- Simple Home Safety Solutions for Aging-in-Place
- A Checklist of What to Do When a Loved One Dies
- When Can I Change My Medicare Coverage?
- The Best Reacher Grabber Tools of 2023
- What Happens if You Work While Receiving Social Security?
Dear Savvy Senior,
Falls and fires are the two things I worry most about for my elderly father who lives alone. Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help keep him safe, and keep an eye on him from afar?
- Concerned Daughter
Of course! There are a number of small adjustments and modifications you can make to your dad’s home to help protect him from falls and fires, both of which cause thousands of injuries and deaths each year. Here are some tips to get you started.
Eliminate tripping hazards: Since falls are the leading cause of home injury among seniors, a good place to start is to pack away your dad’s throw rugs which are common tripping hazards or use carpet tacks or double-sided tape to secure them. You may also need to adjust your dad’s furniture so there are clear pathways to walk through and position any electrical or phone cords along walls and out of the way.
For hardwood steps, consider attaching a nonslip tread to each one to provide traction and help him see the edge. And for added protection in the bathroom buy some nonskid rugs for the floors and use adhesive nonslip treads or a mat with rubber suction inside his tub or shower stall.
Improve his lighting: Good lighting is essential for safe aging-in-place, so check the wattage ratings on your dad’s lamps and light fixtures, and install the brightest bulbs allowed, and add supplementary lighting if necessary.
You should also purchase some dusk to dawn nightlights for the bathroom and in the hallways that light up when the sun goes down. And mount some motion sensor lights outside the front and back doors and in the driveway that automatically come on when he comes and goes after dark.
Get grab bars: These can significantly reduce his risk of bathroom falls. Install them where he enters the shower or tub and on a wall inside the stall, but don’t use grab bars that attach with suction. Instead, have wall-mounted bars put in by someone who can affix them to the wall studs. It’s also best to choose bars whose surfaces are slightly textured and easier to grip.
Ensure railings are stable: Wherever he has steps – stairways, entryways or basements – he needs sturdy railings. Ideally, they should be on both sides of the steps.
Prevent cooking fires: There are several affordable products you can purchase to help your dad prevent home cooking fires like BurnerAlert discs that attach to a stove’s knob and will continuously blink or beep after the stove has been in use for a preset amount of time, and Ome smart knobs that can control a stove’s heating settings from an app. Or you can invest in a more expensive iGuardStove sensor that shuts the stove off when it doesn’t detect motion for five minutes.
Install smoke alarms: Install a smart smoke alarm in your dad’s house (buy one for each floor) that will alert him when smoke or carbon monoxide is detected. These smart devices will also send alerts to your phone to let you know when a problem is detected. Google Nest and First Alert both smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Add fire extinguishers: Get portable multipurpose fire extinguishers for each level of your dad’s house and in the garage.
Consider a medical alert: To ensure your dad’s safety and provide you some peace of mind, consider getting him a medical alert device that comes with a wearable SOS button that would allow him to call for help if he were to fall or need assistance.
For more tips, get a copy of AARP’s “HomeFit Guide” (see AARP.org/HomeFit), which has more than 100 aging-in-place suggestions that can help make your dad’s home safer and easier to live in.
A Checklist of What to Do When a Loved One Dies
Dear Savvy Senior,
What steps need to be taken after a loved one dies? My 71-year-old uncle, who’s divorced with no children, has terminal cancer. He’s asked me to take care of his affairs so I would like to find out what I need to do after he passes away.
- Unsure Nephew
I’m very sorry to hear about your uncle. The death of a loved of can bring about a host of different tasks and responsibilities. Here’s a list of some things you can do now, and after his death, that can help keep a sad event from becoming even more difficult.
Before Death Occurs
There are several tasks you can do now while your uncle is still living that will make things easier for you after he dies.
For starters, find out where he keeps all his important papers like his trust and/or will (also make sure it’s updated), birth certificate, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, military discharge papers, financial documents, key or combination to a safe deposit box or a home safe. Also make a list of his digital assets (including usernames and passwords) like his email account, online banking accounts, social media accounts, etc.
If your uncle doesn’t have an advanced directive, help him make one (see CaringInfo.org for free state-specific forms and instructions). An advanced directive includes a living will that specifies his end-of-life medical treatments and appoints a health-care proxy to make medical decisions if he becomes incapacitated. In addition, you should also make a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order. Your uncle’s doctor can help you with this.
You should also pre-arrange his funeral, memorial service, and burial or cremation.
Immediately After Death
Once your uncle dies, you’ll need to get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this.
If he dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare his death and help facilitate the transport of the body.
If he dies at home without hospice care, call your uncle’s doctor. You’ll then need to call the funeral home, mortuary or crematorium to pick up the body. If your uncle is an organ or tissue donor, contact the funeral home or the county coroner immediately.
Within a Few Days
If funeral plans were not pre-arranged, you’ll need to make arrangements and prepare an obituary. If your uncle was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, you should contact those organizations too, because they may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.
You should also notify family members, close friends and his employer if he was still working, and make sure his home is secured.
Up to 10 Days After Death
To wind down your uncle’s financial affairs, you’ll need to get multiple copies of his death certificate, which are typically ordered by the funeral home.
If you’re the executor of your uncle’s estate, take his will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate. And open a bank account for your uncle’s estate to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.
You also need to contact your uncle’s estate attorney if he has one; tax preparer to see if estate or final income taxes should be filed; financial advisor for information on financial holdings; life insurance agent to get claim forms; his bank to locate and close accounts; and Social Security, the VA (if he’s a veteran) and other agencies that provided benefits in order to stop payments.
You should also cancel his credit cards, delete or memorialize his social media accounts and, if relevant, stop household services like utilities, mail, etc. His home and personal belonging will also need to be dealt with in the coming weeks.
When Can I Change My Medicare Coverage?
Dear Savvy Senior,
Is it possible to make changes to my Medicare coverage now? I know we’ve passed the fall open enrollment period, but I’ve heard that there are other times of the year beneficiaries can make changes. What can you tell me?
- Changed My Mind
Yes! The annual Medicare open enrollment period isn’t your only opportunity to swap out Medicare coverage. There are other opportunities, but the timing of when you can make those changes depends on your specific circumstances and the kind of Medicare coverage you have. Here’s what you should know.
Medicare Advantage Change
If you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you may be able to use the Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period, which occurs each year from Jan. 1 through March 31.
During this period, you can switch from your current Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan or to original Medicare with or without a prescription drug plan. You can only make one change during this period, and it will be effective the first of the next month after you make the change.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also qualify for a Special Enrollment Period to change your Medicare health and drug coverage.
There are a number of circumstances in which you may have a Special Enrollment Period, such as if you moved outside of your plan’s service area, your Medicare Advantage Plan terminated a significant amount of its network providers, or you are enrolled in a State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program.
Those with Extra Help – the federal program that helps pay for drug costs – also have a Special Enrollment Period to enroll in a Part D plan, or switch between plans once per quarter in the first three quarters of the year.
If you need to make changes to your coverage but aren’t sure whether you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free Medicare counseling. To find a SHIP counselor in your area visit ShipHelp.org or call 877-839-2675.
Also, be aware that if you’re enrolled in a Medicare plan by mistake or because of misleading information, you may be able to disenroll and change plans.
Typically, you have the right to change plans if you joined unintentionally, joined based on incorrect or misleading information, or, through no fault of your own, were kept in a plan you did not want.
To get help, call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and explain to a customer service representative how you joined the plan by mistake and to request retroactive disenrollment or a Special Enrollment Period.
Fall Open Enrollment
As you noted in your question, there’s also the Fall Open Enrollment Period that allows all Medicare beneficiaries – those with original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans – to make changes.
The Fall Open Enrollment Period occurs each year from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. During this period, you can join a new Medicare Advantage Plan or stand-alone prescription drug plan (Part D) plan. You can also switch between Original Medicare with or without a Part D plan and Medicare Advantage.
You can make as many changes as you need during this period, and your last coverage choice will take effect Jan. 1.
The Best Reacher Grabber Tools of 2023
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some good reacher-grabber tools for seniors with back or hip problems who need help picking things up off the ground? I bought a cheap one a few months ago that doesn’t work very well but would like to find one that does.
- Bad Back Betty
A good “reacher-grabber” is a very practical and popular tool for anyone who struggles with injuries, arthritis or loss of mobility. It works like an extension of your arm allowing you to reach down and pick things up off the ground without bending or stooping over. It can also help with reaching and grabbing things in high overhead places, as well as areas that are difficult to get to.
But with so many different types of reacher-grabbers on the market today, finding a good one that works well for you is not always easy. Depending on your needs, here are some top-rated products to consider.
All-purpose: For retrieving small and medium-sized items, the “Ettore Grip’n Grab,” is a top option that can handle most chores. This 34-inch-long tool has a soft comfortable trigger handgrip and a rubberized jaw that’s strong enough to lift objects up to 5 pounds and up to 4 inches wide, yet sensitive enough to pick up something as small as a dime. The jaw also rotates and locks at 90 degrees for vertical or horizontal use to help you reach things in awkward spaces.
Lightweight: If you want a reacher primarily for retrieving small lightweight items around the house, the “RMS Featherweight the Original Reacher” is a top pick. Available in 32 and 26-inch lengths, it’s made from ultra-lightweight aluminum and has a trigger-style handgrip with a serrated jaw that provides a secure grip when lifting objects.
It also has a magnet built into the tip for picking up lightweight metal objects like a paperclip, and a small hook (or horn) that aids in retrieving things like clothes, shoes or keys. It even has a built-in clip on the arm so you can attach it to canes, walkers and wheelchairs. But, because of its super-lightweight design, it doesn’t work well at retrieving heaver items like canned goods from shelves.
Foldable: For easier storage, the top selling folding grabber is the “Zayad Reacher Grabber Tool,” which is 32-inches long and has a slip-joint in the arm that allows it to easily fold in half. It also has a soft ergonomic grip with a rubberized, rotating jaw that can lift objects up to three pounds and up to 4 inches wide.
Heavy-duty: For heaver-lifting jobs or for outdoor use, the “Unger Nifty Nabber” is a top choice. Available in 36 and 48-inch lengths, this sturdy tool has a rubber-coated heavy-duty claw that grips small, large, and odd-shaped items with ease. It also has a built-in magnet for picking up small metal objects, an ergonomic squeeze-grip handle and can lift 8 pounds.
Where to Buy
You can buy reacher-grabbers at many pharmacies, retail, medical equipment and home improvement stores. But, because it’s a specialty item, the selection is very limited. Your best bet is to buy one online at Amazon.com, which sells all of the top reacher-grabbers at prices ranging from around $10 to $20. Just type the product name in the search bar to find it.
What Happens if You Work While Receiving Social Security?
Dear Savvy Senior,
I started drawing my Social Security retirement benefits back in 2021 when I was forced to retire early, but I’m now interested going back to work part-time. Will this affect my benefits, and if so, how much?
- Back to Work
You can collect Social Security retirement benefits and work at the same time but depending on how old you are and how much you earn, some or all of your benefits could be temporarily withheld. Here’s how it works.
SSA Earning Rules
Social Security says that if you’re under your full retirement age and are collecting benefits, then you can earn up to $21,240 in 2023 without jeopardizing any of your Social Security if you don’t reach your full retirement age this year. But if you earn more than the $21,240 limit, you’ll lose $1 in benefits for every $2 over that amount.
Full retirement age is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, but it rises in two-month increments every birth year to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your full retirement age at SSA.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/ageincrease.html.
In the year you reach your full retirement age, a less stringent rule applies. If that happens in 2023, you can earn up to $56,520 from January to the month of your birthday with no penalty. But if you earn more than $56,520 during that time, you’ll lose $1 in benefits for every $3 over that limit. And once your birthday passes, you can earn any amount by working without your benefits being reduced at all.
Wages, bonuses, commissions, and vacation pay all count toward the income limits, but pensions, annuities, investment earnings, interest, capital gains and government or military retirement benefits do not. To figure out how much your specific earnings will affect your benefits, see the Social Security Retirement Earnings Test Calculator at SSA.gov/OACT/COLA/RTeffect.html.
It’s also important to know that if you do lose some or all of your Social Security benefits because of the earning limits, they aren’t lost forever. When you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be recalculated to a higher amount to make up for what was withheld.
For more information on how working can affect your Social Security benefits see SSA.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/whileworking.html.
Be Mindful of Taxes Too
In addition to the Social Security rules, you need to factor in Uncle Sam too. Because working increases your income, it might make your Social Security benefits taxable.
Here’s how it works. If the sum of your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest, and half of your Social Security benefits is between $25,000 and $34,000 for individuals ($32,000 and $44,000 for couples), you have to pay tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits. Above $34,000 ($44,000 for couples), you could pay on up to 85 percent, which is the highest portion of Social Security that is taxable. About a third of all people who get Social Security have to pay income taxes on their benefits.
For information, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of publication 915 “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits,” or you can see it online at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf.
In addition to the federal government, 12 states – Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia – tax Social Security benefits to some extent too. If you live in one of these states, you’ll need to check with your state tax agency for details.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.