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