Thursday, June 25, 2009



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Senior Con Games

While con games have changed with the times, the practice of defrauding consumers of all ages is nothing new. When the target is a senior, however, the stakes have never been higher, say senior care experts. Senior scams are costing older adults their life savings, their homes and even their lives.

From investment fraud to lottery and sweepstakes scams to home improvement schemes, seniors often are sitting ducks for a criminal looking to make fast cash. According to 2005 statistics from the National Fraud Information Center, 22 percent of telemarketing scam complaints were logged by those over the age of 70, which represents the highest percentage of any demographic group that year.

What makes older adults so vulnerable to tricksters, scammers and con criminals? It appears that physical and psychological needs are at the heart of this issue, according to research and anecdotes from senior experts.
“Seniors often worry they will outlive their money and are concerned that they might not be able to continue to live the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed,” said Tiffany Alcantara from the Home Instead Senior Care® office serving San Lusi Obispo . “That’s among the concerns that we’ve heard seniors express and one reason we believe they are so vulnerable to scams,” she added. “Some may get caught up in these schemes because they are looking for ways to improve their financial situations.”
Research confirms that criminals may cater to these types of worries. Off the Hook Again: Understanding Why the Elderly Are Victimized by Economic Fraud Crimes, a report prepared just months ago by the Consumer Fraud Research Group for WISE Senior Services and the NASD (National Association of Securities Dealers) Investor Education Foundation, revealed that fraud pitches are tailored to meet the psychological needs of a potential senior victim.

“Audiotapes of pitches showed that the con criminal will use one kind of appeal for the lottery fraud victim that may prey on the fact that person is a widow and feels deprived in life,” the report said. “But con criminals will use a different kind of pitch for the investment fraud victim who is more likely to be male, self-reliant and knowledgeable about finances.”
It was that kind of psychological need that attracted a woman in her late 80s living in a metropolitan area on the East Coast and suffering from dementia to the automobile dealership that sold her a car she could never drive.

Here’s what happened: The woman, unhappy that her driver’s license had been suspended after three accidents, spotted a promotional ad from a car dealership. She called the dealership, and a sales representative arranged for the woman and her 92-year-old husband to be transported to the car lot where they were sold an automobile for $5,000 above the sticker price. Because her hands were shaking, the dealership actually wrote the check for her.

Home Instead CAREGiversSM, who had been hired by the couple’s family to help watch out for them, called the family when they spotted the new car. Home Instead Senior Care then worked with the couple’s relatives to force the car dealership to return the car and reimburse the seniors their money.

“Sadly, seniors and their families must be on guard for cons like this and many others,” said Alcantara. “Families of seniors who sometimes live in other cities will call upon our CAREGivers – who are screened, trained, bonded and insured – to serve as a second set of eyes to help protect their loved ones.”

Because scammers often target seniors who are alone or appear lonely, just knowing that a senior has someone to look out for him or her can be an important deterrent and help prevent devastating consequences. “If a con criminal can call seniors and get them to give up their Social Security number, they can create any type of transaction,” said
Edward Hutchison, program director of the National Association of Triads, Inc., an 18-year-old organization that is part of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

The national organization has spawned 847 state triads, which have created SALT (Seniors and Law Enforcement Together) Councils in their communities. These local chapters, designed to bring together senior volunteers, law enforcement and the community, have 17,000 volunteers who go into the homes and organizations of seniors to talk about safety. The organization, whose mission is overall senior safety, is devoting more of its time to these types of issues. “Within the last three years, we’ve been focusing predominately on senior fraud, scams and elder abuse,” Hutchison said.

“We’ve seen how individuals have taken out mortgages on seniors’ homes and who have filed quitclaim deeds on property and taken over to remove seniors from their homes. Or they open up joint checking accounts with the criminal’s and senior’s name,” he added.

What’s worse, seniors can get on a “sucker’s list” where they continue to be the victims of unscrupulous people. And that can result in legal issues that may outlive even the
senior. One Journal of the American Medical Association study showed that victims of elder mistreatment, including exploitation, have a three times higher mortality rate than non-victims.1 When con criminals infiltrate, tragedy can result for a senior who is often just looking out for the best interests of his or her family. And that consequence can be the biggest crime of all. “Most seniors just want to leave a legacy to their children and grandchildren,” Hutchison said. “Criminals prevent some from doing just that.”

To arrange interviews with local sources about this topic, visit us on the web at For interviews with Ed Hutchison, contact Georgene Lahm at For additional information about the study “Off the Hook Again: Understanding Why the Elderly Are Victimized by Economic Fraud Crimes,” log on to
1The Mortality of Elder Mistreatment, Mark S. Lachs, MD, MPH; Christianna S. Williams, MA; Shelley O'Brien, MS; Karl A. Pillemer, PhD; Mary E. Charlson, MD; JAMA. 1998; 280:428-432.

If you're 40 and they're 70: It's time to talk!

Your dad’s neighbor just called to tell you that your 79-year-old father sideswiped his parked vehicle and nearly hit a child standing nearby. Was it an isolated slip-up or the sign that it’s time for your dad to think about giving up his car keys? More importantly, how do you begin the discussion about such a potentially volatile subject?

Sensitive issues like this prompted Home Instead Senior Care, a company serving San Luis Obispo county to launch a public education campaign called the “40-70 Rule.” This campaign will help adult children begin to address difficult issues with their parents such as driving, finances, independence and even romance. “The ‘40-70 Rule’ means that if you are 40, or your parents are 70, it’s time to start the conversation about some of these difficult topics,” said Tiffany Alcantara, Manager of the local Home Instead Senior Care office.

The campaign is based on research conducted in the U.S. and Canada by Home Instead
Senior Care, which revealed that nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. have a major communication obstacle with their parents that stems from continuation of the parent-child role.* In other words, it can be difficult to get the conversation going because the child is still in a child rather than adult role with their aging loved one.

“Because of this obstacle, adult children may wait until an emergency or crisis happens before talking to parents,” said Alcantara. “Our goal with the ‘40-70’ campaign is to provide practical ways for adult children to talk to their parents now. We’ve seen lack of communication lead to misuse of medications, self-neglect and accidents.”

At the center of the “40-70 Rule” campaign is a guide of conversation starters for sensitive senior-care subjects, which is available free from the local Home Instead Senior Care office. The guide was compiled with the assistance of Jake Harwood, Ph.D., national author and communication professor from the University of Arizona who is the former director of that school’s Graduate Program in Gerontology.

Starting conversations early is particularly important for end-of-life issues such as power of attorney and wills, said Harwood, author of “Understanding Communication and Aging,” (2007, Sage Publications). Other topics may need to be addressed as well, he said. “On the earlier driving instance, you could say, ‘Hey Dad, Fred from next door
called to tell me about your accident. What happened?’” Harwood said. “Then take the opportunity to drive with your parent. Even a short drive would help you gauge your dad’s skills and deficits.”

Such conversations should be broached with care, Harwood added. “It’s crucial to begin these conversations assuming ‘if’ rather than ‘when.’ Many older adults continue to drive safely as they age. So personal circumstances should determine how much discussion needs to occur,” he said.

In general, the Home Instead Senior Care survey found that Boomers have the most difficulty talking with their parents about independence issues, such as continuing to live in their own home, and that their parent’s desire to remain independent makes it challenging to address such sensitive issues as health (28 percent) and money (21 percent). The fact that many of these families are still in a parent-child rather than a peer-to-peer role makes the conversations even more difficult.

“It takes two to tango,” Harwood explains. “If an adult child always turns first to the parent in times of trouble, regularly needs money from the parent, or calls the parent every time there’s a crisis in the child’s romantic life, then they can expect the parent to continue acting out the parenting role.

“On the other hand, if the child becomes truly independent and stops acting out these behaviors, then the parent may be more likely to relinquish the parent role,” he said. “So adult children should be aware of the sorts of behaviors they are engaging in, which may cause their parents to act ‘parentally.’”

Physical space and place also influence communication, Harwood said. “A family reunion on a major holiday may well trigger a lot of memories and associations of childhood for all involved, not just the parents.

“It may be helpful for the children to mix things up a little if the parental behaviors are a problem,” Harwood said. “This might be achieved by taking a more active role in cooking the dinner or taking the parent out to the mall to buy them a gift just to change the dynamic and the setting in a positive way,” he said.

The bottom line is to keep talking, because the parent-child conversation can be so important in helping seniors adapt to changing life circumstances, said Harwood and Home Instead Senior Care’s Alcantara.

Good communication also is vital to helping families know when it’s time to seek additional resources. “Oftentimes both adult children and their loved ones can benefit from outside help, such as a professional caregiver,” said Alcantara. “But the only way that will happen is if they can talk about it.”
For more information about Home Instead Senior Care’s survey, including the results of the research and an executive summary, log on to For interviews with local seniors and their adult children, and copies of the free “40-70 Rule” guide, visit us on the web at For more information about aging issues, contact Jake Harwood at To order his book, “Understanding Communication and Aging,” visit

What You Can Do For Your Senior . . . for less than $500

Following are adaptive devices you can easily install and add to a senior’s home for a combined total of about $500. Prices are approximates and may vary by vendor.
1. Raised toilet seats with arms that lock onto an existing toilet provide height and support to stand. $90
2. Hand-held shower nozzle slips directly over a tub faucet. $24
3. Floor to ceiling grab bar provides a full range of heights to hold onto while sitting or standing up. It can be installed by the bed, in the bathroom or by a favorite chair. $150
4. Lever doorknob turner adapters attach securely to a variety of round door knobs to provide leverage for easy opening. $22
5. Lever handles attach to recliner chair handles to serve as an extension. $22
6. Various kitchen items are available including automatic openers that remove lids and open cans, jars and bottles. $50
7. Rubber ramps that are ADA compliant are often easy to install to most surfaces. Ramp stays in place by its sheer weight and can be moved from one opening to another. $36
8. Mobile stools are particularly useful to help seniors navigate a kitchen. $100.
9. Aging in place: Priceless!

A Home Safety Review and Checklist

Seniors and their families might want to look for the following opportunities when performing a home safety review.

√ Examine dark pathways, corners and other areas where seniors regularly walk or read. Make sure all areas of the home have adequate lighting. Timed and motion-sensor lights outdoors can illuminate potentially dangerous pathways. Inside, consider Ott-Lites – which provide a high-intensity beam for doing detail work. Make sure that hallways and stairs are properly lit.

√ Avoid monochromatic color schemes. Contrast can help seniors with failing eyesight better navigate their homes. Large red and blue buttons over hot and cold water faucet controls will help prevent dangerous mistakes. A dark green or brown toilet seat and vinyl tape around the shower will make those fixtures more easily distinguished. Kitchen countertops should contrast with floors as well.

√ Look for ways to reorganize. Mom always put the black stew pot under the stove to keep the kids from breaking it. Perhaps now it belongs on a shelf beside the stove. And who says the eggs must go in the egg tray of the refrigerator? Perhaps it’s easier for dad to handle them if they’re stored in the meat tray. If that hallway table, which has always been a permanent fixture, is becoming a dangerous obstacle, relocate it.

√ Look behind closed doors. Many seniors will close off parts of a house they no longer use. Be sure to check those areas regularly for mold or water damage. Don’t close vents to crawl spaces.

√ Look for ways to simplify your senior’s life. Talk to your parents about why and how they do things then look for ways to simplify their lives. If your Mom’s immaculate floors are now regularly dirty, think about how she’s been doing that job all these years and offer options.

Rather than a heavy mop and bucket, investigate light-weight mops. If your senior is replacing appliances, look for smooth-top stoves and refrigerators with water and ice on the outside. Change door knobs to levers, or purchase grips that can go on conventional knobs. Convert single-bulb light fixtures to multiple bulbs so seniors still have light when one bulb burns out.

√ Consider security. Think about the potential dangers that lurk within your loved one’s home. Lock-in switches on thermostats and stoves will keep seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease from harming themselves. Help them manage in their environment by installing a cordless intercom.

√ Keep an eye out for damage. Watch for signs that a senior is adapting his or her behavior to the environment. Look for towel bars or window sills that are pulling away or shower curtains that have torn from seniors using them to grab onto.

√ Look for ways to make entries safe. Make sure that railings into a home are in good repair and that steps and sidewalks are not damaged. Or eliminate steps altogether. Make sure that doors into a home can be set to stay open for carrying groceries and other items in and out. Install remote-control locks.

√ Is clutter taking over? Messy conditions and broken items are important warning signs. Remove area rugs and stacks of newspapers and magazines, or other potential obstacles.

√ Contact a professional senior-care service, such as Home Instead Senior Care, which can conduct a home safety review and serve as a second set of eyes for older adults.

This list was adapted from the home safety checklist developed by Home Instead Senior Care and enhanced in cooperation with the SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture IDEA Center, the National Association of Home Builders—Remodelers CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialists), the National Aging in Place Council, and aging-in-place consultant Louis Tenenbaum.

The Parent Trap

Boomers Help Mom and Dad
Avoid a Home’s Potential Pitfalls

Baby Boomers may dream of owning a second home as they head into their retirement years. But instead of caring for a vacation house, adult children often find themselves helping an aging mom and dad avoid the safety pitfalls of the family home.

There’s no doubt where seniors want to be as they age. The majority of seniors polled in recent industry surveys – typically 90 percent – say they want to stay at home. But in a 2007 AARP independent living study, two-thirds of Boomer women surveyed said they are concerned about their parents’ ability to live independently as they get older, with 43 percent being very concerned and 26 percent somewhat concerned.1

It’s a legitimate fear. “Many seniors and their families don’t think about the fact that homes must adapt to the changing needs of seniors as they age until an accident
happens,” said Tiffany Alcantara, Manager of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving San Luis Obispo

“There are many potential pitfalls that we’ve seen during the home safety reviews that our company conducts before starting service in a client’s home. Our reviews cover 50 different items throughout a home including the entrance, living areas, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and stairways. Important safety areas to highlight in a senior’s home run the gamut from accessibility to lighting to trip and fall hazards. A lack of attention to those details can jeopardize an older adult’s ability to remain at home,” Alcantara said.

Many home safety improvements are simple and inexpensive, experts say. Convincing seniors, on the other hand, is another story. Danise Levine, assistant director of the IDEA Center at the SUNY (State University of New York) Buffalo School of Architecture, said that denial often comes into play with seniors.

“We see a lot of seniors who don’t want to admit they’re getting older so they don’t want to make changes in their homes,” Levine said. “Secondly, consumer education is an issue. If older adults do need help they often don’t know where to go or how much things cost.”

Those issues can result in seniors’ adapting behavior to their environment, creating a potentially dangerous situation, said Levine, whose IDEA Center is dedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable.
“If a senior has problems getting off the toilet, he could develop a several-step process of using a window sill, shower curtain and towel bar to get up.” However, a window sill and towel bar will eventually pull away and break and a shower curtain will tear under the strain, creating the potential for an accident.

Unfortunately, many home makeover changes are responsive rather than proactive, noted Peter Bell, president of the National Aging in Place Council, a Washington-based advocacy group dedicated to helping seniors remain at home. “Too often changes aren’t made until someone has had a stroke or other type of condition that begins to impair their mobility,” Bell said. “It’s a shame, too, because that’s a difficult time to be making a renovation.”

Bell said that it’s important for a senior-care professional to conduct a home review to identify various safety pitfalls from poor lighting to the need for adaptive devices in a home. (The attached checklist includes various potential hazards to look for in a home.) While many fixes are simple and inexpensive, others might involve a remodeling project to help a senior remain at home.

“That first, important step is to make an objective review of what needs to be done to keep them at home,” Alcantara said. “It’s one of the most important services that Home Instead Senior Care provides.”

10 Ways Seniors Can Stretch Their Dollars

Following, from Home Instead Senior Care and various senior and financial experts, are 10 ways that seniors can stretch their dollars:

Seek the services of an objective financial planner. Sheryl Garrett, CFP®, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, said it’s important for seniors to seek the advice of an objective fiduciary. The Garrett Planning Network ( features experts throughout the country who offer their advice on a fee-only basis.
Get a second opinion on investments and financial purchases. If you’re approached about changing your investments or making a purchase, make sure you get another opinion.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging if you’re having trouble paying for food and gas. For more information or an office near you, log on to National Association of Area Agencies on Aging at
Get back to gardening. The economic downturn is generating a resurgence in gardening, and the over 55 crowd traditionally has been among the most avid gardeners. The national seed and plant company Burpee has experienced unprecedented 40 percent growth this year, double its normal rate, according to CEO George Ball. With food costs up as much as 25 percent in places, gardening provides a 1 to 10 savings ratio, according to Ball. “In other words, for every $100 you spend on garden plants, you’ll get $1,000 in produce. While $100 in groceries may last for only a couple of weeks, a senior can eat for six months on the produce from $100 in plants,” Ball said.
Avoid convenience foods, which are more expensive. Watch for sales on fresh or canned fruits, vegetables and meats, which will be less expensive than convenience foods and better for you.
Look for deals on generic medications. Contact your pharmacist about ways to save money on your medications.
Walk when you can. If the gas prices are cutting into your social life, organize a walking club or walk with friends.
Carpool when you can’t walk. There’s economy in numbers. If you can’t afford to drive somewhere solo or in pairs, contact others you know going in the same direction or the same place and share costs.
Keep drapes drawn during the heat of the day, and minimize opening and closing doors in the cold of the winter. Close off parts of the house you’re not using to cut down on utility costs.
Financial planner Sheryl Garrett says that the ability of seniors to live at home helps cut costs as well. If you or a loved one needs assistance around the house, contact Home Instead Senior Care or visit the company’s Web site at