I’m Hearing You

Over the last few years, several of my loved ones have decided to get hearing aids (finally!). With an improvement in their hearing, they are more engaged in our conversations and seem very happy with their decision. However, it was not an easy decision for them and it took them a longtime to take the step of using hearing aids. Interestingly, less than one in three older adults age 70 or more who have hearing loss and could receive help from hearing aids have ever used them. In fact, nearly 30 million Americans could benefit from hearing aides but do not use them. Primarily, this is because hearing aids can be expensive, difficult to access, and have a stigma associated with them. While these barriers have impacted the quality of life for older adults, improvements are on their way.

Hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars that are not covered as a Medicare benefit. Individuals often must travel to a hearing specialist to receive testing and a prescription for hearing aids. But now, the FDA is working on regulations to allow manufactures to sell hearing aids directly to individuals. This could lead to less expensive hearing aids sold over the counter to people who need them. If more people can afford and access hearing aids, the public perception of hearing aids could improve.

Untreated hearing loss is linked with depression and social isolation in older adults. Reducing the barriers to hearing aids is important to ensure that people have the best quality of life possible. We must all acknowledge the need for less expensive, easier to access hearing aids and work to find solutions to reduce stigma.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. Quick Statistics About Hearing
  2. Impact of Hearing Loss on Quality of Life in Older Adults
  3. Untreated Hearing Loss Linked to Depression, Social Isolation in Seniors

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Getting Back to Health

Now that many people are getting vaccinated and there is a significant decline in the spread of COVID-19, I have begun to re-think my health habits over the last year. In May, after months of delay, I scheduled my cancer screenings and annual physical. I have had to be very intentional about shifting back into healthy routines after a year of disruption. I am not alone; in one study, 61% of adults reported gaining undesired weight, 23% reported drinking more alcohol, and nearly half of adults skipped medical screenings or appointments over the last year. Physicians are now urging us to return to our preventive care, cancer screenings, and healthy behaviors.

At the same time physicians are genuinely concern about the stress levels and poor mental health that Americans are experiencing. Feelings of grief, traumatic experiences, and prolonged stress are leading to an increase in serious mental distress. Essential workers, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and parents of young children are disproportionally impacted. We need to understand that life will never look and feel the same as it did prior to 2020. For many, professional mental health services are needed to begin to process and heal from the events and experience of the last year. General advice is to remember that you are not alone; attempt to rekindle your purpose and passions; and use techniques such as prayer, meditation, and mindfulness to begin to cultivate resilience.  

Self-care and a focus on wellbeing are important strategies to rebuild your health. Experts suggest creating daily rituals, healthy habits, and exercise routines. There are many articles, videos, and apps that can help you as you get started. While helpful, they do not take the place of trained mental healthcare workers. We must all acknowledge the need for many more trained mental healthcare workers and work to find solutions of increasing their numbers and availability.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. A New Wave of Pandemic Health Concerns
  2. Why Mental Health Won’t Just Go Back to Normal
  3. How to Replace Pandemic Bad Habits and Get Healthier Now

Photo by Amauri Mejía on Unsplash

What We Can Learn About Treatment and Avoiding Care During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, I, like so many others, delayed medical screenings and was hesitant to seek treatment. According to research, 41% of patients delayed or missed visits, including preventive care, medical and mental health appointments, and medication refills. Over 60% of these individuals reported the medical office was closed or unavailable, over 50% also feared exposure to COVID-19, and a smaller percentage could not afford care.

For some people, waiting for treatment or timely testing had detrimental health effects. For heart attacks, strokes, and other significant medical events, every minute counts and delays can have significant consequences. For high-risk individuals, a delay in cancer screenings could mean a malignant growth has time to advance. Americans may be emerging from the pandemic with unresolved and untreated issues as well as mental health problems from isolation and trauma.  

At the same time, no harm was created by delays or avoidance of care for many individuals. The last 18 months have created an opportunity to create something entirely new, a robust database to compare individuals who received a particular test or treatment with those who did not. It allows medical researchers to re-examine whether many procedures are necessary. Prior to the pandemic, physicians reported that a median of 20.6% of overall medical care was unnecessary, including 22% of prescription medications and 24.9% of tests.

The public health crisis and all its repercussions give us the opportunity to research and understand which treatments and screenings are important and which are areas of unnecessary treatment. We need to call for unbiased, non-financially motivated, and politically neutral research to ensure that Americans have access to the treatment and testing they need while not being subject to those that are unnecessary.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. Why 41% of Patients have Skipped Care During the Pandemic
  2. Overtreatment in the United States
  3. Pandemic Leads Doctors to Rethink Unnecessary Treatment

Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

Enough bars

For me, it is easy to imagine using technology to access healthcare, work remotely, and connect with educational resources. However, many communities near me, both rural and in cities, do not have the easy access to broadband internet that I have enjoyed. This became clear during the public health emergency of the last year. Children had to transition to virtual learning, many workers had to work from home, and health care services transitioned to telehealth wherever possible. Virtual learning, work, and telehealth, however are only successful if the broadband that people rely upon is available.

Broadband connectivity is a policy issue that we must follow and advocate for to close the gap between those who have access and those who do not. Often these gaps match the racial, poverty, and rural divides affecting health equity in our country. At this point in our technical advancements, shouldn’t we work towards all Americans being able to afford and have access to reliable broadband internet services? Doesn’t this only expand our ability to educate, employ, and support our citizens?

Congress is interested in accelerating access to the internet. There are also federal agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that play an important role in high-speed internet projects. In fact, currently, there is an FCC program called the Emergency Broadband Benefit to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need bipartisan leadership and support to ensure that American have access to the internet for learning, work, and wellness. Please learn more and contact your representatives.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. Emergency Broadband Benefit
  2. Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act of 2021
  3. Connect for Health Act of 2021 Summary

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Hello…Telehealth?

During the pandemic, medical providers and their patients had to quickly transition to telehealth platforms to communicate instead of in-person office or clinic visits. My mother had a knee replacement on March 10, 2020. She was scheduled to have physical therapy in the local rehabilitation center the week after she returned home from the hospital. Unfortunately, the medical facility closed due to the pandemic. My mother and the physical therapist had to quickly adapt to telehealth visits. Initially, the health care system did not have a process for physical therapy telehealth. They started with phone calls without video for several weeks before moving to FaceTime on an iphone and ipad, and eventually Zoom visits. This allowed my mother to receive her needed physical therapy and exercise guidance. She has recovered and is now enjoying strolls with my father.

Recently, a bipartisan group of 50 senators reintroduced a bill to ensure that Americans continue to have access to telehealth following the Public Health Emergency. Titled the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2021, the legislation will expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare. It will also make permanent the telehealth flexibilities made possible during COVID-19. Additionally, CONNECT for Health Act aims to improve health outcomes and make it easier for patients to safely access their medical providers through technology.

The CONNECT for Health Act was first introduced in 2016. Our world changed dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, the use of telehealth sharply increased so that people could avoid hospitals and other health care settings. Now, we can readily see the benefits from ensuring access to telehealth care in the home.  Sir Winston Churchill said, “never waste a good crisis.” The expansion of telehealth may be one of the positive outcomes from our last year.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. Trends in the Use of Telehealth in 2020
  2. CMS Flexibilities to Access Telehealth
  3. Connect for Health Act of 2021 Summary

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

2020 Here I Come

This is the time of year when many reflect on the past and consider goals for the upcoming year. Last year at this time, I was in the midst of my Health and Aging Fellows program, so I had a lot planned for the upcoming year. Now that I’ve completed the program, I’m left with a feeling of ‘what’s next?’. While planning to stay in my current position and location, I want to keep learning and sharing information with others to improve humanity, policy, and kindness. To that end, I plan to continue this blog and look for more opportunities to write, speak, and teach.

When I write about improving humanity, it is meant to focus on sharing information that helps us to improve the human condition through awareness, action, or advocacy. David Robson writes about us being in the intellectual golden age. Yet, rational thinking, social consideration, and deep wisdom are areas that we can expand upon. I hope to share more information, thoughts, and writing on these topics.

Policy drives so much of our day-to-day experiences. I’m most concern with improving health and aging policy. Almost daily, I observe and share the frustrations of individuals and their families who are navigating a national health system that is fragmented and often counter-intuitive. Health policies, payment models, and private industry shape it, frequently in ways that do not benefit individuals needing care. For our health system to successfully serve seriously ill individuals and our aging population, we must improve policies, payments, and oversight of private industry. Politics, the court system, and individual values and views have a significant impact on the future of quality and coordinated care in our communities. Reducing costs and increasing accesses and equity are priorities for policy makers in the upcoming year.

In our current political environment, I look for ways to promote kindness. Being friendly, generous, and considerate mean so much to people who are suffering. Individuals can feel isolated, unwelcomed, or undervalued. Ageism, as well as so many other ‘isms’, are rampant in our society. I hope to write in a kind and generous manner while being respectful to multiple perspectives. At the same time, I plan to share opportunities to advocate for improvements to our society, advancements in health and aging policy, and ways to take local action.

As we each seek to improve our world, I hope you will join me in learning three new things weekly to improve humanity, policy, and kindness. My hope is that we will make a positive difference as friends, neighbors, and community members.

Three things to learn about this week:

  1. Has Humanity Reached its Peak
  2. 2020 US Health Policy
  3. Make Kindness the Norm

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash