Wednesday, May 16, 2018

10 Simple Stress Busting Methods You Can Use Right Now

By Chloe Pearson

Stress is something goes along with the role of caregiver, but it doesn’t have to take control of your life. Here are 10 tricks to tank stress right now:


1. Stretch. Something wonderful happens to your body when you take a moment stretch your arms and legs. It activates your body’s relaxation response and, according to Plexus, when combined with deep breathing can help you fight stress.


2. Take a whiff. If you’ve ever walked into the kitchen as cookies were coming fresh out of the oven, you know how powerful and soothing scent can be. You can harness your olfactory senses to squash stress in seconds. Scents such as lavender, rosemary and cinnamon can put your mind in a meditative mood; peppermint can help you focus.


3. Count. You’ve no doubt heard that you should count to 10 before saying something in anger. There’s a reason for this. Counting gives you a moment to stop and assess the situation, whether it’s stress, fear, or irritation. Psychology Today explains further that you can use numbers, especially counting games, to effectively change your thought processes during a stressful situation, so you can switch your focus to something more pleasant.


4. Walk away. While you may not be able to stray too far from your loved one, if you’re feeling stressed out, take a moment to walk around the room. If they are napping, you may be able to sneak in a five-minute break to take a walk around the perimeter of your home or to the mailbox. Giving yourself a change of scenery can help you approach stressful caregiver situations with a fresh perspective.


5. Focus on your body. The way we perceive stress starts with the mind but can have serious consequences on the body. Entrepreneur explains that if you focus on your body and the physical sensations you’re feeling, you may be able to reduce the emotional toll of the day.


6. Look at pictures. Science says that looking at certain types of images can bring about an instant sense of calmness. This can be photos of nature, pictures of your loved ones, or a photo album from your last family vacation. You can also look at photos with the person to whom you are providing care to stir up a few pleasant memories.


7. Read a funny story. They say laughter is the best medicine, and the U.S. National Library of Medicine seemingly agrees. It’s been shown that laughter can have a positive effect on postpartum fatigue and stress. Even if you’re caring for an aging relative, the effects are similar. Take a few moments to read a funny story or watch a funny video. When you laugh, your body releases dopamine, which goes to work beating cortisol – the stress hormone – back from whence it came.


8. Grab a drink. We’re not talking about alcohol, but grabbing a quick drink of water when you’re feeling stressed out can help you wash away your worries. Mild dehydration can elevate your cortisol levels and drinking plain old water is the best way to rehydrate.


9. Go outside. There is an undeniable link between stress relief and spending time outdoors. Even if you can’t break away to go outside, open a window with a view. Even the act of just looking at nature will calm your nerves.


10. Chew gum. Sometimes, you just need an outlet for your nervous energy. Chewing gum can provide that outlet with the added benefit of giving you fresh breath. Make sure to choose a sugar-free variety so your stress-chewing habit doesn’t turn into cavities.


While there is no way to avoid some of the stress that goes along with putting yourself second, there are ways to beat stress and the above self-care habits are simple, easy to remember, and won’t interfere with your caregiver obligations.

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A New Support Group for Coping with Grief

by Emily Anderson

You may have heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's "Five Stages of Grief:" Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. In real life, grief is often complicated, rising and falling like waves, and refusing to follow a neat progression through stages. Everyone grieves differently, and having support in your grief process can be critical to finding a place of peace again.

The JFCS is launching a new program that runs from April 16th to June 26th this year that has a unique approach to dealing with grief. Meeting every other Tuesday from 3pm-5pm, the six-session group will focus on telling the stories of deceased loved ones to recognize and redefine our relationships with them. All participants will have a chance to share their stories, as well as participate in discussions and journaling exercises.

If you have lost someone--recently or not--consider contacting Kelli McElhinny at 412-422-7200 to participate in this one-of-a-kind experience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Look Out for Tax Scams!

by Emily Anderson

Tax season is a boom time...for identity thieves and scammers looking to skim money from unsuspecting taxpayers. You and your loved one might be especially vulnerable to scammers. Your loved one might have a touch of memory loss, for example, making it easier for a stranger to deceive them. You might be overwhelmed by medical bills and daily chores and in the rush, give out personal information to a "phishing" scam. For other people, the unfamiliar landscape of the internet makes it more difficult to tell who is honest and who is dirty.

The AARP lists these scams as some of the "Dirty Classic Scams:"

  1. Phishing: You should watch for potential fake emails or websites seeking personal information. The IRS will never send you an email about a bill or tax refund. Don’t click on a message claiming to be from the IRS.
  2. Phone Scams: Scammers who impersonate IRS agents are an ongoing threat. Some con artists who use this ploy have threatened taxpayers with deportation, arrest and revocation of their licenses if they fail to follow the scammers' instructions.
  3. Identity Theft: You should guard against possible identity theft. While the IRS has worked to better detect tax-return related identity theft, it reminds taxpayers that they can help in preventing this crime by protecting their personal data.
  4. Tax-Return Preparer Fraud: Watch out for unscrupulous tax-return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals are honest. But some dishonest preparers scam clients, perpetuating refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
  5. Fake Charities: Groups posing as charitable organizations solicit donations. Some of these groups use names similar to nationally known organizations to deceive consumers. The status of charities can be checked using tools found at
  6. Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers should be wary of anyone promising inflated refunds. If a tax preparer asks you to sign a blank return, promises you a big refund before looking at your records, or charges fees based on a percentage of your refund, they are probably up to no good.

What You Can Do

A little information can go a long way towards protecting yourself and your loved one from fraud. First, keep in mind that the IRS usually contacts people by mail, and never calls to demand payments over the phone. The IRS will not ask you to give out debit information over the phone, nor will they threaten to call the police and have you arrested if you don't make an immediate payment. Be aware that scam artists may have some of your information already, but that doesn't mean they are the real deal. If have any doubts, it is always ok to hang up and call the IRS directly yourself at 800-829-1040.

General fraud protection practices include shredding important documents, filing your tax returns as early as possible, and developing a personal relationship with your tax preparer. If your loved one has cognitive issues, you may want to peek at their mail or their checkbook from time to time to see if anyone is taking advantage of them financially.

For more information and to get alerts about new scams, check out the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Get Smart: Spring 2018

by Emily Anderson

Spring has sprung! Time to get some of these excellent and informative events on your calendar!

National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is 
April 29, 2017, 10am - 2pm
This nationwide event helps you safely remove dangerous expired or unused prescription drugs from your homes. In Allegheny county, call (412) 459-5000 to schedule a pickup with the sheriff's office, or Click here to find a take-back location near you

The APPRISE Lunch & Learn Medicare Series
All are held at the Human Services building, 1 Smithfield St, Downtown Pittsburgh
Contact Bill McKendree to sign up at 412-661-1670 x645 or

Medicare Basics--April 19, 2018
A review of the Medicare system, including its design, function, vocabulary, and how the parts coordinate to cover services and medications.

The Medicare Appeals Process--June 21, 2018
Exploring the problems with accessing health care services and prescription drugs under your specific plan, including the issue of "In Patient" versus "Observation" status for hospital services.

Community HealthChoices (CHC)--July 19, 2018
We'll review the current status of the CHC initiative in Allegheny County and discuss the application process for Waiver programs and other home care benefits for seniors.

Retirement Planning--August 23, 2018
This presentation will look at issues around enrollment into the Medicare and Social Security retirement benefits.

Medicare Coverage for People with End Stage Renal Disease--September 13, 2018
Medicare eligibility requirements and benefit coverage options for people diagnosed with end stage renal disease.

New Developments in Medicare for 2019--October 11, 2018
Review the Medicare Part C and Part D plan changes for the 2018 Annual Enrollment Period (for the 2019 calendar year). Talk with representatives from the insurance companies that provide Medigaps, Part C Advantage plans, and Part D prescription drug plans (for Allegheny County) to discuss the changes for 2019. We will also examine the Medicare insurance products that are specifically available for dual eligible (Medicare and Medicaid) individuals, and how these plans will be impacted by the Community HealthChoices (CHC) initiative.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers
Offered by the Allegheny County AAA
A class series held once a week for six sessions, this program helps family caregivers reduce stress, improve self-confidence, communicate effectively, balance their lives, and increase their ability to make tough decisions. Classes are free, but registration is required, so call or email Brenda Slagle at or 412-350-4996  See below for dates and locations of this series.

Dates: Fridays, May 4 through June 8, 2018           
Time: 1:00 – 3:00 pm           
Location: Elizabeth Seton Center                          
1900 Pioneer Avenue    
 Pittsburgh, PA 15226 

Dates: Fridays, June 22 through July 27, 2018                                                              
Time: 1:00 – 3:00 pm           
Location: Plum Senior Center                                          
499 Center New Texas Rd. 
Pittsburgh, PA 15239 

Dates: Fridays, October 5 through November 9, 2018                                                 
Time: 1:00 – 3:00 pm      
Location: Mon Valley Senior Center/LifeSpan        
4313 Walnut Street, Ste. 370    
 McKeesport, PA 15132

If you know of other programs going on in the area, please let us know! Happy learning!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How to Stay Safe from Black Boxed Drugs

By Cal Cook
What Are Black Boxed Warnings?

Most people don’t read the labels on their prescription drugs, so they’re unfamiliar with the term black box warning. On most prescription drugs, there’s a list of adverse interactions, side effects, and more information about the drug. On a select number of drugs, there is an additional warning within a black box, or outline. This warning may be highlighted in bold font. It’s aptly named a “black box warning” and it indicates a serious level of risk associated with the drug. Whether due to its addictive tendencies, increased risk of death, serious side effects, or other reasons, a black box warning explains the potentially grave side effects of the drug. This labelling is actually mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

What Common Medications are These Warnings Found On?

Thankfully, since these warnings indicate a significant amount of risk, they aren’t common. But there are a handful of relatively popular medications with black boxed warnings.

Vicodin is probably the most popular medication with a black boxed warning. Its overprescription by unscrupulous doctors is actually one of the causes of the current opioid crisis in the US. Vicodin is a pain relief medication that’s black boxed for its (unsurprisingly) highly addictive nature as an opioid.
Xarelto is one of the most widely used anticoagulants, meaning that its mechanism of action is to prevent the effects of clotting enzymes in the blood. It’s black boxed for its propensity to lead to patients bleeding to death. The scary thing about this drug is that there is no known antidote, so if you have internal bleeding as a result of taking it (even as prescribed), there is very little hope of positive medical intervention.
Zoloft is an antidepressant that’s one of the more common SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). It keeps serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters associated with positive emotions, at an artificially high level in the brain. The downside of this drug, which is why it’s black boxed, involves the increased suicide risk associated with its intake, especially amongst adolescent populations.

How Can I Report Adverse Side Effects?

  1. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist who prescribed you the drug. They will have information for next steps based on your unique health profile.
  2. Report the incident to the FDA through their Medwatch portal. This step is crucial to helping inform future patients.
  3. Consider calling 1-800-FDA-1088 to directly notify the FDA of the incident.

What Should I Talk With My Doctor or Pharmacist About?

     Are there alternatives to this drug without the black boxed warning?
     How does this drug interact with other medications/supplements I’m taking, or food that’s a regular part of my diet?
     Why was I prescribed this drug over alternate options?

What’s clear from this information is that while you can be as cautious as possible, there’s still significant risk associated with taking black boxed drugs. Do your best to minimize the risk by educating yourself using the resources provided, but you should shoot for tapering off the black boxed drugs under the care of your physician. With the help of a qualified medical professional and significant lifestyle changes, most people can avoid these drugs being a daily necessity.
Cal Cook investigates and writes about consumer-focused topics including finance, scams and safety. His passion lies in exposing fraud across all industries to protect consumers.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tips on How to Welcome Your Elderly Loved One Into Your Home

By Chloe Pearson

Life is full of transitions, and as we age, moving to get the care we need is one transition that is often inevitable. If you and your elderly loved one have decided that having them move into your home is best, this transition will impact several generations of your family. This change isn’t always easy, but by planning ahead and getting help, you can ease the transition for everyone.


Getting Your Home Ready

If your older loved one has limited mobility, you will probably need to make some home modifications so that he or she can live with you comfortably. The two primary issues to consider are accessibility and functionality. AARP recommends you start by getting guidance from a professional, such as an occupational therapist or geriatric care manager, who can help you determine which modifications you need. These needs will vary depending on your loved one’s abilities, but these are a few of the most common modifications to consider:

     Trip and slip-resistant surfaces - Fall hazards are the greatest risk to your loved one’s safety, so you might want to replace flooring with surfaces that are trip and slip-resistant.

     Bathroom accessibility - The bathroom is one room in the house that is an absolute necessity, and it also poses the greatest safety risks. According to CNBC, many people install “curbless” showers that your loved one can enter without having to step over anything and allow wheelchair access. Grab bars and raised toilet seats are two other must-haves for many people with limited mobility.

     Kitchen accessibility and functionality - If your loved one still cooks or needs the ability to help themselves in the kitchen independently, you may want to think about changes that will make the kitchen more functional for them. This can be anything from a kitchen remodel to lower counter heights and widen walkways to simple changes like moving certain items to a shelf or cabinet that is easier to reach.


Making the Move

Helping your loved one pack up and move from their home to yours can be a daunting task, and there will be a mix of emotions for everyone involved. To reduce stress as much as possible, allow plenty of time for going through their current home and deciding which items to keep and which ones to let go. Rushing this process could make it harder for your loved one to come to terms with their feelings about this big change. Planning ahead also allows you to budget for moving costs.


When it comes to moving day, consider hiring movers to help with packing, moving, and unpacking. Getting professional help will reduce the risk of injury to both yourself and your loved one and will free you up to focus on your loved one’s needs. This will also help lower moving day stress and make it easier for you to start getting your loved one settled in your home.


Easing the Transition

Having your elderly or disabled loved one move in with you naturally means there will be some changes to each of your roles in the family. To ease the transition, maintain open communication with your loved one about their needs and their feelings throughout the process. They may feel some loss of independence, so communicate with them about how you can make changes in your home so that they can be as self-reliant as possible. To help you manage your role as a caregiver without becoming overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether from other family members or a home health aide.


More seniors are choosing to age in their own home these days and when that’s no longer a good option, moving in with a family member is often the best choice. Even when it’s the right choice, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. As a caregiver, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, from making home modifications to moving and caregiving, so that you can ease the transition for your loved one while also taking care of your own needs.


Photo credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Importance of the Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney

By Deanna Leyh Page

Even though it can be an uncomfortable and awkward thing to think about as we get older, it's important to start thinking about your end-of-life wishes. Even at as early an age of 18 but especially later in life age 65 and older, thinking about your wishes if something was to happen to you is crucial to making sure that you will get the end-of-life care that you want. A living will is a set of written, legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself at some point, for example if you develop dementia or go into a coma.

It's helpful to think about this throughout your life, because as you enter different stages of life or certain health conditions change or arise, your thoughts on what you want or don't want may change too. It is especially important for those diagnosed with dementia to make sure that they complete their living will so that their caregiver or family knows what kind of care the individual would want when they are no longer able to reasonably make those decisions themselves. Without this document, it can be tough for family members or caregivers to make sure that they are following your wishes and there can sometimes be disagreement between family members with differing opinions. To avoid placing the burden of deciding on others and to avoid disagreements, completing your living will can make it easier for others to follow your wishes and can ensure that your instructions for medical care are carried out. Also, make sure in the document that you designate a healthcare agent or power of attorney to follow your instructions. Be sure to pick someone that you trust and that you believe will adhere to your instructions or wishes.

The living will ask you questions about severe brain damage, aggressive medical treatment, organ donation, tube feedings, chemotherapy, radiation, antibiotics, CPR, breathing treatment, surgery, etc. It also gives you the opportunity to write down specific, detailed instructions for your healthcare agent to follow. The document also allows you to designate the healthcare power of attorney or agent to follow your wishes, and it allows you to specify if you want the agent to follow your instructions exactly or if you want them to use your instructions as guidance and possibly override your wishes. You will need two witnesses to sign your living will/power of attorney form, and you can get it notarized, although it is not Pennsylvania state law to have it notarized.

Remember that you can update your living will/healthcare power of attorney form as your wishes change, and you should review it every so many years. Many people think that just telling family members will suffice, but actually having a written, legal document of your end-of-life instructions makes it easier for family and loved ones to make decisions and to follow your wishes.

For the PA Living Will/Healthcare Power of Attorney form to complete, you can download a free copy at the following website: