September 26, 2023
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
DON’T OVERLOOK THE IMPORTANCE OF NUTRITION
Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for the well-being of older adults. As we age, our nutritional requirements change, so it’s essential to adjust our eating habits to ensure optimal physical and mental health. One of the most critical aspects is maintaining muscle and bone health, which is affected by natural aging processes. Consuming foods rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin D can help reduce the loss of muscle mass and bone density.
In addition, nutrition plays a vital role in cognitive function and mental well-being. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods, good fats, and essential vitamins can nourish the brain and help protect it against oxidative stress. This is particularly important as older adults are more prone to cognitive decline. Nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids can also potentially reduce symptoms of depression, highlighting the direct link between diet and emotional well-being.
Proper nutrition is essential in managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which are prevalent among older adults. A balanced diet can directly impact medication effectiveness, energy levels, and the ability to engage in other health-promoting activities such as exercise. Therefore, paying close attention to nutrition is a cornerstone of a comprehensive approach to promoting the well-being of older adults, supporting both physical and mental health.
To learn more about sound nutritional tips, please refer to this chart.
September 22, 2023
This is a recent article from KFF Health News.
When You Think About Your Health, Don’t Forget Your Eyes
I vividly remember that late Friday afternoon when my eye pressure spiked and I staggered on foot to my ophthalmologist’s office as the rapidly thickening fog in my field of vision shrouded passing cars and traffic lights.
The office was already closed, but the whole eye care team was there waiting for me. One of them pricked my eyeballs with a sharp instrument, allowing the ocular fluid that had built up to drain. That relieved the pressure and restored my vision.
But it was the fourth vision-impairing pressure spike in nine days, and they feared it would happen again — heading into a weekend. So off I went to the emergency room, where I spent the night hooked up to an intravenous tube that delivered a powerful anti-swelling agent.
Later, when I told this story to friends and colleagues, some of them didn’t understand the importance of eye pressure, or even what it was. “I didn’t know they could measure blood pressure in your eyes,” one of them told me.
Most people consider their vision to be vitally important, yet many lack an understanding of some of the most serious eye diseases. A 2016 study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, based on an online national poll, showed that nearly half of respondents feared losing their eyesight more than their memory, speech, hearing, or limbs. Yet many “were unaware of important eye diseases,” it found.
A study released this month, conducted by Wakefield Research for the nonprofit Prevent Blindness and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, showed that one-quarter of adults deemed at risk for diseases of the retina, such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, had delayed seeking care for vision problems.
“There is significantly less of an emphasis placed on eye health than there is on general health,” says Rohit Varma, founding director of the Southern California Eye Institute at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
Because eye diseases can be painless and progress slowly, Varma says, “people get used to it, and as they age, they begin to feel, ‘Oh, this is a normal part of aging and it’s OK.’” If people felt severe pain, he says, they would go get care.
For many people, though, it’s not easy to get an eye exam or eye treatment. Millions are uninsured, others can’t afford their share of the cost, and many live in communities where eye doctors are scarce.
“Just because people know they need the care doesn’t necessarily mean they can afford it or that they have the access to it,” says Jeff Todd, CEO and president of Prevent Blindness.
Another challenge, reflecting the divide between eye care and general health care, is that medical insurance, except for children, often covers only eye care aimed at diagnosing or treating diseases. More health plans are covering routine eye exams these days, but that generally does not include the type of test used to determine eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions — or the cost of the lenses. You may need separate vision insurance for that. Ask your health plan what’s covered.
Since being diagnosed with glaucoma 15 years ago, I’ve had more pressure checks, eye exams, eyedrops, and laser surgeries than I can remember. I should know not to take my eyesight for granted. And yet, when my peepers were filling with that vision-threatening fog last March, I felt oddly sanguine.
It turned out that those serial pressure spikes were triggered by an adverse reaction to steroid-based eyedrops prescribed to me following cataract surgery. My ophthalmologist told me later that I had come “within hours” of losing my eyesight.
I hope my brush with blindness can help inspire people to be more conscious of their eyes.
Eyeglasses or contact lenses can make a huge difference in one’s quality of life by correcting refractive errors, which affect 150 million Americans. But don’t ignore the risk of far more serious eye conditions that can sneak up on you. They are often manageable if caught early enough.
Glaucoma, which affects about 3 million people in the U.S., attacks peripheral vision first and can cause irreversible damage to the optic nerve. It runs in families and is five times as prevalent among African Americans as in the general population.
Nearly 10 million in this country have diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes in which blood vessels in the retina are damaged. And some 20 million people age 40 and up have macular degeneration, a disease of the retina associated with aging that diminishes central vision over time.
The formation of cataracts, which cause cloudiness in the eye’s natural lens, is very common as people age: Half of people 75 and older have them. Cataracts can cause blindness, but they are eminently treatable with surgery.
If you are over 40 and haven’t had a comprehensive eye exam in a while, or ever, put that on your to-do list. And get an exam at a younger age if you have diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, or if you are African American or part of another racial or ethnic group at high risk for certain eye diseases.
And don’t forget children. Multiple eye conditions can affect kids. Refractive errors, treatable with corrective lenses, can cause impairment later in life if they are not addressed early enough.
Healthful lifestyle choices also benefit your eyes. “Anything that helps your general health helps your vision,” says Andrew Iwach, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and executive director of the Glaucoma Center of San Francisco.
Minimize stress, get regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet. Also, quit smoking. It increases the risk of major eye diseases.
And consider adopting habits that protect your eyes from injury: Wear sunglasses when you go outside, take regular breaks from your computer screen and cellphone, and wear goggles when working around the house or playing sports.
The Prevent Blindness website offers information on virtually everything related to eye health, including insurance. Other good sources include the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s “EyeSmart” site and the National Eye Institute.
So read up and share what you’ve learned.
“When you get together for the holidays,” says Iwach, “if you aren’t sure what to talk about, talk about your eyes.”KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.
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September 13, 2023
Photo by Philippe Leone on Unsplash
FALL PREVENTION: EMPOWERING OLDER ADULTS TO TAKE CONTROL OF THEIR SAFETY
Falls can happen in the blink of an eye, but their consequences can be long-lasting. For older adults, the statistics are startling: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every four people aged 65 and older falls each year. These falls can lead to everything from minor scrapes to life-altering fractures. The silver lining? Falls are largely preventable, and you have the power to reduce your risk significantly. Here’s how:
Harness the Power of Physical Fitness
Physical fitness isn’t just about looking good or being able to run a marathon. As we age, staying active becomes a vital part of maintaining our independence. Exercise, in its many forms, is the cornerstone of fall prevention. Activities like walking, swimming, or even ballroom dancing can improve muscle strength and enhance flexibility. Aim for a manageable goal—say, 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week—to keep your body in optimum condition.
Why stop there? Incorporate balance and strength training exercises, such as tai chi or yoga, into your weekly routine. These aren’t just trendy fitness fads; they’re scientifically proven to improve your balance and muscle strength, empowering you to navigate the world more securely.
Transform Your Home into a Safety Haven
We often consider our homes as our safe spaces, but hidden hazards lurk in unexpected places. Start by decluttering your living area. Loose rugs, dangling cords, or even that magazine you left on the coffee table can become a tripping hazard.
But don’t just stop at tidying up. Make your home smarter and safer by installing handrails along both sides of any staircases and grab bars in key areas of your bathroom. Consider motion-activated lighting to illuminate your path when you wake up in the middle of the night.
Health Check-ups: An Investment in Your Future
While we often focus on conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, we sometimes overlook the essentials: our eyes and ears. Regular eye and hearing exams are non-negotiable. Even small changes in your vision or hearing can throw off your balance and increase your risk of falling.
A comprehensive medication review is equally important. Consult with your healthcare provider about any side effects, especially those that cause drowsiness or dizziness. Sometimes, adjusting your medication regimen can significantly reduce your fall risk.
Mindfulness in Everyday Choices
Believe it or not, simple lifestyle choices can make a world of difference. Limiting alcohol and ensuring adequate sleep aren’t just good health practices; they are vital strategies for fall prevention. Both alcohol and poor sleep can impair your balance and reflexes, putting you at greater risk.
Embrace Technology for Peace of Mind
Living alone? An emergency response system can be your silent guardian. These devices, often worn as a necklace or bracelet, can alert emergency services at the push of a button. They’re a worthy investment for added peace of mind.
Take the Reins of Your Safety
Empowering yourself to prevent falls is all about taking a holistic approach. From engaging in regular physical activity and transforming your home into a safety haven, to keeping up with healthcare check-ups and making smart lifestyle choices, each step you take contributes to your overall safety and well-being. It’s never too late to start safeguarding your future. After all, age is just a number, but safety is timeless.
This article was created with assistance from ChatGPT 4
August 4, 2023
BEWARE: MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT IS ON THE RISE
This is a recent article from KFF Health News.
Be Aware: Someone Could Steal Your Medical Records and Bill You for Their Care
After HCA Healthcare announced this month that the personal identification data of roughly 11 million HCA patients in 20 states had been exposed in a breach, people may be justifiably concerned that their own medical data and identities could be stolen.
Consumers should realize that such “medical identity” fraud can happen in several ways, from a large-scale breach to individual theft of someone’s data.
Just ask Evelyn Miller. The first sign something was amiss was a text Miller received from an Emory University Hospital emergency department informing her that her wait time to be seen was 30 minutes to 1 hour. That’s weird, she thought. She no longer lives in Atlanta and hadn’t used that hospital system in years. Then she got a second text, similar to the first. Must be spam, she thought.
When she got a call the next day from an Emory staffer named Michael to discuss the diagnostic results from her ER visit, she knew something was definitely wrong. “It amazed me someone could get registered with another person’s name and no ID was checked or anything,” Miller said.
And while the name and date of birth the staffer had on record for her were correct, Miller’s address was not. She now lives in Blairsville, Georgia, a few hours north of Atlanta. Michael said he’d correct the problem. The next week, she got a bill from Emory for more than $3,600.
After an unsatisfactory conversation with someone in the hospital’s billing department, Miller sent a letter to the hospital’s privacy officer. Miller recalled writing: “I think there’s something going on, that someone is using my information, and the visit and the charges appear to be fraudulent.”
When contacted, Emory Healthcare spokesperson Janet Christenbury declined to comment on Miller’s case specifically but did say, “We take these matters seriously and work with our teams to ensure our processes and procedures are followed.”
Miller, 63, a retired health care administrator, was savvier than many about what might have occurred. The average person may have no idea a problem like this can arise until long after a theft occurs.
“The majority of victims find out when they’re trying to move on with their lives, if bills have gone to collections,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides free assistance to victims of identity theft. Someone may apply for a mortgage, for example, and learn their credit is ruined due to unpaid medical bills for care they didn’t receive.
It’s a double whammy. Unlike other forms of identity fraud, medical identity thieves may steal not only their victims’ personal data — Social Security number, date of birth, address — but also information about their medical records and care, potentially putting their health at risk.
“Sometimes people can’t get their prescriptions, if their records are mixed with someone else’s,” Velasquez said. “Maybe you won’t be able to get treatment that you need. There are serious implications.”
A theft may affect just one person whose insurance card gets stolen or “borrowed” to pay for health care, or it may result from a data breach, as HCA Healthcare experienced. Such large-scale breaches are more likely to be used in financial fraud schemes than to get medical care, experts say.
Compared with other types of identity fraud, medical identity theft is rare. In 2022, for example, the Federal Trade Commission received 27,821 reports of medical identity theft, while reports for identity theft related to new credit card accounts totaled more than 400,000.
Medical identity theft also presents itself in different ways.
One Thief, One Victim
If someone gets ahold of another person’s health insurance number and driver’s license or other ID, they may be able to use it to receive medical services in someone else’s name.
Busy hospital emergency departments may make an attractive target for fraudsters. Procedures typically require patients to present insurance and photo identification information at check-in, said Rade Vukmir, an emergency physician in Pittsburgh and a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians. But these facilities also don’t want to put people off from getting care, and people who are uninsured or disadvantaged might not have those documents.
“We want to treat that population,” he said. “We’re America’s safety net. We always provide care.”
Medical identity theft can happen if someone loses a wallet with their insurance card in it, for example, or a piece of mail from their insurer goes astray. But it doesn’t occur only among strangers. The victim often knows the thief and may even be in on the “friendly fraud,” as it’s called. According to one study, nearly half of people who failed to report medical identity theft said it was because they knew the thief.
For example, one person might have a higher copayment for emergency department visits, Vukmir said, so they let a family member, such as a cousin or a sibling, use their insurance card to get medical care.
“Usually, in those cases, it wasn’t an emergency,” said Vukmir.
Gangs of Thieves, Millions of Victims
In 2022, 707 health care data breaches affected nearly 52 million patients, according to an analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights by the HIPAA Journal, which tracks compliance with health care data privacy law. Under federal law, health care organizations must notify individuals when their medical data has been exposed through a breach.
The largest health care data breach to date occurred in 2015, when nearly 80 million Anthem records were exposed. Though the 2022 figures for incidents among all health plans were slightly lower than the year before, there has been a clear upward trend in recent years in breaches, which are typically caused by hacking or IT incidents.
The American Hospital Association is “very concerned” about foreign-based hacking groups from countries like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, said John Riggi, the national adviser for cybersecurity and risk for the American Hospital Association.
Riggi said the personal information in people’s medical records may be sold in bulk to criminals who create phony providers to submit fraudulent claims on a mass scale that can result in hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid, Medicare, or other insurance fraud. Or they may use the information to create fake identities to apply for loans, mortgages, or credit cards.
“They flee with the money, and the individual is left to deal with it,” Riggi said.
Health plans could take lessons from the financial services industry to detect red flags, Riggi said. Financial institutions have sophisticated algorithms to identify purchasing and other patterns that are out of the ordinary, Riggi said. In health care, such mechanisms could be used to flag claims in which a provider is located more than 1,000 miles from where a patient lives, for example, or sees a patient for conditions that don’t jibe with their age or health status.
AHIP, an insurance industry trade group, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
What Consumers Can Do
Consumers should generally monitor the notices and bills they receive from insurers and providers and contact them immediately about anything suspicious.
In Miller’s case, it’s unclear whether her problem was due to an administrative snafu, such as another patient with the same name, or medical identity theft. But within a month of her initial call, the hospital removed the charges and assured her that her medical record had been disentangled from the other patient’s.
Other steps to take:
- Go to the FTC’s identity theft site to learn about next steps and file an identity theft report, if appropriate.
- If someone has used your name, contact every provider who may have been involved and ask for a copy of your medical records, then report any errors to your medical providers.
- Notify your health plan’s fraud department and send a copy of the FTC identity theft report.
- File free fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting agencies and get free credit reports from them. Consider filing a police report. If your health plan offers free credit or identity theft monitoring following a breach, take advantage of it.
“It’s best to proceed as if your data has been compromised and will be for sale,” said Velasquez, whose organization offers free assistance in recovering from identity theft. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.