Monday, February 23, 2015

 

Group support is key to quitting smoking


The tobacco companies may not like us, but we are on a mission to reach out to every smoker in our community and offer the opportunity to join our smoking cessation classes.

We have conducted these seven-week, eight-session American Lung Association “Freedom from Smoking” classes since January 2012 with very good success.  We want to spread the word:  of the 20 rounds of classes we have offered since that time, 43-57% of the participants report they quit smoking entirely by the end of the program.   That’s a very good quit rate.
The secret to our success is two-fold.  To ensure there is “skin in the game,” we charge $50 to join the program, payable at the first class, but we refund that money in its entirety if the participant attends all eight sessions. So the class is essentially free with full participation in the classes: it’s a monetary incentive that works.  People complain that $50 is a lot to put up front, but we remind them a pack of cigarettes averages $8.50 each, so a one-pack-per-day smoker will spend $59.50 in one week.  That usually ends the protest.
Second, the group support derived from gathering people together who are all in the same boat is undeniably helpful.  The program facilitators are all former smokers, so they fully understand the challenges you face when you try to quit smoking.
At the first class, everyone has a chance to speak up and tell their story — when they started smoking, how many times they have tried to quit, and what is the motivating factor that made them join the class.  It seems the average number of times people have previously tried to quit smoking is four.
Everyone supports the others in the group as all are well aware of how very difficult it is to quit smoking.  And it’s hard not to laugh when a man jokes he was coerced into joining the class because his wife threatened to shoot him if he didn’t quit smoking. 
So if you or someone you love really wants to quit smoking, find a “Freedom From Smoking” class offered near you and sign up today.  Your wallet, your lungs, and your loved ones will thank you.
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.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

 

Want to better understand health care? Ask Me 3


It can be a daunting experience to navigate the health care system.  An excellent program has been created by the National Patient Safety Foundation called “Ask Me 3.”
This is a patient education initiative designed to promote communication between health care providers and patients in order to improve health outcomes. The program encourages patients to understand the answers to three questions:
• What is my main problem?
• What do I need to do?
• Why is it important for me to do this?
People are encouraged to ask their providers these three simple but essential questions in every health care interaction. Likewise, providers should make sure their patients understand the answers to these three questions.
But what if the person does not understand English ?
Imagine being handed a prescription, written in another language, and being told, “Prenez ces pilules trois fois par jour.”  Unless you understand French, you would not know the instructions are “Take these pills three times a day.” 
As The Bulletin has reported recently, 37 different languages are spoken in the homes of students attending NFA.   So how has Backus Hospital and the Hartford HealthCare system dealt with this challenge?   Backus has contracted with two language interpreter services.  The first is a phone language interpreter service, with two handsets, allowing for a three-way conversation — the patient, the health care provider, and the certified medical interpreter.   The second is a video system, where the patient can see the interpreter and vice versa.  This video system is also used for sign language interpretation for hearing impaired patients.  Both systems are available 24 hours a day.
Better communication and understanding result in better health outcomes... and isn’t that really everyone’s goal?
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, February 09, 2015

 

Winter vegetables: The chilly weather champions


Any savvy shopper on a tight food budget knows that a key way to save on produce is to purchase fruits and vegetables when they are in season.  And seasonal produce is not only more cost effective, but fresher and more flavorful.  It’s a win-win, right?
Then winter rolls around. 
Unless you are lucky enough to live in a tropical climate (in which case I would love to visit — is tomorrow convenient?), you have probably noticed that your in-season vegetable options are limited.   So what’s a bargain hunter to do?  Are we simply doomed to a steady diet of potatoes, carrots and onions until spring?
Never fear!  The winter veggies are here to rescue you from the scourges of empty-wallet syndrome and menu boredom!  These lovely little beauties do it all.  They can tempt your taste buds as well as tame your appetite (due to a healthy dose of fiber) all while trimming the “fat” from your food budget.  BAM!
Here’s just a sampling of our winter veggie super-hero line-up:
• Beets: They may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but beets certainly do not disappoint in flavor or nutrition. In all their crimson glory, these guys pack an unbeatable antioxidant punch and when roasted, offer a mild-mannered sweet and earthy taste that will have your family rushing to the table faster than a speeding bullet.
• Brussels sprouts: OK, so given your childhood horror stories, these little guys might seem more Darth Vader than Luke Skywalker, but give them a second chance with your now-grown-up taste buds.  There are many ways to reduce the bitterness of this notoriously-nutritious vegetable, from trying different cooking methods to using seasonings creatively.  Give them another try, and I promise you will find that they are truly a force to be reckoned with.
• Cabbage: Every Space Ranger needs vitamin C and folate, and it just so happens that cabbage is packed with both, as well as a whole host of disease-fighting phyto-nutrients. With a distinct flavor and aroma, cabbage is excellent in a stir fry, hearty soup or added to a crisp salad for some extra crunch that’s sure to take you to infinity and beyond.
• Parsnips: Looking for a tasty addition to a hearty winter meal?  No need to send Gotham a signal.  Parsnips are a fantastic alternative to carrots with a healthy dose of vitamin E and a welcoming flavor you’ll go batty for.
• Turnips/Rutabagas: Like Marvel and DC, these wonderful root veggies are very similar and often confused with one another.  No matter; they are both delicious and can be used much like potatoes with all the nutrient power, but fewer carbs.  Excelsior!
• Winter squashes: We can’t all be billionaire tech-geniuses, but with a ton of vitamin A and a surprising amount of iron, these delicately sweet delights just might raise your IQ a few points and they’ll definitely save you some cash.  From acorn to pumpkin to turban, winter squashes are scrumptious when roasted or pureed in soups.  Now that’s a thing of stark beauty.
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, February 02, 2015

 

Storm brings heavy snow — and heavy hearts


We live in stressful times.  Every time we open the newspaper or watch the news on TV, there are reports of natural disasters, catastrophic illnesses and crises. But I have always maintained that crises bring out the best in people.  Here’s an example: 
Last week, our region experienced “ Blizzard Juno.”  Two feet of snow was dumped on our region, and in some locations, even more, all in a short period of time.  Social media was extremely busy.  There were countless posts of people thanking kind neighbors for shoveling their driveway.   One woman posted that she ran out of firewood, her primary source of heat, and three people immediately offered to deliver some from their own reserve.  People checked in on sick and elderly neighbors, sharing food and information. 
Hospitals can’t close for snowstorms.  Our local hospitals made provisions for the hundreds of staff members who worked long shifts and slept on cots for two days and nights so they could provide continuous care for their patients.
There were photos of town public works personnel napping after plowing the streets for 20 hours straight to keep us all safe.  I know of one 911 call at 2 a.m., the height of the storm, for a medical emergency.  The ambulance followed closely behind as the town worker plowed a pathway to the house. 
Visiting nurses are used to being innovative — they found a way to deliver the nursing care to those patients who required it, even when it meant climbing over snowbanks and shoveling a path to the front door.  
There is apparently a health benefit from being kind and supportive to others, according to Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, co-authors of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential — and Endangered.  “Our brains are designed so that our stress systems can be soothed by social support: in response to the calming words or gentle touch of loved ones, for example, the bonding hormone oxytocin tends to lower levels of stress hormones.” 
During Superstorm Sandy, I volunteered with the Red Cross at the temporary shelter at Fitch High School.  Among the numerous stories that emerged from that experience, my favorite was seeing a very large young man with a shaved head, covered in tattoos, assigned to a cot next to a petite elderly Asian woman.  He escorted her to the dining area for meals, offering his arm in assistance.  Everyone made an effort to be sensitive and assist the mother of a young autistic boy who was having trouble adjusting to the chaos.  In those close quarters, people of all ages and races joined together in collaboration.  The prevailing attitude was, “We’re all in this together.” 
Nobody wants to face catastrophe, but when we do, it is heartwarming to witness how it brings out the best in people. 
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 19, 2015

 

Straight talk about flu season


The flu is going viral. Yes it is true. It‘s catchy!
Due to a genetic change in this shifty virus, this year’s flu shot is less effective (about 40% compared to close to 70% in past years). This is concerning since all of the national indicators have revealed that this could be the worst flu season in more than seven years. This is mostly due to the decreased effectiveness of our vaccine.
Who is at risk for influenza complications? Children (less than 5 years old); adults over 65; pregnant women or recent postpartum; nursing home patients or clients in long term facilities; any person with underlying medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);  diabetes, asthma or a weakened immune system as well as many others.
For a complete listing, check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website and view “Are You At Risk for Serious Illness from Flu.”
What should you do is you think you have the flu? Although the virus has shifted, our rapid flu test has not. It remains about 70% sensitive and 98% specific. The earlier you are tested, the more accurate the test result .
Therefore, it is essential that if you develop symptoms of fever, headache, body aches and fatigue,  you should visit your health care professional and be tested.  If your test is positive or your symptoms are classic, antiviral medications can be prescribed. These medications reduce symptoms and decrease the risk for complications from the flu. They are most effective if given within 72 hours of symptoms but recent evidence has shown some benefit even after four-five days of symptoms.
Of course, the best avenue is always prevention.  If you are diagnosed with the flu, please be considerate of others by isolating yourself especially when you are most contagious (first three to five days). Also, please cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. The use of disposable tissues are preferable over handkerchiefs since hankies are just a breeding ground for organisms. Hankies can go viral very easily. 
Frequent hand washing and alcohol cleansers are staples for everyone during this season. Studies have confirmed that the alcohol cleansers (such as Purell) are very effective at killing the flu on contact.
And, despite the flu mutation this year, vaccination is still the gold standard for flu prevention.
It takes a heightened vigilance and up-to-date knowledge to keep the flu contained. You are armed with all of that now. Let’s make healthy habits more catchy than the flu.
Paqui Motyl, MD, specializes in internal medicine and is based at the Montville Backus Family Health Center. 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 Mr. Motyl or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

 

A “check up” on Internet medical advice


“Please don’t get your medical advice from the internet.” I have said that repeatedly to friends, family, and even in previous health columns. Medical advice is what primary care providers are for.
A case in point:  my friend read something on the web about her symptoms and became extremely anxious and upset.  A week later, when she finally sat down and discussed it with her primary care provider, she was relieved to find that the web advice was totally false.  She had wasted valuable time and energy, did some foolish treatment that could have resulted in serious side effects, and spent a week in anguish for nothing.  Her doctor reassured her and set her on the right course of treatment.  Naturally, she vows never to repeat that foolish action again.  
“I want patients to know that every person has a unique genetic makeup,” says Dr. Christopher Awtrey, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, reaffirming why people should not rely on Googling to get medical advice. One person may require vastly different treatment than someone else receiving the same diagnosis.
Now, that being said, there are some internet sites where accurate and reliable information can be found.   Good sources of health information include:
•  Sites that end in ".gov," sponsored by the federal government, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.hhs.gov), the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).
•  .edu sites, created by universities or medical schools, such as Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine or University of California at Berkeley Hospital, or other healthcare facility sites, like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
•  .org sites maintained by not-for-profit groups whose focus is research and teaching the public about specific diseases or conditions, such as the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and, of course, hospitals like Backus.
•  Sites whose addresses end in .com are usually commercial sites and are often selling products.
I asked Dr. John Greeley, a primary care physician at the Backus Family Health Center at Crossroads in Waterford to weigh in on this issue and this is his response:
“There are many sources of health information out there and I don’t mind if people search for information on the internet, as long as they bring their questions and concerns to me at their next appointment so I can validate the information and we can proceed with an appropriate plan.  Seeking information from the internet and other sources is a great starting point, but patients should not act on this information without first filtering it through their physician,” Dr. Greeley said.
Sounds like very good advice we can all live with.
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 05, 2015

 

Five mood-boosting habits for the post-holiday slump


I absolutely love the holidays. Parties, presents, good food and time spent with family can make those first chilly days of winter feel like some of the warmest.
But on Jan. 2, it’s all over.  That winter wonderland of which we sang so fondly begins to look more like a wasteland, and we’re left facing months of dismal weather with nothing to look forward to until the spring thaw.
Many of us feel these post-holiday doldrums, and I am often asked at this time of year if there are any foods that can positively affect mood.  While there aren’t any specific foods that have been proven to boost a bad mood, there are certainly some health habits that foster good feelings.
Eat at least five servings daily of a variety of whole fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide a myriad of vitamins and minerals in addition to important phyto-chemicals that can improve health in many ways.  Many of these nutrients (especially B vitamins like folate) nourish the brain and allow it to produce the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods.  So eat your spinach with a smile!
Choose your carbs wisely. Processed carbohydrates and sugars might make you feel good for a little while, but once the initial rush is over you know the crash is coming.  And when we crash, what do we often do?  Look for another fix with more sugar or caffeine!  Get off the emotional rollercoaster by choosing fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grain foods which will help to stabilize your blood sugar.
Get your omega-3’s. Studies have shown an association between these essential healthy fats and our moods.  You can be sure you are getting what you need by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel or halibut two or more times per week and by including a variety of nuts and seeds in your daily routine.
Get your vitamin D. Because vitamin D is produced in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight, it should come as no surprise that many of us are depleted of this mood-enhancing nutrient during the shortest days of the year.  Luckily, if you’re eating the aforementioned fish for their omega-3’s, you’re also getting a healthy dose of vitamin D.  How convenient!  Some other sources of vitamin D include fortified whole grain cereals and dairy products and certain types of mushrooms, such as portabellas.
Get outside for some exercise whenever you can. We have an innate need as humans to be outside breathing fresh air and basking in sunlight.  It balances and invigorates us.  And research has shown time and again that physical activity positively impacts our psychological health in many ways.  So even though you might feel like hibernating, bundle up and brave the chill for just 10 to 15 minutes a day to take a brisk walk.  You’ll be amazed at how energized you feel!
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, December 22, 2014

 

Let’s make 2015 an awesome year


It can be quite challenging to find interesting topics to write about in health columns week after week.  A friend told me she enjoys reading my columns, but skips the ones where I get “too preachy.”  I try to keep that comment in mind and look for topics that are interesting, upbeat, not too annoying and definitely not “preachy.”

Sometimes it’s an idea to improve emotional health rather than focusing on disease prevention or treatment.  For example, this timely idea was posted on Facebook and I think it’s worth sharing.  “This January, why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen.  Then, on New Year’s Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.  It’s a good way to keep things in perspective.”
Just in case someone reads this and thinks there are not many awesome things happening these days, I Googled, “Bring more joy into your life” and got 9,200 hits.  There were a multitude of suggestions, everything from going outside and enjoying the energy and beauty of nature, or volunteering time to a worthy cause you believe in, or even taking time to re-connect with positive friends and family.
I am definitely doing this.  I already selected a clear jar so we can see the notes start to fill up during the year. I put a pen and small sheets of paper next to the jar. 
My husband is used to my projects and schemes and has learned over the years that it’s easier to just indulge me.  I predict he will eventually get into the spirit and contribute some notes about awesome things that happen during the year.
We can all think of awesome things that happen.  Everyone can define awesome in their own way. It doesn’t have to be discovering a cure for cancer; it can be as simple as watching an old classic movie with the family, or making a new recipe that turned out to be a new family favorite.  
Let’s share this idea with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Then maybe we can do something awesome that’s worthy of inclusion in their jar, too.  
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 15, 2014

 

Urgent care is a viable option


You don’t have to go very far before you see an “urgent care” center. They are an emerging national trend.


But what is urgent care, and when should you go to a facility that offers it?

The purpose of urgent care is to treat injuries or illnesses that require immediate care but are not life-threatening (like a heart attack or stroke).
As an urgent care provider myself, I am convinced that urgent care centers are valuable resources for patients for many reasons.
First, urgent care generally offers extended hours including evenings and weekends. As we all know, minor emergencies and sicknesses don’t just happen during business hours. Also, urgent care facilities are equipped to see patients of all ages, and usually accept most insurances.
Second, wait times at urgent care centers tend to be shorter than the traditional Emergency Room (ER).  Most urgent care sites have x-ray and lab capabilities as well, meaning you have the option of one-stop shopping in your community.
Finally, medical costs are much lower at an urgent care center compared to the ER.  For example, a case of strep throat treated at the ER can cost over $500, while the same illness treated at an urgent care center costs less than $125. As we are all beginning to pay more out of our own pockets for health care, cost has become more of an issue when people make choices about where they will seek treatment.
Your health is extremely important, but your time and money are important as well. In many scenarios, urgent care is the best option — you can get excellent care, faster, more conveniently, close to home and cheaper.
If you or a family member is faced with one of life’s minor emergencies, urgent care might just be the best option. 
Paqui Motyl, MD, specializes in internal medicine and is based at the Montville Backus Family Health Center. 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 Mr. Motyl or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

 

Connecticut winters: Magical and messy


Winter in Connecticut can be a fun and magical time.  Images come to mind of sitting around the fireplace wrapped up in a cozy blanket, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, and watching the snow fall outside.  Don’t we wish we could do this every day?  
 
The reality is that winter is also the time when flu, colds, and other nasty viruses seem to be everywhere.  That isn’t quite so pretty an image. 
Here are some great tips to strengthen your body’s immune system during the winter season.
My friend and colleague Dr. Setu Vora, a Backus Hospital pulmonologist and  the founder of Health Transformers, Inc, suggests we focus on three things for optimal health:  Menu – Mind – Move. 
1) Eat healthy. Maintaining a good healthy diet full of fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables, at least 5 servings a day.
2) Minimize stress. Studies have linked high stress levels to making a person more susceptible to catching colds and flu. Minimize your stress by doing some type of quiet meditation at least 15 minutes every day.  Dr. Vora says meditation can improve our energy, stress levels, and even our creative thinking. coma2
3) Exercise regularly. It is important to exercise regularly, ideally about 30 minutes a day. Get out and take a short walk and enjoy the crisp, cold, invigorating weather.
Learn more at Dr. Vora’s website: www.myhealthtransformers.com.
Here are five more tips to keep your immune system in top shape in the winter months.
4) Get enough sleep every night. The average person needs 6-8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body is very vulnerable to illness. Think of sleep like fuel that recharges your batteries! You’ve got to do it to keep the machine running.
5) Wash your hands regularly. Keep the bacteria and viruses off your hands and out of your mouth and eyes. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer close-by for those instances when you can’t get to soap and water.
6) Don’t smoke. Most of you already know this, but it bears repeating because smoking significantly weakens your immune system.  Check out the Backus website www.backushospital.org  to find out when the next Freedom From Smoking © cessation class begins.
7) Eat lots of garlic. This is my personal favorite.  Your breath will make people with contagious illnesses like colds and flu keep their distance from you.
8) Harness the power of positive thinking.   There are proven health benefits to having a positive attitude. Whatever the situation, it’s possible to think positively. Some days it takes a little more effort, but you can put a positive spin on any situation – it just takes practice!
I am grateful for the opportunity to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season. Be well!
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 24, 2014

 

First half hour after sleep can be a predictor of your entire day


Many years ago I read that the first 30 minutes after awakening are the most important.  That first half hour and what you do during that time will be a predictor of how your day will go.
I am reminded of this when I sleep through my alarm and have to rush around to get to the office or an appointment on time.  I inevitably spill my coffee or burn my toast, and vow to make better use of that first half hour in the future.
Every day I receive an email from DailyGood.org with uplifting messages and thoughts.  I try to read that email during that crucial first half hour because I want to start my day on a positive note.
Just in time for our Thanksgiving holiday was this appropriate message from Oxford clinical psychologist Mark Williams.  He suggests the “10-finger gratitude exercise,” in which once a day you list 10 things you’re grateful for and count them out on your fingers.
I tried this exercise for the past couple of days, and it’s surprisingly fast, simple, and satisfying.  “I live in peace, I have loved ones, I have my health, I enjoy my job” ….well, you get the point.
A quick search on the internet about the health benefits associated with an attitude of gratitude should be enough to convince anyone to practice being more thankful every day.
The “10-finger gratitude exercise” seems like a pretty good way to start.  I am grateful for the opportunity to wish a happy and healthy Thanksgiving to all!
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 17, 2014

 

Food is a healthy way to bring family, friends together this holiday season

Thanksgiving is without a doubt my favorite holiday.  Why?  Well, besides being the official start of the holiday season, Thanksgiving is all about FOOD.  No fancy clothes, no gifts, no whimsical mascot (sorry Santa)…  Just food.   And LOTS of it.
Don’t get me wrong, it can still be stressful; especially if you are tasked with hosting the family feast.  This time of year, every woman’s health and foodie magazine features a sparkling holiday spread amid an immaculate and impeccably-appointed home.  Bombarded with all of this imagery, it’s easy to feel like we won’t measure up if we don’t spend hours DIY-ing the perfect centerpiece or baking those adorable cupcakes made to look like turkeys.
Isn’t it amazing how the media can make us feel inadequate about almost anything?
To some extent, I think many of us fall into this trap at the holidays.  We feel that somehow the world will end if we don’t nail that Martha Stewart Living cover photo.  (C’mon, you know there is no WAY she does all that stuff!)
Ironically, sometimes it’s the “epic fails” that create the best memories.  My mom and I still laugh about the year we spent nearly an entire day making beautiful gingerbread cookies and as I so proudly brought them to the table, I tripped over the dog reducing our picture-perfect pastries to sugary shrapnel.  On the plus side, the dog was quick to apologize by gladly helping us clean up the mess. 
A friend of mine says her favorite Thanksgiving was the year she forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer until the day before.  She spent the better half of that night with her husband, laughing as they thawed it with hair-dryers and watched holiday movies.
It’s stories like this that remind me that although we fuss over the details, the holidays are not really about the food or the decor, but the experiences.  The food certainly enhances those experiences, but it’s the feeling we get from being together that becomes a part of us. 
So when you embark on that pumpkin-shaped seven-layer cake with spiced rum ganache, don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out quite as pumpkin-shaped as you had hoped.  With all that sugar and butter, I’m sure it will still be delicious.  And even if it’s not, it’ll make a great memory.
Whatever you place on your table this holiday season, I hope you gather around it in love and laughter.  Because if you ask me, a meal eaten among friends and family in genuine companionship and gratitude provides more nourishment than all the wheatgrass on earth.  And no calories, of course.
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 10, 2014

 

The myth of multitasking


It’s a phrase that we hear in job interviews, write on resumes and read on job descriptions — ability to multi-task. It’s almost as if your career hangs in the balance if you aren’t able to do several things at once.
But let’s take a moment to focus — literally. As it turns out, multitasking is not as productive or efficient as once thought, according to recent research.
This is the best news I’ve heard since they proclaimed dark chocolate is good for you.
It seems like the older I get, the harder it is to multitask.  This inability to keep up with the constant barrage of emails, phone messages, blog posts, deadlines, mandatory meetings, etc., has made me feel inefficient and disorganized.
Not so, says Jim Taylor, PhD, writing for Psychology Today.  Dr. Taylor reports that a summary of research examining multitasking on the American Psychological Association's website describes how so-called multitasking is neither effective nor efficient
These findings demonstrate when you shift focus from one task to another, that transition is neither fast nor smooth. In fact, this constant shifting can take up to 40% more time than single tasking — especially for complex tasks.   Whew!  I feel vindicated.
Here are six tips to increase productivity and avoid multitasking.
•  Prioritize:  Learn to organize tasks into distinct categories and levels of difficulty.  Tackle the most important things on the list first.
•  Focus:  Put all your attention to the task at hand.  Do one thing at a time and see it through to completion.  
•  Limit distractions:  Close your door, block off a chunk of time that you are unavailable, and limit your ability to interact with others except for emergencies.  When I was faced with an impending deadline, I used to tell my kids, “Don’t interrupt me unless your hair is on fire.” 
•  Unplug:  Silence cell phones, don’t read or reply to e-mail or Facebook postings, and turn off the radio or TV. 
•  Don’t procrastinate:  This may be the hardest thing of all.  Seize the moment and plunge right in.  Once you’re on a roll, it will be easier to continue.
•  Reward yourself upon completion of a major task:  Something small, but satisfying, should be your reward, whether it is a walk around the block, reading a chapter in a favorite book or 15 minutes of mindful meditation.
Since I read that it’s healthy, I am rewarding myself for completing this health column by eating an ounce of dark chocolate.
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 03, 2014

 

Early detection of prostate cancer is key

 
Every year I sign up my husband for a prostate cancer screening.  Just like every other man, he hates to have it done, but he knows I won't budge on this issue.  He has a family history of prostate cancer, putting him at a higher risk. 

Current screening methods include a simple blood test for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and a digital rectal exam.  PSA is a protein that is produced by the prostate gland.  It is present in small quantities for healthy men, while higher amounts can indicate prostate cancer or less serious conditions such as infection.

There has been much recent debate surrounding yearly prostate screenings. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America explain the debate this way: previously, men over 50 were advised to be screened for prostate cancer once a year.  However, these annual screenings may lead to men having to make a difficult decision about treatment, when in fact, it may not be necessary.  Some treatments for prostate cancer can result in stressful side effects like urinary incontinence or erectile dysfunction. 

The debate becomes confusing when the same experts report that the 10-year survival rate for prostate cancer diagnosed in the early stages is 98 percent.  But how can you identify and diagnose prostate cancer unless you do the screening?

The experts conclude that not all men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer will need to be treated immediately; some will be advised to do nothing except "watchful waiting."  The bottom line is that deciding whether to have yearly prostate screenings, and what to do with the results, is entirely up to you and your doctor.

The American Cancer Society website informs us that a risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person's age or family history, can't be changed. But risk factors don't tell us everything. Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others with this disease may have had few or no known risk factors.

Some common risk factors for prostate cancer include:

•  Race: Studies show that African American men are approximately 60 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer in their lifetime than Caucasian or Hispanic men.
•  Age: The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age.
•  Family history: Men with an immediate blood relative, such as a father or brother, who has had prostate cancer, are twice as likely to develop the disease. If there is another family member diagnosed with the disease, the chances of getting prostate cancer increase.
•  Diet: A diet high in saturated fat, as well as obesity, increases the risk of prostate cancer.
•  High testosterone levels: Men who use testosterone therapy are more likely to develop prostate cancer, as an increase in testosterone stimulates the growth of the prostate gland.

So, come on ladies, encourage your husband or significant other to sign up for our annual free prostate cancer screening this Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Backus Hospital main lobby conference rooms.  Call 860-892-6900 to make an appointment.  Then you can do like I do, and treat him to a nice restaurant meal as a reward. Who knows? You might end up sitting at the table next to my husband and I.

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 27, 2014

 

What to do with all that Halloween candy

 
Let’s face it — kids are going to go trick-or-treating on Halloween and come home with a lot of candy.  As parents, we want to teach our children how to develop healthy habits, but we also want them to experience all the joy of this fun holiday. 

Luckily, there are several ways to handle this dilemma and some of them are a great way to teach our children about not only health, but the importance of giving.  After all, we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving in just a few short weeks!  Here are some great ideas: 
 
1) Halloween candy buy-back: Many dentists offer to buy back children’s Halloween candy for money or other prizes.  This way, the candy is gone but your child still gets to have all the fun of trick-or-treating.  Call your dentist to see if they are participating in this service.

2) Buy it back yourself: If you don’t have a dentist that offers Halloween candy buy-back, you can offer to buy back the candy yourself.  Tell your child that the more candy they “sell” the more money they will get. 

3) The Great Pumpkin/The Switch Witch: If you have younger children, you can add to the fun of Halloween by telling your child that if they put the candy that they don’t want in a bag on the front porch, the “Great Pumpkin” or the “Switch Witch” will take it and leave them a toy instead.  What to do with all that candy now that it is yours? Take a look at the next ideas.

4) Donate to a local food bank or shelter: This is a great way to teach kids about charity.  Let them know that they can help others who may be less fortunate by donating some of their candy to those in need.  Offer to let them come with you to make the donation so that they can share in the good feelings that come from giving.  

5) Make a soldier’s day: Many are not aware that you can donate candy to be put into care packages for our troops overseas. You can even have your child write a letter or draw a picture to go along with your donation. It’s always good to teach children to appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers make for us every day.  For more information, go to www.operationgratitude.com/halloween-candy-buy-back-2012/
 
Whatever method you choose, do your best not to make a big deal about it.  The more you try to force your ideas onto a child, the more likely they are to resist you.  

Always give your child the choice of what they wish to do with their candy.  A great suggestion is to give your child the option to keep their favorite types of candy and “sell” or donate the rest. Whatever your child decides to do, respect that choice and follow through.  A day or two of binging on candy is not going hurt your child, but being too strict can turn sweet treats into “forbidden fruit,” leading to unhealthy eating habits down the road. Try to make this experience as positive as possible because in the end, you want them to have the same fond memories of this spooky holiday that you do!

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, October 06, 2014

 

Decoding the health care jargon


The health care field has a language all to its own — one that is nearly unintelligible to the average person.  Hearing unfamiliar acronyms and abbreviations can be intimidating when they are being used to describe you and your health care problems.   

And there are so many of them!  In fact, the Healthcare Association of NY State has compiled a list of acronyms, abbreviations, and medical terms into a book that is 75 pages long.  When I scanned that long list, I was surprised at how many were unfamiliar to me, a person with decades of health care experience. 

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to process and understand information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

If your health are provider says that you have C.A.D. and wants to do a MUGA scan, your mind might race ahead and try to decipher those acronyms.  Does that mean you have “Chronic Alzheimer’s Disease,” and the plan is for you to get “mugged” in the X-ray department?   Actually, C.A.D. is the acronym for Coronary Artery Disease, and a MUGA scan, even though it’s pronounced “MUGGA,” does not involve violence; it stands for “Multiple Gated Acquisition” — a non-invasive  test used to measure heart function and performance. 

The point here:  ask questions.  Don’t be intimidated by medical jargon.  It’s easy for anxiety to be heightened when dealing with healthcare issues anyway. You shouldn’t have to ask “what does that mean?” after every sentence, but sometimes it’s necessary.   

Health care providers that communicate clearly to their patients will have the most success. It’s a two-way street — patients need to communicate their concerns and health habits to their provider, too. People will make better health care decisions with clear communication and understanding. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.  One last note: if your practitioner says you’re “S.O.B” that simply means, “Short of Breath.”

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 29, 2014

 

Five healthy questions to ask when eating out


If KFC’s “Double Down” sandwich has taught us anything, it’s that there is nothing nutritionally sacred when it comes to restaurants. If something is good, it can only get better by adding more butter, salt, cheese and bacon, right? 

Some restaurants will go to great lengths to get customers through their doors, committing some pretty amazing dietary debauchery along the way. But on the flip side, most will go to the same lengths to provide healthier options if you just know how to talk to the waitstaff. Here are some great questions to ask your server.

1) “Could I have water, please?”
Starting with a calorie-free beverage should be a no-brainer. And while artificially sweetened soft drinks technically fit the bill, good ol’ water will always win the healthy beverage choice award. If you would like a little something sweet to sip, consider getting a small juice along with your water and drink it slowly along with your meal.  

2) “What are your healthiest menu options?”
Servers usually know the menu inside and out, backwards, forwards and sideways. They know exactly how the food is prepared, so why not enlist their help?

3) “Do you offer lunch portions?” 
Enormous portions are one of the most egregious sins of restaurants today. But you need not fall victim to the mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate! There are a number of ways to minimize your portions when eating out. You can request a smaller lunch portion as suggested above, or share your meal with a dining companion. If no one else in your party shares your enthusiasm for limburger-anchovy pickled pigs feet, simply ask your server for a container and set aside half of the meal to take home. Just don’t expect a future dinner invite...

4) “May I substitute a salad or steamed vegetables for (insert deep-fried side here)?”
Most restaurants are more than willing to make these substitutions. And while you may be charged a tiny bit more, think of it as an investment in your health. What is your health worth to you?

5) “Can my meal be prepared with no added salt?”
Restaurants are notorious for the sky-high sodium content of their foods. But you can take control by asking that your food be prepared with no added salt or unnecessary fat and working with the staff to create a delicious meal that you can still feel good about. 

These are just a few ways to advocate for your dietary needs at restaurants. We all like to eat out from time to time, but we need not just accept the salt-laden, fat-drenched status quo. 

Oh, and when asking all of these questions, please don’t forget to be courteous to your server! They are handling your food, after all.

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, September 22, 2014

 

Today’s to-do list: Do nothing


Every day I receive an email from DailyGood.org that starts with a positive quote, followed by an uplifting story or essay that illustrates that quote.  Last week’s essay was entitled, “Today I will do nothing.”   That sure caught my attention.   In this fast-paced, often-frantic, stress-filled world perhaps there is nothing we need more than a day to do absolutely nothing. 

It seems that everyone is too busy to “stop and smell the roses.” That’s a saying we haven’t heard in a long time. 

Kids are rocketed from one activity to the next at a high velocity — from school to baseball practice, to dance lessons, to karate lessons, to a track meet, with barely enough time to squeeze in a fast food take-out  burger and fries for supper.  Homework is jammed in there somewhere, too.

Free time to do nothing seems to be a thing of the past, a time-waster, unnecessary, even boring.

But the frantic pace of our days leads to trouble sleeping at night. We start the process over again the next day without ever getting restored and revitalized. 

Here are some ways to accept the challenge of slowing down and unwinding. 

•  Take time to go outside and breathe in fresh air.  It will clear your mind and clear your lungs.  Take a leisurely walk. Look around at the beauty nature has to offer.  Children have this one figured out. They notice unusual bark on a tree,  heart-shaped rocks, faces in the clouds, colorful wildflowers, chipmunks scurrying, ant hills being built, splendid sunsets; it’s all there to be seen and enjoyed -- and it’s free.   

•  Unplug from technology.  For one day, take a break from computers, cell phones, all electronic devices, even television, but especially video games.  Your email and Facebook posts will still be there a day later.

•  Relax about keeping the house in perfect order.  My husband doesn’t like this suggestion, but I agree with the late Erma Bombeck who said, “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”

The late author O. Henry is credited with saying, “The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.”

We really can’t be aimless and uncalculating every day; that just isn’t feasible.  But a day to do nothing once in a while may be just the remedy we all need.

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 15, 2014

 

Preventing falls helps with confidence, independence


Julie, an active 76-year-old female who lived alone, had just finished eating her breakfast and was bringing her plate and coffee cup back to the sink.  As she turned away from the table, the cup wobbled, startling Julie and she lost her balance and fell to the ground.

She was scared and her right hip was aching, although she could move all her limbs.  The plate and cup had shattered and was all over the floor.  Julie tried to get up, but she couldn’t and the phone was in the other room.  She began to cry.

One third of all people over 65 years old who live independently will fall this year.  In Connecticut alone, we will spend nearly $140 million annually on the treatment of falls and related injuries.  In the United States, over $20 billion will be spent this year for the treatment of falls and related injuries. In the year 2020, over $67 billion will be spent.  Currently, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in older adults.

More importantly, the impact of a fall on an older person’s life is very significant.  Due to the psychological and physical impacts of a fall, many people take fewer trips to see family, fewer visits to see friends, pursue less participation in events in the community and suffer a loss of safe or comfortable mobility.

In other words, falls can greatly reduce a person’s quality of life.  Unfortunately, even if the fall did not result in an injury, the older person feels that falling is just a part of getting older and there is nothing they can do.

Julie began to settle down and was able to pull herself over to the kitchen chair.  After a few attempts, she was able to get herself up on the chair.  Her hip was still sore, but she could put weight on the leg without any severe pain.  She took a few deep breaths, stood up and made her way to the closet to get the broom.

Falls are not a normal consequence of aging.  Seniors should not accept that frequent losses of balance and falls are part of getting older.

Discussing a fall with family or a health-care professional is critical to recovery.  In fact, many of the reasons people fall can be treated or improved, but this begins by having a discussion with a healthcare professional and often by participating in physical and/or occupational therapy services focused on treating falls.

Therapy for the treatment of falls should be geared towards improving movement, strength, range of motion, reducing pain. Include a vestibular assessment and incorporate head movement with various activities.

Depending on the level of need, fall-related care can be done in the home or in outpatient clinics.  Even regular participation in simple exercise programs and walking groups can reduce the risk of falls.

Most importantly, losses of balance and falls should not be ignored.  Less than half of known falls are even reported to a health-care professional.  If your doctor knows you have fallen,  he or she can work with you to get the right services and care to help avoid future issues.

After the mess in the kitchen was cleaned up, Julie called her daughter and told her what happened.  They made an appointment to see her doctor and later received physical therapy for balance and gait.

Julie now takes daily walks around her neighborhood and has visited more of her friends recently than she had over the past few years.  She is happily living independently in her home.

Ross Davis, MSPT, MBA, is the director of Rehabilitation Services at VNA HealthCare, which, like Backus, is a member of the Hartford HealthCare network. 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 Mr. Davis or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org 


Monday, September 08, 2014

 

Kale is king for some


For several months, I have had an ongoing dialogue with my co-worker Jeff who just can’t understand my fondness for kale.  Everywhere you look there are recipes for kale.  It’s the featured new “wonder food” in gourmet magazines, health magazines, newspapers, and sports magazines.  He's not buying it. I tell him it’s called the “queen of greens.”  And for good reason.  Alison Lewis, writing for MindBodyGreen, touts some health benefits of kale:

•  Kale is low in calories, high in fiber and has zero fat. One cup of kale has only 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber and 0 grams of fat. It’s great for aiding in digestion and elimination with its great fiber content. It’s also filled with many nutrients, vitamins, folate and magnesium as well as those listed below.

•  It is high in iron. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef. Iron is essential for good health, such as the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and more.

•  Kale is great for the cardiovascular system. Eating more kale can also help lower cholesterol levels.

•  It is high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A is great for your vision, your skin as well as helping to prevent lung and oral cavity cancers.

•  The vegetable has lots Vitamin C. This is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and your hydration.

•  Last, but not least, kale is high in calcium. Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk, which aids in preventing bone loss, preventing osteoporosis and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Vitamin C is also helpful to maintain cartilage and joint flexibility.

OK, my coworker is still not convinced.  He’s not impressed with this remarkable list of health benefits.  If he thinks it doesn’t taste good, he won’t eat it.  I was up for the challenge. He didn’t like sautéed kale or tomato and kale salad, so maybe it was time to bring out the big guns.  My husband and I took him out to a restaurant in Putnam that serves kale chips as an appetizer.  They were tender, crunchy, melt-in-your mouth tasty.  Surprise: Jeff didn’t like them, so I was forced to eat the whole bowl.

Over the past year our community dietitian has developed several presentations designed to encourage school-aged kids to try new, healthy foods.  Teenagers pose the biggest challenge: fresh vegetables are hardly a match for pizza, burgers, fries and soda.  However, when I recently asked some teens to honestly tell me if these programs have changed their taste for vegetables, I was thrilled when two of them replied, “I really love kale now.”  One even said she looks for recipes to make it in different ways.

I told Jeff about these teen kale converts, but he just laughed.  I concede that he will never be the “king of kale,” but I will keep trying.  He doesn’t know what he’s missing!

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 01, 2014

 

Robin Williams’ suicide underscores a major problem


It has been several weeks, but many of us are still reeling from the tragic suicide of Robin Williams.  It’s difficult for us to comprehend that the entertainer who made us laugh heartily for decades could be suffering from depression so profound that he could find no other alternative to ease his pain than to take his own life.   None of us can know what someone else is experiencing in their own life.  It brings to mind the saying, “Don’t judge me until you have walked a mile in my shoes.”

Over one million people die by suicide every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it is the 13th-leading cause of death worldwide and the National Safety Council rates it sixth in the United States. It is a leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under 35.

There are many common myths about suicide, including that talking about it may give someone the idea.  The opposite is true: bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly may be one of the most helpful things you can do.  It shows you care, and it may even save a life.

Rev. John Watson is credited with saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”  We all need to be mindful of this in our daily interactions.

World Suicide Prevention Day is Sept 10.  This awareness day is observed every year, in order to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world. 

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  This is a national resource that may be accessed by anyone. If the person is a veteran, press “1” to access the Veterans Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment : 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).

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


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