Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Your Rights When Planning a Funeral

Sooner or later, most of us will have to plan a funeral. It could be the funeral of your parents or your spouse; it could be that of a close friend or relative.  When that time comes, it is important that you know your rights.  In fact, this is one of those articles that you may want to print out and keep with your will or other important documents because, when the time comes, you do not want to be doing research on the computer.

What Kind of Funeral are You Planning?

Whether you are pre-planning your own funeral or making arrangements for someone else, you need to decide the type of funeral you want.  Will the body be buried, cremated, or donated to science?  What are you legally required to buy?  Can you have an environmentally friendly or green burial?  How much do you want to spend?  It is important to think about these things in advance, not at a time when you are under emotional stress.

The Funeral Rule

The Federal Trade Commission enforces The Funeral Rule.  According to this legislation, you are only required to buy the funeral goods and services that you want and need.  You do not have to buy a package deal if it includes items you don't want.

Your Rights Under the Funeral Rule

*  You have the right to buy only the services and items (such as caskets) that you want.

*  You have the right to get price information over the phone and you do not have to give them your name, address or phone number in order to get the prices.

*   You have the right to get a General Price List that you can keep.

*   You also are entitled to a written list of the casket prices ... including the price of cheaper caskets that may not be on display.

*   You have the right to know the price of the outer burial containers.  They are not required by state law, at least in California; however, some cemeteries require them.  You will want to know this before choosing a cemetery, expecially if cost is a concern.

*   Before you pay for anything, you are entitled to a written statement that itemizes exactly what you are buying and the cost of each individual item.   This statement should include an explanation of anything you are paying for that is required by the cemetery, crematory or law.

*  You are entitled to choose an alternative to an expensive casket if you are planning a cremation.  This alternative can be made of pressed wood, unfinished wood, cardboard or fiberboard.

*  You have the right to provide the funeral home with a casket or urn that you have purchased somewhere else ... at Costco, for example.  The funeral home cannot refuse to use it and they can't require that you be there to accept delivery.

*  You have the right to refuse embalming if there is not going to be a public viewing.  You can request that the body be refrigerated until it is buried or cremated, instead.

More Ways to Save Money on a Funeral

In addition to knowing your rights, there are other ways you can save money on the funeral expenses.

*  Compare prices on caskets and on the use of a funeral home.  These will probably be the most expensive items, and prices vary widely.

*  Use the least expensive casket options.  Those that have long warranties and other options are not necessary.  No casket can permanently prevent decomposition.

*  Avoid the expense of embalming and body preparation by doing without a public viewing.  Instead you can opt for an immediate burial or direct cremation, which are the two least expensive options.

*  You do not have to have a funeral service at a funeral home.  Instead, you can have a service in a church, home or other location.

*  If you are a veteran or an immediate family member, you may be eligible to be buried for free in a national cemetery.  However, the family still needs to pay for private services, transportation, etc.

Even though this is a very emotional time, it will only be made worse if you end up spending more money than you can afford on the funeral of a loved one.  Take the time to consider all the options, whether you are pre-planning your own funeral or planning one for someone you love.

If you are retired or planning to retire, you may also want to check out the tabs at the top of this article to find more information about Medical Concerns, Family Issues and Where to Retire in the United States and abroad.


"Funerals: Points to Consider,"  2014 Answer Guide, the Orange County Council on Aging, page 126.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Depression Is Not a Normal Part of Aging

As a resident of an over-55 active adult community, most of the people I encounter each day are active, involved, happy and enjoying their retirement years ... even people who are in their 80's or older.  However, I also recognize that there is a dark underside to our community.  I have far too many neighbors who are rarely seen outside of their homes.  They are not participating in any of the dozens of activities that go on in our community each day.  They are not getting exercise or socializing with others.

According to the Orange County Council on Aging in their article "When Is It More Than Just The Blues?" approximately 15% to 20% of adults over the age of 65 have experienced depression.  They based this estimate on a 2008 study done by the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. 

Among my personal friends, I know of several women who have complained that their husbands seem to be depressed now that they have stopped working.  However, I also know of several women who seem depressed, as well.

Causes of Depression

According to the Council on Aging, depression is often triggered in a susceptible person when they experience a significant life change such as a major move, death of a spouse, or declining health.  I have also noticed that it can be triggered when some people give up their careers or when their children grow up and leave home, especially if they move far away.  Since there has also been a large increase in the number of divorces in couples over the age of 50 over the past decade, this could also be a trigger for many people.

While these are all legitimate reasons for people to feel depressed, it does NOT mean that we have to accept it as simply a normal part of aging.

Symptoms of Depression

What are some of the signs of depression in the elderly?  Like people of other ages, they may seem sad, moody, angry or bitter.  In the elderly, they may talk about having nothing left to live for or that they have lived too long.  Other symptoms could include alcohol or prescription drug abuse, withdrawing from activities, poor diet, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, and a host of medical conditions.

Treatment for Depression

There is no reason why depression in the elderly should be considered a normal part of the aging process.  There is no more reason why senior citizens should suffer from this debilitating condition than people of any other age.  There are effective treatments including medication, exercise, and therapy.

In addition, simply encouraging the elderly to get out of the house, socialize and get exercise can make a tremendous difference in their state of mind.  Volunteering is also an effective antidote to mild depression.  Owning a pet can be effective in helping some people.

It is important that family members and physicians pay attention to the state of mind of senior citizens.  The sooner a problem is identified, the easier it will be to treat.


"When Is It More Than Just The Blues?" Answers Guide, The Orange County Council on Aging, page 41.

If you are retired or planning to retire soon, you may want to check out more of the helpful articles in this website by using the tabs at the top of the page.  They have links to hundreds of other sources of information to assist you.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Hospice Care Works

As I've gotten older, one of the phrases that I have come to dread is when I hear that a friend or relative is now on hospice care.  What I learned over the past few years is that this means they are probably only going to live a few more months because of a serious health issue such as inoperable cancer or failing organs.  However, I never wanted to ask the patients I knew who were on hospice any detailed questions about their care, so I was never quite sure what it entailed.  As a result, I was pleased to read an article about it in the "Answers" book provided by the local Council on Aging.

Since this is something that many Baby Boomers will encounter at some point in their lives, either for themselves, their aging parents or a spouse, I thought many of you might want to know more about this service, too.

The Goal of Hospice

The reason for hospice care is simple.  It is there to prevent and relieve the suffering of a dying person, while providing them with a better quality of life during their final months of life.

A Team Approach

Hospice care involves a team of medical personnel who are there to provide emotional, social and spiritual support for both the patient and their loved ones.   Typically, the team will include a hospice doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a hospice aide and other staff members such as chaplains or volunteers.  The patient's personal doctor may also work with them to provide continuity of care.

When Does the Care Start?

Usually people are referred to hospice when they are only expected to live six months or less.  However, length of time can be extended if the person survives longer than expected.  In fact, it can go on as long as the patient continues to meet the criteria.

Where Does the Care Take Place?

Usually the care takes place in the patient's home, even if their home is an assisted living facility, a nursing home or some other type of long-term care facility. Of course, it can also take place in a private home where the patient is being cared for by family or home healthcare assistants.

What Types of Care are Provided?

There are different levels of care, depending on the patient's needs, and the type of care the patient receives can change as time goes by.  The care may include prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications to ease suffering, as well as medical equipment and supplies to treat their medical condition and make them more comfortable.

Does Insurance Cover Hospice?

Hospice care is covered under Medicare, MediCal and most private insurance companies. For people on Medicare and MediCal, there is no cost to the patient or family.  Coverage varies for people with private insurance, so you need to contact your insurance company for details.

What are the Benefits?

Many people with a terminal disease prefer to spend their last weeks or months of life at home, rather than in a hospital.  Hospice care makes this possible for the majority of patients.  They will provide whatever level of care is necessary to prevent the patient from needing to be hospitalized.  If a problem arises, the patient can call their hospice provider, rather than 911.

What If You Change Your Mind?

In some situations, a patient may change their mind about receiving hospice care and may decide they want to try to fight their medical condition longer.  This is particularly true if a new type of treatment becomes available.  If so, the patient can revoke their hospice placement and return to acute care services.

How Do You Find a Provider?

Most communities have a variety of hospice care providers.  If you or a loved one has reached this stage of life, your doctor, hospital, insurance company, or case worker can give you a list of  local companies that provide this service.  You may also want to talk to the families of people who have used the services of the various providers.

Before you select a company, be sure to do a little research on them and get your questions answered.  Find out if there are costs that may not be covered by insurance or Medicare, how many people will be on your team, how often they will visit, the services that will be provided, whether or not a doctor will visit and if there is a 24-hour care program, should that become necessary. 

In most cases you have a choice of providers so you want to be sure to select a hospice company that will provide the patient with the best quality of life possible.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heart Attacks - The Top Cause of Death in Women

As I write this post, it has been less than a week since my husband suffered a heart attack.  I took him to the emergency room six days ago with chest pains and indigestion.  They immediately began testing him for signs of a heart attack and, within 36 hours, surgeons had completed an angiogram and inserted a stint in one of his coronary arteries.

While heart disease has long been recognized as a common health issue for men as they age, many doctors are less likely to be concerned about it in women.  This is despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the number one cause of death in all women, regardless of race or ethnicity, is heart disease.  Even when broken down by groups, heart disease is the top cause of death in both black and white women, and is the number two cause of death (after cancer) in women who are Hispanic, American Indian or Asian/Pacific Islander.

I recently attended a heath fair that was sponsored by the Laguna Beach Community Clinic and they provided me with detailed information about heart disease in women.  This is an issue that every women should worry about, particularly since many women and their doctors still think of heart disease as a man's illness.

While a man having a heart attack is likely to experience extreme fatigue, feelings of indigestion, sweating and chest pain, a women will have symptoms that can be much more subtle.  For this reason, it is important that every woman be able to recognize when she should see her doctor or insist on being taken to the hospital.

Symptoms of Heart Disease or a Heart Attack in Women

Feeling extremely tired, even after a good night's sleep
Difficulty breathing
Difficulty sleeping
Indigestion or nausea
A pain in the belly, above the belly button
A nervous, scared feeling for no clear reason
New or worse headaches than you have ever had
An ache, heaviness, tightness or burning feeling in the chest
An unusual pain in the back, especially between the shoulder blades
A tightness or pain in the chest, especially if it spreads to the neck, jaw, shoulders, ears or inside the arms.

If you are experiencing the above feelings, and especially if you are suffering from several of them, seek medical attention right away.  Do NOT be too embarrassed to go to the emergency room.  Far too many people have died because they didn't want to be embarrassed by going to the hospital when all they had was a bad case of gas or indigestion.  It is much better to have it checked out than wait until it is too late.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

Fortunately, there are a few things that people can do to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.  While you may not be able to eliminate it completely, you will still want to postpone it as long as possible.

Be aware if heart disease runs in your family
Get preventative care by seeing your doctor regularly for check-ups
Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke, especially if you use birth control
Have your blood pressure checked and take medication, if necessary
If you have diabetes, keep it under control
Have your cholesterol levels checked regularly and take medication, if necessary
Get exercise; just taking a daily walk can make a big difference
Eat a healthy diet, including reducing the salt in what you eat
Control your stress by practicing yoga, meditation or other stress control measures

Follow your doctor's recommendations regarding any other steps you should be taking to maintain your health.  Some of these measure, such as not smoking, will also protect you from the second leading cause of death in women ... cancer.  Therefore, no matter which medical issue worries you the most, the lifestyle changes mentioned above are still a good idea.

If you are interested in learning more about medical concerns that could affect you as you age, use the tab at the top of this article.  You will want to check out the other tabs, too, for help with your retirement planning.


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