Monday, May 28, 2012


Taking care of your eyes can improve overall health

As we get older, changes in our vision are almost inevitable. Some of this is routine, but some symptoms could signal a bigger problems.

When people reach their 40s, they may note vision up close is impaired. Nearly all people 45 years and older need reading glasses. This is due to hardening of the lens, called presbyopia, and can be corrected with reading glasses that help magnify the small print. 

Everyone over 50 should see an eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. Many eye diseases have no warning signs. Regular eye exams can detect changes in the eyes early and preventative actions can be taken to prevent vision loss. An eye professional will tell you how often you need to have your eyes examined.

Here are some common conditions and their treatments, according to the National Eye Institute and the National Institute of Health:

Age-related macular degeneration: This is the most common cause of vision loss in adults. It is characterized by central vision (seeing right in front of you) loss while peripheral vision (seeing to your left and right) is maintained. The vision loss makes it difficult to recognize faces, drive a car, read, print, or do close work, such as sewing or fixing things around the house. Aside from aging, risk factors also include: tobacco use, sun exposure, and family history. Laser treatment is an option, in consultation with a vision specialist.

Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Vision with cataract can appear cloudy or blurry, colors may seem faded and you may notice a lot of glare. Most cataracts are age related. Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataracts. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants. Preventative actions when cataracts are detected early include the use of eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. Cataracts need to be surgically removed when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or watching TV.

Diabetic eye disease: Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes and is a leading cause of blindness. The most common form is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina. There are no early warning signs for this and that is why, besides keeping your blood sugar in control, it is very important to get a dilated eye exam every year if you have diabetes. Laser surgery and appropriate follow up care can reduce the risk of blindness by 90 percent. However, laser surgery often cannot restore vision that has already been lost, which is why finding diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss.

Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. It is usually associated with high pressure in the eye and affects side or peripheral vision. Open-angle glaucoma is a painless increase in eye pressure. This can result in loss of peripheral vision if untreated. This is avoidable with regular eye examinations and treatments prescribed by the eye doctor. Closed-angle glaucoma is a sudden increase in eye pressure that occurs in one eye. It is very painful with vision changes including halos around lights. This requires emergent care by an ophthalmologist for rapid pressure reduction with medication and possible surgery.

Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. Dry eye can make it more difficult to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period of time. Symptoms of dry eye include an inability to produce tears, burning, itching, gritty/sandpaper feel in the eye, pain and eye redness, uncomfortable contact lenses, and tiredness of the eye. If your eyes are dry, the first option is to use over-the-counter artificial tears, gels, ointments, or wetting drops. Humidify dry environments in the home and allow your eyes to rest from long periods of reading or using the computer.  It is important to see an eye care professional to determine the cause of the eye dryness.

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing can seem challenging. With help from vision specialists, there are ways to change the environment to help improve your vision.

Vision specialists can help you make adjustments in the home by rearranging daily use items. Many individuals with low vision benefit from talking clocks and computers. Magnifiers can be handheld and worn as head gear. Telescopic lens can assist with safe mobility outside the home. Microwaves can be altered with raised buttons to maintain independence of making quick meals. Light can be adjusted to assist with writing and vision specialists can assist with writing guidance. Large print books and reading materials allow for the continued joys and rituals of reading. Closed circuit television can be utilized to enlarge the print in letters, bills, newspapers, and magazines.
Mobility specialists can assist with teaching ease and safety for getting around. 

Support groups are available to talk about the challenges, frustrations, fears, and unhappiness that can come from living with low vision. 
Kristie Tapper is an advanced practice registered nurse at the Colchester Backus Health Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Tapper or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Athletes are not immune to depression

The death of NFL great Junior Seau has highlighted a topic that doesn’t get much attention — the link between athletics and depression.

Depression is an illness that affects approximately 15 million American adults each year — and athletes are not excluded.  Like many other illnesses, depression has no boundaries in regard to gender, profession or socioeconomic status and is often overlooked in children and young adults.  It can also expedite the affects of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

There is no single factor that causes depression. Stress, sleep deprivation, genetics and hormonal fluctuations are among the influences that cause an alteration in brain chemistry ultimately resulting in depression.

As with any other group, athletes are not immune to depression and its effects. In fact, they might be prone to it in certain circumstances.

After coming off the mountain of being involved in professional sports, it is not uncommon for retired athletes, especially, to lose self-esteem.  This can lead to a downward spiral including drug and alcohol use and depression.

A problem is that depression is not always properly identified, and the stereotypical assumptions can compound the problem. Despite what some people think, being rich and famous does not lesson the possibility of depression.

Athletes typically enjoy the benefits of being popular among peers, access to higher education and being in excellent general health.  Unfortunately, many of these advantages can be fleeting.

Head injuries can also play a role in precipitating a bout of depression. 

The good news is depression is treatable, especially when identified early. If you think you or someone you love is suffering from the disease, talk to your doctor. Depression is widespread — but its symptoms can be managed.

James O’Dea is a psychiatrist and Vice President of Clinical Service Line Development, The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal healthcare provider. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. O’Dea or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 14, 2012


Region faces high rates of obesity, made worse by long commutes

There are an estimated 175,000 overweight or obese adults living in the greater Norwich area.  Even more staggering, these individuals pay an average of 41% more in medical bills each year compared to those who are not overweight or obese.

In a 2010 community health needs assessment survey conducted by Holleran, an independent consulting firm, Backus Hospital identified obesity as one of seven health priority areas.

Although obesity is one of the most preventable causes of chronic disease, a recent study by the American Journal for Preventive Medicine found that obesity can be compounded for those who travel long commutes or regularly sit in traffic.

In fact, 21% of individuals who travel 11 to 15 miles a day are obese and this number jumps to 25% for those who commute 16 to 20 miles a day.

To help the communities of southeastern Connecticut deal with and reduce rates of obesity, Backus is continuing to reinforce and expand the Backus Weight Loss Center.  Participants of the program have access to a wide range of healthcare professionals and services including:

•  Nutritional counseling
•  Support groups
•  Psychological counseling
•  Bariatric surgery

Since 2010, 100 Lap-Band procedures have been performed at Backus.  To be eligible for this surgical procedure patients must:

•  Be at least 100 pounds overweight
•  Have a body mass index (BMI) of 30
•  Suffering from one or more severe obesity-related health issues
•  Be at least 18 years of age
•  Have been overweight for more than five years
•  Be prepared to attend regular follow-up sessions and make lifestyle changes

If you or someone you know is struggling with obesity and its negative health effects, contact your primary care physician.  For more information about the Backus Weight Loss Center, visit or call 860-425-8740.

Mark Tousignant, MD, is the Medical Director of the Backus Weight Loss Center. This column should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Tousignant or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Active children lead to healthier adults

America is getting fatter — all the data tells us so.

Odds are, adults who are obese were probably heavy during their childhood.

Awareness about childhood obesity is increasing, as I am asked about it on a regular basis by parents.
Many parents are aware that their children are overweight. Unfortunately their main approach to control this rests only on diet.  Exercise is often overlooked, and unfortunately the only activities some children get is playing with their XBoxes, Wii or PlayStations.

With physical activity declining dramatically as a child's age and school grade increases, it is important that exercise be a regular part of family life. Studies have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. If sports and physical activities are  family priorities, they will provide children and parents with a strong foundation for a lifetime of health.

Parents can play a key role in helping their children become more active. Here are some ways to get started:

  Have fun. Help your children find sports they enjoy The more they like the activity, the more likely they will continue. Get the entire family involved. It is a great way to spend time together.
  Choose an activity that is developmentally appropriate. For example soccer, bicycle riding, and swimming are all appropriate activities for an elementary school child.
  Safety cannot be overstressed. Make sure your child's equipment and chosen site for the sport or activity are safe. Make sure your child's clothing is comfortable and appropriate.
  Avoid sugary drinks. Unfortunately, Gatorades and Powerades have become the drink of choice in many little leagues and other youth sports. Just water is plenty.
  If you have no time for organized sports, make time for exercise. Some children are so overscheduled with homework, music lessons, and other planned activities that they do not have time for exercise.
  Be a model for your child. Children who regularly see their parents enjoying sports and physical activity are more likely to do so themselves. Play with your child. Help them learn  new sports.
  Turn off the TV. Limit television watching and computer use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of total screen time, including TV, videos, and computers and video games, each day. Use the time saved for more physical activities.

Exercise along with a balanced diet provides the foundation for a healthy, active life. One of the most important things parents can do is encourage healthy habits in their children early in life. It is never too late to start. Your pediatrician can help your child understand why physical activity is important. 

Ravi Prakash is a pediatrician on The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Prakash or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Alcohol abuse higher locally compared to nation

Alcoholism affects six out of 10 adults in the greater Norwich area.  Even more staggering, 10% of these adults also partake in binge drinking.

In a 2010 community health needs assessment survey for Backus Hospital conducted by a Holleran, an independent consulting firm, identified alcohol use as a health priority area.
In fact, a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that excessive drinking in New London County is 8% higher than the national benchmark.

To help eastern Connecticut communities reduce rates of alcoholism, we must reinforce already existing programs such as “Be Aware: A Teen Program for Smart Choices” and develop a collaborative system of care including social service agencies, community education programs, not-for-profit organizations and others.

Most often people turn to drinking due to:
•  A family history of alcohol abuse
•  Peer pressure
•  Struggles with mental illness
•  Leading a stressful lifestyle.

Signs that your loved one may be dealing with alcohol abuse include:
•  Neglecting responsibilities at work or home
•  Shaking when they haven’t had a drink for a period of time
•  Need alcohol to get through the day
•  Not eating or eating poorly.

If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol abuse, contact your primary care physician.  More information about alcohol abuse can be found at The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website at

Alice Facente is a registered nurse and clinical educator at the The William W. Backus Hospital Education Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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