News You Can Use
- January 2018: Are a lot of eligible elders not getting food stamps?
Q: Are a lot of eligible elders not getting food stamps?
A: Yes. More than 40% of low-income elders eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” are not on the program.
SNAP provides food and nutritional benefits to one out of every nine people in Massachusetts, including elders and people with disabilities. A recent study by Mass General Hospital found that participation in SNAP reduced annual health care costs by $1,400 per person per year. Seniors with poor nutrition are at greater risk for health conditions like chronic heart disease, depression, diabetes, and asthma. Another study showed that access to SNAP benefits reduces the likelihood of admission to a nursing home by 23%.
The SNAP program is also good for our Massachusetts economy. The $1.2 billion in SNAP benefits spent annually at grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmers markets throughout the Commonwealth creates an economic stimulus of around $2 billion into the local economy. An additional $1 billion in SNAP spending would generate 8,900 full-time jobs.
Each October, the federal government makes adjustments to SNAP benefits. This year SNAP benefit levels were slightly reduced due to the drop in the consumer price index for food costs. The minimum benefit for one person decreased from $16 to $15, and the maximum benefit for one person fell from $194 to $192.
SNAP advocates in Massachusetts have been working hard to close the “SNAP Gap,” which is the number of people who are eligible for SNAP—but are not on the program. Over 150,000 adults in Massachusetts age 60+ receives SNAP, which is roughly 10% of the elderly population. Nearly half (48%) of Massachusetts SNAP households include members who are elderly, or have severe disabilities.
But according to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and confirmed by a data match conducted by the Baker Administration, in 2016 there was a “SNAP Gap” of over 600,000 people who were on Medicaid, but not on SNAP---including 106,000 elders--most with incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level.
Under federal rules, elderly or disabled people can claim out-of-pocket medical expenses as a deduction to raise their SNAP benefit—but the majority of elder and disabled SNAP recipients in the Commonwealth who qualify for this medical deduction don’t use it. In addition to insurance and any hospital or doctor costs, they can claim out-of-pocket costs like vitamins, eye glasses, hearing aids, over the counter” medicine chest items, and mileage from driving to doctors and pharmacies. Elders can also use private or public housing costs, utility costs, and dependent care costs to raise their SNAP benefits.
To find out how to apply for SNAP benefits, call the state Department of Transitional Assistance at 1-877-382-2363, If you want to appeal a SNAP decision, local Legal Services offices may be able to provide advice or representation. Go to http://www.masslegalhelp.org/
- November 2017: Do elders or seriously ill have protections against utility shut-offs?
Yes. Households in Massachusetts in which all adult members are age 65 or older, whether there is a financial hardship or not, are protected against utility and phone shut-offs. “Utility” refers to the gas or electric service to your home, or your landline telephone. Cell phones and heating oil is not covered by utility law. Most oil companies require payment at delivery time. Be sure to ask all fuel companies if they offer a “senior citizen discount”.
Every year from November 15 to March 15, gas and electric companies cannot shut off your service if you are unable to pay your utility bills and if the service is used to heat your house. This moratorium does not apply if service was shut off for non-payment before November 15.
When all adult members of the household are age 65 or older, it is difficult for a company to shut off your utility service. To protect yourself, make sure that everyone 65 or older in your household has provided your utility companies with written information about their age.
If all the members of your household are not 65 or older but your child, or someone else in your household has been diagnosed as having a “serious” or “chronic” condition and you cannot afford to pay your bills because of financial hardship, the utility companies cannot shut off your service. The illness or condition must be verified by a medical doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. If a shut-off threat is on very short notice, your utility company has to accept a phone call from a doctor, but a follow up written letter will be needed within 7 days of the call. The utility company must keep service on for three months once learning that a customer is “seriously ill.” If your illness is “chronic,” you can receive six months protection. Ask your doctor’s office to fax their letter directly to the utility company, and to give you a receipt, as you may need proof to show your utility months later.
If you cannot afford to pay your utility bill and there is an infant under the age of one living in your house, the utility companies cannot shut off your service. 4To get this protection, you must submit a financial hardship form (obtained from the utility company) and provide proof of your child's age, through a birth certificate, letter, or official document from a physician, hospital, government agency, clergyman, or religious institution.
The law also protects grandparent-headed households, as long as the only people under age 65, living in the household, are minors (under age-18).
The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) is unlikely to approve a shut-off, especially if you are trying to make a good faith repayment effort. But if you own your home, a utility might try to put a “lien” or “attachment” on your home, to collect what is owed when your home is sold.
For phone land lines, the same “over 65” protections apply, as well as the “serious” illness protections. For phone service, only a doctor or clinician in a doctor’s office can certify illnesses. The same phone call from a doctor rule applies if a shut-off is imminent, with a follow up written illness letter within seven days. A doctor’s letter can be renewed two times, totaling 90-days protection.
The phone company will not shut-off service if the customer asks for “personal emergency protection,” demonstrates that he or she cannot pay the bill, and that phone service is necessary to protect the health or safety of a member of the household. An elder with an emergency alert button for example, could ask for personal emergency protection. If the phone company denies the protection, the customer can appeal to the Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE). Ask your gas, electric or phone company to send you an elder household protection form, or a serious illness/chronic condition, or personal emergency protection form.
Even with these shut-off protections, you are still responsible for paying off your bill, and you will be charged interest for late payments.
If you are facing a utility shut-off, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400. To read more on your shut off rights, go to: http://www.masslegalhelp.org/special-protections-against-shut-offs.
- October 2017: What are the major lung conditions elders should know about?
Diseases of the lung are almost as common as breathing air. Lung problems that are common among older adults include: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, lung cancer, and asthma.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. and the second most common cancer among both men and women. Almost 15.7 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, which is the third leading cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 18.4 million American adults currently have asthma. The American Lung Association estimates that in 2016 there were 555,374 adults in Massachusetts diagnosed with asthma, 307,924 people with COPD and 4,302 people with lung disease.
COPD is a disease that makes it hard to breathe. It can be caused by smoking, secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, or even dust. There are two types of COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of COPD and may even occur when you are resting. People who have COPD may feel like their chest is so tight that they cannot breathe and they may cough a lot. COPD can also cause wheezing. COPD develops slowly and worsens over time. COPD can lead to strain on the heart, which can result in swollen ankles, feet, or legs. In advanced stages of COPD, people can have blue lips because they do not have enough oxygen in their blood. In older adults, COPD can sometimes be confused with asthma.
Although there is no cure for COPD, there are measures you can take to help you feel better. If you are a smoker who quits, you may breathe more easily and add years to your life. Your doctor might prescribe an inhaler, a special exercise program, breathing techniques, or extra oxygen. People with COPD should protect themselves by getting shots to prevent the flu and pneumonia.
Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of your lungs and people with pneumonia may have a fever, chills, trouble breathing, and a cough with mucus. Pneumonia can make you feel very tired, or sick to your stomach. For some older adults, pneumonia can be a serious problem that takes 3 weeks or longer to overcome. Pneumonia is most common in the winter months. It is caused by germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. If you smoke or drink a lot of alcohol, your chance of getting pneumonia increases. You can come in contact with germs that cause pneumonia during a hospital stay or in a nursing facility. To test for pneumonia, your doctor can do a physical exam, take a chest x-ray, or analyze a blood sample. Mild pneumonia can sometimes be treated at home with medications to fight the infection. Sometimes pneumonia must be treated in the hospital. To prevent pneumonia, don’t smoke, get a shot for the flu and pneumonia, wash your hands often with soap and water, and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
Lung Cancer – Some common signs of lung cancer include:
- A cough that does not go away and gets worse over time
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Problems with breathing, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Repeated problems with pneumonia
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
These symptoms may be caused by lung cancer or other health problems. Do not wait until you feel pain. See your doctor right away. Studies show that starting treatment for lung cancer early leads to better results. Treatment for lung cancer is based on the type of lung cancer and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. It also depends on the individual’s general health.
Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and extra mucus is produced. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack. Asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Many people live long, healthy lives with asthma. Some blood pressure medications, like beta-blockers or aspirin, can interfere with your asthma treatment or make asthma worse. Your doctor can help you develop a plan to manage your asthma.
For tips to keep your lungs healthy, go to http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/protecting-your-lungs/
- September 2017: Are there any strategies for preventing or slowing cognitive decline?
Most studies are cautious about answering this question. One recent report by the Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention and Care concluded that one-third of dementia cases could potentially be prevented through better management of lifestyle factors, such as smoking, hypertension, depression, and hearing loss over the course of a lifetime.
Research is complicated by the fact that older adults can be affected by different forms of cognitive decline. Researchers classify three basic kinds of cognitive decline: normal age-related cognitive decline; mild cognitive impairment; and clinical Alzheimer’s type dementia. The number of Americans over age 70 with dementia and mild cognitive impairment is rising.
Dementia-related costs exceed those of heart disease and cancer. Some decline in cognition with aging is considered normal or inevitable, particularly for people past the age of 60. Investigators report that there is some evidence that three types of interventions have shown “encouraging, although inconclusive, evidence” of slowing or delaying the onset of age-related cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s. The three interventions are: cognitive training, blood pressure management, and increased physical activity.
In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) began a project examining the evidence on interventions for preventing, slowing, or delaying the onset of these cognitive impairments. In their report, Preventing Cognitive Decline and Dementia: A Way Forward, researchers highlighted three interventions, all of which showed mixed results:
- Cognitive training; Cognitive training is defined as a “ broad set of interventions, including those aimed at enhancing reasoning (like problem solving), memory, and speed of processing (like identifying visual information on a screen).” Structured training exercises may or may not be computer based. Some evidence suggests that cognitive training can improve long-term cognitive function and maintenance of independence in instrumental activities of daily living, like shopping and cooking, in adults with normal cognition. Researchers say results from cognitive training are “inconclusive, but encouraging” as a tool for delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline. There is no evidence, however, that commercial, computer-based “brain training” applications are beneficial for long-term cognitive effects.
- Blood pressure management: There are many links between cerebrovascular disease, (cerebrovascular disease is a condition developed due to complications with the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain) Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. A majority of dementia patients show signs of cerebrovascular disease. Improved control of blood pressure in patients with hypertension has been linked to a decline in stroke incidence and mortality, and it is plausible that blood pressure management would also reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Researchers say there is data to suggest that managing blood pressure for people with hypertension, particularly during midlife (ages 35 to 65 years), offers encouraging evidence for preventing, delaying, and slowing Alzheimer’s type dementia, but the results are still “inconclusive.”
- Increased physical activity: There are many well-documented health benefits of increased physical activity which has consistently been identified as one of the modifiable risk factors that could have the greatest impact on rates of cognitive impairment and dementia. Research suggests increased physical activity may be effective in delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline. Indicators seem promising for resistance training and aerobic exercise, and vitamin B12. NASEM concluded that increased physical activity also provides encouraging but inconclusive evidence of delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline. But there is not enough evidence to conclude whether increasing physical activity prevents, delays, or slows mild cognitive impairment, or has an impact on Alzheimer’s type dementia.
NASEM is optimistic about the future of research in this “exciting area of discovery.” Priority areas for further study on slowing cognitive impairments include: new anti-dementia treatments; treatments for diabetes and depression; dietary interventions; lipid-lowering treatments; sleep quality interventions; social engagement, and vitamin B12 plus folic acid supplementation. While research has shown promise, the results about slowing or preventing cognitive decline are "inconclusive", and research stresses that these interventions are all in need of further study.
- August 2017: Are there tips to make a home safe for people with Alzheimer’s?
Yes. If you are providing in-home care for a person with Alzheimer's disease, the National Institute on Aging has created a 44 page booklet with a checklist to make each room in your home a safer environment.
Alzheimer's progresses differently in each person, but here are some general principles that may be helpful:
- Think prevention. It is very difficult to predict what a person with Alzheimer's might do. Even with the best-laid plans, accidents can happen. Therefore, checking the safety of your home will help you take control of some of the potential problems that may create hazardous situations.
- Adapt the environment. It is easier to change the home environment than to change some behaviors. You can decrease any hazards and stressors that accompany these behavioral and functional changes.
- Minimize danger. A safe environment can be a less restrictive environment where the person with Alzheimer's disease can experience increased security and more mobility.
Your first question may be: Is it safe to leave a person with Alzheimer’s alone? This issue needs individual evaluation:
- Does the person with Alzheimer's become confused or unpredictable under stress?
- Do they recognize a dangerous situation, like a fire?
- Do they know how to use the telephone in an emergency?
- Do they wander or become disoriented?
- Do they become agitated, depressed, or withdrawn when left alone for any period of time? Talk this over with your doctor or other health care professionals to assist you as the symptoms of the disease change.
Complete a safety check in every room in your home. You may want to set aside a special area for yourself that is off-limits to anyone else and arrange it exactly as you like. A safe home can be less stressful for the person with Alzheimer's and for you. Enlist the help of your local Alzheimer's Association for suggestions. Here are some general tips:
- Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones.
- Use an answering machine when you can’t answer phone calls. Turn ringers on low to avoid distraction and confusion. Put all portable and cell phones and equipment in a safe place so they will not be easily lost.
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in the kitchen and sleeping areas.
- Install secure locks on all outside doors and windows.
- Hide a spare house key outside in case the person with Alzheimer's disease locks you out of the house.
- Avoid the use of extension cords, and tack them to baseboards to avoid tripping.
- Install one handrail on stairways that extends beyond the first and last steps. Use carpets or safety grip strips on stairs. Put a gate across the stairs if the person has balance problems.
- Keep medications (prescription and over-the-counter) locked. Label each bottle of prescriptions with the person's name, name of the drug, drug strength, dosage frequency, and expiration date. Keep alcohol in a locked cabinet.
- Avoid clutter, throw out or recycle newspapers and magazines regularly. Keep all areas where people walk free of furniture. Keep plastic bags out of reach to prevent choking or suffocation.
- Remove all guns and other weapons from the home or lock them up. Install safety locks on guns or remove ammunition and firing pins.
- Lock all power tools and machinery in the garage, workroom, or basement.
For a room-by-room list of more Alzheimer’s home safety tips from the National Institute on Aging, click here https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/home-safety-people-alzheimers-disease/home-safety-room-room
- July 2017: Is sciatic nerve pain something I just have to put up with?
No, sciatic pain does not have to be a chronic condition. The medical condition called “sciatica” is a major cause of work absenteeism and a major financial burden to both employers and our health care system. Your sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in your body. It begins as a bundle of nerves in your lower back and passes through your pelvis and down the back of each thigh. In the back of the thigh, the sciatic nerve splits into two smaller nerves called the tibial nerve and the peroneal nerve. The sciatic nerve carries impulses from nerves in your lower back to the muscles and nerves in the buttocks, thighs, and lower legs.
Sciatica is a symptom. It consists of leg pain, which might feel like a bad leg cramp, or a ‘pinched nerve’. The pain can shoot down your leg to your foot, making sitting or standing very painful. Sciatica can occur suddenly, or develop gradually. You might feel a numbness, or a burning or tingling ("pins and needles") sensation in your legs or toes.
The term ‘sciatica’ has come to be used to describe any pain felt in the leg along the length of the sciatic nerve. The incidence of sciatica is related to age. It is rarely seen before the age of 20, and it peaks in the fifth decade and declines thereafter. Between 13% and 40% of Americans will have sciatica sometime in their life. The nerve might be pinched inside or outside of the spinal canal as it passes into the leg. Sciatic pain seems to involve a complex interaction of inflammatory, immune and pressure-related elements. Symptoms like paralysis or incontinence indicate a more serious problem like nerve damage or a disease, and should be reported immediately to your primary care doctor.
The exact nature of the relationship of sciatica to disc, nerve, and pain is not yet certain. For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse. A herniated or ‘slipped disc’ is the most common cause of sciatica, but there is no one basic cause. Not everyone’s spinal disks age at the same pace. Spinal disks lose their elasticity over time as they lose fluid and become brittle and cracked. These changes are a normal part of aging.
Another cause can be a small muscle deep in the buttocks that becomes tight or spasms, which puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. Narrowing of the spinal column, or a vertebra that is out of line, can affect the sciatic nerve. Fortunately, most cases of sciatica are short term, and the pain resolves within a matter of weeks or months. But some cases do not resolve quickly, and 10% to 40% of cases can require treatment for chronic pain.
Most patients with sciatica can be treated by their primary care doctor without the need for further diagnostic testing. The goal is to reduce the pain and increase mobility. Physical therapy, with customized stretching exercises to improve flexibility of tight muscles, are often where treatment will begin, along with the use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin or ibuprofen to temporarily relieve pain and inflammation. In other cases, tests like Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan are used to obtain images of the structures of the back. Spinal injections of an anti-inflammatory medicine, or surgery is available for people who do not respond to other treatments, and who have severe pain. Many people believe that massage, yoga or acupuncture can improve sciatica.
You can take steps to protect your back and reduce your risk for getting sciatica pain by:
- Practicing proper lifting techniques: Lift with your back straight, bringing yourself up with your hips and legs, and holding the object close to your chest. Use this technique for lifting everything, no matter how light.
- Avoiding/stopping cigarette smoking, which promotes disc degeneration.
- Exercising regularly to strengthen the muscles of your back and abdomen, which work to support your spine. Whether you are sitting or lying down, tighten your stomach muscles often, hold them tight, then release.
- Using good posture when you are sitting, standing, and sleeping. Good posture helps to relieve the pressure on your lower back. Wrap up a towel for lower back support in your car seat or desk chair.
- Avoiding sitting for long periods.
- June 2017: Does retirement have a positive or negative impact on health?
Retirement can have positive or negative impacts on health. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that complete retirement leads to a 5-16% increase in difficulties associated with mobility and daily activities, a 5-6% increase in illness conditions, and a 6-9% decline in mental health. However, these negative health effects can be reduced if the retiree is married, has social supports, continues to engage in physical activity after retirement, or continues to work part-time after retiring. The negative health effects of retirement may be larger if a person is forced to retire.
The National Institute on Aging says that health problems have a big influence on the decision to retire early, but less research has been done on how retirement affects your health after you retire. According to the Harvard Health Blog, retirement for some people is a chance to relax away from the daily grind---but for others, retirement can be a period of declining health and increasing limitations. One study ranked retirement 10th on the list of life’s most stressful events. Losing a spouse was number 1.
The U.S Health and Retirement Study data shows that retirees were 40% more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those still working. The increase was greater during the first year after retirement, and leveled off after that. Another study from England concluded that retirement significantly increased the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. In particular, retirement raised the risk of a severe cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There are other studies which link retirement with an improvement or a neutral effect on health. One study found that retirement did not change the risk of major chronic diseases, and brought about a substantial reduction in mental and physical fatigue and depressive symptoms among people with chronic diseases.
So the impact of retirement on health may depend on the individual. The Harvard Health Blog suggests that “moving from work to no work comes with a boatload of other changes.” If you loved your work, retirement can bring some emptiness of purpose. If you had a stressful job, retirement brings relief. Either way, researchers offer these tips for a rewarding retirement:
- Don’t ‘retire’ from daily contact with friends and colleagues
- Maintain Activities like sports or traveling, to keep a purposeful daily life
- Be creative: keep your brain healthy by painting, gardening, or volunteering
- Keep learning: explore new subjects you have always been interested in
Understanding what large group studies say about retirement is interesting, but studies can’t predict how retirement will affect your life. People who retire because of health problems may not enjoy retirement as much as someone who retires feeling healthy. But, it makes sense to view retirement as a process. Often it is just the need to stay connected, and be a part of something bigger, that truly gives us that fulfillment in our later years, not the complete absence of work or responsibility.
- May 2017: Are Dietary Supplements Worth Buying?
Unfortunately, the answer is often “No.” Advertisements for “dietary supplements” frequently claim they will keep you from getting sick, or help you live longer. But according to the National Institute On Aging, “Often there is little, if any, scientific support for these claims…Some supplements can hurt you. Others are just a waste of money because they don’t give you any health benefits.”
There are many “dietary supplements” on the market today that are sold over the counter, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs, and hormones. Some products, like drinks or energy bars, have supplements added to them. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not review these supplements before they reach the market, only if they believe a product is considered unsafe.
The best way to get vitamins or minerals is through the food you eat, not added supplements. If you feel you can’t eat enough, ask your doctor if you need a multi-vitamin and/or mineral supplement. It does not have to be labeled for “seniors,” and it does not have to be a large, or “mega dose” vitamin. The theory; “if a little is good, a lot must be better,” does not hold for supplements. Taking more than 100% of the daily value of a vitamin or mineral could be harmful, and your body may not be able to use the entire supplement, so you are wasting your money. People over the age of 50 may need supplements for certain purposes, such as vitamin B12, Calcium, vitamin D, extra Iron for women, and vitamin B6.
Antioxidants are natural substances found in food. There is no proof that large doses of antioxidants will prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, cataracts or heart disease. Rather than taking a supplement, try eating at least 5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables, or using vegetable oil and eat nuts (in moderation). These foods can give you the antioxidants you need.
There are also herbal supplements, like ginseng, Echinacea, or ginkgo biloba, which come from certain plants. When you use any herbal supplements, you are using them as a drug, and they can interfere with other medications you may already be taking. Some herbal supplements can cause high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, seizures, heart attacks, or stroke. Some supplements can increase the risk of bleeding or, if a person takes them before or after surgery, they can affect the person’s response to anesthesia. Dietary supplements can also interact with certain prescription drugs in ways that might cause problems. Vitamin K, for example, can reduce the ability of certain blood thinners to prevent blood from clotting. Antioxidant supplements, like vitamins C and E, can reduce the effectiveness of some types of cancer chemotherapy.
Before you start taking a dietary supplement, talk with your doctor or a registered dietician. Do not go on the recommendation of a friend or an internet site. Consider the source of any information you read: is it from a group that stands to make money from the sale of this product? If something worked for your neighbor, it does not mean that it will work for you. Don’t take supplements in place of, or in combination with prescribed medications without your health care provider’s approval.
All products labeled as a dietary supplement carry a Supplement Facts panel that lists the contents, amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings). The manufacturer suggests the serving size, but you or your health care provider might decide that a different amount is more appropriate for you.
There is a federal Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), part of the National Institutes of Health, which publishes fact sheets that give consumers an overview of individual vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements. ODS says if you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients. However, supplements can’t take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet. You can contact ODS at (301)435-2920, or visit their website at https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx
- April 2017: As I get older, does it really matter to stay physically active?
Absolutely. Regular physical activity and exercise are important to the physical and mental health of almost everyone, including older adults. There are many benefits from physical activity including:
- Maintains and improves your physical strength and fitness.
- Improves your ability to do the everyday things you want to do.
- Improves your balance.
- Manages and improves diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
- Reduces feelings of depression and may improve mood and overall well-being.
- Helps you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
If you feel out of shape, but want to remain physically active, the key to success, according to the National Institute on Aging, is to build up slowly from your current fitness level. Health experts suggest that you consult your doctor before you start any new exercise program.
Start by determining your fitness level. Begin by asking these questions:
- How much time do you spend sitting?
- How much time and how often are you active?
- When you are active, what kinds of activities are you doing?
Here are 5 ways you can test your own fitness:
- Measure your endurance by picking a fixed course. Once around the block or from one end of the mall to the other. Time how long it takes you to walk it.
- Test your upper-body strength by how many arm curls you can do safely in 2 minutes.
- Test your lower-body strength by how many times you can stand from a seated position safely in 2 minutes. If you are unsteady, have someone there with you.
- Test your balance by how long you can safely stand on one foot. (Stand next to something sturdy that you can hold onto if you lose your balance).
- Test your flexibility by sitting toward the front of a sturdy chair, and stretching one leg straight out in front of you with your heel on the floor and your toes pointing up. Bend the other leg and place your foot flat on the floor. Slowly bend from your hips and reach as far as you can toward the toes of your outstretched foot. How far can you reach before you feel a stretch?
Write down your results. If these exercises were hard to do, just do what is comfortable and slowly build up. If they were easy, you know your level of fitness is higher. Now you can be more ambitious and challenge yourself. You can do these simple fitness tests once a month, and measure your progress at each session.
If you feel any pain or dizziness while exercising, stop. Muscle soreness lasting a few days and slight fatigue are normal after doing muscle-building exercises, at least at first. After doing these exercises for a few weeks, you will probably not be sore after your workout. For some exercises, you may want to start alternating arms and work your way up to using both arms at the same time. Breathe out as you lift or push, and breathe in as you relax. Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. Holding your breath while straining can cause changes in blood pressure. Breathe in slowly through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth. Talk with your doctor if you are unsure about doing a particular exercise, especially if you have had hip or back surgery.
Some exercises for older adults, or those who are sedentary, include: brisk walking, stationary bike riding, low impact aerobics, swimming, and water aerobics. Safety during exercises is always important. Walk during the day or in well-lit areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings. Try not to walk alone or in secluded areas. To prevent injuries, be sure to use safe equipment. If you are exercising outdoors, dress in layers so you can add or remove clothes if you get cold or hot. Drink plenty of liquids when doing any activity that makes you sweat. Before and after you exercise, do a little light activity to warm up and cool down.
Each year, more than 2 million older Americans go to the emergency room because of fall-related injuries. You can learn exercises that will improve your balance and make you steadier on your feet. You can see pictures and short videos of any of these exercises, plus get more fitness tips by going to the National Institute On Aging website: https://go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises. Go4Life is an exercise and physical activity campaign from the National Institute on Aging that is designed to help you fit exercise and physical activity into your daily life.
- March 2017: Is there more to using a drug plan than just selecting one?
Yes. Many people select a drug plan and then forget about it. But older adults report that medication costs and not understanding their drug benefits are major challenges. Older adults want easy to understand information on cost, coverage and provider networks to get the most out of their drug benefits.
People on Medicare are receiving their new prescription drug plan materials. It may be a Medicare Part D plan, or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C), but you can save money and avoid medication mistakes by understanding your benefits.
According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), as many as 88% of Medicare recipients have not chosen the lowest possible total plan cost for their Medicare prescription drug coverage. These people could save money by choosing a plan that has a lower premium and the lowest possible out-of-pocket costs. N4a and Walgreens have teamed up to provide older adults and people with disabilities the education and programs they need to help maximize their Medicare pharmacy benefits.
Proper medication adherence is one of the keys to maintaining good health. Too many older adults may not have enough information about how to take their medications as prescribed for fear of incurring additional out-of-pocket expenses.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your drug benefits, and for lowering your out-of-pocket costs:
- Every prescription drug plan has a list of covered drugs called a “formulary.” This list is divided into “tiers,” which vary by plan. Typically, a drug in a lower tier will generally cost you less than a drug in a higher tier. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are lower-cost options, such as lower-cost brands or generic substitutes on your plan’s formulary, or even over-the-counter options that can properly treat your medical condition.
- Many prescription drug plans have a “preferred pharmacy” network. If your plan has preferred pharmacies, you may save money and pay lower prescription copays if you use the preferred pharmacy.
- Some plans offer a mail order pharmacy that may offer lower drug prices. This may be a cost-effective and convenient way to fill prescriptions.
- Whether you are using a generic alternative, or a lower-cost brand alternative, if you are taking maintenance drugs, ask if you can get a less expensive 90-day supply instead of 30-day supply.
- At least once a year, ask your doctor or pharmacist to evaluate changes in your health and prescription needs, and about ways you may be able to reduce your medication costs.
- If you take medications for more than one medical condition, ask your doctor if you qualify for medication management therapy (MTM) from a pharmacist or other health professionals to ensure that your medications are working well together.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review your prescriptions for falls risk. Some medications can interact together or affect you in a way that could increase your risk of falling.
- Talk to your doctor about ALL the medications you take, including over-the-counter (OTC) medications and “nutritional” supplements.
- If your prescription drug copayments are not affordable, ask your doctor if your drug manufacturers have a “patient assistance program” that reduces the cost of your drugs.
- The Prescription Advantage program provides financial assistance, based on income, for people with Medicare drug coverage. This program can help pay all or part of your Medicare drug co-payments, and can also provide an out-of-pocket spending limit. Once this limit is reached, Prescription Advantage will cover drug co-payments for the remainder of the plan year. Call 1-800-243-4636 and press “2” for details.
Choosing a drug plan is just the start. Learning more about your plan could help you save more.
- February 2017: What is the difference between hard of hearing and deaf?
Hard of hearing (HOH) refers to people who still have some useful hearing and can understand spoken language, in some situations, with or without amplification. Most HOH people can use the telephone, hearing aids and other assistive devices. The degree of hearing loss can vary, from mild to profound. Deaf people, on the other hand, have little or no hearing. They may use sign language or lip reading, and hearing aids may be used for both environmental awareness and to help make speech understandable. People who use spoken English to communicate are called “oral deaf.” Many individuals who are deaf lost their hearing before they learned to speak, and they view hearing loss, not as a medical condition that needs to be corrected, but as a cultural distinction.
People who are “late-deafened” are those who lost all or most of their hearing during or after their teen years, either suddenly or progressively. Most need sign language or lip reading to understand conversation, and cannot use the telephone. In many cases, doctors cannot definitively determine what causes deafness later in life. Some common causes include: exposure to loud noise, aging, meningitis, accidents, trauma, virus, Meniere’s disease, and tumors of the acoustic nerve. If you experience a sudden drop in hearing, unexpected dizziness, drainage from your ear, or significant pain in your ear or head, see a doctor as quickly as possible.
Acquired deafness is a traumatic loss, especially for people who lose their hearing suddenly. People who are born deaf never feel this overwhelming sense of loss, because they never experienced hearing. But for anyone who becomes deaf later in life, the sense of loss can be devastating and often report a feeling of isolation and loneliness. They may go through a grieving process that lasts months or even years. It is important to note that deafness does not mean that your recreational or social life has to stop. You can still do many of the same things you used to do, just differently.
There are some special concerns for older adults. The incidence of hearing loss increases dramatically with age. One third of all people over the age of 60 and 50% of people over 80 have some form of hearing loss. Hearing impairment is common and can seriously affect their safety, quality of life, and ability to live independently. Some seniors are not comfortable with new technologies like assistive listening devices or close captioned television and may lack the manual dexterity to manipulate the small controls on hearing aids and other devices. Seniors may be anxious about being able to remain living at home, and may be unaware of safety alerting devices and other assistive technology.
The Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing can be used as a central point of contact for seniors and their caregivers. Their website is www.mass.gov/mcdhh. Much of the information in this article is taken from The Commission’s publication, The Savvy Consumer’s Guide to Hearing Loss. This publication lists organizations that offer supportive services, medical help, financial assistance and benefits programs, communications options, assistive technologies, and real life coping skills. To receive a copy of this book, call 1-800-882-1155, or 617-740-1700 (TTY).
- January 2017: Is it important for seniors to keep up with their vaccines?
Yes. A number of diseases, which can be prevented with vaccines, can cause significant illness, hospitalization, disability, and even death.
Older adults are more affected than most people by these diseases. According to the Alliance for Aging Research, more than half of the annual flu-related hospitalizations, and 90% of the annual flu deaths, are in people age 65 or over. Roughly half of the 1 million annual cases of shingles in the U.S. are in people over the age of 60. Even though seniors are hit harder by these illnesses, vaccination rates among older adults are dangerously low.
Your immune system is made up of cells that defend your body against a bacteria or virus, called a pathogen. It is your immune system which produces antibodies that destroy the pathogens. Every time your immune system reacts to a specific pathogen, it builds up a defense called immunity. The next time that pathogen shows up, your immune system “knows” the bacteria or virus, and removes it more quickly.
Vaccines imitate an infection, and tell your immune system to produce antibodies to protect you from a disease. By getting vaccinated, you also protect those around you who may not be vaccinated. This is called herd or “community immunity.” The more people who get vaccinated, the fewer chances a disease has to spread.
Here are some bacteria or viruses that can be treated with vaccines:
Influenza (flu) is a respiratory virus that spreads from coughing or sneezing droplets that land on you. Every year as many as 200,000 people are hospitalized from the flu.
Tetanus is a bacteria that enters the body through a deep flesh wound. It can interfere with the ability to breathe.
Diphtheria is a bacteria that attaches to the lining of the respiratory system and produces toxins. It can make it hard to breathe and swallow. This can lead to infections of the lung, blood, heart, kidney, and nerves.
Pertussis can lead to uncontrollable coughing, which often makes it hard to breathe.
Varicella is the chicken pox virus. Varicella zoster is a chicken pox virus that can be reactivated years later as a shingles infection. During their lifetime, 30% of Americans will develop shingles — around 1 million people each year.
Pneumonia is a bacteria or virus that infects the lungs. Every year, an estimated 53,000 people die and 1.1 million are hospitalized because of pneumonia.
Vaccines you received when you were younger (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) can wear off, so you may need a booster vaccine. If there are vaccines you never received as a child (like chickenpox), it may be recommended that you get them as an adult.
As we age, our immune system weakens and puts us at a higher risk for certain diseases, like shingles and pneumonia. After age 60 there are additional vaccines that are recommended. Vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella are not recommended for those ages 60 and up.
Talk to your doctor about staying up-to-date with your vaccines. The flu vaccine can change each season and even change mid-season. Your immunity decreases over the year and certain diseases and conditions can make it harder to fight off infection. With some chronic diseases, the complications of infection can be more severe. Ask your doctor about your risk for meningitis and hepatitis A and B.
Whenever you get vaccinated, ask for an immunization record card, and have it sent to your doctor’s office. Medicare Part B pays for flu, pneumonia, and hepatitis B vaccines. Medicare Part D plans must include all commercially available vaccines (except those covered by Part B). Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage Part C plans, that offer prescription drug coverage, may also cover a number of these vaccines. Medicaid covers some of these vaccines.
For more information about what vaccines are recommended for you, visit this website www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
- December 2016: Is drug abuse an issue with older people?
Yes. Little attention has been paid to the issue of substance abuse, both legal and illegal drugs, among older adults. Recent data demonstrates that drug abuse is increasing among elders, and is a larger proportion of all substance abuse among this population.
One study in 2011 reported that 6.3% of those age 50 to 59 reported they had used illicit drugs in the past month, more than twice the rate recorded in 2002. Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) have a lifetime rate of illicit drug use higher than those of people older than them. The number of older adults needing treatment for substance abuse is estmated to increase from 1.7 million in 2000 to 4.4 million by 2020.
Nonmedical use of prescription drugs among people 50 years and older is predicted to increase to 2.7 million Americans by 2020, and one recent study of elderly men in hospital emergency rooms showed that 11.6% involved opioid use, a rate nearly 5 times higher than marijuana, and 6 times higher than cocaine.
One large study of emergency department admissions in 2008, for illicit substance abuse among adults over age 50 years, noted that nearly 60% were aged 50 to 54 years, while only 1.5% were over age 75 years. Substance abusers were 70% male. The substances most commonly abused include cocaine (50%–60% of cases), heroin (25%), and marijuana (20%).
Researchers define “early onset users” as individuals with a long history of substance abuse who continue to abuse as they age. “Late-onset” substance abuse is a less common pattern, accounting for less than 10% of substance abuse. Some older adults who start abusing drugs do so because of medical factors, like higher rates of painful medical conditions that push the elder toward self-medication, and the development of psychiatric conditions, like depression or dementia. Older adults also suffer from higher rates of many of the same risk factors found in younger adults, like bereavement, social isolation, financial difficulties, or poor support systems.
Some studies suggest that in recent years prescription opioids have replaced heroin as the opioid of choice, including among elders. But among people who were early users of illicit drugs, heroin has been a drug of choice for so long that changing trends are not immediately reflected among older adult users.
The most common addiction among elders is with legal substances, like nicotine and alcohol. Psychoactive prescription drugs come in third, and illegal drugs, like marijuana, cocaine, or narcotics, come in fourth. One study of alcohol use in assisted living found that 60% of residents drank alcochol, 34% drank daily, 19% had health impacts from drinking, and 12% had physical or psychosocial harm from alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a risk factor for psychiatric illness: older adults are 3 times as likely to develop a mental disorder if they have a lifetime diagnosis of alcohol abuse.
Some studies recommend that every 60 year old should be screened for alcohol and prescription drug use/abuse as part of their routine physical exam. But diagnosis of elder drug abuse is a challenge for primary care doctors. Older patients may feel compelled to hide their abuse. Doctors may become absorbed with other medical concerns and neglect to explore the possibility of substance abuse. Bringing more attention to elder drug abuse will hopefully encourage physicians to become more comfortable learning about treating older substance abusers.
- November 2016: Do I have to “improve” to keep getting home health care?
No. One of the biggest mistakes that nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers and home health agencies make is telling people covered by Medicare that they can’t get skilled nursing, home health care, or physical therapy because they have “reached a plateau,” or “failed to improve.” The courts have ruled that “improvement” is not a requirement for Medicare therapy or home health benefits. A federal judge recently ordered Medicare to do a better job of informing health care providers that the so-called “improvement standard” was no longer in effect.
Older patients with chronic and progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or congestive heart failure are unlikely to “improve” over time, but they can still get physical therapy or home health care. Rehabilitation therapy helps prevent declines in walking, eating, speaking, dressing and bathing. Denying someone access to these treatments can worsen their disability, threaten their independence and result in more expensive health care needs.
People on Medicare might get confused reading their Medicare & You booklet, which describes on page 50 that home health is “part-time or intermittent.” That does not mean it has to be short-term. It is true that a doctor must approve your care, and you must be “homebound,” which is defined as having trouble leaving your home without help, and that leaving your home is a major effort. But you cannot be denied care because you are not “improving.”
In a 2013 court decision in Vermont, Medicare was ordered to pay for home health services to prevent a deterioration in a patient’s condition. The "stability presumption" was found to be unlawful. The Judge wrote: “A patient's chronic or stable condition does not provide a basis for automatically denying coverage for skilled services. The determination of whether a patient needs skilled nursing care should be based solely upon the patient's unique condition and individual needs, without regard to whether the illness or injury is acute, chronic, terminal, or expected to extend over a long period of time. In addition, skilled care may, depending on the unique condition of the patient, continue to be necessary for patients whose condition is stable.”
The fact that skilled care in a nursing facility or at home has stabilized a person’s health, does not render that level of care unnecessary. A person need not risk deterioration of his or her fragile health to validate the continuing requirement for skilled care. Your “failure to improve” cannot be used as a reason to deny you Medicare therapies or home health services. Your care cannot be cut off because you “exhibit a decline in functional status.”
If you are on traditional Medicare or Medicare Advantage, and are receiving services from a nursing facility, rehab facility or home health agency, and you think your covered services are ending too soon, you can ask for a fast appeal; this is referred to as an “expedited determination.” Your provider will give you a notice, before your services end, that will tell you how to appeal. For more information or assistance, call 1-800-323-3205 and ask for the Medicare Advocacy Project.
- October 2016: Are elders at greater risk of housing improvement scams?
Yes. Older adults are targeted because they often own a home outright, and have good credit. They are considered less likely to report a scam, may feel ashamed to file a report, or are unsure of how to file a report on a scam artist.
Here is a typical scam: A contractor tells an elder her entire roof needs replacing, and gives her a cost estimate that includes a “senior discount.” He promises to arrange for the financing. He then removes most of the roof, and gives the elder a contract at a much higher cost, saying that the damage is much more extensive than originally expected. The homeowner is afraid that if she does not sign the contract, the contractor will abandon the project, and the loan company will put a lien on her house. The repairs are so shoddy that the roof leaks. The elder stops making loan payments, and the loan company serves her with foreclosure papers to scare her into payment.
Home improvement scams can jeopardize your independence by costing you thousands of dollars, reducing your home equity, or even leaving you without a safe place to live. Scam artists sometimes pose as building inspectors or other officials, and use high-pressure tactics to demand immediate repairs to a roof, sidewalk, or driveway. They charge inflated prices and deliver sub-standard work.
Scam artists often go door-to-door saying they are working on other homes in the neighborhood. They pressure the homeowner for an immediate decision, and say they only accept cash, and want the full amount up front or they often say they have a lender they work with who will loan you the money. They usually have no license to work in Massachusetts.
To protect yourself from scams, before you hire any home contractor, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging recommends that you be sure to:
- Ask the contractor for local references of homeowners they have worked with.
- Obtain a written estimate from more than one contractor, and do not assume the lowest bidder will do the best work.
- Ask for a written contract, and pay by check or credit card—never cash.
- Research financing, if needed, through a local bank or a credit union you trust.
- Limit your down payment, and pay the balance after satisfactory completion of the work. Before you make the final payment, make sure your have inspected the work, and compared it to what your contract said would be done. If you have a problem with the work performed that was charged to your credit card, you can ask your credit card company to withhold payment until the problem is corrected.
The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation requires home improvement contractors who work on detached one and two family homes to be registered. You can search a registry online by the company name to make sure you are using a registered contractor. https://services.oca.state.ma.us/hic/licenseelist.aspx
To file a complaint about a housing contractor, call the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs at 617-973-8700. FAX: (617) 973-8799 or go to: Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR)
- September 2016: Are seniors at greater risk for hyperthermia?
Too much heat is not safe for anyone, but most people who die from hyperthermia are over the age of 50. There are several heat-related illnesses grouped under the name “hyperthermia” including:
- Heat syncope: sudden dizziness while you are active in hot weather. If you are not used to being out in hot weather, or you take a beta blocker to slow down your heart, you are even more likely to feel faint. If you feel dizzy, find a cool place to sit down—air conditioning is best—put your legs up, and drink water to make the dizziness go away. Drink water throughout the day, especially on a hot day before you exercise or go for a walk.
- Heat cramps: painful tightening of muscles in your stomach, arms, or legs. Cramps can result from hard work or exercise. Your body temperature and pulse may stay normal, but your skin may feel moist and cool. Rest in the shade to cool your body down and drink plenty of fluids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Heat edema: swelling in your ankles and feet when you get hot. Put your legs up to reduce swelling. Check with your doctor if the swelling does not go down soon.
- Heat exhaustion: your body can no longer keep itself cool. You feel thirsty, dizzy, weak, uncoordinated and nauseated. You may sweat a lot, you may have a rapid pulse rate, your body temperature may seem normal, but your skin may feel cold and clammy. Look for a cool place, stop to rest, and drink water. If you do not feel better soon, contact your doctor. Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
- Heat stroke: a medical emergency. Older people living in homes or apartments without air conditioning or fans are at most risk. People who become dehydrated or those with chronic diseases or alcoholism are also at most risk. The signs of heat stroke are: fainting, feeling confused, agitated, staggering when walking, grouchy, or acting strangely; a rise in body temperature over 104°F (40°C); dry, flushed skin; a strong, rapid pulse or a slow, weak pulse; not sweating, even if it is hot.
There are certain health problems that put you at greater risk for hyperthermia: heart or blood vessel problems; poorly working sweat glands or changes in your skin; being very overweight or underweight; heart, lung or kidney disease; drinking alcohol; conditions treated by drugs, such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and some heart and high blood pressure medicines, which may make it harder for your body to cool itself.
If you live in a home or apartment without fans or air conditioning, try to keep your house as cool as possible. Limit use of your oven. Keep your shades, blinds, or curtains closed during the hottest part of the day. Open your windows at night.
If your house is hot, go to a cooler place—like a shopping mall, movies, library, senior center, or a friend’s house. Do not stand outside in the heat waiting for a bus. Dress for the weather: some people find that cotton is cooler than synthetic fibers. Do not try to exercise or do a lot of activities outdoors when it is hot.
Listen to weather reports before going outside. Shower, bathe, or sponge off with cool water. Lie down and rest in a cool place.
Heat and humidity can be especially hard on older people, so be mindful of the risk that hot days can bring. Use these tips to keep yourself cool when the heat is on.
- August 2016: Should I Buy Prescriptions Online? Are the cheap medications offered through online Canadian pharmacies for real?
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is very clear: “If you cannot confirm that an online pharmacy is licensed in the United States, you should not use that online pharmacy.” The FDA has no jurisdiction over prescription medications from other countries, and can’t guarantee their safety or effectiveness. Only 3% of online pharmacies reviewed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy are in compliance with U.S. pharmacy laws and practice standards.
Many consumers are turning to the internet for medications because they can get instant access to information and services. Consumers are also looking for cheaper alternatives. According to an FDA survey, one in four of surveyed internet users reported having purchased prescription medicine online. About 29% of those in the survey said they were not sure how to safely purchase medicine online. Online pharmacies associated with your health insurance plan, or a local pharmacy, are generally safe to use. But medicines ordered through illegal pharmacies could have been made anywhere.
One large online pharmacy based in Canada says it handles over 300,000 orders per year and tells seniors that it sources its drugs from “partner pharmacies” in India, Singapore and Europe “which are under strict government regulations of their country.” But they are not U.S. regulated. The internet pharmacy says, “The only difference between these medications and ones you would receive from a pharmacy in the United States is the price.” And the price difference is dramatic: A bottle of 84 Atenolol 25 mg. pills is $80 in the U.S. and $11 online. A bottle of 84 Aricept 10 mg. pills in the U.S. is $1,090 and $64 online. A bottle of 90 Lipitor 10 mg. pills in the U.S. is $399 and $60 online. You just go onto their website, place an order, pay by credit card, and fax your prescriptions toll-free.
But the FDA warns that buying prescriptions from fraudulent online pharmacies can be dangerous, or even deadly: “Counterfeit medicines should be considered unsafe and ineffective. These medicines may be less effective or have unexpected side effects.” These sites may also sell your information to other illegal websites and internet scams. “The products they provide may be fake, expired, and otherwise unsafe” the FDA says. In fact, many online pharmacy scams are so sophisticated that even health care professionals can have a hard time detecting illegal sites at first glance.”
Here are some warning signs of a fake online pharmacy:
They allow you to buy drugs without a prescription
They offer discounts or cheap prices that seem too good to be true
They send unsolicited email or other spam offering cheap medicine
They ship prescription drugs worldwide
They are located outside of the U.S. and say your drugs will be shipped from a foreign country
They are not licensed in the U.S. and by the board of pharmacy in your state.
It is illegal to import drugs to the United States for personal use, but the FDA does not object to personal imports of up to a 3-months’ supply of drugs that are not FDA approved if the following are true: if the drug is for a serious condition for which effective treatment is not available in the U.S.; if there is no commercialization or promotion of the drug to U.S. residents; if the drug does not represent an unreasonable risk; and if the person importing the drug states in writing that it is for his or her own use, and provides contact information about the doctor providing treatment. Drug products must be listed with the FDA before they may be imported for commercial use in the U.S. The foreign manufacturer is required to register with the FDA, and to identify a U.S. Agent. For more information, go to: www.FDA.gov/BeSafeRx
- July 2016: If I think I’m not ready for a hospital discharge, can I appeal?
Yes. If you are on Medicare, and you think your hospital services are ending too soon, you can file an appeal and gain some extra time from Medicare. You can ask questions about or challenge the quality of the health care you have received, your access to appropriate health care, your discharge from the hospital, or your termination from skilled services.
For example, if you are in a hospital, and you are told that you are going to be discharged, but you feel too sick to leave, you can appeal the discharge to the Medicare-designated Quality Improvement Organization (QIO). Livanta is the company for Massachusetts.
When the hospital is going to discharge a person on Medicare, they will give the patient a notice in writing called “An Important Message from Medicare,” which will explain how to file an appeal with Livanta. Medicare regulations require you to request a review no later than midnight of the day of discharge. On weekdays, Livanta’s Medicare Helpline is open 8 am to 5 pm, on the weekends the line is open 11 am to 3 pm. If you get a recorded message, leave your phone number. Once you appeal, you can then stay in the hospital without having to pay (except for copays and deductibles) until at least noon of the day after Livanta notifies you, the hospital, and the doctor of its decision. If you appeal to Livanta, you cannot be discharged without your consent. By appealing, you delay your discharge by at least a day or two.
To start your appeal, call Livanta’s HelpLine at 1-866-815-5440. Livanta will call and fax the hospital to request your medical records. A physician reviewer at Livanta decides whether or not you are healthy enough to be discharged from the hospital. When the review is complete, you will receive a phone call and letter from Livanta with the decision.
You can also file an appeal if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage managed care plan. You have the same appeal rights whether you are in traditional Medicare, or in a managed care plan. If you would like to have someone else explain your case to Livanta, you can appoint a representative to speak on your behalf. There are no fees to have your discharge appeal reviewed by Livanta.
Note: Be sure to ask your hospital: “What is my admission status?” If you are on “observation status,” you have appeal rights through the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC). The hospital should give you an Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN), which describes your appeal rights through the MAC.
You also have the right to appeal to Livanta over a termination of “skilled services,” such as home health, skilled nursing, hospice, and outpatient rehabilitation. Livanta will review your situation, and decide if continued skilled services are medically necessary, based upon standards of care.
This entire process must be completed within one day after Livanta receives all medical records for a hospital appeal request filed in a timely way, or within 24 to 72 hours (depending on the type of review) from your first call. If you are not satisfied with Livanta’s decision, you can request a further appeal---but any skilled services you receive after the termination or discharge date may not be paid by Medicare. This means you would be completely responsible for those costs.
For a link to the Livanta Medicare appeal process go to: http://bfccqioarea1.com/appeals.html
For more information about Medicare and Medicaid services go to: https://www.cms.gov/medicare/medicare-general-information/bni/ffsednotices.html
- June 2016: I am turning 65, how should I get ready for Medicare?
Between 2011 and 2030, 10,000 people each day will turn 65. That’s 73 million Americans who will be exploring Medicare health insurance for the first time. Medicare has several primary parts: Part A: is often called hospital insurance because it pays for your care while you are in the hospital. Part A also pays some of the costs if you stay in a skilled nursing facility or if you get health care at home. Part A also covers hospice care for people who are terminally ill.
- Part B: covers doctor visits, plus screenings, lab tests, outpatient hospital care and home healthcare which is not covered by Part A.
Parts A & B are known as “Original” Medicare, or “fee for service” Medicare. With Original Medicare, you can go to any doctor, hospital, skilled nursing facility or outpatient treatment clinic that accepts Medicare assignment.
- Part C: refers to private health care plans known as Medicare Advantage plans, which have contracts with Medicare. When you join one, you get your Medicare-covered healthcare services, all the same things as Medicare Part A and B. But Part C plans also may cover services that Original Medicare does not, such as eye exams, a pair of eyeglasses, or a hearing exam once a year. The plans may charge different amounts than you would pay through Original Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans may also cover prescription drugs. If they do, you cannot buy a separate Medicare prescription drug plan.
- Part D: provides prescription drug coverage to everyone with Medicare. To get Part D, you must join a plan run by an insurance company or a private company approved by Medicare. Each plan will vary in cost and the drugs covered, and plans can change from year to year. A plan that covers your prescriptions this year might change and not cover them the next year. If you take medicines now, or if you do not but your health changes or you need more medicines, this insurance will help pay for prescriptions and protect you from very high costs.
When you approach 6 months before your 65th birthday, here are some ways to prepare:
- Research the ABCD’s of Medicare and find out if you are eligible: Most people are eligible for Medicare when they reach the age of 65, or younger if they have certain disabilities that prevent them from working. Go to the website: www.MyMedicareMatters.org
- Learn when you can enroll: There are several times when you can enroll in Medicare.
- The Initial Enrollment Period is the first time you can sign up for Medicare. You can join Medicare Parts A, B, C and D at different times: The 3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and the 3 months after your birthday.
- If you were working for an employer and waited to sign up for Medicare, there is a Special Enrollment Period for Parts A & B any time you are working, or within 8 months following the month your employer health plan coverage ends, or when your employment ends (whichever is first). There is also a Special Enrollment Period for Part C & D, which is 63 days after the loss of employer healthcare coverage. If you miss your Initial or Special Enrollment Period, you can sign up for Medicare Parts A & B during the General Enrollment Period which is between January 1 - March 31 of each year. If you need to buy Part A, you must also enroll in Part B at this time.
- Finally, there is an Open Enrollment Period from October 15 to December 7th, when anyone with Parts A & B can switch to a Part C, or vice versa, and anyone can join, drop or switch a Part D plan, or change Part C plans. To help sort all this out, call 1-800-AGE-INFO, and press “3” to be connected to the free SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) health counseling program in your area.
- May 2016: Are bladder problems a common concern for older people?
No. Bladder problems are not a common dinner table conversation, but urinary tract infection (UTI) is one common bladder problem that increases as people age. UTI is the second most common type of body infection. Every year, UTIs cause 8 million visits to health care providers.
Your urinary tract is your drainage system: it removes wastes and extra water. Your urinary tract includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra. All of us use our bladder many times each day, but many of us do not know how to recognize problems with our bladder function.
A bladder is very much like a balloon. It is a hollow organ that stores urine. Muscles in the floor of your pelvis help hold urine in your bladder, which is located in your lower abdomen. When you eat or drink, your body can’t use all parts of what you consume. Your body takes what it needs from foods and drinks, then gets rid of the left over wastes. Your kidneys help remove these wastes and extra water by filtering them out of your blood to make urine. The urine made in the kidneys travels through the ureters to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder until you are ready to urinate. When you urinate, the urine exits the body through the urethra.
On a typical day, adults pass about a quart and a half of urine through the bladder and out of the body. That is the equivalent of four 12 ounce cans of soda. But the exact amount of urine made each day is different for every person. The amount of urine you make depends on how much fluid and food you take in, how much you lose by sweat, how much you lose from physical activity and breathing, and what medicines you take.
Your bladder changes as you get older. It becomes tougher, and less stretchy, which means it can’t hold as much urine, which causes you to go to the bathroom more often. Your bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles also can weaken making it harder to empty your bladder fully. Weak pelvic floor muscles can also make it difficult to hold urine in the bladder and can cause urine to leak.
These very common bladder problems can impact your quality of life. When people have bladder problems, they may avoid family events or other social settings. These problems can also make it hard to get tasks done at home or at work. Some of the most common bladder problems include trouble urinating, loss of bladder control, leaking of urine, and frequent need to urinate. The most common type of bladder infection (cystitis) is a urinary tract infection (UTI). When bacteria (or germs) get into the bladder you can get an infection, which brings on strong and sudden urges to urinate or frequent urinating.
Bladder problems occur more often in women, but they are also quite common in men, who have a prostate gland that surrounds the opening of the bladder. Most tissues get smaller with aging, but the prostate gets bigger. If it gets too big, the prostate can restrict the flow of urine through the urethra making it difficult to start urinating, causing the urine stream to be slow, and preventing men from completely emptying the bladder.
UTIs can happen anywhere in the urinary system, but UTIs are most common in the bladder. Infections in the bladder can spread to your kidneys, or less commonly to your urethra.
Most UTIs are not serious. But some, like kidney infections, can lead to severe problems. Bacteria from a kidney infection can enter your bloodstream, causing septicemia, which can be very serious. Frequent kidney infections can lead to permanent kidney damage, including scars, poor function, and high blood pressure.
If you are unable to hold your urine, or are leaking urine; if you need to urinate eight or more times in 24 hours; if you are waking up many times at night to urinate; if you have sudden and urgent need to urinate or have a weak stream while urinating; if you have pain or burning before, during, or after urinating, or have cloudy or bloody urine; if you are passing only small amounts of urine after strong urges to urinate—these are all reasons to set up an appointment with your doctor.
- April 2016: Do older people need less sleep than younger people?
No. Older adults need about the same amount of sleep as younger adults: 7 to 9 hours each night. But seniors tend to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier than when they were younger. Older people also may nap more during the day, which can sometimes make it harder to fall asleep at night.
How many times have you heard someone say, “All I need is a good night’s sleep?” There’s no question that getting enough sleep helps you stay healthy and alert. But many older people don’t sleep well. You shouldn’t wake up every day feeling tired.
There are two kinds of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Our dreams occur mostly during REM sleep, and we have the deepest sleep during non-REM sleep. As you get older, you spend less time in deep sleep, which may explain why older people are often light sleepers.
If you are not getting enough sleep, you can feel irritable, have memory problems, feel depressed, have more falls or accidents, and feel very sleepy during the day. According to the National Institute on Aging, there are many reasons why older people may not get enough sleep at night. Feeling sick or being in pain can make it hard to sleep and some medicines can keep you awake.
The most common sleep problem in older adults is insomnia: having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. It make take you a long time to fall asleep, or you may wake up several times in the night, or wake up early and not be able to get back to sleep, or wake up feeling tired. Insomnia can last for days, months, or even years. Sometimes insomnia may be a sign of other problems. Or, it could be a side effect of a medication or an illness. Being unable to sleep can become a habit.
Here are some tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
- Take time to relax before bedtime each night. It’s ok to watch television, read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a warm bath.
- Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening, as it may keep you awake at night.
- Keep your bedroom dark, not too hot or too cold, and as quiet as possible. Have a comfortable mattress, a pillow you like, and enough blankets for the season.
- Don’t exercise within 3 hours of your bedtime, and try to get outside in the sunlight each day.
- Large meals close to bedtime can keep you awake, but a light snack in the evening can help you get a good night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, or hot chocolate) late in the day. Alcohol will not help you sleep, and drink fewer beverages in the evening.
- After turning off the light, give yourself about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you’re still awake and not drowsy, get out of bed. When you feel sleepy, go back to bed.
- Have a good lamp within reach that turns on easily, and put a glass of water next to the bed in case you wake up thirsty. Put nightlights in the bathroom and hall.
- Remove area rugs so you don’t trip on your way to the bathroom.
- Try counting slowly to 100, or relaxing your body by telling yourself that your toes feel light as air, and then work your way up the rest of the body saying the same words. If you feel tired for more than 2 or 3 weeks, you may have a sleep problem. Talk to your doctor about changes you can make to get a better night’s sleep. Some seniors who have trouble sleeping turn to over-the-counter sleep aids; but medicines are not a cure for insomnia. Developing healthy habits before bedtime may help you get a better night’s sleep.Another sleep disorder is sleep apnea---or short pauses in breathing while sleeping. These pauses can happen many times during the night. As a result, the quality of your sleep is poor, which makes you tired during the day. Sleep apnea is a leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness and can lead to other problems like high blood pressure or stroke. Most people who have sleep apnea don't know they have it because it only occurs during sleep. A family member might be the first to notice signs of sleep apnea.You may need to learn to sleep in a position that keeps your airways open, or sleep with two pillows to elevate your head. There are also medical devices that could help. But start off by asking your doctor how to determine if you have sleep apnea. Alzheimer’s disease often changes a person’s sleeping habits. Some people with Alzheimer’s sleep too much, others don’t sleep enough. Some people wander or yell at night. Caregivers may have sleepless nights too. If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, make sure the floor is clear of objects, lock up any medicines, install grab bars in the bathroom, and place a gate across the stairs.
- March 2016: Should older people worry about 'eating better'?
You are never too old to start “eating better.” No matter what your age, the food choices you make daily have an impact on how you look and feel.
Eating a balanced mix of foods has many health benefits. You can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer, and anemia. Even if you already have a chronic condition, eating well and being physically active can help you reduce high blood pressure, or manage diabetes. A proper mix of vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and water, can keep your muscles, bones, organs, and other parts of your body healthy as you get older.
Your doctor might suggest that you need extra vitamins, as well as the mineral calcium. It is usually better to get the nutrients you need from food, rather than a pill. Most older people do not need a complete multivitamin supplement. But if you don’t think you’re making the best food choices, look for a supplement sold as a complete vitamin and mineral supplement. It should be well balanced and contain 100% of most recommended vitamins and minerals. Read the label to make sure the dose is not too large. Avoid supplements with mega-doses. Too much of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful, and you might be paying for supplements you don’t need.
Here are some of the vitamin and mineral supplements recommended for people over 50 by the National Institute for Aging:
- Vitamin D: You can get vitamin D from fatty fish, fish liver oils, fortified milk and milk products, and fortified cereals. If you’re age 50–70, you need at least 600 international units (IU) of Vitamin D, but not more than 4,000 IU. If you’re over age 70, you need at least 800 IU, but not more than 4,000 IU.
- Vitamin B6: You can find B6 in fortified cereals, whole grains, organ meats like liver, and fortified soy-based meat substitutes. Men need 1.7 milligrams (mg) daily. Women need 1.5 mg daily.
- Vitamin B12: You can get vitamin B12 from fortified cereals, meat, fish, poultry, and milk. You need 2.4 micrograms (mcg) daily. Some people over age 50 have trouble absorbing the vitamin B12 found naturally in foods, so make sure you get enough of the supplement form of this vitamin, such as from fortified foods.
- Folate: You can get folate from dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach, beans and peas, fruit like oranges and orange juice, and folic acid from fortified flour and fortified cereals. You need 400 mcg daily. Folic acid is the form used to fortify grain products or add to dietary supplements.
Eating well also involves calories, which measure the energy you get from food. Your need for calories depends on your age, your gender, your height and weight, and how active you are. Eating more calories than your body needs for your activity level results in extra pounds, which can increase the risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems. If you become less physically active as you age, you will probably need fewer calories to stay at the same weight. Choosing mostly nutrient-dense foods--which have a lot of nutrients but fewer calories--can give you the nutrients you need, but keep down calorie intake.
If you are not getting enough calories or nutrients, you can add healthy snacks during the day, like raw vegetables with a low-fat dip or hummus, low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers, or a piece of fruit. Unsalted nuts or nut butters are nutrient-dense snacks that give you added protein. Try putting shredded low-fat cheese on your soup or popcorn, or sprinkling nuts or wheat germ on yogurt or cereal.
To learn more about how to shop for food that’s good for you, see: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/whats-your-plate/shopping-food-thats-good-you
If you eat too much of the wrong types of foods, you can put on too much weight. Obesity is a growing problem in the United States. But frailty is also a problem, and not just in thin people. As you get older, you can lose muscle strength, and add more fat tissue. Being overweight puts you more at risk for frailty and disability, but losing weight is not necessarily the answer. Sometimes when older people lose weight, they lose more muscle, which puts them at higher risk for falling, and having a broken bone after a fall. Exercise helps you keep muscle and bone. Also, for some people, a few extra pounds late in life can act as a safety net should they get a serious illness that limits how much they can eat for a while.
For more information about vitamins and minerals, visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/whats-your-plate/vitamins-minerals
Eating well promotes and helps to keep up your energy level. Your food choices also affect your digestion. For instance, not getting enough fiber or fluids may cause constipation. Eating more whole-grain foods with fiber, fruits and vegetables, or drinking more water may help with constipation. Drinking plenty of water every day may help with constipation. You can increase your intake of water by eating vegetables and fruits, which have a high moisture content.
Make One Change at a Time
Eating well isn't just a "diet" or "program" that's here today and gone tomorrow. It is part of a healthy lifestyle that you can adopt now and stay with in the years to come.
To eat healthier, you can begin by taking small steps, making one change at a time. For instance, you might:
- Take the salt shaker off your table. Decreasing your salt intake slowly will allow you to adjust.
- Switch to whole-grain bread, seafood, or more vegetables and fruits when you shop.
These changes may be easier than you think. They are possible even if you need help with shopping or cooking, or if you have a limited budget.
Checking With Your Doctor
If you have a specific medical condition, be sure to check with your doctor or registered dietitian about foods you should include or avoid.
You Can Start Today
Whatever your age, you can start making positive lifestyle changes today. Eating well can help you stay healthy and independent -- and look and feel good -- in the years to come.
- February 2016: Can I get financial help from Medicare for my prescription drug costs?
Yes. There is help for Medicare beneficiaries with Part D plans. Known as “Extra Help” this program can assist you in paying for prescription drugs if you meet certain income and resource limits.
Eligible Medicare beneficiaries with limited income can receive financial assistance with prescription drug costs — roughly $4,000 a year – associated with their Medicare drug plan. This program can reduce or eliminate the premium and deductible for Medicare prescription drug coverage.
You may qualify for Extra Help if your annual income and resources are below these 2015 limits:
- Single person with income less than $17,655 and resources less than $13,640 per year; or
- Married person living with a spouse and no other dependents with income less than $23,895, and resources less than $27,250 per year.
- NOTE: “Resources” means money in a checking or savings account; stocks; bonds; mutual funds; IRAs and second home(s). (Your primary residence, vehicle, household items, burial plot, irrevocable burial contracts, life insurance policies, and a maximum of $1,500 for burial expenses per person are NOT counted as resources.)
If you qualify for Extra Help and enroll in a Medicare drug plan, you can get help paying your monthly premium, deductible, coinsurance and copayments. You will have no coverage gap (the “donut hole”), or late enrollment penalty.
You automatically qualify for Extra Help if you are enrolled in MassHealth Standard, CommonHealth or a Medicare Savings Plan. You also qualify if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. If you automatically qualify, Medicare will send you a purple letter; you will not need to apply if you receive this letter. If you are not already in a Medicare drug plan, you will need to join one to use Extra Help. If you don’t join a plan, Medicare may enroll you in one, and will send you a yellow or green letter telling you when your drug coverage begins.
Different Medicare drug plans cover different drugs. Check your plan’s “formulary” (list of drugs) to see if the drugs you use are covered, what their price is, and if the pharmacy you prefer is part of the plan. If you don’t like the Medicare drug plan you are in, if you are in Extra Help, you can switch your Part D plan each month (or during the enrollment period of October 15th to December 7th).
In order to see what assistance you’ll receive from Extra Help, you’ll need to send to your Medicare plan some form of documentation indicating you qualify for Extra Help. In 2016, drug costs for most people who qualify for Extra Help are less than $2.95 for each generic, and less than $7.40 for each brand-name covered drug.
Note: If you have employer or union drug coverage, and you join a Medicare drug plan, you may lose your employer or union coverage even if you qualify for Extra Help. Call your employer’s benefit administrator before you decide to join a Medicare drug plan.
If you don’t automatically qualify for Extra Help, you can apply by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 or visiting their website at www.ssa.gov. You can also call your area SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) Counselor for assistance at 1-800-243-4636, then press option 3. Medicare gets information from your state or Social Security office that tells whether you qualify for Extra Help. If Medicare doesn’t have the right information, you may be paying the wrong amount for your prescription drug coverage. Give your Medicare drug plan proof that you quality for Extra Help—like your MassHealth card or copy of your award notice from Social Security. If you aren't enrolled in a Medicare drug plan and you already paid for prescriptions since you qualified for Extra Help, you may be able to get back part of what you paid. Keep your receipts, and call your plan.
Nearly all Part D plans now have preferred pharmacy networks. Filling your prescriptions with your plan’s preferred pharmacy provider will save you money, especially on mail-order prescriptions. Other ways to lower your drug costs include asking your doctor about generic drugs, and consider using mail-order pharmacies.
For more information on Extra Help, you can call the SHINE (Serving the Health Insurance Needs of Everyone) free health counseling program at 1-800-Age-Info (1-800-243-4636), and press option 3.
- January 2016: Is Watching TV or Reading Bad for My Eyes?
No. The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) says our eyes are meant to be used, and they can benefit from “exercise” like reading or watching television. But, if your eyes feel tired or “strained,” you can refresh them with rest.
To maintain healthy eyes, you need to be your own health advocate. You rarely will feel pain with eye disorders, but there are some vision changes to notice; these may come on very gradually over months:
- You find yourself sitting closer and closer to the TV;
- You need to get stronger eyeglasses more often;
- You find it harder to read the newspaper;
- You are bothered more by bright lights;
- You no longer see as well at night;
- You trip over curbs and steps, or bump into chairs and doors.
There are 4 major eye diseases that are common in older people:
- Glaucoma - a condition described as “tunnel vision,” like looking at the world through a straw. Glaucoma can cause a vague ache in your eyes, or watery eyes and halos around objects, and affect your vision in dim light, so-called “night blindness.” If diagnosed early, this disease can be controlled with special eye drops.
- Age-Related Macular Degeneration - the central area of your retina, known as the macula, which gives you sharp focus, begins to degenerate, leaving your “straight-ahead” vison blurry. This is the most common eye disease among older people.
- Diabetic Retinopathy - a complication often caused by early childhood diabetes. This disease can change the level of vision from day to day, resulting in vision that fades or sharpens irregularly.
- Cataracts: a clouding of the clear lens of the eye, causing blurred or dim vision. Cataracts are usually age-related. Some cataracts never require surgery, and do not progress to any significant level. But a defective lens can be removed; this is one of the simplest and most successful eye operations currently known that can restore good vision using special lenses after surgery.
There is a difference between having “low vision,” and being “legally blind.” Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, you find everyday tasks hard to do---like reading your mail, shopping, watching television, or cooking. Vision changes like these can be early warning signs of eye disease. Regular dilated eye exams should be part of your routine health care. A specialist in low vision is an optometrist or ophthalmologist who can prescribe visual devices.
There are many services for people who have been determined “legally blind”. When your vision with the best eyeglasses leaves you with 20/200 vision or less in your better eye, or your peripheral vision is 10 degrees or less —you will be diagnosed as legally blind. State law requires all eye care providers to register legally blind people with the MCB within 30 days. If you do not want to be contacted by the Commission, you can ask your eye care provider to put a ‘Do Not Contact” on your legally blind report.
Being legally blind does not mean you are totally blind, because most people keep a significant degree of useful vison. But there are dozens of services available if you become legally blind --- from “talking books” to assistance in leading an independent lifestyle, increased Social Security payments, state and federal income tax exemptions/deductions, and an auto excise tax exemption.
Many people who are blind are able to live alone, and remain capable of caring for themselves. There are “Independent Living Social Services” to help a legally blind person with home management skills, or a referral to elder home care services, as well as orientation and mobility supports. There are also services for people who are deaf-blind, and for those who are blind and have cognitive impairments.
For any eye concerns, ask your doctor for a referral to an eye care specialist, or call the Mass Commission for the Blind at 1-800-392-6450.
- December 2015: I haven't had a flu shot yet--is it too late in the season to get one?
No it is not too late. The flu season usually peaks in January or February, and can continue well into the spring. It takes about two weeks following a flu shot to produce a protective immune response, so even if you have not had a flu shot yet—talk to your doctor—because you should get a shot every year. The 2014-2015 flu season recorded the highest hospitalization rates among people 65 years of age and older in recent history.
The National Council on Aging recently released the results of a survey with the drug-maker Sanofi Pasteur to uncover what people over 65 know about the flu and flu prevention. The survey included more than 1,065 older Americans. It found that many seniors underestimate the seriousness of the flu and are largely unaware of their vaccine options. The flu survey found that:
- Only 8% of older adults surveyed are concerned about getting the flu.
- Only 13% are extremely confident in their knowledge of possible flu complications.
- 30% are unaware that someone with chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes would be at risk for complications from the flu.
- 62% got a flu shot in the past because their physician recommended it.
- 57% are unaware there is a flu shot specifically for older people.
About one-third of people 65 years of age and older are unaware that someone with chronic conditions would be at risk for complications from the flu. Yet influenza hits older adults the hardest. It can be severe and even life-threatening for older adults due to their weakened immune systems, and the flu is especially dangerous for people with chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Up to 80% of adults hospitalized from flu complications in past seasons had a chronic health condition.
Many seniors reported that they get vaccinated against the flu every year, and do so because their health care professionals tell them to get the flu shot.
- 71% of older adults reported getting an annual flu shot to help maintain their health.
- 62% got a flu shot in the past because their physician recommended it.
- 57% are more likely to get a flu shot if their doctor recommended it because of their age.
- 41% got the type of flu shot they did because it was recommended by their physician.
But the survey found that many seniors remain unaware of their flu vaccine options: 65% think most flu shots are appropriate for all age groups. But there is a flu vaccine made specifically for people age 65 and older. It improves the body’s production of antibodies against the flu. This higher-dose vaccine contains four times the antigen compared with the traditional, standard-dose vaccine. Antibodies help your immune system protect you against infection when exposed to the virus. The higher-dose shot for seniors is available through your doctor, your workplace clinic, local pharmacies, or other flu shot clinics.
Most people have minimal or no side effects after receiving the higher-dose flu vaccine. Your doctor can tell you if you are someone who should not get a flu shot. If you have an adverse reaction, you should contact your physician.
The flu survey concludes that further education and resources are needed when it comes to the flu:
- 92% of survey respondents are not concerned about getting the flu despite seniors’ high hospitalization rates.
- 88% of older adults take a proactive approach to their health.
- However, 82% are not extremely confident in their knowledge of the flu and where to get flu information.
Medicare Part B covers the full cost of one flu shot per flu season. You need to get a shot every year because the flu viruses usually change from season to season, and protection from the vaccine decreases over time.
One final fact: The flu shot does not contain live virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from the shot.
- November 2015: How can I make sure I get my full pension when I retire?
Workers who retire with a pension from their employer may never expect to get into a dispute over how much their pension is worth—but it can happen. To make sure your employer gives you all the money you are owed, you need to keep your own records.
The Pension Action Center at the University of Mass Boston Gerontology Institute works to improve retirees’ and workers’ standard of living in retirement through work with individual cases, as well as advocacy and analysis to reform of public policy. The Center recently published a paper called Protect Your Pension: Important Documents You Should Keep. Here are excerpts from that paper:
No matter what kind of pension or retirement plan your employer offers, you should keep certain documents indefinitely to ensure that you receive the retirement benefits you have earned. We recommend that you save the following information:
- The Summary Plan Descriptions for any and every plan in which you’ve participated
- Any and all benefit statements you have received from those plan(s)
- All other pension-related correspondence (such as letters saying you are vested.)
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers of employers where you earned a pension.
- Detailed records of your employment dates, pay status (hourly, salaried, union-covered), compensation (wages, retirement benefits), and breaks in service.
- Copies of union pension notices and union membership cards
- Tax returns (including W-2s, which show your wages, and 1099R forms, which would show your wages and any pension distributions). The Pension Action Center recommends that you keep your tax returns indefinitely—not just for 7 years—because resolving a pension problem in the future may depend on it. Many pension disputes hinge on whether an individual has been cashed out of a plan. If a pension plan is claiming that you were cashed out and therefore not entitled to benefits, you can verify this by reviewing your tax returns. Pension distributions will be shown on your tax return because they are considered taxable income. So, save your tax returns and avoid pension problems in the future.
- Notify your pension plan administrator of any address changes so that the plan has your most current contact information.
If you have a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan through your employer, look at your account statements: How frequently do you get account statements? Have you kept them? Do they come at regular intervals? Do the statements show your contributions going into the account on a regular basis? Does the statement show what the investments are? Are these the investments you authorized? Is there a significant drop in the account balance? Are there withdrawals from the account?
You should also understand the investments in your account: Does the statement show transactions you did not authorize, such as loans or withdrawals? Did you decide the account in which to invest? If so, do you get quarterly statements? Do you at least get annual statements? Is your account invested in employer stock? If so, what percentage is in employer stock? Are you allowed to change this? If you decided what account in which to invest, did you get information on the fees charged for each investment? Did you get a statement from your employer of any fees charged to individual accounts for administration of the plan such as legal or administrative fees?
- Do you know how your plan works? Did you receive a Summary Plan Description (SPD)?
- Do you have reasons to be worried about the plan? Is your employer having financial problems?
- Have your co-workers had difficulty getting information or distributions from the plan?
Making sure you are getting the pension payout you deserve is your responsibility. If you have concerns, The Pension Action Center can be reached at www.umb.edu/pensionaction or 888-425-6067. A fact sheet on understanding the specialized terms in retirement plans is available by clicking on the 1st announcement below the picture on this home page, or by clicking below.