Category Archives: Long View

Hot Cocoa and Winter Health Risks

Long View: Cold Hands, Hot Cocoa

I always remember December from my childhood, when the weather got subzero, and the wind was playfully whipping snowflakes around. School was out for the holidays, and my sister and I always loved to play outdoors, despite the frigid temperatures.

We would come downstairs with our garb, and Mom would get us all bundled up to brave the weather. Snowsuits, scarves, hats, gloves, and boots were standard outerwear those days. My mom would secure the scarf so that it would stay put, and the hat would cover my ears and my forehead. When she was through, I could barely see and hardly move.

I remember stiffly walking out the door, hoping that with more movement, I would loosen up enough to enjoy some of the winter wonderland we called our yard. Hot cocoa would be waiting for us when we came in, and it was like magic what that cup of warmth could do!

Today, I run out of the house without a coat, hat, gloves, or scarf, thinking, I’m just going to the car, then running in to work. My days of bundling up are over. This is what happens when you go from 6 years old to 60. But honestly, what am I thinking?

Winter health risks should be a concern for our aging population. (Hey, that’s me too!) The most obvious risk is the weather itself. Midwestern winters can consist of ice and snow. Driving is a challenge. Walking is even more of a challenge. Slips on ice are a major risk, so it’s important to wear the right shoes or boots with good traction if you have to go out.  

Hypothermia is also a common winter weather health risk. Hypothermia means your body temperature has fallen below 95 degrees, and once it gets to that point for a prolonged period of time, you can’t produce enough energy to stay warm.

Symptoms include shivering, cold pale skin, lack of coordination, slowed reactions and breathing, and mental confusion. It’s good to pay attention to how cold it is where you are, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. Also, make sure you’re eating enough to keep up a healthy weight. Body fat helps you stay warm.

Frostbite is another health risk during the winter months. Frostbite means your skin has been over-exposed to cold temperatures, and it usually affects the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. It can be severe and cause permanent damage to the skin, and even progress to the bone.

Frostbite can affect anyone who is exposed to below freezing temperatures, in particular, those who aren’t wearing the right clothing. It’s important to wear layers, preferably 2 to 3 layers of loose-fitting clothing, as well as a coat, hat, gloves, and a scarf. Covering up your nose and mouth will also protect your lungs from the cold air.

As for drinking a cup of hot cocoa, well, that is a winter weather health benefit! According to a study at Cornell University, hot cocoa has almost twice as many antioxidants as red wine, and 2 to 3 times more than green tea! This winter, enjoy the magic of the season by keeping yourself safe and warm.

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

How to Honor Veterans

Long View: Honor and Comfort a Veteran

My mother is a quilter. If anyone reading this knows a quilter or happens to be one yourself, you know that this is more a way of life than a hobby. 

Every important occasion in our family merits a quilt. Getting married? Quilt. Having a baby? Quilt. When you fly and look down on Midwestern corn and bean fields, what do you see? Mom sees potential quilt patterns.

Lately, barns have her very excited, because farmers (and the quilters in their lives) have started hanging pretty quilt patterns from their haylofts. When my youngest son was about 2, he would announce any cows, goats, or chickens he saw on a country drive. Now, I can count on my mom yelling out a barn quilt with the same childlike excitement. Mom would quilt for world peace if the United Nations asked her.

November is an important month in our country, because it’s the month we celebrate Veterans Day. How do you recognize Veterans Day? Of course, my mom would say, “I’ve got a quilt for that!”

The Quilts of Valor Foundation is an organization that seeks out and honors veterans by making and giving them handmade quilts. Their foundation’s motto is “Quilting to Honor and Comfort.” I like that. Here is a group of people with a passion for sewing something with their own 2 hands to make someone else feel better. To date, Quilts of Valor has given away over 165,000 quilts.

Let’s go back to the question, how do you recognize Veterans Day? Or better yet, do you recognize veterans? We live in a time in our nation’s history when veterans can look very different from one another.

Our nation’s veterans are handsome 90-year-old WWII veterans, hardworking and stoic Korean War veterans, proud but quiet Vietnam veterans, or even 25-year-old grandsons and granddaughters . 

The men and women who served our country have done so in my name, in your name. How can you recognize them today? How can you tell them that you see them and understand what they mean to our country? 

We can’t all make quilts. But we can buy cups of coffee. We can shake hands, or if appropriate, give a hug. We can all say thank you.   

Here are some organizations that reach out to veterans. See if you can find one in your community, and offer whatever special skill you might have to their cause. If you bake, bake. If you woodwork, woodwork.

Share yourself with a veteran so they know you care. It’s the very least any of us can do to honor and comfort the heroes around us.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Time for Change

Long View: Is It Time for a Change?

“Everyone appreciates the long, light evenings. Everyone laments their shortage as Autumn approaches; and nearly everyone has given utterance to regret that the clear, bright light of an early morning during Spring and Summer months is so seldom seen or used.”

This was written by a London builder named William Willett, who proposed daylight saving time from an idea conceived by Benjamin Franklin.

“Spring forward. Fall back,” was how I learned it! I remember daylight saving time when I was a child was a big deal. The Saturday night before the official time change would take place, my entire family worked together to make sure that all the clocks and watches in our household were set, not to mention the clocks in my parents’ cars. It never failed. There was always that tiny clock on the top of our stove that we would miss. My mom always caught it when she went to set the oven timer!

Then, once the clocks were all set, my sister and I pondered whether we lost or gained an hour of sleep. We always had to sit there for a minute or 2 and do the math before coming up with the answer.

For most of us today, time changes are not nearly as complicated as they used to be. Our world is much more hurried, and automation is everywhere. It’s accepted that almost every clock, watch, appliance, iPhone, and computer is programmed for daylight saving time. We really don’t have to worry about making sure all of our timepieces make the change. With our schedules so full, we don’t even realize we’ve gained an hour or lost an hour of sleep.

Just like the time change happens each November, Medicare’s Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) happens each October. Medicare beneficiaries can review their current plan and make any changes they feel are needed from October 15 through December 7.

Every year, the AEP is a good time to check your drugs and review upcoming services with your doctor, then make sure the plan you’re on is still the best fit. You might even want to get your family together to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Some resources available to help you this AEP include Medicare.gov, which is easy to navigate and packed with information, and Illinois’ very own Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP). The Illinois Department of Insurance offers this free, impartial counseling service for people who are Medicare-eligible. Visit Insurance.Illinois.gov or call them at 1-800-548-9034. You can also find the nearest SHIP office in this directory, or, in Iowa.

And don’t forget to check out your current insurance info at HealthAllianceMedicare.org. If you need to research plan options, you can “fall back” on us! We’re ready to help with any questions you may have for the upcoming plan year.

Mervet Adams is a community liaison with Health Alliance. She loves her grandson, family, nature, and fashion.

Busy Defining You?

Long View: Busy, Busy, Busy

One of the advantages of having an e-column is that once in a while, I get to rant. This is such an occasion.

Seems every time I ask someone how they are doing they answer, “Busy, you?”

I think it’s a given that we are all swept up in the relentless pace of modern-day life, but I wonder if that is what is defining us, the busyness, instead of what we are busy with?

I hear things like, “I am slammed at work,” or “swamped,” or my current favorite, “underwater.” None of these seem to refer to a joyful work-life balance, but I understand we shouldn’t judge others.

I asked some friends out to dinner, and they started listing all the times they were not available and all the fabulous activities they had planned. Yes, I admit it was a jam-packed schedule, but their monologue didn’t address my original question. We eventually agreed to an early-evening supper 2 months out. It was a very enjoyable occasion; however, I don’t think I needed to know all the details it took to get there.

I offered an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, some hostas from my yard. (I was separating them, and she had a new house in need of plants.) She agreed to a tentative time to come by and get them, but somehow, it just didn’t work out for her. The next attempt, she texted me a proposed time and canceled it 15 minutes later. On our final attempt, I got a text saying something had come up at work and she would be about an hour late. I replied, “Frankly my dear,” and haven’t heard from her since.

The next time someone asks me how I am doing, I am going to relate one joyous thing in my life and ask them to do the same. Maybe that will start the conversation on the right foot. I will come up with some better suggestions when I have a spare moment

By the way, I intentionally made this column shorter than usual, so that I could give you back a minute of your life. Please put it to good use.

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.

A Healthy A1C Level

Long View: What Does A1C Mean to Me?

Our community liaison team has never met a health fair or expo they didn’t love! Health fairs and expos are great places to learn about the abundance of services available in our communities to support seniors and their families.

With brightly colored, free shopping bags in hand, visitors gather pens, lip balms, and hand sanitizers, along with informational brochures and contact information for everything from beautiful, new living communities to financial planning. I’ve never seen so many butterscotch hard candies in one place since my grandmother’s candy dish in the 1970s.

Many health fairs and expos offer free checkups for various parts of your body and health. Participants aren’t the only ones taking advantage of a little free TLC. So far this summer, I’ve had the kinks rubbed out of my neck, the skin on my face analyzed for sun damage, and my blood pressure checked.

But one of the most interesting tests I’ve done recently came from my friends at Memorial Hospital in Carthage, IL. They measured my A1C level.

“What is A1C?” I asked, with a donut in one hand and a cup of coffee with cream in the other.

A1C is the measurement of the average blood sugar levels for the past 3 months, they told me. “Oh no,” I said. “I can’t get that done today. I’m eating a donut!”

The kind nurses assured me to sit down and relax. No fasting is required. In the blink of an eye, my finger was (painlessly) pricked, and a small amount of my blood slipped into a tiny little tube. The tube took a 5-minute spin in the centrifuge, and bingo, my A1C for the past 3 months is…. I’ll keep you in suspense until the end.

The National Diabetes Education Initiative recommends that diabetics have the A1C measurement taken at least twice a year. Everyone else should measure A1C once every 3 years. The nurses from Carthage recommended that most people should have measurements below 5.7%, since measurements between 5.7 and 6.4% indicate a greater risk for becoming diabetic.

The daily measurement of glucose levels is very important for diabetics who need to keep their levels within healthy ranges. Knowing your 2- to 3-month average can help you determine your overall glucose health, which in turn can help you make healthy choices throughout each day, like about sleeping, playing, working, eating, and more.

And if you don’t have diabetes, knowing if you have a higher than average A1C level can be a valuable piece of information to help you make healthy changes to curb your chances of getting diabetes at some point in your life.

Those who are already diabetic should strive to lower their A1C to at least 7% when possible. This could be a struggle for those who suffer from the disease, but the research points toward a much lower risk of developing diabetic complications like eye, heart, and kidney disease the closer you can get to 7%.

To tell you the truth, waiting for my blood to spin around for those 5 minutes in the centrifuge had me sweating a little. This could be the year my chickens come home to roost. I’ll be having one of those special birthdays next year where everyone wears black. I’m not exactly the healthiest eater. Leggings and stretchy-fabric pants have become my best friends.

This A1C measurement was an important wake-up call for me. The good news is that I measured well below 5.7%.

While I could have spiked the football, declared myself invincible, and grabbed a second donut, I didn’t. I decided to really pay attention to this information and be grateful for my health today, maybe take an extra walk around the block every week. Next year, I’m setting my sights on something in the high 4s.

Pass the kale.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Shoe Choices

Long View: My Dad’s Shoes

In honor of Father’s Day this month, I wanted to take some time and talk about my dad’s shoes.

My dad (and my grandpa before him) owned the funeral home in the small Illinois town where I grew up. He wore a suit and tie every day, which required a men’s leather wingtip shoe to complete the outfit. My hometown was a blue-collar, working man’s town. Most dads went to work in steel-toe boots and flannel shirts.

I was pretty active in sports, and at my games, you could always pick out my dad from the sea of other fathers in their jeans and flannel. His size-12 wingtips made a certain slapping sound walking across the wooden basketball court that other dads’ shoes didn’t make.

Thinking back, it was a comforting sound. It meant he was a busy guy, but he still had time to make it to my games.

Like most teenagers, I thought my father’s fashion sense was ridiculous. I can’t recall ever seeing him wear a pair of blue jeans and athletic shoes. The man mowed the grass in his wingtips!

The only pair of casual shoes I can recall was a pair of white flat-bottomed canvas basketball shoes that Dad said were sacred. They were his beach shoes, his “go-on-vacation” shoes. He claimed to have owned the same pair since high school. I suppose if you mow the grass in your wingtips, you don’t wear out and stain your white canvas basketball shoes.

My Dad's Shoes

As the years went by, even a well-loved pair of basketball shoes eventually falls apart. One day, they did. Dad walked out into the ocean and came back out without the soles. We buried the shoes on the beach that afternoon. Dad said a few words and shed a slight tear. I kind of did too. Those were the shoes Dad wore when he was playing—playing with us on the beach, in the water, taking time to be with just us kids.

Dad is retired now, and I haven’t seen him in wingtips since. He does have a pair of leather sandals that he’s quite fond of. They are fine by themselves, but when he puts his wool white socks on with shorts, my mother and I both cry foul.

Dad sees no reason for all the commotion. He’s comfortable with who he is and how he looks. As a retired and respected businessman, I guess he’s earned the right to dress whatever way makes him comfortable. He’s a good dad; I’ll cut him some slack. At least he doesn’t mow in wingtips anymore.

As is the case with many fashions throughout the years, canvas flat-bottomed basketball shoes have come back into fashion. The most popular brand is called Chuck Taylor or Chucks, named after a basketball player who started wearing them in 1917.

I recently bought a pair for myself in navy blue. I wear them on the weekends or when I feel like acting like a kid. I bought my dad a pair for his 70th birthday. I haven’t seen him wearing them yet.

I wonder if he thinks my fashion sense is ridiculous. Maybe.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

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