Monday, February 08, 2016

 

Heart smart: Facts about the body's most important muscle


February is National Heart Month, the perfect time to learn about some fascinating and fun facts about our hearts.

• The average heart beats 70 times per minute, or 100,000 times per day, or 37,000,000 times each year.

• The first heart pacemakers plugged into a wall socket.

• Our heart is a well-coordinated machine. The right side pumps blood into our lungs while the left side pumps it back into the body.

• Modesty prompted the invention of the stethoscope. Before it existed, doctors had to put their ears directly on the patient’s chest to hear the heart. (Source: ClevelandClinic.org/healthhub)

• The heart starts beating about four weeks after conception and doesn’t stop until death.

• A woman’s heart generally beats faster than a man’s: about 78 times compared to 70 times per minute for men.

• Prolonged lack of sleep can cause irregular jumping heartbeats called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

• The human heart can create enough pressure that it could squirt blood at a distance of 30 feet.

• Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here is a romantic fact: A University of California at Davis study has shown that couples breathe at the same rate and have synchronized heart beats. In the study, couples were connected to heart rate and respiration monitors as they went through several exercises without touching or speaking to each other. The couples' heart and breathing rates tended to be synchronized, indicating that romantically involved couples are linked on a physiological level.

I asked Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist in Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Norwich, to verify these facts for me, and to add any interesting information he would like us to know. Here is his contribution to the fascinating facts about our hearts:

• Life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years

• In 2014, we spent $3 trillion on healthcare on healthcare in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the largest expenditure of Medicare dollars.

• On average, we spend $9,523 per person in the United States on healthcare.

Dr. Foley will be presenting several community education programs about Heart Disease and Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib). For information about the dates and locations of these programs, call 855-HHC-HERE (855-442-4373).

Let’s all make a promise to take care of our hearts starting this February, and work toward a goal of increasing that life expectancy statistic to at least 80 years.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, February 01, 2016

 

The benefits of optimism are real


“An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, 'So far, so good!' ” — Anonymous

That quote may make us laugh, but there are true benefits of being an optimist, according to recent research studies.

Researcher Shane Lopez and colleagues at the University of Kansas analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, which included 150,000 people from 142 countries. Data included responses to questions about life satisfaction, expectations for what the future holds, positive and negative emotions and physical health. The researchers found that 89 percent of people involved in the poll said they believed their future was going to be good or better than their current situation, and most had a "glass half-full" mentality.

Positive thinking and optimism have many proven benefits, including stress management, improved performance and productivity, and superior overall health.

Stress management expert Elizabeth Scott, MS, writes that “Optimists tend to experience less stress than pessimists or realists. Because they believe in themselves and their abilities, they expect good things to happen. They see negative events as minor setbacks to be easily overcome, and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come.”

Always the skeptic, I kept trying to find out exactly why optimists have superior overall health. I found one possible explanation — one that makes sense to me. Julia Boehm, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health co-authored a scientific review of this exact question: is optimism linked to a healthier heart, and why?

According to Dr. Boehm, “The evidence suggests that people who are happy and optimistic are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, like doing physical activity, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. It also shows an association between positivity and measurable biological factors, like lower blood pressure and healthier lipid profiles.”

Well, that makes sense, but is it anything new? We have been told all along that engaging in healthy behaviors like eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercising was exactly what we all need to do to maximize our health status.

Even the most optimistic person can find it challenging to be positive in this day and age of instantaneous news updates on the internet and constant exposure to various kinds of social media. My husband, a self-proclaimed pessimist, recommends focusing more attention on the positive things that are happening in your life with family and friends rather than monitoring someone else’s view of how the world stage is in seemingly constant conflict. In effect, simplify your life. Perhaps help brighten someone else’s day with an act of kindness. The reward will be positively amazing.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, January 25, 2016

 

Helping children get a good night’s sleep


Picture this: You wake up with no alarm, the birds are singing, the sky is blue, and you feel well-rested and ready to take on the day.

Most of us will admit that this is far from our reality. With busier work schedules, extracurricular obligations, and the age of electronics, sleep deprivation has become a national epidemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one third of the adult population in the United States gets less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each day. What is even more concerning is the increase in sleep problems seen in children and teens who are most at need of a good night’s sleep.

While lack of sleep in adulthood can impact one’s health and mood, the effects are even more drastic in babies, older children, and teens, whose bodies and brains are still under development. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, notes that poor immune function, weight problems, and nightmares and night terrors are all associated with a lack of sleep. In addition, because growth hormone is released cyclically in the body and peaks at night, there can be significant consequences on child growth and development.

The problems do not end there. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges academically as well as impact classroom attentiveness. Sleep deprived children often present with irritability and tantrums, which can affect them academically as well as socially. The Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology also suggests that children and teens with sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. If patients have been previously diagnosed with these disorders, a lack of sleep can worsen symptoms.

What is preventing adequate sleep in children? Dr. Schneeberg suggests that the answer is two-fold. She explains that sleep problems often stem from “problematic sleep onset associations” as well as “a bedtime routine without a clear final step.” Problems with sleep onset typically mean that a child will only go to sleep when the parent is present. Thus, when the child wakes up in the middle of the night, rather than turning over and going back to sleep, they get out of bed to find their parents. This leads to disruption in sleep for both the child and parent.

Poor bedtime routines can lead to children attempting to extend the time until they have to go to sleep. This may mean asking to read another book, watching another television show, or having a parent tell another bedtime story. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that increased extracurricular activities, homework, and jobs as well as early school hours can contribute to lack of sleep in teenagers. In addition, increasing school pressure and anxiety can lead to trouble falling and staying asleep in teens.

Fortunately for the younger population there are ways to help. Parents can establish firmer bedtime routines with children. Dr. Schneeberg recommends encouraging your child to fall asleep on their own. In addition, removing all electronics from the bedroom for people of any age can lead to significant improvement in sleep. Research suggests that such devices are not only a distraction from sleep, but that the blue wavelengths emitted from their screens are associated with suppressing melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone important for the regulation of sleep and altering its levels can result in sleep problems. Finally, helping teenagers learn how to manage stress and relax before bed through reading or yoga can help address anxiety that may be contributing to trouble falling asleep.

If a parent has established clear routines, removed electronics from the bedroom, and still finds that there is a problem they can turn to a sleep physician at a sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to eliminate other causes such as restless legs syndrome, sleep walking, or sleep apnea. The sleep physician may then refer to a behavioral sleep specialist who will work with the family to establish a nighttime routine and address other contributing problems to sleep deprivation like stress and anxiety.

So put down that third cup of coffee and consider how you can improve your family’s sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits for your children will help them avoid associated mental and physical health problems and even help you get better sleep as well. I can’t promise that you will automatically become a morning person, jumping out of bed with a smile on your face, but you may find you have a little more energy to tackle your day and enjoy with family.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, January 18, 2016

 

The importance of a positive self-image


Jeff is the hospital photographer, and a friend of mine. He was recently tasked with sending a photo of me to accompany a health column. He had taken several of me in the past and asked me which one I wanted to use. When I pointed to one that was taken recently that I felt was “not too bad” he asked me if I wanted to put it through a photo software program that erased facial imperfections and was a little more flattering. I thought that would be fun. I watched, fascinated, as my face transformed before my eyes; my cheeks and nose were slimmed down, blemishes and wrinkles around my eyes were erased, and my thick, unruly eyebrows were nicely shaped. I looked 20 years younger and many pounds slimmer.

As I stared at that new improved version of my face, I started thinking: As much as I would love to look like that photo, it really wasn’t me. It sure was difficult, but I had to tell Jeff to reverse the improvements and just submit the original photo, imperfections and all.

Perfection is overrated. A little imperfection is what makes us unique. Cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs are multi-billion dollar industries. They are catering to people who want to achieve perfection. I’m not talking about weight loss programs that improve our health or plastic surgery that corrects deformities. I have been involved in weight loss programs for many years. While I have certainly not achieved my perfect goal weight, I have improved my overall health. I refer here to the “Joan Rivers Syndrome” in which the relentless pursuit of perfection results in unnecessary and potential harm.

Kristen Houghton writes for the Huffington Post about this subject in an article entitled, “Happiness is Loving Your Body, Imperfections and All.” She reminds us that Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci created masterpieces with flaws. They would paint women with a rounded stomach, or a slightly skewed nose to show character and real life. In that same vein, my wise daughter always said, “Mom, you just have to be happy in the skin you’re in.”

I asked my colleague Rosemarie Neilson, a therapist at the Backus Center for Mental Health to weigh in on the issue of positive self-image and provide some insight that we can all learn from.

Rosemarie explained through Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development just how we acquire our positive or negative self-image. This theory identifies eight stages which a healthy developing child should pass through from infancy through late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Erikson details as each stage of development is successfully completed the child emerges into early adulthood with a positive self-image built on “trust, autonomy, initiative and a feeling of competency.”

Rosemarie emphasizes the important role that parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings and all care takers have in the healthy development of the growing child. If these people expose the child to “warmth, regularity, and dependable affection” the child’s view of the world will be one of trust. Mistrust develops when feelings of frustration, suspicion and withdrawal lead to a lack of confidence, thus low self-image.

After talking to Rosemarie about this, I guess I have been fairly successful in negotiating through those stages, and am confident enough to be able to show my physical flaws even when faced with a technological way to hide them.

When I thought about it, erasing those laugh lines around my eyes would be an injustice. Those wrinkles were a testament to the 60-plus years of laughing I have done in my lifetime, so far.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

 

The joy of food


For just a moment, imagine that you’re sitting before a plate of your favorite food. What does it look like? Is it colorful? What is its shape? Lean over the plate and draw in a deep breath. How does it smell? Does it have a sweet, savory or spicy aroma? Does the scent evoke a memory?

Now imagine taking a single, slow, scrumptious bite. What is the texture? Is it soft and chewy or hard and crunchy? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth? Creamy? Rich? Think about how you would describe the flavor to someone who has never tasted this food before. What words would you use? How does this food make you feel? Why do you think it stirs this emotion within you?

As we ate lunch together recently, a good friend of mine reminded me of the old adage that some people eat to live while others live to eat. I had heard this before, but as we sat munching our crisp salads and satisfying soups, I began to feel truly sorry for anyone who eats only because it is a prerequisite for survival. For me, food is one of the great pleasures of living. Anyone who has ever shared a meal with me has heard me sigh with delight at the simplest of foods. I have been known to marvel at ripe raspberries, wonder at a warm loaf of crusty bread and be awed by tuna sandwiches, much to the amusement of my table-mates.

Sadly however, with the ever-quickening pace of life, even I have found myself eating on auto-pilot more and more lately; multi-tasking on lunch breaks, shoveling food down my throat while returning emails or between phone calls. Food needs and deserves our full attention. It nourishes us in so many ways, and it is so much more than a mere conglomeration of molecules that we call nutrients. It has an energy all its own and is an entire sensory experience to be treasured. It makes life both possible and more enjoyable. After all, we are not just simple machines needing fuel to fill our tanks so that we can continue to operate for a few more hours.

While I know that many of us resolve to eat less or make healthier choices in the New Year, I hope that these resolutions do not rob you of the pleasure of eating; especially since studies have shown time and again that fully mindful munching can help you reach those goals. To reap the benefits, all you have to do is be present in the moment, chew slowly and imagine that whatever you are eating is your favorite food. However you choose to be healthier this year, I hope it brings you happiness. Personally, my resolution is to rediscover the joy of food, bite by luscious bite.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, January 04, 2016

 

Learning about the many benefits of yoga


Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but lately there seems to be a huge surge in popularity. Perhaps this is a result of our increasingly stressful times. For those few who are not familiar with it, yoga is a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation.

There are many types of yoga, from the peaceful hatha to the high-intensity power yoga. All types take your workout to a level of mind-body connection. It can help you to relax and focus while gaining flexibility and strength. Yoga can also boost your mood, which may account for why so many people are trying it these days. Another benefit of practicing yoga is that it is low-impact and doesn’t put stress on the joints.

I have to admit I was curious about yoga, and have practiced it at intervals over the past years. It was amazing to me how focused and present I needed to be to keep the balanced poses, but it certainly gets easier with each successive session, especially if done consistently.

Yoga can also be gentle and restorative to help recover flexibility and motion, stamina and a sense of well being.

My friend and nurse colleague Amy Dunion of the Backus Center for Healthcare Integration is helping to coordinate a gentle yoga series for people recovering from the effects of cancer and cancer treatment, which will be led by Carol Klammer. I asked Amy to tell me a little about why it is particularly beneficial for those challenged with cancer.

“Yoga can have a huge impact on every part of a person’s life who has suffered the effects of cancer," she said. "Many cancer centers offer yoga because it can help ease anxiety, insomnia, pain, problems with mobility and movement, and regain a sense of feeling whole again. Many people have said they felt relaxed for the first time or present in their life in a new way. It’s a chance to reclaim life; to recover and discover a feeling of vitality and peace that may have been lost. One woman in a yoga class said she had forgotten that she was beautiful and a man added that he didn’t know what it felt like to let go of stress and truly relax before yoga. Yoga is good medicine."

If you or a loved one is fighting cancer, call (855) HHC-HERE to find a yoga program being offered near you, and join those already enjoying these many benefits.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.


Monday, December 28, 2015

 

A new way to ring in the new year


The year is coming to an end and with it comes the notorious “New Year’s Resolution.” Let’s be honest. How many of us make a resolution, start out strong and confident on January 1st and by January 4th our resolution is long forgotten? This year, let’s take a new approach to the age old “New Year’s Resolution” that will be more meaningful and strengthen our connections with others.

Instead of making an individual resolution this year, try to make a family or group resolution. It doesn’t matter who comprises your family, what ages they are, or where they are living. Making a family resolution can not only strengthen your connection, but can also help you be more successful in your goal because everyone is responsible for holding one another accountable. Need some ideas? Try taking these for a spin.

Have dinner as a family 3-4 times a week or more. Eating dinner as a family is an obvious way to build family connection, but it also has physical and mental health benefits. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that eating dinner as a family can lower the risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and pregnancy in teenagers. In addition, family dinners have been associated with an increase in self esteem, better school performance, and a greater sense of resilience in teenagers. Studies in younger children and adults have yielded similar findings. The Family Dinner Project is a great resource for implementing family dinners. Their website offers tips for getting started as well as numerous ideas to make the most of the experience. There are general conversation starters as well as “Pickles and Predicaments” which presents tough situations that the family can discuss. There are also dinner games and recipes to try broken down by age group. Visit the Family Dinner Project at thefamilydinnerproject.org for more information.

Go for a family walk after dinner. Psychology Today reports that going for a light walk within fifteen minutes of a meal improves glucose tolerance and weight control. Walking every day has also been linked to decreased blood pressure and heart problems. In addition, the Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics reports a reduced risk of GERD in patients who walked following a meal. Aside form physical benefits, getting outside has been linked to improved mood and better sleep. Try to set a specific goal with your family regarding how many days a week you would like to walk or grab a group of friends or neighbors and start an after dinner walking club. Your body and brain will thank you.

Communicate better. Learning how to communicate is an important skill. For young children frequent communication within families has been linked to improved verbal and nonverbal communication later in life as well as improved listening ability. Teenagers who are encouraged to express their ideas within their families are also more adept at dealing with interpersonal problems outside of the house. Even if your family is spread out, communication is easier than ever with today’s technology of Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout and cell phones. Set a goal of the number of times a week or month you want to talk. Set specific dates using a calendar. In our family, all three kids are away at school so it is even more important for us to schedule time to talk both between siblings and with parents. We will be making this our family resolution for 2016.

Volunteer together once a week, month (or whatever works in your schedules). Volunteering has numerous health benefits. In adults it has been associated with increased life satisfaction and physical health and has demonstrated lower levels of stress. Children, teens, and young adults all report increasing levels of happiness following volunteering. Volunteering allows children to appreciate what they have and get the satisfaction that they can make a difference. Children learn to focus on others and witness what is present in the “real world.” A study released by the UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute found that teenagers and adults who had volunteered as children found that the experience gave them direction for their lives and led to careers helping others such as teaching and social work. In this way a family resolution now can benefit your children now and in the future.

Implement or increase exercise.
While many of us make implementing an exercise program or increasing our amount of exercise an individual resolution, making exercise a family goal can also have benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine reports that individuals who work out in a group are less likely to quit due to boredom. In addition, individual effort increases when that person is working out in a group (a little competition never hurt anybody). While it can be hard to find one type of exercise the whole family enjoys, many gyms offer family memberships, making it easier than ever to work out as a family without breaking the bank.

So grab the eggnog and Christmas cookies, and sit down as a family to discuss your resolution. 2016 is officially the year of health and happiness. Happy New Year.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, December 21, 2015

 

Quit smoking in 2016 – for you and your loved ones


The new year is rapidly approaching, and it’s time to make resolutions. For those of us who still smoke cigarettes, this may be the best time to quit. We all know that there are health hazards associated with smoking, but that hasn’t deterred people from lighting up. Cigarettes are expensive: about $8.25 per pack. A one-pack-per-day smoker could save $247.50 in one month alone by quitting. Even though that could equal a car payment, it’s still not enough to convince some people to quit.

In an effort to find something to persuade someone to quit, I went on the American Lung Association website and found this shocking information:

There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous.

Here are a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke and other places they are found:

• Acetone – found in nail polish remover
• Ammonia – a common household cleaner
• Arsenic – used in rat poison
• Benzene – found in rubber cement
• Butane – used in lighter fluid
• Cadmium – active component in battery acid
• Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
• Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
• Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
• Lead – used in batteries
• Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
• Nicotine – used as insecticide
• Tar – material for paving roads
• Toluene - used to manufacture paint

The American Lung Association advises people trying to quit to expect and resist urges to smoke. The urge to smoke will pass in three to five minutes whether you smoke or not. Remember the Four D's to get through an urge:

• Delay
• Deep breathing
• Drink water
• Do something else

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that during 2011–2012, two out of every five children ages 3 to 11 in the United States were exposed to secondhand smoke regularly. If you don’t quit smoking for yourself, do it for the children in your life.

We can all agree quitting smoking is a very difficult thing to do. Find a local American Lung Association Freedom From Smoking cessation class near you. The group support is key. Everybody is in the same boat, and readily lends support to one another. It’s also important to tell your friends and family that you’re trying to quit smoking and ask for their support. They will love you for it.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, December 14, 2015

 

Practicing forgiveness reaps many benefits


My mother loves to do the cryptoquote puzzles every day. I have tried solving them, but I really don’t have the patience to do them — I skip right to reading the solved quote from the previous day. A recent quote by Barbara DeAngelis caught my eye: “The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.” While that is good advice, I didn’t think it applied to me.

Then I read my horoscope for the same day: “Don’t let the past ruin your plans for the future. Let go of all the negativity you’ve experienced and you will see a path that offers a unique and inviting alternative to anything you’ve tried in the past. Be resolute about the decisions you make.”

That gave me pause. Seeing such similar advice offered on the same day made me reconsider. Maybe it was germane and relevant after all. But isn’t that good advice for everyone, whether we are a Scorpio, Virgo or a Capricorn?

As we near the end of 2015, we make resolutions to improve our life. We want 2016 to be better, to outshine and surpass the current year. Perhaps a worthwhile resolution for all of us could be to practice forgiveness and let go of negativity.

There is evidence that there are health benefits to practicing forgiveness. Researchers have found that people who spoke about forgiveness and empathy and don’t hold grudges have lower stress levels, a healthier heart, higher pain tolerance and lower blood pressure.

Having a forgiving heart may lower both emotional and physical pain, according to a study done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center. Out of 61 subjects who suffered from chronic back pain, those who were more likely to forgive reported lower levels of pain, leading researchers to believe that “a relationship appears to exist between forgiveness and important aspects of living with persistent pain.”

Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” That’s a simple and clear illustration for us to ponder.

I have read that forgiveness is one of the best secrets to a longer life. My sisters and I have always agreed: Our mother never holds a grudge. Maybe the knack for completing cryptoquote puzzles and the ability to forgive and move on is why she is still going strong at the age of 94.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, December 07, 2015

 

In pursuit of a good night’s sleep


If you have trouble falling or staying asleep you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 40 million Americans have ongoing sleep problems and another 20 million have trouble sleeping now and then.

Here’s a sobering statistic: the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that one in five fatal auto crashes were the result of fatigued driving.

It’s important to learn how much sleep your body needs. Most healthy adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you may need more or less. Sleep is as important as food or water. Restful sleep can improve your mood, energy and ability to handle stress.

Here are some tips to get a good night’s sleep:

Avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, or chocolate after noontime. Caffeine can interfere with sleep for up to eight hours afterward.

A cool, dark room is ideal. Turn off devices that produce light in the bedroom. In warm weather I use a room fan to cool the room; it also produces “white noise” to block outside noise.

No napping during the day. You’ll sleep better at night. But if you can’t resist, keep the nap to 20 minutes, and do it before 3 pm.

Work out wisely. Vigorous exercise within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime will produce a burst of energy, which is exactly what you want to avoid. Am wind-down relaxing activity like yoga or tai chi is best in the hours before you head to bed.

Worrisome thoughts keeping you awake? Keep paper and pen at the bedside, jot down what’s troubling you, go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning.

Unplug from technology. The latest research suggests that artificial light coming from laptop screens, TVs, etc. suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Turn off those screens an hour before bedtime.

If none of these things work, and sleeplessness persists for more than a few weeks, it’s time to discuss it with your primary care provider.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, November 30, 2015

 

A surprising list of things that benefit your health


We all know that exercise, a diet high in fruits and vegetables and annual physical exams are good for our health. But there are also a number of lesser known benefits to our health. Here are just a few.

• Yawning: You may picture yawning as an embarrassing outcome of sitting in monotonous meetings after only a few hours of sleep. However, studies in the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research revealed that yawning could actually have important consequences for your brain.

First, yawning has been shown to increase alertness – like caffeine. In a study of 48 students, physiological measurements such as skin conductance and heart rate were measured at the peak of a yawn, and it was determined that there was an increase in these factors similar to caffeine.
In addition, yawning may be important in controlling brain temperature. Patients with medical conditions affecting the brain, such as epilepsy and stroke, have been shown to have an increase in yawning that was followed by a period of relief from their symptoms. Scientists hypothesize that these medical conditions can raise the body temperature, and through yawning an increase of blood flow reaches the face and brain, helping to regulate brain temperature.

So while it is still polite to cover that yawn in a meeting, lose the embarrassment. Your body is only trying to help!

Household chores: Apart from the peace of mind that can come from clean house, performing chores can have a positive impact on maintaining a healthy weight.

A study comparing lifestyle activity and exercise in obese women published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that active chores such as yard work and vacuuming, along with a healthy diet, have benefits similar to an aerobic exercise program and healthy diet on a woman’s weight.

This doesn’t mean you should ditch your running shoes for a pair of gardening gloves, but instead of spending money on the robotic vacuums that clean the floor for you, grab a broom and get to work! Your house — and body — will thank you.

Honey: Honey is not just a favorite sweetener for foods and drinks. Scientists now believe that honey can be used for burns and cuts. It is suggested that honey can reduce inflammation and infection due to its antibacterial properties. In addition, it promotes wound healing and could help that cut or burn heal faster. Don’t stop putting it in your tea, as honey has been shown to soothe your throat and relieve cough, but consider reaching for honey next time you touch the stove or cut your finger.

Crying: Crying gets a lot of negative attention. We throw around phrases like “cry baby” or “waterworks” when a friend lets a few tears slip during a movie or becomes emotional during a fight.

But we may want to reconsider our view on crying. In his well known research, Dr. William Frey measured levels of chemicals known to be related to stress such as adrenocortical releasing hormone (ACTH) in emotional tears and tears related to other non-emotional activities such as chopping an onion. He found that emotional tears contain greater levels of stress hormones and other toxins that can be removed from the body through crying.

In addition, author Chip Walter suggests in his article for Scientific American Mind that crying can actually be a self-soothing behavior used to help us calm down.

Dogs and cats: We love our furry friends but apart from the unconditional love they show us, our pets could be decreasing our frequency of illness.

In a study following 397 children in Finland from pregnancy onwards, those exposed to dogs following birth had less respiratory tract infections during the first year of life.

It has also been suggested that exposure to dogs can decrease the frequency of ear infections and antibiotic use.

In addition, that calming feeling we get when we are snuggling with our dog or cat leads to a decrease in cortisol levels, a hormone in the body associated with stress.

So give Fido an extra bone tonight. He’s helping your body and your mind.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.


Monday, November 23, 2015

 

Tapping into the food-gratitude connection this time of year


Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. Not just because I love food — and believe me, I do — but because it’s the one day of the year that reminds us of the connection between food and gratitude.

Anyone who has ever suffered from hunger or food insecurity can understand what a blessing it is to have food in your belly. And even if you have never had that experience, I hope you can appreciate how fortunate you have been to always have plenty to eat. However, you may not realize that food and gratitude are connected on a much deeper level.

I think most of us can recall a time when we were particularly tense and as a result, we suffered gastrointestinal symptoms from heartburn to bloating or even worse. It’s no coincidence that the people who report the highest levels of chronic stress are at the greatest risk for reflux disease and ulcers.

When we take a moment to really be thankful for our food, we transform our brain from a stress-riddled, mile-a-minute worry machine into a calm and peaceful mind — one that’s ready to savor and process a meal. And this is an important shift. Gratitude facilitates a serene state of mind that relaxes the body and allows it to produce the enzymes and hormones necessary to properly assimilate food.

Many of us may say grace before meals, but how often do we really think about the words we say and the food on our table before we eat it? How often do we think about where our food came from and the hard-working hands that brought it to us? Furthermore, how many of us truly understand how essential gratitude is to our health and well-being?

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will take the spirit of the holiday to heart both by eating scrumptiously soul-soothing foods among loving family and friends, and by taking the time to truly appreciate those foods along with all the other little miracles in your life.

And if life seems out of control lately and you’re not sure how to achieve the necessary attitude of gratitude, perhaps my favorite blessing will help you: “We give thanks for the food before us, for the friends beside us and for the love between us.”

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, November 16, 2015

 

Join the Great American Smokeout where it's OK to be a quitter


Nobody wants to be thought of as a quitter, except in the case of smoking cigarettes. Tobacco use remains the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US. This is not news. If everyone knows that smoking causes health problems, why do 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes?

Maybe it will help to think about how it affects our wallets? In 2009, the federal tobacco tax increase added 62 cents to the price of each pack of cigarettes — bringing the total tax to $1.01 per pack. If one pack of cigarettes cost $8.25, then a one-pack-per-day smoker would spend $57.75 in just one week. These costs and the current economy might be just the motivation you need to join the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout Thursday, Nov. 19, and finally quit for good.

Besides saving on cigarettes, quitting smoking could also save you the cost of breath mints, cough drops, and cleaning expenses for your clothes, home, and car. And perhaps more important, you can avoid many costs from doctor visits and medicines for the diseases and other health issues caused by smoking or by exposure to secondhand smoke.

For the best chance at success, your plan should include one or more of these options. On your quit day, follow these suggestions, offered by the American Cancer Society.

• Do not use tobacco — not even one puff or chew!
• Stay active — try walking, exercising, or doing other activities or hobbies.
• Drink lots of water and 100% juices.
• Start using nicotine replacement if that’s your plan.
• Avoid situations where the urge to smoke or use tobacco is strong.
• Limit or avoid alcohol.
• Think about changing your routine: Use a different route to get to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. Eat breakfast in a different place or eat different foods.

To get help quitting, visit cancer.org/smokeout or call the American Cancer Society, anytime day or night, at 1-800-227-2345.

So on Thursday, Nov. 19, during the Great American Smokeout event, inspire the smokers in your life to use this day to go the distance, and to quit. This is the day quitting smoking becomes a team sport. Along with the American Cancer Society, we encourage everyone to get ready to quit like champions.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, November 09, 2015

 

Keeping the family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning


Silent but deadly. No, this is not the latest Gone Girl-like thriller but a major health risk to you and your family. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills approximately 170 people in the United States each year (not including those from fire and automobile related CO poisoning), according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Due to its nature, these deaths are typically unexpected and sudden. Luckily, with just a few simple steps you can keep your family safe.

What is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas that cannot be detected by human sight or sense of smell, which is what can make it so dangerous. It can come from a variety of common household sources including many fuel burning appliances like gas stoves, charcoal and gas grills, generators, unvented gas fireplaces, and water heaters. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu and can include fatigue, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Ultimately, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to a loss of consciousness, significant brain damage, and in the end death.

How to stay safe. There are easy ways to protect your family against carbon monoxide poisoning. First, if your family does not have a carbon monoxide detector, stop what you are doing and go get one. It can easily be purchased and is relatively inexpensive. Many retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot carry CO detectors that can be plugged right into an outlet at home and cost around $25 a piece. The Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends getting carbon monoxide detectors with a backup battery and testing them every year to make sure they are functioning properly. There should be a detector near each bedroom area in your house in order to make sure everyone is safe.

In addition, don’t run gas powered appliances or tools in small enclosed spaces like a garage or basement. This is especially important as winter looms -- people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run generators or snow blowers within their garage. If the power goes out, do not run your car in your garage to stay warm, or use the stove or oven to heat your house. Have your appliances and heating system checked and cleaned every year and replace any faulty car exhaust.

It is also important to be aware of signs of carbon monoxide poisoning should a problem occur. If you experience flu-like symptoms that go away when you leave the house and reoccur when you return home, and if everyone in the household experiences the same symptoms at the same time, that could indicate carbon monoxide poisoning.

Importantly, CO poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home immediately. Once you have left your house, call either 911 or the Connecticut poison control center (800-222-1222) to test the carbon monoxide levels within your house, and do not return until you have been told it is safe to do so.

It is surprising how many patients report on office visits that they have no CO detectors and are unaware of the severe consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We often carry a “that could never happen to me” mentality, but I recently had a patient come into the office discuss how a high CO reading at her house had terrified her. While the reading was immediately redone and turned out to be an error in the reading device, the fear this mother had for her and her children remains.

With just a few easy solutions you can prevent this concern and protect your family. Let’s vow to reserve the term “silent but deadly” for the next great American psychological thriller and leave CO poisoning as a thing of the past. Now that my CO detector is in place, I think I’ll get to work on that novel.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, November 02, 2015

 

Fun facts about the human body


My last few health columns have been about very serious topics: domestic violence, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and suicide prevention. These are all important but intense topics, so for a lighthearted change I thought it would be enjoyable to compile a list of fun facts about our bodies. Some are surprising, some fascinating and some just plain odd.

• Everyone has a unique smell, except for identical twins, who smell the same.

• A human fetus acquires fingerprints at the age of three months.

• Like fingerprints, every individual has a unique tongue print that can be used for identification. I guess that means you shouldn’t stick your tongue out at someone if you want to hide your identify.

• The fastest growing nail is on the middle finger.

• It is a fact that people who dream more often and more vividly, on an average have a higher Intelligence Quotient.

• Sneezes regularly exceed 100 mph, while coughs clock in at about 60 mph.

• It is not possible to tickle yourself. This is because when you attempt to tickle yourself you are totally aware of the exact time and manner in which the tickling will occur, unlike when someone else tickles you. (source: OddStuffMagazine.com)

• Your nose is not as sensitive as a dog's, but it can remember 50,000 different scents.

• Your pet isn't the only one in the house with a shedding problem. Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. That works out to about 1.5 pounds each year, so the average person will lose around 105 pounds of skin by age 70. (source: HowStuffWorks.com)

• Around half of all teen-agers are sleep-deprived. (source: 77facts.com)

• We spend about 10% of our waking hours with our eyes closed, blinking.

• Your heartbeat changes and mimics the music you listen to. (Source: FactSlides.com)

• Athazagoraphobia is the fear of being ignored or forgotten.

• Beards are the fastest growing hairs on the human body. If the average man never trimmed his beard, it would grow to nearly 30 feet long in his lifetime.

Now that is some useless but fascinating information for us all to ponder.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, October 26, 2015

 

An easy-to-fill prescription for health


As we watch the spectacular fall foliage reach its peak and beyond, we are reminded that flu and cold season is almost upon us. Besides getting our annual flu vaccine, we want to strengthen our immune systems to provide the best protection possible.

The holiday season is also fast approaching. As the holidays start to ramp up, so does our stress level. We relish in the holiday spirit, but we are also mindful of the ever-growing list of things we must do to organize and prepare.

What could we possibly do to accomplish both of these goals: boosting our immune system while decreasing our stress level at the same time? Funny you should ask. It appears that laughter is really the best prescription for both.

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have long studied the effects of laughter on the immune system. Their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.

We aren’t all natural-born comedians, but there is certainly a wealth of resources available to make us laugh, like funny videos, newspaper funny pages, comedy movies, TV sit-coms, and more.

For several years, I have been posting jokes and cartoons on the restroom stall doors at work. It’s impossible not to smile when I hear laughter coming from one of the stalls. So many of my co-workers have told me they look forward to Monday mornings when the new joke of the week is posted.

So here’s a prescription for good health: get a flu shot, simplify our holiday “to-do” list, and get 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, October 19, 2015

 

Rallying support for victims of domestic violence


“If a woman is in an abusive situation, why doesn’t she just leave?” This is the question most commonly asked when anyone hears the heartbreaking accounts of domestic violence victims. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month, and the statistics are horrifying:

• One in 5 female high school students is physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
• More than 3 million people a year will call a domestic violence hotline to escape crises or seek advice.
• 5 million to 10 million children every year are victims of or witnesses to domestic violence.
• A woman is abused by her partner every 15 seconds in the United States.

I took the opportunity to talk to the staff at Safe Futures, formerly The Women’s Center of SE CT, to gain some insight and perspective on this sad situation. The mission of Safe Futures is to provide support, counseling, crisis intervention and emergency shelter for victims of both domestic violence and sexual assault in Southeastern Connecticut.

Catherine Zeiner is the executive director, and Emma Palzere-Rae is the director of Development and Communications. They frequently encounter the question about why an abused woman doesn’t just leave the situation, and admit there is no easy answer to this. Fear is the #1 reason women remain in their home and endure the abuse. There are as many obstacles to leaving as there are individuals; and again they are fear-related: does she have money to leave? Will he take her children away? Will he find her and make it worse? Will I lose everything I know and have?

These fears are well-founded. One more sobering statistic is that three women in the United States are killed every day at the hands of a current or former intimate partner. It is proven that the 72 hours following leaving are the most dangerous for the victim.

But there is help in southeastern Connecticut through Safe Futures. In Norwich, they have a new counseling center located at 241 Main St., where people can make an appointment to speak with a Safe Futures counselor.

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse or financial abuse. This problem is so pervasive in our society that chances are we know someone who has been in an abusive situation, or that we suspect is currently in one.

A relevant message here is taken from a Safe Futures handout, “How to help a friend.”

• Be patient. It may take some time before the person feels comfortable talking about it.
• Be non-judgmental.
• Tell them you believe them.
• Give them professional resources to call or contact, like Safe Futures. The 24-hour hotline is 860-701-6000.
• Encourage them to do outside activities with family and friends.
• Remember that you cannot rescue them.
• Let them know you care about them, and that you are concerned for their safety.
• Let the person know the abuse is not their fault.

For more information, visit www.SafeFuturesCT.org

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, September 28, 2015

 

Making a stressful time a little easier


When you think about it, one of the toughest jobs in any hospital has to be the staff member who sits just inside the front entrance at the information desk.

There is a continuous stream of people who may be feeling stressed, vulnerable, sick, weak or in pain.

Sometimes it is a concerned family member, neighbor, or friend accompanying a person in need of emergency care. Some people arrive for scheduled tests or surgery. Some have come to visit an inpatient. Whatever the reason, nobody comes to the hospital in pursuit of a fun time.

I asked Debbie and Rose, longtime information desk receptionists at Backus, for some words of wisdom. Both of them are unfailingly helpful, kind, and friendly.

Rose's immediate reply is, "Be assured your family member or loved one is safe. Patient care and safety is truly our No. 1 priority."

Debbie encourages people not to be afraid to ask questions. "We want to make sure your or your loved one's needs are being addressed,” she said.

Staff is always here to help and can address concerns right from the front door, making referrals to auxiliary staff if needed.

Rose was a Patient Care Technician and knows firsthand how hard staff members work to deliver the best care possible. She reinforces that by saying, "My motto is to treat each person walking through that front door as if they were my own family member."

Both have often been told that just seeing a smiling face when they walk in the door has helped get through a difficult time.

Another point they want to convey is, “please re-consider bringing food in from outside. Many people have special or restricted diets and our food and nutrition staff strive to meet their dietary needs."

As Rose says, "Life is a circle — don't be a "C" — complete the circle."

While working in one of the toughest jobs around, they sure seem like they are doing their part.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, September 21, 2015

 

Opening the discussion on suicide


Ever since the tragic suicide of beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams last year, the discussion about this previously taboo subject has opened up. It seems that everyone knows someone personally who has committed suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the United States, including deaths by suicide. In 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and a good source for information on suicide is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The mission of this organization is understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy.

People who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. The more warning signs, the greater the risk. Here are suicide warning signs, from the AFSP website.

Talk
If a person talks about:

• Killing themselves.
• Having no reason to live.
• Being a burden to others.
• Feeling trapped.
• Unbearable pain.

Behavior
A person’s suicide risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss, or change.

• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means.
• Acting recklessly.
• Withdrawing from activities.
• Isolating from family and friends.
• Sleeping too much or too little.
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
• Giving away prized possessions.
• Aggression.

Mood
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

• Depression.
• Loss of interest.
• Rage.
• Irritability.
• Humiliation.
• Anxiety.

I recently took a suicide prevention training class called QPR Training, offered by South Eastern Regional Action Council (SERAC). QPR stands for Question-Persuade-Refer.

An attendee at the training asked, “Will asking someone if they are considering suicide plant the idea in their mind?” The QPR trainers explained studies show that people do not start thinking about suicide just because someone asks them about it. If you suspect a friend or loved one is suicidal, tell them that you are worried and want to help them. Don’t be afraid to question whether they are considering suicide, and if they have a specific plan in mind. Having a plan may indicate that they are farther along and need help right away. Sometimes people who are thinking about suicide won’t tell you so because they don’t want you to stop them. Your direct, non-judgmental questions can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings.

Regardless of their response, if you suspect that the person may be suicidal, the next step is to persuade them to seek professional help, and ultimately, to refer the person to emergency services.

What should I do if I am worried about someone who seems suicidal?

• If you are in a life-threatening situation, call 911.
• In Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 211, and press 1 for emergency crisis intervention. Someone is available to talk 24/7, as this line is a suicide prevention hotline.
• Outside of Connecticut, if you or someone else is in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

For more info on this subject, visit www.AFSP.org.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, September 14, 2015

 

Challenging ourselves to try new and different things


At least once a year my husband and I visit our son, Russ, who lives and works in the majestic mountains of Moab, Utah. It's a very lively and dynamic community with so much to offer in the way of activities — everything from apricot picking to zip-lining.

Each time we visit Russ plans an adventure that is new and different for us. In past visits we have gone mountain climbing, off-road Jeeping, canyoneering, and — my personal favorite — rappelling off 100-foot cliffs. It has become a family joke that Russ may be trying to collect his inheritance a little prematurely.

This year our daughter Shelley, son-in law, and 7-year-old grandson joined us from California. My grandson had only one request: To do rappelling again with Uncle Russ. His parents enthusiastically support his pursuit of outdoor sports and activities. I asked my daughter if she was fearful for her young son given the potential dangers inherent with rappelling off a mountain. Her reply? She and her husband feel strongly that it's a good idea to challenge ourselves by trying new and different things, and they try to encourage their son to do the same. But, she added, we should also be wise and recognize there are safety precautions to be aware of and follow. She assured me that her brother had explained all the safety measures he would take. After all, he was an experienced mountain climbing guide and didn't take any unnecessary risks. Suffice it to say they all had a fantastic and fun time.

This had me thinking: Isn't that a good lesson for all of us? So often we settle into a routine and stay in our comfort zone, never trying anything new and different. We tend to eat the same familiar foods, and turn up our nose at anything strange or unusual. But isn't that the way we could discover a new and healthy food that becomes a new favorite?

When it comes to trying a new activity, there are so many options for safe yet fun ways to incorporate healthy exercise into our days. Of course it doesn't have to be rappelling down a mountain, but something as simple as swimming could be new and different for some. For couch potatoes, it might be a challenge just to walk for 15 minutes, slowly progressing to a brisk half hour walk. Either way, like Shelley said, we should be challenging ourselves to do new and different things in our life.

That opportunity presented itself on our last day in Moab. Russ signed us up for a whitewater rafting adventure down the Colorado River. Initially reluctant to try such a potentially dangerous activity, I couldn't let my 7-year-old grandson see my fear. All precautions would be taken. Well, it turned out to be one of the most exhilarating and thrilling adventures ever. Who knows what fun awaits us if accept the challenge and just try new activities?

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, September 07, 2015

 

The concussion discussion


As the weather cools (at some point it will) and school begins, local sports seasons take off in full force. With these fall sports comes the potential for injuries. One of the most common health issues that arises during youth sports seasons is concussions.

Concussions are defined by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons as “an injury to the brain that results in temporary loss of normal brain function.” This can have an especially pronounced impact on the developing brain of children and adolescents. Therefore, it is extremely important to learn the signs and symptoms of a concussion and what to do if your child or adolescent exhibits these signs.

Signs of a concussion.
Concussions can occur in many ways -- from a collision with another player, with equipment, or with a fall to the ground. If your child experiences a blow to the head, it is important to monitor them for signs of a concussion for the next several hours.

Dr. Anthony Alessi, a neurologist practicing in Norwich, explains that early signs of a concussion can include “headache, dizziness, nausea, a change in consciousness, memory difficulties and confusion.”
While one sign of a concussion is a change in consciousness, this is not a requirement for a concussion and should not be the sole determinant. A child can still have a concussion without a loss of consciousness. Additional chronic symptoms can include “persistent headache, difficulty concentrating, altered sleep, light sensitivity and dizziness,” according to Alessi.

You think your child might have a concussion. Now what?
If your child exhibits symptoms of a concussion it is important to take action. First, do not allow your child to continue playing in the game or participating in physical activity. If you are concerned about a concussion it is important for your child to be seen by a medical provider. Dr. Alessi explains that if the child’s primary care provider is available that should always be your first option. However, if that is not an option, the emergency room can be utilized. If the child’s symptoms continue a referral and evaluation by a neurologist is the next important step.

Treating a concussion.
It is important to follow the instructions of your child’s physician. The most common treatment is rest. This includes not only a break from sports but also from other mentally stimulating tasks such as video games and reading.

It is especially important for children to go back to playing gradually as additional concussions can have a significant impact on the brain. The child should only return to play with physician approval.
Once approved, the child should begin with light activity and only continue if he or she does not experience any symptoms. A discussion with your child’s coach is also important to assure that everyone is on the same page and doing what is best for your child.

How to prevent concussions
There are important preventative measures that you can take to lessen the risk of concussions in young athletes. The Institute of Medicine recommends making sure children have the correct equipment for their sport, that it is in good condition, and that they wear it properly.

Ensure that the field is in good condition, including looking for any holes or uneven surfaces. In addition, encourage children to learn and play by the rules of their sport. While these measures will not eliminate concussions, they can help keep the number of concussions and other injuries to a minimum.
Further information

If you would like to learn more about the signs and symptoms of concussions, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention offers a free 30-minute concussion training course for parents, coaches, and anyone else who is interested. It can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/youthsports/training/index.html.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

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