(Family Features) Caring for a family member or loved one with a serious health condition like Parkinson’s disease (PD) can be a big undertaking and often takes a concerted effort from many family members and friends to provide the best care possible. Even if you’re not available to provide hands-on assistance on a consistent basis, there are ways to provide aid from a distance.
PD is one condition that may have an impact on the entire family, necessitating a broad care network. The second-most common neurodegenerative disorder behind Alzheimer’s disease, PD affects nearly 1 million nationwide, with more than 60,000 Americans newly diagnosed each year. Because it can be hard to tell if a loved one has the disease and no two people experience it quite the same way, some early signs to look for include tremors, slowness of movement and stiffness or rigidity, among others.
Organizations like the Parkinson’s Foundation have resources that can help you and your family members provide long-distance care to a loved one. As an ally to care partners, the Foundation aims to make life better for people living with PD and their families by improving care and advancing research toward a cure.
Experts from the Foundation offer these tips for long-distance caregivers:
Learn about your loved one’s condition. You will be better able to provide support if you have a basic understanding of the disease. Be sure to gather information on the condition’s symptoms, how it is diagnosed and what treatment options are available.
Be well versed in your loved one’s needs. Learn about his or her general health and keep a list of doctors and neighbors along with their contact information. Also keep any pertinent financial and legal documents readily accessible.
Keep an open line of communication with the primary caregiver. As care partner responsibilities often increase over time – and can easily lead to burnout – be sure to let the primary caregiver know you are there for them. Consider sending a simple gift such as a hand-written card, flowers or a gift card for a self-care appointment, like a massage.
Consistently offer to help. There are many ways you can offer support. If in doubt, directly ask how you can be of the most help. Even if you cannot be present to offer hands-on assistance, consider sending meals, troubleshooting technology issues or providing other assistance based on your skillset. You may even offer to have your loved one come stay with you for a while, if they are able to travel, to give the primary caregiver a respite from duties.
Call often. Set a designated day and time each week to chat with your loved one and make the call faithfully, even if just to catch up for a few minutes. Consider using a video calling service so you can see each other, if possible, to provide an additional level of connection.
Talk finances. Many people won’t ask for financial help, even if the limitations of a fixed income mean going without necessities, so it may be best to have this conversation proactively. If a regular subsidy isn’t possible, offer to buy groceries online, send a weekly meal, purchase medical supplies or help with household utility bills, transportation costs or home-related services.
Visit when possible. If your budget allows, plan regular trips to check on your loved one and plan ahead with the primary care partner so you can provide respite. Offer to take on key responsibilities during your visit and provide a listening ear for the main caregiver while you’re there.
You can find an array of free resources, including a comprehensive Caring and Coping guidebook, a video library, podcast episodes, courses and an online community, at Parkinson.org/Caregivers. To learn more and find additional resources in English or Spanish, visit the website or call the Parkinson’s Foundation toll-free Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636).
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
6 ways to build lasting healthy habits
(Family Features) Starting on a path toward healthy habits is often easier than maintaining them long term. This year, you can avoid a major pitfall of healthy resolutions and build healthy habits that stick by working small, positive steps into your daily life.
In fact, healthy habits are the first suggested treatment strategy for people whose blood pressure and cholesterol levels are creeping higher than normal, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement.
“The current guidelines for managing high blood pressure and cholesterol recognize that otherwise healthy individuals with mildly or moderately elevated levels of these cardiovascular risk factors should actively attempt to reduce these risks, and increasing physical activity is a great place to start,” said Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D., chair of the statement writing group and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at West Virginia University School of Public Health.
These six ideas from the American Heart Association’s Healthy for Good Habit Coach can help.
Bust Common Habit-Building Myths
You may be surprised to learn the truth about creating and sticking to healthy habits. One myth is getting healthy means doing things you don’t like. Research shows positive emotions make habits stick, so set your intentions on something you enjoy. Another misconception is big results require big changes, which may lead to overly ambitious habits. However, the simpler the routine is, the more likely it is to become habit.
Work with Your “Brain Loops”
Your brain creates “loops” for habits made up of three things: a cue, a routine and a reward. Each time the loop is repeated, it becomes more routine and may become automatic. Knowing this, you can design cues for developing new, healthy habits, such as setting walking shoes by the bed to start a walking habit. The routine is putting on the shoes and walking around the block, and the reward is the pleasant sensations and brighter mood from a morning stroll.
Create Cues That Work for You
Most successful health habits begin with a cue. The cue can be external in your environment or internal in terms of your mindset. The more consistent the cue, the more likely it is to trigger the habit. Hacking your brain’s reminder system can help you remember your cue. Some examples of visual cues are placing a sticky note where you’ll see it often, keeping a water bottle on your desk or refrigerating fresh veggies at eye level.
Build a Routine That Supports Your Goals
Positive and consistent habits are important to achieve your personal goals. Small habits done consistently can add up to big results. To create a new healthy habit, think through the steps that could lead to your desired outcome. Ask yourself whether you want to do it, if it’s easy and if it’s high impact. It’s important to choose habits that make a difference and move you closer to your goals.
For example, if one of your goals is improving your heart health, a meaningful habit might be to move more. Increasing physical activity can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol along with many other health benefits, Gibbs said.
“Every little bit of activity is better than none,” she said. “Even small initial increases of 5-10 minutes a day can yield health benefits.”
Use Rewards to Make Habits Stick
Start by choosing a habit you enjoy that’s rewarding by itself. If you’re more of a dancer than runner, increase your physical activity with an upbeat dance class. You might also look for a more enjoyable version of a new habit, such as getting more fruits and veggies by sipping on a delicious smoothie.
Understand Resets are Part of the Process
New habits are experiments. If they don’t stick, you haven’t failed. Instead, you’ve learned what doesn’t work, which is useful. Get curious and ask yourself which part of the habit didn’t work for you. Maybe the cue was ineffective. Maybe the steps of the routine were too ambitious and you need to split them into smaller, easier steps. If you realize you don’t enjoy the habit, stop doing it and try something else.
Find more inspiration and ideas to jumpstart healthy habits this year at heart.org/habits.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
American Heart Association
3 health care trends for 2023
(Family Features) With many people preparing for health and wellness resolutions in the new year, understanding the state of access to care and other patients’ booking choices may give a sense of optimism for 2023.
To examine the outlook for 2023, Zocdoc, a free platform where people can find and book in-person or virtual health care appointments across more than 200 specialties and 12,000 insurance plans, analyzed appointment booking trends and conducted a provider survey. The results are reflected in the report, “Healthcare Hope For the Holidays: 2022,” which provided three key insights.
Happier Providers, Happier Patients
Provider and health care staff burnout can have a negative effect on patient experience, and 52% of providers surveyed indicated they agreed or strongly agreed practices will face increased financial challenges in 2023. However, savvy providers and support staff are taking steps to run more efficient practices, including using technology. This saves providers time and stress, giving them more time to focus on patient care.
In 2022, positivity pervaded providers’ perspectives on technology:
- 64% of providers indicated they agreed or strongly agreed their scheduling software helped their practice run more efficiently.
- 57% agreed or strongly agreed their telehealth solution was easy and intuitive to use.
- 36% agreed or strongly agreed insurance verification and eligibility software helped their practice run more efficiently.
This perspective paints a positive picture for patient-provider relationships in 2023:
- 71% of providers agreed or strongly agreed scheduling software will help run a more efficient practice.
- 69% agreed or strongly agreed technology will help practices run more efficiently.
- 59% agreed or strongly agreed their telehealth solution will become more intuitive and easier to use.
Technology Can Speed Up Access to Care
Amidst the unprecedented landscape of labor and supply costs rising, and physician and staff burnout a reality, innovation is driving positive change for patients. With a growing number of people embracing technology as a driver of access to an improved health care experience, and patients and providers aligned on telehealth as a supplement to in-person care, there are reasons for optimism.
Expediting patients’ access to care by surfacing the 20-30% of appointments that become available last minute due to cancellations and rescheduled appointments allows Zocdoc to enable faster speed-to-appointment for patients, compared to the averages reported in the Merritt Hawkins 2022 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times.
- Cardiology: Typically 1-3 days with 39% seeing a cardiologist within 48 hours, compared to 26.6 days national average appointment wait time
- Dermatology: Typically 1-3 days with nearly 30% seeing a dermatologist within 48 hours, compared to 34.5 days national average appointment wait time
- OB-GYN: Typically 1-3 days with nearly 26% seeing an OB-GYN within 48 hours, compared to 31.4 days national average appointment wait time
- Orthopedic surgery: Typically 1-3 days with nearly 38% seeing an orthopedic surgeon within 48 hours, compared to 16.9 days national average appointment wait time
- Family medicine (PCP): Typically 1-3 days with 42% seeing a PCP within 48 hours, compared to 20.6 days national average appointment wait time
Looking Back to Look Forward
Unique, actionable insights into consumers’ health care behavior can be derived from 2022 data, providing a glimpse into what’s to come. Examining the industry’s journey affords the opportunity to predict what may continue to resonate in 2023.
For example, patients got back to regular care appointments after delaying or canceling appointments following the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset.
Additionally, telehealth usage declined in all specialties except mental health, moving virtual care toward being a specialty- and case-specific care modality. Consider these appointment trends from January-November:
- 18% of appointments across all specialties were conducted via telehealth.
- Excluding mental health, just 9% of booked appointments were conducted via telehealth.
- 88% of mental health appointments were conducted via telehealth.
To find more information or book an appointment, visit Zocdoc.com.
Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock
Caring for older adults: Managing heart attack treatment, follow-up care
(Family Features) As the proportion of older adults in the U.S. continues to increase, appropriate care for older people becomes increasingly important. In fact, caregivers and loved ones should be aware of age-appropriate care for heart attack or chest pain.
The first step is to call 911. Once medical care is started, age-related changes in general health and in the heart and blood vessels require consideration, and likely modifications, in how people age 75 and older are treated, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in its flagship, peer-reviewed journal “Circulation.”
The statement, “Management of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) in the older adult population,” highlights evidence to help clinicians better care for older patients. According to the statement, 30-40% of people hospitalized with ACS, which includes heart attack and unstable angina (heart-related chest pain), are age 75 or older.
“Older patients have more pronounced anatomical changes and more severe functional impairment, and they are more likely to have additional health conditions not related to heart disease,” said Abdulla A. Damluji, M.D., Ph.D., FAHA, chair of the scientific statement writing committee, director of the Inova Center of Outcomes Research, and an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “These include frailty, other chronic disorders (treated with multiple medications), physical dysfunction, cognitive decline or urinary incontinence.”
Normal Aging and Age-Related Changes in the Heart and Blood Vessels
Cardiovascular changes that occur with normal aging make ACS more likely and may make diagnosing and treating it more complex. These changes include large arteries becoming stiffer, the heart working harder but pumping less effectively, blood vessels becoming less flexible and less able to respond to changes in the heart’s oxygen needs and an increased tendency to form blood clots. Sensory decline due to aging may alter hearing, vision and pain sensations. Kidney function also declines with age, with more than 1/3 of people ages 65 and older having chronic kidney disease.
Multiple Medical Conditions and Medications
As people age, they are often diagnosed with health conditions that may be worsened by ACS or complicate existing ACS. As these chronic conditions are treated, medications prescribed may result in unwanted interactions or medications that treat one condition may worsen another.
“Geriatric syndromes and the complexities of their care may undermine the effectiveness of treatments for ACS, as well as the resiliency of older adults to survive and recover,” Damluji said. “A detailed review of all medications – including supplements and over-the-counter medicines – is essential, ideally in consultation with a pharmacist who has geriatric expertise.”
Steps for Heart Attack Care and Follow-Up for Older Adults
- Call 911 if you notice someone experiencing heart attack warning signs. These include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body (one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach), shortness of breath or other symptoms such as a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- Consider treatment needs for co-existing conditions. An individualized, patient-centered approach is best for older adults.
- Get input from multiple specialists, including a pharmacist, to manage care and medications.
- People with cognitive difficulties and limited mobility may benefit from a simplified medication schedule, with fewer doses per day and 90-day supplies of medications so fewer refills are necessary.
- The goals of care for older people with ACS should extend beyond clinical outcomes and focus on quality of life and the ability to live independently.
- Do-not-resuscitate orders should be discussed before any surgery or procedure.
For more information about managing ACS in older adults, visit Heart.org.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
American Heart Association
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