Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Options Program

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Is your loved one in need of help at home? Do you need someone to connect you to available services to help them remain in their home? If you’ve answered yes, then you might want to look into the Department of Aging’s Options program. Here, your local Area Agency on Aging will complete a comprehensive assessment to determine your loved one’s eligibility and identify service needs. From there, a Case Manager is assigned to work with you and your loved one on developing a plan of care and coordinate/arrange services.

Services available under Options include:
  • Adult Day Services—a center that your loved one can stay at during the day for some supervision and help in a group setting
  • Care Management
  • Counseling
  • Emergency Services
  • Home Delivered Meals
  • Home Health Services
  • Home Modifications—like grab bars, accessible chairs and so on
  • Home Support Services—including light house cleaning help
  • Personal Care
  • Personal Emergency Response Systems
  • Respite Care
  • Transportation
  • Other Services

In order to be eligible, your loved one must be a Pennsylvania resident age 60 and older. The cost of these services is based on a sliding scale—what you would pay is based on your income and the less you can afford, the less you pay. Remember—it doesn’t hurt to just call for more information! Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and inquire about the Options program to help keep your loved one in their home.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making Medicines Easier

by Emily Anderson

Do you open your loved one’s medicine cabinet and get slammed by an avalanche of orange bottles? Older adults are the largest users of prescription medications in the U.S., and nearly 20% take ten or more medications. Keeping on top of medications is an important task, but one that is frequently time consuming and frustrating. Today, we’ll look at a few things you can do to make managing those medications easier for you and your loved one.

1. Get organized

First, fill out a medication list like this one with your loved one’s current prescriptions. Also write down the over-the-counter medicines and supplements they take. Keep the list handy so you don’t have to sort through a ton of bottles every time you go to the doctor or want to double check something.

If you’re a smartphone user, they also have apps for this! That way you’ll always have the information right at your fingertips. Check out the apps from CareZone, the American Medical Association (iProducts only), and the AARP.

Second, get a pill box, available at your local corner drugstore. If your loved one takes medicines multiple times a day, look for a box that has “Morning, Afternoon, and Evening” sections. Filling up the pill box weekly will mean less time you have to spend wrestling with child-proof lids.

2. Toss old meds

If your loved one’s prescription changes or you have bottles of expired medications sitting around, get rid of them. They are creating clutter and could become a health risk if your loved one takes them accidentally. You don’t need to flush them, just mix them with something unpleasant like used coffee grounds and put them in the garbage. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can also bring the old medicines back to a pharmacy and ask them to handle disposal.

3. Set a schedule

Have regular times during the day for your loved one to take medications. If possible, link medication time to other daily activities like meals or brushing teeth—they are more likely to be remembered that way.

4. Provide reminders

Audio and visual reminders are best. Put a note in a noticeable place, such as the refrigerator or a nightstand, reminding your loved one when to take medications. You might also consider calling to remind them, if you can handle doing that regularly. Some specialized pharmacies also sell pill boxes that have lights or bells built into them as reminders. If your loved one keeps forgetting what the pills are for, consider making flash cards with a picture of the pill and a description of what it does that they can refer to.

5. Talk to your doctor

Write down questions that you want to ask your loved one’s doctor. For people taking many pills, sometimes the doctor can help you design a simpler medication regimen. Ask about non-drug treatment options, using less frequent doses, or smaller amounts of new pills. Also, always tell the doctor what over-the-counter medicines and supplements your loved one uses.

6. Talk to your pharmacy

Ask about automatic refill and home delivery programs that could make your life easier. Some pharmacies offer these services for free! Also try to use just one pharmacy—they can help you spot errors or contraindications, and you’ll have less running around to do.

7. Get it prepackaged

Check if there is a pharmacy in your area that can presort medications for you so you don’t have to fill up a pill box every week. Prepackaged pills either come in blister packs (like Dentyne Ice gum) or little sealed baggies. But still double check what is inside, mistakes can happen.

8. Double check

Everything. If you’re filling a pill box, double check that you are holding the right medication, that the dosage on the bottle is right, it’s the right time of day, and you have the right number of pills. Then take a peek at your loved one’s pill box to make sure they’re not missing days or skipping certain pills.


It’s hard to feel responsible for another person’s health and well-being. Medications often feel like a life-and-death matter, and sometimes they are. But you’re still human, and mistakes happen. If something does get mixed up, call your loved one’s doctor, and they’ll be able to tell you how to handle it. The more you get a system and a routine going, the easier it will be for you and your loved one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Volunteer Caregivers

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

Sometimes as a caregiver you may need a bit of time for yourself, whether it’s time for you to go to the doctor, time to run errands, time to get your hair cut, or even just time to relax and take a break from caregiving. And if you don’t have a lot of money laying around to hire someone to give you a break, getting a volunteer caregiver may be the right option for you! A volunteer caregiver is a community member (often trained in how to handle people with various disorders or dementias) who volunteers their time to come to your home to be a companion and take care of your loved one so that you can do other things.

While volunteers don’t help with medical needs or personal care needs, they do help with:
  • Grocery shopping
  • Running errands
  • Reading
  • Light meal preparation
  • Light housework
  • Companionship
  • Talking with the loved one
  • Transportation to doctors appointments
  • Snow shoveling/leaf raking
  • Other services
Volunteers are also often trained in how to handle people with various disorders or dementias. Typically they will come one to two scheduled times a week for 2-4 hours. Below we have listed some volunteer caregiver programs in our area that may be able to help give you a break!

1. Allegheny County’s Senior Companions Program:

Senior Companion volunteers provide regular visits and assistance to older adults, 60 years of age and older, in their home. Volunteers may help with simple daily activities, serve as an escort for shopping, medical, or social outings, or provide caregiver relief. These in-home visits are also an opportunity to check on the well-being of older adults during emergencies such as extremely hot or cold weather and power outages. If you’re interested, visit their program brochure.

2. Highmark PALS Volunteer Program:

Highmark PALS is a volunteer program that also provides any member with Highmark Blue Shield medical coverage and Medicare needing assistance with every day tasks. Volunteers will come to your home one to two times a week for a few hours at a time to help give you a break, sit with your loved one, running errands, etc. If you’re interested, visit their program brochure.

3. Open Your Heart to a Senior Program:

Open Your Heart to a Senior is a United Way initiative that trains and mobilizes volunteers to assist the elderly so that they can continue to live safely at home and so that their caregivers can get a much-needed break. In Allegheny County this program is also known under the name "In Service of Seniors." The United Way contracts with local non-profit agencies including North Hills Community Outreach, Family Services of Western PA, and Faith in Action to match volunteers with older adults needing assistance. Volunteers can help with companionship, transportation to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and more. If you’re interested, visit their website or call 2-1-1.


Remember—it’s OKAY to ask for a break! As a caregiver, you have to take care of yourself first in order to continue to care for your loved one. There are people out there ready and waiting to help you take care of you!

*Updated 8/7/15