Medicare 101 and 102 Seminars

© Kurhan | Dreamstime.com

© Kurhan | Dreamstime.com

They say getting older isn’t for sissies. But there’s one birthday that makes many people happy: reaching the milestone Medicare-eligible age of 65! No one wants to spend the money they’ve saved for travel, hobbies and other long-anticipated pleasures of their golden years on devastating medical expenses.

Medicare will generally be the main component of your health insurance coverage in retirement, or if you are eligible for Medicare due to a disability, even if you have other insurance to supplement it. Perhaps you are approaching Medicare age and are still covered by your (or your spouse’s) employer group health plan. Regardless of your situation, Medicare is complicated! Being informed about the rules, benefits and choices of Medicare is essential. You want to make the best coverage decisions for your needs and at the right times.

If you will be enrolling within the next three to six months, have recently enrolled or are assisting your aging parents with their health care and insurance, you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect. Come to the Medicare 101 and Medicare 102 presentations at Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center in September to learn about these and other topics:

  • What are Medicare Parts A (Hospital), B (Medical), C (Medicare Advantage/Health Plans) and D (Prescription Drug Plans)?
  • Which parts of Medicare do I need and what are the best times to enroll?
  • How do Medicare prescription drug plans differ and how do I find the right one for me?
  • What is the important information to review when considering a Medicare Advantage/Health Plan, such as network doctors and hospitals, cost sharing and additional benefits?
  • What is a Medigap/Medicare Supplement policy?  Do I need one? How do the different types of plans cover out-of-pocket expenses (gaps) in Original Medicare and how do I find one that I can afford?
  • What are my costs with Medicare and are there resources to help me pay for premiums, deductibles and/or copays?

These free presentations (given monthly in various locations) are offered by the Howard County Office on Aging’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program, better known as SHIP.  If you have specific questions afterwards or if you are already on Medicare and need some detailed assistance, SHIP offers free, confidential and unbiased counseling at several locations around the county.  Call at 410-313-7392 to set up an appointment or for SHIP offices in other counties.


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nowhere hairThe title of this post is a quote attributed to Susan McHenry, from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

“Cancer.” The first thought we may have when seeing someone without any hair or eyebrows.

Hair loss can be one of the greatest fears for a cancer patient. Many patients about to undergo chemotherapy shave their heads to avoid the experience of watching their hair thin and disappear. Why does this hair loss occur and why don’t all patients undergoing cancer treatment lose their hair? Medication administered to target and kill cancer cells is commonly referred to as “chemotherapy.” Many patients whose cancer treatment includes chemotherapy will lose their hair because of the mechanism of action of these medications. Some cancer patients undergo radiation treatment as well. Radiation may also result in hair loss.

Alopecia is the clinical term for loss of hair from the body. Alopecia can be in a specific area of the body, such as the scalp, or all over the body. Hair grows out of follicles and is characterized by a long growth phase, a transitional phase, and a brief resting phase, after which the hair falls out. One mechanism by which chemotherapy works is to kill off rapidly reproducing cells. Cancer cells and hair cells both divide constantly- and for this reason are targeted by many forms of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy speeds the progress of hair to the resting phase, resulting in a sudden onset of hair loss. Cancer patients receiving particular types of drugs, however, may not experience hair loss. Medications targeting specific cells or parts of cells or those that attack cancer by boosting a patient’s own immune pathways are unlikely to affect hair growth.

LEARN Cancer MEthodSince each medication has a slightly different onset of action and duration of effect, hair loss from chemotherapy may occur within a week or not until several weeks after treatment. Hair loss may be partial or total. Hair will usually return several weeks after treatment is completed. New hair growth may be a different color or texture from what it was prior to treatment, but the change is rarely permanent. Radiation therapy also destroys rapidly growing cells, so hair follicles in the area targeted by radiation may be destroyed. Hair loss in these areas can be permanent. If hair does return, any alteration in texture or color may be permanent because the goal of radiation is to alter and remove treated cells to prevent their regeneration. Radiation may target every cell in its path, while chemotherapy’s long-term effect is to permanently destroy only cancer cells.

Every cancer patient is different. Each person’s experience of hair loss is highly personal. One close friend might have a response you expect, another might surprise you. Be open and forthright and your friend or family member will appreciate your support. When one of my friends had hair loss during chemotherapy, she welcomed the hand-me-down hats from another friend whose sister had gone through chemo. A different person may not have wanted these hats. Sensitivity and empathy goes a long way. Years later, my friend and I still laugh about the wonderful experiences we had because she was bald and wearing a bold hat. It seemed we always got the best table in the restaurant and the most attentive service. Once, we got special attention from a rock star signing CDs after a concert. We’re convinced it was the crazy hat.

Websites for organizations such as the American Cancer SocietyJohns Hopkins Medicine and the National Cancer Institute offer useful information about coping with chemotherapy-induced hair loss. The comedian Jay London has said, “I was going to buy a book on hair loss, but the pages kept falling out.” Nonetheless, there are many helpful text references including Cancer Caregiving A to Z: An At-Home Guide for Patients and Families and Learn to Live Through Cancer: What You Need to Know and Do.

Cherise Tasker is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Central Branch and has a background in health information. Most evenings, Cherise can be found reading a book, attending a book club meeting, or coordinating a book group.

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Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Ask A Master Gardener. Discuss gardening questions and concerns at the Glenwood Branch. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners. Also offered at the Miller Branch Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. and Aug. 18 7 – 8:30 p.m. No registration required.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 10 a.m. Compost Demonstrations. Master Gardeners discuss and demonstrate composting on a drop-in basis at the Miller Branch. Free bins provided for Howard County residents. University of Maryland Extension – Howard County Master Gardeners. No registration required.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 11 a.m. Crop Swap. Do you have an abundance of vegetables from your garden? Let’s crop swap! Bring homegrown produce to trade for something new and delicious at the Miller Branch. Share growing tips and favorite varieties. Families welcome. Leftovers donated to the Howard County Food Bank. Set up from 11 – 11:30 a.m., swap from 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.

Saturday, Aug. 16, 3 p.m. Kindergarten, Here We Come. The Central Branch will have stories and activities to help mark that all important first day, including boarding a real school bus. For children entering Kindergarten this fall; 45- 60 min. Cosponsored by Friends of Howard County Library and Howard County Public School System. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.7880. Another is offered on Aug. 19 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch and again at 7 p.m., and also at 2 p.m. at the East Columbia Branch. Offered again on Aug. 20 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch and at the East Columbia Branch at 7 p.m. And offered Aug. 21 at 10:15 a.m. at the Savage Branch.

Monday, Aug. 18,  Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch – a Well & Wise Event. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Also offered, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1 - 3 p.m. 

Monday, Aug. 18, 2 p.m. Infectious Diseases. Learn about infectious diseases, how they are spread, and how disease detectives work to find and stop their spread using medical technology and nanotechnology at the Savage Branch. Participate in mock disease outbreaks around the globe to learn to identify and handle some of the most dangerous diseases, select the right medical or nanotechnology methods, and develop a communication pack to let others know. Being an Infectious Disease Detective has never been more fun! Ages 11-18. HiTech is funded in part by a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from The Institute of Museum and Library Services. Visit hclibrary.org/hitech_events. Registration is required. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760. Offered again on Aug. 19 at 2 p.m. , Aug. 20 at 2 p.m., Aug. 21 at 2 p.m., and Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.

Monday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m. I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister. In partnership with Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. A Well & Wise class. Come to the Central Branch to prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding your baby. Resources for parents, too. Families; 30 – 45 min. Ticket required. Limited space; tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.

Tuesday, Aug. 26, 5 – 6:30 p.m. Weight Loss Through Bariatric Surgery in the Howard County General Wellness Center. Learn about weight loss surgery from Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery. Register online or call 410-550-5669.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sept. 16 to Nov. 6, 6:30 – 8 p.m. Healthy Weight Connection. Kick-start individual lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, to help you reach a healthier weight. Receive personalized guidance from a certified dietitian. Various nutrition topics and gentle yoga. Class held in the Howard County General Wellness Center. Cost is $195. Register online or call 410-740-7601.


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When you get a cancer diagnosis, it is natural to panic, get depressed, and feel angry. But, as Dr. Agus says in A Short Guide to a Long Life, take it not as a death sentence, but as a wake-up call and an opportunity to take control of the health of your own body by learning all you can, studying your options, and going forth with the best treatment that you and your doctor have decided on, all with the best positive attitude you can muster. But don’t become so micro-focused on this one area of your health that you let other areas of your life get pushed aside or forgotten, such as the simple joys of playing with an animal friend or eating a delicious meal.

You know your health is all wrapped up like a rubber band ball with your emotions, your lifestyle, and your attitude. More than anything, eating can be the most important and healthy thing that you can do to guarantee your body receives the raw materials to fight the growth of cancerous cells and to keep the rest of your body humming along in fine shape.

I am going to list a few of my favorite cookbooks from Howard County Library System for those who want to have some new recipes for themselves, a family member, or a friend who may be living with cancer and going through radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments. They may need some help with preparing a nourishing meal, especially if they have a decreased appetite and not much energy. Don‘t forget, drinking lots of fluids is super important, so check out the great drinks and smoothie recipes too–they are great for throwing in healthy ingredients!

The most beautifully illustrated book of clean, green, and fresh recipes is No. 4, but my favorite is No. 1 because it is written as if there is a helper there with you as you plan to make a tasty recipes with notes of interest on how certain ingredients are beneficial or may help with treatment side-effects. For instance, one note says that metal, as in silverware, can often have a bad taste or feel in your mouth when you are getting cancer treatments. So, the suggestion is to go get some pretty plastic ware so that your eating implements are not an impediment to having some yummy healing food.

My son, who underwent two radical craniotomies for brain cancer, said that it was the preparation of the food and often the smell of the cooking, and even sometimes the energy to do the chewing, that really didn’t make eating appealing. Things that could be prepared quickly were helpful. What he appreciated the most was cold things like yogurt, ice cream, fresh fruit shakes, and smoothies. Simple things like crackers and dips or hummus, omelets, cereal or even ramen noodles were preferred as well.

What helped my son the most? Someone who was there providing love and support as well as a full pantry and refrigerator with lots of good-for-you ingredients for wholesome recipe options, especially as he felt better and began to want to experiment with more foods and flavors as his health, energy, and well-being improved. You will find a treasure-trove of great recipes in these books to complement any lifestyle or condition, and remember healthy eating is for all of us always –and thanks for reading my story.

Susan Cooke has worked in Howard County Library System for 20 years. She loves golden retrievers, fresh veggies, and (of course) reading good books. She is proud to have her daughter Sarah Cooke working for HCLS alongside her!

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Sick by Eric C. Bryan [https://www.flickr.com/photos/flowers-of-the-sea/]One of the illnesses I dread most are summer colds—the worst! Summer is usually the time of year when I feel my best. My rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t like winter and cold weather makes my joints stiffer and achier. So when the summer rolls around with the warm days, I have more energy and generally feel better than any other time of year.

Maybe that’s why I have extra hatred for summer colds, because they strike when I want to be actively out and about. Recently I caught a cold that unfortunately turned into bronchitis. My husband and I feared something else was going one when the cold didn’t improve after a couple days, I spiked a 100 plus fever and my cough worsened.

With my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) I often am more susceptible to bugs because I’m taking immunosuppressant medications. This means I pick up illnesses easier than others and that a regular illnesses (like a cold) can easily become more complex and turn into more serious issues. Hence, my cold turning into bronchitis.

Since a cold can turn into a bigger problem, I’ve been talking with my doctor about prevention steps to avoid contracting bugs. She told me one of the most effective practices is to avoid touching surfaces with my hands and to wash my hands frequently. While there are plenty of objects I need to touch every day, I do try to avoid highly-trafficked objects like door handles (or use a paper towel when grabbing a door). Also, I’ve become more aware of not eating or touching my face unless I just washed my hands because a lot of the bugs we pick up move from surface-hand-face-mouth. My hope is that cutting back on exposure will help me to stay healthier and avoid contracting viruses.

Additionally, I talked with my doctor about vaccines. People with suppressed immune systems can more easily contract illnesses that vaccines may be able to prevent. For example, I get the flu shot every year and make sure I’m up-to-date on other available vaccines. Consulting with my doctor is very important because there are certain vaccines (with live viruses) I cannot take because of my RA, while other additional ones are highly recommended.

It also can’t hurt to talk with a doctor about vitamins. I’ve found that taking a multivitamin and vitamin C every day has reduced the number of colds I get every year. Just making sure you’re having the right amount of nutrients and eating healthy can support everyday health.

Prevention is a powerful thing—much preferred to getting sick and all the time and medications needed for getting well again. Talking with a doctor about some simple steps you can take to stay healthy can be worthwhile and save the hassle of a nasty summer cold.

Kelly Mack lives in Washington, DC, and works for a marketing communications firm.

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Use the correct medicine device for children, never a kitchen spoon

photo of kid getting medicine

© Wanchai Yoosumran | Dreamstime.com

A “spoonful of medicine” has long been the prescription for making sick children well. But “spoonful” is a highly inaccurate description and can lead to dangerous dosing errors when parents administer medicine to their children.

According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, more than 40 percent of parents have made dosing errors and they are more than twice as likely to make mistakes when using teaspoon or tablespoon measures than when using millimeter measurements. The rate of potentially dangerous outpatient medication errors for children is three times that of adults due to the complexity of weight-based dosing, inaccurate measuring devices, incomplete instructions and inadequate education for care givers about the medication.

It’s difficult for parents when pharmacies put a teaspoon measurement on the package, but then supply an oral dosing syringe that’s marked in milliliters. Parents have to do a complicated math conversion that must also take their child’s weight into consideration. Because pharmaceutical companies base their dosing on weight (mg/kg), the dosage for each child will be different. The physician or pharmacist needs to calculate the correct dose and then educate parents or other care givers on how many milliliters to give to the patient.

It is also very important for parents to use the correct dosing device: an oral syringe, dropper or dosing spoon. Kitchen spoons come in many sizes and shapes and are not accurate for dosing medications. Their use should be discouraged by doctors and pharmacies.

In addition to correct dosing, there are a number of other things parents need to consider in order to safely administer their children’s medicines at home:

  • What time should the medicine be given? How often and for how long?
  • How should the medicine be administered: by mouth; inhaled; inserted into ears, eyes or rectum; or applied to the skin?
  • Should the medicine be taken with or without food?
  • How and at what temperature should the medicine be stored?
  • What are common side effects or allergic reactions?
  • Are there interactions with other medications your child may be taking?
  • What happens if your child misses a dose?
  • Do your doctor and pharmacist have your child’s correct current weight?

Remember that kids are not just miniature adults and are often more sensitive than adults to certain drugs. Getting the dose even slightly wrong can lead to serious problems. If unsure of dosing instructions, parents should always check with their pharmacist or their pediatrician!

Masoomeh Khamesian, Pharm. D. is the director of pharmacy for Howard County General Hospital. She is also a mother of two children and three step children.

 


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