Are You Taking Advantage of Medicare Health Screenings?

Are You Taking Advantage of Medicare Health Screenings?

If you or a loved one is on Medicare, it’s smart to learn about the free screenings that are now available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to Dr. Carolyn Clancy of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHQR), these preventive and screening tests now include:

  • Bone mass measurement (also known as bone density test): Covered every 2 years.
  • Cholesterol and other cardiovascular screening: Tests for cholesterol, lipid, and triglyceride levels are covered every 5 years.
  • Colorectal cancer screening: Medicare covers colonoscopy tests once every 2 years for people at high risk; otherwise, once every 10 years.
  • Diabetes screening: Up to two fasting blood glucose tests are covered each year.
  • Flu shot: Medicare covers a shot once per flu season in the fall or winter.
  • Mammogram: Screening mammograms are covered once every 12 months. Diagnostic mammograms are covered when medically necessary.
  • Prostate cancer screening: Medicare covers a digital rectal exam once each year; prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests are covered once each year.

This is in addition to the new “Welcome to Medicare” wellness visit for people who are new to the program.

Read more about Medicare screening services on the Medicare.gov website (www.medicare.gov/coverage/preventive-and-screening-services.html)

Source: AgeWise reporting on Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality information.

Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Today over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and many of these people are cared for by their families. For the youngest family members, the changes in their relative can be bewildering and scary. The National Institute on Aging shares suggestions on helping children understand and cope with these changes.

When a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, it affects everyone in the family, including children and grandchildren. It’s important to talk to them about what is happening. How much and what kind of information you share depends on the child’s age and relationship to the person with Alzheimer’s.

Here are some tips to help young people understand what is happening:

  • Answer their questions simply and honestly. For example, you might tell a young child, “Grandma has an illness that makes it hard for her to remember things.
  • Help them know that their feelings of sadness and anger are normal
  • Comfort them. Tell them no one caused the disease.

Talk with children about their concerns and feelings. Some may not talk about their negative feelings, but you may see changes in how they act. Problems at school, with friends, or at home can be a sign that they are upset. A school counselor or social worker can help your child understand what is happening and learn how to cope. A teenager might find it hard to accept how the person with Alzheimer’s has changed. He or she may find the changes upsetting or embarrassing and not want to be around the person. Don’t force them to spend time with the person who has Alzheimer’s. This could make things worse. Give children information about Alzheimer’s that they can understand. The National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center offers online resources for children, as well as recommendations of books that you can purchase or request from your local library.

Spending time together and alone

It’s important to reassure children that they can still talk with the person with Alzheimer’s disease and help him or her enjoy activities. Doing fun things together can help both the child and the person with Alzheimer’s. Here are some things they might do:

  • Do simple arts and crafts
  • Play music or sing
  • Look through photo albums
  • Read stories out loud

If children live in the same house as someone with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Don’t expect a young child to help take care of or “babysit” the person.
  • Make sure they have time for their own interests and needs, such as playing with friends, going to school activities, or doing homework.
  • Make sure you spend time with them, so they don’t feel that all your attention is on the person with Alzheimer’s.

Be honest about your feelings when you talk with children, but don’t overwhelm them. If the stress of living with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease becomes too great, think about placing the person with Alzheimer’s into a respite care facility. Then, both you and your kids can get a much-needed break.
For more information, visit the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s disease website at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, or call the Center toll-free at 1-800-438-4380.

What’s The Healthiest Food Hidden In Your Easter Basket?

What’s The Healthiest Food Hidden In Your Easter Basket?

Tips and Recipes from the American Institute for Cancer Research

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), munching on too many marshmallow chicks, jellybeans and chocolate bunnies can add up to weight gain – and the higher cancer risk that comes with it. But at least one item in the Easter basket – the colorful egg – can play a role in a healthy, cancer-protective diet.

The Easter tradition of dyeing eggs can lead to dozens of beautiful hard-boiled eggs that may never find their way onto a meal or snack plate. AICR says Americans should rethink how to use those leftover eggs.

According to AICR experts, research shows that Americans can cut their cancer risk by eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes with small to moderate amounts of animal foods.

“Eggs have a place in the cancer-protective New American Plate way of eating, which fills at least 2/3 of the plate with plant foods, and the remaining 1/3 or less with animal foods,” said Alice Bender, AICR’s Registered Dietitian. “Eggs fit nicely into that 1/3, as they’re high in protein, moderate in calories and low in saturated fat.”

Protein Priced Right

Those Easter eggs add a powerful protein punch to any meal or snack at an affordable price – for fewer pennies than an equivalent amount of protein from chicken breast or even canned kidney beans. Eggs provide some B vitamins, a few minerals and at about 70-80 calories each, they don’t break the calorie bank either.

Armed with some food safety knowledge and AICR’s tasty recipes, families, students and others looking to stretch their food dollar can take advantage of the versatile package of protein.

No Bad Eggs in Your Kitchen

Follow these food safety tips from the USDA to stay healthy and avoid foodborne illness:

  • Use only food-grade dye for Easter eggs you plan to eat.
  • Refrigerate eggs within two hours of cooking and use them within one week. When shell eggs are hard-cooked, the protective coating is washed away, leaving open pores in the shell where harmful bacteria could enter.
  • Don’t keep raw or cooked eggs out of the refrigerator more than two hours.
  • Egg dishes such as deviled eggs or egg salad should be used within 3 to 4 days.

Recipes for Your New American Plate

To make these egg salad recipes fit on the New American Plate, we’ve loaded them up with hearty beans and healthy veggies for extra flavor, substance – and health.

Egg Salad with White Beans

4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 cup canned small white beans, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. chopped Kalamata olives
2 Tbsp. minced chives
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
3 dashes hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
8 Boston lettuce leaves
8 slices seedless cucumber, cut diagonally
1 large tomato, cut in 8 wedges
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

In a mixing bowl, coarsely chop eggs. Add beans. Spread olives on paper towel, blot well, then add to salad. Add chives, mustard, hot sauce and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Using a fork, mix until salad is well combined.

Arrange 2 lettuce leaves on each of 4 salad plates. Mound one-fourth of the egg salad in the center of each plate.

Place cucumber and tomatoes in mixing bowl. In small bowl, whisk lemon juice with 1/4 teaspoon salt until salt dissolves, then whisk in oil. Add pepper to taste. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat. Arrange 2 cucumber slices and 2 tomato wedges on each plate around the salad. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings (2 1/2 cups egg salad mixture).

Per serving: 167 calories, 7 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat), 14 g. carbohydrate, 10 g. protein, 3 g. dietary fiber, 266 mg. sodium.

Egg and Vegetable Salad Sandwich

4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1/3 cup grated carrot
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
3 Tbsp. finely chopped pitted Sicilian-style green olives
1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots
1 Tbsp. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices thinly sliced square black or pumpernickel bread
2 cups fresh baby spinach
12 cherry or grape tomatoes, for garnish

Place 3 hard-cooked eggs in mixing bowl. Halve the fourth, discard yolk, and add white to the bowl. Chop eggs. Add carrots, celery, chives, olives, shallots, yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard, and pepper and mix with a fork until well combined.

To serve, place a slice of the bread on each of 4 plates. Cover each with one-fourth of the spinach. Mound one-fourth of the egg salad on top of the spinach. Add 3 tomatoes to each plate and serve immediately.

Makes 1 3/4 cups, (4 servings).

Per serving: 112 calories, 4 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 13 g. carbohydrate, 6 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 300 mg. sodium.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results.  Visit the AICR website (www.aicr.org) to find delicious, healthful recipes and information.

This article is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor or nutritionist. If you have questions about cholesterol or other dietary restrictions, call your healthcare provider.

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Today, most of us take our computers for granted—in the workplace, in our homes, at the doctor’s office, and right at our side no matter where we go. But as soon as computers began to appear in the workplaces and homes of Americans, researchers expressed concerns about the “digital divide”—the line between those with computer skills and access, and those without. Florida State University researcher Neil Charness pointed out, “The technology gap is a problem because technology, particularly computer and internet technology, is becoming ubiquitous, and full participation in society becomes more difficult for those without such access.”
The divide today is drawn along economic and educational lines—but also, it seems, along age lines, with seniors slower to adopt digital technology and embrace computer use.

How are we doing today, a quarter century after the first personal computers arrived on the scene? Let’s take a look at the ways computers are revolutionizing the way we age in America, beginning by examining four common myths about senior adults and computers:

Myth #1: Computers are only for younger people

First of all, let’s dispense with the notion that computers are a new invention, developed by young people. The reality is, computer technology has developed over the course of years, and there are plenty of elders who were computer-literate when computers were a lot less “user friendly” than they are now.

On the other hand, if you are old enough to have taken a typing class in high school, you are probably aware that those of us who encountered computers later in life didn’t benefit from early exposure to such skills as software features and keyboarding. So, for many seniors, there is a steeper learning curve.

It is true that at present seniors lag behind other age groups in adoption of computer technology. But seniors are catching up. In 2010, the Pew Foundation reported that only 42% of people 65 and over used the internet; that number grew to 53% in only two years. Computer use is growing fastest in the over-65 population. And as the baby boomers age, the digital divide between younger and older Americans will continue to close. Seniors are using e-mail, going on Facebook, sending out Twitter tweets, playing games and surfing the web in rapidly increasing numbers.

Myth #2: Computers are too complicated for seniors

There is an element of truth to this commonly held belief. Constant upgrades, ever more complex programs and the lighting speed evolution of technology are a challenge for anyone—and when you add some of the physical and cognitive changes of aging, developing computer literacy can seem daunting. Many family caregivers today report that tech support is one of their major eldercare responsibilities!

But, as we saw above, plenty of seniors have eagerly and easily entered the computer age. And new senior-friendly technologies are encouraging the trend. Computer manufacturers, software developers and e-commerce companies realize that with the aging of America, it’s good business practice to offer simpler user interfaces, website features for people with visual and cognitive impairment, and adaptive hardware such as arthritis-compatible mice and keyboards with larger letters. Seniors are adapting to computers…but computers are adapting to seniors, as well.

Myth #3: Computer use doesn’t have much impact on healthy aging

On the contrary! Not only do computers help seniors stay in touch with the world today, but seniors also stand to benefit by the advantages of new technologies. E-commerce, online banking and finding information online are convenient for everyone—and all the more so for people with mobility challenges. The internet can also be a great source of information about “real world” activities and events, providing incentive to remain active in the community. Indeed, surfing the web provides a powerful mood boost: a recent Phoenix Center study demonstrated that internet use by the elderly reduced depression by 20%!

Computer use also promotes brain health, combining reading and interactivity in a powerful way. You have probably heard of “brain exercise” computer programs and games—but did you know that going online also gives our memory a good workout? A 2009 study by UCLA researchers showed that while seniors perform simple web searches, blood flow is increased to areas of the brain that are vital for cognitive health. Researcher Teena D. Moody explains, “Searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults.”

And what about gaming? A waste of time for couch potatoes? Another recent study shows that seniors who play strategy videogames, such as Rise of Nations or Halo, experienced improved cognitive skills. Active video games, such as the Wii system, have also been found to give a good workout.

Myth #4: Online social networking is only for young people

Facebook, Twitter, email, chat rooms, online communities…older adults are going online for socialization in increasing numbers. Social networking is bringing seniors closer to friends and loved ones, and helping them make contact with new friends around the world. Connecting with friends and family in this way helps seniors avoid isolation and loneliness.  [Note to AgeWise subscribers: during April, content about seniors and social networking will be available, if you would like to include an invite at the end of this article.]

Learn More

Microsoft offers information on computer accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities. See Guide for Individuals with Age-related Impairments  to learn more about making your PC easier to see, hear and use.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

Five Myths About Aging

Five Myths About Aging

Common misperceptions can stand in the way of making the best choices as we grow older.

Myth #1: Seniors are grouchy. Cartoon strips starring curmudgeonly old men, elderly women whacking miscreant teenagers with their canes…the crabby senior is an archetype with which we are all familiar. It is true that physical pain, depression, sensory impairment and mobility loss can take a toll on anyone’s mood and outlook on life. But gerontological psychologists tell us that in general, our personality traits remain the same throughout our lives—and many of us even develop a more positive attitude as we age. Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center for Longevity says, “In general, people get happier as they get older.” Asked about the stereotype of the grumpy old man, Carstensen said, “Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old.” Seniors who are experiencing an uncharacteristic negative mood should be evaluated for underlying causes.

Myth #2: Memory loss is inevitable as we age. The idea of the “senile” senior is a pervasive cliché. Any older adult who has gone shopping with a younger relative, only to be ignored by a salesperson, knows that younger people often assume that seniors are incompetent. It is true that Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions that cause memory loss and cognitive impairment are more common as we grow older, and we do experience certain age-related memory changes. Yet most of us complete our lives fully cognitively intact. Indeed, recent studies suggest that older brains are better at certain tasks that involve discernment and judgment—the qualities more commonly referred to as “wisdom.” It is important to seek medical evaluation for memory problems right away. Many cases of memory loss are treatable—nutritional deficiencies, depression, sleep problems and medication side effects are common culprits. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or a similar condition, early diagnosis allows for the best care and planning.

Myth #3. Most seniors live in nursing homes. This is another cliché of yesteryear: rows of older adults sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of a “rest home.” Today’s long-term care facilities serve a vital function, providing care for people who need skilled nursing and rehabilitation. Other older adults opt to move to a retirement community or other senior residence—but according to the AARP, 90 percent of the baby boomers wish to “age in place,” remaining in their own homes as long as possible. This desire should guide our housing decisions sooner rather than later: will our homes be able to adapt to our changing needs? What in-home and community services are available to support older adults where we live? Could home modifications make the home a better fit if we later experience mobility and sensory challenges? We have a better chance of aging in place if we anticipate our future needs.

Myth #4: Longevity will continue to increase. During the 20th century, the average lifespan in the U.S. lengthened by thirty years! Many people assume that this trend will continue. But studies suggest that the baby boomers will not experience an average increased longevity—and they may even take a step backwards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the 45- to 64-year-olds of today are more likely to have two or more chronic conditions than their parents. A team led by life expectancy expert S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois Chicago predicts a decline in life expectancy within this century, as increased obesity rates lead to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. A recent survey conducted by the National Council on Aging found that although most seniors and baby boomers expect their lives to improve as they grow older, many are failing to take important steps to preserve their health. This is a reminder for people of every age that wellness doesn’t just happen. We can make lifestyle choices that increase the likelihood that we will enjoy a healthy old age.

Myth #5: Everyone ages in the same way. Today’s emphasis on healthy aging might seem to convey the message that we are in total control of our aging. But no matter how diligent we are about our health, unexpected illnesses, accidents and even our genes can send us on an unexpected path. There is no cookie-cutter model for how we will age and what our needs will be. On the individual level, this means that we should anticipate that arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease may strike even the most health-conscious among us. Learning all we can about the issues of later life allows us to create a flexible plan. National and community senior support organizations confirm that in these times, when we are trying to stretch our senior-support dollars, pinpointing the specific needs of individual seniors will bring increased efficiency and promote buy-in for taking charge of our own health.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

Can Laughter Lower Our Blood Pressure?

Humor has been shown to benefit our health in many ways—emotionally, physically and intellectually. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently reported on two studies that show a particular benefit: It would appear that having a good laugh can help lower our blood pressure.

In the first study, test subjects watched a comedy film while the movement of blood through their carotid arteries was measured. Researcher Jan Sugawara reported that more blood moved through the subjects’ arteries when they were watching the funny movie. Sugawara said, “Laughing is likely not the complete solution to a healthy heart, but it appears to contribute to positive effects.”
In a second study, subjects who also watched a funny movie experienced improved vascular function as evidenced by increased dilation of blood vessels—and the effect lasted for 24 hours. (Constricted blood vessels are associated with hypertension.)

The ACSM encourages all patients to talk to their healthcare provider about an overall activity program. Visit the ACSM website (www.acsm.org) to find information for providers and consumers promoting senior fitness.

© AgeWise, 2013

How Much Do You Know About Seniors and Nutrition?

March is National Nutrition Month! This is a great time to pay attention to the foods that we choose. While the basic guidelines for a healthy diet are pretty much the same for people of every age, older adults have special needs and concerns. Nutrition affects the all-around health of seniors, is a factor in a senior’s ability to properly absorb medications, and can have an impact on various health conditions that are common as we get older. If a senior loved one’s nutrition habits aren’t supporting good health, it might be time to sit down over a good meal and bring up the topic. And if you’ve never given much thought to nutrition, now might be the time to take a look at your own dietary choices!

Try your hand at this trivia quiz to see how much you know about the nutritional concerns of older adults.

1. The average person gains 10 to 20 pounds from age 45 to 65. This is…

A.    Normal and desirable. We need body fat to keep us warm.
B.    To be avoided. A person’s recommended weight remains the same throughout adulthood.
C.    Unusual. Few people gain weight as they grow older.
D.    Caused only by growing older, and not by inactivity or overeating.

Answer: B. Avoiding excess weight gain as we grow older helps us remain active and independent.  While recent studies suggest that a few extra pounds won’t hurt us, maintaining a healthy weight is important for preventing or managing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

2. Being significantly underweight…

A.    Is a “red flag” for possible health problems.
B.    Is great—the thinner the better!
C.    Can lead to fatigue, mental confusion and depression.
D.    A and C

Answer: D. Recent studies confirm that a slight weight “reserve” is beneficial for elders. When we lose too much weight, we are at greater risk for osteoporosis and other health problems. Report unexplained weight loss to the healthcare provider right away.

3. Poor diet in older adults can lead to…

A.    Osteoporosis
B.    Mental confusion
C.    Increased risk of falls
D.    All of the above

Answer: D. During our senior years, it’s as important as ever to consume the nutrients our bodies need for good health. Sometimes without anyone noticing right away, seniors can be caught up in a cycle of poor nutrition and health problems. It’s important to address the problems that lead to appetite loss.

4. Loss of appetite can be caused by…

A.    Depression and loneliness
B.    Medications
C.    Tooth or denture problems
D.    All of the above

Answer: D. Mood disorders, some medications taken for conditions such as heart disease and pain control, and tooth problems or poorly fitted dentures are all common causes of appetite loss in seniors. The first step is to address these problems. The healthcare provider may also recommend nutritional supplements if weight loss continues to be a problem.

5. If a person has Parkinson’s, had a stroke, arthritis or another condition that makes eating difficult, he or she…

A.    Will never be able to relearn independent eating.
B.    Should not rely on adaptive devices like long-handled spoons.
C.    Can get help from a rehabilitation therapist.
D.    Should be discouraged from trying to feed him- or herself.

Answer: C. Physical limitations are another major cause of poor nutrition. If eating is difficult or discouraging, an occupational therapist can offer innovative ways to eat as independently as possible. Speech-language therapists provide help for swallowing disorders.

6. People with heart disease should limit the intake of…

A.    Cholesterol and saturated fat
B.    Fish
C.    Whole grains
D.    Nuts

Answer: A. Limiting cholesterol intake is important for preventing and managing heart disease. High fat and cholesterol diets are also linked with increased risk of stroke, cancer and other disorders. Choices B, C and D on the list are all foods that promote heart health.

7. Which of these foods does not contain cholesterol?

A.    Avocado
B.    Beef
C.    Cheese
D.    Eggs

Answer: A. Avocadoes, while higher in calories than most fruits and vegetables, contain a healthy type of fat. Cholesterol is only found in meat and dairy products.

8. Which statement about vitamins and supplements is true?

A. It is possible to take a harmful overdose of supplements.
B.  All seniors can get the nutrients they need from food alone.
C. Supplements are regulated by the FDA.
D. The recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals is the same for people of every age.

Answer: A. While eating well is the best path to good nutrition, vitamins and other supplements may be recommended for older adults. But be sure to follow the doctor’s advice on which and how much to take. The bodies of older adults process toxic substances less efficiently, and it is possible to take a harmful amount of substances such as vitamins A and D, calcium and iron.

9. Older adults are the age group most likely to…

A.    Get all the nutrients they need from food sources alone.
B.    Be targeted by sellers of fraudulent nutritional products and supplements.
C.    Be skeptical about supplements sold as “anti-aging” products.
D.    Research the value of supplements before purchasing them.

Answer: B. Seniors are often targeted by unscrupulous companies who sell useless and possibly dangerous vitamins or food supplements. These companies make attractive but impossible claims about “miracle anti-aging” products, and their numbers are growing every year. If your loved one is purchasing these products, encourage him or her to discuss this with the healthcare provider.

10. Seniors on a limited income may skimp on nutritious foods. Help may be available through…

a. Meals on Wheels
b. Congregate eating centers, like Senior Hot Lunch
c. Food stamps
d. All of the above

Answer: D. Senior nutrition programs are available in most communities. Hot meals or frozen meals can be delivered right to a senior’s home; others prefer to go to a dining center, where they can enjoy socialization along with their meal. Your local Senior Information agency will have more information about these programs.


For More Information

The USDA offers a wide variety of information and resources to help seniors meet the nutritional challenges of later life.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

Subtle Brain Change May Cause Increased Gullibility

A 75-year-old retired professor still regularly delivered guest lectures at universities around the country. “Dad is still so sharp,” his adult children often said. And yet, his family learned that he had fallen victim to an investment scam that cost him thousands of dollars.

It has long been known that seniors are at higher risk of being defrauded. People with memory loss and other cognitive impairment are targeted by crooks who know they may be an “easy mark.” And yet many seniors who are seemingly cognitively intact also make poor decisions that surprise their families.

A recent study by University of Iowa researchers suggests a reason that some older adults become more gullible. The research, published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, showed that many seniors experience deterioration of an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which controls belief and doubt. The study authors report: “This specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent…patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes.”

Study author Daniel Tranel encourages families to be protective of older relatives—but also to be understanding. “Instead of saying ‘How would you do something silly and transparently stupid,’ people may have a better appreciation of the fact that older people have lost the biological mechanism that allows them to see the disadvantageous nature of their decisions.”

To read more about the study, visit the University of Iowa website.

© IlluminAge AgeWise 2012

Too Old to Exercise?

In October, researchers from the University of California Irvine showed that being in poor physical condition raises the risk of dementia in people over age 90. They found that seniors who have trouble walking, standing and balancing are more likely to develop dementia. The study authors speculated, however, that the risk might be reversible.

Gerontologists are learning more and more about the way overall physical health influences brain health. They tell us that lifelong fitness increases the likelihood that we will remain cognitively healthy into our later years. But what about seniors who have not been particularly active? Does it do any good to begin an exercise program when you are 65? 75? 85? Older?

Universite de Montreal researchers say “yes.” Their geriatrics institute conducted a study of seniors who were aged 61 through 89. Half the participants took part in an exercise program over the course of three months; the other half did not. The results, which were published in the Journals of Gerontology, showed that the senior group who exercised “showed larger improvement in physical capacity (functional capacities and physical endurance), cognitive performance (executive functions, processing speed and working memory) and quality of life (overall quality of life, recreational activities, social and family relationships and physical health).”

Significantly, the benefits were equal no matter what the person’s physical condition. Even frail elders benefited from increased exercise. Lead researcher Dr. Louis Bherer stated, [pullquote]“My team was able to demonstrate that sedentary and frail senior citizens can benefit from major improvements not only in terms of physical function but also brain function, such as memory, and quality of life.” [/pullquote]His team will use these findings to promote an exercise program for seniors that will help both healthy and frail seniors stay at home longer.

Would you like to learn more about finding an exercise program tailored to your needs or those of a senior loved one? The National Institute on Aging’s online Go4Life program (http://go4life.nia.nih.gov) is a great place to start. According to Go4Life experts, only 25 percent of seniors engage in regular physical activity, and the percentage decreases with age. Go4Life offers information—and incentive—to help raise that percentage. Go4Life experts describe some of the benefits of exercise for the older population:

  • Fitness and cardio-respiratory health. In one study, moderately fit women and men had a 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity and some cancers when compared with their low-fit peers. Fit people obtained additional benefit, typically another 10-15 percent lower risk.
  • Reduced pain, better function with osteoarthritis. In a clinical trial of people age 60 and older with knee osteoarthritis, those who participated in an aerobic exercise or resistance exercise program reported less pain and better function than those in the group assigned to a health education program.
  • Preventing diabetes. Results from the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Diabetes Prevention Program, which examines ways to prevent or delay the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes, found that people over age 60 at high risk for diabetes reduced their risk by 71 percent by adopting a moderate exercise routine and a low-fat diet.

Study after study confirms the benefits of exercise in healthy aging. And it’s great to know that even a lifelong couch potato can benefit. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you. Your local senior services organization can also point you in the right direction. Get ready…get set…get your workout going!

Tips for Buying Long-Term Care Insurance

Information from Kaiser Health News on the complicated topic of long-term care insurance.

The question of whether to get long-term care (LTC) insurance bedevils consumers and their advisers. Unlike medical insurance, it is intended primarily to cover people who need assistance with so-called activities of daily living—for example, the care of a dementia patient or someone recovering from a broken hip. It can be expensive: Premiums range from $1,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on the age, sex and health of the purchaser as well as the extent of the coverage. And policy details can be confusing.

Kaiser Health News experts offer four things to consider as you make the decision:

  1. Determine if you qualify financially. Don’t buy if the out-of-pocket cost for the coverage would be more than you can afford. Consumer Reports advises people that if their net worth, excluding their home, is below $300,000, long-term care insurance is not a good buy for them. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners also recommends that consumers spend no more than 5% of their income on a long-term care policy. If you need long-term care but have few financial resources, Medicaid should quickly kick in to pay, although that will probably limit your choices for care. On the other hand, if you have a lot of resources (some financial advisers put that threshold at $2 million), you may be able to self-insure and pay the costs as they arise, thereby eliminating the need to buy a policy.
  2. Shop around. Unlike car insurance where you can switch carriers easily, it can be expensive to change long-term care policies because the premiums increase as you age and you lose the investments already made. Comparison shopping is critical. Some companies and associations (such as alumni groups and AARP) offer group policies with relatively liberal eligibility, making it easier to obtain coverage if the policyholder has any health issues. However, these policies may have more limited benefits than individually purchased plans.

If you are young or in excellent health, a group plan may also be more expensive; you may end up paying more to subsidize your less healthy peers. And if you are certain you want LTC insurance, the younger you are, the better. Your annual premiums will be smaller, and you have less chance of being denied for health reasons.

  1. Know what’s covered. Policies differ greatly, so know what you are buying. What services are covered? How long is the disability period before benefits kick in and what happens if you move from one facility to another? How much does the policy pay per day for nursing home care, home-health care and assisted living? How long will benefits last? Is there an inflation adjustment that anticipates rising medical costs as you age? How long are benefits extended (one, three or five years, or indefinitely)? Who determines benefit eligibility—your doctor, or the insurance company’s doctor—and on what basis? Are pre-existing conditions excluded? Does the policy cover mental or nervous disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse or self-inflicted injuries?

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners advises consumers to look for policies that include at least one year of nursing home or home health care coverage, including intermediate and custodial care; coverage for Alzheimer’s disease; inflation protection; a guarantee that the policy cannot be terminated because you get older or your health deteriorates; no requirement that the beneficiary has to first be hospitalized to receive benefits; and a 30-day cancellation period after purchase.

  1. Check out the insurance company. Review a carrier’s record with your state insurance commissioner’s office. Find out how long it has been in business, its complaint record, and history of raising rates. Stick with a company that has an A financial rating.

Also, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (http://www.naic.org/index_ltc_section.htm) and the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (http://www.aaltci.org/long-term-care-insurance) have consumer guides on their websites. The Department of Health and Human Services provides extensive information on its National Clearinghouse for Long Term Care website (www.longtermcare.gov).

This article was reprinted from Kaiser Health News (www.kaiserhealthnews.org) with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente. Read Calculating a Long-Term Care Policy (www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2012/January/24/calculating-a-long-term-care-policy.aspx) to learn more about whether long-term care insurance is a good idea for you.