AARP Town Hall Gives Its Best to Educate Seniors on COVID-19

Published in the Woonsocket Call on April 5, 2020

With more than 278 Americans now infected with the Coronavirus virus (COVID-19) and at least 7,159 people dying from the deadly virus, according to an April 3 blog article the New York Times, “about 311 million people in at least 41 states, three counties, eight cities, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home.” The Washington, DC-based AARP continues to intensify its efforts to educate seniors about COVID-19 by hosting weekly Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall events.

At AARP’s second Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall event, held Thursday, March 19, during the 90 minute live event, federal health experts gathered to answer questions about the latest changes to address the health impacts of COVID-19, family caregiving needs, and to give tips on how seniors can stay safe from scams and frauds. AARP’s Vice President Bill Walsh served a host and the panel of experts featured Dr. Jay Butler, M.D., the deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), Lance Robertson, the assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Daniel Kaufman, the deputy director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. AARP’s Jean Setzfand. AARP’s senior vice president served as moderator.

CDC’s Butler called for the public to stay informed and take the coronavirus virus seriously. “As we’ve learned more about COVID-19, it’s very clear that most people who become infected do recover and do very well. But unfortunately, some get very sick. And some even die. And the risk of more severe illness is greatest for those who are older and for persons with underlying health conditions, especially chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, and those with diabetes,” he says.

Juggling Costs and Benefits While Promoting Social Distancing

According to Butler, grocery stores are juggling costs and benefits with promoting social distancing by designating special hours for seniors to shop if they don’t have someone who can make “that run to the grocery store or have delivery services available.”

“We’re at the end of flu season so if you develop symptoms (cough, muscle aches, headache, and temperature) it doesn’t mean that you have COVID-19, says Butler. For those concern, it is important to talk with your health care provider who will determine whether or not you should be evaluated and whether or not a test may be necessary, he adds, noting that COVID-19 testing is now covered by Medicare Part B when it’s ordered by a health care provider.

“Of course, if you suddenly become very ill—and that would be things like shortness of breath, chest pain, difficulty in getting your breath at all or noticing that your face or your lips are turning blue—that’s when you call 911, and get in as quickly as possible,” says Butler.

Butler notes that the primary transmission of the COVID-19 virus (as well as the six other coronaviruses that were previously known to cause disease in humans), is respiratory droplets.

By coughing or sneezing you produce droplets that contain the virus that can spread as far as five or six feet away from you, he says stressing that this is why social-distancing can protect you from catching the virus.

Many express concerns that COVID-19 can be picked up by handling letters and packages. But, says that the likelihood of transmission of is extremely low. So, consider sending a package a loved one in an assisted living facility or nursing home because it can be meaningful, says Butler.

For those over age 75 to age 80, Butler recommends that these individuals practice social distancing by connecting with their children or grandchildren by phone video chat to being exposed to COVID-19.

Butler gave simple tips for residents of senior living complexes to protect themselves from COVID-19. When you come back into your apartment after taking out trash to the chute or dumpster, “wash your hands,” he says. “And that means about 20 seconds with soap and water.

It seems like a long time but it’s the same amount of time it usually takes getting through the alphabet or to sing Happy Birthday twice,” adds Butler. Or just use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol as an alternative to hand washing.

ACL Administrator Robertson provided tips to unpaid caregivers who cannot visit their loved ones in nursing homes due to the necessary visiting restrictions. He says, get the facility’s up-to-date contact information along with details as to ways as how to make virtual visits, video chats and regular phone calls. He says, don’t forget to send cards and notes, not only to your loved one, but to other residents even to staff to say thank you.

Communicating with Your Loved Ones

Enhance your verbal communication by asking the facility staff to schedule the time for your call. “If your mom is most alert in the morning, pick a morning time, think about what music they might like and play that in the background or sing along or sing directly to your loved one,” recommends Robertson.

Robertson notes, “If you find the conversation struggling a bit, maybe play a game of trivia, reminisce, work on a crossword puzzle together, sing songs, read poetry or other materials.

Watch a TV show at the same time and just discuss. Again, throw in some creativity and you can help prevent both boredom and isolation.”

For those more technically savvy, face-to-face interaction through FaceTime, Messenger, Facebook, Zoom, can enhance your contact, says, Robertson.

Adds Robertson, make sure you ask the facility staff to keep the scheduled time of the care conference, holding it over the phone. “We know they’re busy, but it’s imperative that you remain linked as a caregiver,” he says.

For those caregivers seeking resources to take care of their loved one at home, call ACL’s Eldercare Locator, recommends Robertson. It’s toll-free 1-800-677-1116.

During this COVID-19 emergency FTC’s Daniel Kaufman warned that you will see “unscrupulous marketers” trying to take advantage of senior’s fears by selling them bogus treatments. In early March, he told the listeners that the FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out warning letters to seven companies that were claiming products (such as cheese, essential oils and colloidal silver) could treat or prevent the coronavirus. He quipped, these companies are not making these claims anymore and urged seniors to report any scams they come across by going to ftc.gov/complaint.

Kaufman says that seniors can also go to ftc.gov/coronavirus or just go to ftc.gov to see a very prominent link for coronavirus scams. If you want to receive consumer alerts directly from the FTC, you can go to ftc.gov/subscribe.

Skyrocketing of COVID-19 Related Scams

According to Kaufman, FTC is seeing an increase in scams, from phishing emails, charity and stock scams, to robocalls selling cleaning supplies and masks.

“We are seeing a lot of bogus emails that are going out to consumers, that use headers about coronavirus to get people to open them. You know, these are fake emails that are purporting to come from legitimate and important organizations like the World Health Organization or the CDC,” says Kaufman. “Don’t click on links when you get those emails. Don’t open those emails. They will download viruses or be harmful to software onto your computer, or they will try to get your private information or credit card information,” he adds.

Watch out for charity scams, too, warns Kaufman. “You know, this is a difficult time and we all want to help. But we want to make sure we’re helping charities and not scammers who are pretending to be charities, he says, suggesting that you do your homework to protect your pocketbooks.

With COVID-19 spreading across the nation you are now seeing more robocalls touting products and services to protect you from being exposed to virus. “Just hang up. Keep in mind that anyone who’s robocalling you, if they’re trying to sell you a product, they’re already doing something that’s unlawful,” he says.

Kaufman also recommends that seniors use a credit card when purchasing products, whether it’s cleaning supplies or masks, on websites. “It’s pretty easy to set up a website that’s purporting to provide, to sell these kinds of products. And they’re taking consumers’ payment information but not delivering, he notes.

Finally, Kaufman urges seniors to watch out for watch out for fraudsters who are touting that a certain company’s stock that is certainly going to explode because they have products that can treat coronavirus. Don’t fall for this stock scam and buy this stock.

For the latest coronavirus news and advice, go to http://www.AARP.org/coronavirus.

To see transcript, go to http://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/tele-town-hall-coronavirus-03-19.html.

The Coronavirus and its Effect on Social Security

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 22, 2020

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the nation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and other federal agencies strive to cope with meeting the huge challenges they face resulting from the unexpected pandemic outbreak, attempting to juggle worker safety while maintaining their daily operations.

On March 19, Key House Democratic and Republican Committee Chairs send a clear message to SSA as to the importance of minimizing any disruptions to its operations during the coronavirus crises. Throughout its 85-year history, Social Security recipients (seniors, families who have lost a breadwinner, and people with disabilities) have never missed getting their monthly check. Keeping this in mind, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX), along with Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson (D-CT), Ranking Member Tom Reed (R-NY), Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Danny K. Davis (D-IL) and Ranking Member Jackie Walorski (R-IN), sent a letter on March 19 to Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul calling on the agency to continue their work to prioritize health and transparency in an effort to minimize disruptions as they administer vital services during the coronavirus crisis.

“We know the decision to close SSA field offices…was a difficult decision. … This move will save lives and will also protect the health of SSA frontline staff, whose public service is so critical,” the key House lawmakers wrote.

“We understand that as coronavirus spreads, you are prioritizing work that fulfills SSA’s core mission,” the letter continued. “We fully support this prioritization.”

“We are writing to urge the Social Security Administration (SSA) to vigorously safeguard the health of the public and agency employees during the coronavirus crisis, while also minimizing disruptions in services to the American people,” stated the House lawmakers. “Telework is a commonsense response to coronavirus and we urge you to maximize its use across SSA. In addition, we encourage SSA to communicate regularly and robustly with the public and with its employees about SSA’s coronavirus response. Social Security is a program that affects the lives of all Americans. As SSA’s response to coronavirus evolves, the public must be able to count on timely information about how to access benefits and services, including assistance when a problem arises.”

The members emphasized that that they stand ready to work with the agency to ensure it has the resources and authority it needs to operate effectively during the crisis while ensuring SSA remains able to send benefits on time each month.

COVID-19 Changes Way SSA Does Business

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way SSA does business across the nation. Effective Tuesday, March 17, SSA closed all local Social Security offices for in-person service. SSA says that this decision protects the population it services — older Americans and people with underlying medical conditions—and its employees during the crisis.

But SSA employees remain at their cubicles, the processing of benefits and claims continues. However, critical services can be accessed online. The agency directed the pubic to visit its website (https://www.ssa.gov/) or its toll-free number, 800-772-1213 for customer service. You can apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits online, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas), print a benefit verification letter, and much more – from anywhere and from any of your devices.

According to SSA, there is also a wealth of information to answer most of your Social Security questions online, without having to speak with an SSA employee in person or by phone. Visit our online Frequently Asked Questions at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ask.

However, those persons who are blind or terminally ill, or need SSI or Medicaid eligibility issues resolved related to work status can obtain in person services in local offices.

SSA also provides COVID-19 related information and customer service updates on a special website (https://www.ssa.gov/coronavirus/)
According to a March 19 blog posting by the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), “The Ways and Means committee leaders suggest SSA allow employees to telework where possible, in accordance with federal guidelines. National Committee senior legislative representative (and former 35-year SSA employee) Webster Phillips says the agency’s teleworking capabilities have been diminished since Andrew Saul came on board as administrator – and will take time and resources to build back up.”

The NCPSSM’s blog posting noted, “SSA will discontinue several of its normal activities in order to prioritize beneficiaries’ needs. “There are workloads that they’re not going to process while this is going on, focusing exclusively on paying benefits,” says Phillips. Those include stopping all Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) and curtailing eligibility re-determinations for SSI recipients.”

Finally, “SSA also has discontinued in-person disability hearings to protect the health of claimants and employees. Instead, those hearings will take place via telephone or video conference, where possible,” adds the blog posting.

The Bottom Line…

On March 19, SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul, issued a statement to assure the 65 million Social Security recipients that SSA payments will continued to be processed. He stated, “The first thing you should know is that we continue to pay benefits.”  But Saul warned, “Be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping your Social Security payments but that is not true. Don’t be fooled.”

The United States Postal Service has so far experienced only minor operational impacts in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, with Saul’s assurances and the postal service still delivering mail, you can expect to get your benefits.
Stay healthy.

AARP Tele-Town Hall Informs Seniors What They Need to Know About COVID-19

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 15, 2020

Twenty-four-hour programming on cable television, television networks, talk radio and newspapers report the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just days ago there were about 700 confirmed and presumed U.S. cases from 38 jurisdictions, that’s 36 states and New York and D.C. There are more than 100,000 cases worldwide. CDC officials expect this count to go up. counts to go up.

At the AARP’s Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall event, held Tuesday, March 10, federal health experts gathered to the symptoms of COVID-19, how to protect yourself, and what it means for older adults and family caregivers. The event was moderated by AARP’s Vice President of Content Strategy and; Communications Bill Walsh and featured Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., , Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Nancy Messonnier, M.D., and internist and Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; and Seema Verma, Administrator at the Centers for Medicare and; Medicaid Services.

The invited experts warned seniors to take heed. People age 60 and over are at high risk of catching COVID-19, it’s severity especially for those with underlying medical conditions.

Getting the Best Source of Medical Information

According to AARP’s Walsh, the Washington, DC-based nonprofit convened the tele-town hall about coronavirus in an effort to protect the public. “While we see an important role for AARP to play in providing consumer information and advocacy related to the virus, the public should be aware the best source of medical information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said.

At this briefing Messonnier noted that reports out of China that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients and found that about 80 percent who had the virus had a mild case and recovered. About 15 percent to 20 percent developed a serious illness.

The COVID-19 virus affects adults, especially seniors, says Messonnier. noting that people over age 60 are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from this virus, especially if they have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease.

Although younger people with underlying health problems are also at risk, the top official at CDC stressed that older people with health problems are the most vulnerable. She noted that her parents are in their 80s, and even though they don’t live in community reported to have the virus, she advised them to stay close to home.

CDC’s Messonnier suggested that seniors stock up on over-the-counter medications to treat fever, cough and other symptoms, as well as tissues, common medical supplies, and routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes.

Although there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus and there are no specific medicines to treat it., there are many things you can do to prevent the illness, says Messonnier. She urged seniors to avoid contact with people who are sick. Keeping the COVID-19 virus at bay can be as simple as simply washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place, she said, urging seniors to wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol [if you can find it].

Messonnier warns seniors to avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – like elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something. It’s difficult for many but just avoid touching your face, nose, and eyes, she says.

Messonnier also suggested that seniors to clean and disinfect their homes to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phone). Also, avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.

Avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships, warns Messonnier.

Messonnier also called on people over age 6o to follow “social distancing strategies,” such as teleworking and avoiding crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. This might mean that if your grandchild has a fever and runny nose, it may not be the right time to visit, she says.

“If COVID-19 begins spreading in your community, keep in touch family and friends by phone or email to let them know how you are doing,” recommends Messonnier. Consider ways of getting foods brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks. Have at least three days of household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for an extended period of time, she adds.

And if you rely on a caregiver for routine help, make arrangements for backup care in case your primary caregiver becomes sick, suggests Messonnier.

Seema Verma, who oversees the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, reported that major health insurers are now responding to the pandemic coronavirus outbreak by pledging to relax prescription refill limits on “maintenance medication” for Medicare Advantage and Part D beneficiaries.

Hot Off the Press…

“No matter what type of [Medicare] program you are in, you can get a coronavirus test with no cost sharing, Verma announced noting that she has gotten a commitment from insurance companies to also cover coronavirus tests with no cost-sharing.

Medicare now pays for telehealth services. “You can Skype with them. You can send them pictures, and all of those are covered services, so your doctor can bill for those particular services, says Verma.

If you have difficulty stocking up on your prescriptions at the pharmacy, consider refilling your medications with a mail-order service, recommends DHHS’s Giroir. Ask your physician to switch your prescription from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply to “keep you out of the doctor’s office or a crowded grocery store or pharmacy,” he adds.

“This is not the time to panic. Stay informed, take it seriously because it can be a serious disease, stay up to date. We are committed to doing whatever we can to communicate,” says Giroir, noting that CDC’s website is a great source of information, but you want to know what is going on in your local community because that is where you get the most direct information about the risk.

For details, about COVID-19, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html. Also, go to https://health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019/.
Here’s a transcript of the event: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/tele-town-hall-coronavirus.html.

Taking a Look at Physical Activity and Cardiac Health

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 8, 2020

Spring time is coming. Get out your walking shoes…

Physical exercise (that doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective) can lead to longer, healthier lives, according to two preliminary research study findings presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic P Scientific Sessions 2020. The EPI Scientific Sessions, held March 3-6 in Phoenix, is considered to be the premier global exchange of the latest advances in population-based cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

“Finding a way to physically move more in an activity that suits your capabilities and is pleasurable is extremely important for all people, and especially for older people who may have risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Physical activities such as brisk walking can help manage high blood pressure and high cholesterol, improve glucose control among many benefits,” said Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., past chair of both the American Heart Association’s Council on Physical Activity and Metabolism and the National Advocacy Committee, director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Michigan, and professor of internal medicine at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Michigan.

In one session, Dr. Andrea Z. LaCroix, Ph.D., of the University of California San Diego (UCSD), presented her study’s findings that showed the importance of walking, stressing that every step counts in reducing cardiovascular disease deaths among older women.

USCD’s study was supported by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

According to the UCSD study’s findings, women who walked 2,100 to 4,500 steps daily reduced their risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases (including heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke) by up to 38 percent, compared to women who walked less than 2,100 daily steps. The women who walked more than 4,500 steps per day reduced their risk by 48 percent, in this study of over 6,000 women with an average age of 79.

LaCroix says that the UCSD study’s findings also indicated that the cardio-protective effect of more steps taken per day was present even after the researchers took into consideration heart disease risk factors, including obesity, elevated cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and/or blood sugar levels, and was not dependent on how fast the women walked.

“Despite popular beliefs, there is little evidence that people need to aim for 10,000 steps daily to get cardiovascular benefits from walking. Our study showed that getting just over 4,500 steps per day is strongly associated with reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in older women,” said LaCroix, the lead study author who serves as distinguished professor and chief of epidemiology at the UCSD. Co-authors of the study are John Bellettiere, Ph.D., mph; Chongzhi Di, Ph.D.; Michael J. Lamonte, Ph.D., M.P.H.

“Taking more steps per day, even just a few more, is achievable, and step counts are an easy-to-understand way to measure how much we are moving. There are many inexpensive wearable devices to choose from. Our research shows that older women reduce their risk of heart disease by moving more in their daily life, including light activity and taking more steps. Being up and about, instead of sitting, is good for your heart,” said LaCroix.

LaCroix’s study included more than 6,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative with an average age of 79 who wore an accelerometer on their waist to measure their physical activity for seven days in a row; these participants were followed for up to seven years for heart disease death.

This study was prospective, and half of the participants were African-American or Hispanic, stated LaCroix, noting that the use of an accelerometer to measure movement is a strength of the study. However, the study did not include men or people younger than 60, she said, calling for future research to examine step counts and other measures of daily activity across the adult age range among both men and women.

In another session, Joowon Lee, Ph.D., a researcher at Boston University (BU) in Boston, noted that higher levels of light physical activity are associated with lower risk of death from any cause.

According to the findings of BU’s study, older adults were 67 percent less likely to die of any cause if they were moderately or vigorously physically active for at least 150 minutes per week, (a goal recommended by the American Heart Association) compared to people who exercised less.

However, the researchers observed that, among the participants with an average age of 69, physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. Each 30-minute interval of light-intensity physical activities – such as doing household chores or casual walking – was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of dying from any cause, they said, noting that on the other hand, every additional 30-minutes of being sedentary was related to a 32 percent higher risk of dying from any cause.

“Promoting light-intensity physical activity and reducing sedentary time may be a more practical alternative among older adults,” said Joowon.

The BU research study, supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, evaluated physical activity levels of 1,262 participants from the ongoing Framingham Offspring Study. These participants were an average age of 69 (54 percent women), and they were instructed to wear a device that objectively measured physical activity for at least 10 hours a day, for at least four days a week between 2011 and 2014.

The researchers say that the strengths of this study include its large sample size and the use of a wearable device to objectively measure physical activity. However, the participants of the Framingham Offspring Study are white, so it is unclear if these findings would be consistent for other racial groups, they note.

Co-authors of the study are Nicole L. Spartano, Ph.D.; Ramachandran S. Vasan, M.D. and Vanessa Xanthakis Ph.D.

Report Outlines Strategy for Combating Senior’s Social Isolation and Loneliness

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 1, 2020

Nearly one in four older adults residing in the community are socially isolated. Seniors who are experiencing social isolation or loneliness may face a higher risk of mortality, heart disease and depression, says a newly released report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nongovernmental organization.

For seniors who are homebound, have no family, friends or do not belong to community or faith groups, a medical appointment or home health visit may be one of the few social interactions they have, notes the NASEM report released on Feb. 27, 2020. “Despite the profound health consequences — and the associated costs — the health care system remains an underused partner in preventing, identifying, and intervening for social isolation and loneliness among adults over age 50,” says the report.

“I’m pleased the AARP Foundation sponsored study by NASEM confirms the connection between social isolation or loneliness and death, heart disease and depression for older adults. It also finds that the health care system and community-based organizations have a critical role to play in intervening,” says AARP Foundation President Lisa Marsh Ryerson.

“We also know social isolation, like other social determinants of health, must be addressed to increase economic opportunity and well-being for low-income older adults,” says Ryerson.

Addressing Social Isolation and Loneliness

The 266-page NASEM report, “Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System,” undertaken by the Committee on the Health and Medical Dimensions of Social Isolation and loneliness in Older Adults, outlines five goals that the nation’s health care system should adopt to address the health impacts of social isolation and loneliness. It also offers 16 recommendations for strengthening health workforce education and training, leveraging digital health and health technology, improving community partnerships, and funding research in understudied areas.

Although social isolation is defined as an objective lack of social relationships, loneliness is a subjective perception, say the NASEM report’s authors. They note that not all older adults are isolated or lonely, but they are more likely to face predisposing factors such as living alone and the loss of loved ones. The issue may be compounded for LGBT, minority and immigrant older adults, who may already face barriers to care, stigma and discrimination, the report says.

Social isolation and loneliness may also directly result from chronic illness, hearing or vision loss, or having mobility issues. In these instances, health care providers might be able to help prevent or reduce social isolation and loneliness by directly addressing the underlying health-related causes.

“Loneliness and social isolation aren’t just social issues — they can also affect a person’s physical and mental health, and the fabric of communities,” said Dan Blazer, J.P. Gibbons professor of Psychiatry Emeritus and professor of community and family medicine at Duke University, and chair of the committee that wrote the report in a statement announcing the its release. “Addressing social isolation and loneliness is often the entry point for meeting seniors’ other social needs — like food, housing and transportation,” he says.

Providing a Road Map…

The 16 recommendations in this report provides a strategy as to how the health care system can identify seniors at risk of social isolation and loneliness, intervene and engage other community partners.

As to improving Clinical Care Delivery, the report calls for conducting assessments to identify at-risk individuals. Using validated tools, health care providers should perform periodic assessments, particularly after life events that may increase one’s risk (such as a geographic move or the loss of a spouse).
The NASEM report also recommends that social isolation be included in electronic health records (EHRs). If a patient is at risk for or already experiencing social isolation, providers should include assessment data in clear locations in the EHR or medical records.

It’s important to connect patients with social care or community programs, too. The NASEM report notes that several state Medicaid programs and private insurers already has programs that target the social determinants of health. These programs can be more intentionally designed to address social isolation and loneliness of the older recipients. Health care organizations could also partner with ride-sharing programs to enable older adults to travel to medical appointments and community events, the report recommends.

The NASEM report also suggests that as more evidence becomes available, roles that health care providers are already performing — such as discharge planning, case management and transitional care planning — can be modified to directly address social isolation and loneliness in older adults. The report also details other interventions that the health care system might consider may include mindfulness training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and referring patients to peer support groups focused on volunteerism, fitness, or common experiences such as bereavement or widowhood.

Strengthening health professional education and training can be another strategy to combating the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness. The NASEM report calls for schools of health professions and training programs for direct care workers (home health aides, nurse aides and personal care aides) to incorporate social isolation and loneliness in their curricula. Health professionals need to learn core content in areas such as the health impacts of social isolation and loneliness, assessment strategies, and referral options and processes, say the report’s authors.

The NASEM report warns that there are ethical Implications for using Health Technology to reduce social isolation and loneliness. Technologies that are designed to help seniors — including smart home sensors, robots and handheld devices — might intensify loneliness and increase social isolation if they are not easy to use or attempt to substitute for human contact. Moreover, the report found that 67 percent of the current assisitive technologies in dementia care were designed without considering their ethical implications. Developers of technology should properly assess and test new innovations, taking into account privacy, autonomy and the rural-urban digital divide.

The NASEM report says that more research is need because of evidence gaps and calls for more funding of studies to determine the effectiveness of interventions in clinical settings; to develop measures to identify at-risk individuals; and identify trends among younger adults as they age (such as use of technology and economic trends) that may inform how the health care system should target social isolation and loneliness in the future. More research is also needed to identify approaches and interventions that best meet the needs of LGBT and ethnic minority populations.

The National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

For a copy of the NASEM report, go to http://www.nap.edu/catalog/25663/social-isolation-and-loneliness-in-older-adults-opportunities-for-the .

CDC: Rhode Island Hit with Widespread Flu

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 6, 2018

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it’s a no brainer as to what issue I should cover this week. Being homebound for three or four days, with the flu, and my submittal deadline looming, I pen my commentary on widespread flu activity now being reported in Rhode Island.

CDC’s Influenza surveillance (ending Week 52) reported widespread influenza “flu” activity in 24 states including Rhode Island. This CDC warning recently triggered a requirement by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH} to require unvaccinated healthcare workers in a variety of health care settings to wear masks when entering a person’s room, serving food, or participating with patients in group activities.

The masking requirement helps protect healthcare workers from catching the flu, and helps protects patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH., in a statement released on January 2. “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the single best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu. Getting vaccinated today will provide you with months of protection,” she says.

According to the RIDOH, typical flu symptoms include having a fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

There are many types of illnesses or injuries even less severe cases of the flu do not require a visit to the emergency room, says RIDOH, noting that less severe cases of the flu will be treated more promptly by a primary care provider or in urgent care facilities. The department notes that going to an emergency room can oftentimes result in long waits because emergency room providers prioritize more serious injuries and medical conditions.

But, when do you seek out treatment for a nasty case of the flu? RIDOH says that difficulty in breathing or shortness in health, pain or pressure in the chest and having flu-like symptoms that improve and return with a fever and worse cough are clear warning signs to go immediately to an emergency room.

CDC expects that increased flu activity in the coming weeks, noting that the average duration of a flu season for the last five seasons has been 16 weeks, with a range of 11 weeks to 20 weeks. With significant flu still to come this season, CDC continues to recommend that anyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccine this season should get vaccinated now. It takes approximately two weeks for the protection provided by vaccination to begin.

Although 480,000 Rhode Islanders were vaccinated last year, RIDOH, says that the flu sent 1,390 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in 60 deaths (compared to 1,216 hospitalizations and 33 deaths the previous year. The state saw more flu activity during the 2017-2018 flu season than during any flu season since the 2019-2010 season, when the state experienced the state experienced the H1N1 flu pandemic.

It’s Not too Late to Get Vaccination

In kicking off Rhode Island’s annual flu vaccination campaign last October, RIDOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, said, “A flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself and the ones you love against the flu. When you get a flu shot you are not only protecting yourself, you are also protecting the people in your life by limiting the spread of the flu.”

So, if you have not been vaccinated, consider doing so. RIDOH recommends that children older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu. Others should, too., including health care workers, pregnant women, people over age 50, nursing facility residents and persons with chronic conditions (specifically heart, lung, or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

It’s easily to quickly get a flu shot because of its availability at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

In addition to getting a flu shot, here are a few simple tips that can help prevent you from getting the flu.

Wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day, using warm water and soap. If you do not have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand gel.

According to the CDC, the flu can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, by droplets made when a person cough, sneezes or talks. So, reduce spreading the flu, just by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a tissue.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or month because germs spread this way.

Get a good night’s sleep, be physically active and look for ways to manage your stress. Also, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Keep surfaces wiped down, especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children, by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

Pets Can Bring You Health, Happiness

Published in the Woonsocket Call on February 4, 2018

My newly adopted three-month old chocolate lab, Molly, keeps me on my toes. Literally. My daily walks around the block and playing ball in the back yard equal over eight thousand steps calculated by my Fitbit App. Being a pet owner I can certainly vouch for research findings published over the years that indicate that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the regular exercise and bonds they form with their companion animal.

The Positives of Owning a Pet

According to Dr. William Truesdale, owner of Seekonk, Massachusetts Central Avenue Veterinary Hospital, “having a companion animal can greatly improve your life. Of course you should always choose the right pet based upon your lifestyle and activity levels,” says the veterinarian who has practiced for over 43 years.

“Studies have demonstrated that having a pet in the home can actually lower a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies or asthma. Children exposed early on to animals tend to develop stronger immune systems overall (as published in the Journal of Allergies and Clinical Immunology),” says Truesdale.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have conducted heart related studies on people who have pets. The finding showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. All of which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack,” adds Dr. Truesdale, noting that people affected by depression, loneliness or PTSD may find that a companion animal may greatly improve their overall mood.

“As a dog owner myself and knowing so many people who find companionship and just plain fun as a pet owner, I can attest to the many benefits,” said AARP RI State Director Kathleen Connell. “While not for everyone, there is an abundance of evidence supporting this. I have heard so many stories about pets in senior living centers and even service pets that provide furry contact for patients in nursing homes and hospitals I know they can do so much to brighten a day. And when you are on Facebook, you almost expect to see friends’ proud dog and cat pictures.

“When it comes to dogs, they need walking. Anything that gets older people up and out of the house is a good thing, even if it requires carrying a supply of clean-up bags. Bending and stretching is exercise, you know. In addition, there inevitably is increased social interaction as people meet and make new pet-owner on the sidewalks and at dog parks. It’s all good.”

Pet-Friendly Policies Abound in Health Care Settings

Dr. Karl Steinberg, a San Diego-based hospice and nursing home medical director and Chief Medical Officer for Mariner Health Central, has seen the positive impact of pets in patient care settings. For over twenty years the long-term care geriatrician has taken his own dogs with him to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and on house calls to hospice patients almost every day. ”It generates a lot of happiness,” says Steinberg.

Steinberg sees first-hand on a daily basis the joy they bring to the residents, even those with severe dementia. “It slows down the day a little bit, because when you walk past a room and someone shouts, ‘Oh! A dog!’, you can’t just walk on down the hall. You stop and share the unconditional love, and it’s so worth it.,” says the geriatrician and hospice physician

For years, Administrator Hugh Hall has brought Bella, a Labrador Retriever, to visit residents of the West Warwick-based West View Nursing and Rehabilitation. Bella is considered “an important member” of the Rehabilitation staff of the 120 bed skilled nursing facility,” says Hall, noting the 8-year old canine is utilized by therapists to assist and motivate patients in their recovery.

“Residents love the ability to ability to interact and hold or cuddle with Bella and visiting pets,” observes Hall, noting that his dog is the “official greeter” at the facility’s main entrance. “The residents get to pet her and reminisce about their pets of the past and this memory is warm and happy,” he says.

Mike, a 12 -year old Labrador often makes the “rounds” with Geriatrician David A. Smith, MAD, CMD, at facilities in Central Texas. His pet’s impact on residents is very positive and improves the quality of his rapport with residents enabling him to get “better history and better compliance from them” he says.

“In a meta-analysis of non-pharmacologic therapies for behavioral problems in Nursing Home Residents with dementia, pet therapy was one of only a small number of interventions that showed statistical benefit,” says Smith, who is a past president of AMA: The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.

Smith warns that there is a downside in owning a pet. Frail adults may trip over a pet. Elders may age out of the ability to care for a pet, placing an additional burden on a caregiver who must care for the pet. Plans need to be in place for the placement of a pet in case of a move to an assisted living facility or if an owner passes away.

Life-Like Pets Can Also Bring Benefits to Older Adults

But, for those who find taking care of a living pet taxing because of deceased mobility or memory loss, Hasbro, Inc., has created a new realistic pet, an animatronic cat with soft fur, soothing purrs, and pleasant meows and a barking dog, especially designed to bring companionship to older adults.

In 2015, the Joy For All Companion Pets brand, featuring the animatronic cat, was Hasbro’s first foray into products designed specifically for older adults. In addition to captivating older adults, Joy For All Companion Pets can help enhance the interaction between caregivers and their loved ones by incorporating lighthearted fun, joy, and laughter into time spent together.

In 2016, Hasbro’s the JOY FOR ALL Companion Pet brand included a lifelike pup that sounds, and feels like a real dog; when the pup’s “owner” speaks, it looks toward him/her and reacts with realistic puppy sounds. That year the Pawtucket-based toy company collaborated with Meals on Wheels America to fight senior isolation and loneliness, which affects one in four seniors across the country. Hasbro donated $100,000 to Meals on Wheels America and provided JOY FOR ALL Companion Pets to local Meals on Wheels programs across the country in order to provide comfort and companionship to the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Aging loved ones and their caregivers have been thrilled with the Companion Pet Cats, and we are inspired by their positive feedback and personal stories,” said Ted Fischer, vice president of business development at Hasbro in a statement announcing the new life-like product. “The Cat delivers a unique way for all generations to connect deeply through interaction and play, but dog lovers continually asked when we planned to add a dog to the line. We are truly excited for the new JOY FOR ALL product – the Companion Pet Pup – to bring even more lighthearted fun and laughter to seniors and their families.”

“We heard from seniors across the country that companionship was important to their happiness. Many live alone, miss having a pet, or are no longer able to care for a pet,” said Fischer. “While it’s not a replacement for a pet, the Joy For All Companion Pet Cat is a life-like alternative that can provide the joy and companionship of owning a real pet, without the often cumbersome responsibilities,” he says.

The Joy For All Companion products are available for purchase on JoyForAll.com.