Category Archives: Education

Protected Against the Flu

Chasing Health: I Got My Flu Shot

Hi, I’m Nicole Mechling, and I’ve worked at Health Alliance as a communications coordinator since April. I’m not a health buff—or a health insurance buff for that matter—but I don’t have to follow all the health recommendations to be a communications coordinator, right?

I mean, I take two-hour walks and regularly bust out my own dance routines in my living room during Glee and So You Think You Can Dance. I even go through spurts of intense crunch and pushup regimens and take a Zumba class here and there.

I eat berries and apples, and sometimes I even go a whole day without chocolate … OK, maybe I have a few things to work on. At least I try.

I got my flu shot[1] copy

But when it comes to vaccines, this girl is ready to throw in the towel and run the other way screaming. I absolutely hate needles. I’m 26 years old and have never had my ears pierced because needles are just too scary.

Earlier this week, it was flu shot day at Health Alliance. Remember when you used to get shots in grade school, right in front of your classmates? This was the same thing, only worse because as an adult, people assume you’re not going to cry or hide under your desk. And if I got the shot, there was no guarantee I wouldn’t do both.

I went into the office that morning with every intention of not getting my flu shot. I had never had one before, so in my head, that clearly meant I was going to have an awful reaction and die. (I also feel this way about car washes and gas fireplaces. I know it’s crazy, but I always think they’re out to get me.)

Anyway, part of my job is to tell people to get their flu shots. After a few hours of editing fliers about vaccines, I had to ask myself, “What kind of person am I if I tell people to get this shot but am too scared to get it myself?”

My ethics got the best of me, and I decided to take the long walk upstairs to where the nurses were giving the shots. By the time I got there, I felt sweaty and weak, and my stomach hurt more than a little bit. The room was spinning slightly, and my heart was beating so loudly the nurses could probably hear it.

The rest happened so quickly. I sat down, got the shot (which only hurt a little), stayed for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction as a first-timer and then went back to work. I survived.

I’ve heard all the excuses—I’ve used them myself. One of Michael Jordan’s best games was his “flu game,” so why should I deprive myself of that opportunity? The shot is not 100 percent effective, so why even try? What if I want a reason to stay home from work at some point?

I did it anyway so that I could tell all of you fine people to go get your own flu shots. Don’t let my shot be for nothing. Go get vaccinated.

(Regardless of what you do, I’m guessing my shot will be worth it to me when I don’t get the flu later this year, though.)

Thank you all for unintentionally making me overcome my fear of getting my flu shot. Maybe next time you can do something about my chocolate addiction.

Best Sports for Asthma

Athletic with Asthma

You can’t keep your kids with asthma from being active, but you can help them choose the right activities.

While football can be a rough sport, it is actually one of the best sports for those with asthma. The many breaks between downs let you rest and can reduce the chances of an attack.

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome Bettis is one of the greatest running backs of all time. He was diagnosed with asthma at 15, after passing out at a high school football practice. He went on to play for the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame, then in the NFL for 13 seasons. He was named NFL Rookie of the Year and won a Super Bowl in 2006.

A recent study found that walking 3 times a week for 3 weeks improved asthma control, and overall fitness.

Yoga is great for asthma because it requires good breath control. One study found that some who did yoga 2.5 hour a week for 10 weeks could cut down on their meds.

Baseball’s spurts of running with plenty of down time gives kids exercise without raising their breathing rate for too long, making it great for asthma sufferers.

Golf, with its delayed activity, is good if you struggle catching your breath, and the focus it requires is great for your mind. Just beware of outdoor allergens!

Tennis and other racquet sports let you exercise with regular rests and water breaks.

Swimming is the ideal activity for those with asthma because you breathe in warm wet air the whole time, and being horizontal can help loosen and clear your lungs.

As a kid, Amy Van Dyken’s couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs because her asthma was so bad. At just 6 years old, she took up swimming when her doctor told her breathing humid air might help her lungs. Swimming was hard at first, but with the help of her meds and support from her family and friends, Amy swam her way to 4 gold medals at the Athens Olympics and another 2 at Sydney’s.

The important thing to remember though is that your asthma should never hold you back from going after your dreams.

Look at Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who broke into track-and-field star, even though she had asthma. She is a four-time Olympian with 3 gold medals. She was diagnosed as a freshman at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). In an interview with Sports Illustrated, she said, “I finally learned I had to respect asthma as much as I would an opponent.”

Knowing your triggers, using your meds and action plan, and working with your doctor can make amazing things possible.

Active Aging

Long View: Active Aging Week Encourages Health into Golden Years

As I get older, I have noticed the changes that come with it. I think the one I notice the most lately is inertia. You find yourself sitting down to open the mail and not getting up for the rest of the evening. OK, it happens to all of us once in a while. My concern is inertia may become my hobby unless I take action.

The International Council on Active Aging sponsors an annual event called Active Aging Week. Its website explains, “Led by the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA), Active Aging Week is an annual health promotion event held each year during the last week of September. The weeklong observance celebrates adults ages 50 and older as fully participating members of society and promotes the benefits of leading an active, healthier lifestyle. It also highlights the ability of older adults to live well, regardless of age or health conditions.”

It got me thinking which of my family members had the best quality of life as they aged. The dividing line was very clear. The active (some would say hyperactive) ones who kept a healthy weight were the ones who made the most of their mature years. The sofa-sitters aged well into their 80s, but didn’t get the same enjoyment from their golden years. The prospect of that fate was enough to get me up and moving again.

And now the disclaimer: As with any type of exercise, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure you choose an activity safe for you. I started with a 15-minute walk in the morning and another 15-minute walk in the evening after work.  It’s no marathon, but it’s doable and even enjoyable in good weather. I miss my walks when our Central Illinois climate doesn’t cooperate. Plus, I am seeing results and notice I feel better overall.

Health Alliance Medicare is working with Clark-Lindsey (a continuing care retirement community in Urbana) to sponsor an Active Aging Week from September 21-27. As the hosts, we can craft a program of activities that suits our own community (and weather). Maybe you would consider doing something similar in your area.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to help. Or visit Clark-Lindsey’s website and click on “news and events” for more information. It’s time to get moving!

 

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.

Terms Jumble

Long View: Don’t Let Lingo Keep You from the Care You Need

When I was (considerably) younger, I read that a concert I wanted to attend was “SRO.” I was certain that meant “Sold Right Out,” and there was no way we could go. I was disappointed, but hey, you can’t win them all. Years later a friend told me another show was “SRO,” and I only then found out it meant “Standing Room Only.” My misunderstanding became the source of much merriment.

Industry-specific terms, acronyms and lingo are common in almost every business. I know the health insurance business has a lot, but have you ever heard two electricians talk? What about computer repair technicians? It’s all foreign to me.

Terminology, acronyms, and lingo are simply shortcuts for information-sharing between people in the same business. They are not meant to exclude others, but they do. The difference between the terms “copayment” and “coinsurance” can seem small, unless you are the person paying the bill. So, what can we insiders do to lessen the impact and be more inclusive?

About two years ago, Health Alliance started an internal plain language push. We took a close look at our written materials—brochures, guidebooks, letters, our website, and more—and realized we could make things easier to understand. We simplify or explain industry lingo, without losing the important information.

If you’re on the receiving end of lingo, stop and ask for clarification. If that is not possible, jot down a note so you can follow up on your own. This is especially important with your health care. Make sure you understand what your doctors tell you. They are insiders to the medical world, so they might not realize you need more explanation. Always ask questions if you’re confused. Your doctor will appreciate you taking the time to make sure you understand so you can take good care of yourself.

I am sure some of you are frightened to know I am learning how to text on my smartphone. Many of you are familiar with this digital language and its acronyms and lingo, but it’s new to me. Don’t worry, I was pointedly told “LOL” doesn’t mean “lots of love.” LAL (Live and Learn).

(Give this word search on commonly used insurance terms and their definitions a try!)

 

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.

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.