Cancer Screening Recommendations for Seniors – From the American Cancer Society

Healthy behaviors like healthy eating and refraining from smoking and too much alcohol, are likely to lessen one’s chances of developing cancer. Additionally, the American Cancer Society wants everyone to also be screened for some cancers on a regular basis. Identifying a cancer early will give one a better chance of eradicating it. The American Cancer Society provides screening guidelines for persons of all ages. Below are their recommendations for those age 65 and above. To see the recommendations for all ages, see https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/cancer-screening-guidelines/screening-recommendations-by-age.html.



Colon Cancer Testing

The ACS says there are many testing options, so speak to your healthcare professional to understand which options are best for you. Medicare does cover testing.

Prostate Cancer Testing

Age by itself is not the only factor in considering prostate cancer testing. General health and anticipated life span should also be factored into the decision to test. Those considering this test should speak with their physician and the risks and benefits. Medicare does cover prostate cancer testing.

Lung Cancer Testing

For those with a smoking history, it is best to discuss this option with your physician. An annual low dose CT scan is an option for early lung cancer. Screening may benefit a current or former smoker (quit within the last 15 years). There are risks and benefits to testing, so it is recommended you discuss your options for screening with your physician. Lung cancer testing is covered by Medicare.



Breast Cancer Testing

For women 65 and older, the American Cancer Society recommends getting a mammogram every two years, but you can certainly choose to do so once a year. Additionally, it is important to know if you are at higher than average risk of developing breast cancer, as well as knowing how your breasts normally feel and look. If you are in the higher than average risk group, be sure to speak with your health practitioner about other tests you may need along with a mammogram.

Cervical Cancer Testing

Women who have a history of serious cervical pre-cancer are advised to continue testing for 20 years following that diagnosis. No testing is recommended for the following:

If you’ve had regular cervical cancer testing with normal results during the previous 10 years;

After a hysterectomy that removed the uterus and cervix – when it was done for reasons not related to cervical cancer.

Medicare does cover testing.

Colon Cancer Testing

Testing is recommended. As there are many testing options, speak with your health practitioner about which tests are appropriate for you and how often tests should be conducted. Medicare does cover testing costs.

Lung Cancer Testing

For those with a smoking history, it is recommended you speak with a health care practitioner to see whether you should get an annual low-does CT scan. This tests for early lung cancer. Screening may benefit you if you are an active smoker, quite within the last 15 years, have no signs of lung cancer, and have a 30 pack a year smoking history. Risks, benefits and limitations should be discussed with your practitioner. Medicare does cover testing.


This article was last updated on March 13, 2018.


Web Resources When Caring for an Older Adult

In our internet age, locating help and information as a caregiver is often just a few clicks away. Below are some useful web resources to research, especially if you are looking for guidance in caring for an older adult.

AARP   Website: www.aarp.org

Or, to go directly to specific caregiving resources.

Eldercare Locator  Website:  www.eldercare.gov

The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, is a national site that can connect you to services for older adults and their families.

Mayo Clinic   Website: www.mayoclinic.com

Use this site to research health issues.  This site has up-to-date information in multiple diseases and categories.

The Aging Life Care Association (formerly the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM)   Website: www.aginglifecare.org

Aging Life Care specialists (formerly known as Geriatric Care Managers (GCMs) are health care professionals, most often social workers or nurses, who assist families in dealing with the problems and challenges associated with caring for the elderly.  In addition to showing the many ways an aging life care specialist can help families facing long-term care decisions, the site also provides a database to search for an aging life care specialist in your location.

Web MD   Website: www.webmd.com

WebMD provides valuable health information, tools for managing your health, and support for those who seek information.

National Council on Seniors Drug & Alcohol Rehab – Website: RehabNet.com

A site dedicated to helping older adults with this “quiet epidemic” of drug and alcohol addiction.

Medicare – Website: www.medicare.gov

Everything you need to know about Medicare.

This article was updated in December 2017.

Visiting Mom During the Holidays. Something Not Right?

The holiday season is here, and you may have visited, or will be visiting an elderly loved one. Are things different than the last visit? Are you seeing things that don’t seem right?  How do you know if something is wrong?  Below are some areas to consider (note feminine emphasis for ease of writing, but also applicable to elder males):

Personal Hygiene – Does she shower less frequently, wear dirty clothes, or have neglected teeth? Are there any injuries that you can see? Is there a urine smell? Was she always fastidious about her wardrobe, and now is dressing in a less put together way?

Forgetfulness  – Have you seen stacks of unopened mail or newspapers, unpaid bills, unfilled prescriptions or missed appointment slips? Letters from credit card companies with reminders to pay or late payment charges can be a sign.

Behavior – Does she repeat questions? Can she carry on an extended conversation? Does she refuse any suggestion or does she just agree with everything said? Does she retain what was said? Are there any apparent mood swings? Is she unusually loud or quiet? Is she angry?

Relationships – Do friends call? Have relationships changed in such a way that friends and neighbors have expressed concerns? Has she quit socializing or participating?

Medication and Health Management – Can she take medications without supervision? What are the medications? Who goes to the doctor with her? Is she going to the doctor at all?  Does she refuse to go?

Eating Habits – Does the refrigerator contain adequate food? Is there any spoiled food present? Sour milk? Rotten eggs? Have her eating habits changed? Any unexplained weight loss? Has she missed meals or have a lack of appetite?

Shopping or buying things – Do you see evidence of excessive shopping or ordering? Is the mail full of charitable letters, a sign that she is giving money to anyone who asks?  Is she having difficulty making change or writing checks?

Home Maintenance – Is it in disrepair? Is dust accumulating where (at one time) she was a great housekeeper? Is trash accumulating? Is the kitchen clean and counters wiped down? Are dishes piling up in the sink?

Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM, is a Geriatric Care Manager and Elder Care Consultant in Northern Virginia. She works with seniors and their families to help guide them through the challenges of aging and caregiving.


This article was first published in December 2011, and was updated in December 2017.

Keeping Older Adults Safe in the Cold Days of Winter

While the snowy scene above can be so inviting to many, it is not to all. As we grow older, the cold of winter can affect us more severely.  Older adults can lose body heat fast – faster than when they were young.  A chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. This is what is known as hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature gets very low.  For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95 degrees can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.  Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. But steps can be taken to lower your chance, or that of an older adult, of getting hypothermia.

The National Institute on Aging has a very thorough article on keeping safe in the winter cold.  Included are examples of older adults who have learned to live safely in cold climates, as well as many recommendations for keeping an older adult safe in the cold of winter.  Among the suggestions are:

  • Set the heat at 68 degrees or higher.
  • Dress warmly on cold days even if staying in the house.
  • Wear loose layers when going outside on chilly days.
  • Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves.
  • Don’t stay out in the cold and wind for a long time.
  • Talk to a doctor about health problems that may make it harder to keep warm.
  • Find safe ways to stay active even when it’s cold outside.
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to check on you if you live alone.

If you think someone has hypothermia, call 911 right away. Cover him or her with a blanket. Do not rub his or her legs or arms.


This article was updated in December 2017.


Hospitalization, Skilled Nursing and Medicare

Recently, in one 48-hour period, I received similar questions from caregivers. These caregivers were not related, and they did not know one another. Each was the adult child whose parent was about to be discharged from a skilled nursing facility. Though they were very informed and had been through the hospital to skilled nursing to home process before, they were each a little unsure about their options, and wanted to be sure they did right by their parent. Their questions had to do with skilled nursing facilities, Medicare, covered days, and finally home health care options. It led me to lay out some of the information so that others could benefit. Below are the 2017 Medicare hospital and skilled nursing facility benefits. This information does not cover every aspect of the subject, but it is a start.

Medicare Part A Hospital Expenses*

Member Deductibles:

Members will have a $1316 deductible per benefit period. A benefit period starts the day you are admitted to a hospital or skilled nursing facility, and ends after you have not been in the hospital or SNF for 60 consecutive days.

Member Co-payments:

  • $0/day for days 1-60
  • $329/day for days 61-90 in hospital per benefit period.
  • $658/day for days 91-150 in hospital per benefit period (Lifetime Reserve Days).
  • No coverage after day 150 in hospital (or day 90 if Lifetime Reserve Days previously used).

Skilled Nursing Facility Expenses*

  • Full coverage of expenses in skilled nursing facility for days 1-20 when this follows a 3-day hospitalization during each benefit period.
  • $164.50/day for days 21-100 in a skilled nursing facility during each benefit period.
  • No coverage after day 100 in skilled nursing facility during each benefit period.

*Hospital and Skilled Nursing Facility daily co-pays may be covered by your Medigap policy or other commercial secondary insurance coverage.




Enrolling in Medicare with an Employer Health Plan – Who Pays First?

Recently, I received the following question from a reader:

“I have health insurance through my employer, my husband is self-employed. Will my insurance still be the primary insurance when my husband turns 65 and applies for Medicare?”

Suspecting this could be a complicated question, I went to the medicare.gov website to research the answer. Not too much longer I believe I found the answer in their publication CMS #02179, dated August 2015, “Your Guide to Who Pays First.”

In both the chart that starts on page 6, and in the text on page 12, they refer to such a scenario, answering that when one is 65 or older and covered by a group health plan of either oneself or one’s spouse, and the employer has 20 or more employees, the group health plan pays first, and Medicare second. When the employer has less than 20 employees, then Medicare would be the first payor.

This publication is worth a look because there are many more scenarios to consider. It is available for download on the medicare.gov website here. If you prefer to someone directly, call 1-855-798-2627.


What Would You Do?

This is a question I hear fairly frequently. Family caregivers come to me looking for solutions to their caregiving challenges, and often this question surfaces. “If this were you, what would you do?”

Recently, I was reminded of this question after attending a one day conference with Teepa Snow, a national expert in communicating with those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It was a day I will not soon forget. She was engaging, interesting, entertaining, and so very informative. I could not get over how many notes I took, as she showed the large audience many techniques in having a successful communication with their dementia and Alzheimer’s patients or family members.

So, if someone came to me looking to understand how to communicate with their loved one who has Alzheimer’s, I would share what I know, and I would also recommend they look online for Teepa Snow. She is the most informative expert I know of in this area of Alzheimer’s.

Here is a link to her website. Be sure to check it out.

Medicare Announces Year 2016 Part B Premiums

This week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced the year 2016 Medicare Part B premiums. Much discussion and lobbying preceded the announcement, mostly due to the threat of large increases and a lack of a Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment. In the end, some premium amounts changed, while others did not.


Click here for the chart, and then find your income level on the 2016 chart to determine your premium amount for 2016.


Additionally, the annual deductible for Part B is rising, from $147 per year to $166.

This Veterans Day is November 11, 2015

A very Happy Veterans Day to our veterans. Thank you for all you have done for our freedoms. We frequently hear about all the challenges Veterans Affairs face in assisting veterans with their needs. But today I want to call attention to an interesting program for veterans that has recently received national media attention.

Shakespeare for Veterans?

Yes, Shakespeare for veterans. Recently, ABC News reported on a Milwaukee program for veterans called “Feast of Crispian,” a reference to a Henry V pre-battle speech. In this acting program, veterans work with area actors in scenes of heavy conflict from Shakespearean plays. The aim of this free program is to help former service members work on addiction and reintegration issues, mental health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The project director of the program states that Shakespearean plays work well because the language of Shakespeare “holds big emotion.” Nancy Smith-Watson says the language “elicits it, but it also holds it, the metaphor just enables a lot of emotion to be put on them.” The acting, she says, helps veterans access bottled up emotions by using Shakespeare’s words, which breaks down walls and builds confidence. Participants are encouraged to be as angry or sad as they want. One participant, a 25-year-old Army veteran credits the program for allowing him to open up and be himself. He has also remained sober and free of drugs and alcohol for six months.

The program started in 2013, and to date has had 300 veterans participate.