Monday, April 27, 2015

 

Spring vegetables — get them while you can


It’s hard not to smile when you see that first robin hopping about in the grass, hear the long-forgotten sound of chirping frogs at dusk or smell those first brave daffodils as they poke their way through the snow.  After a long winter, the signs of spring are so exciting to the senses!
And what better way to awaken your sleeping senses than to enjoy the vibrant flavors of the season?  One of the best things about the coming of spring is that it means more fresh produce is available and our steady diet of root vegetables is over — or at least not so steady. 
Spring is often a seemingly short season, with both winter and summer encroaching upon it on both sides.  So it follows naturally that many of the spring vegetables are only locally available for a short time.  All the more reason to appreciate the following delectable delicacies while you can!
Asparagus. If you have an asparagus patch, you know that you have a relatively short time in the spring to harvest your bounty before it goes to seed.  While modern advances have made asparagus available in grocery stores for much of the year now, the flavor of fresh-picked local asparagus just can’t be beat.  It’s excellent in stir fries as well as roasted, steamed or grilled (now that the grill is no longer under two feet of snow).
Fiddleheads. These curly tendrils are actually the new sprouts of certain fern plants and can be foraged (by experienced foragers only) or purchased in many natural foods stores and some large chain grocers.  They are absolutely scrumptious when lightly steamed or sautéed in olive oil and seasonings.  The beauty and tragedy of these charming veggies is that they are only available for a few short weeks each year, generally in April or May.
Greens. Many leafy greens are salad-ready in May and June.  And not just your run-of-the-mill lettuce and spinach, but arugula, mustard and even dandelion greens.  You can steam or sauté them of course, but I have to say, nothing beats the flavor explosion when you bite into that first colorful locally-grown green salad of the year!
Scapes. I was recently introduced to these tasty treats by a friend who is a garden-guru and now I am in love.  Sprouting from the bulbs, these green tendrils are the would-be flowers of garlic or onion plants, but gardeners remove them to encourage the growth of the root vegetable.  They can be used in any dish that calls for onions or garlic and have a slightly milder and more complex flavor.
Snow peas. As the name suggests, these pioneering little veggies are often one of the first to be available in springtime.  These peppy pods are superb steamed, in stir fries or simply munched raw with your favorite dip or dressing.
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, April 13, 2015

 

Nurturing empathy in all of us


Have you sometimes felt like nobody understands you?   And didn’t it feel great when you connected with somebody who was “in the same boat” as you?  This is a perfect example of empathy.  Roman Krznaric, PhD, founding faculty member of The School of Life in London describes empathy as “the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.”   It is not to be confused with kindness or pity. 

Why is empathy important?  It’s vital for our society because it facilitates understanding and connection to those around us.  It’s the foundation for building a supportive and thriving community.
When I was a clinical instructor for nursing students at the University of Connecticut, I discovered early on that each student absorbed the information best through experiential learning.  Student nurses can learn all about acute back strain from medical books, but it’s difficult to truly understand how severe back pain can affect the ability to concentrate, work, sleep, etc. unless you’ve experienced it.
I had my students simulate symptoms of illnesses or medical treatments and therapies whenever possible. For instance, each student had to wear a colostomy bag for three days to experience what it was like for those patients they would be caring for post-operatively.  I had them jab their finger with a lancet to test their blood sugar, just as they would have to teach new diabetics to do four times a day.  And, I had them smear petroleum jelly on their glasses then try to navigate the hallways to simulate macular degeneration or low vision,
How can we nurture empathy in ourselves and our children?  For one, we have to listen without judgment.  Listen intently to what the other person is saying – without interruption.  Then, we have to practice it.  Put down the cell phone and look around at the other people wherever we are.  Imagine who they might be, and what they might be thinking and feeling.
Dr. Helen Riess is director of the Empathy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She believes empathy is a crucial skill that can be learned, and through her program she is making strides to “change the world from the inside out.”  Sounds like a good goal for all of us.
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, April 06, 2015

 

Walking every day can keep the doctor away


Last Wednesday was proclaimed “National Walking Day” by the American Heart Association.  It’s a day when we are all encouraged to lace up our sneakers, get up and walk for at least 30 minutes.
Walking is still considered the best exercise to maintain a healthier lifestyle.  Experts recommend 2½ hours per week of moderate exercise, and brisk walking counts. It can be in short bursts of 10 minutes at a time, adding up to a half hour in a day.   It’s free, easy, and readily available.  The only equipment required is a good pair of supportive sneakers.  After the brutal winter we have all experienced in New England, it’s liberating to get out and notice the emerging spring bulbs and buds on the trees.  Or look for the first real sign of spring – the robin.
If you have been a real couch potato lately, it’s good to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. 
•  Start slow by setting a short-term goal.  For example, walk for 5-10 minutes the first day, or 300 steps per day.   Then increase walking time by 5 minutes every other day.
•  Then set a long-term goal of 30 minutes a day, or 10,000 steps, 5 days a week.  10,000 steps is equivalent to about 5 miles.  
•  You can wear a pedometer to track your steps each day.
•  To stay motivated, find a walking partner, such as a family member, co-worker, or friend. If you schedule this daily walk, you are less likely to skip it, not wanting to disappoint your walking partner.  
•  Stay hydrated.  Keep a refillable bottle of water with you and take a few sips every few minutes.
And we don’t need to wait for next year’s proclamation:  Let’s make every day “National Walking Day.”  
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, March 30, 2015

 

A lot to learn about Alzheimer’s Disease


In order to keep my knowledge current and updated about important medical issues, I am required to take professional continuing education courses.  But like many people, I am intrigued by online education modules and quizzes available on a variety of medical topics, especially those offered by WebMD.com.

Interestingly, I got a score of 93 percent on the quiz “”The Sweet Truth About Ice Cream.”  I guess I know a lot about sweet treats and brain freezes.
I was a little surprised that I only scored a 63 percent on the WebMD.com quiz, “Alzheimer’s Myths and Facts.” I thought I was more knowledgeable than that, correctly answering only five out of eight questions.
Here is a sample: Which is the number one risk factor for Alzheimer’s — aluminum cans, age, or flu shots?   I chose aluminum cans because for years I have heard the warnings to avoid deodorants containing aluminum or food that comes in aluminum cans.  It turns out that the correct answer is: Age. It’s the No. 1 risk factor. The older you are, the more likely you are to get Alzheimer's. The actual cause isn't fully known.  
The list of things that don’t cause dementia includes aluminum cans and cooking pots, flu shots, artificial sweeteners, and silver dental fillings.
Here’s another one: Who spends more on Alzheimer’s care — live-in caregivers, local caregivers, or long-distance caregivers?  I figured it was local caregivers.  The correct answer:  long-distance caregivers.   
Those who live more than two hours away from a loved one with Alzheimer's spend almost $10,000 per year on travel, phone, and paid helpers. That's almost twice as much as those who live locally. Local caregivers put in more hours, though, according to WebMD.
Kristine Johnson, of the Alzheimer’s Association chapter in Norwich, is very aware of the challenges that caregivers face when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. She teaches seminars for caregivers on a variety of appropriate topics, from “The 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s”  to “Connecting with the Unconnected World of Alzheimer’s” about how to communicate with a person who has lost language skills and cognitive ability.  Kristine says that early detection is key to getting the maximum benefit from medical treatments as well as help plan for the future.
After reading warning sign number 6, I was reassured that my occasional forgetfulness and fumbling for the right word is actually typical of aging and the frantic pace of our lives.  A sign of Alzheimer’s is when a person has trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue, or they may repeat themselves.  My husband reassures me that I never have trouble joining or following a conversation, but he will keep this warning sign in the back of his mind and reassess frequently. 
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, March 23, 2015

 

Old books show us how far we've come in health care


For several years now my husband has been telling me that we have to downsize our book collection. We have accumulated over 1,000 books during the 40-plus years of our marriage. I always tell him that I just can’t part with any of them.

Last week, he put all of my nursing textbooks in a huge pile on the living room coffee table, so I was forced to go through them as it blocked my view of the TV. I had textbooks from nursing school 40 years ago, as well as textbooks from graduate school 25 years later, and then textbooks from my years as a clinical instructor of nursing students several years after that: 32 books in all.

I began the task by leafing through the three-inch thick nursing school textbook, “Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice.” Memories flooded back while re-reading about the many archaic practices we learned back in 1972. For example, diabetes was controlled at home by producing a urine sample four times daily, dipping a reagent test strip into the urine, waiting 60 seconds, then comparing the strip to a color chart, all to determine how much glucose had spilled over into the urine. Insulin was injected using reusable glass syringes which had to be soaked in alcohol after each use, and boiled for 10 minutes on a weekly basis. Dull needles were just part of the daily hardship diabetics had to endure in those days. I just couldn’t part with a book that illustrated the basics of my nursing practice, no matter how outdated.

Then I looked up insulin self-injection in my instructor’s version of the 2005 textbook, “Fundamentals of Nursing.” People now control their diabetes at home using a hand-held meter that tests blood glucose levels from a simple finger-stick. No urine collection and testing needed. There are several insulin injection devices, none of which require boiling in water or soaking in alcohol. Needles and syringes are disposable after one use. An alternative is easy-to-use multi-dose insulin pens, but the needles are disposable after one use. Insulin pumps are in widespread use now, but were unheard of in 1974. It was fascinating to see how far we have advanced just in this one area of health care. I needed to keep this textbook because some of the information is timeless.

Poring through all of the books, I was able to part with five of which I had no sentimental attachment. I asked my husband to put the rest back on the bookshelf with the plaque, “There’s no such thing as too many books.”

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, March 16, 2015

 

Get your green(s) on!


Unless you like being pinched (and if so, I don’t want to know), odds are that you’re wearing something green today—a shirt, a belt, a tie, an undergarment (again, no need to specify).  Even if you’re not Irish, you probably celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in one way or another, and for most of us that means donning green.
While contemplating your attire for this lively holiday, why not dress up your table (and your insides) too?  As any leprechaun knows, green vegetables provide some pretty amazing health benefits.  In addition to being low in calories and a great source of fiber, green veggies also typically have a surprising amount of iron and in many cases, calcium.  With each passing year, we discover more and more reasons to eat our greens (and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in general), as study after study cites reductions in the risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in people who do so consistently.  That’s not just the luck o’ the Irish, that’s science, my friend.
But how can you squeeze those gorgeous greens into your holiday menu?
Well, you’ve probably heard that four-leaf clovers are lucky, but I know some “one-leaf clovers” that’ll make you feel like a million bucks (or should I say a pot o’ gold?) like spinach, kale, arugula, chard and other greens such as turnip or collards.  Why not serve a fresh and colorful mix of these next to your corned beef and cabbage?  Not only will you receive the wonderful benefits discussed above, but you will reduce the total sodium content of the meal since you will likely eat less of that admittedly-appetizing but super-salty corned beef!
And don’t forget your other greens, like broccoli, zucchini, green beans, asparagus and Brussels sprouts.  What better side dish for a hearty Irish stew?  Any of these emerald beauties are scrumptious steamed or roasted with a bit of olive oil and seasonings. 
Though it may seem a little cross-cultural, consider an appetizer that makes use of another green veggie — the avocado!  I know guacamole isn’t Irish, but it IS delicious and loaded with antioxidants and healthy fats.  Besides, you may as well perfect your recipe before Cinco de Mayo.
To reap all the benefits of these fortuitous super-foods, you should try to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors daily, including four or more servings of dark green leafy vegetables each week.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, avoid a pinch (and heart disease and diabetes and cancer) by getting your green(s) on.  Erin go bragh!
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, March 02, 2015

 

Anxious times call for relaxing measures


A certain amount of anxiety can be a good thing.  It can make us more alert and energized to deal with a stressful situation.   But if anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can take a real toll on our health.  That may be the time to seek professional help.  “Chillax” or chill and relax, is a funny buzzword we hear all the time.  It’s good advice, but easier said than done.  Here are seven ways to “chillax” and ease the anxiety we face every day.
1) Just say no to drugs.   This includes common legal drugs like caffeine, diet pills, decongestants, and the illegal stuff.  Caffeine is a stimulant and can increase anxiety.
2) Ask for help.  Know you are not alone.  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. More than 18 percent of U.S. adults are affected.  So don’t be afraid to ask your primary care provider for help.
3) Write it down.  Whatever the stress is, writing it down puts it in perspective.   You can write a pro/con list of ways to cope with the stressor.  It’s a logical and calming technique to help you feel like you are gaining control.
4) Meditate. There are many forms of meditation; deep breathing, Yoga, Qi gong, Tai Chi, guided imagery, or mindful meditation.  Just taking fifteen minutes a day to sit quietly, in a comfortable position, with eyes closed and focusing on breathing can do wonders.
5) Adjust your attitude.  Think positively in each situation.  This can take some practice, especially if you are a self-proclaimed pessimist.  There is an upside to every situation, and sometimes we need to look a little harder to find it.
6) Exercise.  Take a walk, go to the gym, jog up and down the street, go up and down a flight of stairs two or three times.  Take a break and plan a fun activity.
7) Write down 10 things you’ve accomplished in your life, 10 skills and talents that you have, and 10 times when you’ve solved a problem or overcame adversity. This is the advice of Kaitlin Vogel, writing for Rewireme.com in an article called The Fear and Anxiety Solution.   She says if writing ten things in each category seems like too many, you’re probably being far too critical and harsh with yourself. Be as generous and open-minded with yourself as you would be with someone you love and care about.
I find it helps to ask myself, “Will this matter in five years?”   If it won’t make much difference, it’s easier to pause and pare down the anxiety to a manageable level.  Then it’s easier to deal with and come up with solutions.
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 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

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