Some Seniors Refusing Needed Care at Home

According to a recent article from Kaiser Health News, some seniors are refusing important medical care at home. Sometimes this is because of pride in independent living but sometimes it is because they are confused about what “home health care” is and whether or not insurance covers it.

Home Health Care is not the same as Home Care but, unfortunately, the terms are often used interchangeably and that is confusing. Home Health Care means your doctor has prescribed home health care involving intermittent skilled nursing care, physical therapy, speech-language pathology or continued occupational therapy. These services are paid by Medicare although you may be responsible for a portion of the bill for some equipment like wheelchairs, walkers, and oxygen equipment.

Home Care, on the other hand, generally refers to 24-hour a day care at home, meals delivered to your home and homemaker services like laundry, shopping, and cleaning. Home Care also includes help with Activities of Daily Living (ADL) such as bathing, dressing and using the bathroom when this is the only care you need. These Home Care services are normally not covered by Medicare, and unfortunately, this is where confusion can occur.

To understand what Home Health Care is and how Medicare defines it, be sure to download this free publication from the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS).

When Home Health Care is advised after a hospital stay, some seniors refuse the care mistakenly thinking that it is not covered by Medicare and they are concerned that they cannot afford to pay out of pocket. In these cases, important follow-up treatment is not received and medical complications can result.

If you get your medical services through a Medicare Health Plan (such as a Medicare Advantage Plan), be sure to check your Summary of Benefits to see how Home Health Care is covered under that plan as it may be different than how Traditional Medicare covers it.

If you or someone you know is offered Home Health Care, be sure to discuss the options in detail with your doctor. Make sure you understand what is covered by Medicare and what is not. It is important that critical follow-up care is received to make sure that complete recovery occurs.


Seniors and Mental Illness

Older man in cafeThe month of May is Mental Health Month so it is very appropriate that we talk about mental illness as it relates to seniors. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that one in four older Americans will experience some form of mental illness so this is not some rare occurrence we are talking about. Contrary to some negative stereotypes, it is not a normal part of aging to feel lonelier or more unhappy as people get older.

In an article published on May 4, the NCOA discussed the two major areas of concern: anxiety and depression. No one should have to suffer under the assumption that nothing can be done or that help is not available. If you or someone you know exhibits symptoms of anxiety or depression, it is important to seek help immediately.

There are many symptoms and diagnoses for anxiety. It is important not to “self-diagnose” any illness, but some symptoms to be on the alert for are panic attacks, nightmares, phobias or chronic worry about everyday activities. The nonprofit organization Mental Health America (MHA) has developed a free, anonymous online screening tool for anxiety. To be clear, this is not the same as a medical diagnosis, but some may find it helpful to use the screening results to start a conversation with their own physician.

Depression can also take many forms. You may notice in yourself or others symptoms such as poor sleep, extended periods of sadness, loss of enjoyment in everyday activities or loss of energy. Many articles have been written about depression creating a greater risk for suicide, but depression can also lead to an overall lower quality of life and even to physical health problems. Here again, MHA has developed an online screening tool for depression that people may find helpful in determining to seek professional help.

For people over 65, Medicare helps cover a wide range of mental health services including tests and visits with a physician, psychiatrist or social worker. Part D coverage can also help cover the costs of many medications prescribed to treat mental illness.

Although the month of May is designated as a time for heightened awareness of mental illness in our country, we should always be on the alert for symptoms in ourselves and in those we love. The stigma of the words “mental illness” have often caused people to avoid even discussing the issue. Just as with any other health issue, you should never hesitate to discuss your concerns with your family or you personal physician.


Older Drivers Getting Safer?

According to a study by the National Highway Safety Administration,  the number of fatal crashes involving drivers over 65 has decreased in recent years. Over the period from 2005 to 2014, the number of people over age 65 in the US increased by 26%. Yet, over the same period, the number of driver fatalities in crashes involving older drivers declined by 10%. Does that mean older drivers are getting safer?

It turns out there’s a bit more to the story. An article posted by The National Institute of Health attributes some of the change to several factors:

  • Better health for older people
  • Safer cars
  • Safer roads
  • Older drivers “policing” themselves, for instance by not driving at night

The same article points out that driving is a complex task and that as we age driving becomes more difficult. Some of the most common errors older drivers make are:

  • Failing to yield the right of way
  • Failing to stay in the proper lane
  • Misjudging the time or distance needed to turn in front of others
  • Failing to stop completely at a stop sign
  • Speeding or driving too slowly

There are things older drivers can do to improve their skills and decrease the chance of causing an accident. AARP has a Driver Safety Course it sponsors that not only improves your driving skills but may even earn you a discount from your auto insurance company. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), older drivers can stack the odds in their favor by purchasing cars with certain safety features.

Finally, there comes a time when it is simply prudent to stop driving. AARP discusses “the talk” relatives may need to have with older drivers about this. While this loss of mobility can have some psychological impact on an older person, it is important to understand that a serious accident can have catastrophic consequences.