When to Make a Referral

It seems that we always get more referrals this time of year – the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year. We attribute it to younger family members seeing their aging parents or grandparents, and realizing their loved one could benefit from home delivered meals.

Mayo Clinic has a good article “Aging Parents: 7 warning signs of health problems” that provides useful suggestions and action steps for those who are starting to care for aging family members or friends. Below is a quick overview:

1. Are your aging parents taking care of themselves. We, including our volunteers, pay attention to our clients’ appearance – has there been a change in how they’re caring for themselves and their home? Is there heat? Is the yard overgrown? Are they able to clear snow/ice from their driveway and stairs to the house?

2. Are your aging parents experiencing memory loss? We all occasionally forget things. But there’s a difference between normal memory loss and that associated with types of dementia. Misplaced keys, glasses, and other items are “normal’. Getting lost in familiar neighborhoods is more concerning.

3. Are your aging parents safe in their home?

4. Are your aging parents safe on the road?

5. Have your aging parents lost weight? Weight loss can be attributed to difficulty cooking, loss of taste/smell or underlying health conditions such as depression, malnutrition, or cancer.

6. Are your aging parents in good spirits? What is their mood like? Have there been any changes? Depression and anxiety are not part of normal aging; they can be treated at any age.

7. Are your aging parents able to get around? Are they unsteady on their feet? Is it difficult for them to use stairs? Have they decreased their physical activity?

Programs like Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels can help if your loved one is having difficulty preparing meals due to physical and emotional health problems. The visit by the volunteer who delivers the meal also serves as a wellness or safety check. We contact you if there concerns and can make referrals for support services.

For more information about eligibility visit http://www.med.umich.edu/aamealsonwheels/mealmakereferal.html.

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October is Health Literacy Month

By Cyndi Lieske and Beth Adams

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

People with limited health literacy are more likely to have chronic conditions, are less likely to effectively manage their health and tend to have higher health care costs. Nearly 9 out of 10 adults have difficulty using basic health information. Challenges include:

  • Navigating the health care system, including filling out complex forms and finding a health care provider;
  • Understanding test results such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels;
  • Choosing between health plans and comparing prescription drug coverage;
  • Sorting through large amounts of health information, including separating myths from facts;
  • Managing chronic diseases, such as knowing the symptoms of low blood sugar AND how to correct it; and
  • Knowing what each medication is for and taking the right medicine at the right time.

Health literacy challenges are greater for older adults than younger populations. They have more chronic illnesses and use health care services at higher rates. Limitations of physical and/or cognitive functioning add another layer of difficulty. Even mild vision and hearing loss can make it difficult to process information that is otherwise understandable.

How health care providers present information, availability of culturally appropriate information, the environment in which it’s presented and are significant, contributing factors to health literacy.

Knowing how to talk with your doctor and other health care staff is one part of health literacy. Here are some ideas to help you communicate:

  • Write down your questions before your appointment. Record their responses.
  • Write down new information from your doctor and their staff. Ask them to repeat and further explain if it is not clear to you.
  • Ask clarifying questions or statements such as “So since this new pill is twice the strength, I just need to take 1 pill rather than 2. Correct?”
  • It’s okay to say you don’t understand something! Let your doctor and others know that you do not understand what they are telling you. Health care providers are often rushed and use a lot of medical terminology. Background noise can also make it difficult to process what is being said. Ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist and others to use plain, non-medical words.
  • Get a phone number for the nurse or clinic, so you can call with questions you think of after you have left or if you have forgotten something.
  • Volunteer to go with a friend or loved one to their next medical appointment. Help them take notes and ask questions.

http://www.cdc.gov/healthliteracy/pdf/olderadults.pdf
http://www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/090710.html
http://www.health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/Quickguide.pdf