Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dermatologists Advise Consumers to Check for Bedbugs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States is experiencing an alarming increase in the number of bedbugs. In addition to being found in private residences, such as apartments and single-family homes, bedbugs are increasingly affecting restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and schools and day care centers.
“Although bedbugs don’t usually require serious medical attention, they can cause a great deal of anxiety and restless nights,” said board-certified dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Plano, Texas and serves as clinical assistant professor of dermatology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “The most common sign of bedbugs is having bite marks on your body, which can sometimes turn into itchy welts.”
To help find bedbugs before they find you (and your belongings), Dr. Desai recommends looking for the following signs near places where you sleep:
  1. A sweet, musty odor: If you notice a sweet, musty odor in your hotel room, cruise ship cabin, or other sleeping area, there may be a heavy bedbug infestation in the room. Bedbugs produce chemicals to help them communicate, although not everyone will notice the smell.
  2. Specks of blood on bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture: Look carefully at your blankets, sheets and mattress pads, and then check the mattress and box spring. Are there specks of blood anywhere, especially near the seams? If so, there could be a bedbug infestation. You should also check for specks of blood on all upholstered furniture, including couches and headboards.
  3. Exoskeletons: Bedbugs have an outer shell that they shed and leave behind. Do you see shell-like remains on the mattress, mattress pad or beneath couch cushions?
  4. Tiny, blackish specks: If you see blackish specks on the bedding, mattress, or headboard, it could be bedbug excrement.
  5. Eggs: After mating, female bedbugs lay white, oval eggs in cracks and crevices. Keep in mind that these will be small, as a bedbug is only about the size of an apple seed.
“Most people who get bedbugs do so while traveling, making it critical to keep an eye out for infestations,” said Dr. Desai. “If you do get bedbugs and have many bites or a bite that looks infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat an infection and help relieve the itch.”
Source: The American Academy of Dermatology (www.aad.org). Visit the AAD website to watch a video on “How to Check for Bedbugs,” and to find a wide variety of information about skin health, skin diseases and a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Selecting the Right Sunglasses

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers tips for buying shades that give the most protection from harmful UV rays.
Everyone knows sunglasses make it easier to see on a sunny day, whether you’re out on the road or the water. However, wearing the right sunglasses is also the best defense for keeping ultraviolet (UV) rays from causing short- and long-term eye damage, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.
Studies have shown that accumulated UV exposure from the sun can heighten the risk of cataracts, as well as certain kinds of growths and eye cancer. Even just a few hours of intense UV exposure can cause temporary blindness. While everyone can potentially suffer these conditions, children and people with light-colored eyes should be especially careful since their eyes may be more susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays.
To help the public better protect their eyes from the sun, the Academy recently shared a list of important factors to consider when purchasing sunglasses:
  • Make it 100 percent. The single most important thing to look for when buying sunglasses to protect your eyes is a sticker or tag indicating that they block 100 percent of UV rays.
  • Bigger is better. The more coverage from sunglasses, the less sun damage inflicted on the eyes. Consider buying oversized or wraparound-style glasses, which help cut down on UV entering the eye from the side.
  • Darker lenses don’t protect better. While very dark lenses may look cool, they do not necessarily block more UV rays.
  • Color doesn’t matter. Some sunglasses come with amber, green or grey lenses. They do not block more sun but can increase contrast, which may be useful for athletes who play sports such as baseball or golf.
  • Polarized lenses cut glare, not UV. Polarization reduces glare coming off reflective surfaces like water or pavement. This does not offer more protection from the sun, but can make activities like driving or being on the water safer or more enjoyable.
  • Cost shouldn’t be a factor. Sunglasses don’t have to cost a lot of money to work well. Less expensive pairs marked as 100 percent UV-blocking can be just as effective as pricier options.
“When shopping for sunglasses, some people concentrate on appearance rather than sun protection,” said ophthalmologist Brenda Pagán-Durán, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “That’s why I always recommend they check for a tag or sticker that verifies the lenses block 100 percent UV rays. It’s a small step, but it really can help protect your eyes from the risk of serious conditions that can affect your vision and eye health.”
Source: The American Academy of Ophthalmology (www.aao.org). Learn more about how to protect your eyes from the sun at the Academy’s public information website,www.geteyesmart.org.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Turn Down That Music!"

“Turn Down That Music!”
You’ve probably read about the many therapeutic benefits music offers for healthy aging. Music promotes physical, mental and emotional health. Music has been found to boost the immune system, and is even used to help people with Alzheimer’s disease access old memories and become more aware of the present.
However, a new study from Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that there may be times when it’s better to turn off the music—especially as we grow older. While teens seem to do just fine listening to their favorite tunes while they do their homework, a musical background is probably not the best environment for seniors who want to concentrate.
The researchers gave a memory task test to college-age test subjects and to a group of older adults. All participants tried their hand at the task in a silent setting, and then with a music in the background. The college-age participants did just as well with the music on, but the senior participants experienced a 10 percent decrease in their performance.
Sarah Reaves, the head researcher, explained that the results are related to the well-known “cocktail party effect,” where we are able to tune out all the other voices around us and hear the person to whom we are speaking. As we grow older, it’s harder to concentrate and ignore the irrelevant noises. Suggests Reaves, “Older adults who struggle to concentrate while meeting with coworkers at a coffee shop, for example, should schedule meetings in quieter locations. When people get lost while driving, it’s probably best to turn off the radio.”
Reaves and her team also suggest that this study could be useful for assisted living and other senior facilities. “They should be mindful of their surroundings,” she says. “Maybe employees should turn off music during learning activities, or hold them in a quiet room.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study by Georgia Institute of Technology, as published in Gerontologist, the journal of the Gerontological Society of America. Read more about the study here. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sleeping Like a Baby … Or a Teenager

“Those kids sleep all the time!” Grandparents have long been heard to complain that their teenage grandchildren stay in bed until noon if they have a chance—and these seniors probably remember how hard it was to get their own teens out of bed for school in the morning!
Seniors also may express the wish that they could “sleep like a baby”—or a teen. It’s true that sleep problems become more common as we grow older. Physical pain, depression, cognitive changes, frequent urination or the side effects of certain medications can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
But gerontologists and sleep experts have long noted that some seniors might believe they are suffering from insomnia merely because they don’t sleep as many hours as they think they should.
How much sleep do seniors need? A study recently published in Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation included recommendations from a panel of sleep experts about how much sleep people need, broken down by age groups.
As one would expect, newborns should sleep the most, from 14-17 hours each day. The number of hours needed decreases as children grow older—but teens, say the experts, still need from 8-10 hours of sleep each day. By contrast, people older than 65 only need 7-8 hours.
If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, practice good sleep hygiene. This includes keeping your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature; avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime; getting enough exercise; and avoiding daytime napping. If sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor.
Lydia DonCarlos, PhD, a neuroendocrinologist from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, served as a member of the National Sleep Foundation expert panel that made the new recommendations. Says DonCarlos, “We still have a great deal to learn about the function of sleep. We know it’s restorative and important for memory consolidation. But we don’t know the details of what the function of sleep is, even though it is how we spend one-third of our lives.”

The Amazing Health Benefits of Pets

Anyone who has owned a pet knows the joy an animal can bring to one’s life. You often hear enthusiasts describing their pets as their “children” and including them in family vacations and activities. Service animals help people with various disabilities get around in the world. Florence Nightingale, a pioneer of modern nursing, noticed that animals served as “excellent companions for the sick,” especially those with chronic conditions. Our popular culture is rife with images of animals performing heroic feats or simply uplifting spirits with their adorableness.
In spite of all the anecdotal evidence showing the healing power of animals, science was slow to study the phenomenon. That’s beginning to change. One of the earliest published studies found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. More recently, several studies have shown pets are natural mood enhancers, increasing levels of oxytocin and serotonin, both of which enhance our well-being. Even the simple act of watching a pet fish swim in an aquarium can lower levels of cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – in the body. Other studies have shown that pet owners get numerous health benefits from their animal companions:
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Reduced risk of heart attack and increased survival rates after a heart attack
  • Decreased anxiety, loneliness and depression
  • Better physical fitness
  • Children growing up with a pet have fewer allergies and stronger immune systems
  • Seniors who own pets have fewer doctor visits and reduced healthcare costs
Given all of the numerous benefits animals bring to humankind, it makes sense that animals are now being used as tools of therapy for a variety of maladies. For instance, an animal may be able to reach a child with autism or a senior with dementia in a way that no human can. Studies with Alzheimer’s patients have shown that interaction with animals can reduce agitation, increase positive social behavior (smiling, laughing, talking) and improve appetites. That’s why animals are now commonly used for therapeutic purposes in hospitals, senior living communities, and even in hospice settings.
It is in hospice situations, as people are nearing the end of their life, that the benefits of animal therapy may be most profound. Perhaps the best-known hospice therapy animal was Baxter, a dog who spent much of his time at San Diego Hospice and had such an amazing impact on the people he met there that he inspired  many popular You Tube videos as well as his own book, Moments with Baxter. Today, dogs of all shapes and sizes help people at hospice facilities all across the country transition more peacefully.
There are a few things to consider before adding a pet to your life. Seniors who are considering pet ownership should select an animal that’s best for their situation. Pets should be properly vaccinated and trained—a rambunctious dog underfoot could cause a fall. Making emergency preparation plans for pets is another consideration. But with proper preparation, in most cases seniors have so much to gain from contact with friends with fur, feathers and fins.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Is It Safe to Crush Pills?

Most people know to follow their doctor’s instructions when taking medications. They know it’s best to take the correct dosage, at the right time, with or without food, and so forth. However, research from Australia recently revealed that many patients modify their medication by crushing tablets or opening capsules to make them easier to swallow—a practice that could reduce the effectiveness of their medications and even be dangerous. The research team, from University of Queensland, cautions that before altering their medications in this way, patients should be sure to consult with their healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Dr. Esther Lau and her colleagues surveyed a group of patients and found that almost half were unaware that crushing tablets or opening capsules could cause a problem. They also learned that ten percent of the patients surveyed reported modifying their medication in this way. Most did so because they experienced problems swallowing the pills or capsules, but some did so even if they had no problem swallowing their medications. Said Dr. Lau, “It is concerning that this many of the people surveyed did not think there would be an issue with crushing or modifying tablets or capsules. Depending on the tablet or capsule, and the type of medicine, modifying the dosage forms can lead to reduced effectiveness of the medication, and increased risk of adverse effects.”
For example, the National Institutes of Health warns that many pills are designed to slowly release medication over time; crushing can cause too much medicine to enter the person’s system at once. Other pills have a special coating to protect the stomach lining or to keep the pill from dissolving ineffectively in the stomach. Yet many patients, especially seniors, might mix their medications with food or drink to make them easier to swallow.
The National Institutes on Aging advises seniors to talk to their healthcare provider if it is difficult to swallow medications. Be sure to read the patient leaflet that comes with your medicine. Talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist before changing the way you take your medicines. In some cases, the doctor can prescribe a liquid form of the medication. And patients who have unaddressed swallowing difficulty should report this.
The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have questions about your medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from Queensland University of Technology (www.qut.edu.au).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Keeping Seniors Cool During Summer’s Heat

According the National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related death in the United States, causing hundreds of fatalities each year. Older adults are even more susceptible to the dangers of heat, as they are less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. Additionally, as we grow older, our bodies become less efficient at regulating body temperature. Seniors are also more likely to have a health condition or be taking medications that make it more difficult for the body to regulate its temperature or to perspire.
The importance of staying hydrated
Just as our sensitivity to heat dulls as we age, so does our awareness of thirst. This, along with our body’s decreased ability to conserve water as we grow older, puts seniors at greater risk of dehydration. Summer heat adds to the risk, because on hot days, the body loses water more quickly. Here are some tips for staying hydrated this summer:
  • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take in fluids. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can cause the body to lose even more fluid.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit, a wonderful source of fluids.
  • Add fresh lemon or lime to your water to add a little flavor.
  • Use water to dilute fruit juices, making them last longer and increasing your fluid intake.
  • Get creative! Make “mocktails,” like nonalcoholic daiquiris and piña coladas.
If you are on a fluid-restricted diet, consult your physician about how to get the fluids you need during the hot summer months.
Other tips to beat the heat
Here are some other ways to beat the heat this summer:
  • Keep your home safe and comfortable by running the air conditioning during the hottest parts of the day and by letting in cool air in the early morning and late evening hours. If you need financial help to keep you home cool, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • If your home isn’t air-conditioned, take a break during the hottest part of the day by going to a movie, shopping at an indoor mall, visiting a library, or attending an air-conditioned senior center.
  • Dress in lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing, made of natural fabrics, like linen or cotton.
  • If you must go outside to run errands, work in the garden, etc., plan this for the early morning hours, when it’s coolest.
  • Supplement your diet with folic acid; a new study from Penn State showed that folic acid can enhance blood vessel dilation in older adults, which may help them to avoid heat-related issues such as heart attacks or strokes.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Get plenty of rest.
If you do experience problems …
If you or a loved one experiences heavy sweating, weakness, a fast and weak pulse, nausea or fainting, this could be a sign of heat exhaustion. In this case, move to a cool location as quickly as possible. Lie down, loosen clothing and apply cool, wet cloths to as much of the body as possible. Sip some cool water.
Heat stroke is a more serious situation and is characterized by a body temperature above 103 degrees, hot and red skin, a rapid and strong pulse, or unconsciousness. In this case, call 911 immediately. Before paramedics arrive, move the person to a cooler environment, remove or loosen tight clothing, and apply cool, wet cloth or towels to the skin.
Enjoy your summer! With a little diligence and preparation, everyone should be able to enjoy fun and safe summer months.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Too Much Salt May Affect More Than Just Blood Pressure

You have probably read about the importance of limiting salt consumption for years. Perhaps your doctor has put you on a low-sodium diet. Our bodies do need a certain amount of sodium (one of the chemical elements in salt). Sodium helps maintain a healthy balance of fluids in the body, helps nerves transmit electrical impulses, and helps muscles contract and relax normally. But most of us get all we need from the salt that naturally occurs in food.
According to The National Heart Lung and Blood Association, 500mg is a safe daily minimum intake of sodium to maintain optimum health. Most Americans consume more than six times that much. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1500mg of sodium per day.
Most scientists agree that too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which can lead to heart problems and stroke. But what if you have low-to-normal blood pressure? Should you put the salt shaker back on the table? Reach for the salted caramels?
Not so fast, says a new study authored by two faculty members from the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences and two physicians at Christiana Care Health System. The researchers discovered that too much sodium can cause harm to the heart, kidneys and brain, as well as blood vessels, regardless of whether or not it raises blood pressure.
“High dietary sodium can also lead to left ventricular hypertrophy, or enlargement of the muscle tissue that makes up the wall of the heart’s main pumping chamber,” says University of Delaware’s David Edwards, one of the study’s authors. “As the walls of the chamber grow thicker, they become less compliant and eventually are unable to pump as forcefully as a healthy heart.”
The study also revealed that high sodium intake is associated with reduced functioning in the kidneys, even if the increase in blood pressure was minimal. Another finding was sodium’s adverse effect on the sympathetic nervous system, the main purpose of which is to regulate the body’s “fight or flight” response.
“Chronically elevated dietary sodium may ‘sensitize’ sympathetic neurons in the brain, causing a greater response to a variety of stimuli, including skeletal muscle contraction,” says William Farquhar of University of Delaware, another of the study’s authors. “Again, even if blood pressure isn’t increased, chronically increased sympathetic outflow may have harmful effects on target organs.”
Coauthor Claudine Jurkowitz of Christiana Care acknowledges the challenges associated with studying the effects of salt restriction on clinical outcomes, including getting an accurate assessment of salt consumption and the large number of study subjects needed to obtain meaningful data. In spite of these and other challenges, Jurkowitz concludes, “A large body of evidence confirms the biological plausibility of the association between high sodium intake and increases in blood pressure and cardiovascular events.”
So how does one shake the salt habit? Study author William Weintraub, chief of cardiology at Christiana Care, says that hiding the salt shaker may not be enough. “Approximately 70 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, including items that we don’t typically think of as salty such as breads and cereals,” he says. “Also, restaurant food typically contains more salt than dishes prepared at home, so eating out less can help reduce salt intake, especially if herbs and spices – instead of salt – are used to add flavor to home-cooked meals.”
As Weintraub notes, one way to reduce salt intake it to use alternative seasonings. In addition to herbs and spices, try lemon or lime juice. This way, you still get flavor as well as the health benefits many of these replacement seasonings offer. And remember, switching to sea salt or other “gourmet” salts won’t help; they might be pretty, but they have virtually the same amount of sodium as plain table salt.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Talk to your healthcare provider about a nutritional plan that includes a safe level of sodium for you.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from University of Delaware http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2015/mar/sodium-health-031015.html

Monday, June 1, 2015

During Men’s Health Month in June, Talk to Dad About Osteoporosis

New research shows men are less likely to be screened or take protective measures.
While the consequences of osteoporosis are worse in men than women – including death – older males are far less likely to take preventive measures against the potentially devastating bone-thinning disease or to accept recommendations for screening, according to startling new research by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System geriatricians.
Geriatric fellow Irina Dashkova, MD, designed and led a cross-sectional survey of 146 older adults in New York and Florida that showed stunning gender differences in perspectives, beliefs and behaviors surrounding osteoporosis, which primarily affects women, but also affects up to two million American men. Another eight million to 13 million men in the United States have low bone mineral density, a condition known as osteopenia that’s a precursor to osteoporosis.
“We were surprised at how big a difference we found between men and women regarding osteoporosis,” said Dr. Dashkova, lead author of the study, which was presented at the American Geriatrics Society’s 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting in May.
“The fact that longevity is increasing in our population is wonderful. But we know from research that when men suffer fractures, their mortality is higher than in women and that severe medical consequences and loss of independence are much more prevalent in men.” She added, “In our environment, you just get this perception that osteoporosis is a women’s problem. This has to be changed, and the sooner the better.”
More than 10 million Americans live with osteoporosis – raising their risk for serious bone fractures – and another 43 million have low bone mineral density, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Prior research showed that 13 percent of white men in the United States older than age 50 will experience at least one osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime.
Strikingly, the risk of death after sustaining a hip fracture is twice as high in men compared to women, and loss of independence is also more common in males. Some medical conditions and drugs that can affect osteoporosis risk are male-specific, such as prostate cancer drugs that affect the production of testosterone or the way it works in the body.
Dr. Dashkova’s research, in which she collaborated with Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, director of geriatric education for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, examined the psychological and social factors surrounding osteoporosis influencing each gender. The team found that while most women would accept osteoporosis screening if offered, less than 25 percent of men would. Women were also more than four times as likely as men to take preventive measures against osteoporosis, such as taking calcium and vitamin D supplements to strengthen bones.
Dr. Wolf-Klein, who is also program director for the geriatric fellowship at North Shore-LIJ, noted that osteoporosis testing involves a painless, quick procedure known as a DXA scan that shouldn’t be considered fearsome. But healthcare providers also aren’t encouraging men to undergo screening as often as they should, she said.
“Our survey clearly establishes that physicians are just not thinking of screening men. It’s only when older men fall and break their hip that someone thinks maybe we should do something to prevent them breaking the other hip,” Dr. Wolf-Klein said. “Not only is society in general unaware of the problem of osteoporosis in men, men are not seeking screening and diagnosis.”
“We geriatricians are delighted to see that longevity is increasing in both males and females,” Dr. Wolf-Klein continued. “The average age in my practice is in the 90s, and our patients are to be congratulated because clearly they’re doing something right. But we have a duty to make sure those later years are as happy and productive as can be and not spent in a wheelchair.”
Source: North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System (www.northshorelij.com).