Category Archives: Education

Calcium and Your Bones

Build Stronger Bones with Calcium and Vitamin D

You might think only people with osteoporosis or weak bones need to worry about getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. If you don’t have osteoporosis, or bone loss, and you eat a well-balanced diet, you’re probably getting the recommended daily amount of both.

But let’s be honest, a lot of us have a diet that is anything but well-balanced. (And no, alternating between frozen pizza and frozen fish sticks does not count as balanced.)

The good news is you don’t have to overhaul your entire diet to keep your bones in great shape. Making a few small changes can help you reach the recommended daily amounts.

Got Milk?

vitamin blog1

Milk is one of the easiest ways to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and Vitamin D.

An 8 oz. glass of fat-free or low-fat milk has around 30% of the daily recommended amount of calcium and 25% of the recommended Vitamin D. The same goes for calcium-fortified soy milk. Other dairy products like cheese and yogurt, are also rich in both.

The Non-Milky Way

If you are lactose intolerant or just don’t eat dairy, you can still get enough calcium and Vitamin D from your diet.

Try these non-dairy foods for calcium:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Soybeans
  • White beans
  • Okra
  • Collards
  • Some fish, like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout
  • Calcium-fortified foods, like soy milk, oatmeal, cereal, and some orange juice

And these non-dairy foods for Vitamin D:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
  • Egg yolks
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods, like orange juice, soy milk, and cereal

If you don’t think you’re getting enough of both from your diet, a supplement could help fill in the gaps.

But more is not always better, and getting too much of either can be harmful to your health. Talk to your doctor to make sure you get the right amount.

For recipes packed with calcium and Vitamin D, check out our Pinterest.

Always Protected from Fire

Protect Yourself by Practicing Home Fire Safety

The U.S. Fire Administration says more than 360,000 fires destroyed homes in the United States in 2010. These fires caused 2,555 deaths and more than 13,000 injuries. Clearly, we should take house fires seriously. Taking small steps can help you stay safe.

One of the most important things you can do is make sure you have working smoke alarms in all major rooms of your home. Most of all, be sure you have one near your bedroom. Change the batteries twice a year, or ask someone to help you change them.

You should also check for possible fire starters. Make sure extension cords are not frayed, and don’t plug too many things into one outlet. In the kitchen, unplug small appliances, like your toaster, when you are not using them. Make sure the hood of your stove is clean and doesn’t have grease buildup. If you have a fireplace, put a screen up to block stray ashes and clean the chimney once a year.

Accidents can still happen. Make sure you know a couple ways to get out of your home if it catches fire. Make sure your house number is visible from the street. This helps firefighters get to you quickly.

Many fire stations will do a safety check at your home for free. Call your local fire department or senior center for details. And check out the sample fire safety checklist from the Urbana Fire Department.

Fires can happen quickly and be deadly. Keep your home secure, and have a safety plan. Some simple steps can go a long way toward keeping you safe.

Home Fire Safety Checklist

GENERAL

     Are your address numbers visible from the street to permit ease of identification?
     Are your smoke detectors in working order, batteries changed twice a year?
     Do you have an escape plan, meeting place, and do you practice it?

 ALL HOUSEHOLD AREAS

     Do you keep your passageway doors shut to reduce fire spread in the event of fire?
     Are you using extension cords? Limit their use.
     Check all electrical cords to make sure they are in good condition.
     Check to make sure outlets are not overloaded.
     Check all windows to make sure they operate smoothly.
     Do not allow waste paper and combustibles to collect and become a fire hazard.
     Ashtrays should be provided for all smokers. They should be disposed of properly.
     Are your household chemicals stored away from children?
     Are matches and lighters stored out of reach of children?
      No combustibles should be stored in the attic.

LIVING AREA

     Does your fireplace have a screen and hearth to protect from flying embers?
     Has your chimney been cleaned? Is it operating properly?

KITCHEN AREA

     Are all combustibles kept away from the cooking area?
     Is your range hood clean and vented properly?
     Are all unused small appliances unplugged when not in use?

UTILITY AREA

     Are your heating ducts properly maintained?
     Are combustibles stored away from the furnace and water heater?
     Is your furnace filter clean?
     Are there any oversized fuses in the fuse box?
     Are your washer and dryer properly grounded?
     Do you keep your basement door closed to reduce fire spread in the vent of fire?

GARAGE/STORAGE AREA

     Is there a solid core door separating your garage from the house?
     Are all flammable liquids stored in the proper containers?
     Is the gasoline mower properly stored away from ignition sources?

OUTSIDE AREA

     Are there any combustible materials close to the house?
Cleaning Meds Out of the Cabinet

Long View: Leave Prescribing to the Pros – Don’t Mix Your Meds!

I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Missouri whenever I got the chance. They were older but still lived on their own. My uncle Bill took a lot of medicine, as is often the case with a 90-year-old. The problem was my aunt, his caregiver, felt she knew better than his doctor.

She would cut his pills in half because she thought they were making him “groggy.” She also would “prescribe” outdated meds. I found my aunt’s secret stash in a shoe box in the closet.

Both of them also took over-the-counter meds … to keep their joints limber, eyesight sharp and other things she was sure would enhance their golden years. Her approach was dangerous, but I could only help while I was there.

So, what can a caregiver do?

Brad Berberet, acting director of the Health Alliance Pharmacy Department, shared this advice.

“Many people know different drugs can interact with each other, causing unexpected side effects,” he said. “However, most people forget that interactions can occur between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements.  Patients should let their doctor and their pharmacist know about all OTC and herbal supplements they are taking, especially when they start a new medicine.”

Our chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Parker, shared similar advice.

“When you take medication exactly as prescribed, your doctor can better monitor you for side effects,” he said. “It’s important to be honest with your doctor to assure you have the best chance of a positive, not harmful, impact to yourself or those you love.”

You can help your loved ones get rid of old medicine. Don’t just flush them. Check for places that dispose of drugs safely, like your pharmacy or hospital. Your local senior center may have suggestions.

My PCP does a medicine review every time I have an appointment. Just keeping a list of how much medicine you take and when helps your doctor. You can ask your doctor to make changes to your list so it stays current.

While I’m sure my aunt had the best intentions, her approach to medicine was dangerous. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicine, prescription or over-the-counter. Not only will you avoid harmful interactions, but you will probably feel better, too.

 

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Balancing Daily Tasks with Dementia

Vantage Point: Summer Activity Opens Eyes, Prompts Compassion

I love all the fun activities that come with summer—festivals, parades, vacations, theme parks, and backyard barbecues. One of my recent summer activities, however, was unlike any I’ve ever done before, and the profound experience will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to watch a video of the Virtual Dementia Tour®, compliments of Assured Home Health and Hospice in Moses Lake. The tour gives family members and professional caregivers the chance to experience (as closely as possible) the physical, mental, and emotional challenges people with dementia face every day.

Before the tour, the group takes a short pretest. One of the questions is, “Do you think people with dementia are justified in their actions?” The answer choices are “yes,” “no” and “somewhat.” Most people answer “somewhat.”

After the pretest, the activity alters the participants’ mental and physical abilities when they put on these items.

  • Goggles that restrict their vision, as if they have macular degeneration
  • Headphones with garbled or random background noises, like people with mental disorders experience
  • Gloves with the fingers taped together and with popcorn kernels in the fingertips, and shoes with popcorn kernels in the toes, to represent neuropathy and arthritis

The group then goes to another room. Organizers give participants five everyday tasks, like sorting laundry and setting the table, to complete without help in a certain time frame.

Watching the people go through the experience made me think of being in a carnival maze, where you have a warped sense of bearings, balance, and judgment.

Most participants find the experience eye-opening. Even if they thought they knew what to expect, many didn’t anticipate bursting into tears of frustration or falling on the ground in confusion. Many change their pretest answer about behavior being justified from “somewhat” to “yes” in the post-test.

If you have a loved one with dementia or are a caregiver, I suggest you take the Virtual Dementia Tour. If you live in Grant County and want to sign up for a tour through Assured Home Health and Hospice, please call Julie Johnson at 509-766-2580 or Terri Riley-Brown at 509-765-1856.

ABC’s Nightline featured a powerful story about the Virtual Dementia Tour.  If you don’t take the tour, you can still see what the experience is like by watching this clip.

I hope you make fun memories with family and friends this summer. I also hope you take time to either watch the Nightline clip or sign up for the Virtual Dementia Tour so we can all increase our understanding and compassion for people with dementia.

 

Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. She has four adult sons and two grandsons. During her time off, she performs as part of a rodeo drill team on her horse, Skeeter.

Summer Relaxing with a SEP

What’s So Special About Summer?

Didn’t buy health insurance by the deadline? Had some unexpected changes since then and need a plan, fast? A Special Enrollment Period (SEP) might be right for you. We have just what you need this summer to take a little of that heat off.

Dog Days
  1. Ice Cream
  2. Humidity More Ice Cream
  3. Getting a Special Chance to Buy Health Insurance

Every year, as summer turns to fall, and fall to winter, millions of Americans buy health insurance. During that season, the government gives everyone a chance to buy the plan they need, but by early spring, time’s up!

But here’s some good news, everyone knows the world doesn’t stop turning during the summer months. That’s why some special rules help you out when life gets interesting.

Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) are special chances to buy or make changes to your health insurance plan the rest of the year. Here’s a quick Q&A on how they work.

Interested in signing up or need to learn more? Give us a call at 1-888-382-9771! We’re here to help.

Q:  What’s an SEP?

A: After March 31, only people with a qualifying life event can change their individual or family plan or enroll in a new plan. That’s called having an SEP.

Q: What’s a qualifying life event?

A: Events include:

  • Getting married
  • Having, adopting, or the placement of a child
  • Permanently moving to a new area with different health plan options
  • Losing other health coverage because
    • You lost your job
    • You don’t work enough hours to stay on your employer’s plan
    • Your employer stops paying for your plan or stops paying as much
    • Your plan doesn’t cover the essential health benefits as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
    • A big increase in how much you pay for your plan

Q: Is a change in my income a qualifying life event?

A: For people who already have a qualified health plan, a change in income or household status can be a qualifying life event. Both of these events might change how much government help you can get to pay for your plan.

Don’t forget, you can apply for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) any time.

Q: Why don’t I always qualify for an SEP if I lose my coverage?

A: Some events don’t count as a qualifying event:

  • Losing your plan because you didn’t pay your premiums
  • Choosing on your own to quit other health coverage
  • Losing coverage that’s not minimum essential coverage, like a short-term plan or (in some cases) a catastrophic plan

Q: What if I don’t have a qualifying life event?

A: You have to wait until the next Open Enrollment Period (OEP), which will begin during the fall. The government sets the start and end dates of OEP, not Health Alliance.

You can enroll in a Short-Term plan at any time. But remember, they don’t meet the requirements of the ACA for being a qualified health plan, which means you’ll have to pay a tax penalty in 2015.

Q: How long do I have to enroll in a plan after a qualifying event?

A: 60 days.

Q: How do I enroll?

A: You get to choose how you’d like to enroll. Find what works best for you, and if you need help along the way, call us at 1-888-382-9771. Or if you’re in the Champaign area, stop by our office at 206 W. Anthony Drive (near Alexander’s Steakhouse) for help!

Q: When will my coverage start?

A: Your start date depends on your qualifying event.

If you have questions about an SEP or about your situation, give us a call at 1-888-382-9771 or stop by our office—we’re more than happy to help you find the answers.

Fighting Hunger Through Food

Long View: Solving Hunger One Bite at a Time

It seems I might be a little fixated on food. A number of friends and family members seem to think I live mealtime to mealtime, which may explain my recent weight gain. As many of us enjoy Central Illinois’ bounty, it’s important to remember many of our neighbors are not so lucky.

In Illinois, we are fortunate to have access to food banks across the state. Julie Melton is the director of Marketing and Development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF). They distribute millions of pounds of food to over 100,000 individuals across their network of more than 220 sites. She told me, “Based on our Hunger in America Study, a full third of the seniors in the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s service area experience food insecurity rates of 15 percent to 41 percent. In some areas, more than 42 percent of seniors are food insecure, which is among the highest rates of senior hunger in Illinois.”

You can help fight food insecurity, which means someone doesn’t have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food.

“Every $1 donation can buy $10 worth of food or provide 6 meals for neighbors in our community,” Melton said.

Jim Hires, executive director at the EIF, said, “Older American food insecurity is a growing problem. Addressing senior hunger has become an increasingly major concern and focus across the nation, and especially in our 14-county region. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank and our agency partners are committing more of our resources to this issue in the coming months and long term.”

Donating and volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen are better ways to give. Your nearest food bank will be thankful for any support you offer. Search for one nearby at FeedingIllinois.org.

Solving hunger won’t happen overnight. But we can all help one small bite at a time. There are people in all of our communities who don’t have enough to eat. After seeing these statistics, I am more thankful for my food. I bet you will be, too.

 

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Air Quality Index

Keeping Track of Air Quality

Just like a stoplight tells you when to go, the Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you when it’s safe to go outside and how clean the air is to breathe.

Across America, the AQI tracks smog, pollution from cars, soil dust, pollen, and ash. Every day, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) gives the air quality a color.

Green is the best, and as it goes from green to yellow to orange, the air gets less clean.

Poor air quality is a threat to everyone’s health, but children, the elderly, and those with breathing problems need to be even more careful. The worse the air, the more likely it will trigger an asthma flare-up.

Green is when it’s perfect to play outside, but as it changes colors, slow down or maybe even stay in.

AQI Color

AQI Status

Advice

Green

Good

Enjoy the outdoors.

Yellow

Moderate

Enjoy the outdoors, but maybe limit how long you’re outside.

Orange

Unhealthy for elderly, kids, and those with breathing problems

Take it easy, and if you’re at risk, think about staying inside.

Red

Unhealthy

Stay inside.

Purple

Very unhealthy

Stay inside.

Maroon

Hazardous

Definitely stay inside.

Before you head out, you can check the day’s color at AirNow, and protect yourself from the start.