Overcoming Arthritis Joint Pain: A Solution from DePuy (Sponsored)

Arthritis isn’t a rite of passage as we age, though for many it feels that way. As our senior loved ones – and we as caregivers – get older, our bodies can suffer from the wear and tear we put on them through life.

Many of us, caregivers and senior loved ones alike, begin feeling joint pain caused by osteoarthritis. Pain affects nearly 70 million Americans each year and is thought to be the number one reason that we seek out the doctor.

(Note from Senior Care Corner: This is an important topic for seniors and family caregivers so we are happy to present this post written by us and sponsored by DePuy, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. We appreciate their sponsorship and will only present you information about products and services in which we believe.)

Chronic pain, especially in seniors, needs to be controlled or it can lead to other serious consequences such as depression, withdrawal from socialization leading to isolation, decreased mobility, inability to complete daily activities, increased risk for falls and fractures and potential for nursing placement and loss of aging in place.

Here’s a story that really brings this to life:

Prevalence of Arthritis in the United States

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Nearly 1 in 2 people may develop symptomatic knee osteoarthritis by age 85
  • 1 in 4 people may develop painful hip arthritis in their lifetime
  • Two thirds of those who are obese are likely to develop knee osteoarthritis in their lifetime
  • In 2007-2009, 50% of adults over 65 years reported a diagnosis of arthritis
  • In 2005 it was estimated that 27 million adults had osteoarthritis
  • 44% of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis report no leisure time physical activity
  • Arthritis is the most common cause of disability among US adults
  • In 2004, there were 454,652 total knee replacements performed and 232,857 total hip replacements, primarily for arthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.

When joint pain is the result of arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis, it can be treated through joint replacement. Joint replacement is surgery performed by an orthopedic surgeon to remove a damaged joint. Most often it’s a hip or knee that’s replaced but any damaged joint causing limited movement can be replaced.  The doctor will replace the damaged bones with a prosthesis.

Recent reports indicate that more than one million Americans have hip or knee joint replacements each year. Maybe no surgery can be considered “routine” if you’re the patient, but joint replacement is becoming fairly common and will likely become even more so as American continues to age.

Preparing for Joint Replacement Surgery

A joint replacement is surgery and comes with risks. We recommend that you speak with your doctor about the medical risks. We like the advice on this video:

Check out DePuy’s YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/DePuyVideos) for more informative videos and stories from patients like the one up above.

In addition to the tips presented by Dr. Johnson, you can also prepare by eating a healthy diet to ensure that you are going into surgery in the best possible health. Include adequate protein sources and fruits and vegetables to bring a rainbow of vitamins and minerals to your plate.  Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking any nutritional supplements prior to your surgery.

You may want to stock up your refrigerator before your surgery so you have plenty of healthy and easy to prepare foods ready for your recovery needs.

Caring for Caregivers

Caregivers are very important in the lives of our seniors. It is vital that you stay healthy and mobile. You have to stay healthy to continue to provide care and support for your senior loved one.

As a healthcare professional in a rehabilitation facility, I treat joint replacement patients personally. There is some pain on recovery with therapy to be expected as you move the new joint. However, the overwhelming response I hear every day is “I wished I had the surgery years ago, what was I waiting for?” Many of my patients return following replacement of the other knee and even a hip that is causing pain. The life enhancing effects of replacing a painful joint that limits quality of life can not be underestimated.

As we often say at Senior Care Corner, let’s put life into our years!

Want a Cellular Data Plan with That Tablet for Your Senior? Should You?

Tablets are taking over the computer world and it’s easy to see why. Portability, convenience, touch control, battery life and price (for most tablets, anyway) put them ahead of traditional laptops in meeting the needs of many people.

With many consumers and businesses buying tablets instead of updating computers, the market is big enough that manufacturers can profitably offer a range of sizes, features and prices so there is something just right for most all users.

Many seniors, especially first time computer users, find a tablet performs all of the tasks they need quite well and gives them great flexibility of location. Not only are tablets designed so that it isn’t tied to one location, most are sized small enough and are light enough to be easily held and used in the hands.

Tablet Options – Oh the Decisions!

Buying a tablet, especially as a gift for a senior loved one who isn’t sure they “need” one, means making a number of decisions.

  • Which operating system? Devices using iOS (iPad), Android, Windows and even others are out there shouting for attention now. There is also the popular Kindle Fire, which builds on the Android operating system and provides additional capabilities.
  • How big a screen is best? Most tablets are between 7″ and 11″ (measured diagonally), with some outside those dimensions. Some of the top brands, including iPad, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus, come in at least two sizes. If you think a smaller device would be easier to hold but a larger one better for aging eyes, keep in mind that tablets let the user resize text for reading comfort.
  • How much memory is needed? Many tablets come with memory options, along with higher price tags for more memory. This is a tough question for most of us to answer. Unless you think the tablet will be used to store lots of books (and I mean lots of books) or movies then a middle-of-the-road option will cover the needs of most without spending more than is needed.

Decisions like the apps to use, which case is right and whether to use a bluetooth keyboard don’t need to be made up front and can be left to the recipient of the tablet if it’s intended to be a gift.

There is another decision that does have to be made upfront that many don’t consider until it the feature is missed later.iPad Air Verizon Wireless

WiFi Only or Cellular Data Service Too?

One thing many tablet buyers don’t consider or, if they do then don’t initially think it’s needed, is whether WiFi access to the internet will be sufficient or if cellular data service capability should be part of the purchase. It may also be that an initial tablet purchase was made a few years ago, when data plans were much more expensive. Now sharing plans, such as those from Verizon Wireless, make adding a tablet to the plan with your smartphones much less expensive.

What makes using cellular data attractive for a tablet, especially when there is a higher purchase price in addition to monthly data charges?

  • Greater security than when using public WiFi or even password protected WiFi that your senior loved one might have in their nursing home or assisted living facility. If a tablet (or computer) is going to be used to access banking or other financial accounts – or anything else that requires entry of a password or could expose personal data – cellular data provides greater protection.
  • Access to the internet when out of range of WiFi, such as when traveling in the car (passengers only!) or stopping/staying in a location that has only wired internet service or maybe spotty WiFi coverage. Sure, the tablet could share (or be tethered to) the internet through a smartphone with data service but not all offer sharing and for many it’s not the easiest thing to implement.
  • Simplicity in connecting to the internet that just isn’t possible with WiFi. Using a cellular data service eliminates the need to select the right WiFi signal when away from home and enter the password (hopefully it’s secure!) because the cellular data service automatically connects when a recognized WiFi signal isn’t found.

Evaluate Before Buying a Tablet

The time to evaluate cellular data capability is before making a tablet purchase. You don’t have to start paying for a data plan right away, but the capability of connecting to the cellular system – the specific system on which it will be used – has to be built into the tablet.

Kindle Fix HDX AmazonNot all tablets come with cellular data capability but chances are you’ll find one with the operating system you want, the right size and with the functions you want that does have a cellular option. You can buy them from a number of sources, such as Amazon.com, but you might want to check with your cellular provider to see if they offer a discount.

We like and are long time customers of Verizon Wireless, which typically offers a discount on the tablet purchase if you make a two year commitment to one of their data plans. If you plan on using and paying for the plan every month that might be a good deal, but it’s one more factor to evaluate.

Tablets as Gifts for Seniors

Senior Care Corner advocates getting our senior loved ones online and active in social networking and feel a tablet is the right device to facilitate that for many seniors.

Would your senior loved one use a tablet if they had one? If you ask and are told “no” don’t give up the idea without further consideration. We have heard from many family caregivers and seniors themselves who originally said a tablet wouldn’t be used but are thrilled they got one anyway.

You say cellular data is a great idea but your senior already has a tablet bought a few years ago without data service? It might still be worth considering a new one, not just to get the benefits of cellular data but also because the newest generation of tablets are lighter, have sharper pictures and more capabilities then those that came before them.

A tablet might just be the answer to the age-old issue of getting seniors a great gift they will really use!

24 Valuable Tips & Techniques for Healthy Family Holiday Meals

I’m a dietitian and always mindful of making every meal healthy for those who share my table. During the holidays we share our time and our traditions with loved ones including unhealthy eating habits.

Unfortunately, sometimes holiday traditions and family recipes cause many of us to forget our yearlong healthy ways. We might get caught up in all the holiday food we encounter or simply take a “holiday pass” from good eating habits.

Many people tend to put on a few unwanted pounds – research says one to two pounds is normal gain but others report up to 8 pounds gained during the holiday! The bad news is that we don’t often lose it during the year.

For healthy adults, overindulging isn’t as crucial to health during the holidays as it can be for our senior loved ones. Eating too much food, too much salt, too many sweets and too much fat can have a severely negative impact on their healthy aging.

Some seniors who haven’t been eating very well in the months before the holidays could benefit from a healthy weight gain and few nutritious meals. However, many seniors with chronic medical diseases especially heart disease and diabetes may need help from caregivers to bring a healthy meal to the gathering that is still nutritious and in keeping with family traditions.

Healthy Modifications for Family Recipes & Menus

Yes, some of those traditional family recipes can be tweaked to be healthier for the family.

  1. Look closely at your family recipes. Some recipes that have been handed down lovingly through generations call for ingredients that we now know are not the best choices. There are other items that will work in the recipe as a substitution to items that are not very healthy. Each ingredient should be checked for a replacement and substituted whenever possible to reduce unhealthy fat and calories.
    1. Low fat dairy instead of whole fat ingredients
    2. Unsaturated fat instead of saturated items
    3. Limit amount of fat drippings used in gravy
    4. Use unsalted chicken broth instead of regular broth and butter in stuffing
    5. Switch to lower calorie versions of your holiday desserts, such as apple crisp instead of apple pie
    6. Try unsalted canned green beans in the casserole
    7. Consider recipe modifications with other ingredients
  2. Experiment with different versions of your traditional meal item to see which one tastes most like what your family and senior loved one will be expecting. It’s likely your goal to please everyone at your table! You can substitute ingredients and still keep the flavor!
  3. Serve appropriate portion sizes, especially when you are preparing a calorie laden favorite! If you cut back on the amount your senior eats, it will have less of a damaging effect on their waistline and blood pressure.
  4. Limit alcohol with the meal to reduce calories.
  5. Serve other items with the old traditional favorites that will help reduce the amount of foods the family eats that might not be as healthy as they could be. An example is to serve salad as a first course to help fill everyone up. Add a veggie tray with a variety of fresh cut vegetables and low fat dipping sauce to add fiber and crunch with few calories that will also fill your families’ bellies.
  6. Don’t forget cooking technique also can impact the nutritional content of your meals. Bake, broil, poach or roast your favorite family foods instead of deep fat frying, coating and fat laden gravies.

 Healthy Recipe Substitutions Throughout the Year

  1. Substitute applesauce or fruit puree (like prunes or apricots you can purchase in baby food aisle) in amounts equivalent in your recipes for baked items that call for oil. It will add natural flavor and sweetening as it reduces fat and calories.
  2. Use sugar substitute in place of white or brown sugar in recipes.
  3. Use half whole wheat flour and half white flour.
  4. Use low fat milk or yogurt/Greek yogurt in recipes in place of cream or sour cream.
  5. When a recipe calls for chocolate chips, add dried fruit like raisins or cranberries instead.
  6. Use vegetable oil instead of butter; limit solid shortening.
  7. Use herbs and spices instead of salt, infuse the flavor!
  8. Bring your own ‘safe’ dish when you go to pot-luck dinners so you can be sure there will be one dish you can eat safely while you are at the party!
  9. Use butter sprinkles instead of real butter to top off favorite dish.
  10. Try egg substitute instead of whole eggs.

Wellness Reminders for the Holiday Season

  1. Don’t take seconds! Encourage your senior to take a small serving of each of the favorite foods and enjoy but don’t go back for more. If it won’t fit on the plate, it won’t fit into your senior’s healthy meal plan.
  2. If your senior is struggling to manage his weight, use a dessert plate instead of a meal plate to help him control portion sizes.
  3. Drink water before and with the meal to help curb appetite and also avoid high calorie refreshers.
  4. Remind your senior to put her utensil down during the meal and take a deep breath. Give her body a chance to realize when it becomes full.
  5. Don’t skip a meal. If your senior goes for long periods without a meal, they may be more likely to overeat out of hunger than what is healthy.
  6. Stay physically active to help burn off any excessive calories.
  7. Get plenty of sunshine! Holidays can be a hard time emotionally for many people and getting a little sun on your senior’s face could help keep a smile from fading!
  8. Enjoy the company and conversation of others to stay engaged!

Incorporating these tips into your family holiday gatherings will help keep everyone well all year long!

We hope you will share with us strategies you have used to keep your family healthy in the New Year!

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment: Was Your Senior’s Doctor Dropped?

Ahhh, November, that time we look forward to Thanksgiving, holiday sales — and Medicare open enrollment for our senior loved ones.

Okay, maybe not so much the last one but it’s upon us none the less.

Open enrollment season isn’t a big deal for many seniors, who often are pleased with their own Medicare Advantage plans.

Pleased, maybe, but always wishing the premiums could be lower, right?

Research Before Advantage Plan Renewal

It always makes sense to check out the available Advantage Plans before making a decision. Plan details and pricing are always changing, with healthcare reform driving even more changes than we normally see from year to year.

A plan that didn’t look as good might be better now — and that top choice of a year ago could be an also-ran now.

There’s a new concern to take into account this year, though, as we can’t assume the doctors and other healthcare professionals who provide our senior loved ones’ care will be part of their plan next year. That possibility is always there, of course, but it bears watching even more closely now.

Doctors in several states have already been informed of their termination from Advantage Plan networks of the nation’s largest provider and that’s likely to be just the beginning. Early signs are that others are cutting to a lesser degree, at least for now, but it really pays to check before renewing or changing plans.

We can’t simply assume a provider who was on our senior loved one’s plan for this year will be in the future.

Checking Now No Guarantee

The status of many providers may not be known before Open Enrollment closes on December 7. Appeal options in insurers’ termination processes mean that things may still be very much up in the air by then.

What does this mean to our seniors?

Notice that their physicians have been terminated from seniors’ plans may arrive into the new year and after plan commitments have been made. The US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services are keeping an eye on the networks to ensure information is provided to seniors on a timely basis if changes are made, but that won’t stop changes from hitting our seniors.

If a senior’s doctor is dropped from their plan during the year, it will likely mean finding a new doctor. That can be tough at any time, but much more so for those seniors with health problems requiring regular care. Having to change physicians can add to an already stressful situation so your older loved one might benefit from a family caregiver stepping in to aid in the process.

There’s also the issue of getting medical records, including test results, transferred to the new providers. That process still is not as straightforward and quick as many would like — and hopefully as it will be in the not too distant future.

Why Doctors are Being Dropped Now

Insurance companies receive a fee per person insured to manage the benefits under their Medicare Advantage programs. That fee is being cut over time, meaning the insurers have to cut costs somewhere or take a hit to their profitability.

This means we may see more providers cut from plans in coming years as well and, with those cuts, decisions regarding whether to change doctors or potentially pay the full bill for those our seniors want to keep.

It also means we may, as family caregivers, need to be ready to step in and assist our senior loved ones make what may be difficult transitions.

Strategies for Making the Most of Our Family Holidays with Seniors

Many of us look forward all year long to spending time with our family members during the holiday season.

We want to relax and unwind, forget the pressures of work or other commitments and just enjoy the moments we have together.

Sometimes we plan special events and trips, remembering holidays of the past while making new memories to appreciate in the future.

When we have family members who are aging, the holidays may feel even more important due to a sense of urgency from knowing there many not be many more holidays to spend with them.

Making Holiday Time Special

  1. Schedule time with older family members in amounts of time that work into their schedule best. Would your senior prefer an afternoon visit when they have had time to get ready or one in the morning before they tire out? It is best to fit ourselves into their routine.
  2. Limit size of gatherings so senior loved ones don’t become overstimulated, especially those who can become agitated when there are many people and lots of conversation that seems too loud. This increased activity can overstimulate to the point of causing agitation and unusual behaviors in some adults especially those suffering from dementia.
  3. Take pictures and video during the visit to record the memories. You can then share these with other family members who might not be able to join the festivities as well as keep for the future.
  4. Bring with you any old photo albums or mementos to share with your senior loved ones. These can start the reminiscing and bring out the family stories. Not only can the entire family enjoy the stories but it can be a fun way for older adults to get valuable mental exercise. Don’t forget to create a collection of the new memories you make, maybe even leaving behind a digital picture frame or two of favorite photos for your senior loved one.
  5. Set aside some time when visiting senior loved ones’ homes for signs of neglect or a need to provide additional care options. Look for signs of problems such as spoiled food in the refrigerator, unkempt personal care, unpaid bills or unopened mail, extreme clutter, or unsafe areas in the home requiring maintenance. Be sure to check out their vehicle for signs of accidents that might mean they are no longer able to drive safely.
  6. Bring the family together to discuss advance directives and healthcare wishes. This is the perfect opportunity to get all parties in agreement and aware of what the desires of your senior loved one are as he or she ages. Does she want to stay in the home where she has spent years or prefer to move to a facility when the time comes? Does he want lifesaving measures to be performed if needed or become a DNR? Will there be adequate financial resources to accomplish their wishes and, if not, what is the plan to ensure their needs are met? Do they have a will? Will the family need to get proper documentation together during the visit or consult an eldercare attorney to help the family find agreement or get advice?
  7. Try to continue family traditions while you are all together, both to create a holiday routine familiar to senior loved ones and to keep the traditions alive. Did you go to a special restaurant during the holidays or attend a special religious service? Are there decorations that are special to the family unit which should be displayed? Are there holiday songs that you can sing together to relive the memories from past holidays and create new ones?
  8. Try to bring the celebration (in the right dose) to your senior loved one, as traveling to other people’s homes or other locales might increase confusion in aging family members, especially those with dementia.
  9. Be sure everyone who’s going to visit your senior loved one is aware of the current mental and physical situation so they don’t show alarm or ask the senior to do more than is safe. Visits go better when everyone is on the same page.
  10. Be alert to signs that your senior is ready for a break and needs some time to rest. Arrange time for a nap or a quiet place to rest during your visit so that they don’t get overtired or become irritated.

We all want our holiday time to be joyous! Consider how these strategies can help everyone make the most of the holiday get together and keep it from being a source of stress, depression or agitation for our senior loved ones.

Taking small steps to keep them in their routine and enjoying the family memories and traditions can help turn the holiday into hours of love while making new memories!

We hope you all enjoy your holiday together!

Assisted Living Facilities Offer Benefits to Please Many Seniors

So you’ve observed some of the warning signs that it might be time to consider placement in an assisted living facility for your senior loved one. We covered those in our post on signs it’s time to consider assisted living.

Now what…?

Let’s all find out more about who is there and what things are happening at the assisted living facilities you consider.

Assisted living centers are usually for seniors who are no longer able to care for themselves independently but just aren’t ready for a nursing home. They are able to complete some tasks of daily living for themselves but need oversight for certain things, such as medication administration, grooming or safety.

That’s what makes it assisted living.

Seniors in Today’s Assisted Living Facilities

  1. Nine out of ten residents are white and seven of ten are female
  2. 54% are over age 85
  3. In 2010, the median length of stay was 22 months
  4. Medicaid paid for about 19% of residents in 2010
  5. In 2010, the cost of an assisted living stay was $3,165 per month
  6. What assistance do they need?
    –  72% get help with bathing
    –  52% with dressing
    –  25% with transferring
    –  22% with eating
    –  26% received help with no activities of daily living
    –  38% got help with three or more activities of daily living
  7. High blood pressure leads the list of common chronic diseases, followed by Alzheimer’s or dementia, heart disease, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, pulmonary disease, cancer and stroke
  8. 26% had four to ten chronic diseases, 6% had none

What this data illustrates is how vulnerable our senior loved ones are, how their aging status can lead to functional decline and how important assisted living facilities are in providing much needed care for our seniors.

What to Expect In an Assisted Living Facility

  • Services that include transportation to medical appointments or elsewhere, therapies including physical and occupational, skilled nursing, incontinence care, health monitoring, and social activities.
  • Rooms for one person, two people or apartment style living accommodations.
  • Different facilities provide differing levels of service, such as incontinent care, wound care, or mobility assistance. Each level of services usually comes with an added fee. Some centers restrict admission depending on the condition of the senior, such as needing assistance with eating.
  • Most facilities require that your senior eat at least one meal each day in a congregate dining room.
  • Two thirds of assisted living residents have at least one visitor per week, almost one in ten have no visitors, and about half leave the facility at least twice a month.
  • Some facilities will discharge seniors with cognitive impairment and others have memory care units that specialize in cognitive impairments.
  • Assisted living facilities offer socialization opportunities and activities to keep seniors active mentally and physically.

Consider Assisted Living Sooner Rather than Later

We hear from and about many seniors who wish they had entered an assisted living facility years earlier, as they enjoy new friendships and relief from caring for a home and themselves.

Considering moving to an assisted living facility should be done with caution. Visit each center you may consider and investigate their policies to be sure that it is the right fit for your senior. Include your senior in the decision making whenever possible.

The passages of life as our loved ones age and their needs change can be full of decisions but careful planning and research will lead to happiness for you and your senior.

Vitamin D Guidelines for Bone Strength & Fewer Broken Bones

Has your senior’s doctor advised that he or she increase the amount of vitamin D taken daily?

If so, they’re not alone. A new study by the Endocrine Society has found that most people are not consuming enough vitamin D to maintain strong bones.

Having strong bones as we age is paramount to the prevention of fractures, which are life changing for too many seniors.

Considering the staggering statistics of how many seniors fall each day, fracturing brittle bones, we should all be aware of the importance of adequate vitamin D intake and other strategies to keep our bones as strong as possible.

Latest Recommendations for Vitamin D

As part of the battle against brittle bones, many seniors’ doctors are recommending changes in their vitamin D intake in line with these recommendations.

  • Get serum vitamin D levels checked to determine whether a supplement is required and, if so, how much
  • If serum D levels are below 30, it is considered insufficient and a value below 20 is considered deficient, you will be advised to take a vitamin D supplement
  • A goal should be to maintain a serum D level between 40 and 60, according to researchers
  • Bone building medication function is enhanced when serum D levels are in the sufficient range

Who is At Risk?

While many seniors are at risk of fractures due to brittle bones, they are not the only ones.

  • All adults and children with deficiency
  • Anyone with a diagnosis of osteomalacia or osteoporosis
  • Seniors who have had a fall with a fracture
  • Anyone who has had bariatric surgery
  • Patients with a diagnosis of malabsorption syndrome
  • People who are obese
  • Those with chronic kidney disease, sarcoidosis or liver failure
  • Anyone taking anti-seizure medications, glucocorticoids, AIDS drugs, or anti-fungal drugs

Vitamin D Sources

There are many ways we can help our senior loved ones get the vitamin D their healthcare providers recommend.

  • Milk fortified with vitamin D, cheese, beef liver and egg yolks
  • Salmon, tuna and mackerel
  • Orange juice that has been fortified with Vitamin D
  • Some breakfast cereals (be sure to check the label)
  • Nutritional supplements – recommended amount for adults is 1,500 to 2,000 IU daily; if a deficiency has been found your senior’s doctor may recommend a higher amount
  • Sunshine – 15 minutes per day without sunscreen (but be sure not to overdo it due to risk of skin cancer)

Strategies to Build Bones

Exercise, especially weight bearing varieties has been shown to strengthen bones.  Participating four times a week in activities such as walking, low impact aerobic exercise, tai chi, yoga, stair step machines and weight lifting can improve bone strength.  Non impact activities that improve balance will have a positive affect by muscle strengthening and decreased falls.

Thirty minutes a day is a good place to start. If your senior is having pain with activity, stop and contact your doctor for advice on what type of activities would be best for your senior.

Resistance training activities a few days a week are also recommended to build bone and muscle.

We all need to focus on getting adequate levels of vitamin D and calcium in our diets or via a supplement in order to maintain our health but our senior loved ones are at greater risk for poor outcomes of vitamin D deficiency and bone fractures.

Ask your senior’s doctor to test his or her blood levels so that you both can make a plan to strengthen your senior’s bones (and yours too!).

Unhealthy Habits – Doctors & Other Care Professionals Help Break Them

Healthy behaviors – does your senior loved ones’ doctor have a discussion about them during appointments? Do you have those discussions with your doctor?

Most physicians have limited time for each patient who comes in for a visit and often spends that time assessing physical signs and talking about prescription drugs. Does the medicine need to be refilled, is the dosage correct or need an adjustment, is a substitute needed or are there any unusual side effects that should be reviewed? This focus on medications takes time. Finally, they want to be sure there are no new issues that are troubling your senior.

That doesn’t leave much time for a chitchat, even about other matters important to health.

A new American Heart Association policy statement has encouraged physicians to implement a new strategy to add to their repertoire. They suggest doctors work with their patients in order to achieve a 20% improvement in cardiovascular health for all Americans as well as a 20% reduction in cardiovascular deaths and stroke by 2020.

Areas of Focus for Doctors – The Five A’s

These are the areas where doctors are being encouraged to focus in their time with patients to get them to make concrete steps that improve heart health.

  1. Assess  a person’s risk behaviors for heart disease
  2. Advise change such as weight loss or exercise
  3. Agree on an action plan
  4. Assist with treatment
  5. Arrange for follow-up care

Is your senior’s doctor beginning to go through these points during an appointment? Remember, it doesn’t have to be the doctor that initiates the discussion.

Unhealthy Habits & Health Risks to Squelch

The real targets are those habits and conditions that present a real risk to heart health, including:

  • Smoking
  • Poor food choices
  • Overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

The American Heart Association suggests that doctors can’t do this alone and need to refer their patients to other allied health professionals who can help people create a plan for healthy changes and maintain it to succeed. Dietitians and even psychologists are key referral sources to help everyone make healthy behavior changes.

Health insurance companies can also be major players in making these goals a reality. They will need to broaden their policies to cover aspects of care from other allied health professionals, such as dietitians, so that everyone can access them to learn how to make healthy changes in their lifestyle. These changes are not easy and won’t happen overnight, so ongoing support is required and insurance companies will need to change to make this available to consumers.

Insurance Coverage Key in Care

As a dietitian I applaud this initiative because I know it can make a difference in the health of many people. While working in a wellness setting, I have seen firsthand that insurance does not adequately cover the services of a dietitian to help old and young learn to make healthful food choices and lifestyle adjustments to reduce their health burden not to mention achieve a 20% reduction in stroke, death and improvement in cardiovascular disease. In addition to a dietitian,  a specialist in behavior modification strategies would help some people stop smoking and break habits to improve their health and should be considered a part of the primary health care team.

Why is coverage by insurance companies important? Many people can’t afford or simply won’t pursue care that isn’t covered by their insurance policies. Why would insurance companies do it? Improving the health of those covered by their policies is in their long term economic interest because it will reduce future care expenses to treat illnesses that can be prevented as well as better managing current chronic diseases.

We hope that in the near future all doctors begin to have conversations with our seniors and ourselves about health risks and behaviors to improve our health. If they don’t, we can ask them!

Medicare Open Enrollment Time Again! Helping Seniors Navigate the Options

Time again to think about your senior loved one’s healthcare options for the coming year. We know you look forward to this fun each fall!

Open enrollment for Medicare began October 15 and runs until December 7.

That means it’s time again when seniors make important healthcare selections for the coming year – – and when family caregivers of seniors should get all the information possible about loved ones’ healthcare needs,  determine the choices available to them and understand how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affects their options and decisions.

Considerations in Meeting Seniors’ Healthcare Needs

In order to determine which coverage is best for your senior loved one, it is best to know what medical needs they have now and will potentially have in the upcoming year. No, we don’t have a crystal ball we can lend you, but an educated guess about medical needs will help you decide on the best course of action when selecting coverage.

  • Are your senior’s drugs still covered or have they been dropped from the list?
  • Does your senior have new medical conditions or supply needs?

Some seniors have numerous prescription and over-the-counter medications that need to be purchased while others may have only a few medications prescribed. Some may need medical supplies such as diabetic testing or oxygen. They might need to have routine blood work or no lab testing.

Is your senior one of those in a state of health that requires only annual physical check-ups and preventive screenings with recommended immunizations?

Unfortunately, others may have several chronic diseases that need close monitoring from the healthcare team in addition to preventive screenings.

Original Medicare covers Part A (acute care/hospital insurance) and Part B (supplies/medical insurance) while an Advantage Plan covers Part C (including A, B and usually a prescription drug plan). If you opt for original Medicare you will need to select a Part D prescription drug plan as well.

Seniors can add a supplemental plan to original Medicare to cover their out of pocket expenses. Advantage plans are generally more inclusive and therefore you can’t be sold any additional supplement/Medigap with one of these plans. Remember, these are sold through private insurance companies so be sure to compare benefits and costs to your senior when helping them make a choice.

If your senior already has long term care insurance, you should compare what that plan specifically covers as a supplement to Medicare costs to be sure you are not duplicating services with their annual election.

Affordable Care Act Changes for Seniors

If your senior is covered by Medicare and Medicaid, they do not need to consider the Insurance Marketplace set up through the Affordable Care Act since this information is specific for those people who currently have no insurance coverage and is therefore not applicable for your senior.

The ACA:

  1. Gives you a 50% discount on covered prescription drugs when you hit the “donut hole” until 2020 when the donut hole closes.
  2. Cover numerous preventive tests and screenings primarily at no cost to the beneficiary (mammograms, colonoscopies, diabetes,etc.)
  3. Includes annual wellness exam (not as extensive as a physical, you may still need that)
  4. Still have deductible costs, premium costs and 25% of drug cost until you reach the donut hole

To help you get more information and compare plans, you can review plans using at Medicare.gov Plan Finder.

Open Enrollment Time

Open enrollment is the time to select a different insurance coverage that better meets your senior’s needs or decide that the coverage and plan they have already are exactly what they need.

It is important to investigate costs and benefits for just the right coverage instead of incurring many out-of-pocket expenses that will burden your family. This is one place where taking extra time to understand and evaluate the options can help avoid expensive mistakes and ensure our senior loved ones are getting the healthcare coverage they need.

Knowledge is power and in this case could be money too!