Monday, May 02, 2016


Use your head for bicycle safety

Let’s face it —there are few things more fun for children than riding a bicycle. It offers freedom, fun and fresh air exercise. Since we all want to keep kids as safe as possible, here are some basic safety tips we should all be aware of:

• Always wear a properly fitting helmet.
Ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic. Go with the flow, not against it.
• Always ride with both hands on the handlebars. Carry books and other items in a bicycle carrier or backpack, not in your arms.
Avoid riding at night. It makes sense that it’s more dangerous riding at night because of the inability to be seen by others. Wear clothes that reflect light and are easily seen in daytime, dusk, dawn, nighttime, or foul weather.
Observe rules of the road. Don’t ride into a street without stopping, swerve into traffic that is coming from behind, or run stop signs.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more children ages 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for injuries related to biking than any other sport. Helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent — yet only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet. On their website, they have a simple saying: "Use your head, wear a helmet." It is the single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes.

Actually, it’s not just children; everyone, regardless of age or cycling experience, needs to wear a helmet every time we ride.

I asked my friend and colleague Renee Malaro, RN, Backus Hospital’s Trauma Program Manager to shed some light on the issue of bike safety. I was hoping she would be able to say she has not encountered many bicycle-related injuries in the ER, but sadly that’s not the case.

Renee says that according KidsHealth roughly 300,000 kids go to the emergency department every year due to bike related injuries and this area is certainly not immune to this statistic. There are accidents and there are predictable events, and unfortunately it is easy to predict that every year we will receive patients with bicycle related injuries, she says. Of these injuries the most severe cases often include head injuries that may cause significant brain injury resulting in a need for hospitalization, life altering changes of daily routine or even worse death.

“What cannot be predicted is whether while riding a bicycle control will be lost due to going downhill, hitting an object on the road, sidewalk or path that is being ridden, or if that vehicle may not be able to stop in time if they happen to see you coming into the road. I urge every parent to ensure your children know the safety tips for riding safely and model the behavior that may save your life as well. I cannot agree more and think it is worth repeating that helmet use is the single most effective way to reduce bicycle-related fatalities as Safe Kids Worldwide suggests,” Renee says.

Renee is coordinating the 12th annual Backus Safety Camp on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Backus Hospital parking lot. Representatives from the police, fire, ambulance, health departments and more will be on hand to talk about safety in a fun and interactive event. Kids will be fitted for free bicycle helmets while supplies last. All are welcome.

I recently saw a big gentleman sporting a T-shirt with a great slogan, also appropriate for the Safety Camp: “All bikers big and small, biking safety is for all.”

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 25, 2016


The hard truth about energy drinks

I won’t be winning any popularity contests with this topic, but let’s go ahead and talk about energy drinks.

It’s hard to believe how popular they are – you can find them at the checkout counter of every convenience store, grocery store, gas station, and of course, on the internet.

Energy drinks are beverages that contain large doses of caffeine and/or non-caffeine stimulants. They are used to increase energy, enhance mood, and delay sleep.

They are definitely not harmless, as many people seem to believe. Here is an example. I was conducting a free blood pressure screening at a community fair and a young 33-year-old man asked me to check his blood pressure. The result was the highest of the day: 165/104. When I asked him if he had any history of hypertension or heart disease, he denied any knowledge of it.

Upon further probing, he admitted he had just finished a 5-hour energy drink, something he did at least once daily. When I explained how unhealthy energy drinks were, his response was, “Then why do they sell them?” My reply was, “Because people will buy them. They sell cigarettes, don’t they?” Of course, there may be more health issues involved with this young man, but it was certainly an eye-opener for him.

The issue becomes even more concerning when young children are involved. Poison control data show energy drinks and young kids don’t mix. More than 40 percent of 5,156 calls about energy drinks to U.S. poison control centers involved children younger than 6, with some suffering serious cardiac and neurological symptoms, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. That’s an alarming statistic.

Many people don’t realize stimulants in energy drinks may have other names which are less recognizable than caffeine. Look for these ingredients on the label:

Caffeine stimulants:
• Methylxanthines
• Theine
• Mateine
• Guaranine/Guarana
• Methyltheobromine
• Methyltheophylline

Non-caffeine stimlulants:
• Ginseng
• Ma-huang
• Ephedra
• Other ephedra-like substances

Symptoms of caffeine poisoning may include: nausea, vomiting, nervousness, tremor, insomnia, restlessness, delirium, sweating, headache, seizures, and increased heart rhythm. Seek medical attention for these symptoms. The Poison Control Center hotline number is 1-800-222-1222.

Alternatives to energy drinks include fruit juices, decaffeinated green tea, and low-fat milk. But hands down, the healthiest choice for a beverage is water. No calories, no preservatives, no fat, no sugar, and especially no caffeine. For those who dislike the taste of water, I suggest squeezing a few drops of lemon or lime juice to make it more palatable.

Bring a reusable water bottle wherever you go and avoid energy drinks...and be kind to your heart.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 18, 2016


Personal safety should be everyone's goal

Since our daughter and her family moved to the San Francisco area years ago, we have traveled to that fascinating city many times to visit them. They love the city life and are very savvy when it comes to negotiating public transportation like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or the maze of city streets.

I am not so savvy. Several times my daughter cautioned me not to gaze up at the skyscrapers looking like a distracted wanderer. She reminded me there are personal safety ideas that everyone should be aware of, not just city dwellers or visitors.

When I returned home I decided to ask for some basic personal safety tips from Dave Guiher, the Hartford HealthCare East Region Public Safety Manager. His advice:

• Be mindful of your surroundings.
• Stay in well-lighted areas.
• Walk confidently, projecting an assertive, purposeful image.
• Keep your purse close to your body, and hold it tight. If it has a long strap it's even better to place it diagonally across your body, with the purse under your arm. Close all zippers and clasps.
• Keep your cell phone handy in your pocket, but don't walk around using it.
• Avoid walking alone at night, and walk or travel with a friend during the day, if possible.
• If you are ever confronted by a person who you fear will attack you, run away, yell for help, scream, “Get away from me!” — do whatever you can to attract attention. If the person is after your purse or other material items, throw them one way while you run the other.

Be careful and mindful of these tips all the time and it will soon become second nature. Then you can relax and enjoy all of the unique experiences community life has to offer, whether in an urban, suburban, or country setting.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 11, 2016


Local child leaves legacy of love

A wise physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” He just smiled and said, “Increase the dose.” That’s a wonderful sentiment, and good words to live by, but we all know that sometimes love is just not enough —medically speaking.

Many of us are well aware of Maddie Guarraia, a brave and courageous 9-year old girl who battled cancer for five years, and died on Wednesday morning. She was an inspiration to thousands of people who never met her. Her mother Amie’s Facebook page, “Mad About Madeline,” garnered more than 25,000 followers. Her mother chronicled her journey as she fought leukemia like a warrior. Her mother frequently posted pictures, always of a smiling Maddie, surrounded by her beloved family and friends. She had an infectious smile that was like a mega-dose of anti-depressant.

Maddie brought the community together in an outpouring of support that most of us have never seen before. I never had the opportunity to meet Maddie, but like so many others, I felt that she touched my life by witnessing her bravery and courage. Maddie was fighting for her life, but was always thinking of others with a kind and generous spirit. For example, Maddie’s wish was that people would collect toys to donate to children battling illnesses at Yale-New Haven Hospital. More than 70 organizations and businesses from Niantic to Rhode Island participated in “Madeline’s Wish Toy Drive.” That was quite a feat, considering the current economic climate.

She was the motivation to conduct several bone marrow drives in the community to combat childhood cancers. The Waterford Police Department made her an honorary police officer, Badge #8, and the whole department truly loved and supported this young girl.

Her mother made a request on Facebook to share how Madeline has impacted your life. The response was overwhelming. Almost 1,000 people responded with stories of how witnessing Maddie’s brave struggle provided the impetus to withstand a difficulty in their own life. Strangers declared their love and devotion to this courageous girl —and that was just the impact documented through Facebook. Who knows how widespread beyond social media boundaries her positive influence really was?

She gave her love freely and made a profound and lasting impact to so many. People said she made them “smile more, complain less.” Nine-year old Maddie made more of an impact on the emotional health of thousands than I have made in 40 years of nursing. Come to think of it, maybe that wise physician was right after all — a good dose of love from a 9-year old girl might be the best medicine for us all.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 04, 2016


All you have to to is say “Ahhhh”

“Something just doesn’t feel right when I swallow.” That's what my old college friend kept saying. We were planning a trip to Europe with our husbands and really didn’t want any health issues to foil our plans. But Grace wisely followed up on her instincts. She repeated her complaint and her primary care physician listened, investigated her symptoms, and ordered some tests. The shocking news was that Grace had thyroid cancer.

Dr. William Culviner is a board certified ear, nose and throat specialist and surgeon in private practice with Eastern Connecticut Ear, Nose & Throat, P.C. with offices in Norwich, Willimantic and Colchester. I asked him to shed some light on the incidence of head and neck cancers. Frankly, I thought they were a fairly rare form of cancer.

Oral, head and neck cancer is a type of cancer that can be found in the mouth, including the tongue, throat, lips, voice box and salivary glands, as well as the sinuses, nasal cavity and thyroid. It is the sixth most common form of cancer in the world with over 100,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States alone.

Eighty-five percent of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco and alcohol use, and people who use both are at a higher risk for developing these cancers than alcohol or tobacco use alone. Thyroid cancers are often related to family history or exposure to radiation although they can develop in anyone. Cancer of the lip can be caused by excessive sun exposure and adults over 40 are at an increased risk.

Over the past decade there has been at least a four- to five-fold increase in the number of oropharynx cancers in the United States, related to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The oropharynx includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Notably, physicians have recently seen a significant increase in oropharyngeal cancer related to HPV in younger (college age) patients.

Many times a patient has no signs or symptoms of cancer, although some report changes in the way the tissues inside of the mouth look or feel. Others have persistent pain in the mouth or a sore that won’t go away or sometimes gets larger. Discolored patches or lumps inside the mouth, thickening of the cheek, difficulty swallowing, jaw pain, tongue numbness, bad breath and voice changes can also be associated with oral cancer.

Persistent symptoms should be evaluated by a health care professional. A painless screening examination of your head and neck should be performed during your annual physical by your primary care physician or allied health professional or during a dental cleaning. Most of the time, these symptoms are not an indication of cancer, but it’s important to have them checked out since treatment is more successful when caught early.

Fortunately, Dr. Culviner and his associates are once again providing two head and neck cancer screenings that are free and open to the community. On Thursday, April 14, screenings will be given in the Windham Hospital Family Health Center (Second Floor) at 5 Founders St., in Willimantic, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 855-HHC-HERE or 855-442-4373. And, on April 15, screenings will be held in the Backus Hospital main lobby conference rooms from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., but you can just walk in; no appointments are needed for the event at Backus.

My friend Grace subsequently went ahead with the surgery and chemotherapy and I am happy to report she has been declared cancer-free. She missed our trip, but probably saved her life. Not surprisingly, she is a big advocate of following through on your instincts and getting screened. All you have to do is just say “Ahhhhh.”

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 28, 2016


The lowdown on Reiki therapy

“Do you know what Reiki therapy is?” I asked five people this question, and these are the answers I received: “Not really...” “I think it has something to do with pressure points...” “I’ve heard of it...” “No, what is it?” and “I have no idea.”

I must confess I didn’t know that much about Reiki, either, except it is rapidly growing in popularity.

Reiki (pronounced “RAY-KEE”) means “universal life energy” and is an ancient Japanese healing method that connects with the energy flow in and around the body. According to WebMD, it is thought that Reiki releases energy flow and allows the body's own natural healing ability to work.

Reiki focuses on seven main energy centers in your body called chakras The energy should flow freely through your chakras in order for you to be spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy. Practitioners believe that if energy paths are blocked, you may feel ill or weak or have pain.

People use Reiki to decrease tension, improve sleep, enhance healing, and relieve pain. Practitioners do not claim it can cure or treat cancer, but can complement traditional treatments by relieving some of the pain, stress and nausea associated with cancer and other diseases.

Kay Weiler is a Reiki Master Practitioner and volunteers at the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) at Backus Hospital. I asked her to share some testimonials from people who have undergone Reiki treatment. Instead of telling me secondhand, Kay had just finished giving a treatment to a woman and asked if she would talk to me about her experience. Connie was happy to do so.

Connie is undergoing comprehensive cancer treatment, but about once a week she has a Reiki session, as a complement to her regular treatment. Connie said, “Reiki keeps me going, and is an integral part of my healing.” She told her oncologist, “I am more open to healing with Reiki.” She contends, “It is the most relaxing thing you can do for yourself. I crave these sessions like people crave a glass of water.” Connie feels a real connection to Kay during these sessions and maintains, “Reiki practitioners like Kay put their heart and soul into it.”

When I asked Kay to explain a little more about how Reiki works, she offered to give me a short Reiki session. I admit I was skeptical. Fortunately I don’t have any pain or discomfort, so I didn’t see how I could feel any benefit from a Reiki session. Kay just smiled and asked if I had any stress in my life. Sold. She took me into the relaxation space where the soft lighting and décor is instantly calming. Kay’s voice is soft and soothing, and I felt the tension literally melt away with her guided imagery. I was a convert. Just like Connie said, it’s one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself.

The Integrative Therapy room is located inside the Radiation Therapy Department of the HHC Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital, so it’s understood that Reiki and other alternative therapies are an adjunct to conventional cancer treatments, but it bears repeating: Reiki is not a substitute for conventional medical treatment; it is a supplement that may enhance its effect.

It was great to have first-hand experience with Reiki. Now I think I need to interview the practitioners for Reflexology and Massage therapy.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 21, 2016


A few words about no one’s favorite subject — a colonoscopy

“The colonoscopy isn’t so bad; it’s the prep that’s so horrible.” Every healthcare provider has heard that cry countless times from patients. Gastroenterology specialists are always trying to make the preparation for the procedure easier and more acceptable, but the bottom line is a colonoscopy is still the best way to get screened for colon cancer.

Here are some startling facts about the disease, from the Colon Cancer Alliance:

• It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
• It affects men and women equally.
• 75 percent of people diagnosed have no family history.
• It mostly affects people over age 50, but can occur at any age.

Colon cancer often has no symptoms; but it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you do experience the following symptoms:

• Change in bowel habits
• Diarrhea, constipation, vomiting
• Unexplained weight loss
• Constant tiredness
• Blood in stool
• Gas, bloating, fullness, cramps

On March 31, two clinicians from Connecticut GI, Dr. You Sung Sang, and APRN Jeannine Hampton, will present a free community education program, “Let’s Talk About Colonoscopies. Really.” They will speak about the importance of having a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, and also about the “dreaded prep.” They will also discuss some modifications that are available. You can call (855) HHC-HERE if you would like to register for this event.

Katie Couric brought much-needed attention to the seriousness of this disease when she spoke openly on the loss of her beloved husband Jay to colon cancer at the age of 42. She actually underwent a colonoscopy procedure on national TV, all in an effort to show people how important this screening is. Ms. Couric urges people, “If detected early, there is a 90% cure rate for colon cancer. Get screened so the people you love can love you for a long, long time.”

For more information about colon cancer, visit

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 14, 2016


Dealing with illness? Don’t go it alone

For anyone coping with a serious illness, the sense of being alone can be both frightening and overwhelming. Well-meaning friends and family may offer support, but there’s nothing like sharing the journey with someone who truly understands what you’re going through. That’s where support groups can be a real lifesaver.

Support groups can help patients connect with others going through similar experiences, learn new ways to cope with particular challenges, and, quite simply, provide relief from knowing you’re not alone. Need proof? Studies have shown that participation in support groups helps eases depression and anxiety while increasing quality of life and coping abilities.

I spoke with Barbara Sinko, a medical social worker who has worked here at Backus for 27 years, about the benefits of support groups. She has hosted various support groups at Backus, including the upcoming Breast Cancer Support Group starting on April 19. “Support groups offer complete acceptance. It’s a safe place where patients can say things they wouldn’t say to a family member,” she explains. “They’re talking to people who have gone through the same thing, which makes a big difference.”

Besides a safe place to share, what are some other reasons to join a support group? “Empowerment,” says Barbara. “You can learn a lot about your illness, how to ask questions at your doctor appointments, and what to expect. For example, at our breast cancer support groups, we have members at every stage of the journey—from the newly diagnosed to people in active treatment to survivors. Watching these women share their stories and learn from each other is incredible. I’ve seen the birth of many friendships at these groups.”

For people who are unsure or nervous about joining a support group, Barbara shares, “I tell people to just give it a shot. Try coming to a group at least two or three times before making up your mind. Support groups may not be for everyone, but pretty much everyone can walk away having gained something. We can’t change your diagnosis or treatment, but we can all learn from and support one another.”

And when it comes to support groups, there’s something for everybody. If you don’t like the idea of face-to-face support groups or if transportation is an issue, online support groups may be more your speed. For example, offers free online support groups lead by social workers who specialize in cancer. Whatever support group you join, make sure it helps empower and uplift you. If it doesn’t, don’t give up—look for another group that suits your needs.

For those of you who like the idea of meeting in person, your local hospitals and community centers are good places to seek out support groups. At Backus, we’re offering a monthly Breast Cancer Support Group starting April 19 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in main lobby conference room 2. It’s free and we’d love to see you there. You can call 889-8331, ext. 3870 for more information. Visit and click on “Health & Wellness” and then “Classes & Events” to find support groups in your area, or call 1-855-HHC-HERE. Remember: you are not alone! Get the support you need for a happier, healthier life.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. 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 or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 07, 2016


Honesty is crucial in health care

When people in my parents' generation went to the doctor, whatever the doctor said was needed for their health was accepted without question. If the doctor said, "You need to have surgery" or "I’m writing a prescription for you to start insulin injections," you did it. It was that simple.

These days it's not so simple. People search the Internet for the latest medical news. Researching their symptoms on-line, they come prepared to discuss, and sometimes challenge their primary care provider (PCP) about treatment options. Being knowledgeable is great, but self-diagnosing and self-treating is not so great. It’s often better to come for a visit with your symptoms in hand, not your diagnosis. That is not to say don’t be afraid to relate your fears as well.

Honesty is needed on both sides. Your PCP needs to know vital information like how much alcohol you drink, if you smoke and how much, any medication you take — legal or illegal — and about your sexual history. An accurate history of these activities is crucial for the PCP to assess and determine a safe treatment plan for you. Don't be embarrassed and hide or keep secrets about any habits or activities you take participate in . You really can't shock the doctor; believe me when I say there is nothing he or she hasn't seen or heard before.

On the other hand, your doctor needs to be honest with you, too. This can be difficult if the doctor has bad news to deliver. It might take time to process the information. He or she needs to inform you of your diagnosis and all of the available options for treatment, so you can make an informed decision. This is difficult if you don’t agree with the doctor’s recommendation and action plan. Shared decision making may be needed to reach a satisfactory compromise. Perhaps the most important thing is to be sure you understand what you are being told and if you don’t, ask more questions.

Working together honestly and cooperatively offers the opportunity to significantly improve your quality of life and health status. And isn’t that everyone’s goal?

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 29, 2016


The importance of laughter in our lives

The incomparable comedienne Carol Burnett was asked during an interview by Amy Spencer for Parade magazine, "How do you want to be remembered?" Her reply? "That I made somebody laugh when they needed it. That at one point, when they needed it, I made them forget — even if it is for just 10 seconds — that they were hurting." I thought that was a kind and generous life objective. Carol Burnett, also known as the “First Lady of Laughter,” is no stranger to sorrow and pain, as one of her beloved daughters died of cancer at age 35.

In no way am I suggesting that humor can overcome grief, or that laughter should replace tears. It's important to grieve the loss of a loved one, and unresolved grief will inevitably result in problems in the future.

My friend and colleague, HHC East Region Director of Pastoral Services Rev. Mary Horan tells us, “Laughter and crying often go together. They are both cathartic responses. A good cry, a hearty laugh can dispel anxiousness and fear and leave us feeling more relaxed, open and ready to see things from a slightly different perspective. A sense of humor in any situation can reveal both the seriousness and absurd possibilities which allows us to cleanse our body of distressing emotions and regain balance. The language of laughter connects us in an intimate way and it feels good!”

At my own father’s funeral many years ago, there is one thing that I remember distinctly from that sad time. Two of my cousins were toddlers and were laughing and giggling and playing during the memorial service. It was a very welcome relief from all of the tears being shed. It kept things in perspective. My father would have been pleased to see us having a memorial that included children’s laughter and the retelling of funny stories about him.

Humor and laughter can have healing powers. There is scientific evidence that laughter can lower cortisol levels and increase the production of dopamine, endorphins, T-cells and immune proteins. These changes may contribute to the following: a decrease in feelings of stress, depression and anxiety, and makes challenges seem more surmountable. Now with all that at stake, who couldn’t benefit from a good dose of humor?

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 22, 2016


Celebrating our amazing hearts

The human heart is truly an amazing organ. It beats about 100,000 times a day, sending 2,000 gallons of blood surging through the body. That translates to 2.5 billion heart beats in an average lifetime. It starts to beat about 4 weeks after conception, and of course, keeps on beating until we die.

In simple terms, the heart is a pump made up of muscle tissue. The heart's pumping action is regulated by an electrical conduction system that coordinates the contraction of the various chambers of the heart. But the rhythm of this amazing organ can sometimes go awry.

For example, atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. It occurs when there are too many electrical signals that normally control the heartbeat, causing the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) to beat extremely rapidly (more than 400 beats per minute) and quiver (fibrillate). This is felt as an always irregular, sometimes rapid heartbeat.

Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist with Hartford Healthcare Medical Group, treats people with cardiovascular diseases, usually with medication.

When heart rhythm disturbances don’t respond to medication and the usual treatments, Dr. Foley will refer that patient to an electrophysiology cardiologist, a specialist in the treatment of electrical cardiac conduction problems. I had never even heard of these specialists until my daughter encountered some very unusual heart rhythm disturbances and was referred to one.

Dr. Foley and Dr. Steven Zweibel, an electrophysiology cardiologist with Hartford Health Care, will be co-presenting an interesting community education program about heart disease and atrial fibrillation on Feb. 24 at Backus Hospital. Call (855) HHC-HERE for information and to register.

February is National Heart Month. We probably don’t think about our hearts very often, so let’s make a special effort this month to appreciate this amazing, hard-working, vital part of our body.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 15, 2016


Is it Alzheimer’s or just forgetfulness?

How many times have you forgotten something important and wondered, "Am I getting Alzheimer's disease?" That happens to me often, and I always blame it on getting older. But the truth is that Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging. I asked Kristine Johnson, Director of the Alzheimer's Association of Eastern Connecticut how we can tell the difference between normal forgetfulness as we age and Alzheimer's. She referred me to their website: where I found "10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's."

One of the most common warning signs is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, or asking the same information over and over again. It was reassuring for me to learn that a typical age-related change is sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s does give the patient the ability to explore treatments that can provide some relief of symptoms and help them maintain a level of independence longer. Early detection also increases the chances the patient will be able to participate in clinical drug trials that help advance research. Dr. Max Okasha, Medical Director of Comprehensive Psychiatric Care in Norwich, has been conducting research on treatments for Alzheimer's for several years now. He believes about 90% of what we know about Alzheimer's has been discovered in the last 15 years; and he’s excited about a promising new treatment in late stage clinical trials. Dr. Okasha and Kristine will be co-presenters of a community education program at Backus Hospital on Tuesday, Feb. 23, focusing on early warning signs, early detection benefits and current research. You can call (855) HHC-HERE to register or for more information.

I reviewed the 10 warning signs and concluded that my forgetfulness is indeed a normal age-related change, not Alzheimer's. After reviewing, if you notice any of the signs in yourself or someone you know, don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider for an evaluation.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 08, 2016


Heart smart: Facts about the body's most important muscle

February is National Heart Month, the perfect time to learn about some fascinating and fun facts about our hearts.

• The average heart beats 70 times per minute, or 100,000 times per day, or 37,000,000 times each year.

• The first heart pacemakers plugged into a wall socket.

• Our heart is a well-coordinated machine. The right side pumps blood into our lungs while the left side pumps it back into the body.

• Modesty prompted the invention of the stethoscope. Before it existed, doctors had to put their ears directly on the patient’s chest to hear the heart. (Source:

• The heart starts beating about four weeks after conception and doesn’t stop until death.

• A woman’s heart generally beats faster than a man’s: about 78 times compared to 70 times per minute for men.

• Prolonged lack of sleep can cause irregular jumping heartbeats called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

• The human heart can create enough pressure that it could squirt blood at a distance of 30 feet.

• Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here is a romantic fact: A University of California at Davis study has shown that couples breathe at the same rate and have synchronized heart beats. In the study, couples were connected to heart rate and respiration monitors as they went through several exercises without touching or speaking to each other. The couples' heart and breathing rates tended to be synchronized, indicating that romantically involved couples are linked on a physiological level.

I asked Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist in Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Norwich, to verify these facts for me, and to add any interesting information he would like us to know. Here is his contribution to the fascinating facts about our hearts:

• Life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years

• In 2014, we spent $3 trillion on healthcare on healthcare in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the largest expenditure of Medicare dollars.

• On average, we spend $9,523 per person in the United States on healthcare.

Dr. Foley will be presenting several community education programs about Heart Disease and Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib). For information about the dates and locations of these programs, call 855-HHC-HERE (855-442-4373).

Let’s all make a promise to take care of our hearts starting this February, and work toward a goal of increasing that life expectancy statistic to at least 80 years.

Alice Facente is a community health education 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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 01, 2016


The benefits of optimism are real

“An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, 'So far, so good!' ” — Anonymous

That quote may make us laugh, but there are true benefits of being an optimist, according to recent research studies.

Researcher Shane Lopez and colleagues at the University of Kansas analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, which included 150,000 people from 142 countries. Data included responses to questions about life satisfaction, expectations for what the future holds, positive and negative emotions and physical health. The researchers found that 89 percent of people involved in the poll said they believed their future was going to be good or better than their current situation, and most had a "glass half-full" mentality.

Positive thinking and optimism have many proven benefits, including stress management, improved performance and productivity, and superior overall health.

Stress management expert Elizabeth Scott, MS, writes that “Optimists tend to experience less stress than pessimists or realists. Because they believe in themselves and their abilities, they expect good things to happen. They see negative events as minor setbacks to be easily overcome, and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come.”

Always the skeptic, I kept trying to find out exactly why optimists have superior overall health. I found one possible explanation — one that makes sense to me. Julia Boehm, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health co-authored a scientific review of this exact question: is optimism linked to a healthier heart, and why?

According to Dr. Boehm, “The evidence suggests that people who are happy and optimistic are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, like doing physical activity, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. It also shows an association between positivity and measurable biological factors, like lower blood pressure and healthier lipid profiles.”

Well, that makes sense, but is it anything new? We have been told all along that engaging in healthy behaviors like eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercising was exactly what we all need to do to maximize our health status.

Even the most optimistic person can find it challenging to be positive in this day and age of instantaneous news updates on the internet and constant exposure to various kinds of social media. My husband, a self-proclaimed pessimist, recommends focusing more attention on the positive things that are happening in your life with family and friends rather than monitoring someone else’s view of how the world stage is in seemingly constant conflict. In effect, simplify your life. Perhaps help brighten someone else’s day with an act of kindness. The reward will be positively amazing.

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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 25, 2016


Helping children get a good night’s sleep

Picture this: You wake up with no alarm, the birds are singing, the sky is blue, and you feel well-rested and ready to take on the day.

Most of us will admit that this is far from our reality. With busier work schedules, extracurricular obligations, and the age of electronics, sleep deprivation has become a national epidemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one third of the adult population in the United States gets less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each day. What is even more concerning is the increase in sleep problems seen in children and teens who are most at need of a good night’s sleep.

While lack of sleep in adulthood can impact one’s health and mood, the effects are even more drastic in babies, older children, and teens, whose bodies and brains are still under development. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, notes that poor immune function, weight problems, and nightmares and night terrors are all associated with a lack of sleep. In addition, because growth hormone is released cyclically in the body and peaks at night, there can be significant consequences on child growth and development.

The problems do not end there. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges academically as well as impact classroom attentiveness. Sleep deprived children often present with irritability and tantrums, which can affect them academically as well as socially. The Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology also suggests that children and teens with sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. If patients have been previously diagnosed with these disorders, a lack of sleep can worsen symptoms.

What is preventing adequate sleep in children? Dr. Schneeberg suggests that the answer is two-fold. She explains that sleep problems often stem from “problematic sleep onset associations” as well as “a bedtime routine without a clear final step.” Problems with sleep onset typically mean that a child will only go to sleep when the parent is present. Thus, when the child wakes up in the middle of the night, rather than turning over and going back to sleep, they get out of bed to find their parents. This leads to disruption in sleep for both the child and parent.

Poor bedtime routines can lead to children attempting to extend the time until they have to go to sleep. This may mean asking to read another book, watching another television show, or having a parent tell another bedtime story. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that increased extracurricular activities, homework, and jobs as well as early school hours can contribute to lack of sleep in teenagers. In addition, increasing school pressure and anxiety can lead to trouble falling and staying asleep in teens.

Fortunately for the younger population there are ways to help. Parents can establish firmer bedtime routines with children. Dr. Schneeberg recommends encouraging your child to fall asleep on their own. In addition, removing all electronics from the bedroom for people of any age can lead to significant improvement in sleep. Research suggests that such devices are not only a distraction from sleep, but that the blue wavelengths emitted from their screens are associated with suppressing melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone important for the regulation of sleep and altering its levels can result in sleep problems. Finally, helping teenagers learn how to manage stress and relax before bed through reading or yoga can help address anxiety that may be contributing to trouble falling asleep.

If a parent has established clear routines, removed electronics from the bedroom, and still finds that there is a problem they can turn to a sleep physician at a sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to eliminate other causes such as restless legs syndrome, sleep walking, or sleep apnea. The sleep physician may then refer to a behavioral sleep specialist who will work with the family to establish a nighttime routine and address other contributing problems to sleep deprivation like stress and anxiety.

So put down that third cup of coffee and consider how you can improve your family’s sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits for your children will help them avoid associated mental and physical health problems and even help you get better sleep as well. I can’t promise that you will automatically become a morning person, jumping out of bed with a smile on your face, but you may find you have a little more energy to tackle your day and enjoy with family.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. 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 or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 18, 2016


The importance of a positive self-image

Jeff is the hospital photographer, and a friend of mine. He was recently tasked with sending a photo of me to accompany a health column. He had taken several of me in the past and asked me which one I wanted to use. When I pointed to one that was taken recently that I felt was “not too bad” he asked me if I wanted to put it through a photo software program that erased facial imperfections and was a little more flattering. I thought that would be fun. I watched, fascinated, as my face transformed before my eyes; my cheeks and nose were slimmed down, blemishes and wrinkles around my eyes were erased, and my thick, unruly eyebrows were nicely shaped. I looked 20 years younger and many pounds slimmer.

As I stared at that new improved version of my face, I started thinking: As much as I would love to look like that photo, it really wasn’t me. It sure was difficult, but I had to tell Jeff to reverse the improvements and just submit the original photo, imperfections and all.

Perfection is overrated. A little imperfection is what makes us unique. Cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs are multi-billion dollar industries. They are catering to people who want to achieve perfection. I’m not talking about weight loss programs that improve our health or plastic surgery that corrects deformities. I have been involved in weight loss programs for many years. While I have certainly not achieved my perfect goal weight, I have improved my overall health. I refer here to the “Joan Rivers Syndrome” in which the relentless pursuit of perfection results in unnecessary and potential harm.

Kristen Houghton writes for the Huffington Post about this subject in an article entitled, “Happiness is Loving Your Body, Imperfections and All.” She reminds us that Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci created masterpieces with flaws. They would paint women with a rounded stomach, or a slightly skewed nose to show character and real life. In that same vein, my wise daughter always said, “Mom, you just have to be happy in the skin you’re in.”

I asked my colleague Rosemarie Neilson, a therapist at the Backus Center for Mental Health to weigh in on the issue of positive self-image and provide some insight that we can all learn from.

Rosemarie explained through Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development just how we acquire our positive or negative self-image. This theory identifies eight stages which a healthy developing child should pass through from infancy through late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Erikson details as each stage of development is successfully completed the child emerges into early adulthood with a positive self-image built on “trust, autonomy, initiative and a feeling of competency.”

Rosemarie emphasizes the important role that parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings and all care takers have in the healthy development of the growing child. If these people expose the child to “warmth, regularity, and dependable affection” the child’s view of the world will be one of trust. Mistrust develops when feelings of frustration, suspicion and withdrawal lead to a lack of confidence, thus low self-image.

After talking to Rosemarie about this, I guess I have been fairly successful in negotiating through those stages, and am confident enough to be able to show my physical flaws even when faced with a technological way to hide them.

When I thought about it, erasing those laugh lines around my eyes would be an injustice. Those wrinkles were a testament to the 60-plus years of laughing I have done in my lifetime, so far.

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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


The joy of food

For just a moment, imagine that you’re sitting before a plate of your favorite food. What does it look like? Is it colorful? What is its shape? Lean over the plate and draw in a deep breath. How does it smell? Does it have a sweet, savory or spicy aroma? Does the scent evoke a memory?

Now imagine taking a single, slow, scrumptious bite. What is the texture? Is it soft and chewy or hard and crunchy? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth? Creamy? Rich? Think about how you would describe the flavor to someone who has never tasted this food before. What words would you use? How does this food make you feel? Why do you think it stirs this emotion within you?

As we ate lunch together recently, a good friend of mine reminded me of the old adage that some people eat to live while others live to eat. I had heard this before, but as we sat munching our crisp salads and satisfying soups, I began to feel truly sorry for anyone who eats only because it is a prerequisite for survival. For me, food is one of the great pleasures of living. Anyone who has ever shared a meal with me has heard me sigh with delight at the simplest of foods. I have been known to marvel at ripe raspberries, wonder at a warm loaf of crusty bread and be awed by tuna sandwiches, much to the amusement of my table-mates.

Sadly however, with the ever-quickening pace of life, even I have found myself eating on auto-pilot more and more lately; multi-tasking on lunch breaks, shoveling food down my throat while returning emails or between phone calls. Food needs and deserves our full attention. It nourishes us in so many ways, and it is so much more than a mere conglomeration of molecules that we call nutrients. It has an energy all its own and is an entire sensory experience to be treasured. It makes life both possible and more enjoyable. After all, we are not just simple machines needing fuel to fill our tanks so that we can continue to operate for a few more hours.

While I know that many of us resolve to eat less or make healthier choices in the New Year, I hope that these resolutions do not rob you of the pleasure of eating; especially since studies have shown time and again that fully mindful munching can help you reach those goals. To reap the benefits, all you have to do is be present in the moment, chew slowly and imagine that whatever you are eating is your favorite food. However you choose to be healthier this year, I hope it brings you happiness. Personally, my resolution is to rediscover the joy of food, bite by luscious bite.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. 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 or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 04, 2016


Learning about the many benefits of yoga

Yoga has been around for thousands of years, but lately there seems to be a huge surge in popularity. Perhaps this is a result of our increasingly stressful times. For those few who are not familiar with it, yoga is a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation.

There are many types of yoga, from the peaceful hatha to the high-intensity power yoga. All types take your workout to a level of mind-body connection. It can help you to relax and focus while gaining flexibility and strength. Yoga can also boost your mood, which may account for why so many people are trying it these days. Another benefit of practicing yoga is that it is low-impact and doesn’t put stress on the joints.

I have to admit I was curious about yoga, and have practiced it at intervals over the past years. It was amazing to me how focused and present I needed to be to keep the balanced poses, but it certainly gets easier with each successive session, especially if done consistently.

Yoga can also be gentle and restorative to help recover flexibility and motion, stamina and a sense of well being.

My friend and nurse colleague Amy Dunion of the Backus Center for Healthcare Integration is helping to coordinate a gentle yoga series for people recovering from the effects of cancer and cancer treatment, which will be led by Carol Klammer. I asked Amy to tell me a little about why it is particularly beneficial for those challenged with cancer.

“Yoga can have a huge impact on every part of a person’s life who has suffered the effects of cancer," she said. "Many cancer centers offer yoga because it can help ease anxiety, insomnia, pain, problems with mobility and movement, and regain a sense of feeling whole again. Many people have said they felt relaxed for the first time or present in their life in a new way. It’s a chance to reclaim life; to recover and discover a feeling of vitality and peace that may have been lost. One woman in a yoga class said she had forgotten that she was beautiful and a man added that he didn’t know what it felt like to let go of stress and truly relax before yoga. Yoga is good medicine."

If you or a loved one is fighting cancer, call (855) HHC-HERE to find a yoga program being offered near you, and join those already enjoying these many benefits.

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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 28, 2015


A new way to ring in the new year

The year is coming to an end and with it comes the notorious “New Year’s Resolution.” Let’s be honest. How many of us make a resolution, start out strong and confident on January 1st and by January 4th our resolution is long forgotten? This year, let’s take a new approach to the age old “New Year’s Resolution” that will be more meaningful and strengthen our connections with others.

Instead of making an individual resolution this year, try to make a family or group resolution. It doesn’t matter who comprises your family, what ages they are, or where they are living. Making a family resolution can not only strengthen your connection, but can also help you be more successful in your goal because everyone is responsible for holding one another accountable. Need some ideas? Try taking these for a spin.

Have dinner as a family 3-4 times a week or more. Eating dinner as a family is an obvious way to build family connection, but it also has physical and mental health benefits. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that eating dinner as a family can lower the risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and pregnancy in teenagers. In addition, family dinners have been associated with an increase in self esteem, better school performance, and a greater sense of resilience in teenagers. Studies in younger children and adults have yielded similar findings. The Family Dinner Project is a great resource for implementing family dinners. Their website offers tips for getting started as well as numerous ideas to make the most of the experience. There are general conversation starters as well as “Pickles and Predicaments” which presents tough situations that the family can discuss. There are also dinner games and recipes to try broken down by age group. Visit the Family Dinner Project at for more information.

Go for a family walk after dinner. Psychology Today reports that going for a light walk within fifteen minutes of a meal improves glucose tolerance and weight control. Walking every day has also been linked to decreased blood pressure and heart problems. In addition, the Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics reports a reduced risk of GERD in patients who walked following a meal. Aside form physical benefits, getting outside has been linked to improved mood and better sleep. Try to set a specific goal with your family regarding how many days a week you would like to walk or grab a group of friends or neighbors and start an after dinner walking club. Your body and brain will thank you.

Communicate better. Learning how to communicate is an important skill. For young children frequent communication within families has been linked to improved verbal and nonverbal communication later in life as well as improved listening ability. Teenagers who are encouraged to express their ideas within their families are also more adept at dealing with interpersonal problems outside of the house. Even if your family is spread out, communication is easier than ever with today’s technology of Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout and cell phones. Set a goal of the number of times a week or month you want to talk. Set specific dates using a calendar. In our family, all three kids are away at school so it is even more important for us to schedule time to talk both between siblings and with parents. We will be making this our family resolution for 2016.

Volunteer together once a week, month (or whatever works in your schedules). Volunteering has numerous health benefits. In adults it has been associated with increased life satisfaction and physical health and has demonstrated lower levels of stress. Children, teens, and young adults all report increasing levels of happiness following volunteering. Volunteering allows children to appreciate what they have and get the satisfaction that they can make a difference. Children learn to focus on others and witness what is present in the “real world.” A study released by the UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute found that teenagers and adults who had volunteered as children found that the experience gave them direction for their lives and led to careers helping others such as teaching and social work. In this way a family resolution now can benefit your children now and in the future.

Implement or increase exercise.
While many of us make implementing an exercise program or increasing our amount of exercise an individual resolution, making exercise a family goal can also have benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine reports that individuals who work out in a group are less likely to quit due to boredom. In addition, individual effort increases when that person is working out in a group (a little competition never hurt anybody). While it can be hard to find one type of exercise the whole family enjoys, many gyms offer family memberships, making it easier than ever to work out as a family without breaking the bank.

So grab the eggnog and Christmas cookies, and sit down as a family to discuss your resolution. 2016 is officially the year of health and happiness. Happy New Year.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. 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 or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 21, 2015


Quit smoking in 2016 – for you and your loved ones

The new year is rapidly approaching, and it’s time to make resolutions. For those of us who still smoke cigarettes, this may be the best time to quit. We all know that there are health hazards associated with smoking, but that hasn’t deterred people from lighting up. Cigarettes are expensive: about $8.25 per pack. A one-pack-per-day smoker could save $247.50 in one month alone by quitting. Even though that could equal a car payment, it’s still not enough to convince some people to quit.

In an effort to find something to persuade someone to quit, I went on the American Lung Association website and found this shocking information:

There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous.

Here are a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke and other places they are found:

• Acetone – found in nail polish remover
• Ammonia – a common household cleaner
• Arsenic – used in rat poison
• Benzene – found in rubber cement
• Butane – used in lighter fluid
• Cadmium – active component in battery acid
• Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
• Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
• Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
• Lead – used in batteries
• Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
• Nicotine – used as insecticide
• Tar – material for paving roads
• Toluene - used to manufacture paint

The American Lung Association advises people trying to quit to expect and resist urges to smoke. The urge to smoke will pass in three to five minutes whether you smoke or not. Remember the Four D's to get through an urge:

• Delay
• Deep breathing
• Drink water
• Do something else

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that during 2011–2012, two out of every five children ages 3 to 11 in the United States were exposed to secondhand smoke regularly. If you don’t quit smoking for yourself, do it for the children in your life.

We can all agree quitting smoking is a very difficult thing to do. Find a local American Lung Association Freedom From Smoking cessation class near you. The group support is key. Everybody is in the same boat, and readily lends support to one another. It’s also important to tell your friends and family that you’re trying to quit smoking and ask for their support. They will love you for it.

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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 14, 2015


Practicing forgiveness reaps many benefits

My mother loves to do the cryptoquote puzzles every day. I have tried solving them, but I really don’t have the patience to do them — I skip right to reading the solved quote from the previous day. A recent quote by Barbara DeAngelis caught my eye: “The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.” While that is good advice, I didn’t think it applied to me.

Then I read my horoscope for the same day: “Don’t let the past ruin your plans for the future. Let go of all the negativity you’ve experienced and you will see a path that offers a unique and inviting alternative to anything you’ve tried in the past. Be resolute about the decisions you make.”

That gave me pause. Seeing such similar advice offered on the same day made me reconsider. Maybe it was germane and relevant after all. But isn’t that good advice for everyone, whether we are a Scorpio, Virgo or a Capricorn?

As we near the end of 2015, we make resolutions to improve our life. We want 2016 to be better, to outshine and surpass the current year. Perhaps a worthwhile resolution for all of us could be to practice forgiveness and let go of negativity.

There is evidence that there are health benefits to practicing forgiveness. Researchers have found that people who spoke about forgiveness and empathy and don’t hold grudges have lower stress levels, a healthier heart, higher pain tolerance and lower blood pressure.

Having a forgiving heart may lower both emotional and physical pain, according to a study done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center. Out of 61 subjects who suffered from chronic back pain, those who were more likely to forgive reported lower levels of pain, leading researchers to believe that “a relationship appears to exist between forgiveness and important aspects of living with persistent pain.”

Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” That’s a simple and clear illustration for us to ponder.

I have read that forgiveness is one of the best secrets to a longer life. My sisters and I have always agreed: Our mother never holds a grudge. Maybe the knack for completing cryptoquote puzzles and the ability to forgive and move on is why she is still going strong at the age of 94.

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 or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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