Picture of a sunflower field

Trying New Things and Taking Wrong Turns

Our daily routines offer a lot of comfort and efficiency. But, as Bill Murray’s character demonstrates in the movie Groundhog Day, doing the same thing day in and day out can result in feelings of hopelessness or even depression.

Though not as comical or dark as the legendary 1993 film, I’ve found myself having similar experiences during the pandemic. Working remotely since March, I often don’t know what day of the week it is, and honestly, I just don’t feel as sharp as I used to. The monotony of days blurring together was getting to me. So when a colleague invited me to try alpaca yoga with her, I eagerly said yes even though I don’t particularly like yoga (or had ever met an alpaca).

The Calm Before the Herd

The 40-minute drive gave me some time to plug in a nostalgic music playlist and let my thoughts wander while I took in the sights of the unfamiliar country roads. I felt uplifted before I even arrived at the farm. When I arrived, I checked in at a tent and was given a small cup of feed for the alpacas. We laid our mats down six feet apart in the grass and took off our face masks as the instructor told us what to expect. But nothing prepared me for what happened next.

It was remarkably quiet. There was no sound of cars or airplanes in the distance. In unusual fashion for the vast outdoor space, we guests whispered among ourselves in anticipation. All of the sudden, the herd of alpacas ran stealthily around the corner and into the space moving between extended hands like bees pollinating flowers. Eager to befriend an alpaca, I made the mistake of giving all my feed to the first one to visit me. I later lured more in with dropped bits I found in the grass.

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Finding Balance

Immune to their charms, the instructor quietly started leading the class while the curious alpacas weaved in and out from the rows of mats. I don’t consider myself a graceful person, so I usually don’t enjoy yoga. I am often too concerned with doing it right. But alpacas are such silly creatures, so for the first time I felt like I fit in. There on a slight incline, with a small rock under my mat and the gentle sounds of grass being noshed near my ear, I found my balance.

A Wrong Turned Out Right

On the way home, my GPS instructed me to turn right, though I knew the way back I came was left. Not in any kind of hurry, I chose to toss the dice and turn right. As the GPS recalculated, I was pleased that I now had bonus quiet time to reflect.

About 20 minutes later, I rounded a corner and saw a sun-kissed field of sunflowers. I was prepared to drive by but the desire to disrupt my daily routine compelled me to pull over and pay respect to the splendor.  I knelt beside one of the flowers for a different perspective. Before returning to my car, I snapped a few pictures. It was a feeling I didn’t want to forget.

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The Benefits of New Experiences

I later learned that switching up your routine has positive neurological effects because you are stimulating your mind. Time even appears to last longer when you experience something novel because your brain is working harder to process the new experiences. (David Eagleman, Ph.D)

With many more months of working from home ahead of me, I’m now more committed to mixing up my routine as much as possible. Goat yoga is now on my growing list of things to try.

Alzheimers disease purple ribbon

Keeping Their Memories Alive: Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Education and Advocacy

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are personal.

They impact not just those afflicted, but all the family members and friends around them. Shaquana P. Divers of Monroe County knows this first hand. Her great grandmother, Catherine Taylor, developed dementia during the latter part of her life.

Remembering A Family Tradition

“Our family tradition of making fresh dill pickles in the summer always reminds me of my great grandmother,” she said smiling. “My granny, who affectionately called me Shawnie, had a huge garden in East Northport, Long Island. She used to grow cucumbers in her garden and made the most delicious pickles from them.”

Picture of a grandmother and granddaughter

Shaquana and her Granny

But as time went on for her great grandmother, remembering even the things she had done for years like how to make her pickles, became impossible. Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and cognitive abilities that includes a range of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline, explains Nicholas Massa, MD, medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “More than 400,000 New Yorkers aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s or another dementia and more than one million family members and friends are providing care to their loved ones.” (Source: Alzheimer’s Association)

Alzheimer’s disease alone is the sixth leading cause of death among all Americans and the fifth leading cause of death among older adults. The medical and public health communities have deemed Alzheimer’s disease and dementia public health problems that need to be addressed, since the proportion of older adults in the United States is projected to increase dramatically in the coming decades.

A Call To Action

Joanna Dott of Onondaga County has also experienced the effects of these diseases. “About 5 years ago my grandmother, Julie (who I call Mom-mom), was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia,” she said. “She moved from her home in Philadelphia, P.A. to Syracuse to live with my mother. My Mom-mom has always been my hero growing up so it was wonderful having her so close to home – however, we quickly realized how different life would be.”

Picture of a senior woman in a wheel chair

Joanna’s Mom-Mom

Joanna’s family has watched the disease progress day-by-day and in a short amount of time. The stress on the caregivers is great, so she often steps-in to help her mother care for her grandmother.

Both Joanna and Shaquana knew they could not sit idle. Both have taken action to educate themselves, their community, and to raise awareness in hopes of finding a cure.

Get Involved

“While researching this disease and trying to educate myself on the various stages, I learned about the Alzheimer’s Association in Central New York. They have so many amazing resources available such as a 24/7 helpline, support groups for caregivers, care training, and planning for the future to name a few,” Joanna said.

In 2017, she decided to take part in the organization’s annual fundraising event, The Walk to End Alzheimer’s in CNY and created a team for her family and friends. “For the past three years, we have made walk day a huge celebration of my grandmother’s life – my family comes from out of town and after the walk we have a BBQ at my house and enjoy being together,” Joanna said. “Participating in the walk each year means so much to my family because, although there is no cure at this time, we have hopes that with our participation and fundraising efforts, we will see the first survivor of Alzheimer’s!”

A woman and her son dressed in purple at a community event

Joanna and her son at The Walk to End Alzheimers in CNY

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. The CNY Walk is scheduled to be held virtually on Sunday, September 27, 2020. This inspiring event calls on participants of all ages and abilities to join the fight against the disease.

Fundraising dollars and participation in the event help to change the level of Alzheimer’s awareness in the community.

The Longest Day

Shaquana connected with the Alzheimer’s Association in Rochester/Finger Lakes and learned about the Longest Day event. The Longest Day, which fell on June 20 this year, is the day with the most light — the summer solstice.

“I learned that lifestyle habits such as consistent physical activity, following a Mediterranean diet and getting ample sleep may ward off the disease,” she said. “But the condition is still a mystery, especially for African Americans and Latinos.  Our collective power is needed to raise awareness, contribute to funding for research and treatment, address social determinants of health, and support programs that uplift our elders and caregivers who are suffering.”

Learn More

The Alzheimer’s Association has offices throughout the nation. They provide a wealth of services that community members can benefit from, including:

  • 24/7 helpline
  • Care consultations for families affected by dementia
  • Support groups for caregivers
  • Social activities for individuals with dementia and their care partners
  • Educational programs for families, professional caregivers and community organizations.

All services are free and currently are provided virtually or by phone. Individuals with memory loss and family caregivers can call the helpline at 800-272-3900 to learn about the symptoms of dementia, find information about legal, financial, care and treatment options, get decision-making support, and receive around-the-clock crisis assistance.

Woman sitting on the step with her granddaughter

7 Ways To Stick To Your Hydration Goal

During the summer – and year-round – our bodies crave water. There’s no way to live without it.  In fact, about 60 percent of your body is made of water. It plays a role in keeping your body working well.  We lose water even when we’re at rest, and when we breathe and sweat. It’s important to hydrate throughout the day and not just during physical activity.

There are so many great benefits to staying hydrated. Drinking water:

  • Helps the heart more easily pump.
  • Helps your muscles work efficiently.
  • Keeps your body cool.
  • Lubricates and cushion joints.
  • Helps improve sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

How much water do you need?

Always talk to your physician about how much water you should drink if you are taking medications or are diagnosed with a new medical condition. Some illnesses may require more or less water consumption.

Your individual water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live.  You can get water from both food and other liquids. The Institute of Medicine (IOM)  recommends about 91 ounces/day for women (about 11 cups) and 125 ounces (about 17 cups)/day for men. The easiest thing to do is pay attention to the color of your urine. Pale and clear means you’re well hydrated. If it’s dark, drink more fluids.

Water is best

Water is the best thing to drink to stay hydrated. It’s calorie-free, inexpensive, and usually readily available. Sources of water also include foods, such as fruits and vegetables which contain a high percentage of water. It’s also best to limit consumption of drinks containing caffeine, to a moderate amount, i.e. 1 – 2 cups of coffee/day. Caffeine is a mild diuretic and large amounts could affect your hydration status.

7 tips for staying hydrated

  1. For a twist on water, try sparkling water (without added sugar).
  2. Try water at different temperatures – a cup of hot water with lemon in the morning is a good way to start the day.
  3. Use a straw – this can increase consumption. Choose a water bottle with a built-in straw or try a reusable straw such as stainless steel.
  4. Eat your water – eat foods with high water concentrate such as watermelon or cucumbers.
  5. Invest in a cool new water bottle. Just like having a new workout outfit, a new water bottle could motivate you to drink more water.  Make sure you look for one with a secure lid to protect your electronics.
  6. Regularly sip water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already behind in fluid replacement.
  7. Track how much you drink – maybe use an app or put a few rubber bands around your water bottle. Every time you finish a bottle you get to remove a band.

So, drink up if you haven’t already! See how much better you feel after giving your body the hydration it needs.  Here’s to you and your good health! Cheers!

Small Steps to Prevent Big Falls: Protecting Older Adults from Injury

I had a reunion of sorts with some old friends from high school. Once we adjusted to seeing each other as “seasoned” adults, we caught up on the past 30 plus years since graduation.  We chatted about the highlights: families, careers, travel, and memories from high school.  As we settled in, our conversation turned toward our current stage of life: retirement, grandchildren and aging parents.

Since my parents passed away fairly young, I haven’t dealt with the caregiving challenges and issues that impact many older adults.  As I listened to the conversations, I was amazed that every person talked about a parent who had fallen and the tremendous impact it had on their family.

The Leading Cause of Injury Among Older Adults

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In upstate New York, more than 1 in 4 adults over age 65 reporting falling at least once, according to research from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

View ‘Protect Yourself From Falls’ infographic

Even more eye opening was to hear that my friends’ parents had been hurt or had to enter a nursing home because of the fall. Unfortunately, this is quite common.  In fact, research shows that 60 percent of seniors in New York state who were hospitalized for a fall ended up in a nursing home.

Taking Steps to Avoid Falls

But falling doesn’t have to be an accepted part of the aging process. There are simple things you can do to help reduce the risk of a fall and promote independent and active lifestyles among older adults.

One friend actively involved in the care of her aging father shared her strategies to help him avoid a fall. She installed grab bars in his shower and removed throw rugs to help him avoid slipping and falling.  She routinely de-clutters his home to reduce his risk of tripping.  It helps that she’s a nurse, and assists her dad in managing his medications. There are certain medications, such as sedatives or some over the counter drugs, which can affect balance.

Since I’m not getting any younger, I’m taking note.  Thankfully, I’ve always been active.  In the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of yoga, which has helped me improve my flexibility and balance.  Exercise is a good investment because physical fitness can help prevent the incidence of falls and minimize potential injury.  I don’t want to be a statistic (not a bad one, anyway), so added to my long-term to do list is: continue to stay active and clean up the mess in my house.

To learn more about preventing falls, talk with your doctor or visit ExcellusBCBS.com. You might want to explore local falls prevention classes to help the older adult in your life stay healthy.  Here are two organizations that offer classes in upstate New York:

Lifespan (Rochester area)

Building Better Balance (Broome County)

Note: Classes may be on hold or held virtually due to the pandemic.

Picture of a bike wheel

Pedaling Towards Better Physical and Mental Health

“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” – John F. Kennedy

A few months back, the snow started to melt and we headed out to the Erie Canal for our family walk/bike ride. My son, Matthew, asked if I wanted to ride his bike for a few miles so he could rest.

I laughed at the idea.

A bike? Me?

At age 42, I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 16 – no, that isn’t true. I was on a bike while at the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland a few years ago, but it was one of those beach bikes that holds four people and has a basket in front. Does that even count?

Anyway, I agreed. I got on the bike and wobbled a little at first. But then after about a mile, I realized… I love this feeling!

And this is how my biking obsession began. I worked out the details to purchase nice bikes for my husband and me that we could use on the roads and trails near our home in Chittenango, and within days we had our very own Trek bikes.

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Bike riding: I’m not alone

What I have learned since that day in March is that I’m one of many people who have this love for the freeing, stress relieving qualities of riding a bike.

As I take to the roads and trails every day with my husband and children, we pass dozens of biking enthusiasts. Some are sporting fancy gear and riding the cream-of-the-crop bikes, others are simply wearing their protective helmet and peddling a not-so-fancy bike like mine.

Take my friend and coworker Erika Gruszewski, from Monroe County, for instance. Since the pandemic started, she, her husband and their daughter have gone bike riding together as a family, which is a fun way to explore their neighborhood and get some activity at the end of the day.

“We also have a push-along trike for my toddler – she can’t reach the pedals yet, but she loves ringing her bell and wearing her helmet,” Erika said. “Pushing her around the neighborhood in the trike or the stroller is an almost daily activity for us. Getting out and moving in the fresh air always improves my mood!”

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As many people, especially families like Erika’s with young children at home, are looking for lockdown-compliant ways to get outside and keep everyone as healthy and happy as possible, we’re all enjoying this physical activity, outside in the fresh air.

In fact, research shows that a growing wave of New Yorkers are embracing cycling and that it’s a booming method of exercise and transportation in larger cities. According to PeopleForBikes Foundation, “affordable recreational bikes and practical models for commuting and errands are in high demand right now.” During May and June of 2020, bike sales throughout the nation were up substantially from last year — 65 percent greater than year-to-date 2019.

A Bicycle Built for Sunday Funday

Lilac Inthavong-McEvoy, who resides in Monroe County, said it’s easy to understand why the popularity of cycling has grown.

“It’s a fun, easy way to get outside, spend time with others, and get exercise,” she explained. Lilac spends her Sundays traveling bike trails and roads throughout Rochester with her coworkers at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield on what she calls “Sunday Funday.”

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“On any given Sunday, we could have as many as 16 people – coworkers, their spouses, their kids – who meet and ride,” she said. “It’s a way to be together and spend quality time in a safe, socially distanced way.”

Connect, Reflect, and Recharge

Co-worker and friend, Melissa Gardner, who also resides in Monroe County, has benefited from Lilac’s cycling Sundays.

“In most aspects of my life I am an introverted person who is very self-motivated to accomplish any goal I set,” Melissa said. “That isn’t true for fitness, though. Any time I missed a goal or broke a fitness streak, I would borderline give up and allow too much time to pass before picking back up healthy habits.”

For someone like Melissa, who wasn’t a fan of group fitness classes or anything that felt competitive, cycling has given her the outlet she needed to connect with others, reflect and recharge.

On the weekly rides, Melissa says she enjoys the fact that she “can meet-up with riders for great energy and be completely by myself – all while burning calories and exploring our community.”

Benefits of getting on a bike and peddling

Not only do biking and other forms of outdoor activity allow families to get exercise, they also provide valuable peace of mind during stressful times, said Nicholas Massa, MD, medical director at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“Being able to go outside and spend quality time with the family, while getting the physical activity that we all need makes getting on a bike an easy solution to maintaining your health.”

According to Massa, we should follow these physical activity guidelines for Americans.

“Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week,” he explained. “Adults also need to engage in strength-based activities (lifting weights, push-ups) at least 2 days each week. Following these guidelines can improve overall health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

There are also physical activity guidelines for children age 17 and under:

  • Children ages six to 17 need at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day. They should also include both aerobic activity (biking, walking, running) and strength-based activities (climbing on the playground, jumping rope).
  • Preschool-aged children should be active for at least 3 hours per day to support growth and development.

Tips and Tricks for a Safe Bike Ride:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Be seen. Dress like a fluorescent peacock—wear bright colors and reflective clothing, especially in the early morning, late at night, or on cloudy days.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, especially on the back of your neck, and sunglasses
  • Know the weather forecast. Wear waterproof gear as needed.
  • Be alert. Never ride with headphones or an earpiece. You need to hear everything you possibly can.
  • Ride with a buddy. Two cyclists will be more visible than one. Plus, if something happens to you, your buddy may be able to facilitate the emergency response process (and vice versa).
  • Get creative with your route. Choose roads that are extremely wide or have dedicated bike lanes. Opt for quieter neighborhood roads over high-traffic ones.
  • Always carry a patch kit. Learning to patch up your own flat tire can prevent you from being stranded in an unsafe or remote location.
  • Carry a cell phone and ID. If you don’t have a patch kit and need a ride, your cell phone will come in handy.
  • Bring drinking water for longer rides.
  • Ride with traffic, never against it.
  • Always be ready to yield. What you can do is go slowly enough that you could stop or give the right of way at a moment’s notice.
  • Be vigilant at intersections. When coming to a stop, hang left in the lane so the drivers behind and in front of you can see you.
  • Be on the lookout for loose gravel, ice, sand, puddles, and other road hazards.
  • Take bike-specific trails, whenever possible; follow the rules of the road; use bike line if there is one.
  • Don’t share water bottles.
  • Practice good cough etiquette by coughing and sneezing into your arm, not your hand.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after any possible contamination, before eating and after using the bathroom (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable).
  • Consider bringing hand sanitizer or wipes to use after portable toilets.
Picture of a woman getting her blood pressure taken

Schedule Health Care Screenings You May Have Postponed

As medical practices open for patient visits, it’s time to reconnect with your doctor to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. That includes screenings for breast, cervical, and prostate cancers. But those aren’t the only screenings to check on.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in New York state. There are about 9,000 new cases of colon cancer each year in our state and about 3,000 deaths.

Colonoscopy is the most thorough screening test and is proven to prevent the disease. Removing benign or pre-cancerous polyps found during colonoscopy can not only prevent colon cancer, but also can reduce deaths from the disease for years.

Learn about Lynn’s colon cancer story by watching the video below:


Prediabetes is serious, common, and reversible with lifestyle changes. One in three adults has prediabetes, but 90 percent don’t know it because there aren’t always symptoms. A simple blood sugar test can show if someone has prediabetes. African Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans, American Indians and Native Alaskans are at higher risk for having elevated blood sugar levels.

Learn more about prediabetes by watching the video below:


Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current estimate is that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  More than five sunburns in a lifetime can double a person’s risk for melanoma.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing melanoma than the general population. However, skin cancer can affect anyone. Skin cancer in persons of color is often diagnosed in its later stages, when it’s more difficult to treat.

The American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to perform regular skin self-exams to check for signs of skin cancer, including new and changing moles. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam by a board-certified dermatologist at least annually.

Learn more about preventing skin cancer below:

Tips for protect your skin from the sun

Screening Saves Lives

The best option for medical care is to see you provider in person. With many practices now welcoming patients, it’s time to reconnect with your provider to discuss care or screenings you may have postponed. Screenings save lives!

For more information and resources to help you reconnect with your provider, visit ExcellusBCBS.com/reconnect.

Close up picture of salmon

Don’t Fear The Fat

We used to think that low-fat eating was where it was at for weight control and good health. But as a fat-phobic society, we went overboard eating low-fat foods and we piled on the pounds. Low-fat does not necessarily mean low-calorie, nor does it give us permission to eat excessively. Instead of reaching for a sleeve of low-fat cookies, we are better off having our favorite cookie, eaten slowly and enjoyed.

Whether eating high-fat or low-fat foods, it still comes down to moderation and portion control. While too much fat is related to heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and obesity, the right types and amounts of fat in the diet can help with preventing some of these chronic conditions.

The Benefits of Fat

Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. Fat helps add flavor to foods and keeps hunger at bay by helping us feel satisfied longer.   Even though fat is a concentrated source of calories and is considered fattening by some, adding fat to your meal makes it more flavorful and satisfying. If the meal tastes better and keeps you full longer, you will end up eating less overall.

Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are dissolved in fat and are carried in food and into your bloodstream. These fat-soluble vitamins require dietary fat to fully nourish your body.

Fat on your body has several purposes – cushioning your organs, protecting your body from injury and offering insulation.

Sources of Healthy Fat

When it comes to fat, it’s important to focus on eating more beneficial or “good” fats. Sources of healthy fat include fatty fish, nuts, and olive oil.

  • Salmon and other high-fat fish have the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Nuts have a healthy fat in them and are a great portable, quick snack to satisfy you until the next meal. If you buy a container of almonds for example, divide it into several snack bags. Keep them in places where you have the snack attack: your glove compartment of your car, at your desk, in your briefcase, etc. Enjoy nuts in one of our favorite trail mix recipes.
  • Drizzle some olive oil sparingly on your vegetables and enjoy the taste and the heart health benefit of olive oil.

We need a certain amount of fat in our diet and on our body for health and wellness. So instead of fearing fat, enjoy some in moderation.

Mother sitting with her two children in front of a computer

Don’t Let Distance Get In The Way of Connecting

You’ve likely heard this before: staying connected is important for our health.  But have you really thought about why and how, especially during this time of physical distancing?

“We are wired for social connection,” said Amy Hernandez Gamboa, BSW, a medical services care management trainer with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Our new way of living has tested our ability to go long periods of time without seeing friends, family, being able to hug, or enjoy physical gatherings,” Amy said.

That lack of social connection can have a negative impact on how we feel both physically and mentally. “Right now we are feeling the barriers that are getting in the way of the benefits,” Amy said.

The Benefits of Social Connection

Science backs up the importance of social connection. In fact, social ties might be the single most important predictor of wellbeing.

Some of the positive impacts of social connection on physical health:

  • Strengthens the immune system;
  • Quicker recovery from disease;
  • Increases longevity;
  • Sharper memory;
  • Can help reduce stress and blood pressure when pregnant

There are mental health benefits of social connection as well:

  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression;
  • Higher self-esteem;
  • Greater sense of empathy;
  • Improved mood;
  • Increased trust and cooperation;
  • Increased ability to support others

Quality, Not Quantity

Social connection looks different for everyone, but there are four key elements, according to Amy:

  1. Having meaningful relationships. It’s about quality of relationships, not quantity.
  2. Making regular connections. For some, that may be a daily connection and for others, it is less often.
  3. Feeling a sense of belonging. Have you heard the expression “find your tribe?”
  4. Having shared experiences. Sharing experiences with others can enhance that feeling of connection.

5 Ways to Encourage Connection

“If you’re like me, you may find yourself missing your connections and needing to find creative ways to stay connected,” Amy said. “Social connection can occur without physical connection.”

Amy recommends five themes and thought-provoking questions to consider in order to encourage connection:

  1. Grace – be forgiving of yourself and others. Find time and make it a priority to stay connected. Social connection is going to look different today than in the past. Ask yourself: how can I let go of prior expectations and create space for myself and others to connect today? What are my one to two priorities today?
  2. Technology – it allows us to go places we may not have been able to go before via virtual tours, such as museums and zoos. Use social apps to connect for a virtual book club or virtual walk with a friend. Ask yourself: where do I want to ‘go’ today? When can I set up a video chat with a friend or relative today? Technology helps us break through the barrier of physical distance.
  3. Intention – be intentional in your connections. Who do you want to connect with and how today? Determine how you’re going to spend your time.  This can help address any barriers you may have. Think about a one-word intention that can help you strengthen connections this week, maybe it is “gentle” or “try.”
  4. Creativity – think outside the box. What creative idea can you share with a friend or family member today?  What inspires you today?
  5. Generosity – socially connect by thinking about others. Ask yourself: who might need to hear from me today or how can I support others?

Choose Your Own adventure

Choose to make your social connections an adventure.  This is especially helpful if negative thoughts begin to take up too much thought.  You can:

  • Remember the past. Reminisce on fun, shared experiences with friends or go through mementos.
  • Embrace the present. This allows you to appreciate today. A fun idea shared by Amy is to meet up for ice cream with a friend and enjoy from the safe distance of your cars.
  • Plan for the future. Make a bucket list. Think of all the future holds for you!

What ways have you stayed in touch while staying apart?

Share your tips in the comments section below.



Picture of someone in a hospital bed with medical professionals around them

COVID-19 Crisis Reveals The Importance Of eMOLST

Most people who are near the end of life lack the ability to make their own decisions about the life-sustaining medical treatments they wish to receive or avoid. For patients with advanced illness and frailty, the most important means of ensuring their preferences are honored is to have a properly completed and accurate electronic version of Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (eMOLST) available in their electronic medical records through connections with the New York state eMOLST Registry.

Peace of Mind For Those With Advanced Illness

eMOLST is for patients with serious health conditions who want to receive or avoid any or all life-sustaining treatment, who reside in a long-term care facility or require long-term care services, and/or who might die within the coming year. In New York state, eMOLST, and its predecessor, the hard copy MOLST, are the only authorized ways to legally document both nonhospital Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) and Do Not Intubate (DNI) orders that Emergency Medical Services can follow. eMOLST also documents additional specific medical orders that are recognized and honored in all health care settings, including preferences regarding hospitalization. In hospitals, hospice, nursing homes, and the community, eMOLST is used to issue orders concerning preferences for resuscitation and life-sustaining treatment.

COVID-19’s impact on the frail elderly illustrates the important role eMOLST has in the way preferences for care, recorded as medical orders, are communicated. The importance will be intensified if predictions for a second and third wave of the virus are realized. eMOLST allows frail older adults to write their own final chapter and relieve loved ones of any anxiety that comes with making end-of-life health care decisions on their behalf.

eMOLST is not intended for healthy people, or for people who have a chronic condition or multiple chronic conditions but have a long life expectancy. Those individuals should complete a health care proxy and discuss their wishes for care with family and loved ones.

How to Complete eMOLST

Patients should ask their providers if eMOLST is right for them, and if so, complete the electronic form. If a hard copy MOLST already exists, the COVID-19 crisis would dictate that it be reviewed and updated and converted to eMOLST so that it is in the registry. If a patient lacks the ability to make end-of-life decisions, the health care agent or surrogate should speak with the provider. The tools and features in the eMOLST system ensure that a standardized process is used for conversations, and the completed eMOLST is 100 percent accurate.

Licensed physicians and nurse practitioners have the authority and accountability for accurate completion of MOLST and eMOLST under the Public Health Law. As of June 17, 2020, physician assistants also will have that authority and accountability. Only licensed physicians can complete MOLST and eMOLST orders for patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities who lack capacity to make medical decisions and cannot complete a health care proxy.

When an authorized health care practitioner signs the eMOLST, a copy of the medical orders and the discussion automatically become part of the statewide eMOLST Registry that is available as a public health service in all settings, as patients move from one care setting to another across New York. The physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant also will print a copy of the eMOLST on prominent, bright pink paper that will physically travel with the patient.

Additional Resources and Education

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield led the development of two free community websites.  CompassionAndSupport.org has information on advance care planning, free downloadable health care proxy forms and instructional videos. MOLST.org has COVID-19 guidance on MOLST, how to have thoughtful MOLST discussions, and instructions for obtaining urgent access to eMOLST.

Picture of an unmade bed

When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Work: Tips for Calming a Busy Mind and Getting Sleep

It was while I was lying awake at 3:00 a.m. again that I realized something was not right.  I am usually an early riser, but 3:00 a.m. is really early, even for me! The pandemic had brought about a lot of changes to my life, including a significant reduction in sleep!

A Vicious Cycle

I work as a Workplace Wellness Coordinator at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. My job is to educate others on the importance of sleep, but I am not immune to having issues myself.  I know how detrimental inadequate sleep can be, with problems ranging from impaired memory, to obesity, to greater likelihood of car accidents. That knowledge only raised my stress levels! And like a vicious cycle, the more I stressed about not sleeping, the less I slept.

I decided to get help

One night, stuck in another vicious cycle of not sleeping, I decided to get help. I was already registered with MDLIVE, the telemedicine service affiliated with my health insurance. I decided to schedule an appointment with a Licensed Social Worker, who was available within a couple of days.

During my appointment, she explained that I was feeling so stressed that my brain was too “busy” to shut down and sleep properly.  She gave me some activities to try such as meditation and breathing techniques.  She told me to work to make small improvements, even an extra 20 minutes at night is a start.

6 Habits for Better Sleep

Sleep problems are common, according to Greg Carnevale, M.D., chief medical officer and sleep specialist with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “There are 50-70 million people in the U.S. that suffer from one or several sleep disorders that result likely in not getting enough sleep. The cause and solution can vary for each person,” Carnevale said. Health experts recommend getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.

“As a society, we need to recognize the dangers of trying to get by with fewer hours of sleep and wake up to the health benefits of a good night’s rest,” Carnevale said. He offers the following tips for improved sleep:

  • Keep bedroom quiet, dark and cool.
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bed.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, including on weekends.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.

Seek Help When You Need It

I’ve been listening to the advice of the social worker and thankfully, it is helping. I really wish I had called sooner. But, it is never too late to seek help.

“There are sometimes very easy and simple steps to improve on your sleep, and sometimes you need a professional, such as your doctor, to help,” Carnevale said. “Trying to navigate the misinformation out there alone can have deleterious effects to you and your health.  Don’t wait to seek help,” he added.

View and download an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield infographic on ways to improve sleep at ExcellusBCBS.com. For more help with sleep, talk with your doctor or sleep specialist.