Saturday, May 12, 2007

Now, where did I put my pen this time?

When our kids were young, my husband and I would play Memory with them and they would beat us, hands down, each time. Memory is that card game where you put a deck of playing cards all face down and you take turns choosing, two at a time, until you have uncovered all the pairs.

A friend of mine told me that the kids could play it better because they had less stored in their memories and it was easier for them to store that information. I don’t know how true that is, but hey, it worked for me. :-)

Forgetting things is normal; we’ve all forgotten where we’ve put something or an activity we were supposed to do. Again, when my kids were young, I could remember just about anything. I had no need for a family calendar because I kept track of appointments for our whole family all in my head. Rarely was anything forgotten. And then, the shock came. I forgot an appointment. And then another. Time to use those calendars I kept buying. I find I can remember most of the appointments still, but every once in a while, I do still double book myself or forget something altogether.

Some people begin to fear Alzheimer’s disease is setting in if they start forgetting things. But, our brain, like the rest of our body, is aging, so it’s normal that it might not be quite as fertile as it once was. Forgetfulness is not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s.

Unless your memory lapses are starting to affect how you do things (not counting using a calendar and making lists!), you probably shouldn’t have to worry about memory loss and something more serious.

Studies have shown that that people who exercise their brain by reading a lot and doing mental puzzles do slow down the rate of memory loss. If you add to this staying physically active helps keep your physical body healthier, and staying socially active helps your psychological health, the key looks like it is keeping busy and living your life to its fullest.

News for today:
Thin people may be fat on the inside, doctors warn
Chemotherapy More Effective When Given Before Breast Cancer Surgery
HIV survival improves if patients stay in care

Searching for health info on the Internet

I read a statistic once that indicated that the most Internet searches were for medical or health information. I can’t recall where I saw it, but if I can find it again, I’ll post the link.
The problem with searching the ‘net for health information is finding the good stuff and avoiding the bad stuff. And there’s lots of bad stuff out there.

It used to be that people went to their doctors and blindly followed their directions. After all, the doctors went to school for many years and knew more. While it’s true that doctors do go to school for a long time and they do know a lot of things about the human body that we don’t, that doesn’t mean that we should follow everything blindly. When we know more about our own health and what ails us, the more active we can be in our own care. Healthcare should and can be teamwork.

So, how can we be sure that the information we find is safe and valid?

The first thing to do is check who is running or sponsoring the site. A university-run site is a good place to start and there are many of them, from the Mayo Clinic to the state universities. Their domain names end with .edu. Health sites run by the government are good sources as well and you can tell that they are government sites by checking their domain name: they end in .gov. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are good places to start.

Associations dedicated to specific diseases or disorders are great sources of information. These can include associations for different types of cancer, diabetes, or respiratory illnesses, just to name a few. These domains most often end in .org The advantage to these sites is that they are disease-specific and often go into good depth. They are geared towards the general public and usually written in easy-to-understand language.

When looking at sites, there are often links to “About us” sections. Check to see who is on the Board of Directors and the editorial board, and who reviews the information that is being put up on the site. Is there an area where you can go to ask questions or at least a “contact us” section.

Some medical and healthcare professionals run their own information sites and they can be helpful. Be sure to check the sources they cite and who, if anyone, is sponsoring the site. If there are any promises to cure you or sales pitches to sell you products that will get you healthy again – watch out. Go find a more dependable site.

Many websites offer links to others for more information. Check to see who the site you are visiting lists as links. Are they legitimate websites or does it look like any site could be put there?

Another important issue: how recent is the information? I’ve come across sites that haven’t been updated since the late 1990s. Check to see the last time it was updated, how recent are the newest posts, and how recent are the studies cited?

Websites that collect information on their visitors should also have a privacy policy. If you are asked to provide information, how is the site going to use it?

Finally, if it seems too good to be true, if the writers use “always” and “never,” and words that are emphatically one way or the other, be cautious. Medicine may be considered a science, but it’s not perfect and there are few complete certainties in the disease process. Don’t send money to get information.

Of course, these tips can't guarantee anything, but they're a good place to start.

Here is a checklist that is on the FDA Website on their page that talks about evaluating websites (FDA Site):

Can you easily see who sponsors the Web site?
Is the sponsor a government agency, a medical school, or a reliable health-related organization, or is it related to one of these?
Is there contact information?
Can you tell when the information was written?
Is your privacy protected?
Does the Web site make claims that seem too good to be true? Are quick, miraculous cures promised?

The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it should be used wisely for the most benefit.

Friday, May 11, 2007

And so I've joined the blogging world

Hi, I hope you enjoy reading my blog. I’ll be using it mostly for health and safety issues that have come up in the news. I’ll write a bit about myself and how I took the path to being a freelance writer, and how being a nurse made it all happen.

I have three children, two teens and one is 20 years old. All their lives, I’ve been telling them that what they decide to study, the path they choose to follow, does not mean that they’ll be doing that for the rest of their life.

So much pressure is placed on our kids today. They have to do well in school – of course as parents, we want that – but they also are supposed to decide at an early age what it is they want to do with their lives, for the rest of their lives.

Our world has changed so much that it’s not so easy to decide at 18 what you want to do for the next 40 plus years. There are jobs now that didn’t exist when we were in high school, and jobs that exist now may not exist 20 years from now.

I began studying nursing when I was 17 years old. I have always loved to write and I was good at it too. But, writing wasn’t considered a path to follow unless you wanted to be a journalist or something like that. So, after pondering my choices, I chose nursing. I chose it because I knew that I would always be able to find some sort of work, anywhere. So, that’s what I did.

I studied, graduated, worked, got married, had kids, but I always had this creativity in me that wasn’t coming out. When my youngest was a preschooler, I found a tiny ad in the Montreal Gazette. It said that they were searching for a nurse with Internet experience and who was a good communicator. Sounded like the perfect job for me. And it was. I began working, from home, for a health Internet site that no longer exists. For almost two years, I worked remotely and did some writing as part of my work. After I left that job, I ended up working for another medical website for several years. I freelanced on the side, my favourite work was writing patient education stuff.

In the meantime, I was still keeping my hand in nursing, but my passion was writing. Finally, last October, I took the plunge and began freelancing full-time. I now write and edit medical and health information and I love it. If I hadn’t studied nursing all those years ago, I would not be doing what I’m doing now.

I would like to spread out, write about other things as well. But, at least with my medical writing, I get to do what it is I really like to do. I got to be home with my kids as they grew up, I got to work full-time, and I got to be part of the new frontier, the Internet.

So, that’s who I am and how I became to be a health writer. I hope you’ll come back and visit; I think this will be fun.