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BY HEATHER DUBIN | Senior citizens received sound advice on how to “Take Charge of Your Health” at the second annual free community health forum co-sponsored by the New York University Office of Civic Engagement and VillageCare on May 14.
Moderated by Dr. Max Gomez, an Emmy award-winning CBS television medical reporter, the event — held at the N.Y.U. Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, on Washington Square South — was attended by about 100 people.
Audience members listened to five experts discuss personal healthcare issues, and learned preparation tactics for future health challenges. With a clear view of the Freedom Tower, and catered dinner, the seniors were advised to take control of their health, from navigating doctor’s visits to securing end-of-life care.
Emma DeVito, president of VillageCare, spoke of the organization’s origins in the 1970s as a community nursing home and its growth into a multifaceted healthcare provider. Today, VillageCare includes facilities for people living with H.I.V. and AIDS, plus a new rehabilitation center on W. Houston St.
“When we closed the nursing home, we wanted to serve individuals, and 13,000 were served at home last year,” DeVito noted.
Alicia Hurley, the university’s vice president of government affairs and community engagement, said, “N.Y.U. has a long history and tradition of community service, particularly in the health arena.”
Elizabeth Butson, former publisher of The Villager, the event’s media sponsor, expressed the importance of having a voice in the changing landscape of healthcare.
“Planning ahead is necessary to avoid becoming a statistic,” she said.
While Gomez infused his speech with humor, he was anything but lighthearted when dispensing guidance.
“I’m not just a moderator,” he said. “I was a caregiver for my dad, who passed away a year ago of Alzheimer’s. I know from firsthand experience how important this information is.”
Dr. Tara Cortes, executive director of the N.Y.U. College of Nursing / Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, was the first expert.
“Age is relative, but you have to keep yourself healthy,” she said. Cortes urged seniors to have a relationship with their primary healthcare provider, whether a physician, nurse or physician’s assistant. According to Cortes, only 16 percent of Americans take advantage of Medicare wellness visits; and the first visit (no co-pay) is a question-only exam about cognitive issues, eyesight, screenings and general well-being.
She suggested seniors who take 20 to 30 pills a day bring the bottles to their next doctor’s visit. Primary care is for medication review, resources and tracking immunizations. Write questions down before your visit.
On the legal front, attorney Sharon Cooper, a partner at Gardner, Weiss and Rosenblum LLP, recommended a healthcare proxy, someone to communicate your healthcare wishes if you cannot, and a living will, a written directive of these same wishes, honored by law. These documents dictate whether tube feeding, a ventilator or cardiopulmonary resuscitation are administered, if one has a terminal condition or is in a vegetative state.
Find a trusted family member or friend for a healthcare proxy.
“It helps if they have the same idea you do on end-of-life care, and you can name people in succession,” said Cooper. Since multiple copies are allowed, keep one at home in a marked file, give one to your doctor, and bring one in for surgery.
“These are important decisions to have with people when you are healthy,” Cooper said. Forms are available online, and you don’t need an attorney.
Dr. Marcia Wade, VillageCare medical director for managed long-term care, said long-term care fills in the gaps between regular insurance and nursing home insurance.
“People do not leave their home because they do not want to be put in a nursing home,” she said. But after a fall, or not taking medicines, they end up in one. With a personal care attendant or a health-coordinated package, people can have better managed long-term care, allowing them to remain at home. “By transporting social workers to them, and primary care help at home, people can stay safely there as long as possible,” Wade said.
Wade advocated the shingles vaccine, which reduces shingles by 50 percent, pneumonia vaccine and Prevnar vaccine.
Kimberly Williams, Citigold relationship manager, said to go over retirement assets, income, expenditures and mortgages with your banker. Also, seniors should use online banking for reoccurring payments so they won’t forget.
The final speaker, Dr. Jonathan Whiteson, director of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation at N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, Rusk Rehabilitation, is a physiatrist, who looks at the whole person and how the body functions.
Traumatic brain injury and fractures are possible consequences of a fall, and at least a third of people over age 65 will fall every year. Just from a hip fracture, Whiteson said, 25 percent will die in six months, and 25 percent will need lifelong nursing care.
To prevent falls, Whiteson said, any kind of movement is important. It can be T’ai Chi or yoga, and even walking in your apartment or building hallways improves cardio.
Audience members asked questions of the experts, plus reps of the 10 health-related businesses present.
In closing, Gomez concluded, “Old age is not for sissies.”