“Is This My Medication?”

Medications help millions of seniors control health conditions that threaten their lives and their quality of life. But managing medications can be a challenge. It’s important to take them as recommended, and to be alert for side effects.  Doctors report that in some cases, seniors stop taking their medications. Sometimes the warnings on prescription drugs can be frightening! Or seniors might wonder if they are experiencing side effects. Money or transportation challenges sometimes keep them from getting recommended refills.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine sheds light on another surprising reason older adults might discontinue a medication: When a refilled prescription looks different than before, patients may be confused and stop taking the drug. Yet it’s not uncommon for a pill to look different, according to the American College of Physicians. Says study author Dr. Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The FDA does not require consistent pill appearance among interchangeable generic drugs, and the shape and color of patients’ pills may vary based on the particular supply at the patient’s pharmacy.”

Dr. Kesselheim and his team studied the records of 11,000 heart patients to see if they had taken their medications as directed. They found patients whose medications had changed in color were 34 percent more likely to stop taking the drug—and a change in shape raised the odds by 66 percent!

Dr. Kesselheim concluded, “Medications are essential to the treatment of cardiovascular disease and our study found that pill appearance plays an important role in ensuring patients are taking the generic medications that they need.”

He urges physicians and pharmacists to be aware of changes in a patient’s particular medication, and to reassure patients that the particular generic they receive may look different from a previous refill.

If you or an older loved one are concerned about the change of appearance of a drug you take, check with your doctor or pharmacist right away rather than discontinuing the drug or skipping even a single dose.

Source: AgeWise reporting on study from the Annals of Internal Medicine; news releases from the American College of Physicians; Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Not All Salads Are Created Equal

Salad is a terrific way to make vegetables a large part of meals. That’s great for overall health and can support a weight management program. Several possibilities could explain why simply switching to salads at lunch hasn’t helped with weight loss. Maybe the salads haven’t reduced your calorie consumption at lunch as much as you assume. Or maybe your salad doesn’t have enough protein and fat, which may lead you to snack more throughout the day.

To limit calories in your salad, fill most of your plate with dark leafy greens (such as spinach, romaine or other mixed salad greens) and plain chopped vegetables (such as carrots, peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and tomatoes). Include about a half-cup (picture a rounded handful) of unsweetened fresh fruit, such as pineapple or berries, too, if you like. If salad is your main dish, include protein from one or more of the following:  a half-cup of kidney or garbanzo beans, turkey, seafood chunks, chopped hard-boiled egg, or plain tuna; or one-third cup of nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds. If you want cheese, use just a little for flavor in combination with a smaller portion of one of these leaner sources of protein. Just a tablespoon or two of Parmesan or feta gives plenty of flavor.

Finally, watch salad dressing portions. Aim for one to two tablespoons of regular dressing. At a salad bar, a typical four-tablespoon ladle of regular dressing adds about 140 to 320 calories. A smaller ladle the size of a ping-pong ball contains two tablespoons. If you use bottled dressing, measure out the serving size so you can see the portion size and you’ll know how many calories it is. For even lower calories, dress your salad with lemon juice or vinegar and a couple of teaspoons of plain olive oil (often in a cruet at salad bars).  A little bread with your salad is fine, but a giant muffin or too many breadsticks can wipe out any advantage you had by choosing a healthy salad.

Also consider what you’re eating the rest of the day. Are you “rewarding” yourself for healthy lunches with high-calorie treats at other times of the day or on the weekends? If you’re making a real cut in calories at lunch without raising calories from other sources or cutting back on your physical activity, you should see a change in your weight or waist before long. Small cuts take a while to show results, but can be among the best sustained.

By Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The AICR fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature, and educates the public about the results. Visit the AICR website ( to find delicious, healthful recipes and information.

Move Into Spring With Your Best Back Yet

As warm weather finally stretches across the country, outdoor physical activity enthusiasts of all ages will be swinging clubs and racquets, lacing up sneakers or walking shoes and brushing off gardening tools to make the most of the season.

If you’re returning to these activities after a long cold winter, or perhaps haven’t had the chance to enjoy the benefits of sunshine and higher temperatures lately, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has issued some timely tips to help you take care of your back, ensure a healthy start to spring and reduce the risk of injury.

Back pain affects nearly 10 million Americans each year. Maintaining proper posture, balance, strength and flexibility can all help to increase core strength and, in turn, support the back.

NATA board member Kathy Dieringer, EdD, ATC, suggests starting with good health habits, including attention to diet and exercise, maintaining a good weight, and refraining from smoking. “All these elements can preserve a good back, keep our bones and bodies strong and help the body heal should injury occur,” she says.

Best Bets for Back Care: Be Good to Your Back

Start with good posture: Maintain good posture in day-to-day activities and while exercising. Keep your shoulders back when sitting, avoid slouching and don’t sit for more than 30 minutes without moving around.

Be smart about shoes: Also be aware of what you are wearing on your feet. Though high heels are very fashionable, good back health depends on appropriate footwear, especially if you are active.

Strengthen the core: Strengthen your core to maintain good back health and improve your balance. Crunches, modified crunches with weights or medicine balls, planks, bridges, and back extensions, among other exercises, will improve your core. Ask your athletic trainer or other medical expert to review appropriate form for best results.

Practice proper lifting techniques: Lift with your legs, bend at the knees and keep your back straight, advises Dieringer. The strength from the legs will provide added power—whether for sports participation or household activities like lifting a laundry basket or even picking up children or pets. Minimize twisting, especially when carrying something. To minimize torque on the spine, turn the body instead and keep hips and shoulders facing the same direction.

Care for the whole back (upper and lower): Make sure to incorporate upper and lower back muscles as a part of your weight room workout or during regular physical activity.

Minimize static bending or stooping positions: If movement causes you to bend over or stoop, take frequent breaks and extend your back when you stand up. With spring here and gardening and other outdoor activities planned, the rest breaks and stretching will help maintain flexibility and mobility.

Keep moving: Couch potatoes, get up! The best thing you can do for your back is to maintain mobility. Walking is an outstanding activity for good back health.

Support your back when sitting or sleeping: Sit with knees slightly bent and higher than your hips. When sleeping, maintain your lumbar curves whenever possible, using pillows if necessary.

Maintain back flexibility: Use movement and extension exercises to maintain proper back flexibility. Press-ups or standing back extensions are both good exercises.

If your back is giving you pain signals, pay attention, says Dieringer. Radiating pain from your spine into your thigh and/or down to your foot should not be ignored. While this symptom has a few possible causes, it should be addressed quickly. Stop your activity and rest. Be sure to consult your physician on how to proceed. Ignoring back pain can lead to complications.

“By following a healthy regimen to maintain good posture, proper back and body mechanics, your movements should be easy, pain-free and with great range of motion,” concludes Dieringer. “These tips will ensure you’re ready to enjoy physical activities throughout spring and the seasons ahead.”

Source: The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) represents and supports members of the athletic training profession. Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses. Visit the NATA website ( to learn more about this profession.



May Is Arthritis Awareness Month

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50 million Americans are living with arthritis. It is the most common disease in people over the age of 65, and approximately half of the population of that age has some form of the disease. It affects all race and ethnic groups, and is the most common cause of disability in the U.S.

Arthritis is not a single disease, but is a group of over 100 different conditions, all of which can cause pain, swelling and an interference with normal movement. Some types of arthritis are thought to be hereditary; some result from overuse or injury of a joint, or from years of “wear and tear”; some types are caused by infection and still others are caused by a malfunction of the immune system. Arthritis may affect only one joint, or many joints at the same time. The joints most commonly affected are the weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, and also the smaller joints of the hands and neck.

Although there is no cure for most types of arthritis, the pain and inflammation can be reduced by a variety of medical treatments. Appropriate treatment can often result in great improvement to a person’s condition, as well as preventing further damage. Treatment depends on the type and degree of the condition.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications relieve pain and reduce inflammation, or both. Aspirin or ibuprofen are often prescribed. Alternative pain relievers such as corticosteroids, acetaminophen and topical ointments or rubs also may be prescribed, depending on the type and severity of a patient’s arthritis.

Exercise and rest are both important. People with arthritis tire more easily; the physician may also order rest of a painful joint. But it is just as important to remain active. Exercise helps strengthen the muscles surrounding affected joints, protecting them from further damage. It also increases blood flow and lubrication of joints, and helps keep the joint strong and mobile, preventing loss of function. Exercise also helps patients maintain a healthy weight; being overweight puts extra stress on joints. A physician-prescribed exercise program will usually include range-of-motion, strengthening and aerobic exercises.

Physical therapy benefits many arthritis patients and can include heat or cold treatments, whirlpool and massage, splinting to immobilize and rest a joint, and training in performing exercises to loosen and build up joints and surrounding muscles.

Occupational therapists help patients achieve the greatest level of independence possible by providing instruction in alternative ways of performing the activities of daily living and self-care. They can also evaluate a patient’s home environment to suggest any necessary adaptations, such as grab bars or a raised toilet seat.

Adaptive devices can make living with arthritis easier. Occupational therapists can instruct arthritis patients in the use of mobility aids that lessen the stress on joints, such as canes and walkers. For arthritis in the shoulder or hand, long-handled spoons, zipper pulls, built-up toothbrush handles and page turners make the activities of daily living easier.

Surgery may be recommended if arthritis is causing severe pain and lost joint function. Some surgical procedures repair or remove damaged tissue. Joint replacement is becoming more and more common, and most patients experience excellent results from an artificial hip or knee.

Good News for Guacamole Fans

Are you planning a Cinco de Mayo party? If you are also trying to eat a healthy diet, this might seem challenging! Nachos, beer and margaritas might fit your Aztec pyramid decorating scheme—but on the food pyramid, not so much.

But what about guacamole? There’s good news there! The American Heart Association recently reported that avocados, the main ingredient of guacamole, can help decrease the levels of bad cholesterol—the kind that raises the risk of heart disease. In a comparison test, a research team from Pennsylvania State University found that test subjects who ate an avocado a day as part of a moderate-fat diet lowered their level of bad cholesterol (LDL) more effectively than did subjects on the same diet but without the avocado. Their total cholesterol and triglyceride levels were also better.

So the good news is that guacamole—made with avocado, onion, perhaps jalapenos or salsa—is a heart-healthy food. The problem comes when we pair it with cheese-laden nachos, a fatty burrito, or even with plain tortilla chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Choose low-sodium chips and eat them sparingly. Or replace the chips with crispy jicama sticks. Create a delicious lettuce wrap with spicy chicken or fish.

Study author Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., RD, who is a nutrition professor at Penn State, reminds us that guacamole isn’t the only reason to put avocados on your grocery list. She says, “Many people don’t know how to incorporate them in their diet except for making guacamole. Avocados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods like chicken or fish, or even whole.”

Read more about the study here, and find avocado recipes on the website of the Hass Avocado Board

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from the American Heart Association.


Survey Reveals Global Misconceptions About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease leaves no corner of the world untouched. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, by the year 2030, there will be over 76 million cases of Alzheimer’s, threatening economies worldwide.

Yet a survey performed by the Alzheimer’s Association showed a global lack of information about Alzheimer’s. The Association polled 6,307 people from 12 countries about their knowledge of the disease. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent of the people surveyed believe that Alzheimer’s is a typical part of aging.
  • 40 percent did not know that Alzheimer’s is a progressive, fatal disease.
  • 37 percent thought that only people with a family history of the disease are at risk.

The Alzheimer’s Association urges everyone to learn more about Alzheimer’s, and to work together to raise awareness. Visit the Alzheimer’s Association website ( to find a wealth of information. “Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that slowly robs people of their independence and eventually their lives,” said Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Association. “Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease knows no bounds. Anyone with a brain is at risk, so everyone with a brain should join the fight against it.”

Source: AgeWise reporting on a study from the Alzheimer’s Association.

Traveling With a Senior Loved One

Most of us have a limited amount of time and money we’re able to spend on travel. If you have parents who live far from home, the desire to spend time with them means there’s even less time for you to just run off and have a “real” vacation. Or, if you’re a caregiver looking after parents who live near you, you may feel as if you’re never able to get away due to your responsibilities.

For both groups, there’s a new solution that’s gaining popularity – traveling with your elderly parents. Of course, this comes with its own set of challenges, but many discover that a change of scenery can still provide the break they need. Many also find that traveling with their parents brings them closer together and provides opportunities to share experiences that last a lifetime.

Traveling with an aging parent does require a bit more planning. First, of course, you’ll want to consult with your parent’s physician to ensure that traveling is even an option. If the doctor gives a green light, here are some tips that can make your trip one you’ll remember (fondly) for years to come.

Make it a family affair. To share the caregiving responsibilities, invite other family members to join you. Having siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles along to share the load provides more opportunity for you to relax and enjoy yourself. As a side benefit, a family reunion provides opportunities to connect with other relatives you might not see very often.

Make sure your loved one has everything they need. Before you hit the road, make sure your loved one has all their medications and any health accessories (walker, oxygen tank, hearing aids, etc.) they need to fully experience and enjoy the trip. If you’re flying, contact the airline in advance to arrange for a wheelchair or other assistance your loved one may need. Be aware of any surgical implants that might set off a metal detector.

Pack lightly. Traveling with an elder often means helping carry their bags, making sure they have their travel documents, and ensuring they don’t wander off. With all that going on, you don’t need the added burden of too much luggage. Encourage your loved on to take only essentials – and it helps to travel to a place where it’s warm, so clothing can be light. Make sure you have anything that your loved one will need while traveling – a favorite snack, medications, a neck pillow – in a bag that can be carried onboard, if flying, or a small bag that can ride with the senior in a car or bus.

Schedule some downtime. Once you’ve reached your destination, make it a point to plan some downtime and let your loved one know that each day will include some time for a nap, or just sitting and reading a book. Setting this expectation will not only provide you with more free time, but will also give your loved one “permission” to relax as well.

Enjoy yourself. If you’re a child who doesn’t see your parent often, use this as a time to enjoy their company. Focus on your time together and recognize it as an opportunity to reconnect and grow closer. If you’re a caregiver who sees your parent every day, appreciate the change of scenery and use it as an opportunity to share life experiences that may not be as easy to do in the midst of a daily routine.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

April Is Stress Awareness Month

April Is Stress Awareness Month

The Federal Occupational Health website offers advice to “take time to unwind.”

Stress happens. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, at times it’s unbearable. That’s why taking time for yourself is a necessity.

Stress does not merely afflict your mind; it can also affect you on a cellular level. In fact, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses—from headaches to stomach disorders to depression—and can even increase the risk of serious conditions like stroke and heart disease. Understanding the mind/stress/health connection can help you better manage stress and improve your health and well-being.

The Fight or Flight Response

The stress response is a survival mechanism that’s “hard wired” into our nervous systems. This automatic response is necessary for mobilizing quick reflexes when there is imminent danger, such as swerving to avoid a car crash.

When you perceive a threat, stress hormones rush into your bloodstream—increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Other hormones also suppress functions like digestion and the immune system, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress can leave you more vulnerable to illness.

Danger triggers the stress response. But, unfortunately, so can work conflicts, worry over debt, bad memories, or anxiety. Although one bad day won’t compromise your health, weeks or months of stress can dampen your immune response and raise your risk for disease.

Combat Your Stress

If you suffer from chronic stress and can’t influence or change the situation, then you’ll need to change your approach. Be willing to be flexible. Remember, you have the ability to choose your response to stressors, and you may have to try various options.

  • Recognize when you don’t have control, and let it go.
  • Don’t get anxious about situations that you cannot change.
  • Take control of your own reactions, and focus on what makes you feel calm and in control. This may take some practice, but it pays off in peace of mind.
  • Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal/professional growth and set realistic goals to help you realize your vision.

Relax and Recharge

Be sure to make time for fun and relaxation so you’ll be better able to handle life’s stressors. Carve some time out of your day—even if only 10 to 15 minutes—to take care of yourself. Also, remember that exercise is an excellent stress reliever.

Everyone has different ways they like to relax and unwind. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take a walk
  • Read a book
  • Go for a run
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Play a sport
  • Spend time with a friend or loved one
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga

While you can’t avoid stress, you can minimize it by changing how you choose to respond to it. The ultimate reward for your efforts is a healthy, balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun.

For more ideas, visit the Manage Stress tutorial on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Federal Occupational Health (, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.

With Trans Fats, Foods Last Longer But Memories Don’t

You have probably read that trans fats are bad for the heart. Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to keep foods solid and to extend their shelf life. Here’s where trans fats are often found:

  • packaged baked goods, such as cookies, crackers and frozen pies
  • snack foods such as microwave popcorn
  • certain margarines
  • coffee creamer
  • refrigerated dough products
  • frozen pizza
  • fast foods

Though food manufacturers find trans fats useful, medical science says they should be avoided. Many studies have shown that trans fats raise the risk of heart disease by raising the level of “bad cholesterol” (LDL). Trans fats have been linked to cancer, diabetes and stroke, as well. Prof. Beatrice Golomb of the University of California-San Diego says it best: “As I tell patients, while trans fats increase the shelf life of foods, they reduce the shelf life of people.”

At a recent American Heart Association scientific conference, Dr. Golomb reported on a study that gives us yet another reason to avoid trans fats: they seem to damage the memory. Dr. Golomb’s team studied a group of 1,000 healthy men, and found that the higher a participant’s consumption of trans fat, the worse he performed on a word memory test. Each additional gram of trans fat consumed per day resulted in fewer words recalled. This held true across test subjects of different ages, ethnicities and education levels.

Dr. Golomb explained, “Foods have different effects on oxidative stress and cell energy.” You have probably heard of the benefits of antioxidants. Trans fats, says Golomb, are pro-oxidant, and increase oxidative stress.

The best way to avoid the damaging effect of trans fats is not to consume them at all! Read food labels carefully, and if you see trans fats in the ingredients, leave the product to live out its shelf life – on the shelf.

This article is not mean to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Consult your doctor or nutritionist with questions about cognitive and cardiac health, and about a diet that is best for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on study from the American Heart Association

Raining? Snowing? That’s No Reason to Skimp on Physical Activity

Mom always told us to get outside for some exercise. But if you’re like many of us in the U.S. these days, freezing cold, snow and ice might make it unsafe—at the least unpleasant—to get our workout in the great outdoors.

If it’s too cold, rainy or icy (or in a few months, too hot), it takes a little creativity to be active indoors. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) offers these great ideas for seniors who want to get some exercise even when weather conditions aren’t great:

  • Walk on the treadmill, ride the stationary bike, or use the rowing machine that’s gathering dust in your bedroom or basement. Or use one at a nearby gym or fitness center.
  • Work out with an exercise DVD. You can get a free one from the NIA’s Go4Life program (
  • Go bowling with friends.
  • Join a local mall walking group.
  • Walk around an art gallery or museum to catch a new exhibit.
  • Check out an exercise class at your neighborhood Y or senior center.
  • If you like dancing, take a Zumba or salsa class.
  • Try yoga or Tai Chi.
  • Go to the gym and work on your strength, balance, and flexibility exercises or set up your own home gym. All you need is a sturdy chair, a towel, and some weights. Soup cans or water bottles will do if you don’t have your own set of weights.
  • Go to an indoor pool and swim laps or try water aerobics.
  • How about a game of indoor tennis, hockey, basketball or soccer?
  • Go indoor ice skating or roller skating.
  • Maybe it’s time for some heavy-duty cleaning. Vacuum, mop, sweep. Dust those hard-to-reach areas.
  • Play ping pong with the grandkids.

The NIA reminds us that we’re more likely to exercise if it’s convenient. Put your weights next to the sofa so you can do some lifting while you watch TV. Walk around the house while you’re talking on the phone. Make an extra trip up and down the stairs when you do the laundry.
Visit to find more tips and resources for staying active.

Source: National Institute on Aging, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.