Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Importance of the Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney

By Deanna Leyh Page

Even though it can be an uncomfortable and awkward thing to think about as we get older, it's important to start thinking about your end-of-life wishes. Even at as early an age of 18 but especially later in life age 65 and older, thinking about your wishes if something was to happen to you is crucial to making sure that you will get the end-of-life care that you want. A living will is a set of written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself at some point, for example if you develop dementia or go into a coma.

It's helpful to think about this throughout your life, because as you enter different stages of life or certain health conditions change or arise, your thoughts on what you want or don't want may change too. It is especially important for those diagnosed with dementia to make sure that they complete their living will so that their caregiver or family knows what kind of care the individual would want when they are no longer able to reasonably make those decisions themselves. Without this document, it can be tough for family members or caregivers to make sure that they are following your wishes and there can sometimes be disagreement between family members with differing opinions. To avoid placing the burden of deciding on others and to avoid disagreements, completing your living will can make it easier for others to follow your wishes and can ensure that your instructions for medical care are carried out. Also, make sure in the document that you designate a healthcare agent or power of attorney to follow your instructions. Be sure to pick someone that you trust and that you believe will adhere to your instructions or wishes.

The living will ask you questions about severe brain damage, aggressive medical treatment, organ donation, tube feedings, chemotherapy, radiation, antibiotics, CPR, breathing treatment, surgery, etc. It also gives you the opportunity to write down specific, detailed instructions for your healthcare agent to follow. The document also allows you to designate the healthcare power of attorney or agent to follow your wishes, and it allows you to specify if you want the agent to follow your instructions exactly or if you want them to use your instructions as guidance and possibly override your wishes. You will need two witnesses to sign your living will/power of attorney form, and you can get it notarized, although it is not Pennsylvania state law to have it notarized.

Remember that you can update your living will/healthcare power of attorney form as your wishes change, and you should review it every so many years. Many people think that just telling family members will suffice, but actually having a written, legal document of your end-of-life instructions makes it easier for family and loved ones to make decisions and to follow your wishes.

For the PA Living Will/Healthcare Power of Attorney form to complete, you can download a free copy at the following website:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Addressing Care Facility Concerns

by Emily Anderson

About 1 in 8 older adults live in a some type of supported living facility, such as a nursing home. Many more use other types of living assistance, such as adult day care or in home care. Tragically, sometimes those facilities and the people working in them do not do their job, resulting in violations of your loved one's rights. If you suspect that the rights, health, safety, or welfare of your loved one has been jeopardized, there are services that can help.

Know Your Rights

First, it's important to know the rights you and your family are entitled to no matter what type of institution you are interacting with. These rights entitle you to:
  • Have safe and competent treatment
  • Services that are delivered in a timely manner
  • Care that is appropriate to the severity of  your needs
  • Privacy in treatment
  • Complain without fear of retribution
  • Get information about health conditions and be involved in decisions about your care
  • Refuse treatment or choose alternative strategies
  • Know the names of the people providing care and how to contact their supervisor
  • Understand the cost of services

The Ombudsman

The ombudsman is not a single person, it is a county service that represents consumers within the long-term care system. They receive complaints about services and can help you work towards a solution. They can help you advocate for your loved one to receive the best possible care. If you have a concern about the quality of care your loved one is getting, for example, the ombudsman can help mediate with the provider to improve care. If you think your loved one is being transferred or discharged from services too soon, the ombudsman can help you appeal the change. If you are billed for services you don't understand or don't think you received, the ombudsman can help you figure it out.

All ombudsman services are confidential and free. In Allegheny County, you can contact the ombudsman by calling the Senior Line at 412-350-5460. If you live outside of the Pittsburgh area, find your local ombudsman by calling your Area Agency on Aging.

Adult Protective Services

Some rights violations rise to the level of abuse or neglect in long-term care settings. Examples include your loved on not receiving the medications, being forced to sit in excrement without assistance, being treated roughly by staff, or being denied food or physical assistance. If you suspect that your loved one is being abused or neglected, call Adult Protective Services. In Allegheny County, the phone number for Adult Protective Services is 412-350-6905. If you live outside of Allegheny County, find your protective services contact here.

There is no cost for either of these services, and no penalty for reporting your suspicions even if there is no proof. Older adults are often unable or too afraid to speak up when they are being treated poorly. Though we hope you never have to deal with poor treatment, as a caregiver, the responsibility might fall to you to advocate for your loved one. But you're not alone--there are services and people that can help support you in your care of you loved one.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Protecting Seniors from Online Scams

Information brought to you by ATT Internet Services at

A challenge for senior citizens who embrace the computer age is knowing how to avoid online fraud. Although people of all ages are at risk, statistics show that when it comes to online safety, seniors are more vulnerable. In fact, according to the Department of Homeland Security, “seniors are defrauded at twice the rate of the rest of the population.” Yes, there are swindlers out there — based in another country or maybe even in your neighborhood — who want to steal from you or your loved ones. But there are also reliable ways to spot a scam and steer clear of fraud. Here, we explain common scam types and show you how to safeguard your valuables, savings and online information.

Why are seniors targeted?
They’re savers: Fraudsters assume seniors have lots of money sitting in their accounts.
It’s a low-risk crime: Scams on seniors often go unreported or can be difficult to prosecute.

What Are Those Most Common Online Scams?

Grandparent Scam

Grandparents are targeted because they’re protective and want to help those they love, when they are in a crisis. A grandparent scam could look like this:
  1. A con artist emails you, posing as distressed relative in distress
  2. They tell a variation of a “Grandma, it’s me” story
  3. They describe their dire problem (car crash, arrest, need a lawyer, etc.)
  4. The senior is asked to send money for expenses to get out of trouble
The con artist then says "don't tell anyone!"
What to watch for: Never pay anything in this situation. A strong sign of fraud is being asked to pay with a card such as an iTunes or MoneyPak card, which don’t offer the protection of a credit card.
What to do: Don’t respond to the email. Delete it. Call your family and check that they’re ok. Report it to the proper governmental authorities including the Internet Crime Complaint Center ( or the Federal Trade Commission (

Tech Support Scam

When using the computer, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a real warning and a fake one. A computer warning scam can happen like this:
  1. You’re using the internet and a window pops up out of nowhere
  2. It looks like a “computer hack” or “virus” warning
  3. It uses the name of a computer company such as Apple or Microsoft
  4. It says you need to download something to “fix” a computer issue
  5. It’s a virus or program designed to steal your information
  6. You punch in your account information and your savings get drained
What to watch for: Computer companies don’t usually approach consumers to offer support — it’s us who go to them.
What to do: Close the pop-up window — do not open it and absolutely do not enter your bank account details. If you notice further similar windows, have a family member or trusted computer repair store run a check or install virus protection.

Remote Control Scam

Phonies offer a free security check over the phone to get you to give them remote access to your computer for a supposed diagnosis and fix. They gain access, add software and steal from your accounts.

Lottery Scam

 Who wouldn’t be excited to hear they’ve won the lottery? Scammers recognize the lure of a lottery win, and turn it into online scams.

How Do Lottery Scammers
Target Seniors Online?

  1. You receive an email telling you you're a winner. Yay!
  2. They ask you to enter your credit card number, or write a check to cover "administrative fees."
  3. The winnings may actually turn up in your account...
  4. Only to be removed when the "winning" check is found to be fake.
What to watch out for: This is a common scam. Be wary of any email that mentions a lottery win. These scams often claim you have won a foreign lottery.
What to do:
Remember, the odds of winning the lottery are tiny. Delete the email in question. Report it to the proper governmental authorities including the Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission.

Bogus Charities

Seniors are often targeted because of their generosity and kind-heartedness. That’s what makes scammers pose as a charity — to target elderly people online. Here is how they often attempt to carry out such an act:
  1. A natural disaster happens
  2. Fake charities send out emails to you, asking for a donation
  3. They pose as a legitimate charity, or make up their own identity
  4. They play on your emotions — perhaps saying children need your help
  5. There is no apparent identification or authorization
  6. You pay using your credit card, but your bank account is then drained

Real Charities Contact Via Email

Once you have donated to a nonprofit, it is likely that they will contact you through email to ask for continued support. Avoid any charity or fundraiser that refuses to provide detailed information about its identity, mission, costs, and how the donation will be used.
Here’s how to avoid a charity scam:
  • Beware of any charity that asks you to send money overseas
  • Delete emails with attachments — they probably are not real
  • Investigate groups that make pleas over social media
  • Criminals wait for disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and other natural devastations to set up websites asking for money. Only use authorized sites if you choose to donate.

General Rules For Avoiding Online Scams

  • Don't send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected online request
  • Do online searches for potential scams, such as "IRS scam"
  • Don't pay anything (fees, admin costs) upfront when someone promises something
  • Government offices and trustworthy companies don't ask you to pay with a reloadable card
  • Be skeptical about free trials
  • Sign up for free scam alerts. Click here to sign up!
  • When possible, purchase through a HTTPS site, as opposed to HTTP. The "S" stands for "secure"
Please visit ATT Internet Service's Guide for more information at 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Guide to Talking with your Doctor

By Deanna Leyh Page

Everyone knows that it’s tough to navigate the medical system. From dealing with the insurance companies to being in the hospital, it’s not easy figuring out how to handle medical issues while trying to get the best care possible for you or your loved one. One thing that shouldn’t be hard is talking with your doctor, right? Well it shouldn’t be, but for so many people, having a good appointment with your doctor is more difficult than it ought to be. There are some things that you can do to prepare for your appointments and while talking with your doctor to ensure that you are getting the most out of your appointment, your doctor is really hearing you, and you are getting the best care possible!

1)      Choosing the Right Doctor: First decide what you’re looking for in a doctor. Think about questions like, “Is the age, sex, experience of my doctor important to me?” or “How far am I willing to travel to see this doctor?” Make a list of several possible doctors that fit the criteria of what you’re looking for, especially for specialists. Be sure to call their office and check if they take your insurance, including Medicare or Medicaid. Consult online resources and look at ratings and reviews of doctors that you’re interested in, and ask friends and family for reviews or opinions as well. You can even call the office staff to see if they have a doctor that they would highly recommend in the practice. At this point, make a choice, but don’t be afraid to “shop around” if you go to them and don’t like them after your appointment.


2)      Preparing for the Appointment: Once you’ve made the appointment, start to make a list of concerns, and take that information with you. Write down a list of your current medications (including the dose), past medical history, family medical history, current lifestyle habits and activities, other doctors that your currently see and their information, etc. Consider bringing a friend or family member with you, and also remember to bring a pen and paper to take notes during the appointment. It’s so easy to forget what the doctor told you by the time you walk out of their office, so it’s a good idea to write things down.


3)      Involving Others: Having a family member or family come with you can be helpful during a doctor’s visit because they can remind you of things you wanted to tell the doctor, as well as help you remember what the doctor said during the appointment. Caregivers or loved ones can also be your healthcare advocate and make sure you’re getting the best care possible. If you have a caregiver, it can be good to bring them along so that they can bring up concerns of their own, such as what to expect in the future, sources of information/support, community services, and ways to maintain their own well-being.


4)      Giving Information: When first talking with your doctor, share your symptoms—be clear and concise when describing these. Be prepared to answer questions about when symptoms started, what time of day they occur, how long they last, frequency, if getting worse or better, and how they impede your functioning. Remember to give information about your medications, including prescribed and over-the-counter meds, vitamins, and herbal remedies. It’s also good to make the doctor aware of your allergies or bring up any concerns about drug interactions. Also, be honest with them! Be truthful when you tell them about your habits, including drinking/smoking, sleeping, eating, sex, daily activities, etc. Voice other concerns too—provide information about major changes or stresses that could influence your health, i.e. “my sister recently passed away” or “I’ve sold my home recently”.


5)      Getting Information: When the doctor is talking to you and describing your diagnosis or plan of treatment, be sure to ask them questions! So many people keep quiet and don’t ask the doctor questions that they have, which doesn’t help them understand their diagnosis or treatment. So ask your doctor to explain why a test or medication is important, what the test will show, what you need to do to prepare for it, dangers/side effects, what it will cost, how/when you’ll get results, etc. Discuss your diagnosis and what you can expect, what may have caused the diagnosis, if its permanent/temporary, how is it treated/managed, long-term effects on your functioning, how to learn more about it, etc. Find out about your medications from your doctor including side effects, when the medicine will start to work, what happens if you miss a dose, if you take it with meals or not, if you need to avoid foods/drugs/activities while on it, refills, how long you’ll be on it, interactions with other meds, etc.

REMEMBER **If you don’t ask questions, your doctor may assume you already know the answer or that you don’t need more information…Ask questions!

6)      Discussing Sensitive Subjects: Don’t hesitate to discuss sensitive subjects with your doctor, such as memory, driving, depression, sexual function, incontinence, grief, falls, or problems with family members. Brochures or booklets can be a useful too to introduce topics you may feel awkward discussing. You can ask to talk with your doctor alone if you’re uncomfortable to talk about these issues in front of family members, caregivers, or friends. However, if you feel the doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, it might be time to think about changing doctors.


7)      Making Decisions with your Doctor: Your doctor will most likely recommend some kind of treatment or medication to help you, and you should be a part of this decision! Ask about different treatments and have a discussion about your choices and options, risks and benefits to each, side effects, length of treatment, how successful the treatment would be, your own values and circumstances, and cost of each option/if insurance covers it. You can also see if there is a way to prevent a condition that runs in your family, if there are ways to prevent it from getting worse, any risks in making change, and community services/supports to help. Talk about if the doctor’s recommendation is something that you will actually follow or implement…if not, find another solution. Don’t leave the office knowing you’re not going to do what the doctor is recommending…then it’s a waste of money and time! If you know you’re not happy with his recommendation, ask the doctor is there is another option that you’re more comfortable with and that you will actually follow.


8)      What if the appointment goes south? Remember to tell the doctor about your feelings, i.e. if you feel rushed, worried, or uncomfortable. First try to voice your feelings in a positive way, such as “I know you have a lot of patients today, but I’m very concerned about this. I’d really like to discuss this in more detail.” If a doctor is brushing off your questions or symptoms as simply a part of aging, or you’re not satisfied with their response, think about looking for another doctor. Remember that you are paying the doctor to do a service! If you’re not satisfied with them, you should look into finding someone who will address your concerns and be respectful.