Caregivers have enough to do without fretting over taxes. But that kind of worry comes with the territory when you care for a loved one with dementia. Like all things that require both math and record keeping, I hate it.
I’ve always been a last minute filer. Since I have a writing business, I end up with a drawer full of receipts that must be categorized and summed. Only the threat of a deadline can persuade me to sit down and start sorting. My mother’s approach to taxes was exactly the opposite. Mom filed early every year and even paid for delivery confirmation of her tax returns. Though Mom’s income and expenses did not require her to file an itemized return in recent years, things have been getting more complicated and now I have a second heap of paper on my desk.
Mom’s medical costs have increased and, as a result, she received Long Term Care benefits from an insurance policy. These reimbursements are reported to the IRS as income on a 1099 LTC form. We also rented her old home to create an income stream that would help defray care costs as they rise. This means filing a rental income schedule and itemizing the cost of improving the property before renting it. Before you could say Uncle Sam, her economic details outnumbered mine.
Taxes add to the long list of items caregivers already oversee. If your loved one’s IRS return is pretty simple, you can reduce your burden slightly by using free software services offered via the IRS Free File site. If your situation is getting more complex, like ours, you can do most of what’s needed with a program like Turbo Tax, which can be purchased at many retail outlets or online.
If you are spending the first lovely days of spring staring at a mess of spreadsheets and invoices, I feel your pain. The one consolation is that this headache comes with a reliable antidote: File it!
As a child I begged my parents for a dog. My mom was dead set against it because she knew that, despite my promise to look after a puppy, she’d end up taking care of it. Though her parents and siblings loved pets, my mother did not. So it surprised me when dementia turned her into an animal lover.
Her transformation was sudden. Maybe it was triggered by the prevalence of wildlife in my Pocono environment. Mom had been living in the suburbs for decades before she came to stay with me in the mountains. Shortly after arriving, she started laughing with delight at the sight of bunnies on the lawn or deer in the yard.
Animals’ abilities to calm dementia patients are now being explored in many settings. Mara M. Baun, DNSc, a coordinator of the doctoral nursing program at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at the Houston School of Nursing in Houston, has been researching the benefits of therapy animals for over ten years. Her work is described in Everyday Health by Madeline Vann. One of Baun’s studies compared adult social interaction in an Alzheimer’s unit — with and without the presence of a dog.
Baun’s research showed that patients displayed more interactive behaviors when they were with the pet. Though some of the behavior was aimed at the dog, rather than a human, the effects were similar whether the dog and dementia patients were one-on-one or in a group setting.
Lots of elder care and residential living programs are also trying to harness the power of animal therapy in their programs for dementia patients. The Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Massachusetts includes animal therapy as part of its program. They use a llama and several golden retrievers to help soothe Alzheimer’s patients in various stages of the disease. Residents who become agitated are often calmed by contact with these animals.
Of course, the animals also require care. If residential programs “forget” about the health or nutritional needs of their therapy animals, that should be a red flag for families. As my mother often reminded me in childhood, “A dog should be as clean and healthy as its owner.” It took me years to fully understand what she meant. But I did finally earn the right to live among some beautiful animals.