

As with any Alzheimer's or dementia test, the AD8 is a screening test and does not take the place of a diagnostic workup of dementia. If you would like to administer the AD8 to yourself or someone you know, look over the questions below. Answering "Yes, there has been a change" for two or more questions indicates there may be reason for concern.

  1. Has your loved one had problems with judgment (e.g., problems making decisions, bad financial decisions, problems with thinking)?
  2. Has your loved one had less interest in hobbies and activities?
  3. Does your loved one repeat the same questions, stories, and statements over and over?
  4. Does your loved one have trouble learning how to use a tool, appliance, or gadget (e.g., VCR, computer, microwave, remote control)?
  5. Does your loved one forget the correct month or year?
  6. Does your loved one have trouble handling complicated financial affairs (e.g., balancing checkbook, income taxes, paying bills)?
  7. Does your loved one have trouble remembering appointments?
  8. Does your loved one have daily problems with thinking and/or memory?

For more information about the AD8 and a score sheet, click here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Support Groups for Caregivers in Allegheny County

by Emily Anderson and Kristen West 

Looking for a support group near you?

We’ve updated our guide to support groups in the Pittsburgh area. A lot of them have changed, but this represents the most up-to-date information our numerous phone calls could gather!

Once you click on the link below, it will take you to a Google Map that shows where current support groups are and contact information if it is available. On the left side of the map, you can choose what type of support groups you are interested in exploring. Categories include:

  • Caregiver Support
  • Alzheimer's/Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s Disease

To view the interactive map, click here!

You can also view the Area Agency on Aging's Caregiver Resource Guide.

If you live outside of Allegheny County, or you don’t see a group for your needs here, there are several good places to start. First, check with a hospital near you to see what groups they run. Second, many non-profit organizations that focus on a single disease (like the Alzheimer's Association and the American Cancer Society) can help you find a support group and other resources. You can also try the Family Caregiver Alliance, which specifically focuses on resources and groups for family caregivers and offers some online support groups. Finally, you can try getting started with this online self-help group search tool.

We do our best to keep this information up to date, but support groups are always changing. If you discover that one of the support groups listed here is no longer active, we'd appreciate it if you let us know. Likewise, if you know of one that is not listed here, feel free to share!