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Health Capsules: April 18

The health hazards of heavy drinking are highlighted during the month of April, designated as Alcohol Awareness Month.

Tax law changes aid young people with autism, other special needs

April is Autism Awareness Month, which aims to increase the public’s knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as the many challenges presented by autism, now estimated to impact one in every 68 American children. One of those challenges is certainly financial –  government estimates show that the cost of raising a child with a disability is nearly four times national averages.

To help Americans better manage this significant challenge, Congress enacted the Achieving a Better Life Experience [ABLE] Act in 2014. The legislation enables families to save up to $100,000 in accounts for the benefit of a disabled person, without jeopardizing that individual’s eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income [SSI], and other government benefits. Prior to the ABLE Act, individuals with disabilities were unable to have assets totaling more than $2,000 or to earn more than $680 per month without forfeiting eligibility, which deterred many teens and adults with special needs from experiencing the independence and improved social skills that come with having a job.

Now, families taking advantage of ABLE accounts will have some additional flexibility in planning for their loved ones with special needs, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Donald Trump last December.

The changes stipulate that, starting in 2018, the amount of money that can be deposited in an ABLE account per year without jeopardizing public benefits has risen from $14,000 to $15,000.  A provision in the new tax law also allows families who saved money in 529 savings accounts before learning their child had a disability to roll over those funds to an ABLE account, up to the $15,000 maximum annually. In addition, while 529 accounts could previously only cover costs for college, they can now pay for a child’s K-12 education in a public, private or religious school.

The tax bill also includes changes to benefit people with disabilities who are employed. Under the new laws, teens and adults who are working can save beyond the $15,000 threshold up to the federal poverty line, to potentially accumulate as much as $27,060 per year in savings without losing other benefits.

Spotlighting alcohol-related dangers to young and old alike

Every April for the past three decades, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence [NCADD] has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public focus on the problems related to alcohol and other drug use and dependence in the U.S. This year’s theme, “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage,’” is primarily focused on parents who often see underage drinking as just another part of their children’s transition to adulthood. Instead of looking the other way, parents who have conversations with their kids about the potential dangers of alcohol and drugs can reduce their likelihood of using them by as much as 50 percent, according to the NCADD.

“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people, and parents can make a difference,” said Andrew Pucher, NCADD president and CEO. “The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.”

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One of the alcohol-related decisions all young people face, which recently was investigated in a study conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, is whether to get into a car driven by someone who has been drinking. Alarmingly, about one-third of recent high school graduates in the study said they had ridden with a substance-impaired driver. The study also found that during the first two years after high school graduation, 23 percent of young adults had ridden with a marijuana-impaired driver at least once, while 20 percent had knowingly ridden with an alcohol-impaired driver, and 6 percent had ridden with a driver who was under the influence of other drugs.

The authors noted that having ridden with an impaired driver in the past was linked to a higher risk of doing so in the future, as well as of driving while impaired themselves. For those in the study who attended a four-year college, living on campus increased their likelihood of riding with an impaired driver.

The researchers gathered data from the NEXT Generation Health Study, which took place over seven years and included more than 2,700 U.S. adolescents starting at grade 10, to reach their conclusions. Their results were published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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A second recent study, which focused on people at the other end of the age spectrum, found that alcohol use disorders are the biggest preventable risk factors for all types of dementia, especially early-onset dementia.

Conducted in France, the study included people who had been diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders or chronic diseases attributable to long-term alcohol use. Of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia found in those under age 65, 57 percent were related to chronic heavy drinking. [The World Health Organization defines that as consuming four to five drinks per day on average for men, and three drinks per day for women.] Alcohol use disorders were also linked with other independent risk factors for dementia onset, including smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.

On the calendar

BJC sponsors a Family and Friends CPR class on Wednesday, April 25 from 6:30–9 p.m. at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. This class is designed for parents, grandparents, babysitters [ages 10-15 if accompanied by an adult] and childcare providers. The class does not include certification. The fee is $25 per person. Registration is required by calling (636) 344-5437.

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An American Red Cross community blood drive is on Friday, April 27 from noon–4 p.m. at two locations: Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, in Medical Office Building 1, Suite 117; and Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon, in Conference Room B. Appointments are not required, but may speed the donation process. Use sponsor codes BJSTPETERS or PROGRESS WEST when signing up online at www.redcrossblood.org or by phone at (800) 733-2767.

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