Monday, 20 June 2016

Helping Someone Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

A Guest Post by Donna Fitzgerald

As a caregiver, it’s likely you’ve helped to fill out and assisted with mountains of important paperwork. If you are caring for a loved one or have recently become employed to help care for someone with a debilitating medical condition, there’s a good chance that he or she is no longer able to work due to his or her health.

When an individual is diagnosed with a mental or physical health condition that is expected to last for at least a year and interferes with his or her ability to work, he or she may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits (SSD) and as a caregiver, it may be part of your job to help him or her apply for benefits. Here are some things you should know about SSD benefits and some helpful tips when helping file:

Some Things to Know Before Applying

Although millions of Americans apply for SSD benefits every year, many are unaware that the process can be lengthy and often times complicated. Anyone who may be eligible to receive benefits should apply as soon as possible as the Social Security Administration (SSA) reports that a qualifying individual can not receive benefits until the sixth full month of a disability. Additionally, it may take up to a couple of months to hear back from SSA and whether or not an individual is deemed eligible to receive benefits. Finally (and unfortunately), about two thirds of first time applicants are denied, which is important to keep in mind. However, applicants have the opportunity to (and should) appeal their denial, but only have about two months to do so, therefore it’s important to be organized.

Organizing and Preparation

While there’s never a guarantee that an applicant will receive SSD benefits upon his or her first try, one of the best ways to be deemed eligible is by submitting accurate and detailed information about medical or employment history. As a caregiver, who most likely attends important medical appointments with the individual seeking SSD benefits, it’s a good idea to take detailed notes and fill in any gaps by asking questions that aren’t being asked or answered, but appear to be pertinent information for the SSD application.

Helping with the Application Process

Once you have helped to organize and gather all the important and relevant information, such as the residual functional capacity form, you can assist with the online application process. It’s important to remember that even if you are the preparer (and you may have to answer some questions about yourself) that the applicant signs his or her name. Before you submit the application, make sure it has been reviewed carefully and that no information is left blank or unfinished. Additionally, make copies of all information you send to SSA and take careful and detailed notes of any conversations that took place with the SSA during the application process.

If, at any point in the application process, things become confusing or you feel like it’s beyond your ability to assist, you can help your applicant set up an appointment with someone at SSA or even consult with a lawyer who specializes in SSD benefits.


Saturday, 18 June 2016


This Sunday is Father's Day.  In the realm of disability and family, we talk most often about mothers.  But today, I would like to say a few words about what it means to appreciate the Dads in our lives.

My own father, James Edward Thomson, was a gentle, kind and funny man who was much loved and died too young.  My Dad was the embodiment of what it meant to be an officer and a gentleman.  He was a terrific athlete and taught me and my sister how to stick-handle like Jean Beliveau and drive a golf ball 300 yards, or at least keep trying.  My Dad passed away in 1975 and I still miss him.

My husband Jim is like my Dad in some ways.  He is loyal, clever, hard working and detail oriented.  Jim helped the children with their math homework when I became mystified by the equations early in their academic careers.  He reviews Nicholas' health claims and finds extra cash by reading the fine print and closely examining our complicated files.  Jim feels the heavy responsibility of single-handedly creating the social safety net in our family by making financial, pension and insurance arrangements that will keep all of us safe and worry-free for our lifetimes.

He watches hockey games with Nicholas and taught Natalie how to ride her bike.  He skied with Nicholas when we were members of the "National Capital Disabled Ski Association" and he rigged a way for Nick to waterski sitting on a windsurf board with a teenaged helper behind our boat.

In her book, "Love's Labor", Eva Kittay talks about mothering a child with severe disabilities as "testing the very boundaries of what it means to be a parent".  But I would suggest that being a father does that too.  I know that my husband feels the entire weight of responsibility for our financial wellbeing.  Today, I want to say thank you to my husband, my own dear father and to all the fathers who inspire and contribute to special needs families today, yesterday and tomorrow.

Monday, 13 June 2016

A Stranger Asks, "So, Do You Work?"

A stranger asks, "What do you do?".  They really mean, 'do you WORK?'.  When you reply that you care for a loved one, they look past your shoulder, scanning the room for an escape route. At the grocery store, someone you used to know walks by, averting their eyes.  Conversations with people apart from other caregivers can be difficult and sometimes hurtful.

I am a caregiver who has never had a 'proper' job since Nicholas was born twenty-five years ago. I have certain sensitivities and sometimes, I take a chilly greeting personally. During the years when Nicholas was constantly in hospital and often in crisis, I would say this to the doctors: "I really need you to be nice to me. I mean it." I did not know any other way to express the fact that a small slight, a critical gaze, or an unkind word could shatter what bit of resilience I had left to get through the day. 


Eva Kittay recognises this chink in the armor of caregivers because she is one herself (when she is not teaching moral philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook). Eva describes the phenomenon of the 'transparent self' of the caregiver - “a self through whom the needs of another are discerned, a self that, when it looks to gauge its own needs, sees first the needs of another”. Kittay argues that the moral requirements of a dependency relationship make the transparent self indispensable. This labor of love is simultaneously responsive to the needs of others, exhibiting care - it cultivates intimacies and trust between humans. Both care and concern contribute to the sustainability and connectedness fundamental in dependency relationships, but it leaves the caregiver vulnerable. Prolonged transparency of the self can lead to clinical depression at the worst and the absence of empowerment to act on one's own behalf at the least.

My clumsy response to being too transparent for too long was to beg those around to 'be nice to me'.

Looking a caregiver straight in the eye with real interest (not sympathy) is tonic to the caregiver soul. Asking her (or his) opinion about a shared experience, even if it's what she thinks about the color of the sky -  demonstrates a respect for that part of the person which is not a caregiver. 

"What do you do?" is a question that most caregivers despise.  Somehow caring for a person you love doesn't stack up alongside occupations like doctor, lawyer or even office manager. New mothers on maternity leave from high powered jobs very often complain that work comrades avoid them or don't include them in professional banter. For long-term caregivers, respectful, authentic and engaging conversation is hard to come by. So, if you happen to overhear someone say "I just need you to be nice to me", make eye contact, elicit a few opinions and share a personal reflection. And by all means, don't ask "What do you do?  Do you work?"

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

How Local Communities Can Help Caregivers

If you imagine a caregiver at the beginning of a care journey, he or she might be represented as a dot on the map of a neighbourhood.  She would be surrounded by other dots - neighbours, friends and co-workers. Slowly, as care needs at home increase, the caregiver dot floats further and further away from all the other dots. One day, the caregiver finds herself alone, far from the community she once felt a part of.

It's at that point the caregiver might wonder how to match up her needs at home with whatever help might exist in the community. Possible choices, people to call, agencies to help... it all seems too much and too vague. It becomes easier to do nothing.

Today, I'm offering you the possibility for a different life: a caregiving life within your community.  The answer lies in a technology tool designed to coordinate help for caregiving families called Tyze Personal Networks in Canada or Community Tyze in the US.  My idea is this: pick up the phone and call the director of whatever agency supports your family locally.  It might be the Alzheimer's Association, Easter Seal or the Parkinson's Society. Every illness or disease has an organization that offers information and support to its constituents and most have local offices. If there isn't a disease/disability related association in your area, call the Rotary or Lions Club instead.

You have an opportunity to offer a way for a helping organization to help your family and other caregiving folks in your area to leverage all the good will in your region. Philanthropic groups are always looking for ways to make their dollars work strategically and effectively.  Buying Tyze for all the families supporting an elder with Alzheimer's in a city, for example, ticks those boxes and more. Here's how it works:

In a nutshell, your local association buys Tyze at a low cost-recovery rate for tech support. This is a non-profit model of support. The association loads the site with information and support resources of their own. They can add announcements of events and contact telephone numbers as well. Local community partners such as restaurants and cinemas can be listed (but remember, this is a secure site with password encoding, so it's not advertising. It's just a list of willing care-partners in your neighborhood). Friends and family are invited to your Tyze network and everyone has access to your updates from home, scheduled appointments and requests for help. There's a calendar to ensure both personal and medical events are tracked.

I've written a lot about how we use Tyze in my family. It's a great tool and it's even better if your closest circle of helpers is connected to your primary home care agency or disease-support association. Just write or pick up the phone to make this happen for you and other families sharing similar care challenges in your neck of the woods.

Tyze Personal Networks – Powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care
90 Allstate Parkway, Suite 300
Markham, Ontario Canada L3R 6H3

IN USA:  Community Tyze

Monday, 6 June 2016

Defeating Frailty One Step at a Time

By Lisa Price, M.D.

When we think of aging, we often think of slowing down, getting tired easily, doing less, and a lesser ability to bounce back from an illness or setback. Attributing these issues entirely to aging, however, means we are missing what it really is–frailty. Frailty is a collection of health issues that often impact men and women 50 years old and older.

But while this is associated with aging, thankfully it’s not a certainty for all older adults. Early identification and intervention is the best way to lessening its impact later in life.

To be considered “frail,” according to the Journal of American Medical Association, one must have three or more of the following:

-Low Physical Activity
·         - Muscle weakness
·          -Slowed performance
·          -Fatigue or poor endurance
·          -Unintentional weight loss

By the time an older adult is considered “frail” and experiencing three or more of these issues, he or she will have a difficult time returning to an improved health status without a lot of work and is at increased risk for institutionalization and even death. Identifying and acting on this issue is crucial to maintaining and improving health status in older adults.

Working Out

Getting ahead of the issue is important to stem the body’s natural loss of muscle mass and energy reserve. Prevention is the first step in slowing its course. Although most physicians don’t have specific prevention training, they can take steps to promote exercise among older adults, which helps.

There are several ways to age successfully, many of which are simple and can be implemented at home with a little help from a physician. These include:
     - Eating and drinking well, including following a Mediterranean diet;
·       -  Developing an exercise program, including balance exercises and strength training;
·       -  Reviewing medications to ensure all are needed, as some contribute to and worsen the condition due to side effects; and
·       -  Taking note of decline in appetite, weight loss, or reduction in physical activity. 
-  Identifying the disorder as early as possible, acting on it and planning ahead are strategies to help older adults age successfully.

Lisa Price, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at Denver-based InnovAge, a provider of health and wellness services for older adults in California, Colorado and New Mexico. Dr. Price was a private practice geriatrician for 11 years, and then attended on the Acute Care of the Elderly (ACE) service and taught Quality Improvement at the University of Colorado. Dr. Price is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and has expertise in managed care, electronic health records and quality improvement. For health and wellness tips, visit our Caregiver Blog.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Applying a Business Plan to Family Caregiving Gives Comfort to All

Family caregiving: a powerful and touching way for you to give back and express all the hope, love, and support that your loved ones have given you when you were younger. Unfortunately, this type of caregiving is also an often underestimated, unappreciated, and misunderstood calling. With the rising costs of long term care and more seniors in need of some sort of support and care, there definitely is a need for family caregivers to step up. But what should these caregivers need to know in order for them to provide the best care for their loved ones? Read on to find out and learn from pointers that will help you be the best caregiver for your family:

1. Determine your needs.

Before plunging into being a family caregiver, you must first assess yourself. After all, family caregiving is a full-time calling, which will affect your daily living and habits. Ask yourself these questions: am I sure that I want to give up my career for my family? Will caring for my family be worth all the sacrifices (personal time and connections, work opportunities, etc.)? What are the changes I need to adapt to in order to properly care for my loved ones?

By first assessing your own care requirements will allow you to then plan and commit to the care tasks; that is called for in being a caregiver. Do this by listing activities (both for you and your loved one) within a given day. Doing so will allow you to see the level of care and assistance that you need to provide. 

As you take a look at your needs, you will have a clearer picture of what qualities you need to look for and develop in being a caregiver.

2. Develop a job description.

Create a caregiver’s job description based on your assessed needs to help you get into the persona of being a caregiver. This should include all the tasks that a caregiver needs to carry out. It should also entail the qualifications that a caregiver needs to meet such as certification and certain skills such as driving and cooking.

Considering this calling as a "job" will give you the perspective on how a caregiver should act, and if possible, to seek out additional training and learning for care and support as well.


3.  Prepare a contract.

Go the extra mile of considering family caregiving as a career option by drafting a contract. In this document, be sure to include the level of care, the kind of work output that is expected of him or her and for how long the contract will be in effect. Also, state how the caregiver will be reprimanded should he or she should violate any of the rules as an employer. This way, you will be able to identify potential trouble areas that need to be addressed and for you to transition smoothly in providing proper nursing and support.

4. Determine whether to go to an agency or hire privately

There would be times when even you would need additional help to properly care for your family. List down potential caregiver services or agencies that may either provide additional help or, if possible, training for you. Aside from having potential or emergency help ready to contact to, knowing these caregiver services and agencies can further expose you to the industry, which may then give you an idea on how your loved ones should be treated.

5. Conduct an interview

Make sure that your loved ones are informed of your decision to be their caregiver or care coordinator. In order to make better and transparent decisions when it comes to providing support and care, you can ask a couple of other family members to help you evaluate your potential as a caregiver or to assign roles in care coordination.

Before the interview, allow your loved ones (and other family members) to prepare a set of questions that are related to your skills as a caregiver or care team leader. Have them inquire about work background and your intentions. Be sure to have them ask all the appropriate questions in order for them (and consequently, yourself) to assess if your capabilities are substantial enough for the requirements needed to watch over and care for your family.

Apart from that, have them also ask them if there are parts of the job description or contract that concern them. If there are, check if you can meet halfway and revise on some areas if it’s too restrictive for you as a caregiver.

Agencies usually take charge interviewing and screening potential caregivers. In the case of family in-home care, your loved ones conducting an interview will allow your family to effectively plan ahead for long term care.


6. Ask for references

Asking the right questions is not enough. Evidence of good character and the right skills set is central for the peace of mind of everyone in the family. References are a must in the case of hiring private care.  In the case of reluctant or estranged parents, it might be worth offering them at least two references that can attest to your own capabilities as a caregiver. It may be awkward, but being transparent and having someone to vouch for your intentions may give your loved ones the peace of mind that you are committed in pursuing this calling and sometimes, applying a business plan to tricky family situations can help to give everyone confidence and comfort.

7. Always be on guard

Being a family caregiver isn’t a walk in the park – this is why there is a need for you to motivate your loved ones to constantly give you feedback on how you watch and care for them. This way, you and your family can closely monitor if you are delivering a good quality of care. It would be better if you develop a system on how to determine if your loved ones are being cared for adequately. Discuss this with your family.

Samantha Stein is an Online Content Manager for whose works focuses on long term care insurance, finance, elder care and retirement. Her choice to build a writing career on these fields is not merely out of the call of profession. Rather, she decided to pursue these subjects when she saw how being unprepared for long term care and retirement has greatly affected some of her loved ones. Apart from her writing duties, she does volunteer work for various non-profit organizations.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016


Maria is a frequent guest blogger here at The Caregivers' Living Room. Today, I'm thrilled that she's chosen to write about driverless cars, largely because my Mom wants one - badly. This innovation will be transformative for the elderly and people with disabilities or mobility impairments. Driverless cars? Bring them on!

Driverless cars are on the horizon and coming with them are a multitude of benefits. Aside from being the ultimate transportation convenience, autonomous cars are energy efficient, very safe and will enable passengers to multi-task to get the most out of their busy days. However, perhaps the population they would most benefit would be the elderly and the disabled.

This new generation of cars would be able to transport the elderly and disabled virtually anywhere, efficiently and safely, without your loved one having to control the wheel at all. Through a combination of sensors, algorithms and GPS tracking, driverless cars can sense exactly where they are and what is around them, making them able to avoid obstacles on the road. They will be able to slow down for pedestrians and detect objects up to two football fields away. Additionally, seniors will be able to call for an Uber-like automated taxi to take them to a specified location. This will change the lives of those who have to wait for someone to give them a ride to get out of the house. Even seniors with mild dementia can navigate riding in a car that has a pre-set destination.

The elderly are already being served by electronic home systems such as emergency alerts, motion detectors, and home automation for climate control and appliances. A recent report predicted that driverless cars will reduce road accidents by nearly 90 percent, just by taking human error out of the equation. Having your elderly loved one driven around by a driverless car is going to be not only convenient but also quite safe.

One other positive to come from self-driving cars is that they are energy efficient and wouldn’t use dirty resources like oil and gas like traditional cars. Energy companies in Alberta have calculated that fuel savings will be around 20 percent just from more efficient driving with less unnecessary stops and starts. If driverless cars were all electric vehicles, that savings could reach up to 94 percent. Because driverless cars would ideally all be electric, cities would have to include charging stations. There is even a prototype of roadways that automatically charge the vehicles as they drive over them.

Eventually, the driverless phenomenon will extend to homes and businesses with mini-vans and big rigs that transport goods via the highways. But for now, the people who may benefit the most are the disabled and elderly. Auto-driving, self-parking vehicles will give them the mobility and freedom they need for a fulfilling life. General Motors has already invested $500 million in ride-sharing service Lyft for a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

Of course, there are obstacles along the way to becoming a driverless society. Self-driving vehicles will have to deal with unforeseen problems like road work, bikers, detours, accidents and traffic lights that aren't working. The biggest challenge may be getting driverless cars on the road along with so many automobiles driven by humans with their built-in driving impairments like distractions and emotions.

However, all of these challenges are being met and the future of automated cars seems certain to be bright. Having automobiles on demand is more efficient than having an automobile for each member of the family. Adults caring for elderly parents will be able to call for a ride instead of taking off of work for their parents' doctor's appointments. Best of all, the elderly and disabled will gain a mobility that they didn't have when they had to rely on others for transportation.

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.