Stay on your feet this fall

Medical alarm and protection company LifeCall made the catch phrase “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” part of our popular culture and the punchline of many jokes. But the reality is that falls by seniors that result in injury are nothing to laugh at. Many occupants of nursing homes spend their last days bedridden and immobile due to a series of events resulting from a fall in their home.  A broken hip or other serious injury in an aging body incapable of fully healing is the surest way to go from a life of enjoyable independence to total reliance on others to complete basic life activities.

“Child proofing” is a top priority for new parents intent on preventing injuries to their rambunctious and curious toddlers.  Half a century later, those children, now middle aged, may be required to return the favor, and “senior proof” their parents’ homes.

Here are a few tips to make the home safe and reduce the risk of falls:

  • Get rid of area rugs! According to The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, most falls occur on flat surfaces.
  • Install grab handles in the shower and additional railings on stairs.
  • Keep floors clear of clutter, extension cords, and unnecessary furniture.
  • Install higher wattage bulbs and/or more light fixtures and switches to ensure that seniors with diminished eyesight can navigate safely.
  • Place commonly used items within reach so as not to require stretching, balancing, or the use of a step ladder.

An online search for “assisting devices for the elderly” will provide a long list of safety items, convenience items, and services.  Since the risk of falling can be reduced, but not completely prevented, a medical alert system is mandatory.  Sadly, half of all seniors who spend hours on the floor after a fall die within six months, according to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The two main contributing factors in falls are failing eyesight and difficulty with balance which is often related to medications. Take these simple precautions to make your home a fall-free zone! For additional tips or assistance with any aspect of aging and health, give me a call at 516-584-2007.

Disaster Planning for Those with Special Needs

News reports filled with heartbreaking images of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Dorian on the Bahamas are still fresh in many of our minds. While Long Island is frequently spared from the damage of such severe storms, we still remain vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Planning ahead is essential, especially during hurricane season.

For most, an emergency plan involves stocking up on milk, water, bread and extra batteries for the flashlight. Depending on the severity of the situation, packing up a few necessities, the kids, and the pets and driving to a safer location might be required. This is a luxury reserved for the able-bodied, but what if you are elderly and/or disabled? What if you have medical equipment that requires electricity? How do you evacuate if the elevator becomes inoperable? Assuming you get to the ground floor, who transports you to safety? Will there be food for your service animal?

For those with special needs, an emergency kit will vary depending on the nature of a disability, but might include extra batteries for hearing aids, a collapsible manual wheel chair, a list of caregivers and phone numbers in a sealed plastic baggie, enough medications for a week, catheters, a portable oxygen tank, a few cans of dog food, information in braille, snacks compatible with dietary restrictions, etc.

A generator, for many, is merely a luxury which would keep the refrigerator cold and the TV on. For others who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, a generator is a necessity. There are government funded programs to address this. FEMA has a generator reimbursement program for this purpose. See: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/94768

There are also many federal, state, and local registries for the disabled which notify first responders and help them locate those who might not be able to evacuate on their own.

An excellent resource for the disabled can be found on FEMA’s website,

https://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/FRES/Office-of-Emergency-Management/Emergency-Prep-for-People-with-Special-Needs

Although the elderly and disabled are disproportionately endangered and affected by natural and man-made disasters, effective planning and knowledge of resources can help to avoid tragedies.

Need help with planning for those with special needs? Call me! (516) 584-2007.

 

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First…Even if You Never Fly

 

 

All of our lives we have been taught the importance of working hard and taking care of others, but it is equally important to make time to take care of ourselves. On an airplane, flight attendants remind us during the safety drill to put our own oxygen masks on first before assisting others with theirs. That is what self-care is all about. If we don’t put on our own oxygen mask first – figuratively speaking, of course – then we will not be able to take care of the others who depend on us.

And there are so many depending on us! If you are part of the so-called “sandwich generation,” you may be taking care of aging parents or other relatives while still raising young children or teens. For you, August is consumed by a to-do list. I encourage you to start thinking about annual school physicals, making sure that your school-aged children are up to date on their vaccines and check-ups. If you are the parent of a young adult heading off to college or beyond, I urge you to have your son or daughter complete a Health Care Proxy so that you are able to speak with doctors and make medical decisions on their behalf should the need arise. (See my earlier blog post on this topic.)

But most importantly, make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Don’t skip your own annual check-ups. Make sure you undergo the recommended age-based health screenings such as colonoscopy, mammography, osteoporosis screening, and others. Follow up on any red flags that are found during your physical. Get enough rest, drink enough fluids (but limit your alcohol intake), and try to get some exercise every day.

It isn’t always easy to do! Remember when summertime meant long, lazy days, when the pace seemed to slow down both at work and at home, when families scheduled vacations and spent weeks at the shore or in the mountains? These days it seems to be more difficult to take time for ourselves.

This month, Care Answered will be taking our own advice. Our office will be closed from August 12 until August 26. Our staff will be taking a breather to relax, re-set, and reconnect with family and friends. I hope you have an opportunity to do the same this summer, even if it is just for a short spell. Time away is a great opportunity to put your own oxygen mask on first to ensure that you are fully able to take care of all those you love.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

 

 

No Holiday from Good Health

Happy summer! I hope that you enjoyed all that June and early July had to offer…Father’s Day, graduations, Fourth of July celebrations and more! With summer in full swing, you may be thinking about vacation plans and relaxing with friends and family. But please don’t forget to take care of your health this summer.

While there’s never a good time to get sick, it turns out that there are times which are especially bad – namely, any weekend and the entire month of July.

Healthcare veterans all know about the so-called “July Effect.” This phenomenon begins every July 1 in the nation’s teaching hospitals, where men and women who have just graduated from medical school begin their very first weeks of field training. At the same time, more experienced trainees graduate and move on to even more specialized fellowship training programs or private practice.

With their lack of experience, newly minted doctors are more likely to run unnecessary or duplicative tests, may be unfamiliar with hospital pharmacies and prescribing standards, and are more prone to make medical errors. As a result, studies have shown that the death rate in teaching hospitals is significantly higher in July than other months.

A related phenomenon is the so-called “Weekend Effect.” This affects all healthcare settings, including non-teaching hospitals, and is observed all year long. It refers to the fact that many hospitals have fewer expert staff available on weekends and overnight, which coincides with the times when many medical emergencies occur. Numerous studies have shown that patients who visit emergency departments, undergo surgery or experience strokes or other significant episodes on a Saturday are likely to have worse outcomes than patients with similar medical conditions who seek care on other days of the week.

Unfortunately, accidents and illness do not take holidays. While enjoying the summer weather, remember to focus on health and safety to help avoid the need for emergency medical care. Here are a few basic tips to help you stay well:
• Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
• Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, especially if you are out during the warmest part of the day, usually between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• Exercise extra caution around pools and water. Never leave a child unattended around water, even for a few seconds.
• Do not leave children or pets inside parked vehicles, even for a few minutes. The interior of a parked car can become dangerously hot very quickly.

Of course, in a medical emergency, there is not much that you can do to avoid either the July Effect or the Weekend Effect. But there are steps you can take to safeguard your health.
• Avoid scheduling elective surgery or procedures in July. Instead, postpone elective procedures until the fall if it is safe for you to do so.
• Hire a health care advocate. If you must undergo medical treatment over the summer, having an advocate by your side may help ensure that you receive safe, appropriate care.
• If you are unable to hire an advocate, ask a trusted friend or family member to stay with you if you are hospitalized over the summer. Make sure this person writes down the names of all of your medications, tests and procedures and keeps track of the staff who are providing your care.

If you have any questions, give me a call! I’d be happy to talk to you about your healthcare needs or upcoming medical encounters. I can be reached at (516) 584-2007.

Is Technology in Healthcare Your Friend or Foe?

I recently attended a panel discussion centered on the patient experience. At this event, sponsored by New York City Health Business Leaders, leaders from the healthcare technology sector shared their perspectives on whether technological breakthroughs are helping to put the focus on patients and their experience with the healthcare system.

The truth is that sometimes, technology can be dehumanizing. The electronic medical record, which holds the promise to make your medical information shareable and available to your doctors wherever you happen to be receiving care, is a prime example. Where once a doctor’s visit was exclusively dependent on face-to-face communication, oftentimes today the doctor is focused on entering data into a computer during the appointment, reducing the amount of time spent engaging with you, the patient.

However, the panelists, who represented companies that are true healthcare innovators, were optimistic about the potential of technology to help make healthcare more personalized. Apps that can track your needs and “remember” information about you, provide you with education about your health and wellness, and enhance your access to healthcare providers and medications certainly help improve your experience as a patient.

Ultimately we all need to remember that healthcare is about people, not data and statistics, fancy diagnostic equipment or cool apps. The goal of everyone working as part of a healthcare team should be to ensure that each individual is living at their fullest potential, has access to preventive care when they are well and medical treatment when they are sick, and that care is affordable.

Whether technology furthers those goals or simply adds another layer of complexity to an already complex healthcare system remains to be seen. But like the panelists who shared their expertise recently, I’m optimistic that technology has tremendous potential to bring us closer to that ideal.

Patient Advocate Tip:

Whether you are a patient or a caregiver, I recommend that you regularly access your health portals. Ask your doctors if they have them. Many of the portals allow you to message your doctor and get a quick response.  It’s just another tool in accessing your best care (along with your trusty health notebook and copies of your past medical records of course). Questions? I’m here to help. Call me at (516) 584-2007 anytime!

When the Caregiver Needs Care, You Need an Advocate

 

 

Rick Pantuliano lives with his wife and two daughters just a short drive away from his parents’ Nassau County home. This proximity has allowed them to maintain a close relationship with his 77-year-old mother. Yet even though he is nearby, he still needed professional help when his mother’s dementia became significant enough that she required round-the-clock care.

“It got to a point where my mom needed to go on Medicaid,” Rick said. “Applying was a confusing process. I was pulling my hair out.”

His attorney recommended that he contact Nicole Christensen of Care Answered.

“She held my hand through the entire process,” he recalled. “She helped me understand every step of a very time consuming and complicated situation.”

Describing his mom, Raffaela, as a strong woman who was traditionally the caregiver for other family members, Rick related how she began to show signs of dementia about six years ago, six years after his father passed away from emphysema.

“She took care of her sick aunt, who died of cancer. Then she cared for her uncle who passed away of old age. She took care of her own mom and dad who lived with them for years. She took care of a lot of people,” Rick said. “Now it’s her turn, and there’s nobody there but me.”

Commuting from Long Island each day to his job in New Jersey keeps him away for long hours, adding to the stress of trying to ensure that his mom’s needs were being met. Nicole’s assistance helped Rick feel confident that he was arranging for the most appropriate care possible for his mom.

“I would still be at the starting line if it wasn’t for Nicole,” he noted. “She was my advocate. She walked me through the entire process and stepped in whenever I felt I was hitting a brick wall. She translated everything and made it understandable and easy.”

More importantly, Nicole’s intervention will ultimately save the family a significant amount of money. With her help, Rick was able to access funding to pay for live-in aides for his mom – services for which he had been paying out of pocket each month.

Rick worked with Nicole for about five months. She brought him to a point where he has a much better understanding of how the system works and feels empowered to handle the hurdles he faces. She reassured him recently by saying, “You got this,” when he was confronted with yet another form to fill out.

And he agrees. “I am basically comfortable with everything at this point,” he said.

His mom is living safely at home with 24-hour aides. Rick is thankful for the ongoing support of his wife and daughters, and for Nicole’s intervention when he needed her expertise most.

“I would highly recommend Nicole to anybody,” he said. “Unless you’re home 24 hours a day and don’t have a job and understand the ins and outs of the healthcare system, you absolutely need an advocate. Nicole is a wonderful person. She is very caring, very in tune to your needs, and she just does her job very, very well.”

 

 

Nicole Christensen on Project Independence WCWP.org with John Ryan & Ann Hirsch

Recently, Care Answered Director Nicole Christensen appeared on Project Independence, a radio program dedicated to the needs of older adults. Hear the shocking statistics she shared with hosts John Ryan and Ann Hirsch about preventable medical errors and how to be your own healthcare advocate.

Listen here:

https://northhempsteadny.gov/PI-2019-01-Radio-Shows

 

 

Helping a Loved One Manage Chronic Conditions

Six in ten adults live with at least one chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease, asthma, stroke and diabetes, while four in ten have multiple chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many adults are able to manage their own chronic medical conditions, as they age this can become a challenging juggling act, especially when there are multiple medical conditions being treated.

Knowing When to Help

Some people with chronic medical conditions develop tricks and habits to help them cope. These techniques may make it appear that they are managing fine, when in reality they are just barely getting by. A seemingly inconsequential issue – a minor cold, a missed trip to the pharmacy, or a skipped meal – may be all that it takes for disaster to strike. The trick for loved ones is to know when to step in with assistance.

older man looking into camera

Get Involved Early

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Offer to accompany your loved one to doctor’s appointments if your schedule permits. This will enable you to assess whether your loved one appears to understand the doctor’s instructions and is following his or her medication regimen and dietary recommendations.

Try to encourage frank discussions about your loved one’s condition. Encourage them to be honest about their symptoms, pain, and ability to function. Listen without judgment.

When More Help is Needed

If you feel that your loved one may need more help as their disease progresses, explore all of your options. The areas in which assistance may be needed include:

  • Personal care – bathing, dressing, washing hair. A family member may be able to assist with this, or a personal care aide can be brought in to help with these types of tasks.
  • Household chores – cooking, cleaning, laundry, minor household repairs. Again, a friend or family member may be able to visit the home to help with cooking and housework. Another option is for someone to deliver pre-cooked meals or for your loved one to travel to a senior center or local club for a hot meal. Often minor repairs can be outsourced to a local handyman; ask neighbors and friends for a trustworthy referral. If more help is needed, a personal care aide may be able to pitch in.
  • Medication compliance – pill boxes, alarms, phone calls and other technological devices can help remind your loved one about which medication to take and when to take it.

An Advocate can Help

When the juggling act of trying to coordinate the multiple aspects of a loved one’s care becomes overwhelming, it might be time to consider hiring an advocate. A healthcare advocate can help you determine what care options are available and put those services into place, accompany your loved one to doctor’s appointments, make sense of complex medical information and untangle medical bills and insurance documents, arrange for in-home care or nursing home placement as needed. To learn more about what an advocate can do, call us at 516-584-2007.

Heart Month Myths and Facts that Could Save Your Life

You can be in love with your sweetheart, suffer heartbreak, wear your heart on your sleeve, or hear a heartwarming story. Yet for all the references to the heart in language, poetry, music and popular culture, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about how the heart actually functions and nature of heart disease.

Sitting just off-center in your chest cavity, your heart is a fist-sized organ that beats roughly 70 times a minute, pumping oxygen-rich blood to vital organs throughout your body. If you think of the body as a building, your heart contains elements of both the plumbing and electrical systems. An electrical impulse stimulates the heart to beat in a normal, steady rhythm. Any disruption to that electrical system will result in an arrhythmia, which can range from a harmless mis-fire to a life-threatening inability to effectively pump.

With arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body, and veins transporting oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart, any interference with those vessels can result in serious problems. Just like a clogged pipe can spell disaster in your home, coronary artery blockages can lead to a heart attack because they prevent oxygenated blood from nourishing the heart itself, resulting in damage to the heart muscle.

With those basics out of the way, let’s see if you can separate fact from fiction when it comes to heart disease.

True or False? Men are more likely to have a heart attack than women.

It is true that men are more likely to have a heart attack than women. But there are variables. When the statistics are broken down by age and ethnicity as well as gender, it turns out that at every age, the rate of heart attacks in black women meets or exceeds that in white men. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the rate of heart attacks in all women increases dramatically, nearly doubling after the age of 65.

True or False? Breast cancer is the #1 killer of woman in America.

This is false. More women die of cardiovascular disease than breast cancer in America. More than a third of deaths of American women over the age of 20 are due to cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks kill 200,000 American women each year. This is five times as many as are killed by breast cancer, according to the American College of Cardiology.

True or False? Heart disease is genetic. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it.

The good news is that heart disease is considered preventable. In fact, there has been a 60% decline in heart disease from the 1950s to the beginning of the 21st century, according to the CDC. This is mostly due to changes in lifestyle that reduced risk factors, including a decline in cigarette smoking, greater control over high blood pressure, dietary changes emphasizing low fat foods, and improved diagnosis and treatment options.

What Does this Mean for You?

Despite the advances, heart disease remains a serious health threat for both men and women. It is important to have regular physical exams and to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. Be sure that you manage chronic conditions like diabetes that could contribute to heart disease. And adjust your lifestyle to make healthier choices: don’t smoke, avoid excessive alcohol, get some exercise every day, and stay away from fatty, fried foods. Adjusting your lifestyle is often easier said than done but YOU are worth it.

For additional tips, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm.