Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions

by Kristen West

Navigating chronic conditions can be tricky, especially when you are caring for someone with a chronic condition for the first time, or while you yourself have a chronic condition. Luckily, researchers at Stanford University wrote a book about how to better manage chronic conditions. 

Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions by Kate Lorig, David Sobel, and Virginia Gonzalez, is designed to instruct individuals to manage pain so they can live with chronic pain while living a satisfying, fulfilling life. The book draws input from people with long-term aliments, and points the way to achieving the best possible life under non-traditional circumstances. 

The book covers information such as understanding and managing common symptoms; exercising for flexibility, strength, and balance; communicating with family, friends, and health care professionals; healthy eating; managing medication; and making treatment decisions. The text is broken down into sections so you can skip around without having to read the book cover to cover and still gain valuable information. The book is also resourceful reference guide for everyday issues and includes many visual aids and quick reference charts. 

Additionally, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions is a companion book to the Better Choices, Better Health or Chronic Disease Self-Management Program which is offered through Familylinks in Allegheny County. The program is a workshop for adults given two and half hours, once a week, for six weeks, in community settings such as senior centers, churches, libraries, and hospitals. People with different chronic health problems attend together and discuss chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, and strokes. Workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders, one or both of whom are non-health professionals with a chronic disease themselves.

Researchers have found that people who participated in the program demonstrated significant improvements in exercise, cognitive symptom management, communication with physicians, self-reported general health, health distress, fatigue, disability, and social/role activities limitations. They also spent fewer days in the hospital and trend toward fewer outpatient visits and hospitalizations.

For more information about a program in your area, click here

Whether you choose to participate in the class, or peruse the book, you are sure to learn some tricks to better care for yourself and your loved one. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Better Night's Sleep

by Emily Anderson

Are you dragging around the house guzzling coffee just to be functional? Are you quick to anger, have little energy for your usual hobbies, or having trouble reining in your appetite? You might just be short on sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, but if you're one of the many people getting 6 or fewer hours of shuteye, you might be going into sleep debt, leading to those feelings of grogginess and crankiness.

Caregivers have some particular challenges that can make getting a full night's rest challenging. Many caregivers find their sleep interrupted when they respond to a loved one's needs during the night, such as helping someone to the bathroom. Even if you don't have to get up, many caregivers feel like they sleep with "one ear open," listening for sounds of a disruption or a fall. Some people use the nighttime hours to catch up on other duties that didn't get finished during the day or to get some much-needed "me time." Finally, for many people, worries and "to dos" dancing in their heads keep them up long past lights out.

Generally, sleep problems fall into three categories: Trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and just getting too little sleep. The tips below will work to help you get back to a better sleep routine, but you can also use them to help your loved one get a better night's rest if needed.

Trouble Falling Asleep

1. Develop a wind-down routine. Whatever makes you feel calm and collected, make a habit of doing those things in the hours leading up to bed. Consider including some light tidying up, a caffeine-free tea, a chapter of a book, and hygiene practices like brushing your teeth or a warm face wash. Whatever you choose, it should be mildly stimulating to boring, not thrilling or anxiety provoking, like the latest installment of your favorite suspense novel.

2. Stay away from electronics and other bright lights. The blue light from TVs, phone screens, and computers can signal to your body that it's morning and time to rev up, rather than night and time to quiet down.

3. Deal with your worries. Many of us have trouble winding down because worries or tasks from the day are still lingering in our minds. Write down you worries or your to-dos and tell yourself that they will be there for you in the morning.

Trouble Staying Asleep

1. Assess what wakes you up. Are you hot or cold? In pain? Hearing a noise? Going to the bathroom? Make a plan to avoid those problems in the future, such as avoiding liquids 3 hours before bedtime.

2. Try a relaxation technique. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and repetitive prayers often work to quiet the mind and let you go back to sleep.

3. Stop thinking in bed. If your worries intrude, relaxation techniques aren't working, and you find yourself having trouble getting back to sleep, don't stay in bed for longer than 20 minutes. Get up, do something boring until you feel tired, and then try to go back to sleep.

Getting Enough Sleep

1. What's keeping you from just going to bed earlier? Maybe you need to delegate some tasks or accept the fact that not everything on your list will get done today. Many caregivers stay up to catch some quiet time they don't get during the day, which is enjoyable until it starts cutting into your sleep. If you choose to use the nighttime to relax, make sure it is quality relaxation--TV and mind-numbing phone games are often less rejuvenating than you think.

2. Take a nap. If all else fails, find some time to catch up on 15-20 minutes of rest during the day. Even if you can't sleep, a short period of deep breathing or sitting down can help you feel refreshed during the day.

To learn more about getting better rest, try the National Sleep Foundation's Lifestyle column!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Save on Your Prescription Costs

by Kristen West

Prescription costs can be burdensome, especially when multiple members of your family are taking medication. Luckily, the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and FamilyWize have partnered to help to reduce the cost of prescriptions.

How does it work?

FamilyWize acts as one buying group, pulling together millions of people without health insurance, with high medication costs, and with the need to purchase medication not covered by their health insurance plan. FamilyWize negotiates with pharmacies for discounts available to large purchasing groups, such as insurance companies and employers, and passes the negotiated discounts to the people using the FamilyWize Prescription Saving Card.

Who and what is eligible?

The FamilyWize Prescription Saving Card is free to everyone. There is no registration or eligibility criteria. The savings apply to all FDA approved prescriptions medications and has unlimited use at over 60,000 pharmacies across the country.

How to get a FamilyWize Prescription Saving Card 

You can register for a FamilyWize Prescription Saving Card online here by providing only your name, email address and zip code. Then print out your card, have it mailed to your home, or download the app to your electronic device.

FamilyWize Prescription Savings Cards are free and can be used throughout Allegheny County. To learn more or look up the price of your prescription with a FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Get Your Taxes Done for Free!

by Emily Anderson

Between winter and summer there is one more short season: Taxes! There isn't much pleasant to be said about taxes, but for seniors and for people with low incomes, at least there are a few places where you can file them for free. Taxes are due Tuesday, April 18th this year.

In-Person Help Filing Taxes 

Anyone who made more than $10,350 last year must file taxes. If your household income was less than $54,000 in 2016 though, you can get help filing your taxes from an IRS-certified tax preparer at several different locations throughout the county. Schedule an appointment by calling the United Way's Money in Your Pocket program at 2-1-1. Remember to bring your important documents with you--for a list of what that might include, check here!

If you live outside of Southwestern Pennsylvania, check out the AARP's free filing locations to find support where you live! Click on a location to see their hours and make an appointment.

Online Free Filing

If your household made up to $64,000 last year, you can use the United Way's free tax software to complete your return. Don't despair if you are over the income guideline though, there are many online services that offer free federal tax help. Try the IRS free filing portal to find a software that works for you. If your income is over the limit, you can still download fillable forms if you want to try your hand at completing your own taxes.

Death and Taxes

Unfortunately, even in death you can't escape taxes. If your loved one passed away in the last year, you may need to file a tax return for them. For more information on whether or not you need to file taxes for your deceased loved one, check this article or take the IRS quiz. You can then file your loved one's taxes using any of the resources listed above.