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Healthy Eating Tips for the Holiday Season

The holidays are here! This time of year is always a busy time for us seniors – whether it be traveling to spend time with loved ones or shopping for grandchildren.

While it may be tempting to try all the cookies at the holiday party this year, remember that it is important to remain committed to your health all year long! Below are some tips to help you maintain your healthy diet this holiday season.

Know Your Food Groups

1200px-USDA_MyPlate_green.svgWe all recall the food pyramid, but did you know there is an easier way to determine what food groups to eat daily? The United States Department of Agriculture created “MyPlate,” which offers ideas and tips to help you create a healthier eating style that meets your needs and improves your health. MyPlate illustrates the five food groups and how much room each should take up on your plate. Simple enough right? Additionally, ChooseMyPlate.gov has specific information about each food group and offers personalized eating plans. Be sure to check it out!

Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods

One of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet is to eat foods that are filled with nutrients, and it is equally as important to take in a variety of nutrients. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, foods that are brightly colored are typically richer in nutrients. Specifically, when choosing which fruits and vegetables to eat, vibrant colors are your best bet! Whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein (chicken, seafood, and beans) are also great ways to diversify your nutrient intake. By eating a meal filled with nutrients before attending that cookie swap you’ve been invited to, you won’t be as tempted to eat all of the unhealthy snacks.

Read the Labels

Food labels are helpful tools to determine the nutritional value of a certain food, though they can be a bit confusing. To make it easier to read these labels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has included a how to guide on their website. The FDA recommends you limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates, so you should pay close attention to that section of a nutrition label. And be sure to talk to your doctor about all of this!

Stay Hydrated

Apple cider and hot chocolate may be perfect for the holiday season, but these beverages aren’t nearly as healthy as water! Be sure to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated. I’ve found carrying around a reusable water bottle is helpful to remind me to drink more water.

How do you plan to eat healthy this holiday season? Tell us in the comments section below!



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Tell Your Senators: Repeal IPAB to Protect Access to Medicare

There are only a few weeks left in December, which means Congress is working quickly to pass a number of resolutions before year’s end. But before they can return home for the holidays, they must protect seniors and vote to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).

If you’re a new reader, you might not know that your access to quality health care is currently under threat by IPAB. IPAB was established by the Affordable Care Act to decrease Medicare spending if growth exceeds a certain target. If this happens, a board of 15 unelected officials are given a broad-range of authority to make decisions about mandatory cuts to Medicare spending. Such arbitrary cuts to Medicare are unacceptable, especially considering that these bureaucrats are unelected and in no way accountable to voters.

Medicare is extremely important to seniors like us who depend on the program for access to the medicine and health care services we need. But IPAB threatens to come between us and our doctors by making potentially drastic cuts to our Medicare. In fact, IPAB isn’t even required to maintain quality health care when making these cuts! Now is the time to repeal IPAB and ensure that seniors have unfettered access to our doctors and coverage.

Time is running out! The House of Representatives has already acted to protect our Medicare and we urge those in the Senate to follow suit. Seniors must join together to stand up for Medicare. Let’s speak out and tell our Senators to repeal IPAB immediately before it harms seniors like us. To write your Senators, click here.



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National Diabetes Month

November is National Diabetes Month and to the surprise of most people, diabetes affects some 12 million American seniors – an astounding 25.2 percent of the population over age 65. Given this high percentage and the fact that over 7 million adults have undiagnosed diabetes, it is important to have a clear understanding of the disease and discuss various ways to properly manage it.

Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin, so they must take insulin regularly in order to survive. According to the CDC, Type 1 diabetes accounts for only 5-10% of all diabetes diagnoses. Children and young adults are most likely to be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, but it’s important to note that people of all ages can be diagnosed. On the other hand, Type 2 diabetics do produce insulin. Thankfully, some Type 2 diabetics may be able to manage their condition with a healthy diet and a proper exercise regimen, however, medications and insulin may also be required. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes diagnoses. Although Type 2 diabetes can occur in all ages, it is the type that most often affects middle-aged and elderly populations.

Treatment

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin frequently to make up for their lack of insulin. Unfortunately, this is the only known treatment at this time. Still, it is important for Type 1 diabetics to regularly exercise and maintain a healthy diet in order to avoid extreme spikes or crashes in blood sugar levels. Additionally, it is recommended to always keep a carbohydrate snack nearby to quickly raise glucose levels in the event of a crash.

Some Type 2 diabetics may be able to effectively manage their diabetes with a healthy diet and exercise. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week coupled with a well-balanced diet that includes only a moderate sugar intake. Good examples of exercise include taking long walks, biking, and doing simple yardwork. Some Type 2 diabetics may require insulin or other medications to safely manage their condition. Regardless, a healthy diet and exercise are still great additions to any treatment plan.

If you have diabetes, be sure to talk to your doctor about the right treatment for you, as recommendations will vary based on your needs.

What does Medicare Cover?

Medicare Part B generally covers the services that affect people who have diabetes and preventative services for people who are at risk. Home blood sugar (glucose) monitors and supplies used with equipment, including blood sugar test strips and lancet devices may be covered. If you are at risk for diabetes, you may be eligible for up to two diabetes screenings each year. Additionally, Part B also covers diabetes self-management training (DSMT) services for people recently diagnosed.

Medicare Part D covers diabetes supplies used for administering insulin, though there may be some out-of-pocket costs. These supplies may include: syringes, needles, alcohol swabs, gauze, and inhaled insulin devices. For more information about what aspects of diabetic care are covered by Medicare, be sure to check out Medicare.gov.



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Assess Your Health This Holiday Season

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Medicare open enrollment has arrived and so has the holiday season! For those of us who are 65 and older, this means it’s time to examine our current coverage and determine if it still meets our individual needs.

Each year, Medicare users are given the opportunity to review and alter their Medicare Part D plan from October 15th to December 7th. Today, we’re sharing a few tips to make the process of assessing your coverage much easier. Feel free to use these tips over the Thanksgiving holiday period to discuss Medicare options with your family and loved ones. After all, Thanksgiving is National Family History Day.

Check Your Mail

You should have received an “annual notice of change” or “evidence of benefits” letter from your insurer. This letter is important to review, because it highlights the cost and benefit changes in store for 2018.

Know Your Medications

The medications you need may vary each year, so it’s essential to have a detailed list of all your current medications before you assess your Part D coverage. Be sure to check to make sure your current medications are covered, as well as any new medications you might now be prescribed.

Review All Costs

Be sure to calculate other costs associated with health care coverage besides monthly premiums, like out-of-pocket cost sharing such as copays or coinsurance. Study these factors to determine if they fit within your budget.

Check Approved Pharmacies

Make sure your preferred pharmacy is included in your Part D coverage by checking if your pharmacy is preferred under your plan’s network. This can help lower out-of-pocket costs.

Assess Plan Ratings

Did you know Part D plans are assessed by a five-star rating system? This system shows how they are performing on specific features, such as customer service and patient safety. Don’t forget to check how your plan compares to others.

Look for Other Options

After you assess your plan, examine other options to see if there is a better fit for your individual needs. Use this Medicare Plan Finder to explore your options and compare plans here. Additionally, you can always call 1-800-Medicare 24/7, visit www.medicare.gov or call your Area Agency on Aging, which offers appointments with a Medicare information expert (SHIIP). If you need help finding contact information on your Area Agency, or if you need information on any service programs or resources, feel free to call the national Eldercare Information number at 800-677-1116.



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Honoring Those Who Served

November 11th is a historic day throughout the world because it marks the official end of World War I, but in the United States, it takes on even more significance because it is the day we officially honor those who have served our country.

How did Veterans Day come about?

On November 11, 1918, an armistice was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in WWI. Twenty years later, Armistice Day was declared a Federal holiday. After the end of WWII, various communities began celebrating Veterans Day on November 11 and, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, signed legislation officially changing the name to Veterans Day and designating it as a time to honor those who have served in our nation’s armed forces.

To those of you who are veterans, we say a heartfelt thanks for the sacrifices you and your family have made and for all that you have done to protect our freedom and safety.

To everyone else, we hope you remember to reach out to mark this holiday by extending thanks to the more than 20 million living veterans in the United States.

It is only when we carry on the traditions in history of our country that we preserve them. This is one that we all have a duty to maintain. I hope you will have a chance to see a parade, hear a concert, watch a patriotic movie, or say thanks to the men and women who have given so much.

We would love to hear about who you are honoring today, so feel free to comment on our most recent Facebook post. As always, we thank you for being a part of our community, and we encourage you take a few moments to celebrate those who have demonstrated immense sacrifice and a love of our country.



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Talk About Your Medicines Month

October is quite an important month for seniors. Not only does this month mark the beginning of open enrollment, but it also serves as an annual observance to call attention to the need to improve communication about medications. In today’s post, we are celebrating Talk About Your Medicines Month!

The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) created Talk About Your Medicines Month in 1986 to bring attention to the value that better medicine communication can play in promoting better medicine use AND better health outcomes. Here at Seniors Speak Out, we agree! Here are several tips for how you can improve communication with your doctor and pharmacists about your medications.

At the Doctor’s Office:

Before your doctor writes you a new prescription, be sure to discuss your current medical conditions and what medications you are currently prescribed. In order to ensure there are no adverse reactions with your current medications, your doctor will need to know this critical information. Additionally, be sure to alert your doctor if you have any allergies.

As your doctor writes you a prescription, get your pen and paper ready! You might need to take notes as he answers some of your questions, which might include:

  • What time of day should I take this medication?
  • Is there a generic version of this medication? (This might help keep the out-of-pocket costs down, as generic medication is often cheaper than brand name medications)
  • Are there any foods or drinks I should avoid while taking this medication?
  • When will the medication begin working?
  • Are there any side effects I should be aware of?

At the Pharmacist:

Did you know a survey of 5,200 licensed pharmacists in the U.S. found that less than half their working time was spent filling prescriptions? Six out of 10 pharmacists provide medication therapy management to help patients like us understand our medicines.

  • Does this medication require refills? If so, how often do I need to do so?
  • How should I store this medication?
  • What happens if I miss a dose?

Of course, feel free to ask your doctor or pharmacist any additional questions you might have. By communicating with these providers frequently, you can ensure every medication fits your individual needs. Also, remember that these medicines were prescribed just for you, and it is dangerous to share prescription medicines with others.

It is also important after finishing a medication to ensure it is disposed of properly. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends utilizing medicine take-back programs to ensure others don’t accidentally take or misuse the unneeded medicine. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration regularly hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events where collection sites are set up in communities nationwide for safe disposal. Seniors and caregivers can also contact their local waste management authorities to learn about other disposal options.



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It’s Time to Enroll in Medicare

If you’re an individual eligible for Medicare, this is a very important time of year. Open enrollment for Medicare starts on October 15 and continues through December 7. Open enrollment is the time when individuals turning 65 can enroll in Medicare coverage for the first time. It’s also the one time each year in which existing beneficiaries can shop for new coverage and change plans.

It’s important that you take advantage of this annual opportunity to look at your coverage and make sure it’s meeting your current needs. Your health, treatments and prescription medications can change a lot in a year, so reviewing your costs and coverage can help you determine if you want to stay with your current plan or choose a new plan from multiple available options.

This year, assessing your plan needs is more important than ever since the average basic premium for Part D prescription drug coverage is expected to decrease for 2018!

We’re committed to ensuring you have the resources you need to make the best choices for you or a family member. Basic information and videos on Medicare and Part D are available on our website. We also have a handy enrollment fact sheet in English and in Spanish. Additionally, you can find out if you are eligible for payment assistance through the Extra Help program and how to enroll (Spanish).

Seniors Speak Out also has additional resources for seniors and will provide information throughout open enrollment on signing up for coverage. Be sure to check back often to stay in the know.

Happy open enrollment!!

MedicareToday_placemat



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The Different Parts of Medicare

Are you turning 65 this year? If you were born in 1952, this is an important year for you. Why? Because at age 65, you can now enroll in Medicare!

As I’m sure you already know, Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people age 65 and older. Medicare provides plenty of benefits, so you should be sure to enroll as soon as you are eligible. Don’t forget open enrollment is just around the corner and begins on October 15.

Before then, you might want to learn more about Medicare and what it can offer. For starters, there are four different parts of Medicare: Parts A, B, C and D. Check out our new infographic for information on these health care coverage options!

new-piktochart_22778752



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Seniors and Oral Hygiene: What You Need to Know

peter-kasprzyk-110926We rely on our pearly whites every day, but did you know one of the top health challenges seniors face is maintaining our oral hygiene? As we age, our teeth and gums become more susceptible to problems that might not have previously surfaced. Luckily, there are steps we can take to protect our teeth for years to come.

Some common oral hygiene problems among seniors are darkened teeth, difficulty chewing, root decay, dry mouth, and gum disease. To prevent these issues and keep teeth and gums healthy, experts recommend brushing teeth twice a day, plus flossing once a day.

If holding a toothbrush is difficult or painful, ask your dentist for options that cater to your specific needs. Solutions like extending your toothbrush with a tongue depressor, or using a soft washcloth or gauze in place of a traditional tooth brush can make frequent brushing a more manageable task.

Dry mouth, one common oral hygiene problem, is best managed through preventative measures. Since it is often caused by medications, be sure to drink extra water or use sugar-free mints or gum to increase saliva production and moisten your mouth.

And did you know that one of the most important things you can do to protect your teeth is to avoid tobacco products? These products will only increase the likelihood of developing tooth decay and gum disease.

If you have dentures, oral hygiene is just as important. Be sure to clean them regularly, as these appliances can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

It’s essential to visit your dentist as often as he or she recommends – typically, this will be every six months, unless you have a specific issue that needs to be addressed with more frequent care.

According to the American Dental Association’s Mouth Healthy recommendations, when you visit your dentist, make sure to mention what medications you are on, as well any dental issues you’ve been dealing with lately.

During the exam itself, your dentist will likely perform a physical check of your face, neck, bite and jaw, along with your gums and teeth, to comprehensively check for any issues. If you have any questions about your treatment options or your dental insurance plan, don’t be afraid to ask your dentist. There are many different options for senior dental coverage that may cater to your needs. Often times, Medicare Advantage covers regular dental visits, but be sure to check your coverage for more information about your plan.

 



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It’s National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month!

Guest post by Jane MacNeil, President of Turn The Towns Teal®

What do you think of when you see the color teal? The ocean? Or is it your favorite crayon from childhood? Our national campaign called Turn The Towns Teal® is trying to change that.

Our founder (and my sister-in-law) Gail MacNeil was shopping at the supermarket one day when she noticed a small pink ribbon printed on the package of her English muffins. Gail immediately recognized the ribbon – a popular method of bringing awareness to breast cancer – and realized there was little awareness of another prominent cancer among women: ovarian cancer.

Inspired by her own ten-year battle with ovarian cancer, Gail immediately began to lay the foundation of Turn The Towns Teal® and set forth certain guidelines for the campaign, including the requirement that biodegradable teal ribbons be put up in the beginning of September to promote awareness of this particular cancer. She officially started the campaign in 2007, at which time 40 towns in New Jersey participated. By 2015, we had registrants in all 50 states as well as in Canada and Bermuda.

Today, our campaign is being carried out by my family and a group of extremely dedicated volunteers. Volunteers tie our biodegradable teal ribbons (made in the USA!) in their towns, at their businesses, places of worship, and neighborhoods and private residences. They also distribute our symptom cards to increase awareness of the subtle symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer.

Because there is NO conclusive early detection test for this cancer and a pap test does not detect ovarian cancer, early detection is critical. Some of the symptoms we recommend watching for are:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea, or indigestion
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits
  • Unexplained weight gain/loss
  • Ongoing unusual fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Menstrual changes
  • Pain during intimacy

If these symptoms persist for 10 days to 2 weeks, consult your gynecologist, physician or gynecological oncologist. As seniors, it is important to be an advocate for your own health. Gail’s gynecologist dismissed her classic symptoms on three separate occasions. When she was eventually diagnosed, she was in the very late stages of the disease and unfortunately passed away in 2008.

While every woman is at risk for ovarian cancer, the good news is, if diagnosed early the success rate is 90-95 percent. Remember: The earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis.

Want to get involved with Turn The Towns Teal®? Visit our website for more information. We’ll start registration for our 2018 campaign on May 8, World Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day!

Jane MacNeil is President of Turn The Towns Teal®, a national campaign to promote awareness of ovarian cancer, its subtle symptoms and risk factors.