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

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

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

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

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

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