Seniors learn to be safe and secure at LIVE Conference

Both seniors and the people who love them spent a rainy Monday pleasantly indoors with the second annual Sussex County LIVE Conference.

“Of course, everyone here wants to learn about living safely and secure,” said organizer Sally Beaumont, chairperson of Sussex County Council’s Sussex County Advisory Committee on Aging & Adults with Physical Disabilities.

Speakers encouraged people to look out for each other. That means just visiting or checking in, or reporting suspicions of fraud, violence or other abuse.

Bob Bacon of Ocean View read about the conference in his local newspaper.

“I learned quite a lot,” Bacon said. “It’s always worthwhile to know the resources.”

His arms full of pamphlets and goodies from dozens of information booths, Bacon said, “I think I’m gonna sign up for that SMP — Senior Medicare Patrol.”

People were able to ask questions directly of a Delaware cabinet secretary and get legal advice normally starting at $150 or $300. Meanwhile, the $5 conference cost included breakfast and lunch.

Ready for an aging population?

The population of 60-and-older citizens began to spike dramatically around 2005 and will continue to expand steadily for the next 25 years,” said keynote speaker Secretary of Delaware Health & Social Services Rita Landgraf.

The 85-and-older population needing critical care will nearly double by 2020, then double again by 2040.

“That’s just right down the road,” Landgraf said. Delaware must “better prepare so that population can remain engaged safely and securely in the community. … People want to age safely and with dignity in their community.

She said 89 percent of people surveyed by AARP want to age in place, not in a care facility.

“Facility-based care is very appropriate when people need that level of care,” but Landgraf said some seniors feel no option but to enter a long-term care home “because there were not enough services and support dedicated to care.”

She described Delaware’s expansion of services, such as home-delivered meals, expansion of the Stockley Center program and TeleHealth medical services.

She praised Stand By Me’s one-on-one financial coaching for seniors, and the Delaware Aging & Disability Resource Center, which assists caregivers, and provides day programs, Alzheimer’s treatment and home services.

She also praised the volunteer work done by older folks (66 percent of volunteers are 55 or older, she said).

Don’t be a victim

Abuse of the elderly — especially financial exploitation — got a collective “mm-hmm” from the audience.

“I’m talking financial exploitation perpetrated, generally, by a single person or a couple family members, generally someone who is close to that person and is trusted,” said Lester Johnson, investigator with the Delaware Office of the Attorney General. “How do you protect yourself from that?”

People should carefully consider any power-of-attorney (which is not monitored by anyone) or joint bank accounts (which can be viewed as a license to steal).

That kind of abuse is difficult to prosecute because it’s manipulation, dependency and isolation, not exactly a gun to the head, Johnson said.

Businesses can target seniors with developmental disabilities, dementia, Alzheimer’s or other lack of capacity. A telemarketer may convince a customer with a modest phone bill of her sudden need for high-speed Internet.

“It’s an example of the lack of capacity … and that’s what makes these cases very difficult,” Johnson said. “When is it a bad decision on the part of that person, and when is it criminal? So we try to stop it before occurring or during.”

People can report suspicions of such manipulation and abuse to the Division of Aging at 1-800-223-9070.

People should look for signs, like a persuasive telemarketer or someone’s “new best friend.”

“Maybe you can help stop something from happening to them. … Once the money does go out, it’s very, very hard to get back,” Johnson said.

“Seniors are very trusting. I always recommend a healthy dose of skepticism,” said Gail Weinberg of Delaware Health & Social Services. “As community ombudsman, I’ll try to get them involved with an agency, [like] a money-management system.”

Seniors must be wary of overpriced prescription cards, “long-lost” grandchildren suddenly needing money and IRS scams using fear tactics to manipulate people.

“When you’re choosing these [third-party] electric suppliers, you really need to know what you’re getting,” said police detective Eric Whitelock. “I’m not gonna say they’re all bad, but this person was paying 50 percent more than Delmarva Power would have charged him.”

“Avoid urgent demands. ‘What will it take for me to seal this deal right now?’” Weinberg offered as an exmple. “We don’t want you to become victims of crime. … If it’s too late, please call [1-800-223-9074], because we need more people to be advocates for seniors out there.”

Other challenges include caregivers who don’t reposition bedridden patients, use excessive force when moving them, or even sexually assault them. (Assault numbers have increased, Whitelock said.)

In hospitals, a forensic nurse will speak to suspected victims of violence. They automatically report violence toward children and seniors, and anyone injured with a deadly weapon.

“We all have great programs, as far as servicing victims of violence,” said Dawn Culp, forensic nurse coordinator. “We just want to make sure you feel safe.”

They also explained the process for pressing charges, which the State may pursue, even if a senior prefers not to testify.

“They’ll put up with [abuse] because they don’t want to lose their home,” Culp said.

“Many of these family members are these seniors’ lifelines,” Weinberg added. “Those are the people who didn’t complain.”

How do you stop that cycle?

“I would encourage anyone who is a victim of crime to report it. If it’s not reported, we can’t do anything about it,” Whitelock said.

People can call the local or state police, or a 911 dispatcher will transfer the call.

“We ordinary citizens can help our neighbors … if something doesn’t seem right,” Weinberg said. “Abuse is never acceptable.”

“All it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing,” Whitelock said.

Hoarding is a different safety concern.

“Hoarding is very common among the elderly,” said Weinberg, “the excessively acquiring of things that are not necessary, that impede an individual’s ability to live in the home.”

Although can be a real safety issue, blocking the path of emergency responders, “Hoarding is not something you can take care of in an instant. [It calls for] psychotherapy,” Weinberg said.

To call attention to hoarding, people can contact the local fire department with their concerns, prompting the fire marshal to conduct a safety inspection.

The costs of long-term care ‘staggering’

“The costs of long-term care are staggering,” said attorney Michele Procino-Wells.

People have many options to protect their assets, with more chance to save money the sooner they begin. People can give up control of their early assets by placing them in a trust.

“Avoid the agony of spending down your life savings,” Procino-Wells said. “I see so many families that keep Mom, Dad, grandparents at home because they’re terrified [of the finances of it].”

Good planning is important for long-term care.

“If you pre-plan, … 100 percent of your assets can be protected,” Procino-Wells said. “But you need to plan five years in advance.”

But they’ll work with anyone, whether assisted living is years away or families are in crisis mode.

“It is never, ever, ever too late to engage an asset protection plan, so long as there are assets remaining,” said Procino-Wells. “There is still planning we can do to protect 50 to 60 percent of what’s left. … There is no one-size-fits-all crisis plan.”

For instance, she set aside half of one woman’s assets, so the lady was eligible for Medicaid. The government paid for the basic care facility, while her private money covered additional fees for a private room. Otherwise, she would have blown through her assets in a $9,000-per-month room.

They also discussed asset rules.

Medicaid is needs-based and State-administered. Medicare is federal and age-based. Veterans’ benefits can be used on top of Medicare.

“As long as a spouse is living in the house, the house is protected, as is one vehicle, retirement accounts, like IRAs and 401(K)…” said Procino-Wells.

She recommended writing a revocable trust or a last will and testament. A lawyer should review these documents after any major event, including a birth, death, marriage, illness or relocation to a different state. People should use an attorney specifically trained in elder law because it’s complex, between government and Veterans Affairs, she advised.