Saturday, June 2, 2007

Senior's Month

Did you know that June is Senior’s Month? I didn’t until I paid a visit to the website of my favourite comic strip, For Better or For Worse, by Lynn Johnston. She has a wonderful story line about Elly’s father who is living with a stroke, and the love of his wife who is determined to help him recover.

As our population ages, this is going to happen more and more often, but we worry about if the resources will be there to help care for our aging seniors. Doctors’ practices are full and they can’t take new patients, clinics have waits that last hours on end and there’s little follow-up after someone is seen, emergency rooms are packed to beyond maximum capacity, and hospital beds are full. We have to be able to do more for them. Our seniors paid their taxes so we could go to school, see our doctors, and enjoy the quality of life that we enjoyed; now they need to be cared for.

For the longest time, the medical field didn’t identify a big difference between adults of any age. Medications and treatments for 30-year-olds were transferred over to 70-year-olds with less than spectacular results. Interest in geriatrics has grown though. Gerontology is a growing field in medicine and healthcare providers in all areas are also developing gerontology specialties: nurses, occupational therapists, and social workers, for example. The advantage to having a gerontologist looking after our seniors is the same as why we want pediatricians looking after our children, and surgeons doing our surgery. Family doctors can still play a large role in treating seniors, particularly if they know the life history of the patient, but there’s something to be said about someone who specializes in senior health.

So what can we do for our seniors? We can hassle our politicians to prioritize health dollars to be sure that our ill seniors have a place to go. Facilities have to be available so that healthier seniors can be kept at home for as long as is possible. Caregivers, the families usually, have to have the support to take on the role of caregiver, from medical support to respite care. If a caregiver isn’t healthy and cared for, they can’t give care. It’s as simple as that.

Many things that we take for granted aren’t senior-friendly. In Montreal, the metro stations with no escalators. What’s with that? How can anyone with limited mobility go down under ground and back up again without escalators or elevators? The huge snow banks that are left at corner bus stops in the winter and at intersections make it impossible for seniors to navigate, and don’t even think about them being able to walk on the ice when the sidewalks haven’t been cleared.

It’s not easy to solve a problem once it’s been developing over a lengthy period of time, but we need to start getting a real handle on it. If you want to help, but can’t convince others to take part, remind them that they, too, will be in that position one day. They may be the one who can no longer drive, but can’t use public transit because it’s not senior-friendly. It’s easy to ignore a problem that’s not affecting you, but we all grow older and any changes we make now, may end up helping us in the future.

Today's News:
Folic acid may lessen risk of stroke by 30%

Friday, June 1, 2007

It's all in the timing - eating, that is.

Are you a good eater? Do you eat the foods you’re supposed to eat? Do you eat when you are supposed to eat? Surprisingly, many people who think that they eat well may be sabotaging their efforts by not eating at the right times.

Full disclosure: I am not a good eater. I love good food, I love healthy food, but I’m not picky about if it’s healthy or not. If it’s good, I want to eat it. Now, on to more interesting things.

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it’s true. If you haven’t eaten all night, your body needs the nutrients in order to kick start it for the day. Did you know that an apple is supposed to do a better job of waking you up and getting you ready for the day than is a cup of coffee? Somehow, the image of sleepy person, leaning over a kitchen table with a paper and an apple in hand doesn’t quite come across as well as a steaming hot cup of coffee.

But, that’s ok, because recent studies have said that drinking coffee can prevent gout. So, you won’t be as awake as you would with an apple, but you might not have gout. :-)

Ok, now that you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast – one with fruits, dairy and bread, not donuts and coffee – you’re ready to start your day. You know the munchy, hungry feeling you get mid-morning? Don’t ignore it, but don’t feed it the candy bar that’s hidden in your drawer. If you haven’t eaten that apple at breakfast, now is the perfect time for it.

And, the rest of the meal times and snack times, you know about. The healthier you eat, the better off you’ll be. Like we’ve never heard that before.

But what if, you decided to eat several small meals a day instead of three large ones? You’d be eating more frequently, but you would be eating in a more healthy way. Smaller meals more often, healthy ones, don’t allow your body to get into a state of intense hunger. There’s always fuel available for it and you should find that you have more energy. Many nutritionists and dieticians also say that this is the best way to lose weight.

I tried that once. When I worked for a client for three months on-site, I had a lot of healthy food and munched all day long. It got to the point that people were asking me if I ever stopped eating. It might have had something to do with the well-worn path between my desk and the kitchen.

Now that I’m home again most of the time, I’m back to my erratic eating patterns. I blame the years of working as a nurse. When you work shift work, there’s no way you can train your body to eat regularly. What might be breakfast time for you on Monday may be bed time for you on Friday. Anyway, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Today’s News

Neonatal unit shut after infection kills baby
Survey Shows Asthma not Controlled in Majority of Patients
Back surgery often unnecessary, but may speed pain relief

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tuberculosis scare from traveller

There was a tuberculosis scare here in Montreal this week. An American from Atlanta, GA, flew to Paris, France, and then from Prague, Czech Republic to Montreal, Quebec. He took this route home because, according to the news on the Montreal CTV affiliate, he knew that if he flew into the States he would be detained and he didn’t want to be. So, he rented a car in Montreal and drove home.

The story as to whether he knew he shouldn’t fly is unwinding in the press. Some stories said that he knew, others that he didn’t. However, even as late as the news at 11 pm last night, the press says that they have quotes from him saying that he wasn’t going to stay home even though he had been warned not to travel. However, the latest news reports also say that the man doesn’t have such a virulent strain as originally thought.

We do know that it’s getting harder to fight TB because there are drug resistant strains. Part of the reason that drug resistance is occurring is that you need to take the appropriate antibiotics for a long period of time to be sure that you are no longer infected. And, once people feel better, they stop taking the antibiotics because they no longer feel sick. This just helps the bacteria develop a resistance to the antibiotics and the cycle begins. The first time you are treated, the treatment is from six to nine months. If you have to be treated a second time, it can be from 18 to 24 months. Again, people feel well and may decide that that long a time isn’t necessary.

We have a lot of other bacteria that are becoming immune to certain antibiotics and most of it boils down to the same thing: misuse of antibiotics. People with viruses, like colds or the flu, insist that their doctor give them antibiotics when they don’t do any good anyway. Or, they get antibiotics but they forget to take them or they stop taking them. This results in antibiotic resistant bugs. We have to stop the mentality of drugs solving all and if our doctors insist that antibiotics aren’t needed, we should listen. Of course, the doctors shouldn’t be prescribing them either, but that’s a whole other subject.

I hope that none of the people who were in contact with the infected man develop TB. Taking antibiotics for six to nine months and worrying about passing on the disease are not something they should have to worry about.

As for me, I think that the man should be charged if he knowingly putting the public at risk.

News for today:
Experts Disagree on Whether TB Patient Needed To Be Isolated
B.C. alerts public to possible cases of measles
UN offers new HIV testing guidance

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Work injury for writers?

When we think of injuries in the workplace, we often think of lifting something and hurting your back, or a traumatic type of injury for construction workers. As a nurse, many of my co-workers had back injuries (as I did), but also managed to hurt various limbs from getting a bad bang against a piece of equipment or something like that.

Writers – and others who use the computer for long periods of time – can also get hurt if we’re not careful. Carpal tunnel and repetitive stress syndromes cause a lot of workplace pain and absence.

According to the US Department of Labor, repetitive motions such as those made by people who use computers or tools, or who are cashiers, have the highest rate of lost work days per year due to repetitive stress: a median of 23 days in 2002. That’s a significant number of lost work days, especially if you compare it to other injuries such as falls to a lower level (14 days), fires and explosions (12 days), transportation accidents (12 days), falls on the same level (9 days), over exertion (8 days) and so on.

Most times, repetitive motion disorders are easily prevented but not many people, including myself, take the proper measures to prevent it. Carpal tunnel syndrome itself isn’t always caused by repetitive stress though. The median nerve, which controls the palm side of the thumb and the fingers, runs from the forearm to the hand. When pressure is placed on the median nerve, it can cause irritation, swelling, or compression. The pressure can be caused by a variety of things, such a sprain or fracture to the hand or wrist, diseases like arthritis, or by work stress and repeated use of the hand in the same manner.

As with most injuries, the earlier carpal tunnel or a repetitive stress syndrome is diagnosed, the better it is for successful treatment. To check for carpal tunnel, besides a regular physical exam, a doctor checks for tenderness, swelling, and warmth in the area. Strength is important as well. There’s one way that a doctor can check on the spot as well. By placing the fingers on the median nerve, or tapping it, if you have carpal tunnel, you should feel a strong shock-like sensation, or at the very least, a tingling sensation.

A nerve conduction test may be an option. Electric shocks (small ones!) are sent to the nerve and the conduction time is measured.

Sometimes medications can help reduce the swelling and pain. Some doctors may inject a steroid or anesthetic medication directly into the painful area. Physiotherapy may be helpful for some people, to help stretch and strengthen the wrist. Surgery for carpal tunnel now is very common. It’s done with a local anesthetic.

Of course, the best treatment is for it not to happen at all, right? That means taking the advice of the experts who are trying to keep us from injuring ourselves. Don’t type non-stop for hours on end. Take frequent breaks and stretch your arms, hands, and wrists. Be sure your keyboard is at the correct height for your hands. Wear splints to keep your wrists straight if you have to. Keep your hands warm, even if it means wearing fingerless gloves. Be careful, if you’re pounding out the articles to make a living, unless you want to use speech recognition software exclusively, take care of those hands!

News for today:
Airline passenger is found to have tuberculosis
Blood Inflammation Plays Role in Alzheimer's Disease
Simple Tool Can Enhance How Diabetics Take Their Medications
Focused ultrasound relieves fibroid symptoms in women
Increasing radiation dose shortens treatment time for women who choose breast sparing treatment
Risk of Parkinson's disease increases with pesticide exposure and head trauma

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Time to get more exercise

Ok, time to make a vow. I will begin exercising more. I thought I could get away with just walking my dog, but he’s a greyhound and his long-term stamina just isn’t there. Get him to run a few laps, and he’s got us all beat. But ask for a walk that goes longer than 15 or 20 minutes, forget about it.

I’m just not a physically active person; I never was. You know those kids who always get picked last in gym class? Yup, I was one of them. Lord, that’s mortifying. I still remember what it’s like to stand there hoping that there was one person worse than you that might be picked last.

I keep reading and hearing about that exercise high that people get. I did join a gym a few years ago (for the third or fourth time) and I kept at it for a good four months or so. I felt a difference, I could see a difference, but I hated it. I hated it so much that I just couldn’t make myself go any more. I waited for that high. People kept telling me that it would come. Well, I’m still waiting… I’ve tried joining classes, but I don’t care for group physical activities. I have an elliptical that I was using until I had a problem with one hip, but maybe it’s time to get going on that again.

Oddly enough, I feel guilty if I go out walking without the dog. He loves to go out, just not very far. My husband goes to the gym at least four times a week. I know he’d like it if I were more active. I wish I could figure out why I’m so darned lazy about that.

Exercising is such a healthy thing to do. It helps you lose weight, tone up, strengthen your muscles, lower your blood pressure, make your heart work, and a whole slew of other things. I know all that. But none of that seems to make an impression on me if I just don’t feel like doing it.

So, let’s see if I find some time tomorrow to go for a walk once with Oscar (the dog) and a longer one later on, just me. If I can somehow make that a routine, maybe I can keep it going for the summer at least.

News for today:
Swimming lessons no guarantee of kids' safety
Outbreak of Eye Infections Puzzles Officials
GPS locators help bring Alzheimer's patients home

Monday, May 28, 2007

How do they do that?

The body is such an amazing machine, isn’t it? If you ever get to see the Cirque de Soleil, you’ll see the body doing things that you never imagined possible. I saw them in 1999 when we took a family trip down to Disneyworld. The show was great. And I’m going to get to see them again – my kids got me front row tickets for a show next month. What an amazing gift.

It’s funny though because as someone who has a very sore back, sometimes it almost hurts to watch contortionists go through their paces. I was never very flexible, even as a child, and I’m definitely not flexible now. How on earth do they get their bodies to do that?

I did a bit of research on contortionists and I found a lot of pages on training, training, and more training. They stretch and stretch their bodies to do things that we find painful to even watch. It even makes me flinch to see people with double-jointed fingers do their tricks.

Sometimes I wonder how a contortionist’s body ages. Since they’re doing unnatural (to us) things, is this particularly hard on the body? I read in a few places that their bodies are not abnormal. When talking about the joints, Wikipedia says, “Actual dislocations are rarely used during athletic contortion acts since they make the joint more unstable and prone to injury, and a dislocated limb cannot lift itself or support any weight.” It also says, “Muscle flexibility can be acquired with persistent training, as long as the shape of the bones in the joint do not limit the range of motion. There are a relatively small number of professional performers who claim they were not unusually flexible before undergoing years of intense training. Those who have naturally flexible joints, however, start out with an advantage, both in knowing that they have an aptitude for contortion, and the amount of flexibility they can eventually achieve.”

I don’t know. I had a hard time touching my toes when I was a child. Let me reword that: I couldn’t touch my toes as a child. I don’t think any amount of training or practice would have put me anywhere near the class of the Cirque de Soleil performers. Gives me all the more reason to admire them and their dedication to their art.

News for today:
Calgary boy dies after getting head stuck in car window
Hypnosis 'can ease bowel illness'

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows everywhere....

Too much of a good thing or nothing at all. That seems to be the way we live today. We find out that something isn’t good for us, so we ban it completely – only to find out that we do need it or can enjoy it, but just in moderate quantities.

Take the sun, for instance. Skin cancer is a reality. We can’t deny that. But we also can’t stay out of the sun completely because we need the sun. We need the vitamin D that the sun provides to us. This article, Vitamin D, gives a good overview of what the sun really does for us and why we need it.

Studies over the past few years have shown how important this vitamin is. In 2007, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine published a study that concluded 10 to 15 minutes in the sun plus 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D and a healthy diet could reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by two-thirds. The rate of breast cancer also seemed to decrease significantly.

In December 2006, another study found that the incidence of multiple sclerosis seemed to decrease in patients with higher levels of vitamin D. There are other benefits too. In 2004, researchers undertook a preliminary study in which they found that children who were exposed to regular sunlight had fewer colds than their counterparts who didn’t get that exposure.

Of course, we still need to be careful. We have to remember that too much of a good thing may not be good. Don’t stay in the sun too long, don’t get yourself sunburned and use common sense.
And now, for those who are interested, a wrap of up my birthday yesterday:
I couldn't have asked for a better day. What's better than spending a great day outside, getting exercise and sunshine?

I'm not a great golfer. I only learned 3 years ago and I don't think it will ever be a passion, but I enjoy it because it's getting outside and walking, forcing me to relax and enjoy the sunshine. A couple that we're friends with are avid golfers and my husband has been golfing since he was a teen. So, by learning, I get to spend time with them too.

And yesterday, for the first time ever, I actually golfed a real game. I have tried over the past few years, but I just wasn't good enough to be able to keep a score throughout the 18 holes. But something happened yesterday and I *played*. I scored 135, which isn't a good score, but it is a score and I'm happy with it. I am thrilled with some of my hits and drives and it was just plain fun.

The weather was *perfect*. On Friday, it was a very hot day and we wouldn't have been comfortable playing, but the weather yesterday was perfect with a beautiful breeze.

And then dinner in my favourite restaurant was outstanding. Shrimp in whiskey sauce, atlantic salmon in herb butter, topped off with a spanish coffee. It was so good.
Today? Back to reality. But with a relaxed smile on my face.

I'm blessed.

Today’s news:
Mumps hits navy