Is Genetic Testing a Good Idea for Seniors?

Around 60% of adults ages 50-64 say they are interested in genetic testing, but less than 10% have actually gone through with taking one, according to a national poll done by the University of Michigan and the AARP in 2018.

Seniors have tended to stay away from genetic testing and there are a few reasons why. You may have seen the headlines about DNA testing scams, or you may feel that knowing the likelihood of future diseases would make you worry too much. It’s always best to get informed before you start swabbing anything!

How is genetic testing done?

Genetic tests can be done with a variety of biological samples, including hair, skin, blood, or saliva. Most commercial DNA tests will either have you spit into a sterile tube or use a cotton swab to collect samples from the inside of your cheek. 

Your genetic information is sent back to a laboratory, where technicians examine the DNA, chromosomes and proteins to look for variations associated with certain traits or diseases. The results are then sent to your home or doctor’s office, depending on what sort of genetic test you received.

Types of genetic tests

Genetic testing is actually a very broad term, covering everything from newborn screenings to forensic testing. But for health or ancestry information, the test will likely be predictive or diagnostic.

Many of the popular online genetic testing services offer predictive testing. These look for signs of potential disorders of which you have no symptoms at the time. If a physician orders your genetic test to confirm a condition based on your symptoms, it can be considered diagnostic testing.

Pros and cons of genetic testing

Genetic testing can provide a great insight into your health and family history, but there are still risks to consider. These should be weighed against the benefits before you decide to get a genetic test done.

Ancestry and health information

60% of the seniors polled by the AARP reported they would be interested in genetic ancestry testing. These tests are usually performed by looking for variations in the Y chromosome, which can be used to determine ancestry along the male lineage, or the mitochondrial DNA, which is only passed down from the mother.

The level of detail in your ancestry results will depend on which service you choose. Some services break down the globe into 500 geographic regions, where others separate it further into over 1,500 regions, giving you more detailed results. 

An equal amount of seniors have expressed interest in genetic testing to learn more about their health. They may get tested to see a clearer view of their general wellness, or to know their future risk of disease. But like the regional breakdown of ancestry, not all health tests on the market will test for the same conditions.

What diseases can be detected through genetic testing?

Until the last few years, the FDA had forbidden any direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing service to give their customers information about health and potential disease. This changed in 2017 when they approved one of the biggest DTC services for testing these 10 conditions:

  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • Celiac disease
  • Early-onset primary dystonia
  • Factor XI deficiency
  • Gaucher disease type 1
  • Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase deficiency
  • Hereditary hemochromatosis
  • Hereditary thrombophilia
  • Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Several other DNA testing services are seeking the same FDA approval and the scope of at-home genetic testing for disease will only grow larger from there. Tests are available for other conditions such as cancer, but they must be ordered by a physician.

Privacy concerns

Seniors expressed several concerns about genetic testing in the AARP’s study, but genetic privacy was not one of them. The sensitivity of genetic information is part of the reason the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996. But the legislation included a loophole, allowing companies to sell genetic data as long as it was not tied to your name or other information.

This loophole has been a windfall for the genetic testing industry. Testing services are partnering with pharmaceutical firms and granting them access to a backlog of genetic samples for use in research. Some services allow you to opt out of having your information sold, but be sure to read their Informed Consent paperwork carefully before you sign!

Genetic Discrimination

Another danger of having your genetic information sold and distributed is something called genetic discrimination. This occurs when you are treated negatively by an insurance company or even employer because of your genetic test results.

Luckily, the Genetic Information nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was passed in 2008 to help safeguard you from such discrimination. The two sections of that bill went into effect in 2009 and make it illegal for employers or insurers to use your genetic information against you.

Does Medicare cover genetic testing?

In the AARP’s study, roughly 68% of seniors said they would be more interested in genetic testing if it was fully covered by their insurance. Several questionable DTC testing services have taken advantage of this by claiming their tests are covered by Medicare, then fraudulently billing the program thousands of dollars. 

In truth, Medicare will only cover the cost of genetic testing if it is ordered by a doctor. Your physician may order a genetic test to confirm a cancer diagnosis, or to assess how you will metabolize certain drugs. For more information on receiving Medicare genetic testing reimbursement for cancer screening, see our full article on the subject.

If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you may also be covered for certain diagnostic tests and could be entitled to additional benefits. Click here or call us at 833-438-3676 to speak with one of our licensed agents about finding the right plan for you!

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

Does Medicare Cover Your Migraines?

Most of the 4 million Americans who suffer from migraines are between the ages of 18 and 44. These severe headaches usually diminish in later life but can still be a cause for concern for seniors. Migraines are reported in 17% of those over age 65 and may indicate a more serious underlying condition. 

If you experience migraines, consult with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. You may even be able to use your Medicare benefits to cover some of the cost!

Migraine symptoms and treatment

A migraine is defined as a severe, recurring headache that can last for hours or even days. Those who have these headaches chronically can show symptoms for around 15 days out of the month. If you are experiencing these symptoms, check with your physician as soon as you can. The most common symptoms are:

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Blurred vision or sensitivity to light
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Confusion

Treatment Options

The primary treatment method for migraines is medication, both for relief and prevention. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these medications depending on your diagnosis and symptoms. 

Abortive migraine medications are used to relieve the symptoms of severe headaches as they occur.  Some of these target serotonin in the brain to treat migraines directly, while others are used to treat individual symptoms. Some are available over-the-counter. 

These abortive medications include:

  • Almotriptan (Axert)
  • Sumatriptan (Alsuma, Imitrex)
  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)
  • Acetaminophen
  • Chlorpromazine (for treating nausea)

In cases of severe or frequent symptoms, your doctor may prescribe preventive migraine medications. These are meant to diminish the regularity and intensity of migraines before they happen. 

Antidepressants and high blood pressure medications are commonly used for preventive treatment, as are some new injectables like Aimovig. Recently, doctors have even been using botox to treat migraines!

Migraine coverage with Medicare

Seniors who suffer from migraines might be wondering if their treatment will be covered by Medicare. The answer is sort of complicated: different parts of Medicare will cover certain migraine treatments, but only if your doctor confirms that you need it. For instance, Medicare Part B may cover injections, whereas Part D might cover prescription drugs.

What does Medicare Part B cover?

Part B can cover up to 80% of eligible expenses like doctor’s visits, labwork, or injections given by your physician. This means that after you meet your deductible, you will only have to pay 20% of the total cost. If you have a Medicare Supplement plan however, you may use it to cover that remaining coinsurance.

For more information on finding a Supplement plan to cover your medical expenses, use our Plan Finder tool or call 844-431-1832 to speak to a licensed agent today!

Does Medicare cover botox for migraines?

The FDA has approved the use of botox as a form of chronic migraine medication. It works by blocking certain chemicals that cause muscle pain. The primary botox injection sites for migraines are the muscle fibers in the forehead and neck, where migraine pain usually occurs. These injections are usually given every 10-12 weeks to remain effective.

In order for you to receive this coverage, your doctor may need to perform diagnostic tests to confirm to Medicare that migraine therapy is needed. Additionally, Medicare may require your physician to attempt other treatment options before it will cover botox injections. 

Be sure to check with your doctor to ensure that your botox injections will be covered by Medicare!

What does Medicare Part D cover?

Medicare Part D mostly covers prescription medications in the form of pills, ointments, inhalers etc. While many prescription migraine medications may be covered by your Part D benefits, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Before getting your medication, check the formulary for your Part D plan and make sure that your prescription is covered.

We know that Part B will pay for injections administered by a medical professional, but there are some injectable migraine medications meant for home use. This is another area where Part D can help cover the cost!

Does Medicare cover Aimovig?

A new form of preventive medication has recently emerged, called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists. Name brands like Aimovig come in prefilled autoinjector pens and are usually prescribed on a monthly basis. 

Your Part D benefits may cover a prescription for Aimovig, but the actual amount you pay out-of-pocket can vary depending on if you’ve met your deductible. Don’t forget to check with your Part D plan provider to see if your Aimovig prescription will be covered and how much you will pay in coinsurance.

Treatments not covered by Medicare

There are many forms of alternative treatment for migraines that Medicare will not cover. Acupuncture has been suggested a way of treating migraines, as has massage therapy. Unfortunately, these methods have not been approved by the FDA and, as a general rule, Medicare will only cover FDA-approved treatments.

Chiropractic treatments have also been indicated as a method for natural migraine prevention and pain relief. Medicare however does not cover chiropractic care, except as part of subluxation correction.

If you are suffering from migraines, talk with your doctor about finding a form of migraine therapy that works for you and can be covered by your Medicare benefits!

7 Important Things You Never Knew About Medicare

What is Medicare? Most people are familiar with short answer: Medicare is a federal health insurance program that covers people over the age of 65, people with certain disabilities, or those who suffer from either ESRD (end-stage renal disease) or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

While this is probably the easiest way to explain Medicare, most people don’t know how complicated it can be once you dive below the surface. Here we’ve broken down the 7 most important facts about Medicare that you may have never heard before!

1. There are multiple parts of Medicare

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Medicare is that it’s one gigantic program. In truth, what we refer to as Medicare actually has four distinct components, or “parts.” You might hear some different names used but usually these parts will be designated as A, B, C, or D.

The Original Medicare program consists of Part A and Part B. Part A primarily covers inpatient hospital care, while Part B handles outpatient services like doctor visits. These two components of Original Medicare represent the basic coverage that is available to you when you turn 65. 

Part C, often called Medicare Advantage plans, are offered by private health insurance companies. These allow recipients of parts A and B to also receive benefits like dental, vision, and prescription drug coverage depending on the plan they choose.

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

Part D, sometimes called a prescription drug plan (PDP), offers prescription drug coverage to beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare. These are offered by private insurance companies as an addition to the Original Medicare benefits, as Original Medicare does not include any drug coverage. 

To see these different Medicare plans explained in even more detail, check out our more in-depth blog here on finding the best types of Medicare plans for you in 2020!

2. You can’t enroll whenever you want

Unfortunately, Medicare is not a program you can just enroll in at any time. It’s true that you are eligible for Medicare when you turn 65, but unless you qualify for automatic enrollment, you will need to sign up during one of the five designated enrollment periods

The Initial Enrollment Period (IEP) is usually your primary opportunity for Medicare enrollment. If you are aging into the program, this IEP begins three months before your 65th birthday and extends to three months after, giving you seven months in total to enroll.

There is actually a second IEP, sometimes called IEP2, available for those who are eligible for Medicare before they turn 65, such as those with disabilities. This period also lasts seven months and gives these beneficiaries an opportunity to make changes to their plan. 

The General Enrollment Period (GEP) is offered for first-time Medicare enrollees who did not join during their IEP. This period occurs every year from January 1 to March 31. Coverage applied for during this period begins on July 1st.

The AEP, or Annual Enrollment Period, starts every October 15 and runs until December 7. This period provides an opportunity for those already enrolled in Medicare to make changes to their coverage, such as adding a Part D plan or converting your Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.

Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs) allow Medicare beneficiaries to make changes to their coverage outside of AEP. During these periods, people who are enrolled in a Special Needs Plan or who have recently lost a job can add to or switch their coverage. Check out the handy graphic below to see if you qualify for one of these SEPs.

medicare special enrollment period | Medicare Plan Finder
Special Enrollment Period | Medicare Plan Finder

In 2019, a new enrollment period was introduced, called the Open Enrollment Period, or OEP. This period lasts from January 1 to March 30, and lets those who enrolled in Medicare Advantage during AEP make changes in their coverage without having to wait for the next AEP.

3. You may have to pay if you delay

If you do miss your IEP, you may have to pay penalties when you finally do enroll. The amount you will pay and the duration you will have to pay depends on which part of Medicare you enroll in and how long you waited.

The Part A penalty is incurred if you do not qualify for free, automatic enrollment and you fail to sign up for it when you are eligible. This penalty will be added to your premium to the tune of 10%, which you will have to pay for twice the number of years that you neglected to sign up.

If you enroll late in Part B, your premium will go up by about 10% for every year you were eligible but didn’t sign up. You will then have to pay this increased premium for the entire time you have Medicare Part B. You may also have to pay a penalty if you do not enroll in a Part D plan within the first three months that your Parts A & B are active. However, some of these penalties may be avoided if you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.

4. Original Medicare only covers 80%

Once you are finally enrolled, you might wonder: “How much does Medicare cover?” The unfortunate truth is that it will not fully cover your medical expenses. Parts A & B will only cover up to 80% of the cost of Medicare-covered services, leaving you to pay the remaining 20% coinsurance. 

This might not be too much trouble for routine doctor visits, but in the case of a medical emergency or hospital stay, the amount you pay out-of-pocket can skyrocket quickly. To cover that last 20%, consider purchasing a Medicare Supplement plan to add on to your Original Medicare coverage.

5. Original Medicare doesn’t cover dental, hearing, or vision

Many people might not realize that Medicare covers very little in the way of dental and hearing expenses, and virtually nothing when it comes to vision. Part A will sometimes pay for specific dental services if you have to get them while you are staying in a hospital, but will not pay for cleanings, fillings, dentures etc.

Medicare will sometimes cover diagnostic hearing exams if your physician orders it as part of their treatment, but will not cover hearing aids under any circumstances. For vision coverage, your options with Original Medicare are even more limited, as it will not pay for eye exams, glasses, or contact lenses.

There are some options that can provide vision, hearing, and dental coverage for seniors. A DVH (or Dental, Vision, Hearing) plan can be purchased to add to your Original Medicare benefits, or you might look to a Medicare Advantage policy to consolidate all of that coverage into one plan. 

If you think Part C might be the best coverage option for you, click here or give us a call at 844-431-1832 to have a licensed agent help you compare Medicare Advantage plans!

6. Original Medicare will not cover you abroad

Aside from a few very specific circumstances, Medicare Parts A and B will not cover your health care while you are traveling outside the United States. Medicare Part D plans are also invalid once you are more than 6 hours away from a U.S. port.

But there are some Medicare coverage options available for foreign travel, primarily in the form of Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plans.

7. Supplement plans have the same coverage, different cost

Medicare Supplement, or Medigap, insurance can be used to cover the out-of-pocket costs you may have to pay with Parts A and B. Insurance carriers offer many different types of Medigap plans, often sorted alphabetically, but they all must follow the same government regulations. 

This means that Plan F from one carrier must provide the same benefits as Plan F from another carrier. Below is a quick breakdown of all the benefits covered by the different Medigap plan types.

2020 Medicare Supplement Comparison Chart
2020 Medicare Supplement Comparison Chart

Once you have found a Medigap plan type that meets your needs, you must consider the price. Insurance carriers must cover what is mandated by the government guidelines, but may charge very different rates for that coverage.

To find the best price, reach out to one of our licensed agents here or at 844-431-1832 to have them run a personalized quote, or use our Medicare Plan Finder Tool to compare all the plans offered in your state and county!

3 Easy Steps to Making New Friends After Retirement

It’s always tough adjusting to big life changes and, as we get older, those changes seem to come faster and faster. Retiring, moving to a new city, or the death of a spouse can all be overwhelming and foster social withdrawal and isolation. 

In fact, a recent survey of retirees showed that 11% of those questioned said they felt lonely and isolated, and almost half of those had recently moved to a new home. The AARP estimates that 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from loneliness, which has been established as a risk factor for early illness and death, especially among seniors.

Fortunately, staying social is easier than ever in our modern age. Read on and learn some awesome methods for making and maintaining new friendships!

1. Follow Your Passions To Find Friends

It’s not easy knowing how to make friends when you are older. Stanford researchers have even suggested that baby boomers are withdrawing from social relationships more than any other group. 

But finding new friends doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Just ask yourself a few simple questions: what do you like to do? What are you passionate about? What would you like to learn more about? Finding people with mutual interests and passions is the best place to start forging new friendships.

Social Networking for Seniors

More than ever, technology is helping us form and sustain new friendships. A quick Google search will bring you to senior friendship sites like Silversurfers or Buzz50, which feature forums and chat rooms tailored to older adults. 

You can also find countless senior social media groups on platforms like Facebook, which have an increasingly large userbase over the age of 55. Here you can get connected with people online or even find a group that meets in real life. You can look for clubs, classes, or other hobby groups in your area and you’re sure to meet other like-minded social seniors.

2. Getting Out and About

In the social media age, congregating with people who have shared interests can be done from the comfort of your own home. But if you’re feeling cooped up, there are countless ways to meet new senior friends while staying active!

Senior Meetups

A senior meetup is a great place to meet seniors in your area that share your interests or passions. You may find these meetups at churches, gyms, retirement communities, or other places senior citizens hang out. There are even dedicated websites like Meetup.com, which connect you to in-person events based on your location and preferred activity. This helps provide a built-in ice breaker, as you can discuss your common interests.

If you are into photography or arts & crafts, find a workshop at a senior community center where you can advance your skills. If you enjoy cooking but are getting bored of the same old recipes, join a cooking class like the ones offered at Sur La Table. If you’re more of an outdoorsy type, there are groups that go for nature outings. Or you may prefer to find a group that gets together simply to eat, drink, and socialize.

Volunteer Opportunities for Seniors

Another great solution for the social isolation elderly people face is volunteering. This can be a great way to form social connections and do something good for others at the same time. 

Organizations like Senior Corps offer programs that allow retirees to mentor young people, be a companion to other seniors who are less mobile, or share their expertise in community projects like building housing.

The AARP also has a program called the AARP Foundation Experience Corps, where those over the age of 50 can tutor young children to help improve their reading comprehension. This mentoring has an impressive impact on the students, improving their literacy skills by up to 60%.

Senior Fitness Classes

Working up a sweat is a tried-and-true strategy for staving off some of the side effects of isolation, such as depression and anxiety. But it can also be a terrific way to meet new people! 

Active older adults can join a senior fitness program to help keep an exercise routine and chat with other seniors looking to stay in shape. Many of these programs, like Silversneakers®, may be covered by your insurance. If you have Medicare and are considering purchasing a Medicare Advantage plan to cover fitness programs, click here or give us a call at 844-431-1832 to speak with a licensed agent.

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

3. Get To Know Your New Friends

Once you have made some new acquaintances, it can be difficult to form a closer bond. Plus, as we get older, we usually have less interest in maintaining superficial or casual relationships. Getting organized and keeping to a routine can help tremendously in developing old and new friendships alike.

Keep A Schedule To Stay In Touch

The best way to uphold and develop a relationship is to keep in contact on a regular basis. As your social group grows, start a calendar.

A well-organized calendar can ensure you never miss a meetup or social event that you want to attend. You can also use your calendar to keep track of birthdays and anniversaries. A simple “happy birthday” can go a long way in strengthening a burgeoning friendship.

Just as modern technology can help us meet new people, it can also help us stay in touch with friends and family alike. On social media platforms like Facebook, you can stay engaged with your social groups, old and new, by liking or commenting on statuses and pictures, as well as posting a few of your own! Emails and phone calls can also keep you in the loop with new friends.

Whichever way you choose to find your new social group, remember that forming long-lasting bonds takes time. If a new acquaintance does not respond to your efforts, try not to take it personally. There are plenty more people out there looking for the same connections you are. Keep searching and don’t get discouraged!

5 Common Types of Mental Illness In The Elderly

Most of today’s senior citizens grew up in a time when mental illness was almost never discussed in public. Over the years though, the stigma around mental health has largely eroded and conversations about mental health often dominate the national discourse. 

As mental illness becomes less taboo, its far-reaching impact on society is coming more into focus. For example, the effects of mental illness in seniors are studied much more closely than ever before.

Common Types of Mental Illness In Seniors

With this more extensive research, it’s easier to see what mental health issues are common in the elderly population. The most prominent issues in senior mental health are:

1. Depression

Depression is often cited as the most endemic mental illness in the elderly population today. Many older adults may shrug depression symptoms off as simply “feeling down,” meaning it often goes undiagnosed and may be even more pervasive than the research suggests. 

There are many risk factors that specifically contribute to depression in the elderly. Retiring from work can cause strong feelings of boredom or listlessness, and the death or illness of a spouse can leave many stressed and sorrowful. 

Not only can depression exacerbate the symptoms of other chronic health issues, it is also noted as a symptom of more severe mental disorders like dementia. This means seniors and their loved ones must be vigilant in watching for these depression symptoms:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • Lack of motivation or interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Trouble concentrating and decision making
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

2. Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can take many different forms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. These are usually characterized by intense fear or nervousness over issues most would consider normal, routine aspects of everyday life – locking doors or finding a parking spot, for example.

Like depression, anxiety in older adults is extraordinarily common and is often underdiagnosed. Older adults are especially prone to ignoring this illness, perhaps because the conventional medical wisdom of previous decades downplayed psychiatric symptoms if no physical issues existed.

It is important to note however, that some physical symptoms such as restlessness or fatigue may accompany anxiety, further confusing a potential diagnosis. Be on the lookout for these symptoms of anxiety in the elderly:

  • Irrational, obsessive, or catastrophic thoughts
  • Isolating behavior and withdrawal from others
  • Irritability or agitated moods
  • Fatigue and muscle soreness

3. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed in younger people, whose moods can swing quickly from elation to depression. If this diagnosis is made when the person is an older adult, it is referred to as late onset bipolar disorder and it is more likely to manifest as agitation.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in seniors is made even more difficult by the misinterpretation of symptoms. Many of the warning signs of late onset bipolar disorder might be dismissed as simply the natural effects of aging. Furthermore, some symptoms may resemble the side effects of certain medications, like antidepressants and corticosteroids.

As the population steadily increases, the number of cases of late onset bipolar disorder is expected to rise along with it. Professional help should thus be sought if you or those close to you observe any of these bipolar symptoms in adults:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Hyperactivity or distractibility
  • Loss of memory, judgment, or perception

4. Schizophrenia

Similar to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia is a condition usually diagnosed in younger individuals. Late onset schizophrenia is the terminology used when this disorder is observed in patients over the age of 45. 

Schizophrenia is characterized by a broad range of symptoms, from the so-called “negative” symptoms, like loss of interest or enthusiasm in activities, all the way to delusions and hallucinations. While late onset schizophrenia is less common than the early onset variety, older sufferers are more likely to experience these severe symptoms.

Currently, doctors are unsure what causes late onset schizophrenia and why it is different from its other forms. Some have theorized that it is a subtype of the disorder which is triggered by life events. Regardless, it is vitally important that seniors and their loved ones keep an eye out for these late onset schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech or behavior
  • “Negative” symptoms (absence or lack of interest in normal behaviors)

5. Dementia

Though it is classified separately from mental illnesses by the medical community, dementia is still a disorder that severely affects mental health. There are many different stages and forms of dementia but the most common incarnation is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects around 3 million people over age 65. 

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can develop from the natural cognitive decline that happens as we age, drawing a startling link between aging and mental health. All demographics should make mental health a priority but seniors especially should watch for these dementia symptoms:

  • Disorientation or confusion (forgetting dates, years etc.)
  • Decrease in memory
  • Decline in ability to communicate 
  • Mood swings and emotional issues

Treatment & Medication

Mental illness treatment can involve inpatient or outpatient care.

Mental illness treatment can be a tricky process and it begins with a proper diagnosis of the condition’s type and cause. To do this, your doctor may administer several different types of tests, from cognitive and psychiatric evaluations to brain scans and lab tests. 

Several different mental conditions have symptoms that overlap and make them difficult to diagnose without extensive medical experience. Once the condition is properly diagnosed, a doctor may suggest one of these common forms of mental illness treatment.

Outpatient Care

The most common forms of outpatient mental illness treatment are based around medication or psychotherapy, often used in conjunction. The efficacy of these treatments varies from person to person and sometimes multiple treatment options must be attempted before an effective one is found.

For depression and anxiety disorders, pharmacological methods of treatment usually utilize antidepressants. These can be prescribed in addition or as an alternative to psychotherapeutic approaches like “talk therapy.” The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) also suggests regular exercise and a balanced diet as ways of staving off these common mental illnesses, stressing the link between brain and gut health.

The primary medications used in treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in seniors are classified as antipsychotics, usually prescribed at a lower dosage than people diagnosed at a younger age. For non-drug treatments of more severe cases, inpatient care is often required for proper rehabilitation. 

For the treatment of dementia in the elderly, no cure is currently known. But the symptoms can be managed and the Alzheimer’s Association recommends a non-drug approach before attempting medication. These can begin with something as simple as changing the environment of those with dementia to remove obstacles and promote a general ease of mind. 

If these non-drug approaches are not effective, certain types of medications like cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine may be prescribed to temporarily relieve some symptoms. Other approaches may include the use of antidepressants or anxiolytics, depending on the specific behaviors and symptoms that manifest.

Inpatient Care

With the more serious mental illnesses widely seen among seniors, outpatient care may not be an option. Those suffering from bipolar disorder or dementia may not be able to maintain their daily functions on their own and must turn to medical services that can attend to their needs 24 hours a day. 

For example, the most common form of therapy for conditions like schizophrenia is a psychosocial approach, where a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and other professionals work in close contact with the patient to monitor their symptoms, both mental and physical, and help them maintain social skills and daily activities.

In these severe cases of mental illness, the accessibility of quality inpatient care has been shown to be a determining factor in recovery. The psychosocial interactions common in inpatient care are now considered to play a necessary role in a comprehensive intervention plan, as isolation can intensify many of the symptoms of these conditions.

What mental health services does Medicare cover?

Medicare can help pay for your mental health care.

When faced with one of these potentially life-changing illnesses, it is important to know what exactly is covered by your health insurance. Depending on the condition and its severity, some patients may need an extended stay in a hospital, which can quickly skyrocket the cost of care. Fortunately, Medicare covers many mental health services.

Medicare Part A Coverage

The types of mental health coverage offered differ depending on which elements of Medicare you are covered by. Medicare Part A covers inpatient care, or the medical services you receive while staying in a hospital. The out-of-pocket costs not covered are the same regardless of the type of hospital, general or psychiatric.

Medicare measures your use of hospital facilities using benefit periods. These benefit periods are tallied in increments of 60 days, beginning on the day you’re admitted to a hospital and ending when you haven’t used any hospital services for 60 consecutive days.

If your stay is in a general hospital, there is no limit to the amount of benefit periods Medicare will cover. In a specialized psychiatric facility though, Part A will only pay for up to 190 days of inpatient care during your lifetime.

For further information on how the co-payments break down, check out this handy graphic or see our more in-depth article here.

2020 Medicare Part A Copayments
2020 Medicare Part A Copayments

Medicare Part B Coverage

Medicare Part B will cover most of the cost associated with outpatient mental healthcare. This primarily includes any doctor visits that may relate to your mental health, including appointments with psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers. 

Therapy and counseling may or may not be covered depending on if the doctor accepts Medicare assignment. Finding a therapist who takes Medicare is now easier than ever, using tailored search tools like the one developed by Psychology Today, available here.

After you meet your Part B deductible, Medicare will cover 80% of their approved amount to the doctor or therapist. This leaves a 20% copay that will have to be paid out-of-pocket. For some, this may still be too expensive and that’s where Medicare Advantage, Supplement, and Part D plans can help!

Medicare Advantage, Supplement & Part D Coverage

There are several types of supplemental coverage that can help pay for Medicare mental health benefits. 

Part D plans, for example, offer coverage for prescription drugs which are not covered by original Medicare. For the year of 2020, these plans will have an annual deductible of $435 but, since they are provided by private insurance, there is some variation in the deductible, which may be waived, reduced, or charged upfront.

Medicare Advantage plans, also referred to as Part C, can offer far more benefits than parts A and B alone, including prescription drugs, dental and vision coverage, and group fitness classes tailored to seniors. 

Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Advantage | Medicare Plan Finder

Alternately, you may choose to apply for a Medicare Supplement plan, which provides additional financial benefits to help with mental health-related costs like copayments and deductibles. There are up to ten distinct types of Medicare Supplement plans (designated alphabetically from A – N). Each plan may differ in coverage and price. 

Medicare Supplements | Medicare Plan Finder
Medicare Supplements | Medicare Plan Finder

Whatever supplemental coverage you are looking for, it is best to seek the help of a licensed agent who can fully explain the details of each plan and find one that works best for you or your loved one. To contact one of these professionals directly for free, no-strings-attached information, fill out this form or give us a call at 844-431-1832 and get covered today!

Home Health Tests Seniors Should Try

We’re all aware we should make an effort to regularly see our physicians. But we also know that life tends to get in the way. 

Especially for seniors, transportation and cost can often prevent routine doctor visits. However, just because you can’t get to your doctor’s office, doesn’t mean you have to stay in the dark about your health. There are quite a number of tests that you can perform without ever leaving home!

Tests You Can Do At Home Today

The range of at-home tests and testing methods varies widely. Some require expensive medical equipment only available through a supplier and with a prescription, while others require only a pen and paper. Here are some tests that you can do today with little to no supplies

SAGE Test for Dementia

The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, or SAGE, was devised by researchers from the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University. SAGE can help detect early warning signs of cognitive impairment and memory loss in less than 15 minutes.

The test has several components and several forms, all of which can be viewed and downloaded at the Wexner Medical Center’s website. These include sections on orientation, language, memory and visuospatial awareness.

The most well-known element of the SAGE is known as the clock drawing test. All you need to do is get out a pen and paper and draw a picture of a clock, with the hands reading 3:40. Then compare your drawing to a real clock to see how you scored.

If your circle is closed, give yourself a point. If all twelve numbers are accounted for and in the right place, you get two more points. If your hands are in the correct position as well, you passed with flying colors. A score of any less than three points, however, might be an indication that you should see your physician for further screening. This test is sometimes performed without the rest of the exam, though it is usually recommended to perform the entire SAGE test for dementia detection.

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Free Medicare 101 Course

Window Test for Vision Loss

Our eyes take a lot of abuse these days from the onslaught of screens and artificial lighting. It’s even more severe as we get older and the natural, age-related loss of vision begins to take effect. If you experience some trouble reading, give yourself this informal at-home eye exam to judge whether or not you should seek an eye care professional.

First, sit across the room from a large window or door so that you can see all the lines of the frame around it. Cover one eye and focus on the window or door frame with your open one for 30 seconds. Then repeat with the opposite eye. The horizontal and vertical lines of the frame should be clearly visible with no missing or hazy areas. If the edges of the frame seem distorted or warped, this may indicate macular degeneration, a disease that is currently the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in people over 60.

Cushion Test for Peripheral Arterial Disease

The cushion test can be performed without even getting out of bed! It can help detect blocked arteries in your legs and feet, a condition known as PAD, or peripheral arterial disease. Those with high blood pressure or diabetes, both common among seniors, are especially at-risk for this disease. 

To perform this test, lie on a bed and elevate your legs with pillows or cushions until they are resting at a comfortable 45-degree angle. Keep them there for one minute, then sit up and swing your legs over the side of the bed so that they hang at an angle of 90 degrees. If either or both of your legs turn pale when elevated and take several minutes to return to their normal shade after sitting up, you may need to consult your physician with the results from this peripheral artery disease test.

Phalen’s Maneuver for Carpal Tunnel

We are an increasingly computer-savvy society and people of all ages are typing more than they used to. Extended periods of typing are strongly associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition caused by a pinched median nerve in the wrist, but many other activities like driving can bring on these symptoms as well. Furthermore, people over 55 years old are at a much higher risk and those over 65 are more likely to have cases that are severe.

Phalen’s maneuver is a test devised to diagnose carpal tunnel at home and has been shown to be surprisingly effective. To see for yourself, press the tops of your hands together with your fingers pointing toward the floor and your elbows extended. If you can, hold this position for a full minute. If you feel an unpleasant sensation, such as prickling, tingling, or burning, you may likely have carpal tunnel and should consider preventive measures.

Check out this video from Physiotutors on YouTube that explains how to perform the Phalen test:

Testing With Medical Equipment

Some at-home health tests will require special instruments to fully gauge the results. While many of these items can be freely obtained from online and brick-and-mortar retailers, some require ordering through a medical supplier with a doctor’s prescription. Below, we will detail some of the testing you can do at home with the help of specially-designed medical equipment.

Blood Sugar Test

For the 12 million seniors living with diabetes* (about 25% of those over the age of 65), monitoring blood sugar levels is an near-constant concern. Luckily, this is something that can be checked at home or on-the-go using a blood glucose monitor, or glucometer. These can be found online or in pharmacies in the form of kits, which include testing strips, needles (called lancets), and the glucometer itself. 

Read about Medicare coverage for Diabetes!

To test blood sugar at home, you will need to insert a test strip into the electronic monitor and prick the side of your finger with the provided lancet. Gently apply pressure to that finger until you see a drop of blood form, then touch it to the edge of the test strip. In just a few seconds, you will have an accurate metering of your current blood sugar levels, no matter where you are.

Blood Pressure Test

Along with heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature, blood pressure is one of the four most significant vital signs that our bodies produce. High blood pressure can be caused by countless factors like high cholesterol, stress, and even fear, and affects almost 70% of adults between the ages of 65 to 74. Monitoring blood pressure accurately is vitally important, as symptoms may not manifest until these levels are dangerously high. Doctors maintain accuracy by using large, costly machines but there are ways to test blood pressure at home with minimal equipment.

The quickest and most accurate results will come from automated, electronic blood pressure monitors that come with an upper arm cuff. Many different brands of at-home blood pressure cuff exist and can be found at pharmacies or similar retailers. The directions for use may change from model to model but there are certain rules that apply no matter what brand you use, including placing the cuff directly on the skin, placing the feet flat on the floor, elevating the arm to chest height, and avoiding smoking or drinking for 30 minutes before testing.

At-Home Lab Tests

Another popular method of in-home health testing comes in the form of test kits that can be ordered right to your door. These vary widely, not only in terms of what is being tested, but also in the method of sample collection. Some services will send a team of professionals to administer and retrieve your test, while others will only send instructions and require you to send your samples back in the mail for results. These can be purchased to test for a wide range of conditions, including food sensitivity, hormone testing, DNA testing, and other at-home blood tests.

Medicare DME Coverage

Medical equipment may be needed for certain tests.

Durable medical equipment, or DME, is a designation that Medicare uses to classify coverable medical equipment that can be used in the home. This benefit might be used to cover the cost of equipment to aid in the at-home testing we have already covered. The covered equipment can range from crutches and canes to CPAP devices and hospital beds, though it all must come from a Medicare-approved medical supplier.

Medicare-Approved Glucose Meters

Blood sugar monitors and test strips are usually covered under Medicare Part B as durable medical equipment for home use with a doctor’s prescription. You may be able to rent or buy a glucometer but Medicare will only provide coverage if both your physician and the supplier are both enrolled and participating in Medicare. Be sure to clarify this with your doctor and equipment supplier, as some may be enrolled but not “participating” and may not accept the cost of assignment.

Read more about durable medical equipment Medicare coverage.

Does Medicare Cover Blood Pressure Monitor?

Medicare Part B may cover the cost of a blood pressure monitor or ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) device but only under very specific circumstances. Part B will cover a blood pressure monitor and stethoscope for those who receive blood dialysis treatment in their home and will pay for the rental of an ABPM device for patients who have exhibited “white coat hypertension,” a phenomenon where nervousness in clinical settings causes artificially high blood pressure readings. 

For those with Medicare Part C, or Medicare Advantage, all the benefits of Parts A & B will be covered but may also include additional benefits and expanded coverage. Contact your insurance company to find out if your Part C plan covers blood pressure monitors or glucometers.

If you don’t have a Medicare Advantage plan, give us a call at 844-431-1832 or contact us online to speak with a licensed agent and find a plan that can address your healthcare needs!

Good News: 2021 Medicare Advantage Plans Have Higher Ratings and Lower Premiums

It’s time to start making decisions for your healthcare coverage in 2021. The Annual Enrollment Period for Medicare beneficiaries is going on NOW and only lasts through December 7. 

As you’re looking through your Medicare Advantage and Part D plan options for next year, you may notice that monthly premiums are shrinking and benefits are expanding! 

Contents:

Lower Medicare Advantage and PDP premiums

CMS (The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) released a statement earlier this fall that said the average monthly premium for a Medicare Advantage plan in 2021 will be the lowest it’s been in 14 years (since 2007!)

In fact, the average Medicare Advantage (MA) premium will see a decrease of 34.2% from 2017, while plan choice and benefits continue to expand. In some states like Alabama, Nevada, and Kentucky, the average premium decrease since 2017 will be closer to 50%.

Medicare Part D prescription drug plans (PDPs) will also have low premiums in 2021, with standard plans averaging around $30.50 a month. This marks a 12% decrease in PDP premiums since 2017.

Average monthly Medicare Advantage premiums

Average star ratings increasing

The average star ratings for Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plans in 2021 are set to increase significantly. About 77% of Medicare Advantage enrollees will have a plan with 4 or more stars, and 98% of those in a standalone PDP plan will have a rating of more than 3.5 stars.

There will also be more plans with a 5-star rating than were available in 2020, including UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, and Anthem BCBS. Even the lowest-rated plans have improved to at least 2.5 stars.

CMS uses this Medicare star rating system for Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to determine whether or not a plan is doing its job, and whether or not it can stay on the market. Plans that consistently receive poor ratings (one or two stars) will eventually be removed from the market.

Plans are given a star rating between one and five, with one being “poor” and five being “excellent.” 

Medicare Advantage plans are rated on the following factors:

  • Level of access to preventive services (including annual physical exams and screenings)
  • Care coordination
  • How often members receive treatment for long-term conditions
  • Current member satisfaction
  • Plan performance in comparison to the previous year
  • Customer service quality

Part D plans are rated on the following:

  • Number of member issues with the plan
  • How many people left over one year
  • Patient safety while using prescriptions in the plan
  • Accuracy of pricing
  • Quality of care
  • Customer service quality

More and more Medicare Advantage and Part D plan carriers are entering the market every year, meaning there is more competition. More competition means that more plans are trying to be the most valuable to be able to compete. That’s why even though costs may be going down, plan ratings are still increasing. 

If you plan on meeting with a licensed agent during this year’s Annual Enrollment Period, be sure to ask about four and five-star plans in your area!

3300Medicare Advantage star ratings increasing

Remind me: What is Medicare Advantage?

You can enroll in Medicare Advantage as an addition to your Original Medicare coverage. Since Medicare Advantage plans are owned and operated by private insurance companies and are not the same as the government Medicare program, the coverage is a bit different.

Medicare Advantage plans are able to cover things that Original Medicare is not, such as fitness programs, dental, vision, and prescription drugs.

Medicare Advantage plans might come with copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles, but the average premium for 2021 is expected to be $21/month. 

If you can afford to add a Medicare Advantage premium, the benefits may save you from thousands of dollars in healthcare costs later on.

Expanded benefits for 2021

Earlier this year, CMS released the 2021 benefit and cost sharing information on Medicare.gov. In large part due to the coronavirus pandemic, they are offering expanded benefits in several key areas, and many health care providers are taking advantage of this flexibility. 

There will be over 4,800 Medicare Advantage plans in 2021 for enrollees to choose from, a 76.6% increase since 2017. The number of MA plans per country is also growing in the new calendar year.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 94% of all MA plans will provide added telehealth benefits. The current health crisis also drove CMS to develop the Part D Savings Model, which sets a $35 monthly copay rate for insulin. Over 1,750 MA and PDP plans are participating in this new model in 2021.Many health plans are also expanding their benefits for enrollees with chronic conditions. About 500 Medicare Advantage plans will feature either supplemental benefits or lower copays to those with specific chronic diseases or other conditions.

$0 Premiums and Special Needs Plans

Some people may even be eligible for a $0 premium Medicare Advantage plan. Others still may be eligible for low-cost Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans. 

There are three types of Special Needs Plans: DSNP, ISNP, and CSNP. 

CSNPs are Chronic Special Needs Plans and are for people who have certain chronic conditions and need additional coverage. ISNPs are Institutional Special Needs Plans and are for people who have been living in an institution such as an inpatient medical facility for 90 days or more. DSNPs are Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans and are for people who are dual-eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

How to Get a Low-Cost, Five-Star Medicare Advantage Plan in 2020

Our licensed agents across the nation are contracted and certified to sell a number of Medicare Advantage plans. An agent can sit down with you and show you all of the top-rated plans available in your area and help you select which one is best for you. 

To get in touch with a licensed agent, call 844-431-1832 or click here

The 4 Vaccines Seniors Need This Year

Every year when the temperature drops, you begin to hear those dreaded words: flu season. 

Not only does cold weather weaken our immune systems, it can strengthen viruses and make it easier for them to spread. No matter your age, vaccination may be the best safeguard against this bacterial onslaught. But adults over 50 are especially susceptible to the flu virus and many other dangerous infections like pneumonia and tetanus. An estimated 50,000 to 90,000 adults in the United States die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year and the mortality rates increase significantly as we age.

The Most Important Vaccines For Seniors

Luckily, in our current century, vaccinations are widely available for many of these potentially deadly pathogens and the Center for Disease Control recommends a schedule of specific vaccinations for older adults. And for seniors with certain types of Medicare, financial help may even be available to alleviate some of the costs of these immunizations. Here are the four most crucial vaccines for adults over 50.

Influenza (Flu) Shot

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a viral respiratory infection that can be life-threatening for people of any age. But older adults must be especially cautious, as the normal aging of our immune systems can make it more difficult for our bodies to fight off the infection. It’s even more dangerous for those who live with a chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes, as complications can develop and even lead to hospitalization. In fact, according to the CDC, adults over 65 make up half of all influenza hospitalizations and between 70 to 90% of all flu-related deaths. Be sure to get your flu shot!

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Pneumococcal disease might not be a familiar household name but we have all heard of the conditions that it can lead to: pneumonia and meningitis among others. It is the most common cause of bloodstream infections and can infect the ear and sinuses as well. Like the flu, a weakened immune system and chronic conditions may increase these risks. While these infections can often be mild, pneumonia is actually the 5th most frequent cause of hospitalization in the United States and over half of those are from Americans over 65 years old.

Tetanus (Td) Shot

It’s often referred to simply as a tetanus shot, but the Tdap vaccine also helps our bodies fight off diphtheria and pertussis, or whooping cough. This particular vaccine can usually only be given once but if you never received it as a child, it’s not too late to get yourself immunized. But if those over 65 have already gotten the full Tdap shot, it is recommended that they seek the variety of vaccine called the Td shot every 10 years, which doesn’t include the pertussis component.

Shingles (Zoster) Vaccine

Herpes zoster (or shingles) is a painful skin condition brought on by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It’s common knowledge that individuals who have previously contracted chickenpox have a higher risk of developing shingles, but older people are also more vulnerable than their younger counterparts. Seniors are also more at risk for the complications that can arise from this infection, such as the painful nerve condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). These kinds of complications occur in almost half of older adults who develop shingles.  

When Should Seniors Get Vaccinated?

Though many vaccine-preventable diseases are associated with seasonal changes, most can be contracted at any time of year. To help make sure you are up-to-date with all your immunizations, the CDC keeps the newest recommended vaccine schedule for adults on its website.

Vaccine Schedule For Adults

Experts in this field often suggest vaccination schedules based on age. In some cases, these experts also recommend different varieties of a given vaccine depending on the age of the patient. 

For example, flu vaccines are updated annually to make sure they are effective against the current strains of influenza. Additionally, the immunity provided by the flu shot is short-lived so it is best to get vaccinated every year. Flu vaccines are usually available from September through April depending on supplies. Several different forms of the vaccine exist including two designed specifically for people over 65, namely the “high dose vaccine” and the adjuvanted flu vaccine. 

The shingles vaccine, on the other hand, is not required during a specific season but there are multiple variations available and it may still require a schedule to keep track of. The CDC suggests that healthy adults over 50 get the two-dose version of the vaccine, called the zoster recombinant vaccine (or RZV), as opposed to the single-dose zoster live variant. The two doses are generally spaced out over several months but are roughly 90% effective once they have both been administered.  

Travel Vaccinations

Many seniors take up traveling after retirement has freed up more of their time. Wherever this trekking may take you, it is wise to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. Certain vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles and seasonal flu are much more prevalent abroad than they are in the States. Check for your destination on the CDC’s website to see what vaccines may be needed where you’re going.

Learn how to get Medicare coverage overseas.

Where Is The Best Place To Get Vaccinated?

Now that you know when to get immunized, you might be wondering where you can get a quick, efficient, and affordable vaccination. This can get somewhat complicated depending on what vaccines you need and what state you live in but most vaccines can be administered at one of the healthcare facilities you visit regularly.

Doctor’s Office 

Doctor explaining Medicare vaccine coverage.

Even though many other options are available, most will likely prefer to get their vaccinations at their regular doctor’s office. Your primary care doctor is a great resource not only for detailed information about what vaccines you or your family may need, but obviously for the administering of the vaccine itself. They can also advise on which variety of a given vaccine is best for you, as well as any side effects that may accompany it. 

Pharmacies & Clinics

For many seniors, the most readily and easily available venue for vaccines is their local pharmacy. These establishments are usually closer to their homes than a doctor’s office or hospital and can provide many of the same vaccinations. It is probably best to call ahead to ensure the pharmacy or clinic is stocked with the vaccine you need as supplies can run low.

Medicare Vaccine Coverage

An often overlooked element of the threat posed by vaccine-preventable diseases is the financial cost. A 2007 study of the seasonal flu found that $87 billion was spent every year on direct and indirect medical costs. It also found that adults over 65 made up about 64% of that cost. Clearly, it is cheaper to get vaccinated than to potentially incur the medical expenses of treating the disease itself but if the cost of immunization still seems daunting, there are options available to help with or completely cover the vaccines.

Does Medicare Pay For Flu Shots?

Flu shots are completely covered by Medicare Part B, as they are categorized as a preventive service. As long as your healthcare provider accepts Medicare, your annual flu shot will be a cost-free benefit. For those who are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, you may need to see an in-network doctor or pharmacy to be totally covered. This complete coverage applies to the pneumococcal vaccine as well!

Does Medicare Pay For Shingles Vaccine?

Medicare Part D plans, which are Medicare Advantage plans that cover prescription drugs, virtually all cover the shingles vaccine. As these are supplemental plans, an out-of-pocket cost is usually associated with these vaccinations. Whether this is in the form of a copayment or coinsurance, it is best to contact your insurance provider directly to discuss the potential out-of-pocket cost, as well as any specific rules they might have for the administering of the vaccine itself.

Turning 65 Checklist
Turning 65 Checklist

Does Medicare Pay For Tetanus Shots?

Like the shingles vaccine, neither Td and Tdap versions of the tetanus shot are covered by Medicare Part B. These vaccines will need to be covered by an insurance plan that includes prescription drug coverage, such as Medicare Part D. These plans are purchased through private insurance companies and supplement the coverage provided by the original components of Medicare. 

Depending on where you live, there could be countless Medicare Advantage plan options available and finding the one that best suits you can be exhausting and outright confusing. Take out some of the guesswork and get in touch with a licensed agent through Medicare Plan Finder today to find the best plan for your needs! Call us at 833-438-3676 or contact us online to get started!  

5 Ways to Boost Brain Health for Seniors

It’s perfectly natural to lose some mental “processing speed” as we age. This process is called cognitive aging and usually starts as soon as we reach adulthood. While certain brain functions like vocabulary might even improve as we get older, others will gradually decline. A common list of cognitive changes in elderly people typically includes slower problem solving, diminished spatial awareness, and a decline in perceptual speed and memory.

 Most of these aging brain symptoms are entirely normal but the rate of this decline may increase, leading to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) or even dementia. However, scientific research has uncovered several methods proven to help maintain elderly brain health and most of them are simple things you can do in your day-to-day life!

Staying Active At Any Age

The connection between exercise and brain health for seniors has long been established. But new studies are suggesting that staying active may be the best way to prevent memory loss in old age! While it might be most effective before severe memory loss begins, it also appears to benefit those with advanced conditions like Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia. 

Seniors who exercise regularly can experience reduced inflammation, improved blood flow, and even increased growth of new blood vessels in the brain. An active lifestyle can also improve the quality of sleep, which we will see later is another crucial factor in maintaining brain health. In fact, sustaining a moderate regimen of low impact exercises from six months to a year has even been associated with increased volume in the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices, the parts of the brain responsible for memory and critical thinking!

Medicare Fitness Programs

Unfortunately, the research also indicates that exercise must be a regular commitment in order to see some of these amazing benefits. But dedicating at least three hours a week can be difficult for seniors who don’t have access to a gym. This is where Medicare plans that include fitness programs can help. Plans can include Medicare fitness programs Programs like SilverSneakers® and Silver&Fit® that are designed specifically for seniors and can provide access to fitness and exercise centers. Some may supply their less mobile members with home fitness kits.

Medicare Fitness Programs
Click to get fit!

Food For Thought: Brain Healthy Foods For Seniors

Many of us probably remember our mothers extolling the virtues of “brain food.” Turns out she was right! A diet consisting of mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish has been closely linked to brain health and a lower risk of dementia. This “Mediterranean diet” is also often touted for its positive effects on heart health and cardiovascular risk factors, which can indirectly influence the health of the brain.

Senior Healthy Eating Grocery List
Healthy Living Grocery List

Best Memory Supplements For Seniors

In addition to a more healthy diet, many seniors take supplements to get a higher dose of these crucial ingredients than can be found in the foods themselves. Some of the most popular include fish oils like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as resveratrol, as well as creatine and even caffeine.

Companies have begun producing memory supplements targeted at seniors. Some of these include:

  • Brainol (includes 19 ingredients for improved cognition, like B-Vitamins, Huperzine A, L-Theanine, and DMAE.
  • Neurofuse (includes B-Vitamins, L-Theanine, DMAE Bitartrate, and Huperzine A.)
  • True Focus (includes Horse Chestnut, Butcher’s Broom, Hesperidin, etc.)
  • Irwin Naturals Brain Awake (includes Vitamin B6 and L-Theanine)
  • BriteSmart (includes Huperzine A)

While memory supplements are not typically covered by Medicare, some Medicare Advantage plans might have an OTC (over the counter) allowance benefit which would allow you to purchase supplements. Click here to read more about OTC benefits in Medicare.

Free Prescription Discount Card
Free Prescription Discount Card

Training An Aging Brain

One of the easiest methods for seniors to maintain mental acuity is daily brain training. This interactive practice can take on many forms, from crossword puzzles to arts and crafts. And now more than ever, there are services and applications specifically designed to give you your daily dose of critical thinking.

Activities for Alzheimer’s Patients at Home

There are countless ways for seniors to get their brains engaged on a daily basis. Many are things you might already enjoy, including puzzles or card games. In the technological age, of course, many of these activities can be done on a computer or smartphone.

In addition to these traditional games, there are many apps that are designed specifically as activities for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Apps like Lumosity are great for challenging your brain on a daily basis and some, such as Mindmate, even include exercise and nutrition tips. A cursory Google search may also help you find other free brain games for seniors.

Medicare Crossword and Word Search
Free Medicare Crossword and Word Search

Seniors Staying Social

Some doctors suggest that one of the best ways to retain memory and cognitive functioning is to remain engaged with a social group. Many seniors use social media to stay in touch with family and friends and there are even apps like Timeless that are designed to help people with dementia or Alzheimer’s stay social.

Clear Your Mind (And The Rest Will Follow)

The importance of everyday factors like stress and sleep on brain health for seniors shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for the elderly. A good night’s sleep will clear the brain of toxins that accumulate throughout the day like beta-amyloid, a protein which is also commonly found in Alzheimer’s patients. Stress can also play a huge role in how the brain functions by introducing high levels of cortisol and even possibly reducing the size of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that governs memory and learning.

Meditation and Aging

Meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the hippocampus and decrease the volume of the amygdala, which is responsible for stress and anxiety. Research into mindfulness meditation has even indicated an effect on the process of aging itself. A 2017 UCLA study showed that the brains of people who meditate regularly actually declined at a slower rate than those who did not.

Natural Sleep Remedies For The Elderly

We know that sleep is essential for overall brain health for seniors, but many older adults experience trouble sleeping. Some practices for getting better sleep include turning off screens and lights, regular exercise, reducing sugar intake, and keeping a consistent sleep schedule with naps no longer than 20 minutes. If something more serious is causing you to lose sleep, you might need to consult a physician to test for sleep apnea or to evaluate any medications you might be taking.

Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

If the decline in cognitive functions persists or accelerates, you may need to seek professional help as a preventive measure. As part of your Medicare benefits, you may be entitled to a paid Annual Wellness Visit with your primary care provider to develop a personalized prevention plan that takes into account your lifestyle and risk factors.

In addition to checking physical factors like height, weight, and blood pressure, they can perform a cognitive assessment and screen for various forms of dementia or cognitive impairment. Additionally, a Special Needs Plan might be used to supplement your Medicare benefits. These plans are Medicare Advantage products specifically focused on providing care and coverage for patients with dementia.

Prescription Drug Plans for Alzheimer’s

If your condition or that of a loved one develops into Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, Medicare Part D may cover the cost of prescription drugs to treat the symptoms. These medications include brands like Aricept and Exelon. Though they are not cures for the disease itself, they are effective at temporarily improving common symptoms of dementia, such as confusion or aggression.

Memory Care Through Medicare

Some severe cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s can make it nearly impossible to handle all the daily duties that come with living alone. In these cases, Medicare may help pay for nursing home care for a period of up to 100 days but will not cover such a solution in the long-term. However, some Medicare Part C plans may help cover the high costs of a nursing home or memory care facility.

For help enrolling in a Medicare plan that covers memory care and other brain health services, call us at 833-438-3676 or click here.

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