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Winter Wellness Tips for Seniors and Medicare Eligibles

Winter often consists of lower temperatures, less sunlight, and more time indoors. The same weather that is bothersome to most can prove to be dangerous for others.

Winter Safety Tips for the Elderly

love, winter holidays and people concept – happy senior couple with takeaway coffee at christmas market on town hall square in tallinn, estonia

Seniors and Medicare eligibles face several dangers including falling on ice or snow, frostbite, and hypothermia. Use these winter wellness tips to help ensure you are healthy, safe, and able to enjoy the holidays with your friends and family.

Falling on Ice or Snow

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults. Fall prevention is important outside and in your home, but snow and ice can easily blindside you. Tips to protect yourself from falling on ice or snow include:

  • Understand the side effects of your medications. Some medicines can cause dizziness or vision issues, so be cautious when leaving your home.
  • Wear weather-appropriate shoes. Make sure your shoes are the right size and have good traction.
  • Allow extra time when commuting to your destination. Don’t rush when you’re walking and take small deliberate steps.
  • Use sand or cat litter on sidewalks or walkways.
  • When going inside, wipe your feet off before you enter. Wet shoes can cause you to slip on dry surfaces.
  • Keep your hands free whenever possible. If you are carrying bags, take several trips so you do not overload yourself. Always ask for help if possible.
  • Have emergency numbers stored in your phone. Take your phone whenever you leave the house, even on short trips to your car or mailbox. If you fall, you can easily access your phone and call for help.

Frostbite and Hypothermia in the Elderly

As temperatures drop, there is an increased risk of frostbite and hypothermia in the elderly. Frostbite and hypothermia are a result of cold weather and can be difficult to notice. Understanding the differences, warning signs, and symptoms are important when practicing winter wellness.

Frostbite occurs when your skin is exposed during extreme winter conditions. The cold weather causes your tissues underneath your skin to freeze. Frostbite causes you to lose feeling in the exposed area, which is commonly your fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin. If your skin turns white or a grayish-yellow color, or feels firm or waxy, seek medical care immediately.

Hypothermia occurs when your body’s core temperature becomes abnormally low. Hypothermia in the elderly is more likely due to a decreased production of body heat.

Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. If you are experiencing these warning signs, take your temperature if possible. If your temperature is below 95 degrees, seek medical health immediately.

Prevention is key to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. Make sure your home is well heated and insulated and be sure to eat healthy foods to fuel your body.

If you need to go outside or travel for any given reason, check the weather, and if possible, avoid extremely low temperatures. However, if you must venture out, wear plenty of weather-appropriate clothing.

Senior Isolation in the Winter

Many seniors and Medicare eligibles may be unable to leave their home in the winter. This can lead to a lack of social interaction. Feeling isolated can disrupt sleep, raise blood pressure, increase the risk of depression, and lower your overall well-being. Tips to prevent isolation include:

  • Call, email, or FaceTime friends and family regularly.
  • Join a senior community center.
  • Consider adopting a pet.
  • Find a book or tv show that you enjoy.
  • Pick up a new hobby.
  • Exercise or practice yoga.
  • Consider getting your meals delivered to encourage a healthy diet. Programs like Meals on Wheels are great options.
  • Reach out to friends, family, and neighbors.
  • If you really struggle with isolation, consider moving into an assisted living facility.

Fire Hazards

Home fires can start at any time but are more common in the colder months. It’s important to practice fire safety and have an emergency action plan in place. Here’s what you should remember:

  • Make sure you have smoke alarms in the appropriate areas of your home, especially near any sleeping areas. Test alarms regularly and have spare batteries on hand.
  • Never walk away from a room when cooking. Plus, you should always have a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Keep curtains and drapes away from any heat source.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • If you have a fireplace, get it inspected annually.
  • Place space heaters in an area that is open and clear.
  • If you smoke, avoid smoking indoors and around oxygen tanks.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s associated with changes in seasons. The disorder begins and ends at about the same time every year, with symptoms starting in autumn and continuing until spring. 

Symptoms of SAD

SAD symptoms may include: 

  • Feeling depressed most of the day almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you’d normally enjoy
  • Low energy
  • Having problems falling or staying sleeping asleep (or sleeping too much)
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or irritable
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide*

*If you or someone you love experiences thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Combat SAD With a Winter Fitness Plan for Retirees

Retirees and Medicare eligibles can fight SAD with a great fitness plan. According to Harvard Medical School, fitness is as effective as antidepressants in some cases. Although a gym membership with fitness classes may help, you can get a great workout at home. All you need is some dumbbells, resistance bands, or even a chair.

In some locations, going for a walk outside isn’t an option due to weather concerns. Have you considered going for a walk at the mall? Many indoor shopping centers open their doors to “mall walkers” before the stores open.

Medicare Fitness Programs

Winter Wellness and Medicare

Winter wellness is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through the holidays and into spring. However, it’s important to focus on your wellness year around. Medicare Advantage plans have additional benefits and coverage that can help you become the healthiest version of you!

Many plans offer hearing, dental, and vision coverage. Plus, some even offer fitness classes like through SilverSneakers®! If you’re interested in hearing more about these additional benefits or have any questions regarding your Medicare coverage, call us at 844-431-1832 or fill out this form to get in contact with a licensed agent.

This post was originally published on December 11, 2018, and updated on November 22, 2019.

Fall Prevention: Tips, Tricks, and Exercises

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults. Falls can occur at any time and can range in severity.

Seniors and Medicare eligibles can suffer from significant injuries or pain. The average hospital cost for a fall injury can exceed $30,000. Fall prevention is important to help lower the risk of falling and potential injuries.

Preventing Falls at Home

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the majority of falls (60 percent!) occur in the home. Something as minor as a slippery spot on the floor or an electrical cord out of place can have devastating consequences.

Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to help reduce the risk of falling. The following are quick and easy suggestions that can give you a greater sense of security in your home:

Eliminate Clutter

If you have clutter in narrow or close areas, like hallways or staircases, you can easily trip or lose your balance. One of the easiest steps you can take is keeping your home clean and tidy by eliminating clutter and keeping your pathways clear.

Remove Hazards

Every room in your home should be free of tripping hazards. These hazards can include loose carpet, slippery rugs, damaged wood floorboards, etc. You should examine your home for these hazards and if you find one, remove or repair it. It is better to opt for carpet over hardwoods if possible.

Install Handrails

Woman Using Grab Bar
Woman Using Grab Bar

Grab bars and handrails can help to lower your risk of falling, especially in the bathroom. Install handrails near the toilet and bathtub and in hallways and stairwells. If you are unable to install these yourself, contact a handyman or a family member.

Wear Properly Fitting Clothes

Everyone wants to be comfortable and able to relax in their home, but did you know that baggy clothes can make you more likely to fall? Wear clothes that are the proper length, and avoid wearing anything that drags on the floor.

Wear shoes or non-slip slippers when possible. Socks can be slippery and increase your risk of falling. Non-slip socks are great alternatives that help maintain comfort and lower your risk of falling.

Create Light

It’s important that your home is well lit so you can see where you are walking. Install brighter light bulbs in dark, high-risk falling areas like hallways or stairwells. Plus, night-lights in bathrooms or hallways can help you see during any time of the night.

Preventing Falls in Hospitals

If you are in a hospital for any given reason, there is a risk of falling, especially if you are staying long-term. If you need to get up or go to the bathroom, use the call light or ask the nurse for help.

Some medicines can make you feel sleepy or dizzy, so when you are getting up, move slowly. Be sure to wear your glasses or hearing aids when you are up and moving around.

Plus, use a walker or cane because bedside tables, IV poles, and other objects cannot provide the proper support. Lastly, if you have any concerns about your safety, be sure to alert the nursing staff.

How Can Seniors Prevent Falls?

Fall Prevention Exercise - Medicare Plan Finder
Fall Prevention Exercise – Medicare Plan Finder

Exercising is a great way to increase your balance and help lower your risk of falling. These exercises can help strengthen your muscles, and when completed regularly, improve your muscles and joints. The following are great exercises that help prevent falls:

Chair Sit to Stand

Find a sturdy chair with arms. Practice getting in and out of the chair and focus on utilizing your leg muscles. Use the arms of the chair to help you get up, but as you improve, try using only one hand. Aim for 10 repetitions.

Marching in Place

Have a chair nearby in case you lose your balance. Practice marching in place, but bring your knees as high as you can. Use your muscles instead of your momentum. Aim for 10 knee raises on each leg.

Balance on One Leg

Find a sturdy surface like a chair or countertop. Use these surfaces for support. Raise one leg and try to find your balance while standing on the other. Aim for 10-15 seconds per leg.

Toe to Heel

Hold onto a chair or countertop. Raise up onto the balls of your feet and hold for a few seconds, then relax into a normal stance. Next, rock back on your heels and hold for a few seconds. Aim for ten repetitions.

Injuries and Complications

As we mentioned above, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults. Did you know one out of five falls will result in a serious injury such as a broken bone or head injury?

These injuries can make living your day-to-day life difficult. Plus, if you have vitamin d deficiency or take certain medications like sedatives or antidepressants, your risk of falling increases. Common injuries from falling include:

  • Head injuries
  • Hip fractures
  • Back and spinal injuries
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Torn ligaments, tendons, and muscles
  • Neck injuries

What to Do If You Fall

In the unfortunate incident you do fall and you live alone, you may consider buying a medical alert system to contact emergency personnel. A medical alert system is a device that you wear that features a button you can push to call for help. The systems usually come with monthly fees, but Life Alert and other medical alert devices can help provide peace of mind.

You can also keep a cordless phone or smartphone with you at all times, so you can call for help if you fall.

Another option is wearing a smartwatch. According to NPR, the Apple Watch can detect when a user has fallen, and the device will generate a notification to emergency personnel. If you don’t respond for more than a minute after the alert, the watch can automatically call for help and send “a message with location to emergency contacts.”

Does Medicare Cover Fall Injuries?

Medicare generally covers most expenses if you have a fall. If you are admitted to a hospital from your injuries, Part A may cover this expense or any necessary treatments.

Your Part A deductible and coinsurance may apply after 60 days. If you go to an emergency room, doctor’s office, or clinic due to a fall, Part B generally covers these expenses. Similar to Part A, your deductible, coinsurance, or copay payment amounts may apply.

Fall prevention is one of many ways to remain proactive and practice a healthy lifestyle. Medicare Advantage plans can offer even more benefits and coverage that help you become the healthiest version of you. Many MA plans offer hearing, dental, and vision coverage, and some even offer group fitness classes like SilverSneakers®.

If you are interested in arranging a free, no-obligation appointment with a top agent, call us at 833-438-3676 or fill out this form.

*This post was originally published on November 13, 2018. Last Updated on October 18, 2019.

Take Advantage of Medicare Wellness Exams and Preventative Benefits

Medicare offers many benefits at zero cost to recipients, but many of the 59 million Americans enrolled are either not aware of all the Medicare wellness benefits or are simply not taking full advantage of all of these offered services.

For example, in 2014 only around 14% of Medicare recipients received the free Medicare wellness exam covered under Medicare Part B.  This exam, known as the Annual Wellness Visit, or sometimes known as the acronym AWV, is covered at zero cost to recipients.

What is Included in Medicare Wellness Exams?

Once you’ve had Medicare Part B for at least 12 months, you are eligible for a zero cost yearly* Medicare wellness exam. The purpose of this wellness visit is to work with your doctor to identify any risk factors to watch, as well as to develop a plan for staying healthy.

*Keep in mind that the AWV is available every twelve months. For example, if your first AWV is June 2, you cannot recieve your next one until June 2 of the following year. If you make your appointment for June 1, you may not be covered.

During the wellness visit, your doctor, nurse practitioner, or another health care professional will review things like your health history, take measurements such as weight and body mass index (BMI), and will help develop a preventative care plan tailored for you.

Some items that may be reviewed during your Medicare Wellness Visit include:

  • A Health Risk Assessment (HRA) questionnaire
  • Review of personal medical history and family medical history
  • Measurements including height, weight, BMI, and blood pressure
  • Assessment for any cognitive impairment and mood disorders
  • Review of any difficulty you may be having in performing day-to-day tasks

Your health care provider may also help you establish a plan for potential risk areas including fall prevention, nutrition, weight loss, and tobacco cessation.

What is not Included in your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit (AWV)?

It is important to know that the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit covers a specific set of wellness services and is different than an annual physical, which is not covered by Medicare. It is also important to note that any additional services performed during your Medicare exam may result in an additional copay or deductible cost.

For example, Mary is 68 years old and visits her doctor a few days after her birthday, as she does every year for her free Medicare wellness exam. During the visit, Mary mentions that her right foot has been bothering her, and after further examination, her doctor orders a blood test to check for gout.

In this scenario, Mary’s wellness visit is still free, but she may pay a copay for the additional foot examination as well as the blood test.

Medicare Wellness Exam vs. Annual Physical

The annual wellness visit is not the same as the yearly physical you may be familiar with. For a typical physical, your healthcare provider will perform a hands-on, head to toes exam including lung, abdominal, and neurological exams. Medicare exams are different.

The Medicare annual wellness visit includes similar assessments but does not include any exams that require the healthcare provider to physically examine you. During your wellness visit, your provider may schedule additional preventative screenings, or may further examine any issues you are having.  

What to Bring to Your Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

One of the main purposes of the annual wellness exam is to identify any potential health risks and develop a plan to manage them. So, you will want to share your family and personal health history with your provider in as much detail as possible.

Some things to bring include:

  • Medical and immunization/vaccination records
  • Detailed personal and family health history
  • Detailed list of medications and supplements including dosage and frequency
  • Full list of health care providers you are currently seeing

Other Medicare Wellness Benefits

In addition to the annual wellness exam, there are a number of additional services, screenings, and vaccinations covered at no cost including:

  • Alcohol screening
  • Bone mass measurements
  • Cardio screening
  • Colorectal screening
  • Diabetes screening
  • Hepatitis screening
  • HIV screening
  • Lung, prostate, and cervical cancer screenings

Medicare Vaccine Coverage and the Medicare Flu Shot

Medicare Part B also covers some other Medicare wellness benefits like preventative vaccines, including yearly flu shots. Ask your doctor about getting your flu shot during your Medicare exam.

However, Medicare does not provide maintenance coverage for other vaccines including Shingles, Tetanus (Tdap), and Meningococcal. These vaccines and additional immunizations are typically covered under Part D prescription drug plans.

To ensure you are covered for these vaccines and other prescription medication, you can add a Part D plan to Medicare Parts A and B, or choose a Medicare Advantage plan that includes Part D coverage.

Other Ways to Make the Most of Your Medicare Plan

Find Doctors in Your Plan Network

Some carriers have doctor and hospital search engines so you can see which doctors are covered under your plan. ZocDoc is a great non-affiliated doctor search website as well. If you continue to use a doctor that is outside of your plan, you’re wasting potential savings that you’ll receive if you visit a doctor who is within your plan’s network.

Use Generic Drugs

The same goes for pharmacies and drugs. Your coverage is likely much higher for generic brand prescription drugs, so ask your doctor for a generic version when he gives you a prescription. Your coverage includes mail-order prescriptions as well. Mail-order is often cheaper because there are fewer labor costs! Plus, you can buy bigger supplies.

Know Your Additional Benefits

Some Medicare plans include discounts and freebies like gym memberships, massages, nutrition classes, support groups, and even LASIK surgery. Some even provide “rewards” in the form of discounts if you stay healthy.

Get More Benefits with Medicare Advantage

There are many Medicare preventative services that Original Medicare covers, but do you need more?

A Medicare Advantage plan is a private Medicare plan that includes your Part A and Part B benefits and can extend your coverage to include more things like:

A Medicare Advantage Plan and Part D prescription drug coverage can help cover you for these additional costs and help you live the healthiest life possible. Our agents can help you understand all of your plan options and enroll you in a plan that fits your specific needs and budget. If you interested in arranging a no-cost, no-obligation appointment, fill out this form or call at us 833-438-3676.

Does Medicare Cover Flu Shots?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, there are over 31.4 million outpatient doctor visits due to the flu virus in the United States.

Anyone can get the flu, even the healthiest of people, which is why it’s important to take the necessary preventive measures. Getting an annual flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu. If you’re eligible for Medicare, you probably wonder, “Does Medicare cover flu shots?”

High Dose Flu Vaccine

Doctor's Appointment | Medicare Plan Finder
Doctor’s Appointment | Medicare Plan Finder

With age comes beauty…and a weakened immune system! If you are 65 years or older, you are considered high risk for developing influenza.

The high dose flu vaccine is a great option for Medicare eligibles because it contains the three flu strains that are most likely to cause the flu. Plus, it contains four times the flu virus antigen than a regular flu shot. Research shows that the high dose flu vaccine leads to 25% fewer cases of the flu than the standard flu shot.

High Dose Flu Vaccine vs Regular Flu Shot

The regular flu shot is recommended for those six months or older while the high dose flu vaccine is designed specifically for those over the age of 65. Both vaccines take approximately two weeks to build immunity in the body. The peak of flu season is January through March but can start as early as October and extend as far as May, so it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Flu vaccines are completely safe and have weakened viruses, meaning the flu shot cannot cause the flu. The high dose flu vaccine and the regular flu shot can both cause side effects, but, side effects may be stronger with the high dose flu vaccine. Getting any flu vaccination is the first step to protecting yourself against the flu.

Flu Shot Side Effects

The risk of developing side effects from the vaccine is higher in a high dose flu vaccine rather than the average flu shot. These side effects can include pain, swelling or soreness at the injection site, and headaches or muscles aches. These side effects may be less than ideal.

However, seniors and Medicare eligibles can have significantly higher complications from the flu. The phrase “better safe than sorry” certainly applies, because .

Flu-Related Complications

The flu can lead to several complications. These complications can range in severity, but should always be taken seriously.

Minor complications include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, body ache, and vomiting.

More severe complications include pneumonia, dehydration, muscle inflammation, and sinus infections. Plus, the flu can worsen long-term health conditions like heart failure, asthma, and diabetes.

Does Medicare Cover Flu Shots?

Medicare Part B covers outpatient care, preventive services, ambulance services, and durable medical equipment. Flu shots are considered a preventive service, so Medicare will cover 100% of the cost for one flu shot per year.

The Part B deductible does not apply to this service, so as long as you are enrolled in Medicare and the doctor or clinic accepts Medicare, you are fully covered.

Medicare Advantage plans are required, at a minimum, to provide the same benefits as Original Medicare (Part A and B). This means that if you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, your flu shot is fully covered, too.

The premiums and deductibles may vary per plan, however, if the plan has a deductible, a flu shot may not apply.

Where to Get a Flu Shot

If you don’t know where to get a flu shot, the CDC has a free resource to locate flu shot providers in your area. To get started, click here. Enter your zip code beside the red arrow. We used 37209, which is our corporate headquarters’ zip code in Nashville, Tennessee. Then click “Go”, which is beside the green arrow.

Flu Shot Finder Step 1 | Medicare Plan Finder
Flu Shot Finder Step 1 | Medicare Plan Finder

The next page lists the flu shot providers in your area complete with address and contact information. Call the providers with any questions about how to get your flu shot.

Flu Shot Finder Step 2 | Medicare Plan Finder
Flu Shot Finder Step 2 | Medicare Plan Finder

Let Us Help You Find the Right Medicare Plan

Getting an annual flu shot is just one of many ways to practice a healthy lifestyle. If you’re looking for coverage beyond Original Medicare that will help you become the healthiest version of you, a Medicare Advantage plan may be a perfect fit!

A MA plan can provide vision, dental, and hearing coverage. Plus, some may offer fitness classes like SilverSneakers®! Our licensed agents are highly trained can help you find the perfect plan that fits your needs and budget. Call us at 833-438-3676 or click here to get in touch with an agent!

Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder
Contact Us | Medicare Plan Finder

This blog was originally published on November 6, 2018, by Kelsey Davis and updated on August 30, 2019 by Troy Frink .

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