21 May 2015

Identity theft hits home

Who would have thought my parents would become the victims of identity theft?

Not long ago, my parents received a letter from the FBI informing them their Medicare Advantage Plan insurance company had been hacked, and names, Social Security numbers and other personal information had been compromised.

I was so skeptical of this letter that I asked Judy Christman Yates, criminologist and coordinator of the Ventura County Financial Abuse Specialist Team, to see if it was authentic.

She said it appeared to be.

According to the letter, while the FBI did not know which members’ information had been affected, they suggested everyone who received the letter perform a credit check.

My parents sailed along for a few months with no issues. Their credit report looked normal.

Then one day last week my mother received a call from Schwab


7 May 2015

Unlocking a new kind of care

A few weeks ago my dad landed in the hospital.

Mom drove him to the emergency room because his blood pressure was fluctuating wildly. To be accurate, this blood pressure condition has been going on for some time now. A year ago it was this same condition that took my father from hospital to rehab to in-home medical care.

All that care, but no cure. My father’s blood pressure fluctuations will not change; they’re a side effect of his worsening Parkinson’s.

This time, after three nights in the hospital, the discharge planner came to talk to my mom and dad. Her “plan” was to place my dad in rehab, so that the medical staff there could monitor his blood pressure.

When we asked how long, she replied, “A week to 10 days.”

My mom, dad, sisters and I wondered what monitoring would do if there was no treatment or cure


16 Apr 2015

Healthcare decisions made easier

Aren’t online customer reviews wonderful?

They are those postings by people who invest time and energy to give their feedback on a recent purchase experience on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List or Amazon. Reading those reviews often helps us decide if the item or service is right for us.

Customer reviews have helped me determine if the hiking poles I planned to buy were light yet sturdy enough for my use and whether the new restaurant in town was worth trying. Online customer reviews can even help us with purchases that are more a matter of personal choice, like vacation destinations, music or books.

Remember the old-school way for gathering information on a potential purchase? We’d talk to friends, read Consumer Reports or ask questions of salespeople. That was it.

Help with making decisions is much more accessible today with customer review systems.


2 Apr 2015

Busy in retirement

I’ve heard it more than once: “I’m retired, but I’m busier now than I ever was.”

Many retirees who think back to their work life will remember early morning meetings, working through lunches, getting home late at night (and working some more), all the while miraculously having enough time to raise kids, do household chores, run errands, feed the dog and keep appointments.

Yes, it was exhausting, but they got it all done, day in and day out, week after week, for years. So why in retirement, with 40 to 50 “free” hours previously taken up by work, is life just as busy?
According to a recent Psychology Today article, “The Need to Be Busy,” humans are the only species to feel the need to be busy.

19 Mar 2015

Carrots or cookies

When I was a kid, my mother taught me a lesson about appetites and hunger. An hour before dinner, when I asked her for a snack, she offered me carrots.

“But I’m not hungry for carrots,” I whined, “I’m hungry for a cookie.”

She replied, “If you’re not hungry for carrots then you’re not really hungry.”

Now that I am all grown up, I know eating a cookie an hour before dinner will spoil my appetite. But why do I want one?

My answer is stress.

Stress is my reaction to life’s demands. It results in me staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. or renders me unable to recall the words “paper towel” in a conversation or instigates my yelling at the toaster when the bagel gets stuck.


5 Mar 2015

Been there myself

Readers of this column know that I often write candidly about family situations and experiences.

Just last month I trekked to cold and snowy Boston to care for my sister. She is ill with a chronic disease. There is much I’d like to write about her situation.

For example, there’s the financial impact of a disease whose treatment requires a drug that costs $3,000 per month. Or the dynamics of living with a condition that forces the patient to be homebound, prompting other family members to assume new roles. Or the critical reliance by the patient on an array of medications, despite a desperate wish to be off all of them.

I want to write that column— but I’m hindered by the feeling that my sister would be embarrassed. I


19 Feb 2015

Seven facts about old age

Think you know a lot about the senior population?

The social change website for young adults, www.dosomething.org, has an “11 Facts About . . .” series on topics as diverse as cyberbullying, blizzards, recycling and even old age.

Now, before you visit the site to see a few of these answers, let’s test your knowledge about old age.

True or false?

Eighteen percent of people over 65 live in nursing homes.

False. The actual percentage of people over 65 living in a nursing home is very small


5 Feb 2015

When the doctor won’t talk to you

doctorRecently my niece Sammie, a freshman at USC, contracted mononucleosis, better known as “mono.” Five days after her diagnosis at the campus infirmary, and after taking all of her meds and beginning to feel better, Sammie relapsed and headed back to the clinic with excruciating pain in her throat and difficulty swallowing. Sammie’s mom, my sister Paula, called the infirmary, very worried about her daughter. What happened next was a surprise— she was told the doctor could not talk to her because Sammie is 18 and had not turned in the form to permit the doctor to give medical information to her mother. Somehow that form, among the multitude of forms filled out during registration, never made it to USC. Being the organized mom my sister is, she found the original form signed by Sammie, scanned it and sent it over to the infirmary. Now the doctor could fill my sister in on Sammie’s condition. That was good news, but it didn’t prepare us for the next step in Sammie’s journey. I should...


22 Jan 2015

Hoping ‘Still Alice’ inspires action

still alice 2Movies about human afflictions make for juicy acting roles and great returns at the box office; but movies about disease can sometimes do an amazing job of changing the national conversation. Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Philadelphia” gave us a window into the social stigma of living with AIDS. Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in “Rain Man” highlighted a time when institutionalization was common for those with autism. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” painted a vivid picture of the physical and emotional struggles of those living with ALS. In advance media and the press following each movie, there was heightened awareness of the disorders showcased. Whether it was around the water cooler, at the dinner table or in the halls of Congress, dialogue ensued and consciousness was raised. Those of us that work in the field of dementia care are hoping “Still Alice” (out in general release since Jan. 16) will do the same. The movie is...


1 Jan 2015

The expanding role of pharmacies for family caregivers

pharmacyAs a family caregiver, my local pharmacy has been a great resource for me in the care of my aging loved ones. Besides stocking a cornucopia of items I never thought I’d be searching for—liners for adult diapers, oral rinse for dry mouth, compression stockings—my pharmacy offers a valuable service I never knew existed. While caring for my dad, my mother and I took advantage of CVS’s “brown bag” review of prescription medications. At one time, my father was taking 13 different medications at eight different times during the day. We gathered all of his prescriptions as well as his over-the-counter medications and brought them to his CVS pharmacist. She reviewed the prescriptions and doses and checked for any possible interactions. Since my father has a chronic health condition (Parkinson’s), is being treated by more than one physician and takes over-the-counter medications, it was really helpful to have all of his medications reviewed as a whole. For example, we learned one of the...