I'm a Doctor and Here's How Patients Over 65 Should Plan For Their Health Needs
By Vivek Garg, M.D., MBA, Chief Medical Officer for Humana's Primary Care Organization
Our health needs change as we age, especially for seniors who often manage multiple chronic conditions and may develop physical limitations due to common conditions such as arthritis. To help get ahead of these issues, I talk to my senior patients about setting up a plan for healthy aging, including what signs of declining health to watch for, what they can do to improve their health, and how to pick an insurance plan that covers the medical care they need.
For individuals aged 65 and over, as well as those living with disabilities, this occurs during the Medicare Advantage and Prescription Drug Plan Annual Election Period (AEP) – which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 64% of seniors are managing two or more chronic health conditions. When living with multiple chronic conditions, it's critical to keep regular check-ups with doctors, so they are aware of any health changes or side effects from medications. To avoid forgetting appointments, ask your doctor's office about email and text alerts to remind you of upcoming appointments. Should you have difficulty getting to doctors' offices, talk to your physician about the possibility of telehealth appointments so you can still communicate with them about any concerns. Here are five key considerations I share with my Medicare-eligible patients as they prioritize healthy aging.
Don't Neglect Vision, Hearing and Dental
Many individuals start to experience a decline in vision and hearing as they age. In fact, a recent poll found nearly 9 out of 10 adults who are 50-80 years old require glasses or contacts, and according to the CDC, nearly 1 in 3 seniors over 65 have difficulty hearing.
Dental care for seniors also should not be overlooked, as oral health is integral to overall health and well-being. It's crucial to maintain routine visits with these specialists and look for health plans that cover all three – vision, hearing, and dental – or have innovative benefits like a flex allowance.
Consider Transportation Assistance
Driving can become challenging and even dangerous for those with vision or hearing issues, as well as individuals with decreased motor skills or cognitive decline. If driving is no longer a safe option, I recommend seniors communicate with family, friends, or neighbors for assistance.
If you are unable to get transportation assistance from those in your support system, you can also check your health insurance plan.
Don't Overlook Home Healthcare Options
Many seniors do not realize their insurance plans may cover home healthcare services, which is another excellent option for those with transportation issues or seniors simply looking for an easier way to access healthcare services.
Some companies, such as Heal, will send a primary care physician to visit you in the comfort of your home, while others – like CenterWell Home Health – provide assistance for acute issues like managing chronic health conditions and recovering from hospital stays.
Exercise As Much as You Can Safely
Regular exercise is one of the most vital aspects of healthy aging, as it benefits your physical health, helps to combat cognitive decline, and may help prevent memory loss conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's. Seniors can stay active by going for walks around the neighborhood, lifting moderate weights, or even playing a low-impact sport with others.
Some health plans include gym memberships, allowing you to continue your exercise program or start incorporating physical fitness into your routine at a lower cost. Individuals should consult with their doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
Utilize Free, Credible Resources
One of the most important decisions you can make for your health is your insurance coverage. Given the number of plan options available and factors to consider, it is understandable that Medicare-eligible individuals can be overwhelmed when evaluating plan options during the AEP. However, it's important to remember you're not alone.
Make your checklist of what benefits you need in a plan and turn to credible resources like Medicare.gov or licensed insurance agents who can address your questions and help you narrow down the plan that's best for your unique needs by the Dec. 7 deadline.