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Heart Health Comes From Life’s Simple 7

2016 January 29
PIC-Walking

Image courtesy of the American Heart Association

By Guest Blogger Madelyn Alexander, communications director, American Heart Association, St. Louis

The American Heart Association wants to help everyone live longer, healthier lives so they can enjoy all of life’s precious moments. And we know that starts with taking care of your health.

American Heart Month, a federally designated event, is a great way to remind Americans to focus on their hearts and encourage them to get their families, friends and communities involved. Together, we can build a culture of health where making the healthy choice is the easy choice. More than one in three adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. The good news is 80 percent of heart disease and stroke can be prevented.

So How Do You Protect Yourself?                   

Protect yourself from heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, with Life’s Simple 7® — easy-to-embrace ways to significantly lower your risk of heart disease and improve your health. How simple is it?

Just take a look:

  1. Get active. We recommend least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise throughout the week. Along with gaining strength and stamina, exercising regularly can lower blood pressure, keep body weight under control and helps regulates blood sugar by improving how the body uses insulin.
  2. Control cholesterol. Keeping your cholesterol levels healthy is a great way to keep your heart healthy—and lower your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. But first, you have to know your cholesterol numbers.
  3. Eat better. Eating the right foods can help you control your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Follow a dietary pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy choices.
  4. Manage blood pressure. One in three Americans has high blood pressure—yet one out of every five doesn’t even know they have it. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range starts with eating a heart-healthy diet. Other important factors are exercising regularly; not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight; limiting salt and alcohol; and taking medication prescribed by your doctor.
  5. Lose weight. Extra weight can do serious damage to your heart. Too much fat, especially around the belly, increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  6. Reduce blood sugar. Diabetes can quadruple your risk of heart disease or stroke, so keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial to preventing medical problems involving the heart and kidneys.
  7. Stop smoking. It’s time to kick the habit. Going smoke-free can help prevent not only heart disease and stroke, but also cancer and chronic lung disease.

Take small steps toward a healthier life by getting your free heart score and custom plan today at

heart.org/MyLifeCheck.

Editor’s note: Allsup is pleased to sponsor the 2016 Metro East Illinois Heart Walk in April. Get more information at www.metroeastillinoisheartwalk.org. Connect with the American Heart Association online: Facebook – American Heart Association STL, Twitter @AmerHeartSTL, #HeartWalkSTL.

Social Security Disability Explained During Thyroid Awareness Month

2016 January 25

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

Oprah Winfrey, pop icon Rod Stewart, songstress Linda Ronstadt and television star Sofia Vergara are among the millions of Americans suffering from thyroid disorders, but at least they’ve been diagnosed.

The American Thyroid Association says that 59 million Americans suffer from thyroid disease , and 15 million of them don’t even know it. The impact can be enough to lead to severe disability.

To raise consciousness of the disorder, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) has declared January as Thyroid Awareness Month. The thyroid is a small gland in the front of the neck, located above the collarbone and below the larynx. Its purpose is to make hormones that control some of your body’s most important organs, including your heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin.

Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems

Thyroid disorder symptoms include:

  • Muscle and joint pain, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis
  • Neck discomfort, sore throat
  • Weight gain or loss without changes to diet and exercise
  • Vision problems
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss

The AACE offers the following self-exam to determine if you may have undiagnosed thyroid problems. All you need is a handheld mirror and a glass of water.

  1. Hold the mirror in your hand and focus on the lower front of your neck. Your thyroid gland is located above the collarbone and below the larynx.
  2. Tip your head back.
  3. Swallow a drink of water.
  4. As you swallow, look at your neck and check for any bulges when you swallow. (Don’t confuse with your Adam’s apple.)
  5. If you do see a bulge, see your physician because you may have an enlarged thyroid gland.

SSDI And Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid disorders, such as hypoparathyroidism (the tiny gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone thyroxine), and hyperparathyroidism (too much production) may meet a Social Security Administration medical listing for disability, if the criteria are met.

When the disorder is serious enough to keep you from working, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

As with all disabilities, however, you must meet other eligibility requirements and be able to provide complete medical and work histories. Click here for more information on applying for SSDI.

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Allsup Announces Top 10 Blog Posts Of 2015

2016 January 20

LW-blogBy Leia of Allsup

I don’t know about you, but 2015 seemed to fly by. Looking back at our blog posts made me realize why it flew by so fast—we were busy! At least once a week, and more often, you find news here from Allsup. We often feature guests from nonprofit organizations across the U.S. as well.

It’s interesting to see what our readers found most valuable. We covered so many important topics. Was your favorite in the top 10?

Allsup did a blog-a-thon for Breast Cancer Awareness Month and featured great guest bloggers who shared their amazing stories of triumphs and struggles. The No. 1, 4, 9 and 10 spots were all from the blog-a-thon in October.

Don’t Get Angry – Get Checked” was a very personal blog post for us here at Allsup. Communications director Dan Allsup lost his daughter, Chris, to breast cancer two years ago while also dealing with his wife’s diagnosis and treatment during that time. “Please Think Before You Pink” offers a valuable lesson about understanding where your donations to breast cancer-related charities actually go. “Living 20 Years With Breast Cancer” gave our readers insights on one young woman’s 20-year “cancer-versary.” And we received a powerful message about “Still Standing” after a cancer diagnosis.

The No. 2 and 5 posts came from groups working to spread awareness of some lesser known conditions. The Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association shared what it is doing to help those who live with the very real and invisible disability of pain. One group, Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), offered its own top list of concerns for people with this condition. Spondylitis refers to a group of auto inflammatory diseases that primarily affect the spine and other joints. I’m glad we can provide a forum for organizations that raise advocate for those who are too often unheard.

In addition, at No. 3, 6 and 7, our very own disability experts helped readers with tips and education about the Social Security Disability Insurance claims process. No. 3 was “Common Mistakes From a Social Security Disability Expert – Not Applying”. This blog post discusses retirement freezes and why some are hesitant to apply for SSDI.

No. 6 was another common mistake: “Not Telling The Whole Truth With Activities Of Daily Living.” This Social Security questionnaire evaluates how your disability affects your everyday life and is very important to your case. The No. 7 post is “What To Do When Your Social Security Benefits Are Denied.” This provides more helpful details when you are trying to figure out your next steps.

Medicare rounds out our Top 10, at No. 8: “Check Out Medicare When Turning 65 With Social Security Disability,” which gives crucial information about Medicare coverage when your SSDI benefits begin. See the full ranking below—for your reading pleasure.

Allsup Top 10 Blogs – All Things Disability

  1. Don’t Get Angry – Get Checked
  2. RSDSA: What We Do For Those In Pain
  3. Common Mistakes From A Social Security Disability Expert: Not Applying
  4. Please Think Before You Pink
  5. Spondylitis Awareness Matters
  6. Not Telling The Whole Truth With Activities Of Daily Living
  7. What To Do When Your Social Security Benefits Are Denied
  8. Check Out Medicare When Turning 65 With Social Security Disability
  9. Living 20 Years With Breast Cancer
  10. Still Standing

I’m looking forward to all of the interesting topics 2016 has in store for us.

All Things Disability welcomes a variety of perspectives on topics important to the disability community.

If you would like to raise awareness of your nonprofit organization’s mission, services or disability advocacy efforts, contact Tai Venuti, manager of Strategic Alliances at Allsup.

I’d Rather Have Genital Warts

2016 January 19

cc-blogBy Tai of Allsup

About 80 percent of sexually active people will be infected with Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) at some point, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).

However, you may never know you’re infected because an HPV infection usually has no signs or symptoms. Some types of HPV are responsible for genital warts and others are linked to cervical cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, and probably the only time I will write about genital warts this year. Given the choice between dealing with genital warts or battling cervical cancer, I’d take warts. Warts are caused by low risk HPVs, rarely linked to cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), and can be treated or resolve on their own.

Cervical cancer, on the other hand, is a killer.

According to the ASHA and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), each year in the U.S. nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 die as a result.

Part of this is because many women are not being screened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report:

  • More than half of all new cervical cancers are in women who have never been screened or have not been screened in the previous five years of their lives.
  • About 7 in 10 women who have not been screened in the last five years have a regular doctor and health insurance. (The emphasis is mine.)

Cervical Cancer Screening: When and How?

All women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. Click here for specific guidelines based on your age and risk factors. The Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to cover preventive services such as Pap tests, which can detect precancerous cells.

Medicare also fully covers cancer screenings. However, if you need assistance finding free or low cost cervical cancer screenings, NCCC offers state-specific information here.

According to the Social Security Administration, in 2011, 16,410 women obtained Social Security Disability Insurance based on a diagnosis of cancer of genitourinary organs. That compares to 43,285 women who obtained SSDI based on a breast cancer diagnosis, and 12,226 who obtained benefits because of colorectal cancer.

There is a vaccine that protects against HPV, recommended for girls and boys who are 11 or 12 years old. The CDC reports that the vaccine is generally effective for women through age 26, and men through age 21. The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines at no cost to children ages 18 years and younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian/Alaska Native. To learn more, click here.

Social Security Disability Insurance: Bad News, Good News For 2016

2016 January 12

Spurgeon_Brian_blogBy Brian of Allsup

We have a mix of news for the Social Security disability program as we begin 2016.

Usually, SSDI participants look forward to January because they anticipate a small increase in their benefits.

Unfortunately, there won’t be a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, this year. The COLA is based on the rate of inflation for consumer goods, but the calculation used by Social Security showed no increase in 2015 compared to the previous year.

The fact of the matter is many SSDI recipients survive on less than the national average of $1,166 per month. Many people with severe disabilities must live on only $600, $700 or $800 per month. They turn to food pantries, utility assistance programs and other community initiatives to make it month-to-month.

But there is some good news. Many SSDI recipients were anxious in 2015 about 2016’s arrival because of the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. The fund’s reserves were expected to reach exhaustion later this year.

However, Congress took steps in October through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 to ensure the DI Trust Fund would not run out of funding. This helps to avoid what was described as a possible 20 percent benefit cut for nearly 9 million people with severe disabilities.

The budget act helps extend the DI Trust Fund through 2022. This provides Congress with a few more years to study the issue of funding for both the disability and retirement trust funds over the long term.

Discussions about the future of the SSDI program are likely to continue in 2016. It’s important that more voices of those directly affected—taxpaying workers whose lives are touched by this vital insurance program—are included in the conversation.

One Person At A Time – You Can Save A Life

2016 January 4

bloodonormonthBy Tai of Allsup

If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution with a big impact, January provides one with National Blood Donor Month.

Medical facilities and hospitals across the country depend on individual donations, and the start of the new year is a particularly critical time. The holidays and winter weather can lead to lower reserves of blood. And when there’s an emergency, it better be on the shelf.

The American Red Cross says that our communities need 41,000 donations every day to help individuals going through chemotherapy, following car wrecks, delivering babies and a variety of other medical procedures.

Many people become lifetime givers. It’s possible for a healthy donor to make a donation several times a year.

While about 4 in 10 people are eligible to give blood, only 1 in 10 step up each year to save lives through donations.

Many of Allsup’s SSDI customers have benefitted from the generosity of blood donors.

We assist tens of thousands of people with disabilities who have undergone a range of medical procedures, from back surgery to organ transplants. Blood donors are vital resources for our healthcare system.

Consider becoming a lifesaver this year. As the Red Cross says, “The need is constant. The gratification is instant.”

Finding a local blood drive is easy—they’re held daily all across the country.

Just go to RedCrossBlood.org and enter your ZIP code. Saving lives is a pretty good way to start 2016.

Making Medicare Changes After Medicare Season

2015 December 16

Tidball_Aaron_blogPhotoBy Aaron of Allsup

The official Medicare season wrapped up Monday, Dec. 7. Many people know annual enrollment is the best time to make changes to their Medicare coverage for the next year.

However, it’s not the only time a Medicare change might be possible.

There are a number of things that may happen in your life next year that could allow you to change your coverage. This is important to remember if you have unexpected surprises in your health or finances.

Certain events, including life changes, can provide you with a special enrollment period (SEP) to change your Medicare coverage.

These include:

  • You are losing or leaving employer-based healthcare coverage. This creates a special enrollment period during the year. Plan ahead and review your options before your coverage ending date.
  • You move. This can cover a number of situations. For example, you can receive an SEP if you move to a new address that isn’t in the area covered by your Medicare Advantage or Part D prescription drug plan.
  • Your Medicare plan ends. This may happen if your plan announces it is leaving Medicare or stops serving your area. If you lose coverage involuntarily, this provides an opportunity to revisit your Medicare alternatives and possibly find coverage that is more affordable.
  • You qualify for Low-Income Subsidy (LIS). Also known as Extra Help, this Medicare program allows you to change your Medicare Advantage with prescription drug plan or Part D prescription drug plan any time. (Individuals on Medicaid automatically qualify for LIS.)
  • Your participation in Medicaid ends or begins. Examine your Medicare coverage. You may be able to change your Medicare Advantage or Part D plan for something that better matches your needs.
  • You have a 5-star plan in your area and currently have a plan with a lower rating. This provides a special enrollment opportunity to switch to the 5-star plan. You can only make this change one time from Dec. 8, 2015, through Nov. 30, 2016.

Of course, tens of thousands of people will make Medicare choices in the coming months because they turn 65. This is a critical decision-making point and provides you with your initial enrollment period (IEP).

All of these events, from now until next Medicare season, could be a good reason to reach out to a Medicare specialist.

Click here to reach an easy online form through the Allsup Medicare Advisor®. An Allsup Medicare specialist will get in touch with you and answer your questions.

Recognizing Symptoms Of Parkinson’s With Family

2015 December 10

Okun_MichaelBy Guest Blogger Michael S. Okun, M.D., national medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation and author

During the holidays, families often reunite after having spent months, even years, apart. While many will spend their time reminiscing over a home-cooked meal, some may face a realization that the health of a loved one is diminishing.

Seeing changes in those we love can be unsettling—even scary.

But it’s important not to ignore the small changes in behavior you notice from your mother, father, aunt or uncle. Some small changes in movement or behavior could be the first time you’re witnessing the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD).

A hand tremor. A shaking chin. A drastic change in handwriting. Sometimes those are signs of fatigue. Yet, they are also the early signs of PD.

There are multiple symptoms to watch for aside from the most commonly known indicators, including tremors and shaking.

Many people are often undiagnosed for years due to unnoticed symptoms.

By recognizing symptoms early, you could help provide the greatest gift there is this holiday season. With early detection, treatment and expert care, many people are living longer, productive lives with PD.

Here are ways to spot the early warning signs of PD:

  1. Stooping or hunching over: When you arrived for the holiday gathering, did you notice a family member stooping, leaning or slouching when they opened the door? Did this continue throughout the evening?
  2. Different handwriting: For as long as you’ve been able to read, you could pick out a handwritten note from a loved one. Suddenly their words are much closer together and the copy is much smaller and harder to read.
  3. Loss of smell: Did the smell of a burnt batch of cookies fill the house and a relative took zero notice to it? Pay close attention to those who have trouble smelling certain foods, research has found that it can be one of the early PD warning signs.
  4. Sleep trouble: There are a lot of reasons for sleep interruption, but if it’s an ongoing complaint, or they’ve falling out of bed, it’s worth checking it out.
  5. Dizziness and fainting: If a loved one becomes dizzy or faint, it could be the result of low blood pressure, a condition which has been linked to PD.

Often a family member will choose to keep quiet if they witness abnormal behavior for fear of upsetting someone. While the diagnosis of PD can be scary, it’s worse to wonder or to have this condition go undiagnosed and untreated.

The National Parkinson Foundation has built a community of experts who are available to offer advice and support, including a toll-free Helpline at (800) 4PD-INFO, or (800) 473-4636.

For more information about the early warning signs of PD, visit www.parkinson.org/10signs.

World AIDS Day: Raising Awareness About PrEP And Self-Advocacy

2015 November 30

World-AIDS-Day-logoBy Tai Venuti of Allsup

If there was a pill that could guard you from a devastating disease, would you want access to it?

World AIDS Day Dec. 1 comes on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report about a pill that can prevent HIV infection.

A Vital Signs report published Nov. 24 estimated that 25 percent of sexually active gay and bisexual adult men, nearly 20 percent of adults who inject drugs, and less than 1 percent of heterosexually active adults are at substantial risk for HIV infection. According to the report, these individuals should be counseled about pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, a daily pill for HIV prevention.

The pill can reduce the risk of sexually acquired HIV by more than 90 percent when it’s taken daily, the CDC reported. Daily PrEP also can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 70 percent among people who inject drugs. The medication was approved in 2012 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Knowledge Is Power For Self-Advocacy 

This drug sounds like something many at-risk individuals would want to know about.

However, if you don’t know to ask for it, you may not get it. According to recent studies, some primary healthcare providers have never heard of PrEP. This is a vivid reminder of the importance of being your own advocate.

Self-advocacy is a way of taking some control in health situations that may be overwhelming. I’ve heard from many patients whose self-advocacy efforts were the main reason they finally got a diagnosis, finally got the medicine or procedure they needed, or finally obtained the benefits they deserved.

The first step in becoming a successful self-advocate? Get good information. Seek out organizations dedicated to raising awareness and support for individuals with your health condition.

More Information On HIV/AIDS

Click here to for links to organizations that support individuals with HIV/AIDS and other conditions.

Government websites also can be good sources for the latest scientific research and fact sheets. Click here for AIDSinfo fact sheets.

In addition to educating yourself about your health condition, another important component of self-advocacy is knowing your rights and responsibilities regarding disability benefits.

Individuals with HIV/AIDS, or other conditions, who cannot continue working should check into their eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

To learn about Social Security’s five-step process to determine if an AIDS patient qualifies for SSDI, click here.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2015 is “The Time to Act is Now.” It is a theme that applies to all persons living with a chronic disease or disability. What could you do today to become a self-advocate?

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We are the ‘less than 1 percent’: November is Military Family Month

2015 November 25

milBy Tai Venuti of Allsup

Iraq veteran Christopher Moore has done things people shouldn’t have to do. His memories haunt him. “It never gets better,” he says, “You just try to tolerate it. There’s no cure.”

Moore must live with his experiences, but he is not alone. Behind every service member is a military family. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and other close relatives often share the pain, sacrifice and struggle that comes with military service.

Military Family Month was established in 1996 by the Armed Services YMCA, and is observed each November. Growing up in a military household, having been a military spouse, and now proud parent of an active duty service member, I often forget that the number of Americans serving in the military makes up less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population.

A Closer Look At Military Families

I’ve always lived in or near military bases, where uniforms, I.D. cards and visible weapons were common. Neighbors know what “PCS” and “TDY” stand for. We shop at the commissary, not the grocery store. DEERS means healthcare, not Bambi.

For me, every month is Military Family Month. However, the fact is that most Americans don’t have a direct connection to active military service. To borrow from the Occupy movement, military families are the “less than 1 percent.”

So here’s some insight into U.S. military families. According to the U.S. Department of Defense:

  • Five million Americans, including 2 million children, are part of today’s military families.
  • Children in military families typically change schools six to nine times between kindergarten and high school.
  • In a survey of active-duty spouses, 75 percent said being a military spouse had a negative impact on their ability to get a job.

The same survey found the top five concerns of military families are:

  1. Military pay and benefits. Respondents who did not feel financially secure had more uncertainty about their benefits. Those respondents were least confident that they would get their post-retirement healthcare and disability benefits.
  2. Changes in retirement.
  3. Military spouse employment. Forty-five percent have some form of job. Of those who weren’t working, 58 percent said they did want to be employed.
  4. Veteran employment. While the survey showed that 36 percent of veterans are working, 47 percent of post-9/11 veterans were not working in their preferred career fields. In addition, 46 percent said it took longer than they thought to find employment.
  5. Service member/Veteran suicide. It’s estimated the suicide rate is 50 percent higher among service members compared with civilians.

Military families, like most families, are concerned about their future financial security. However, they also face challenges related to multiple moves, deployments and higher rates of physical and mental illness.

The Web event, True Help for Veterans with Disabilities is now available on-demand. Find information and resources that address disability benefits and mental health resources.

Please share this link with any military families you are privileged to know. And thank them for their service.