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Fast facts about service dogs

(Family Features) Service dogs work hard each and every day to protect their human counterparts. Not only are they constant companions, but they are hardworking animals that can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can help lessen the symptoms of posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, for example.

In honor of National Service Dog Month, consider these facts about the four-legged service animals:

Common Misconceptions About Service Dogs

Because they’re often cute and cuddly, it’s not unusual for people to forget that service dogs are working animals, not pets, and they have been individually trained to help people with disabilities. Guide, hearing and service dogs typically accompany a person anywhere the general public is allowed, including restaurants, businesses and on airplanes, providing support as their owners go about their daily lives.

However, a survey by American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, suggests that employees are not educated about the unique needs of customers with service dogs. Nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) retail employees said they never received training from their employer on the questions they are legally allowed to ask customers to verify an animal is a service dog.

Further adding to confusion is a lack of understanding of the difference between service dogs and other assistance animals. Emotional support dogs and therapy dogs assist people in their daily lives, but they do not have the same responsibilities as service animals. For instance, therapy dogs provide affection and comfort to their owners, but they do not have special rights of access in all buildings or public areas. Since service animals often provide mobility assistance or communicate medical alerts, they should always be allowed to accompany their owners.

A Helping Paw

At times, these innocent misconceptions can lead to discrimination against those who rely on the support of a service dog. To combat this problem, American Humane and Mars Petcare, the world’s leading pet nutrition and health care business, created resources, such as training videos, to help businesses better accommodate patrons who have service dogs. Aligning with the Better Cities For Pets™ initiative, the videos and other resources help provide an understanding of the roles service dogs play to help create a world where pets and working animals are welcome across all communities.

“Dogs have incredible abilities, including saving lives and making the world a better place,” said Angel May, corporate citizenship lead at Mars Petcare. “Service dogs are animals that should be celebrated for the good they bring to society, and we hope that increased awareness of their working nature leads to a deeper understanding of their important role.”


For additional information on service dogs, visit


October 10, 2018 |

How Access to Health Care Coverage Can Improve Academic Outcomes


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(Family Features) With each school year, parents dust off their annual checklists that help them organize their needs as their kids head back to the classroom. This school season, make sure one priority at the top of your to-do list is ensuring your children have health insurance.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, studies have shown that children who have health coverage miss fewer classes and perform better in school than those who are uninsured. With the proper health coverage, children can get the immunizations, check-ups, eye exams, dental visits and preventive care they may need to fully participate in school and remain engaged both in the classroom and extracurricular activities.

In fact, millions of children and teens already qualify for free or low-cost health and dental coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These programs can help those who qualify get the coverage they need to excel in the classroom.

To help ensure their kids make the grade, parents need to first do their homework when it comes to health coverage. To make sure you have assessed your coverage options, keep in mind these health care coverage questions and answers:

What do Medicaid and CHIP cover?

Medicaid and CHIP provide comprehensive coverage for children and teens nationwide who qualify. This includes routine check-ups, doctor visits, prescriptions and immunizations, dental and vision care, and emergency services, all at little or no cost to you or your family.

How do I know if my child is eligible?

In most states, children and teens up to age 19 are eligible to enroll. Depending on your income, many families qualify for free or low-cost health coverage.

Once enrolled, how long is my child eligible for coverage?

Children and teens can stay covered for as long as they qualify. You’ll need to renew their coverage once a year.

How do I apply?

You can apply in person with your state’s Medicaid or CHIP agency or visit the “Find Coverage for Your Family” section on For more information, call 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669).

When can I apply for enrollment?

Since there is no special open enrollment period for Medicaid or CHIP, you can enroll at any time. While the window for academic enrollment only comes once a semester, the opportunity to apply for enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP is open to parents and their children year-round.

Many families like yours connect their children to vital health services through Medicaid and CHIP. For more information, and to learn about the coverage options available for you and your family, visit or call 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669).


Information provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.


October 3, 2018 |

5 Ways for New Parents to Get More Sleep


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(Family Features) Between feedings, changing diapers and household chores, sleep is often put on the back burner for new parents at the end of a busy day.

In fact, a survey of 2,000 parents, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Mattress Firm, found the average parent loses one-third of his or her nightly sleep after a baby arrives, decreasing from an average of six hours per night to just four. The same study also found that nearly half (48 percent) of new parents said sleep loss is their biggest obstacle to overcome.

Getting adequate sleep may seem impossible with a new addition but it is essential for managing stress and preparing for the day ahead. While there isn’t a magical formula for getting enough sleep, these strategies can help:

Find time for rest

While your first inclination is probably to be productive while your little one naps, taking a nap of your own – even 20-30 minutes – may prove more beneficial. Even if you can’t sleep every time your baby is napping, try lying down or doing something relaxing like yoga, meditation or reading a book every so often. Taking a few minutes for yourself can give you the energy to tackle the rest of your to-do list later in the day.

Split duties

According to the survey, 67 percent of female respondents said their partner got more sleep in the first year of parenting. To help reduce the burden and ensure both parents are getting adequate rest, work out a schedule that allows each of you to alternate tackling those late-night feedings and diaper changes while the other sleeps.

Establish a routine

Creating a routine with your baby before going to sleep, such as reading a book or taking a bath, can signal that it’s time for bed and help him or her calm down. Try making bedtime the same every night to further enhance the routine. Doing so can help both you and your baby get more rest.

Try soothing techniques

The average parent spends 74 minutes every day – that’s the equivalent of 19 days a year – trying to woo his or her baby to sleep, so unless you suspect your baby is hungry or uncomfortable, encouraging self-soothing could help your child’s sleep schedule in the long-run. Of course, self-soothing isn’t right for every family and there are also things that can be done to help lull your little one to sleep, such as rocking your child, giving him or her a pacifier or using a sound machine to play comforting sounds or white noise.

Choose the right mattress

Getting the National Sleep Foundation-recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night can have a dramatic impact on your mood, performance and health. Your body can experience many changes after giving birth and a new mattress can help alleviate pain or discomfort. Sleeping on a mattress that is right for you can be key to getting the sleep you need, and a retailer like Mattress Firm, America’s No. 1 specialty bedding retailer, has a broad selection of mattresses and bedding accessories from leading manufacturers to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Remember, the sleepless nights won’t last forever; the American Academy of Pediatrics notes almost all babies should be able to sleep through the night by 6 months of age. For more strategies for helping new parents sleep, visit and follow along on social media with #WorkHardSleepHarder.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

September 26, 2018 |

Fall Into a Fitness Routine


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(Family Features) Fall is notorious for comfort foods like pumpkin spice lattes and game day nachos. Combine these tempting seasonal staples with darker, shorter days and it can be hard to maintain an active mindset. Despite the enticement to indulge, you can keep your active lifestyle going or even kick off a new fitness regime.

This year, take advantage of the winds of change when the seasons switch and commit to smart habits for a healthy fall.

Dress for success. As the temperatures drop, you may be tempted to bundle up before heading outdoors to exercise, and for your warm-up and cool-down period, that’s not a bad idea. However, while you’re in the midst of your workout, it’s easy to get overheated. Wear layers that you can shed as you begin to sweat and consider moisture-wicking materials that can prevent sweaty clothes from getting cold in the breeze.

Stay hydrated. You may not feel as thirsty when you exercise in cooler weather, but it’s just as important to keep your body well hydrated. When you sweat, you lose more than just water. An option like Propel Electrolyte Water helps you replace what’s lost in sweat through its key electrolyte – sodium – and supports hydration by stimulating thirst and aiding in fluid balance. With the same level of electrolytes as Gatorade, zero calories and no sugar, it can be a perfect choice to support your active lifestyle. Learn more at

Opt for early workouts. When dark comes early, it can trick your mind into thinking it’s time to wind down for the night. Avoid that motivation pitfall by planning your workout earlier in the day, such as first thing in the morning or during your lunch break. If early mornings are daunting, remember that it won’t take long to shift your sleep schedule and early exercise is a caffeine-free way to put some energy into your day.

Find exercises you enjoy. Forcing yourself through exercises you despise will only backfire in the long run. If you’re not a runner, look for other ways to get your cardio pumping. Interval walking with varied paces and elevation can be an effective alternative or look at ideas like kickboxing or aerobics that you can have fun with while working up a sweat.

Indulge in moderation. Virtually every expert agrees that an occasional indulgence is perfectly acceptable, but use caution when the fall goodies start tempting. Those warm, rich desserts and drinks are filled with empty calories that can make all your hard work go to waste.

Set realistic goals. Having a long-term goal is a good idea, but be sure to set attainable expectations for yourself, including some milestones you can celebrate along the way to keep your motivation strong. Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to fitness with your other life demands so you can set your goals accordingly.

Don’t skimp on skin care. The sun may not be as hot, but if you’re exercising outdoors, you’re still at risk for sunburn. Protect any exposed skin with sunscreen before working out.


Photo courtesy of Getty Images

September 19, 2018 |

How to Make Smart Decisions During Benefits Enrollment Season


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(Family Features) Every fall, millions of American workers spend time making financial decisions that will affect them for the entire upcoming year.

Benefits enrollment season is a critical time for choosing coverages that protect the health and financial stability of individuals and families. Despite the importance of these decisions, nearly half (49 percent) of people spend less than 30 minutes reviewing their options before making selections, according to research from Unum, a leader in employee benefits.

Personal finance expert Laura Adams said not carefully reviewing all your employee benefits options can mean leaving money on the table or serious gaps in your financial safety net.

“Employers are increasingly offering consumer-directed health plans, which typically charge lower premiums but higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs,” Adams said. “Because of these additional financial burdens, I always recommend taking advantage of your employer’s health savings account (HSA).”

Money deposited into an HSA is tax deductible even if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return. It grows tax-free and it can be withdrawn tax-free for qualified medical expenses. Unlike some flexible spending accounts, the unused funds in HSAs roll over.

In addition to your HSA contributions, review your employer’s voluntary benefits to help close gaps that can expose you to financial risk. Getting this coverage at work can be one way to gain access to a variety of affordable options. Voluntary benefits are also generally available to employees at a lower rate than the cost of getting coverage individually.

Adams recommends carefully reviewing benefits materials provided by your employer prior to the open enrollment period, and paying special attention to the voluntary benefits that can help to reduce financial risk:

  • Disability insurance can help replace a portion of your paycheck should you get sick or injured and can’t work – you can think of it as income protection. Most plans will pay up to 60 percent of your salary if you’re unable to work due to a covered illness or injury.
  • Term life insurance provides affordable protection for a specific period. Most people buy it during their working years so their death benefit can help loved ones manage their financial needs.
  • Accident insurance can pay you directly for costs associated with urgent care and emergency room visits, ambulance transportation and follow-up care.
  • Dental insurance is typically affordable and usually covers preventative cleanings, X-rays, exams and standard procedures. Fillings, crowns and other procedures are also generally included at a reduced rate to the policyholder.
  • Vision insurance is another low-cost voluntary benefit that covers routine eye exams, lenses, frames and, often, discounts on vision correction surgery.


While these are just a few of the more popular voluntary benefits options, it’s important to review everything your employer offers. Investing a little additional time on the front end can help reduce your family’s financial risk down the road.

For more information on different types of employee benefits, visit


Photo courtesy of Getty Images


September 12, 2018 |

A Surprising Solution for Stress Relief


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(Family Features) From finances and health concerns to lengthy to-do lists, there are numerous sources of strain in the lives of most people.

According to a survey conducted by Wakefield Research, 68 percent of people feel stress on a weekly basis and 32 percent are stressed every day. Women, in particular, are impacted, as 25 percent surveyed reported experiencing stress multiple times a day. However, today there is a surprisingly simple way to relieve stress: flowers.

New research from the University of North Florida’s Department of Public Health shows that living with flowers can significantly alleviate daily stress. These findings follow decades of behavioral research studies conducted by researchers at universities including Harvard, Rutgers and Texas A&M that demonstrate flowers’ ability to make people happy, strengthen feelings of compassion, foster creativity and even provide boosts of energy.

The study, titled The Impact of Flowers on Perceived Stress Among Women, concludes that adding flowers to indoor environments results in a statistically significant and meaningful reduction in stress.

“There is a growing body of research that illustrates how environmental design positively impacts health,” said lead researcher Erin Largo-Wight, Ph.D., associate professor of the University of North Florida’s Department of Public Health. “Now it is both intuitive and scientifically known that adding elements of nature, like flowers, to interiors promotes well-being.”

The specific results include:

  • The average reduction in stress among women who received and lived with flowers was minus-5.5 points on the perceived stress questionnaire, a significant statistical decrease in stress.
  • Flowers are a unique gift with the proven potential to reduce stress among women, likely because flowers provide the opportunity for nature contact, an established health-promoting environmental exposure.
  • Participants who received flowers overwhelmingly reported that flowers improved their moods.

“Our findings are important from a public health perspective because adding flowers to reduce stress does not require tremendous effort to generate a meaningful effect,” Largo-Wight said. “When life seems to be in a constant state of frenzy, flowers can provide a much-needed moment of calm.”

For more information about the study, along with tips on relieving stress, visit


September 5, 2018 |

New Medicare Cards are Designed to Reduce Medicare Fraud


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Millions of People with Medicare Are Getting New, More Secure Cards
(Family Features) Millions of people with Medicare will receive new, more secure Medicare cards in the mail in 2018. The new cards replace Social Security Number-based Medicare numbers with a new unique, personalized Medicare Number, known as the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier. Each person with Medicare will have his or her own number. The cards will be mailed automatically, free of charge, and there will be no changes to Medicare users’ current benefits.

The new Medicare cards no longer contain a person’s Social Security number, but rather a unique, randomly-assigned Medicare number that protects people’s identity, helps reduce fraud and offers better safeguards of important health and financial information. Removing Social Security Numbers from Medicare cards is one of the ways the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is helping to protect the identities of people with Medicare. The unique Medicare Number not only increases protections from fraud for people with Medicare, it also makes it harder for criminals to use Social Security Numbers to falsely bill Medicare for care services and benefits that were never performed.

CMS is mailing the new Medicare cards in geographic waves. This means people with Medicare may not get their new card at the same time as their friends or neighbors. People with Medicare and their caregivers can visit to find out when cards will be mailed to their areas. They can also sign up for email notifications about the card-mailing and check the card-mailing status in their states. As soon as people receive their new Medicare cards, they should safely and securely destroy their old Medicare cards and start using their new cards right away.

Make note of these facts to help ensure a smooth transition to your new card

  1. Your card will have a new Medicare Number that’s unique to you, instead of your Social Security Number. This can help protect your identity and keep your personal information more secure.
  2. Your card will automatically come to you at no cost. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up-to-date. If you need to update your address, visit
  3. You can find out when your card is mailing by signing up for email notifications at
  4. Your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.
  5. Mailing takes time, and Medicare will mail the new cards by April 2019. Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s.
  6. Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new one right away. Rather than simply throwing the old card away, shred it or cut it into small pieces.
  7. Your card will be paper and not laminated, which makes it easier for many providers to use and copy for their records.
  8. If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage Plan ID card is your main card for Medicare. You should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, you also may be asked to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry this card, too.
  9. Doctors, other health care providers and facilities know your new card is coming and will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care, so carry it with you.
  10. Only give your new Medicare Number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf. Treat your Medicare Number like you treat your credit card numbers. Medicare will never contact you uninvited to ask for personal information.




August 29, 2018 |
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