The Caregiver’s Guide to Planning for Retirement

The Caregiver’s Guide to Planning for Retirement

As a nurse, you spend most of your life taking care of others — but who’s going to take care of you when it’s time to retire? A Fidelity Investments Money FIT Nurses Study revealed that 56 percent of working nurses don’t feel confident when it comes to financial planning. The same study found that 41 percent of nurses who don’t have confidence about financial planning cite lack of time to focus on financial goals as the reason. Cultural differences and language barriers can further stand in the way of working nurses as they strive to save for the future.

It’s tough being a nurse because you’re pulled in different directions every day, but taking the time to put your financial ducks in a row for retirement will pay off big when it’s time to hang up your scrubs for good. Here’s how to get started or bolster your savings efforts while there’s still time.

Know the Lingo

There are several programs that can help you save for retirement. These include 401(k)s or 403(b)s in the case of tax-exempt workplaces, like hospitals; IRAs; and Flexible Spending Accounts. If you don’t know the difference, now’s the time to learn the language of personal financial planning.

IRAs, which stands for individual retirement accounts, are funded solely by you whereas 401(k)s are funded partially by you. Employers typically offer matching 401(k) plans. For example, if you elect to contribute 5 percent of your earnings to a 401(k), your employer may match that rate, netting you an extra 5 percent in savings for retirement. In 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) account if you’re under age 50. You get an extra $6,000 if you’re older than 50.

On a related note, think carefully about your health care needs in retirement, especially if you’re not quite ready for Medicare, which starts at age 65. A high-deductible health plan paired with a health savings account may help you keep monthly premiums low while allowing you to save for unexpected medical emergencies. Understanding the different benefits and drawbacks to retirement saving options can be confusing, so it’s wise to talk to a financial adviser about your choices before committing to just one plan.

Start Right Now

You don’t need to set aside thousands of dollars right away. Make small changes, and focus on simple, achievable steps so that you can reach big milestones later. Here are a few simple ways to improve your saving habits:

  • Start planning – today! Writing down your savings goals is the first step to implementing them.
  • Focus on eliminating debt – you can aim to get each credit card paid off individually, try transferring your balances to one card, or negotiate lower interest rates.
  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses – can you eliminate some small charges here and there, like a Netflix or Spotify subscription? Are you sure you’re getting the best deal on your cell phone bill? There’s more than one way to whittle down your monthly discretionary spending, so it can pay to get creative!

Nurses may tend to think less about their own future and more about the immediate needs of their families, such as paying tuition for adult children or taking care of elderly parents. However, you can’t take care of your loved ones if you don’t have any funds after you retire. Estimate how much you’ll need to live on comfortably once you stop working, and build a plan based on that figure.

Find a Support System

It’s critical to find a financial adviser who can guide you through this process. There’s no need to settle either. Seek out recommendations, do some digging and interview prospective advisers with the same scrutiny that you’d use to find a lawyer or doctor. A good financial planner will help you sort through your current finances, identify areas that need improvement, set up a solid retirement plan and answer your questions as you go. Look for advisers with the right credentials too, such as those certified by the Financial Planning Association.

Don’t let unfamiliarity about financial planning keep you from living the retirement life that you’ve earned. As a working nurse, it’s important to find a financial adviser who understands your unique needs and can get you on the right track. Start early, do your homework and be diligent about saving. Your post-retirement life will thank you!

6 Ways to Practice Mindfulness

6 Ways to Practice Mindfulness

Does your mind easily wander? Do you find yourself performing tasks at work without much thought? Research shows that people spend almost half of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, which weakens their performance, creativity, and well-being, according to Harvard researchers.

If this behavior describes your mindset, you belong to a club where membership only requires habitual ways of thinking, doing, and feeling. The bad news? It’s not a great place to be. Mindfulness – with all its benefits – is where you want to head.

Mindfulness, which means being focused in the present moment, can strengthen your job performance as well as your mind, body, and spirit. Mindfulness engages your senses to allow you to participate fully in daily tasks.

So how do you achieve it? Here are six steps to practice moment-to-moment awareness at work.

1. Reflect and plan.

Start the workday by focusing on your organization’s purpose and how you contribute to it by being present and engaged. End each day by preparing for the next to help avoid anxiety or procrastination.

2. Relax.

Slow down. Set aside five minutes daily to breathe. For a minute or two, breathe deeply. Focus only on inhaling and exhaling. Consider adding a few minutes of stretching, which allows more oxygen into your body and encourages blood flow.

3. Walk more.

Concentrate on the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany your movement. If you can, spend a few minutes walking outside to observe nature.

4. Feel thankful.

Once a day, take a few minutes to think about an accomplishment or something else that fills you with gratitude. Practice finding joy as doing so you can change the direction of your day.

5. Enjoy your meal.

This sounds simple, but how often do you think about what you consume? Try to taste each ingredient or observe how thoroughly you chew.  Pay attention to your food and how it makes you feel.

6. Breathe when there’s a ring or ping.

Instead of instantly reaching for a ringing phone or pinging computer, take several breaths before responding. Emails and calls raise stress levels, research shows. It’s important to pause and calm down before reacting.

Mindfulness is the antidote to multitasking and possible burnout. With practice, you can build your mental muscles to keep your mind from wandering and engage in what’s happening right now. That’s a win for you in and out of the workplace.

World Hepatitis Day Raises Awareness

World Hepatitis Day Raises Awareness

To shine a light on a deadly disease, World Hepatitis Day on July 28 gives this chronic liver infection the attention it deserves.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide are afflicted with hepatitis B (240 million) or hepatitis C (80 million). The infections contribute to approximately 1.4 million death annually, numbers similar to deaths caused by tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. World Hepatitis Day calls attention to these staggering numbers, but also shows hope that the disease can be eliminated.

In fact, the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis is an aggressive goal to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. Like other communicable infections, hepatitis is hard to control.

According to the sector report, the five strains of hepatitis infection (A, B, C, D, and E) can occur through different transmissions. Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne and can be spread through tainted medical practices, injections including drug use, mother-to-child at birth, and sexual contact. Hepatitis D is also blood-borne and only infects those with a co-infection of hepatitis B, so is preventable. Hepatitis A and E are spread through unsanitary food and water conditions. Neither of these causes a chronic infection and so do not pose a threat of long-term liver damage including cirrhosis and liver cancer, but can be miserable to cope with.

Luckily, hepatitis A, B, and E are preventable with a vaccine series (and hepatitis D by proxy of receiving the B vaccine series). There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, although it is preventable and new treatments can cure up to 90 percent of infections.

The challenge comes because hepatitis infections have not received the traditionally high attention of other communicable and preventable, although equally deadly diseases. Many people aren’t aware they are infected and can spread the disease unknowingly, and access to affordable, preventative vaccines and health care, accurate medical information, and government funding is spotty at best in some parts of the world.

Nurses can use World Hepatitis Day to inform patients about hepatitis infections and about their risk for infection. Remind them that hepatitis infects people globally and can happen in anyone—even sharing a razor with someone who is infected puts you at risk because of the potential exposure to bodily fluids. Talk to patients who might be at obvious risk (those who received blood transfusions, those who could be traveling to countries that might have active A and E problems, or those who have been IV drug users at any point in their lives or sexual partners of past or present IV drug users). Also have conversations with those whose risk is less obvious (those who might not discuss unsafe sex practices, who could have been infected during an unsanitary tattoo or piercing).

Discuss topics like prevention through available vaccines and safe practices around sexual activity, preventative hygiene habits (not sharing razors, toothbrushes), and drug use. Also be willing to guide patients to available testing and have some information about current treatments.

With such a push to end the threat of hepatitis across the globe, nurses can do their part from the close relationships they develop with patients. The earlier hepatitis infection is detected, the greater likelihood of starting treatment that can be potentially life-saving.

How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

Mental illness is a major health condition affecting millions of American families. With no regard to education, age, class, family, ethnicity, or gender, mental illness can impact anyone’s life and often has widespread effects.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and helps spread the word about the higher risk of mental illness in minorities own lives and the real barriers minorities face to receiving timely, high-quality, and accessible care.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), rates of mental illness impact minority communities in greater numbers. Culturally, many minority communities have a greater stigma associated with mental illness, so people have a hard time speaking up or admitting they need help. If they do decide to get help, the barriers for finding high-quality, accessible, and affordable care can be insurmountable.

As a result, nurses might routinely see patients who have symptoms of mental illness but won’t address it. Most of these conditions are treatable with the right help, so it’s important to let patients know about available resources or even that what they are feeling is a true biological illness, not something that they can just get over or take care of on their own.

The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic offer these indicators that might signal something more serious than a passing phase. Experiencing one or two of these symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but if symptoms are interfering with someone’s ability to perform their normal functions, take care of themselves, work capably, or hold meaningful relationships, then they need to get help.

What are some signs and symptoms to look for?

  • Feeling sad, down, or hopeless
  • Excessive anger or an inability to cope with stress
  • Anxiety, feelings of guilt
  • Withdrawing from social activities, friends, family
  • An inability to keep up with grades or normal work quality
  • Sleeping too much or an inability to sleep
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Extreme mood changes – highs and lows that are beyond average
  • Increased or troublesome use of drugs and alcohol
  • Feelings of being disconnected or experiencing delusions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Many people experience sadness or mood changes throughout their lives. A bad day at work can make you grouchy, and family problems can make you sad and anxious. But lingering problems with these feelings and those that impact daily life need attention.

Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms in your patients and listen to the ways they might express them. If they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else, immediate help is necessary, so call 911 or get your emergency team to respond immediately.

Above all, reassure your patients that, like any other medical illness, mental illness is something that is treatable and nothing they are at fault for. A little compassion can make a huge impact.

 

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health issues affect millions of families in the United States, and families struggling with the issue often have a hard time finding the right care to help tehir loved ones.

This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) focuses the spotlight on Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about the discrepancies minorities dealing with mental health issues face and the complex web those who care about them must navigate to get help.

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the struggle of minorities living with a highly treatable, but often stigmatized illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health to achieve a balanced, healthy life, and the Office of Minority Health notes that mental illness impacts minorities at a greater rate than whites.

Minorities who live with mental illness often face barriers to care that, throughout the nation, can often prevent them from getting tratment of any kind. Depending on the community in which they live, access to high-quality mental health care can be hard to find. With the best teaching hospitals and clinics often located in big cities and psychiatrists and mental health counselors scattered throughout regions, gaining access to help is tough. According to NAMI, language barriers, cultural bias, and resources that don’t fill the need for care also get in the way of people getting essential treatment.

Even in the best situations—if someone has access to care and the insurance to pay for it—some minorities find a rigid cultural stigma against mental health issues. The stigma can be so complex and overwhelming, that it’s enough to keep someone from getting the help they need. If someone has the determination to find proper care, continuing with it can be a lonely struggle, so good support and follow through is especially necessary.

As a nurse, you can help in a couple of ways. With your direct, hands-on caregiving of patients, you can help assess if the patient might have mental health issues underlying their other health concerns. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Erratic or harmful behavior is an obvious warning sign, but more subtle signs can easily be brushed aside: a patient who comes in routinely for aches and pains but nothing is physically wrong, a new mom who mentions her struggle to care for her newborn, the young man who says he can’t sleep for days and then sleeps for three days in a row, or an elderly patient who feels a sense of hopelessness and loneliness after a health change.

All these smaller signs are red flags that something isn’t right and that your patient may be struggling with some form of mental illness. Because there are so many different types of mental illness and so much variation in severity, a front-line nurse can bring in the mental health team for an assessment. They can continue to advocate for the patients to understand the issues they are facing, whether it is lack of care, inability to access care, a cultural belief in mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, or family that is not supportive or understanding. Communicate what a kind of positive impact mental health treatment can have on their lives and well being.

Showing compassion for patients and a cultural understanding of why they may be reluctant to be diagnosed with a mental illness can have a lasting, positive impact on your patients as well. Let them know they are not alone and that your team can help them find help. They may still refuse, but an open attitude might bring them back.

Understanding the challenges of mental health care with minority populations is important. These complex issues can prevent someone with very treatable forms of things like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder from growing into a worse problem. Earlier treatment makes a big difference, helps people live better lives, and can prevent a mild form of illness from developing into a more complex and harder-to-treat condition.

Protect Your Brain Health Now

Protect Your Brain Health Now

Alzheimer’s disease and other brain conditions and diseases continue to affect ever-greater numbers of people. And while scientists are making advances in treatments, the cure for these complex, devastating diseases is still uncertain.

But there are things you can do to protect your brain health. June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to check in on your own self-care and also to see how your patients are taking care of their brain health. African Americans and Latinos bear greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than older whites, so it’s especially important for some minority populations to understand their increased risk.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is not a normal aging process that happens to everyone as they get older. People may have typical memory slips, but Alzheimer’s involves much more than just forgetting where you put your keys.

With early detection, Alzheimer’s treatment can begin earlier and hopefully slow the progression, but as of right now, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.

Learn the Signs

There are warning signs for Alzheimer’s that will let you know you, a loved one, or a patient is struggling with more than a little memory loss. While it’s normal aging to forget someone’s name, it’s not normal aging to forget who the person is. Other things to consider are disruptive mood changes (more than irritability about the dog walker being late), poor self care, and severe confusion about where they are or even what year it is.

Know How to Protect Your Brain

Experts say what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Take care of yourself by getting rest, eating nutritious foods, socializing with people you enjoy, staying hydrated, not smoking, drinking alcohol minimally, and keeping at a healthy weight and blood pressure. But there’s more you can also do. Keep your brain active. As a nurse, you’re days are hardly ever the same and that’s good for your brain. Check in with your patients to see if they are keeping their brains stimulated with anything from hobbies to social clubs to trying new puzzles, reading or listening to new books, or even listening to unfamiliar music.

Be Safe

Brain injury is serious and some of it is preventable. Wear a helmet while biking, skiing, skateboarding, rollerblading, for any extreme sports, or riding a motorcycle or ATV (and make sure family members and friends do the same). Always wear a seat belt in the car. Check your home for tripping dangers like loose carpets, items on the stairs, or things on the floors. Take care in winter weather for icy spots. Anything you can do to prevent brain injury is good for both your long-term and short-term brain health.

Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases are a real health threat to all aging Americans, so you have a right to be concerned. But there are promising therapies on the horizon and there are things you can do now to help protect yourself as much as is possible. Spread the word about brain health and chat about it with your patients to pass along a few tips.