Saturday, October 13, 2018

All About Having a Clearn Understanding

As a community patient advocate I spend many hours with friends, family and community members in healthcare environments. One thing I've noticed, over the past 10 years strides have been taken to help ensure individuals who speak a different language have an interpreter and/or printed material in their primary language. In addition, some facilities usage of graphics have aided greatly to convey vital health information and navigation throughout facilities.
One area I often see that still has a way to go is to ensure what is said by the provider is completely understood by the patient. Just recently a triage nurse said to my cousin,"so you have CHF" and to her that had absolutely no meaning. Before I told her the meaning, Congestive Heart Failure, her  response was "if  you say so, I guess that is what I have". Imagine if she had very little concept of the definition of CHF chances are she had even less understanding of the consequences of her diagnosis.
The use of medical abbreviations and acronyms can be confusing and often intimidating to someone without a medical background or low health literacy. Health literacy is not only important when an individual utilizes the healthcare system but it  plays a vital part in prevention and wellness.
The first step an individual can take is to be advocates for themselves in the healthcare system. Providers only know you do not understand something unless you inform them of that. Your overall course of adequate and quality care depends on good communication. Take steps to do your part in this two way system called communication by learning "Questions to ask your doctor". Never feel you do not deserve answers and if you have a doctor unwilling to take time for your questions...perhaps it is time for a new one.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Benefits of Yoga for Seniors & Caregivers

Guest Author: Harry Cline

Getting older can come with its fair share of pains and struggles. Little things such as mood swings, hot flashes and achy muscles can become more frequent. Yoga and meditation can provide benefits to both seniors and caregivers as they get older.

Yoga and meditation can provide benefits that other exercises can’t provide. It will ease the burdens of life that seniors and caregivers face on a daily basis. Caregivers especially need some TLC since they are typically working around the clock caring for you.

Helps facilitate addiction recovery

Yoga and meditation can provide healing to people going through addiction recovery. For many people in recovery, having a good relationship with the physical self is just as important as the spiritual one. In fact, many addiction specialists are turning to yoga and similar types of therapies to supplement traditional 12-step programs. That’s because meditation focuses on mindfulness, which can allow the addict to experience feelings of peace and comfort. Yoga is also about community, because everyone in the class is breathing together, which can allow addicts to realize that they’re not alone in their recovery.

Improves blood circulation

For seniors or caregivers who are struggling to find low-impact exercises that don’t strain their joints and muscles, yoga and meditation can be great alternatives. It can surprisingly get your blood flowing without tiring you out. Yoga is a community activity because all attendees are there to breathe together and practice mindfulness. That means everyone supports each other, and they won’t judge you if you need to sit down during a class. It’s important to keep your blood flowing because it will give you the energy you need to get through the day.

Allows for relaxation

Practicing regular physical activity (yes, that includes yoga), can not only improve your body, but also it can improve your mental health. As you age, this becomes increasingly important. It will also benefit your caregiver because when you’re at peak mental health, it will be easier on them to take care of you. Because yoga allows you and your caregiver to practice mindfulness, you will also be able to relax. A lot of worrying may come into your life as you get older, and yoga and meditation are great ways to push those worries aside and enjoy the little things.

Provides community interaction

If you don’t spend a lot of time with others, yoga can be a great way to meet people in your community. Look and see if they have yoga classes in your area that are targeted toward seniors. Sign up for a class and get there a little early to try and meet a few people before it starts. Yoga provides an easy conversation starter and you can chat about how you enjoyed the class. It’s a great social activity, and working out with friends will keep you motivated to stay fit.

Ability to practice anywhere

If it’s not in your budget to sign up for daily or weekly yoga classes, you can easily practice it at home. That’s one of the biggest benefits of yoga and meditation — you don’t have to be in a professional yoga studio to practice. In fact, you can do it at home. Figure out an area of your home that you want to use as a meditation and yoga room. It should be an uncluttered space with some room on the floor for your mat. Make sure it’s quiet; you can even try lighting some candles to set the mood. Sit down on your mat and try to get rid of all the thoughts in your head and focus on the moment. Once you practice a couple of times at home, you’ll realize you don’t need to listen to a yoga teacher to meditate. Yoga is a great activity that you and your caregiver can do together at home.

Monday, August 20, 2018

How Seniors Can Get the Sleep They Need

Guess author: Karen Weeks
A good night’s sleep is a key component of overall well-being and health. We all know this, as our parents taught us the importance of bedtime and not oversleeping in the morning. We know that children need a great deal of sleep, but as adults, we seem to try to get by with fewer hours as our schedules get progressively more hectic.

Seniors tend to experience less-than-ideal sleep for a variety of reasons. They are often much less busy than they were even just a few years ago, as retirement can create a shock to their routines, but older adults often have trouble sticking to a regular schedule. Some may feel tired earlier in the day and take extended naps, which may end up delaying their evening bedtime. Then, when they finally sleep later at night, they may end up feeling tired in the morning.

In order to maintain optimal health, seniors should focus on having uninterrupted sleep for at least eight hours. Naps can be restorative and helpful, but only when they don’t detract from nightly sleep. Of course, not everyone can sleep soundly through the night. For these older adults, there are several ways to ease back into more regular sleep habits.

Encourage Sleep Through Healthy Living

The ability to sleep is affected by one’s level of exercise and type of diet. Those who work out -- even with mild amounts of low-impact exercise -- experience more even sleep periods. This is because the body is simply tired from the activity. Physical activity drains the body and requires rest for building muscle and improving performance. An overwhelming amount of exercise can create major physical damage, so there needs to be a delicate balance.

Low-impact, sustainable exercise, such as walking, cycling, and swimming, are the best types of workouts to ensure ideal sleep for seniors. These types of exercise are ideal for seniors in general since they help maintain physical health without risking injury.

Diet can also influence sleep. Seniors often eat less regular meals than others, because of isolation or lack of appetite. They may skip meals, opting instead for small, unhealthy snacks. When they do sit down for a meal, they may eat heavily processed convenience foods. Because of these irregular eating patterns, digestion may interfere with sleep.

The types of food and beverages consumed also impact sleep. Caffeine later in the day can keep seniors from falling asleep, but so can sugary drinks. Spicy foods, or snacks eaten later at night, can send digestive systems into overdrive when your body should be slowing down.

It’s also important that your bedroom promotes an atmosphere for healthy sleep. If needed, add some soft lighting, turn off your television before bed, and remove any technology that might distract you from getting sleep. Also, a decluttered and well-organized bedroom (also known as bedroom feng shui) can reduce stress and help you fall asleep easier.

Sleep Follows Mindfulness

Another way to ensure better sleep is to get to know yourself better. Mindfulness through meditation or simple moments of silence can help provide focus. Mediation can be highly structured or simple. However, it’s important to take time to reflect on yourself, your day, and your needs. Sometimes, the mind is racing, and Meditation can help you slow things down.

Meditation is easy. One way to slowly incorporate mindfulness is to take 10 minutes at the end of the day to relax without distraction. Find a quiet area of the house -- a spare room or other simple and decluttered space. Dim the lights, close your eyes, and go through some breathing exercises. Relax, refocus, and prepare for the next day.

Mindfulness benefits seniors in more areas than sleep, helping to encourage an overall healthy lifestyle. When a senior sleeps more regularly, they are more likely to enjoy activities. These, in turn, help a senior tap more deeply into self-knowledge. In a healthy circle, sleep, exercise, diet, and mindfulness result in better senior living.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Choosing and Caring For Your First Mental Health Companion Animal

Guest author: Brandon Butler

If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, you may want to consider adopting a companion animal. Many people struggling with mental health conditions have found that a companion animal helps keep them steady and secure, even on their worst days. While all pet owners find comfort and companionship in their pets, this is especially true for those with mental health illnesses.

How Pets Help Those with Mental Health Conditions

Interactions with pets can lessen anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and offset feelings of depression. From songbirds lowering depression in men at a veteran’s hospital to dogs improving depression in college students, studies have shown a variety of companion animals can help numerous mental health conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, and more.

People benefit from their companion animal’s presence in several ways. Some people feel a deep emotional connection with their pet that they don’t feel from friends and family. People also report that companion animals distract them from their illness and keep them from feeling socially withdrawn. For starters, you’ll never feel alone with a pet around your apartment or house. Also, dogs in particular serve as great icebreakers. When people see a dog in public, they tend to approach the dog to pet him or her to say hello.

Exercise along with creating and keeping routines are helpful for many people struggling with mental health issues. All animals need to be tended to and cared for, so they give you meaning and keep you engaged while you maintain a routine. Because they need to be walked two to three times a day, dogs in particular force you to remain active and stay on schedule even when you don’t feel like it.

Finding Therapy Animals

If you need your dog to be specially trained in assisting you with your specific mental health condition, groups like the American Humane Association offer animal-assisted therapy programs for people with depression and other mood disorders. You may also be able to find a local group in your area that offers training. The AKC offers a list of certified therapy dog training groups.

In order for your pet to be covered by the Disability Act and thus be able to go everywhere with you, it must be trained as a psychiatric service dog, which is different than training for a therapy dog or an emotional support animal (ESA). While the latter do have certain legal rights in housing situations and when flying, psychiatric service dogs have the same abilities and protection by laws as other service dogs, such as those for vision impairment.

Choosing and Caring for a Pet

When choosing a companion animal, there are some questions to help you determine which type of animal is best for you. Be aware of the space requirements for different animals and breeds, and consider the space in your home and yard. Also, consider the cons of different pets. For example, can you live with pet hair or do you mind changing a litter box every day? Different animals and breeds require different levels of care, so ensure that you have the time necessary to devote to a pet. They also have different activity levels, and those should align with your own. One of the most important concerns is the financial consideration.

Caring for your pet requires a lot of responsibility, but the five most important things to provide are exercise, food, grooming, veterinarian check-ups, and a schedule. Exercise burns off stored energy, keeps them healthy, and provides a bonding opportunity. Food and treats should be the right quality and amount. Grooming and regular veterinarian visits keep your pet comfortable and healthy. A regular schedule helps your pet’s temperament and helps you create a great relationship with your pet.

Adopting a companion animal may provide great benefits to you if you’re struggling with a mental health condition. Whether you’re suffering from bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, or addiction, a pet can provide comfort, security, and companionship. When you and your pet become bonded, he or she will be by your side always without ever judging you or asking questions about your struggles. It’s an unconditional love that’s sure to benefit you both.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Beyond the Pill Box

When a medication is prescribed,  its effectiveness in treating or improving the condition for which it was given can only be measured if taken consistently and as prescribed. For many, medication compliance is a challenge.This is especially true for those who take multiple medications, senior citizens, individuals with mental illness and those who are visually impaired.
Over the years several medication adherence aides have had some positive impact on compliance. However, even with the various devices available, non-compliance continues to have a negative impact in healthcare, inhibiting practitioners ability to improve a patients' health and their quality of life. This behavior ultimately leads to frequent hospitalizations and for some premature death.
Data suggest that 60 percent of individuals with depression, one half asthmatics and two thirds of individuals with HIV fail to take medications as prescribed.The cost of non-compliance in the United States is skyrocketing estimated  to be between $100 - $300 billion annually in the US alone. It is apparent a solution to this problem is needed.
In November 2017, the FDA approved the use of digital pills. This new technology will allow the tracking of a medication when taken. The patient receives a motivational message when a medication is taken or an alert if it is missed. The physician and designated family members also gets a readout on the patients' medication activity. The digital pill has several hurdles to overcome, especially those related to privacy but early data suggest a 99% compliance rate in a study of a small group of individuals being treated for Hepatitis C leading to a 100% cure rate. It is believed that with time the digital pill will be widely accepted not only by the medical community but also by the consumers of health. Learn more "What is a digital pill"?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

What Lurks Inside

Hippocrates considered to be the "Father of medicine" has been reported to have said "all disease begins in the gut". When the general belief was that illness and disease were the result of demonic possession or disfavor of the gods, Hippocrates approach was to separate illness from superstition and treat the whole person (holistic medicine). He understood the connection between well being and the healing powers in nature (plants & herbs), diet, exercise, rest, and fresh air (environment). Hippocrates believed in the correlation of ill health and vapors that entered the body from residues that were formulated from eating a poor diet.
Today more and more practitioners believe that nutrition, along with proper digestion, assimilation and absorption of nutrients, is fundamental to overall well-being. The manner in which we treat our body's ecosystem will largely determine our overall health.  Eating healthy foods, managing stress levels, and maintaining an active lifestyle all contribute to the maintenance of a healthy gut microbiome.
Bearing this in mind, one cannot begin an effective wellness journey unless you address what is going on inside of your belly. Read more "Ten Ways To Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science".

N.B. Working with a knowledgeable nutritionist or physician is advisable when working to attain/maintain your wellness goals.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Painful Muscle Cramp

From time to time all of us will experience an involuntarily contraction of a muscle that does not relax...also know as a muscle cramp. Muscle cramps can occur at any time for several different reasons. Some common reasons for muscle cramps are dehydration, lack or depletion of specific nutrients in the diet (calcium, magnesium or potassium), compression of a spinal nerve,  improper or inadequate stretching before exercise and certain medications. As one ages, they tend to experience muscle cramps more frequently due to the lack of muscle mass which can cause the muscles to become over-stressed more easily.
Most muscle cramps will resolve on their own but there are some instances where you may want to consult with your physician. These include
  • The cramp causes severe discomfort
  • The cramp is associated with leg swelling, redness or skin changes
  • If you are experiencing muscle weakness
  • Cramps occur frequently
  • You have no improvement with self-care
  • Cramps are not associated with an obvious cause
Several home remedies have been found to be very effective in relieving occasional muscle cramps. Start with stretching and massaging the affected muscle followed by the application of heat.
Always try to remain well hydrated, especially during exercise and warm weather.  Read more about Home Remedies for Muscle Cramps.
As always if you are under the care of a physician for a chronic medical condition or are taking medications, confer with him/her before using any of the above home remedies.


Monday, March 26, 2018

It's June....Do I Really Have the Flu

So...we're finally reaching the end of the flu season, which this year was especially brutal. Did you know that as the flu season ushers out, there is another virus that we have to be on guard for...the adenoviruses, which can be lurking year round. Adenoviruses are a group of viruses, causing several illness, which have been identified since the 1950s.  Recent reports indicate they are causing more flu like illnesses than have been previously recognized.
Though most cases of adenoviruses are usually mild and resolve themselves generally within 10 days with over-the-counter and/or natural remedies, plenty hydration and rest, they are of greater concern in individuals with existing respiratory disease or who are immune compromised.
You may wonder if I am feeling bad does it really make a difference whether I have the flu or an adenovirus. Yes, especially in the instance where one develops pneumonia or if you are immune compromised.  The treatment approach is different for the flu vs. the adenovirus.
Tamiflu which is the antiviral given for the flu is not effective for the adenovirus.  The antiviral cidofovir can be used to treat immune compromised individuals and ribavirin for those who develop an adenovirus-related pneumonia.   
As with the flu, practicing good hand washing technique is the best defense in preventing illness from the adenoviruses. To learn more about adenoviruses read "What are Adenoviruses Infection".

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Shivering Cold

It's been some time since I can remember the bitterly frigid temperatures we have been experiencing this winter. As the temperatures plummet it is very important to take special care to protect yourself when you are going to be outside even for only a short period of time.  When temperatures drop and wind speed increases, heat leaves your body more rapidly. The body's natural response to cold exposure  is to use energy  to protect its' core. The body will shift its' blood flow from your extremities (hand, arms, feet and legs) and outer skin to try to maintain the body's core (chest/abdomen) temperature. It is that shift that allows your exposed skin and extremities to cool rapidly.
Most people, especially individuals who work outside, have learned to properly layer to provide protection but even the slightest lowering of temperature can lead to a condition known as cold stress. Cold stress can occur without initially being noticed. Cold stress is an umbrella term that describes those various cold related illness (hypothermia, frostbite trench foot, and chilblain)  hat occur when working in cold/wet conditions.
Learn more about the symptoms, treatments and prevention of cold stress conditions "Cold Weather Casualties and Injuries Chart".

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Time for Recharging Daily

As the old year goes out and the new one rings in many of us make those "New Year's Resolution". For me the more common resolution of vowing to exercise regularly or weight loss are always short lived. By the end of February even those with the most serious of intent get swept up into LIFE and the daily routine of exercise and healthier eating get loss in the one thing many seem to have no problem in maintaining...a life of busyness. Our lives so easily become an endless list of daily to-dos and before we even realize there seems to never be time for self. This routine not only can lead to physical dis-ease but can be detrimental to your mental well-being as well.  
In order to remain healthy, happy and productive, it is imperative to care for self first. Envision the body as a order for it to operate at peak performance it must be recharged. We need to be refreshed on a daily basis to continue to be at an optimal state. It is not a matter of not having time to consider our own needs first but more making it a priority without the burden of feeling guilty for doing so. 
Me-time is time to be with and celebrate self and is different things for different people. It can be something as simple as 15 minutes of daily reflection as you enjoy a cup of coffee or a brisk morning nature walk. Me time are those things which bring a sense of peace and serenity to your soul.
Whatever Me-Time is to you...vow in 2018 to make that time for yourself. Stop putting yourself at the bottom of your to-do list and rise to the top. Take a few minutes to give some feedback of what your Me-Time looks like.