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On Aging

The Facts on Age, Blindness and the IRS

March 03, 1985| UCLA/USC Long Term Care Gerontology Center

Question: I am 67 years old and my wife turned 65 on Jan. 1. Our son says that because her 65th birthday fell on the 1st, we can claim an extra exemption on our 1984 tax return. Is he correct?

Answer: For the majority of taxpayers, your son is correct. Age and blindness are determined on the last day of your tax year, which is Dec. 31 for most taxpayers. You are considered 65 the day before your 65th birthday.

You are allowed a $1,000 deduction for each exemption shown on your return. Since you are over age 65, you are allowed an additional $1,000 exemption. If you and/or your wife are visually impaired, you each may be able to claim a $1,000 exemption for blindness. The term blindness includes those who are completely blind, those who can't see better than 20-200 in their better eye with eyeglasses or contact lenses, and those whose field of vision is 20 degrees or less.

Through the tax counseling for the elderly (TCE) program, IRS-trained volunteers assist individuals age 60 and over with their tax returns at neighborhood locations. In addition, volunteer income-tax assistance (VITA) aides are trained to help older Americans with tax returns. Your local IRS office will tell you where and when you can find such assistance.

Q: My wife and I are active, healthy people who have always enjoyed a full life. Recently, however, I have become impotent. I still have the desire but cannot manage an erection. I avoid physical contact with my wife and she doesn't know how serious my problem is. I am embarrassed by it and feel less of a man. Is this normal?

A: Yes, in the sense that many older men do lose potency. However, many in their later years enjoy a full and active sex life. It is important to try to overcome your embarrassment and talk to your wife and physician about the problem. Sometimes impotence can be due to medications or abnormal conditions such as diabetes, pelvic-cancer surgery and spinal-cord disease. Psychological factors also can contribute; where the physician rules out organic diseases or anatomical defects, sexual therapy and counseling can be beneficial. However, the most common form of impotence in men ages 75 and over is of unknown cause and has no satisfactory medical treatment.

If the problem is organic, or if therapy and counseling don't work, penile implants can be used. In the last 10 years, an increasing number of men have successfully used this option. According to faculty at UCLA, the implant is not a complete cure for impotence. The device allows the man to mechanically stiffen his penis, enabling him to have intercourse.

Currently there are two types of implants, permanent and inflatable. Generally, the operation takes 30 to 45 minutes, and within four to six weeks the patient is ready for sexual activity. While the operation is successful in more than 90% of cases, the attitude of the patient and his partner are most important to the outcome.

Medicare and most insurance policies reimburse about 80% of the hospital and physician bills. Check beforehand and establish that the surgery is classified as rehabilitative, not cosmetic.

Q: My mother is 76 years old and lives alone. A year ago her 13-year-old dog died. She's talking about getting a puppy, but I don't think she's considering the work and responsibility involved. How can I discourage her without being offensive?

A: If your mother is in reasonably good health and capable of caring for an animal on a day-to-day basis, then having one is probably a good idea. Your apprehension over her choice of a puppy is understandable. Talk with her about your concerns. After weighing the issues, she may be willing to settle for a more mature dog who is trained, inoculated, neutered and hopefully will require fewer trips to the vet.

Research has shown that caring for a pet often enhances the overall well-being of older people living alone or in institutions. They offer unconditional love to the lonely, and a daily responsibility for exercising and feeding. The need for a daily routine also may ensure that your mother eats regularly. By walking her dog daily, she may come in contact with others who do likewise and make new friendships.

Q: I am a 52-year-old married woman with a high school diploma. I would like to get a college degree for my own satisfaction and upgrade my job skills in case I have to support myself someday. Where should I start?

A: Consider your academic background, personal goals and the location of colleges and universities feasible for you. The reference librarian at your public library should be able to provide descriptive college directories.

Before deciding where and what to study, visit possible schools and discuss their programs with an academic counselor. Ask about admission requirements (aptitude tests, entrance exams), find out what programs are offered in your areas of interest and how long they take to complete, and ask about the expenses and availability of financial aid. Some programs offer credit for "life experience."

You will be putting a lot of resources into furthering your education, so make it worthwhile by choosing a field that has job opportunities, job satisfaction and an acceptable pay range. Most colleges and universities offer job-placement services as part of their degree programs.

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