What’s considered a disability? 10 causes every HR leader should know

When most people consider disability, they picture something catastrophic happening—an ill-timed dive off a high rock, or a speeding car hurtling into theirs—and, for the most part assume it can never happen to them.

That’s why human resources experts often find it challenging to convince their employees of the importance of disability insurance even though you know it’s a wise investment and more commonly used than most people assume. In fact, if you were to keep track of the 20-year-olds in today’s workforce, you’d find out that nearly 25 percent of them will be out of work for at least a year due to a health condition before they reach retirement age.

The statistic isn’t meant to alarm anyone, but rather to underscore the importance of making sure that your team members realize that disability insurance is for everyone. It can be the lifeline they need in the case of an unexpected condition—and yet at least 51 million working adults go without disability coverage, except for the basic coverage offered through Social Security.

That can be downright scary considering the precarious financial position of many Americans—and the skyrocketing cost of medical treatment. Any of these conditions can rob workers of the opportunity to earn enough to pay their bills, and just when they need the extra income the most.

Wondering what the top causes of long-term disability are? Your employees might be surprised to learn that they are relatively common occurrences.

  1. Muscoskeletal. This is a fancy way of saying “back pain,” something weekend warriors—or even just good Samaritans helping a friend move—can probably see themselves experiencing. It also covers other muscle, back, and joint disorders, such as arthritis. Together, these conditions account for nearly 30 percent of all long-term disabilities.
  2. Cancer. Yes, we can put this in the “catastrophic” category, but it’s actually more prevalent than you might imagine. In fact, more than 70,000 people in their 20s and 30s—the prime of their life—are diagnosed with cancers, including lymphoma, leukemia, testicular, melanoma, and breast cancer. Even if they are eventually cured, cancer treatment can decimate a family’s finances as they miss work to undergo treatment.
  3. Pregnancy. It’s hard to consider pregnancy as a “long-term” disability, but the bottom line is that pregnancy (think bed rest) and childbirth can infringe on work, especially if there are complications. In fact, about 1/10 of all claims involve a pregnancy-related issue, but by tapping long-term disability insurance, your employee and their little bundle of joy can be covered.
  4. Mental health issues. From anxiety to depression, mental health problems can take a toll, and fortunately, people are realizing that mental health is just as vital to treat as physical health. Since over a quarter of the population is diagnosed with one or more mental disorders each year, it’s easy to see how they can be a leading cause of long-term disability.
  5. Injuries. Nine percent of long-term disability claims come from the “injury” category, which covers everything from accident recovery to surgery, broken bones, and even poisoning.
  6. Cardiovascular issues. From heart attack to stroke, cardiovascular events strike unexpectedly and can prevent employees from coming to work for an indefinite period of time as they build their strength back up.
  7. Nervous system. This category encompasses a wide range of potential issues that include multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy, plus a range of additional eye and ear disorders. Even conditions that are often considered an older person’s disease, such as Alzheimer’s, can strike during peak earning years. In fact about 200,000 people contract the early-onset form of Alzheimer’s, which typically develops in their 40s and 50s.
  8. Infectious diseases. While headlines trumpet new types of infectious diseases, from zika to MRSA, this category also encompasses far less-exotic strains, such as bacteria that causes strep throat and viruses that bring on the flu. As more conditions become resistant to today’s hardest-working antibiotics, the threat of losing work due to infectious disease grows more prevalent.
  9. Digestive system. Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are just three of the better-known conditions in the digestive diseases category. Altogether there are 40 digestive conditions that plague more than 34 million Americans, causing them to miss work as they wrestle with treatment and prevention.
  10. Respiratory diseases. Asthma is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions, which also include a wide variety of other lung-related ailments. It’s not a leap to assume that difficulty in breathing would lead to difficulty in working…illuminating the need for long-term disability insurance.

No one wants to sit down with employees to go over a list of illnesses or conditions they may eventually have, but the good news is that human resources professionals have the opportunity to expose their colleagues to one of the best-kept secrets in the benefit world—how disability insurance can help prevent them from losing a paycheck just when they need it most.

3 Ways to Reduce Cancer Risks in the Office

Woman sitting at desk with plants around her.

If someone were to ask you about the level of pollutants in your daily environment, you’d probably think about your home, your city or town. But if you have a full-time job, what about the health of the workplace you spend most of your waking hours within?

One third of most people’s adult lives will be spent at work. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates more than 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2018. According to the most recent data from the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database, American adults have a one-in-three lifetime chance of being diagnosed with cancer.

If you have a full time job and spend a large portion of your days in an office, here are some areas to be aware of:

Be mindful of the indoor air quality.

The air we breathe every day directly impacts our health, even though we are often unaware of its influence. Poor air quality has been recognized as a carcinogen linked to lung cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory conditions. These health concerns develop from exposure to toxins in the air, including particulate matter and specific types of chemicals.

Air pollution issues are typically associated with being outside, but indoor air is often far more polluted than outdoor air. A person also typically spends about 90 percent of their time inside, so any toxins that are present have a tremendous impact due to the length of time a person is exposed. If there are pollution sources near a building, toxins from the outdoor environment may be pulled inside through the mechanical ventilation system. Other biological toxins, like bird droppings or insects, can enter a building if the ventilation system isn’t properly maintained.

The materials used during a building’s construction can also be sources of pollution, especially when those materials are disturbed during renovations. Older buildings may have been constructed using toxins like asbestos and lead, both of which can be broken down into microscopic particles and swept into the air. Inhaling asbestos is known to cause a devastating form of cancer while exposure to lead causes a variety of complications throughout the body, including impaired kidney function and behavioral changes.

Depending on the toxin, employees can take action to combat indoor air pollution. Ask for transparency from management and the facilities team about building maintenance or renovations. Smaller steps include introducing plants into the office — which may remove some pollutants from the air.

Make time for exercise.

Exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits in preventing cancer, including regulating hormones, lowering body fat, and reducing inflammation. If you work full-time, it can be a challenge to make it to the gym after a long day in the office, so look for ways to infuse exercise into the very fabric of your days.

Try going for a walk or attending a fitness class at a nearby gym during lunch. And why go it alone? Having a gym partner or workout buddy helps people maintain their motivation to keep working out over the long haul. You can also make changes to your desk itself, for example by bringing in an under the desk bike or yoga ball to strengthen cardio health and balance.

Don’t forget sunblock if you sit near a window.

Dermatologists recommend you apply sunscreen every day you’re outside, even during the winter. Sun exposure can even occur indoors or in a car since most glass windows do not offer full-spectrum protection from the sun’s radiation. There is evidence of a correlation between people who spend a lot of time in the car and incidences of skin cancer on the left side of the body, coinciding with the driver’s side of a vehicle.

The American Cancer Society notes the risk of UV radiation through windows would pose a problem only for those who “spend long periods of time close to a window that gets direct sunlight.” If that applies to you, use sunblock each day, reduce the direct sun coming through the blinds, and cover any exposed skin with extra clothing helps create a barrier between your skin and harmful UV rays. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States with one in five Americans expected to be diagnosed at some point in their lives.

Cancer is the second most common cause for long-term disability claims. Do you have a disability insurance plan in place at work? To learn more and the sorts of questions you can ask HR, visit RealityCheckup.org.


The Top 5 Reasons Why People Go Out of Work and Stay Out of Work

At least 35 percent of working Americans don’t have private disability insurance. And what that means is approximately 50 million people won’t receive a paycheck if they leave work to have a baby, or are recovering from an injury or an illness.

Working adults need disability (or income protection) insurance because people regularly leave work for short — or even long — periods of time. About 70 percent of full-time employees have sick days or vacation time they can tap into for short absences, but you could become financially strapped if you need more than five or 10 days off.

Depending upon the type of industry where you work, six to 10 percent of people are out of work long enough that they file a short-term disability claim (insurance that covers the first three to six months of your time off). Seventy-five percent of these people are out of work up to 75 days, and the rest can be out for 180 days or a year.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration says that more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will be out of work for 12 months or more for a variety of reasons before they retire.

Here are the top five reasons why people are out of work for three months or longer (according to a database representing long-term disability claims from a large group of disability insurance carriers):

1. Pain in your back and joints (aka musculoskeletal disorders)

Knees battered by too much hard running, ligaments torn on the ski slopes or from chasing kids, and back pain from too much time spent sitting, lifting or gardening: These are all examples of musculoskeletal disorders that are responsible for a nearly third of all long-term disability claims.

These results are consistent with information from the 2016 Social Security Disability Insurance database. If you want to try to prevent these type of injuries, shore up your body’s strength by engaging in exercise, eating healthy, and being very aware of repetitive movements you undertake everyday. Repetitive motion can include activities like driving to work and playing tennis.

2. Cancer

American adults have a one-in-three lifetime chance of being diagnosed with cancer, according to the most recent data from the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database. We see this risk reflected in LTD claims where cancer is in the second leading reason why people are out of work for three months or longer (15 percent of all claims). It’s important to know that it’s treatment for cancer — not the condition itself — that causes people to leave work temporarily.

Cancer can arise from endless possibilities, from your genetic makeup, to the environment around you, to your lifestyle. The Mayo Clinic recommends seven key ways you can build up your body’s defenses against cancer: avoid tobacco, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and be physically active, protect yourself from the sun, get immunized, avoid risky behaviors, and get regular medical care.

3. Complications of pregnancy

Many people are surprised to see pregnancy listed as a cause of disability claims. In fact, it’s the number one reason why people file a short term disability claim. Women are typically paid six to eight weeks of disability benefits after they give birth to a child.

There will be times when a woman’s physician will determine that, for her own health and that of her baby, she needs to stop working in advance of delivery. In most cases, that pre-delivery absence iscovered as well.

But why would pregnancies show up as a top reason for long-term disability?

“About 50 percent of LTD plans have a three-month waiting period (also known as an elimination period), while the other half of plans have a six-month period before benefits are payable,” explains Fred Schott, Director of Operations at The Council for Disability Awareness. “A STD plan, sick days, or paid-time-off bank often covers all or part of the long-term disability elimination period.”

Schott says that three-month waiting period plans are common in industries such as education or healthcare, where more women work. This results in more pregnancy claims being filed.

“If delivery complications cause a woman to be out of work for more than six to eight weeks — or if pregnancy complications lead to her leaving work several weeks before delivery,” Schott says, “It increases the likelihood she’ll go beyond the three-month waiting period and she will receive LTD benefits. But the length of LTD pregnancy claims is very short — a few months at most.”

4. Mental health challenges

Mental health is a critical issue in the United States and across the globe. Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide according to the World Health Organization. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness shares that 20 percent of American adults will experience a mental illness.

Mental health challenges — including depression and anxiety disorders — account for 9.1 percent of long-term disability claims. The numbers of those who are struggling could be much higher, however, as there is a tendency for depression to go untreated, or to be associated with a physical cause for disability that goes uncounted as a result.

One or two disability carriers measure their causes of disability in a different way than the majority of the industry. They often split up musculoskeletal disorders into a series of separate categories. While there is nothing essentially wrong with this approach, it often pushes mental health out of the top five drivers of absence and disability. This analytic technique further masks the importance of addressing mental health issues in and outside the workplace.

Non-profit organizations in the U.S. and the U.K. are trying to tackle mental health by encouraging people to talk openly about how they are feeling with people they trust. You will often see these efforts in social media attached to #oktosay or #okaytosay.

5. Accidental injuries

Finally, we come to accidental injuries, which ironically enough is what many people assume is the most common cause of disability claims. This category includes injuries such as fractures, sprains and strains of muscles and ligaments and ranks as the fifth most common cause of longer-term absences at nine percent. Preparing to avoid mishaps is difficult — that’s why they’re called accidents! — so it’s important to have disability insurance in place in the event that an accident occurs.

So what should you do with this information?

Disability insurance protects your income if you need to miss work in order to have a baby or recover from everything from back pain, to a broken leg, to treatment for cancer. By knowing the main reasons why people leave work for longer periods of time, it soon becomes clear that illness and injury is far more common than most people realize.

This begs the question: If your pregnancy became unexpectedly complicated, you needed to take time off work to heal from an injury or illness, how would you pay the bills while you recover?

Learn more about how to protect your income at www.RealityCheckup.org

6 Ways to Protect Your Lower Back From Injury

Man holding his backBack pain is one of the most widespread issues in modern American life. Experts estimate that eight out of ten Americans will experience back pain in their lives. 

According to the Integrated Benefits Institute’s Health and Productivity Benchmarking 2016, musculoskeletal disorders (aka pain in the back and joints — especially the hips, knees and shoulders) account for the biggest portion of long-term disability claims — a total of 29 percent in 2016. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) meanwhile writes that musculoskeletal disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.

Here are six ways you can protect your lower back against injury — and the negative effects such an injury could impact on your ability to work and earn an income: 

Exercise Your Core

There are many real-world benefits of building up well-balanced and resilient core muscles. There is a wide range of exercises you can do to strengthen your core, such as incorporating front planks and leg lowering. If you can’t see yourself doing front planks and want to start with something simple, aim to go out for more walks. A walk nourishes the spinal structure.

Watch Your Posture

All the tiny habits we engage in every day can lead to big effects down the line. If you work in an office, check your posture at your desk. Follow these steps from the Cleveland Clinic to make sure you’re sitting with an optimum posture. 

Next, analyze your chair. Is it designed for a six foot two soul but you’re five foot four? Do your feet even rest on the floor? Ergonomics means “fitting a job to a person”, and an ergonomic chair is designed to perfectly fit with your body. By using a chair that allows you to adjust your posture according to your exact height and particular desk setup, you’ll lessen muscle fatigue, increase your productivity, and be far more healthy. It’s worth the time to investigate and correct your posture.

Walk Frequently

Regardless of what sort of chair you sit in, make sure you build up a habit of getting up and moving about frequently. The Mayo Clinic writes that the impacts of movement at work are profound; even leisurely movement with frequent breaks from one’s seat has been proven to have great impacts. You’ll burn more calories by doing this, and as the Mayo Clinic writes: “The muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you’re standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.”

Travel With Care

If you drive a lot, tweak your posture while behind the wheel. A recent study in the U.K. found that a massive 75 percent of drivers were suffering from back pain caused by driving. A physiotherapist who worked on the study offered the following advice:

  • Keep the seat as close to the wheel as is comfortable, so you can easily reach the wheel with your elbows relaxed.
  • Adjust your backrest recline so it supports your spine without leaning too far back.
  • Ensure all mirrors are adjusted before you start your journey.
  • Build in rest stops every one-two hours for longer journeys, to stretch your legs.

Life Objects Carefully

Spend a moment to brush up on the best techniques for lifting heavy objects: keep your feet shoulder width apart, squat down rather than bending, and maintain a good posture with a straight back throughout. But don’t go too far, and avoid lifting all objects. Fiona Wilson, an Associate Professor and Chartered Physiotherapist at Trinity College Dublin recently argued that, “People are becoming less active and more overweight, which means they are becoming less fit and less able to tolerate the activity and loading for which we were designed. Recent expert advice highlights that the best way to prevent back pain is with exercise.”

Live Healthily

A healthy lifestyle, with a good diet, lots of water, and frequent exercise shores up your body’s strength and fitness. Watch your diet and try to keep the extra weight off — and be sure to get enough sleep. By building a preventative approach to your back’s health where you watch your posture and engage in healthy habits of exercise, eating, and rest, you’ll be able to build up your body’s best possible defenses against back pain.

That said, you won’t be able to prevent accidents that come out of the blue — so make sure you have an income protection plan in place in the event that you need to miss work for a prolonged period due to a back injury. A combination of health, exercise, and a solid financial plan will make you that much more ready to react to whatever life throws your way. 

The Impact of Chronic Pain in the Workplace

Woman holding her wrist.Chronic pain is affecting more and more Americans. A 2015 study by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health revealed that chronic or severe pain affects nearly 50 million American adults on a consistent basis. What impact does chronic pain have on the workforce, and how can your HR team better support these individuals? 

An Invisible Disability

Chronic pain is typically defined as pain which lasts for three to six months or longer. It is very often an invisible disability, which makes it very difficult for people to live with. They may need to take more sick days, or go through periods of time where their productivity takes a hit — and their fellow colleagues may not understand why. This absenteeism also has a financial cost. A 2013 survey by Gallup revealed that approximately $24.2 billion is lost annually in the professional sector as a result of absenteeism from poor health.

When someone needs to miss work due to illness or injury, impacts are felt throughout the organization. Other people may step in to take on the work, or a new hire may be trained up if their time off work is more substantial. At first your financial statements may not seem impacted, yet the Integrated Benefits Institute estimates that opportunity costs of disability can amount to an additional 38 percent of absent workers’ wages for the U.S. workforce. 

Helping Those with Chronic Pain

For HR directors or managers, it can feel like there is no clear approach to dealing with chronic pain in an effective manner. However, there are various ways to manage chronic pain in the workplace, and the importance of incorporating compassion into the process cannot be overstated.

Here are several ways you can support your workers:

Break Down the Stigma: One of the major barriers that people with chronic pain endure is the fact that it’s so often an invisible disability. People may not look like they have anything wrong with them, yet they are battling a very real illness. Be proactive in building a wellness culture in your organizaton. Take steps to eliminate barriers that might cause people to not seek help or explain what they’re dealing with, whether through educational meetings, personal sit-downs, or proactively checking in with someone whose productivity is dipping, to see whether there is a bigger issue at play.

Enhance Awareness of Treatment Options: Many people who suffer from chronic pain do so without knowing where to turn. By providing employees with information about effective treatment options, they can find the best plan for dealing with the pain. You can adapt the office environment such as incorporating ergonomic stations where people can work — and make sure that employees are taking their breaks. 

Offer Benefits Like Disability Insurance: The chances of someone having an illness or injury that puts them out of work for several months is higher than most people realize. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, one in four of today’s 20-year olds will experience a disability before retirement age. Disability insurance is an affordable benefit that helps to protect an employee’s income if they do need to take time off the job — reducing the financial pressure while they recover. 

Chronic pain isn’t something that’s going to disappear from the professional landscape, but its impacts can be lessened with the right approach. By building a workplace culture that is open and inclusive, you’ll be able to support employees and boost morale across the organization. 

Tolerating Gluten Intolerance

Jan-celiac-imageAt 18 months old, my son suddenly changed from the happiest little dude in town to a miserable and often inconsolable kid. Without warning, he became thoroughly unhappy, bouncing between periods of lethargy and periods of frustration. His sleep, which had been challenging anyway, as it is with most little ones, became a constant battle; he struggled to get comfortable and would wake several times each night. His enthusiasm for eating and trying new foods disappeared, causing us to coax most meals into him. And, perhaps most troubling, he began to loose weight.

His pediatrician was stumped. She couldn’t identify an illness. There were no injuries to explain the situation. No significant changes in his daily life.

Eventually a blood test was ordered, mostly to rule out celiac disease. When the results showed extremely high tTG levels, the doctors thought there must have been an error. To confirm, an endoscopy was performed. Sure enough, numerous ulcers in his small intestines were discovered.

I was positive this was karma’s way of punishing me. Over the preceding couple of years, several friends had joined the anti-gluten trend and decided to remove the protein from their diet for no reason, as far as I could tell, other than following a fad. So I began telling people that I had become intolerant of gluten intolerance. My son’s diagnosis felt like payback.

We immediately removed gluten from the little monster’s diet, and almost immediately his mood improved. Within a couple of weeks, he began to put the lost weight back on, and was once again the happy, exhausting kid he had previously been.

An Invisible Autoimmune Nightmare

My son’s sensitivity is high. After diagnosis, we began regular check ins with a gastroenterologist. At our first visit, we learned it could take as long as a year for his body to fully heal. We also learned that a single gluten-containing crumb small enough to fit under my fingernail would be enough to make him feel sick for a day or two.

For reasons unknown, the gluten protein causes the villi in the small intestines to flatten out, which then prevents them from absorbing the nutrition passing through the body. This not only results in discomfort, but in some cases the body is so deprived of nutrition and vitamins, that the disease can prevent growth and may lead to additional problems such as anemia, osteoporosis, and weakened bones.

It’s Everywhere!

We became gluten fanatics almost overnight. It was fairly easy to cut out the obvious problems – wheat, rye, and barley – but we soon discovered it’s more complicated than just avoiding bread and crackers. The stuff shows up in soaps, shampoos, soy sauce, candies, some hot dogs, dry-roasted nuts, vitamin supplements, toothpaste, and laundry detergents! We had to make special play dough to send with him to daycare, because the store-bought stuff isn’t safe. If they blow bubbles on the playground and he pops one, they have to wash his hands before he sticks a finger in his mouth. When I repaired a small crack in a wall at home, he had to be out of the house until dust from the drywall and joint compound was thoroughly cleaned up, because even those have gluten in them!

Awareness is on the Rise

The good news is having celiac disease in 2018 is a lot better than it would have been even 10 years ago. Our local grocery store has an entire gluten-free section. Most products list all ingredients on their labels, often highlighting known allergens. And overall awareness of gluten intolerance is high. We’ve learned to avoid most cereals, breaded foods, and even some non-wheat grains, as they can have trace amounts of gluten if processed in a facility that also processes wheat. We learned that even if a pizza joint offers a gluten-free option, wheat flour in the air could impact our pie. And we’ve learned that “gluten-free” is definitely not the same as “Certified gluten-free.”

Luckily, in addition to special sections in the grocery store, many restaurants are also proving options for a growing population of celiacs. Even in our relatively small city, there are several gluten-free restaurants. And the local gluten-free bakery is worth a visit, whether you have an intolerance or not.

The Numbers Seem to be Growing

While celiac disease is estimated to impact only 1% of the population, general gluten intolerance is on the rise–four times more common today than it was in the 1950s! It’s not clear why more people are becoming sensitive to the protein, but theories range from changes in wheat, to too much gluten in processed foods, to poor diet and excessive use of antibiotics, contributing to an overgrowth of candida in the gut.

Only One Treatment…For Now

There is currently no cure for celiac disease, and the only real treatment is a gluten-free diet. However, thanks to more people suffering from an intolerance, there is more research underway today than ever before. Several new drugs are being tested, and trials of vaccine-like treatments have already begun in Europe and Australia. It’s possible that an effective solution will be developed before my son grows up and has to opt for gluten-free beer (yep, most beers have gluten, too).

Until then, we’ll keep the house gluten-free, make our own play dough, read every label, and visit that celiac-safe bakery as often as possible. And lots of chocolates are gluten-free, so we have that going for us!

The Cost of Cancer – Planning for Survival

Jan-cancer-costs-imageNo one plans to have cancer. Aside from the shock and anxiety for the future a diagnosis brings, cancer also presents a financial situation that few people fully consider. Huge medical bills, on top of the typical expenses like college loans, mortgages, and car payments, can leave survivors concerned about their finances. Despite this, there are a variety of precautions and preparations that can be taken to limit the impact of a diagnosis from a financial perspective. The effects of cancer can certainly rear its head in many ways. However, with some additional budgeting, cancer patients can put their minds moreso at ease while heading on the road to recovery.

Types of Costs

Costs associated with cancer can present themselves in a variety of ways. A 2017 study from JAMA Oncology shows that cancer patients tend to spend upwards of a third of their income on medical expenses, in addition to their usual health insurance fees. One of the primary causes of debt is of course the presence of medical bills. From seeing primary physicians, specialists, consultants, and other healthcare professionals, each of these visits and additional tests can add up.

For relatively rare cancers like mesothelioma, finding a doctor that specializes in your specific diagnosis can mean traveling across the country regularly. While the main concern when undergoing treatment is of course seeing the specialist that is most likely to save your life, the costs associated with travel are rarely thought of. These travel expenses, from gas money to airfare, can quickly add up.

Not to mention, hefty prescription drug costs that often come out-of-pocket. As one of the fastest growing sectors of healthcare expenses, cancer patients can spend thousands of dollars for their required prescriptions. These medications come in addition to various treatment methods like chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and surgery. With often lengthy periods of treatment, these medication costs can put a definite financial strain on the patient and their family.

Debt from cancer treatment can also accumulate from a lack of income. If the treatment is aggressive, many patients are forced to leave their jobs to focus on their health and recovery. In a household that is used to having two incomes, the loss of that influx of money can certainly make an impact. If the diagnosis requires extended periods of time away from your profession, the patient may also come back from recovery to find that the work is no longer relevant or is done differently. This retraining period can be another obstacle altogether. In the case of older demographics, this can also deal a significant blow to retirement savings. As a result, cancer patients are around 25 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than those without cancer.

Even after the cancer patient has been through the final stages of treatment and is considered in remission, there are routine check ups to ensure that person stays healthy for years to come. All of the regular medications, treatments, and evaluations to keep cancer at bay will also come with a price tag. While beating cancer is clearly a blessing, this is an additional cost that many do not anticipate maintaining for the rest of their lives.


While it may be difficult to plan for cancer, there are some steps that can make the diagnosis less of a burden on the patient’s finances. Taking precautions with various forms of insurance and an emergency savings can go far to ensure the survivor and their family are protected. Health, life, and disability insurance are all small yet highly effective steps to take when planning for the future. It’s a great idea to establish a Health Savings Account (HSA,) which allows for contribution to a savings store for healthcare expenses directly from the person’s paycheck, before taxes. Even as a young person new to the workforce, taking out insurance and creating an account for health related expenses can be very beneficial and will keep your mind at ease for years to come.

If found in a stressful financial situation due to medical expenses, be sure to consider all of your options via financial assistance programs and debt service providers. There are a variety of professionals that specialize in debt management and refinancing that can help a patient through a difficult time as they start on the path to financial recovery. In the meantime, strict budgeting and monitoring income closely can allow for cutting down on what’s not necessary and saving where possible. Additionally, in certain cases like mesothelioma, the cancer victim may be eligible for compensation in a legal setting with the help of a specialized mesothelioma lawyer. Because this type of cancer develops due to exposure to asbestos, this may be an advisable route to explore if wrongfully exposed in the workplace.

Although talking about and planning for the future can seem daunting, taking adequate measures to prepare for the unknown can make all the difference when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Taking out insurance, saving for emergencies, and maintaining a tight financial ship will put a patient in the best position to focus on treatment and recovery. Battling cancer is difficult enough without having to worry about each added expense to save your life, but taking these precautions in advance will leave you and your loved ones prepared in case the unthinkable happens.

Tiredness or Fatigue, What’s the Difference?

Dec-fatigue-imageWe all know what it is to feel tired. Maybe it’s from a long day at work, or staying out late to catch up with an old friend, or your three year old who decided 5:00am was a good time to wake you. Whatever the reason, we’ve all suffered through a day or two while sleep deprived.

Fortunately, tiredness can typically be cured with a good night’s sleep; and a little coffee will help you get through the day. Lasting fatigue, however, is a different issue and should not be passed off as simply being tired.


What is Fatigue?

While tiredness is generally short term and easily relieved, true fatigue is long lasting and can ultimately interfere with one’s ability to lead a normal life. People suffering from fatigue often describe feelings of lethargy and exhaustion, often accompanied by depression and sometimes physical ailments.

In most cases, fatigue is a symptom of a larger underlying issue. Mild cases often accompany an illness, such as a flu or cold, and generally go away when the illness does.

Stress can also lead to temporary fatigue. A heavy workload, financial difficulties, and other common stresses are often cause fatigue. The fatigue tends to compound the feelings of stress, which leads to more fatigue, and on and on. But, as with illness, alleviating the stress will also alleviate the fatigue.


Other Conditions that Can Cause Fatigue

When eliminating stress factors and catching up on sleep don’t help, it’s time to investigate other possibilities. Fatigue that lasts more than two weeks, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms, such as unexplained changes in weight or shortness of breath, may be a sign of something more serious and should be treated by a doctor. Some of the most common causes of fatigue include:

  • Coronary artery disease. When simple daily activities wear you out, it may be that your heart isn’t performing at its best.
  • Diabetes. This disease impacts your body’s ability to properly process sugars and preventing the conversion of food into energy.
  • Thyroid problems. This is the gland that controls metabolism, and therefore your energy levels. Fatigue is often the result of an under-active thyroid.
  • Anxiety and depression. Depression is a leading cause of missed work, and can even lead to a disability diagnosis. It’s much more than an emotional slump, and often contributes to physical symptoms, including fatigue.
  • Not enough sleep. Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to all sorts of problems, including lack of concentration, weight loss, memory failures, and fatigue.
  • Sleep apnea. Breathing pauses or interruptions while sleeping prevents those who suffer with sleep apnea from getting the deep sleep necessary to feel rested.
  • Poor diet. An imbalanced diet may result in too much or too little blood sugar, either of which can ultimately contribute to feelings of fatigue.



Many underlying causes of fatigue are easily treated with supplements, dietary changes, exercise programs, or sending the three year old to live with grandma for a few weeks. But fatigue caused by more serious underlying medical issues will often need to be managed with prescription medications and physician assistance. These include:


Unlike occasional tiredness, fatigue interferes with a person’s quality of life, their mental health, and their ability to handle manage daily activities. It’s even recognized as a significant reason for early retirement. If feelings of tiredness persist for a couple of weeks, seek medical assistance. The solution may be simpler than you think.

Depression and Your Office Environment: What You Need to Know

Dec-depression-imageDepression, while often hiding in plain sight, ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, resulting in 3% of total short-term disability days. For context, that’s more disability than what’s caused by heart disease, hypertension and diabetes—all in the form of an illness that isn’t nearly as visible as a broken bone. While factors inciting depressive disorders are often outside of the control of business leaders and HR managers, the workplace can influence mental health.


Fortunately, you can take steps to make changes within the workplace that promote good mental health—here’s how to get started.

Implement Height-Adjustable Desks

If there’s one thing that leads to aches and pains for employees throughout the workweek, it’s sitting down all day—especially true if your office chairs aren’t ergonomically designed. Height-adjustable desks are growing in popularity, thanks in large part to the fact that they allow for increased movement throughout the day. In a perfect world, an outside consultant should be brought in to customize standing desk ergonomics for each individual employee. Otherwise, be sure to keep monitors at eye level and arm bends at 90 degrees to keep neck and arm pain from occurring.

Knock Down the Cubicles

In 1984, an eye-opening study showed that patients recovering from surgery required fewer painkillers when assigned a room overlooking trees. It’s commonly assumed that views of nature help to reduce stress and anxiety, which may in large part have to do with why working in cubicles so often leads to actual instances of depression. If your office environment is characterized by separation, knocking down the cubicles and embracing a more open office plan can be the first step toward promoting a positive work environment. After all, your employees don’t need walls around them in order to focus and get work done—they simply need their own space to thrive.

Improve Lighting

Lighting has such a strong influence on mental health that those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are often urged to purchase light therapy boxes for treatment. In offices where not every employee has the luxury of working alongside a big picture window, overhead and other types of lighting should always be considered to ensure an environment that isn’t mentally taxing. Swap out fluorescents for lighting that is soft and calming, and consider adding warm supplemental lighting to help boost mood and energy levels. If possible, position desks so that they receive as much natural light as the day can provide—your employees will thank you for the added Vitamin D in the winter months.


HR directors will never be able to fully curtail anxiety and depression in the workplace, but with a little bit of effort, you can help reduce the chances that mental health issues get in the way of productivity and employee wellness.

The Power of Magnesium

Nov-magnesium-imageWhen it comes to supplements, making the right decisions about what to take can be easier said than done. Many make claims and promises that are dubious at best, often without the backing of science or peer-reviewed literature to support such statements. One supplement that has been studied time and time again, however, is magnesium—an essential mineral with far more potential than many people realize.


Studies have shown that 55% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Here’s why you should be supplementing with it for a healthier lifestyle.

Magnesium Can Help Reduce Insomnia

For those who have trouble falling asleep at night, finding a solution that actually works can be an exercise in frustration. If getting enough exercise and avoiding caffeine throughout the day aren’t enough to help you fall asleep, you may want to consider supplementing with magnesium. Magnesium plays a key role in interacting with GABA receptors in the brain, which are responsible for promoting both physical and mental calm. If you’re deficient in the mineral, this may be to blame for any sleep issues you may be experiencing.

It’s Good for Your Heart

Everyone knows that it’s important to focus on maintaining good cardiovascular health, but how many people actually go the extra mile? Magnesium not only helps to reduce the risks of suffering from coronary heart diseases—it may also lower one’s chances of having a stroke. Since deficiencies in magnesium can increase the prevalence of abnormal heart rhythms, it stands to reason why supplementing can be beneficial as a general prophylactic against cardiovascular distress.

It Helps Build Strong Bones

Most people think of calcium when it comes to bone health. And while it certainly plays a significant role in maintaining bone structure, magnesium is just as important. In fact, they work in tandem, influencing bone formation and helping to prevent osteoporosis from occurring. Since a lack of magnesium can actually inhibit calcium’s ability to metabolize properly, supplementing is a commonly recommended course of action.

It May Even Prevent Diabetes

Incidents of Type-2 diabetes are on the rise in America, and for those with family histories, steering clear of the disease can be a true challenge. Studies have shown, however, that supplementing with magnesium may actually reduce the chance of developing diabetes, thanks to how it helps regulate blood glucose levels. Since magnesium also helps metabolize carbohydrates, it can be very effective at assisting insulin in working more efficiently.


So don’t assume that all supplements are the same. Find a well-reputed magnesium supplement, and enjoy its relaxing, holistic health benefits.