The Power of a Hug

older-couple-in-loveJanuary 21st is National Hug Day, an unofficial event created by Rev. Kevin Zaborney in 1986.  Although it is not a public holiday, it is worthy of celebration.  The idea behind National Hug Day is to encourage people to reach out and hug a family member, friend, or maybe even a stranger more often.  No matter whom you decide to hug, the mental and physical health benefits are the same to all involved.

Rev. Zaborney realized that after the holidays, many people suffered from low spirits.  Therefore, he selected January 21st because it fell between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and Valentine’s Day.

Studies have shown that there are many health benefits related to human contact.  These studies have found that human contact improves both psychological and physical development.  Human contact, especially hugging can:

·      Help build a good immune system

·      Decrease the risk of heart disease

·      Decrease pain

·      Enhance alertness and performance

·      Decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol in women

In a study of couples, a couple that hugs for 20 seconds has a higher level of oxytocin, which acts as a bonding hormone, than those who don’t.  According to the American Psychosomatic Society, a hug with a romantic partner can reduce stress and its harmful physical effects. 

Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, has studied the benefits of touch for many years.  Dr. Field found that in a study where elderly volunteers who were trained to give massages to infants experienced improved mood with less anxiety or depression, decreased levels of stress hormones, more social contacts and fewer doctor visits after just three weeks of contact.

 In another study, it was found that adults who had no human contact had higher blood pressure and heart rates.

So how many hugs does a person need?  Researchers suggest:

·      Four hugs a day for survival

·      Eight hugs a day for maintenance

·      Twelve hugs a day for growth

So what about seniors, those who live alone or are housebound?  How about a pet?

Older Man Hugging a CatIn a three-year study at Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, of almost six thousand people, pet owners had lower blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-smokers.  Pets have a calming effect.  People with pets do a better job of recovering from serious illness or injury and managing chronic conditions.  Pets depend on us to take care of them and to love them.  All of this takes attentions away from ourselves.  We are not only a source of love and comfort to our pets, but all that love and comfort is returned unconditionally.

Especially for the elderly, disabled, terminally ill, long term care residents or caregivers, the gift of touch is the most powerful healing you can offer another and give to yourself.  So what’s stopping you?  Start hugging!  It’s free and so easy to give. 


Baby Boomer Tsunami

I had the pleasure of being the guest on Hello, Dr. CJ’s radio program today and we had a very informative discussion on baby boomers and assisted living.  If you are struggling with a declining loved one or are in need of assisted living yourself, please click the link below and listen in.  You will hear some very insightful advice!

Hello Dr. CJ

How Do I Know It’s Time For Assisted Living?

KissingCouple_000These are a few of the most important questions I ask families when we are conducting an evaluation on a client that may need assisted living.  If you are still unsure as to whether they need in-home care or an assisted living setting, please feel free to call me to discuss the situation.  With just one phone call, I can help inform you on your options and possibly help with any necessary resources.  (480) 419-4202

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, it is time to consider assisted living…

Can they respond appropriately in an emergency to help themselves or others?

Do you worry that they can no longer determine if they are in danger and would not know how to react appropriately?  For instance, if there were a fire in the home, would they alert everyone, call 911 and get out?  If you are a married couple and you are the caregiver, do you trust that your spouse would be able to assist you and get help if you had a heart attack or some other catastrophic incident?

Do they need 24/7 care?

If this is the case, it is obvious that they need assistance.  However, do you understand that the costs of bringing 24-hour care into a private home are often considerably more than moving them to an assisted living community?  It is in your best interests to understand the costs of all options available to you.

Are they able to manage their own medications?

If the answer is no, then this could be a life or death situation.  You don’t want to wait until they end up in the hospital because they overdosed or forgot to take a life-sustaining medication.  An option you would want to consider is a community that would manage their medications and make sure they are taking the proper dosages and at the scheduled times.

Are their cognitive skills such as the ability to reason or their judgment impaired?

Are they making decisions in their best interests?  Are they putting themselves in danger or vulnerable situations?

Is their short or long-term memory impaired?

This can greatly affect their quality of life, especially if they are living on their own.  It can also affect those around them when repeated phone calls are made for the same questions or emergency trips occur to check in with your loved one because they can’t remember if they’ve eaten, taken their meds, etc.

Are they frequently confused or afraid to be alone?

Do they swear that nobody has visited them in a long time when you know a family member was just there yesterday?  Are they oriented as to where they are and what day it is?  This could very well be memory loss.

Are they increasingly becoming isolated from social functions?

This is another question that could be related to memory loss.  Perhaps they can’t follow conversations at the dinner table any more so they refuse to go to family get-togethers.  Maybe they recognize the faces at their weekly Bridge game, but can’t remember the names, so they are embarrassed and quit going.  When a person becomes isolated, their physical and mental health declines much more rapidly.

Do they have an unsteady gait or frequent falls?

You don’t want to wait until there is a fall and they seriously injure themselves.  I’ve had clients that were fall risks but insisted on staying home because they hadn’t fallen yet.  Then they fall one day, end up in the hospital, only to be told that the injuries are severe enough they cannot go back home.  This is devastating!

Do they have an increasing need for help with bathing, dressing, or other personal activities?

Are they no longer able to cook, clean or shop without assistance?

Do they wear the same clothes over and over again?  Are their clothes dirty?

With assisted living, these will all be taken care of for them.  They will be able to have help with their personal hygiene, laundry and housekeeping.  Meals will be provided for them and they won’t have to worry about cooking or grocery shopping.

It’s always difficult to suggest to a person that they are no longer able to care for themselves and that they need to move to an assisted living community.  But trust me, their safety and well-being must come first.  With these questions, you can rest assured that you are evaluating critical issues and warning signs and should be able to discuss them with you loved one, their doctor or anyone else involved in their care and reach the right decision!

How Do You Argue With Siblings About Your Aging Parents?

It’s very sad to see your loved one declining and know that difficult choices regarding their care lie ahead. What makes it even more difficult is when siblings and other family members don’t agree on what is best. Here are some great guidelines on how to handle these conversations and disagreements.    ~ Becky

How Do You Argue With Siblings About Your Aging Parents?  by Carolyn Rosenblatt for Forbes

Lots of Boomer-aged siblings find themselves fighting about their aging parents!

Should Mom be allowed to stay in her home even though she’s really not safe living alone?  How about the driving issue?  Does one parent have Alzheimer’s or some other dementia and some siblings are in denial about it?  Who pays for a parent’s care? These are common areas of disagreement in families that can tear apart relationships if you are not mindful of how you fight.

You can’t stop your brothers or sisters from having a different way of seeing your parent’s situation, but you can change the way you approach the conversation with them.

Getting along, and agreeing to disagree are manageable if you know how.

In some ways it’s like the fair fighting rules for married people or couples. There are things you can do and things you should never do.  The most destructive things we do when we are in a conflict with siblings can’t be undone.  Emotionally loaded subjects can bring out the worst in families.  If you are aware of fighting fair, you have a better chance of still being on speaking terms with siblings after your parents pass on.

Some of the worst mistakes are the same for any fight:  they are verbally violent and cause harm that may last long after the fight ends. Fair fighting is the equivalent of not “hitting below the belt”.  It includes setting up a few ground rules. We use them at when we have to work with sibling warfare in a family meeting by phone or in person.
The subject of parents in declining health brings up a lot of feelings, good or not, about the parent, and each person’s relationship with the parent.  It also brings up a lot about the siblings’ relationships with each other, sometimes never discussed before.  Things can get explosive.

Here are ground rules we always ask people to follow to keep it civil, though some can’t seem to restrain themselves from doing otherwise.  These rules do help everyone actually communicate while struggling with a load of emotions rising to the surface about Mom or Dad.

1. No name calling, no swearing and cursing, and no shouting at each other.  These are all forms of verbal violence and they can cause hurt you may not mean to cause.  Restrain yourself and see if everyone can agree to do the same.

2.  Define among you what you’re going to talk about ahead of the conversation and stick to it. It will reduce the magnitude of the disagreement and keep the door closed, for now, on other volatile subjects.  Make a list or agenda if you need to.  It can help.

3.  Agree to avoid bringing up the past, especially about decades old hurts. If you focus on what Mom or Dad needs, things will go a lot better.  Stick to the problem with your parent that caused this conversation in the first place.

4.  Don’t start sentences with “You”.  Statements like “You can’t be bothered!” or “You don’t care about anyone else” don’t get anyone anywhere in a fight.  They tend to make the other sibling defensive and it gets worse from there.

5.  No interrupting. You need to listen to the sibling who is talking.  It helps to have a leader in the conversation to keep this rule in force. If there isn’t one, you can remind others that we agreed to not interrupt each other.

6.  Don’t clam up, no matter how angry you get in a fight with a sibling,. Be honest about your feelings and keep your message about what you want to do clear.  Take a breath or take a break, but come back and be straight about what is bothering you.

7.  Ask your sibling what he or she needs.  It sounds simple, but this rarely happens.  You can find out a lot about how to resolve your disagreements if you ask more questions of those who are involved in the fight with you. If a sibling is angry with you because there is something he or she is not getting, perhaps they’ll admit it and you can do something about it.

8. Avoid absolute statements like “you never contribute a dime” or “I always know you’ll disappear when there’s work to do”.  If you try another tack such as “I’m feeling overwhelmed by the work of taking care of Dad and I would like you to come next month and give me a break” is going to work a lot better than the “always’, “never” extreme statements.

No matter how your relationships have been with siblings in the past, we can all do better when an aging parent conflict comes up.  The rules of fair fighting work.  Try discussing them, passing them around or testing the waters with siblings by bringing up the idea before any meeting at which you anticipate an argument.  It might be a big relief to you when things go better than ever.

Trip For Caregivers Is Offered

There was an important announcement in the Arizona Republic today for all local AZ caregivers.

Caregivers who need some time off can take advantage of a low-cost weekend at a rustic church camp in Show Low on June 1-3.

A $34 fee covers all food, lodging and activities.

Participants will carpool June 1 in Mesa.

For more information, call Tina Coffman at 480-464-1061 or 480-969-9582.

Medicaid Gets Harder To Tap

There is a great article in The Wall Street Journal by Kelly Greene concerning Medicaid and long term care.  If you are wondering if Medicare or Medicaid can assist with the costs, this is a must read!  Thank you Kelly for such great information!

Medicaid Gets Harder To Tap by Kelly Greene

Families hoping to use Medicaid to help pay for long-term care are facing tougher restrictions—though some states are getting stricter than others.

In Texarkana, Texas, for example, you can get Medicaid to pay for a nursing-home stay after simply buying an annuity with any savings that exceed the qualifying limit, says John Ross IV, a lawyer who specializes in elder-law issues there.

[31family] Thomas Kuhlenbeck

But just across the state line, Arkansas’s Medicaid program has told him it won’t accept the same practice, he says.

Medicare doesn’t cover much in the way of long-term care. That falls primarily to Medicaid, the jointly funded state and federal program intended for the poor. The program now is shouldering 40% of the country’s long-term-care spending, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

To be eligible for Medicaid in most states, you generally can have no more than $2,000 in cash and investments, along with a house and a car. (Spouses are allowed to keep varying amounts as well in different states.) In the past, regulators looked at any gifts you made up to three years before applying for Medicaid. In 2006, a new federal law increased the “look back” period for most transfers to five years.

States are in charge of qualifying people needing long-term care for Medicaid, working within federal rules, and that leaves room for different interpretations, says David Zumpano, an estate-planning lawyer and CPA in New Hartford, N.Y.

“States are adopting the Nancy Reagan strategy—they just say ‘no,'” he says.

In some cases, states—many of which are anticipating budget shortfalls—are trying to retrieve money from the estates of people who used Medicaid to pay for long-term care, Mr. Zumpano says. Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia are all tinkering with ways to recover Medicaid expenses.

What’s more, some states are proposing Medicaid cuts to routine dental care in nursing homes, the elimination of adult day-health programs, and increasing the number of daily living activities that patients need help with to qualify.

So-called Medicaid planning—paring down assets in order to qualify—raises ethical issues for many people. And depending on where you live, Medicaid-funded long-term care may not provide the options you would prefer, such as home care or assisted living.

Still, there are situations in which asset-rich families—particularly those who own farms or timberland—need assistance, says Mr. Ross in Texarkana.

Here’s how to preserve some assets and possibly still qualify for help.

Get a professional opinion. Consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in elder care to find out what the current laws are where your loved one needing long-term care lives—and how the rules are changing. There are attorney directories at and

Give the house but keep the cash. There is a waiting-period penalty for making a gift within five years of applying to Medicaid for long-term care, determined by dividing the local cost of care into the amount you gave away. So, for example, if care costs $8,000 a month in your state and you gave away $80,000, you would not be eligible for Medicaid for 10 months.

One strategy: If you have a house and some savings, and you need to enter a nursing home, you could transfer the house to your children and use your cash to pay for care during the penalty period, Mr. Zumpano says.

Fill the gap with insurance. John McManus, an estate-planning attorney in New Providence, N.J., has clients who are buying long-term-care insurance to cover the five-year look-back period. That way, they can use their assets until coverage kicks in, and then transfer what is left to their children.

“It’s a way to hedge their bets without having to buy lifetime long-term-care insurance coverage, which has gotten really expensive,” he says.

Create a trust. States are scrutinizing trusts along with asset transfers, but if you set up an irrevocable asset-protection trust more than five years in advance, it can work if it’s “properly drafted,” says Ann-Margaret Carrozza, an elder-law attorney in New York.

The key is to give the parent as many protections and powers as possible while ensuring the trust remains irrevocable, she says. Parents setting up such a trust also need to make sure that it spells out that they can live in the house and that no one can sell it without written consent.

When should you set up the trust? Ms. Carrozza’s rule of thumb is in your 50s. “The people who do it are adult children who have seen their parents go on Medicaid and lose their homes,” she says.

Programs For Family Caregivers Of Those With Dementia Or Memory Loss

The Alzheimer’s Association’s local chapter has announced several free programs designed for family caregivers of people in any stage of dementia or individuals who are in the early stages of memory loss and their care partners.

The Desert Southwest Chapter has shared this valuable information with me and I would like to pass it along to those in the State of Arizona.  However, for anyone throughout the United States, The Alzheimer’s Association is a fantastic resource for support and information.    For more information on any of these programs, please call (602) 528-0545.

Connections Plus:  This program is intended to empower people with early dementia through social connections with each other.  Connections refers to individual matches between a person with early stage memory loss with another person who is also in the early stage, to facilitate one-to-one informal social interactions and support.  Plus refers to scheduled group social outings in the community for participants in the program and their care partners.

Early Stage Partners In Care – EPIC:  This program is intended to assist people with early stage memory loss and their care partners by providing free early stage related education and training workshops designed to reduce stress.  The EPIC program is a series of seven workshops (one a week for seven weeks) for people in the early stages of dementia or memory loss and their care partner.  Participants will learn about early stage memory loss and its impact; how to mange concerns, stress, and distress; how to prepare for changes because of memory loss; and how to stay engaged and plan for the future.  This program is researched based out of ASU.  Theis program is intended for people in the very early stages of dementia and their care partners.

Care Partners Reaching Out – CarePRO:  This program comprises of workshops and support calls to teach family caregivers the skills to handle the stress and frustration related to caregiving.  Five workshops are held over ten weeks (one every other week).  Respite and transportation assistance may be available to assist caregivers attend the workshops.  This program is for caregivers without the person they are caring for.  To be eligible, caregivers must provide at least four hours of supervision or direct assistance per day for a family member with dementia or memory problems.  Please not that the workshops are intended for family caregivers, not caregiving professionals.  Caregivers will learn about dementia and its impact; how to manage frustration, irritation, and stress; how to communicate with their loved one; and how caregivers can take better care of their own health.  This program is researched based out of ASU.

Please call Mindy at  (602) 528-0545, extension 210 for more information or to start the enrollment process!