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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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!

Help for Seniors Living Alone

Living alone is scary, no matter how old you are, but it gets scarier as you age and develop more health and safety concerns.

Concerned family members may start to lovingly imply that it “might be best” for you to move into an assisted living home, or start to ask questions.

You can share this blog with them to give them a sense of security that you are thinking about this and making the right moves. Living alone can be scary, but it’s not impossible.

Advantages of Elderly Living Alone and at Home

There are more benefits to living alone than your family members may realize. Living alone and at home can cost much less than moving into a retirement home or nursing facility. Of course, this can change depending on whether you have specific healthcare needs or require an in-home aide. 

Living at home can also be much more comfortable. High-tier, expensive nursing homes, and retirement facilities can certainly be nice, but they often come at a cost.

Sometimes, more reasonably-priced facilities are not as comfortable as being home. Plus, there’s a sense of security and happiness that comes with staying in the home that you’ve worked for.

Tips for Living Alone

The following tips will not only provide you with a safer, healthier living situation but will also provide your friends and family members with peace of mind.

  1. Attend your annual doctor visits, even if you feel fine.
  2. Keep your social life as active as possible and get to know your neighbors.
  3. Set reminders on your phone or calendar to refill your medication, or schedule automatic medication reminders. 
  4. Have a first-aid and a disaster preparedness kit easily assessable in case of emergency.
  5. Make all necessary home repairs as soon as possible.
  6. Always lock your doors and windows, and consider installing an alarm system.
  7. Keep a list of emergency contacts pinned in a visible location in case of an emergency.
  8. Consider purchasing useful devices for your home (see below)

Devices for Seniors Living Alone

Devices for Seniors Living Alone

Technology has made living at home by yourself much easier than it was for your grandparents. Everything from automatic vacuums to alarm systems makes home life safer, healthier, and more possible. We searched the internet, and these are some of our favorite devices that you can buy to improve your life at home.

Housekeeping Devices

Smart Vacuum – One of the hardest things about living alone as an older adult is finding ways to keep your house clean. Simple tasks like vacuuming will start to get harder, but smart vacuums can solve that problem for you. All you have to do is press a button on your phone to get a Roomba vacuum to do it for you!

Voice Assistants – Devices like Amazon’s “Alexa” and Google’s “Home” platform can save you from things turning off the light before you walk to bed, or having to get up and walk around too often.

Kitchen & Bath

Bath Mats, Chairs, and Bars – Slips and falls are one of the most dangerous parts of living alone because it’s hard to say how long it will be before someone can help you up. Be sure to buy grip bath mats for your shower or tub (or even for any tiled and slippery areas). Also, consider investing in a chair for the shower so that you don’t have to stand on the slippery tub.

Automatic Kitchen Appliances – Kitchen fires are another major concern for adults living alone. As symptoms of dementia start to appear, leaving appliances on can become a common occurrence. Consider appliances that have automatic “off” functions and cordless devices like this electric kettle.

Life Alert Devices for Seniors Living Alone

Life Alert is just one brand of medical alert device, which is a device you wear that can alert emergency personnel if you need help. Other brands include Medical Guardian and Philips Lifeline.

Life Alert Life alert can be a lifesaver if you fall and can’t get up, or if you have a medical emergency and can’t reach for the phone. All you have to do is hit a button on your device (which you can wear around your neck), and help will arrive.

Medical Guardian This company has a few different types of products for medical alerts and home safety. Their devices are capable of detecting falls and alerting authorities of any emergency instantly.

Philips Lifeline Their products include wearable pieces like watches and necklaces as well as home bases that you can keep in your living room. Like other services, Philips Lifeline products will alert authorities. Uniquely, they focus on unique, individualized care plans, and there is two-way communication available so that you can request a specific type of emergency help.

How Medicare Covers Home Care

You can alleviate a lot of your and your family’s concerns about you living alone at home by taking charge of your in-home care. Medicare Part A covers part-time or intermittent home health services when ordered by a doctor.

It does NOT cover 24-hour care, meal delivery, or homemaker/custodial services, but you may be able to get those other items through select Medicare Advantage plans.

Home Care Services That Accept Medicare

To find home care services near you that accept Medicare, use Medicare.gov’s “Find a home health agency” tool. Type in your zip code and click “search” for a list of the providers in your area.

Home Health Services That Accept Medicare
Home Health Services That Accept Medicare

Remember that if you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you’ll need to use your plan’s search tool or list of providers to make sure that the agency or service you want to use accepts your Medicare Advantage coverage.

Organizations That Offer Help for Elderly Living Alone

Living independently does not mean that you are completely alone. Even if you don’t have friends and family members close by, there are several organizations you can reach out to for help. 

AARP & the AARP Foundation: AARP is a nonprofit organization with a goal to help people aged 50 and older improve their lives through better nutrition, housing, income, social activities, and more.

Area Agencies on Aging (AAA): The AAA is a nationwide program offering education, meal programs, transportation, and more for aging adults. Each of its programs is localized. 

CARIE (Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly): CARIE is a coalition that helps individual seniors who ask for help with legal reform and rights.

LASPD (Legal Advocates for Seniors and People with Disabilities): LASPD is an organization of lawyers who advocate for the rights of older adults and disabled people. They focus primarily on Social Security claims.

National Council on Aging: Works with nonprofits, governments, and businesses to provide programs and services for seniors in regards to health, finances, and legal concerns.

National Institute on Aging (NIA): The NIA conducts research on the well-being of older adults and is a great source for health topics. They also operate “Go4Life,” an exercise and physical activity program for seniors.

Meals on Wheels:  The Meals on Wheels program is a localized program for meal delivery for people who have a hard time leaving their homes and cooking their own food. Click here to read more about Medicare meal delivery

PACE (Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly): PACE helps eligible people over the age of 55 with medical, personal, and social care while they live at home. That can include medication delivery, transportation, etc.

Becoming a Caregiver

Medicare Caregiver

If you are reading this with another person in mind, maybe it’s time for you to become a caregiver. Keeping your loved ones at home instead of moving them to a facility is a tough decision to make.

Some older adults will truly be better off living in a medical facility, while others don’t need that level of attention and will be more comfortable at home. Have the discussion not only with your loved one but also with their doctors.

If you decide that your loved one is going to stay at home, and you would like to become their primary caregiver, there are a few steps you should take: 

  1. Learn everything you can about your loved one’s medical conditions so that you can provide the best possible care.
  2. Reach out to the senior advocacy groups listed above for help with managing your loved one’s in-home care. 
  3. Talk to your loved one about Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance options and find out if you are eligible to be paid as a caregiver through their plan (click here to speak with a licensed agent).
  4. Download our caregiver checklist for more information on becoming a caregiver for your loved ones.
Medicare Caregiver Support

This post was originally published on July 31, 2019, and updated on October 29, 2019.

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