Dear Savvy Senior
What kinds of resources are available to help seniors with severe vision impairment? My wife has macular degeneration and has become very discouraged. What can you tell us?
Looking for Help
Unfortunately, there are millions of older Americans with incurable vision impairment, making everyday tasks like cooking dinner, reading the newspaper or watching television challenging. But the good news is there are resources, tools and techniques available today that can help. Here’s what you should know.
According to the National Eye Institute, 3.3 million Americans age 40 and over currently live with low vision or blindness – usually brought on by one of the big four age-related eye diseases: macular degeneration; glaucoma; cataracts; or diabetic retinopathy – and that number is expected to double over the next 30 years. (The terms vision impairment, or low vision, means that even with eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, you don’t see well.) Those affected often sink into depression, suffer hip fractures and other injuries, and become socially isolated. While not much can be done to prevent these diseases, there are some things your wife and you can do to help her cope with and manage her condition.
Are you aware of vision rehabilitation services? Today, there are hundreds of vision rehabilitation agencies, organizations and clinics across the country that can help people, and their families, adapt to living with vision loss. While vision rehabilitation cannot restore lost sight, it does help people maximize their existing sight or, if they have no vision, it can equip them with techniques and tools to maintain an independent lifestyle. Services vary, but many offer eye examinations, low vision evaluations and professional counseling, along with special training on how to perform everyday activities in new ways and training to use visual and adaptive devices. They may also offer tips and guidance for modifying the home, and support from others with low vision. To find a program in your area visit www.lighthouse.org – click on “Help Near You.” Costs for these types of services range in the ballpark of $200 to $300 for an initial vision evaluation, and $50 to $100 per hour there after. While Medicare and most private insurance coverage is spotty at best and more often non-existent, most state agencies for the blind and visually impaired offer low cost or free services.
If you can’t find a vision rehabilitation service in your area, there are other resources that can help like the American Foundation for the Blind, which created a special site for seniors with low vision (www.afb.org/seniorsite), and VisionAWARE (www.visionaware.org), a nonprofit public charity. These sites offer tons of information, instructional videos and articles providing everyday solutions to living with vision loss including tips for adapting your home to make it safer and easier to maneuver, techniques for traveling safely outside the home, and ideas on how to manage your finances, medication and other tasks like cooking, cleaning, grooming, reading, writing and more. They also list a variety of low vision adaptive products and computer technology that can help improve your quality of life and help you get back to doing the things you enjoy.
Another helpful resource is Lighthouse International, a nonprofit offering great information on their Web site and a free new guide called “Living Better: A Guide for People with Vision Loss.” To get a copy, visit www.lighthouse.org or call 212-821-9567.
Most seniors with low vision have age-related macular degeneration. While treatment options, for most, are limited, the wet form of macular degeneration, which affects about 15 percent of those who get the disease, got a big boost last year. Two drugs (Lucentis and Avastin) are now available that can stop vision loss and may even restore it. But the dry form, which affects the other 85 percent, has no cure. However, you may be able to slow it’s progression by not smoking, an early diagnosis, a diet rich in antioxidants, and by taking AREDS formula vitamin supplements which you can find in drug stores, supermarkets and health food stores.
Dear Savvy Senior
When I read that Leona Helmsley (who recently died) left $12 million to take care of her dog, it got me thinking about my own pets. While I don’t have millions to leave my furry family, I want to make sure they’re well taken care of after I’m gone. What can you tell me about “pet trusts” and how do I set one up?
Pet Loving Lucy
Pet trusts have become increasingly popular in recent years as older pet owners are looking for ways to ensure their pets will be well cared for when they’re no longer able to do the caring. Here’s what you should know.
A pet trust is a legal instrument that allows you to designate a specific amount of money for your pet’s care and name a trustee to carry out your wishes. There are two main types of pet trusts you can set up. One option is a “traditional pet trust,” which is effective in all states and is similar to a trust you’d set up for a child, but it’s pricy costing around $1,500 to $2,000. Or you could opt for a “statutory pet trust,” which is a much cheaper option (under $100) and is currently allowed in 38 states and the District of Columbia (see www.estateplanningforpets.org). To create a statutory pet trust you simply add a few lines to your will, instead of setting up a separate legal trust. But the drawback is it takes several months for the will to go through probate, so you’ll need to arrange care for the interim.
If you want to set up a pet trust, talk to an estate-planning attorney (see www.aaepa.com), preferably one who has experience with pet trusts. Or you can work with a company like Pet Guardian (www.petguardian.com; 888-843-4040) which creates living pet trust in any state for birds, cats, dogs and horses, and charges around $500. Some factors you’ll need to consider before setting up a pet trust include:
-The trustee and caretaker: Most pet trusts designate both a trustee to manage the money and a caretaker to handle the day-to-day care of the pet. The trustee can make sure the caregiver is doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s also a good idea to name an alternate caregiver.
-Caregiving details: With a trust, you can specify the things you want your pet to receive like their favorite foods, how often they should be taken to the vet, their burial arrangements, etc.
-Funding the trust: You can set aside money from your estate to cover the costs, or if you’re short on funds, another option is to buy or use an existing life insurance policy and name the trustee as the beneficiary.
-Leftover funds: What to do with unused funds when the pet dies.
Some trusts direct leftover money to the caretaker, which is a nice way to reward the person who’s cared for your pet.
But it also gives the caregiver an incentive to skimp on your pet’s care in the meantime.
If you don’t want to spend the cash or time on a trust, there are other options to ensure your pets are cared for, including:
-Make an informal arrangement. This non-legal option is to simply find a trusted friend or relative to take care of your pet if something happens to you. In addition, you could set up a separate bank account to cover expenses and name the caretaker as the beneficiary.
-Leave a direct bequest in your will. Just like any other possession you would leave to your heirs you can also leave your pet and money to cover its care. But keep in mind, this doesn’t offer the legal protection of a statutory pet trust.
-Leave your pet to a sanctuary, rescue, life-care program, humane society or other animal welfare group. If you have no one to name as a caregiver, these options find new homes for pets or offer lifetime care, but may require a fee or donation. Talk to your veterinarian about options in your area or see www.petfinder.com.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” books.