MIT AgeLab’s Amazing Innovations for Seniors

Picture: Inside the MIT AgeLab, from

In 1900, life expectancy was just under 50. Today, people are living well into their 80’s, 90’s, and beyond. How can we make the most of the “bonus 30 years” we now have? According to the MIT AgeLab in Boston, MA, “longevity requires new thinking.”

The MIT AgeLab was created in 1999 as a place to conduct research and testing on technology to improve health and quality of life, and enable seniors to do more throughout their lifespan. The AgeLab works with businesses, government, and non-profits to develop new products, services, and public information for older people and those who care for them.

So, what are some of the amazing innovative things the AgeLab is doing to help better the lives of seniors and caregivers?

  • AwareCar: The AwareCar was invented for use in studies by businesses and government agencies on how to optimize driver safety for seniors. It includes sensors to record data about the driver, including video cameras for environment and operator monitoring and other tools to measure velocity, lane position, driver physiology (e.g. heart rate), and eye tracking. The vehicle has been used in a variety of studies to assess hands free cellular phone usage, visual and cognitive distraction, driver health and wellness, and stress with age.
  • AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) is a suit that has been calibrated to approximate the motor, visual, flexibility, dexterity, and strength of a person in their mid-70s. It has been worn by students, product developers, designers, engineers, marketing, planners, architects, packaging engineers, and others to better understand the physical challenges associated with aging.
  • Pharm Animals Pill Pets: Maintaining the proper regimen of diet and medications are a challenge for most people. Seniors, who often manage more prescriptions than other age groups, are at increased risk of non-adherence.  The Electronic Pill Pet uses play and emotion to remind older adults to take their medications. This “pet” is being used in research studies to assess the role of toys, pets, and play in senior health.
  • Robotic Autonomous Wheelchair: AgeLab created a robotic autonomous wheelchair that learns the layout of its environment (hospital, rehabilitation center, home, etc.) through a narrated, guided tour given by the user or the user’s caregivers. The technology uses sensors to perceive the wheelchair’s surroundings, a speech interface to interpret commands, a wireless device for room-level location determination, and motor-control software to effect the wheelchair’s motion.

AgeLab conducts research on additional themes that are central to wellness and aging, including transportation and community, housing and home services, caregiving, senior health, finance and longetivity planning, and livable communities. For more examples of AgeLab research studies, please visit their Website.

As baby boomers age and face more health issues, including the treatment of chronic diseases, technology is projected to grow and change faster than ever to keep pace. Please read our blog for additional details about technology and smart device apps for seniors and caregivers.

We here at The Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. are pleased to see all of the advances in technology and research being conducted to help improve the quality of life, health, and well-being of seniors and their caregivers. Now that you know all that is being done to make things easier for seniors and caregivers, it’s time to gain peace of mind by doing legal planning for your future and for your loved ones’ future. As a Certified Elder Law Attorney, my focus is on helping protect seniors and their families by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. Call the firm today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax, at 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or at 202-587-2797 in Washington, DC to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Farr Law Firm!



ambulance_white.jpgGuest Post by Lauren Ellerman of Frith Ellerman Law Firm, P.C.

Imagine, you arrive at the nursing home to have lunch with your grandmother. When you walk into her room, she doesn’t recognize you and is begging for someone to help her. She says she is in pain, but she can’t tell you where or what happened. Suddenly she stops talking and loses eye contact.

You would immediately call for a nurse, and ask the nurse to call 911, wouldn’t you? Even though most of us are not trained healthcare providers we know when someone needs emergency medical treatment and to be seen in the hospital.

“Someone call 911″ you shout, and in response a charge nurse says “I cannot call 911, only a doctor can do that and I have placed a call to our attending physician to get permission to call.”

Meanwhile, your grandmother remains in pain, not speaking, slipping away.

Many patient families have told us that when they requested an ambulance be called for their loved one in a nursing home, they have been given a similar explanation. “No, you can’t call. Only a doctor can call. A nurse doesn’t have that ability. We must wait.”

Is that even true, they ask us months later?

No, it is not true.

Anyone who has a phone, and can dial 911 can call for an ambulance. There are no laws or rules that regulate who has access to this public service.

The policies of these facilities, seems to be in response to Medicare’s unwillingness to pay for each and every ride to the emergency department. Understanding that Medicare won’t pay and a family may be upset about the bill, facilities have adopted internal policies regarding who can call 911, and when. Arguably, the facility is trying to save you the out of pocket costs. Practically speaking, it is a short-sighted policy, that often prevents timely medical care from being provided to someone with acute care needs.

So while it may be true that Medicare Part B will only pay for the ride to the hospital if a doctor orders or approves it what really matters is your loved one and whether they need immediate help. So, get out your cell phone, dial 911, give them the address and get them to the hospital.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Amazing Pets – Saving Senior’s Lives


Q. My mother, Jessica, lives alone and is considering adopting a pet.  I am all in favor, but know it is a lot of work and vet visits are often expensive. For me, these things are certainly worth it.  Despite the grooming costs, the heartworm pills, and the occasional sick visit, I wouldn’t give up my poodles for the world, and have heard some amazing stories about how pets have saved seniors lives.

Besides being cuddly and comforting, my mother read recently that cats can help stave off depression and isolation, and dogs help motivate people to exercise. Are there any other benefits to seniors having pets?

A. People over the age of 65 who live alone are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and stress-related diseases, and can reap enormous benefits from having a pet. Pets have been proven to reduce high blood pressure, relieve anxiety, promote longer lives, and help with all of the ailments described below:

  • Diabetes: People who live with diabetes are vulnerable to collapse from low blood sugar, which can lead to a diabetic coma. According to Dogs4Diabetics, between 2 and 6% of type 1 diabetics will die from low blood sugar.
  • Diabetes service dogs, also known as diabetes alert dogs, are trained to retrieve phones, fetch, and carry objects such as bottles of juice, test breath for glucose, and even act as an arm rail for someone who’s fallen down.
  • Veterans: According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association (IAVA), more than 200,000 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with a brain injury in the last 10 years, and tens of thousands more suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Service dogs are finding a new purpose as companions to veterans sidelined by disabilities, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Visit Pets for Vets, Hero Dogs, VetDogs, or Freedom Dogs for more details.
  • Cancer: Specially-trained dogs have been found to know by smell when someone has lung, colon, or even skin cancer. The most recent research on cancer-detecting dogs, published in the European Respiratory Journal in 2011, found that four trained dogs were able to detect cancer in 71 of 100 samples from lung cancer patients. Cats have also been known to alert their owners to breast cancer and lung cancer. In one case reported by the CBC news in Winnipeg, Canada, a newly-arrived stray cat jumped repeatedly against a woman’s chest until she had her doctor check her for breast cancer, at which point it turned out she had a tiny tumor in the exact spot the cat had indicated.
  • Alzheimer’s: Therapy dogs can provide important comfort, companionship, and a sense of connection for those isolated by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Mara Baun has been documenting the therapeutic effects of dogs on dementia patients at the University of Houston School of Nursing for more than a decade. According to Baun, people with dementia had fewer episodes of disorientation, wandering, and aggression when a dog was present. Also, at the University of Nebraska, researchers found that dogs can provide relief from sundown syndrome, in which those with Alzheimer’s become confused and agitated as the light changes at the end of the day.
  • Seizures: Seizure response dogs alert others to their owners’ seizures, while seizure alert or seizure predicting dogs are more specially trained to be on the alert for signs of an impending seizure. Also, having a devoted dog by their side helps those with seizure disorders feel safer and more secure.
  • Stroke, Choking, or Fire: Owners of parrots, cockatiels, and other birds have credited their beloved pets with sounding the alarm when their owners had a stroke, choked, or were in danger from fire or thieves. In Essex, England, a 17-year-old cockatiel named Budgie saved his owner by alerting the owner’s wife when he suffered a stroke, according to the Daily Telegraph.
  • Terminal Illness: Cats may be able to alert nursing home staff when a patient is terminally ill. One cat, Oscar, accurately predicted more than 50 deaths. Adopted as a kitten by a nursing home to be a service companion for those with advanced dementia, Oscar was only about six months old when the staff started finding him curled up next to particular patients who then died within a few hours or days. Scientists concluded that cats like Oscar are likely responding to a pheromone that the human sense of smell can’t detect. You can read more about Oscar in the book, “Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat,” by David Dosa.

The SPCA also reported recently that in a study of 100 Medicare patients, even the most highly-stressed dog owner had 21% fewer physicians visits than any non-dog-owner. In addition, seniors who own pets are more likely to keep up with daily activities, have better overall physical health due to exercising with their pets, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those living without pets.

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, and there’s still one week left to make a difference for older pets. Check out research compiled by Pets for the Elderly, a non-profit, on additional benefits of pet ownership for seniors. Visit “The Senior Dogs Project” website that discusses the benefits of senior dogs for seniors and read Ten Reasons Senior Cats Rule on the website.  From personal experience, I can tell you that the tuxedo cat that Jeannie and I adopted from our local animal shelter when he was 9-years old is the most gentle and loving animal that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and has brought incredible joy to our lives and the lives of our two other rescued cats at home.

Don’t Forget about the Pet

Many of us who think of our pets as family members want to ensure that they are cared for after we become incapable of doing so. One way to fulfill this responsibility is to set up a pet trust, or a legally sanctioned arrangement that provides for the care and maintenance of your pet(s) in the event of their your disability or death. For more details, read the Pet Trust FAQ on our Website.

Please call 703-691-1888 in Fairfax, 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or 202-587-2797 to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation. If you come to the Fairfax office, be sure to visit with all of the therapy animals who live here, including Saki and Alley (our Siamese cats), Ernie and Jannette (our African Dwarf Frogs), and Commander Bun Bun (our lop-eared love bunny). And be sure to follow our “Critter Corner” column that appears most Fridays in our weekly “Ask the Expert” newsletter.

Long-Term Care Insurance- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


November is Long-Term Care Awareness Month, a continuing effort to raise public awareness about long-term care insurance and planning. Statistics show that more than 70% of people age 65 or older will need long-term care sometime in their future. That statistic alone dictates that you need to have a plan in place. With long-term care costs rising faster than inflation, long-term care insurance is one of the fastest growing insurance products on the market. While there’s definitely a benefit for some people in purchasing long-term care insurance, there are certain issues to consider before you buy, including some very important facts about how long-term care insurance interacts with Medicaid.

The Good

Medicare, the public health insurance system for seniors over 65 and disabled adults, does not pay one penny for long-term care. Medicare only pays for medical care delivered by doctors and hospitals, and in certain cases short-term rehabilitation which might take place in a nursing home. Please read our blog post on the 100-day rule for details. Long-term care insurance can pay for in-home care so seniors can live in the comfort of their own home, and help cover the high costs of nursing home care, if needed. Below are some of the advantages to purchasing long-term care insurance:

  • As the industry has evolved, greater consumer protection standards have been implemented and the insurance policies offer a wider range of benefits and options.
  • There may be some tax deductibility for the insurance premiums you pay as an individual (if you itemize deductions) to the extent that the premiums paid exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income.
  • Many states also offer tax incentives (credits/deductions) to encourage the purchase of insurance.

The Bad

When it comes to long-term care insurance, there are eligibility requirements (relatively good health) as well as benefit limits (maximum dollar amount or days covered) and no policy will cover 100% of your costs. There are other disadvantages:

  • The biggest disadvantage to long-term care insurance is that your premiums might increase drastically as you get older, despite the fact that the company told you that you were “locking in” your premium at the time you purchased the policy. This is because the insurance company can go back to the State Bureau of Insurance and request premium increases across the board, which all long-term care insurance companies have done over the year because of greater-than expected claims experience. For many people who purchased long-term care insurance in the past, they found that premiums became so high that they ended up having to cancel their policies in later years, losing all the money already put into the policy. In fact, statistics show that only five out of every one hundred persons nearing retirement age who purchased long-term care coverage still had it by the time he or she reached 80 years old.

The Ugly

According to a recent report by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), changes in the Long-Term Care (LTC) insurance market, including higher-than-expected benefits and lower-than-anticipated returns on investments, have caused many major carriers to exit the market. Below are other important considerations:

  • About half of all long-term care policies lapsed before any benefits were paid; policy holders were unable or unwilling to continue paying their premiums.
  • Of those people who bought insurance and later entered a nursing facility, about half never collected a dollar from their long-term care policies.
  • No benefits were ever paid to the many people who bought nursing facility coverage but instead received home care or entered a residential facility not covered by the insurance.
  • When long-term care benefits were paid, they were usually far below the actual cost of care. For many of the longest-term residents, benefits were used up before the nursing facility stay ended.

If you are considering long-term care insurance, first look at each policy very closely because each one is written differently. Also, look closely at the insurer’s claims payment history and whether they have been increasing premiums for existing policy holders. If you have done your research and decide long-term care insurance is right for you and your family, you should incorporate it as part of your long-term care plan, not as the only form of planning for long-term care.  There are dozens of long-term care asset protection strategies other than long-term care insurance. For example, the Living Trust Plus™ Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is just one of many long-term care asset protection strategies.

Medicaid Planning and Long-Term Care Insurance

There are numerous important Medicaid-related issues that must be considered and understood before purchasing long-term care insurance. For instance, it is very possible to buy too little or too much coverage.  For married couples who can only afford coverage for one spouse, it is also critical to understand which spouse should obtain the coverage.  Unfortunately, most insurance agents who sell long-term care insurance have no understanding of Medicaid nor the Medicaid-related issues that must be considered.  Whether you are a potential purchaser or an insurance agent who sells long-term care insurance, please read our Long-Term Care Insurance FAQ to get a basic understanding of these important Medicaid issues.

Call the Farr Law Firm for Long-Term Care Planning

If you have not done long-term care planning, or if you are considering purchasing long-term care insurance, please call the Farr Law Firm at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax, 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or 202-587- 2797 in Washington, DC to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

Critter Corner: Creating a Caregiver Team

Dear Saki and Alley,

I am a caregiver for my mother with Alzheimer’s. I am realizing that I cannot do this alone. Can you provide suggestions on how to create a caregiver team?

Caryn Formom-Alone

Dear Caryn,

Taking a team approach to caregiving can be essential to preserving your well-being. What many caregivers fail to realize is that if they don’t care for themselves–and lighten the burden–there may be no one around to care for their loved one.

These are some steps to help you set up a caregiving team:

Critter Corner- Grandma Loves Halloween Candy: Tips for Eating Healthier

-Take Supplemental Digestive Enzymes. If all that fiber gives you a bit of gas now and then, your body may be deficient in the production of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are necessary for digesting food, for stimulating the brain, for providing cellular energy, and for repairing body tissues, organs, and cells. Digestive enzymes ensure that we get the greatest possible nutritional value from foods. When foods are not well-digested, they remain in the stomach and can rot and putrefy. This can result in a buildup of waste in the colon which begins to decay, producing bacteria and toxins which eventually can seep through the bowel wall, where blood capillaries pick them up and distribute them throughout the body. This can result in all kinds of health problems, including constipation, stomach bloat, poor digestion, gas, fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, headaches, and more. Taking sufficient digestive enzymes ensures that your foods are more completely digested, helping to eliminate potential problems due to toxins.


Critter Corner: Are Estate Planning Services Tax Deductible?

Thanks to your firm, we still have our home, a few dollars still in the bank, and most importantly, my wife is able to be in our home with the help that she needs.

Critter Corner: Updating Estate Planning Documents



Dear Ernie and Jannette,

The last time I updated my estate planning documents was in 2003. Since then, both my children have gotten married and I have five grandchildren. I also bought a second home in Florida. Given these life changing events, should I be updating my estate planning documents?

Best regards,

Maksim Changes-Twomydocs

Dear Maksim,

Just as a car needs regular maintenance, your estate planning documents need to be updated or redone, especially if it has been more than 5 years since you have done so.
Updates to estate planning documents should be made regularly (at least every 1-3 years, depending on the document). This is the only way to ensure that your estate plan truly reflects who you are, what you care about, and what you have.
So, when are updates needed? The list below pinpoints certain examples of events that could have a significant impact on your estate.
• You get married or divorced
• Your spouse dies or becomes incapacitated
• You become ill or disabled
• You have a new child
• Your child marries or divorces
• Your child becomes ill or disabled
• You have a new grandchild
• One of your beneficiaries shows signs of being financially irresponsible
• One of your beneficiaries develops a drug or alcohol problem
• The value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased
• You retire or change employment
• You acquire property in a different state
• You move to a different state
• There have been changes in the law that may affect the language of your documents.
Even if no changes are necessary, you should annually sign updated Powers of Attorney. Some financial institutions won’t accept a Power of Attorney more than a year old. Similarly, the older an Advance Medical Directive is, the less likely it is that it will be honored by a doctor or hospital.

Don’t let too much time pass between reviews of your plan. The cost of a review is minimal; but the cost to your family if you neglect your plan could be disastrous.  If any of these changes have happened to you or if you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last few years, the time is now. Call us at 703-691-1888in Fairfax, at 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or at 202-597-4847 in Washington, DC to update your estate plan! Ask about The Farr Law Firm’s Lifetime Protection Program, which ensures that your documents are properly reviewed and updated as needed, so that they will have the proper effect under the law.


Ask the Expert: Singing Awakens Memories – A Local Study


Q. I read your recent newsletter that described presentations at the Dementia Consortium and the one about music and dementia really piqued my interest. My father has moderate dementia, and we are looking for ways to get through to him, and so far it seems that not much has worked.

My family went to lots of musicals when I grew up in New York City, and he seemed to love live singing performances. I think listening to music from Broadway may bring back some memories, but trust me, no one in the nursing home wants to hear me sing.

Can you explain why music is so effective in staving off dementia, if there are any nursing homes out there that offer music therapy with singing sessions for residents, and if there are any studies that have proven that it works?

A. Though memory loss and decline in brain function are symptoms of dementia, patients often demonstrate a striking ability to remember the lyrics and melodies of songs from their past. In fact, the sound of classic songs from favorite artists or hit musicals can boost the brain function of people with dementia, according to researchers who worked with local nursing home residents in a recent study.

Over a four-month study at George Mason University, patients were led through familiar songs from The Sound of Music, Oklahoma, The Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio. The mental performance of patients who took part in regular group singing sessions improved compared with others who just listened. In fact, the sessions appeared to have a striking effect on people with moderate to severe dementia, with patients scoring higher on cognitive and drawing tests, and also on a satisfaction-with-life questionnaire at the end of the study.

Jane Flinn, one of the neuroscientists who led the study, said care homes that did not hold group singing sessions should consider them because they are entertaining and beneficial for patients with dementia. “A lot of people have grown up singing songs and for a long time the memories are still there,” said Flinn. “When they start singing it can revive those memories. Even when people are in the fairly advanced stages of dementia, when it is so advanced they are in a secure ward, singing sessions were still helpful. The message is: don’t give up on these people. You need to be doing things that engage them, and singing is cheap, easy and engaging,” she said.

“The singing sessions seemed to activate a raft of brain areas. Listening sparked activity in the temporal lobe on the right-hand side of the brain, while watching someone lead a class activated the visual areas. Singing and speaking led to more activity in the left-hand side,” Flinn said.

The findings are backed up by other work in the area. In September, researchers at Helsinki University looked at the impact of a 10-week singing course on patients with dementia. Compared with their usual care, singing and listening to music improved mood, orientation, and certain types of memory. To a lesser extent, their attention and general cognitive skills also improved.

Based on the study, below are several reasons why music helps dementia patients recall memories and emotions:

    • Music can evoke emotions in even the most advanced of dementia patients, and emotion can bring with it memory. By pairing music with every day activities, patients can develop a rhythm that helps them to the recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time.
  • Music can bring emotional and physical closeness. In the later stages of dementia, patients often lose the ability to share emotions with caregivers. Music can bring back feelings of security and good memories and awaken these emotions.
  • Musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients. These two abilities remain long after other abilities have passed, so music is an excellent way to reach the person behind the disease.
  • Singing is engaging. The singing sessions in the study activated the left side of the brain; listening to music sparked activity in the right; and watching the class activated visual areas of the brain. With so much of the brain being stimulated, the patients were exercising more brain power than usual.
  • Music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “[w]hen used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.” This is because music requires little to no mental processing, so singing music does not require the cognitive function that is missing in most dementia patients.


Want to learn more? For more details on singing and dementia, please visit the SingFit website.

Recorded music by favorite artists has also proven to be effective for dementia patients. Music Memory is a non-profit that works with individual professionals or an entire team of caregivers within elder care facilities, along with family members, to create a powerful personalized music program for each person who chooses to participate. A couple years ago, its video, “Alive Inside: A Story of Music Memory,” went viral and received news coverage around the world. Watch videos and read stories about the founder, Dan Cohen, explaining why music acts as a back door to memory and tips for enjoying music with the elders in your life. Music Memory also offers resources on how you can get trained and facilities that offer Music Memory programs.

Dementia Planning

At the Farr Law Firm, we are excited to see how singing sessions, and programs such as Music and Memory, are enhancing the quality of life for dementia patients. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Call us today at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax, 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg, or 202-587-2797 in Washington, DC to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation.

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