Monday, December 31, 2012


Follow your heart to a healthier life

When my children became adults they moved to Utah and California to pursue their dreams.

Consequently, my husband and I spend a lot of time on airplanes, visiting them as often as possible.

In an effort to pass the time, I like to be friendly and engage my seatmates in conversation. Unless, of course, the person pulls a hood over their face and pretends to sleep even before take-off.  I can take a hint.  But in most cases my experience has been very positive.  I have met the most fascinating people.

Our most recent trek was to San Francisco, a six-hour flight.  The window seat was occupied by a woman of about 55 years old who was on her way to a small business seminar in San Francisco.  

She was a genuinely happy person, with a positive attitude who revealed that in the past she had a very responsible job that she hated.  She earned a good salary, but had no job satisfaction. Her husband was deceased and she was raising her two children alone. She seemed to be constantly sick from one illness or another. 

As soon as they were grown and on their own, she quit her job to pursue her dream of owning her own business.  It was a struggle getting started, and she still doesn't make as large a salary as she once did, but she said her physical health improved dramatically once her emotional health did.  "I wouldn't go back to a job I hated for all the money in the world."

Coincidentally, the in-flight magazine featured an interview with actor Hugh Jackman. He told of his early life and career and how he acted strategically instead of making choices from the heart.  "I wish someone had told me earlier that it's OK to follow my bliss," he said.

When I worked for Hospice, I often asked my patients if they had any words of advice for me.  It was no secret that they were at the end of life, and they invariably said they wished they had started working on their "bucket list" earlier. The most content people were able to say they truly enjoyed their family, friends and occupations.  It was sad to witness people who didn't pursue their dreams and sorely regretted it.

Colin Powell has been quoted as saying, “A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  Indeed, it is not always easy, but my children are pursuing their dreams and we have never seen them happier.

Hugh Jackman said, "whatever we do in life, if it's from the heart, the result is irrelevant. It's the journey that matters. I'll only follow my heart from now on." 

Sounds like good advice for us all. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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   

Monday, December 24, 2012


Reassure your children following Sandy Hook shootings

It is not a stretch to say that almost everyone in the state and our nation is shocked and saddened by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown that killed 20 children and six adults. 

These events can be frightening for children and parents, especially when they occur relatively close to our own community.  While young children may not fully grasp the intensity of the event, questions arise and our children need to be comforted and have their questions answered. 

While we are all trying to regain our strength and continue to support our loved ones, here are few tips that might help parents and guardians:

•  Reassure your children that they are safe in their home and in their school. Emphasize that schools are safe and secure. 

•  Make time to talk with your children and validate their feelings, whatever those feelings may be. Explain that all feelings are ok when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Children may not always express themselves readily. Watch for clues, for example clinging more than usual, and encourage them to talk.. Observe for any changes in behavior, sleep pattern and appetite.

•  Keep your explanation appropriate to the age of the child. Elementary school kids need brief, simple information and lots of reassurance. Middle school children will need more details about whether they are truly safe and what is being done to keep them safe. High school students will need to be aware of their environment and follow safety guidelines. They should communicate any strange activity or possible loophole in the security that they see to appropriate authorities.

•  Review safety procedures, including following guidelines and knowing whom to go to when they feel threatened.

•  Limit exposure to continuing media coverage.  Often in cases like this, media can inundate us with graphic images that can be disturbing for children as well as adults.

•  Maintain a normal routine. Keeping a regular schedule can be reassuring. Encourage children to eat healthy and get plenty of sleep. Ensure that they keep up with their school work and extracurricular activities, but monitor for any sense of being overwhelmed.

If you are concerned or need further information, your pediatrician can offer further suggestions and resources.
Dr. Ravi Prakash is a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff and a private practice pediatrician. 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, December 18, 2012


The costs of smoking go even beyond your health

There can't be one person left in the world that doesn't know smoking is a health hazard. The effects of tobacco and nicotine have been well documented:
Lung cancer, bladder cancer, asthma, emphysema, circulatory problems, not to mention prematurely wrinkled skin, bad breath, yellow teeth, and tooth and gum disease.

Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics reveal that in Connecticut, 15.9% of the adult population — over 428,000 individuals — are current cigarette smokers, and 9.8 % of youth ages 12-17 years smoked a cigarette in the past month.
Backus Health System Registered Respiratory Therapist Annette McDonald, one of the certified facilitators for the American Lung Association "Freedom From Smoking" cessation classes, has prepared a list delineating the consequences of smoking on the wallet.  This might provide more of an incentive to quit.

At $8.50 per pack, if you smoked one pack per day it costs:

•  $59.50 per week
•  $255 per month
•  $3,102.50 per year
•  $15,512.50 in five years
•  $31,025.00 in 10 years

What can you buy if you saved that money instead of smoking?

•  One pack of cigarettes = eight songs for your iPod on iTunes at 99 cents per song
•  In one week you would have enough money for dinner for two.
•  In one month you would have enough money for a car payment.
•  In one year you would have enough money for a vacation.
•  In 5 years you could buy a compact car.
•  In 10 years you would save enough for a down payment on a house.

When some people see these figures, it can have a bigger impact than hearing health hazard statistics.  No matter how you look at it — the cost of smoking is not worth it, healthwise or in our pocketbook.

Start the new year right by taking a smoking cessation class, which are offered at local hospitals. Quit smoking and start reaping the health as well as the financial benefits.
Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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   

Monday, December 10, 2012


Quirky traits can translate to success

At one time or another, haven’t we all secretly suspected that we were exhibiting signs of “going a little crazy?” 

When I was a little girl, my mother often said to me, “You’re either laughing hysterically or crying – there is no in-between with you.”  

She was right; I did seem to always be behaving at one extreme or the other. When I was older and took Psychology 101 in college, I wondered if I was exhibiting signs of bipolar disorder.

Recently, I was very comforted to read an article in the March 2012 issue of Reader’s Digest, entitled, “The Upside of Being a Little Nuts.”   Psychiatrists tell us that all behavior occurs on a spectrum.  For instance, we all worry about things at times, but some of us are crippled by frequent panic attacks.  The article described the very good news that people diagnosed with certain disorders can also possess desirable qualities and useful characteristics. 

For example, people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are more likely to be hardworking and diligent.  People with OCD thrive in situations and occupations that have strict rules and guidelines and require focus and concentration, like accountants and business managers.

Someone with anxiety disorder is more likely to be sensitive, attentive to others, and compassionate. The author of this Reader’s Digest article suggests that highly anxious people are also hyper-vigilant, so they make good surgeons, dentists, and bankers.

People with mild bipolar disorder are more likely to be creative.  Artists, musicians, and writers tend to be prone to mood swings, but this can be their forte. When they are manic, their creativity is maximized.

Well, I can attest to that one.  When I am exceedingly happy, I can write health columns, draw pictures, paint in watercolors, cook gourmet dinners for 10 and plant the garden — all in one day.   Other days, when I feel disappointed and down, I can’t even make a breakfast omelet — a bowl of cold cereal is all I can manage. 

Many people who have Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, are also good problem solvers. They may be socially awkward, but their ability to focus is intense. They make good engineers and scientists.  Los Angeles Psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus reports that, “Numbers and concrete science really make sense to them.”

The good news for all of us is that behavior we suspected was “a little nuts” can actually be an asset that can benefit and be valued by society.   
Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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   

Monday, December 03, 2012


Sleep tight, live right

Studies show that getting proper rest and a good night’s sleep may actually strengthen the immune system.  A healthy immune system is vital, especially as we are in the midst of cold and flu season. 

Registered nurse Sheryl Ness, Mayo Clinic Nurse Educator, offers some simple strategies that may assist you in getting a good quality sleep: 

•  Create good sleep habits. This includes going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning. Most people need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

•  Incorporate a relaxing bedtime routine of a few minutes of meditation, quiet music or easy yoga stretches before you go to bed.

•  If you need to nap during the day, try to nap in the mid-afternoon and limit your nap to 30-60 minutes at the most.

•  Watch your total caffeine intake all day; especially limit drinking coffee, tea or sodas with caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours.

•  If you do have problems falling to sleep after a few minutes, get out of bed and try reading or doing another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again.

•  Create a good sleep environment. The bedroom should be quiet and relaxing; try using ear plugs and window shades if needed. 

Backus Hospital Pharmacist Ryan Jones acknowledges that stress can make sleep difficult.  

“Try to remove any stressful or worrying thoughts from the forefront of your mind before going to bed,” he said.  “If the next day’s tasks have you stressed, make a list of them before bed. This simple act helps clear the mind of stressful thoughts for the night.”

If all of these measures fail, discuss with your primary care provider the possibility of sleep aids or medication.

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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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