Posts

7 Common Flu Myths Debunked

Myths about the flu are everywhere. Is what you hear true, or is there too much misinformation floating around? Debunk the seven most common myths about influenza.7 Common Flu Myths Debunked

Myth #1: Getting Vaccinated Can Give You the Flu

According to the National Foundation for Infectious Disease, there is no way that the vaccine can make you sick. Vaccines only contain a weakened or inactivated form of the virus, which cannot infect you. The truth is that people often mistake the side effects of the vaccine for the illness itself. Side effects of inoculation may feel like mild symptoms of the flu, but soreness around the injection site is typically the only symptom people experience. Keep in mind that flu season (which generally lasts from October to March) coincides with a time of year when bugs causing colds and other respiratory illnesses are in the air. It is possible to get the vaccine and then get sick with a completely unrelated cold virus within a few days.

Myth #2: There Is No Treatment for the Flu

There are three FDA-approved antiviral drugs that are highly effective against the flu. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is available in pill and liquid form, Relenza (zanamivir) comes in powder form, which is inhaled, and Rapivab (peramivir) is administered intravenously. While these antiviral medications do not cure the viral infection, they can minimize symptoms, reduce the amount of time you are sick by one or two days and make you less contagious to others. Furthermore, treatment can prevent complications of the flu, like pneumonia, which can be especially dangerous for older individuals. It’s best to take these drugs within 48 hours of getting sick, so do not hesitate to make a doctor’s appointment if you or a loved one have symptoms of the flu.

Myth #3: Antibiotics Can Fight the Flu

Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. Since influenza is a virus, antibiotics have no effect. Furthermore, overuse and misuse of antibiotics can result in reduced effectiveness against the bacteria they are actually intended to kill and even “superbugs” that are entirely resistant to these treatments.

Myth #4: You Can’t Get the Flu More Than Once During Flu Season

You can certainly contract the flu more than once a year, because there are many different strains of the influenza virus. There are two main types of flu, Type A and Type B, and there are also different subtypes of each. It is possible that you could get infected with one strain and then another during a given season, especially if you have a compromised immune system.

Myth #5: If You’re Young and Healthy, You Don’t Need to Get the Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get vaccinated each season. Healthy adults are just as susceptible to the virus as other demographics. If you are caring for an aging loved one, simply getting them vaccinated only provides some protection. You and other family members should also get the vaccine to avoid endangering their health.

Myth #6: Cold Weather Causes the Flu

The influenza virus is spread year-round. Contrary to popular belief, going outside during winter without a hat on does not directly increase your risk of getting sick. Influenza peaks in fall and winter for a few different reasons. Scientists speculate that the flu virus thrives in cooler, low-humidity environments. Of course, during the colder months, people tend to spend more time cooped up indoors, making it easier for the virus to spread from person to person. Furthermore, less time spent outside means that most people experience drops in vitamin D during winter that can weaken the immune system. All of these factors contribute to the timing of flu season, which is the same throughout the whole country, even in warmer states like Florida.

Myth #7: If You Haven’t Gotten a Flu Shot by November, It’s Too Late

Flu season often peaks between December and February, but the timing can vary. Some years heightened flu activity has lasted until May. No matter how late it is, if you have not been vaccinated yet, go get it done. You could spare yourself and your family a great deal of misery.

The Facts: How to Avoid Spreading the Flu

Influenza spreads from person to person, often through the air, and you can pass on the infection even before you begin feeling symptoms. An infected individual is also contagious for several days after the onset of symptoms. Infection can stem from a contagious person near you coughing, sneezing or talking, or even from touching a surface that the virus is on, like a telephone or doorknob.

To avoid contracting and spreading the virus, use the following tips:

  • Clean your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is especially important after you touch a sick person, common surfaces, used tissues or laundry.
  • Individuals with the flu should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing to avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Immediately throw away tissues and other disposable items used by an infected person.
  • Once diagnosed, talk to a healthcare provider about taking antiviral medication to prevent the virus from spreading to other family members, coworkers or friends.
  • Keep surfaces like bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, doorknobs and children’s toys clean by regularly wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
  • Do not share eating utensils, dishes or cups with a sick person. These items do not need to be cleaned separately, but they should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.
  • Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Use a basket to transport laundry prior to washing to prevent contaminating yourself.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to minimize the likelihood of contracting the flu and other viral infections.

Source AgingCare  Marlo Sollitto

How Much Do You Know About Heart Health?

The American Heart Association recently reported that the death rate from cardiovascular disease has fallen more than 30 percent over the last decade, due to better treatment for heart attack, congestive heart failure and other heart disease. But this care comes at a cost: expenditures for the care for heart disease rose to more than $315 billion during the same decade. And heart disease continues to be the number one killer in the U.S. Every 39 seconds, someone dies of cardiovascular disease.

Education is the first step to lowering the risk of heart disease. Start by taking this short quiz to see how much you know about taking care of your heart. (Answers appear below.)

True or False?

  1. The heart is a muscle.
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.

Answers to “Test Your Heart Health IQ”:

  1. The heart is a muscle.
    TRUE—The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, pumping enough blood in your lifetime to fill a supertanker!
  2. Many diseases and conditions can contribute to the risk of heart disease.
    TRUE—A number of conditionsincluding hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of heart disease.
  3. A heart attack always begins with sharp chest pain.
    FALSE—A heart attack can begin slowly, with subtle signals. Symptoms can include:
    •    a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the chest
    •    discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach
    •    shortness of breath
    •    nausea, dizziness, sweating for no reason
    •    fatigue and lack of energy
  4. The best thing to do if you experience heart attack symptoms is to call 911 right away.
    TRUE—“Better safe than sorry” is very true when it comes to heart attack. Excellent treatments are now available, and the sooner treatment begins, the better the chance of saving the patient’s life and preventing disability. If you experience chest pain, especially if associated with any other of the signs listed above, call 911 right away. Acting quickly can save your life.
  5. Women need to worry more about breast cancer than about heart disease.
    FALSE—Women are far more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. It is a myth that heart disease is primarily a men’s health problem. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women—and more women than men die within one year of a heart attack.
  6. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart.
    TRUE—Smoking is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smokers are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease. And even if you don’t smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke may raise your risk by up to 30%.
  7. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have exactly the same risk yourself.
    FALSE—Although your risk increases if a family member was diagnosed with heart disease, it’s not all in the genes! A healthy lifestyle can cut your risk. Obesity and inactivity are greater risk factors than genetic inheritance for most people. Here are the steps to take to lower the risk:
    •    If you smoke, quit.
    •    Take steps to lower blood pressure and cholesterol level.
    •    Increase physical activity.
    •    Maintain a healthy weight.
    •    If you are diabetic, follow your care plan.
  8. High blood cholesterol is one of the top risk factors for heart attack.
    TRUE—Lowering your cholesterol level through diet and lifestyle changes (and in some cases, medication) can cut your risk.
  9. As we grow older, it’s best to rest as much as possible.
    FALSE—The older you are, the more important regular physical exercise is to your well-being. Inactivity can lead to a downward spiral of decline. Ask your healthcare provider about an exercise program that’s right for you.
  10. Even a person who has suffered a heart attack should exercise.
    TRUE—For most patients, preventing another heart attack will include a cardiac rehabilitation program. Be sure you discuss your workout regimen with your healthcare provider and follow his or her instructions.
  11. It’s possible to eat a “heart smart” diet even if you dine out often.
    TRUE—Most menus feature at least a few low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium items. Avoid fried foods, instead selecting baked or broiled. (If you aren’t sure how a dish is prepared, ask your server.) Skip dessert, and order your salad with low-fat dressing served on the side.
  12. Emotional stress and anxiety can worsen a heart condition.
    TRUE—Stressful emotions can raise your blood pressure, causing your heart to work harder. Lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques help lessen the effects of stress.

This article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about heart health or heart disease.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, 2015

 

For Healthy Older Adults, Aging Does Not Impair Decision-Making

It is commonly assumed that as we grow older, our ability to make sound decisions declines. But new research by the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas shows that previous studies on age-related decline of the ability to think logically and solve problems were flawed in key ways.

The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions [ https://www.metlife.com/mmi/research/healthy-brain-healthy-decisions.html#key findings] study noted that earlier researchers lumped all seniors into one group, failing to separate out test subjects who were dealing with dementia and other health problems that caused cognitive impairment. The new study instead examined healthy seniors, and found that in many ways, people in their 70s surpass younger people when it comes to strategic learning capacity, conscientiousness and vigilance in decision-making.

“The study findings are a crucial first step to move beyond age as a demographic factor used to explain impaired decision-making,” said University of Texas researcher Sandra Chapman, Ph.D. “Policies and practices that focus exclusively on age-related declines in decision-making will unnecessarily curtail the autonomy of older adults with preserved cognitive function. Age is not a disease.”

Source: AgeWise reporting on MetLife Mature Market Institute study. Read the entire study here [link to: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2012/studies/mmi-healthy-brain-study.pdf ].

 

Is Depression a Risk Factor for Alzheimer’s Disease?

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.

Depression is one of the most common conditions affecting older adults. According to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, an estimated 15 percent of people older than 65 are dealing with depression, which affects the whole person: mind, body and emotions. Symptoms include a persistent feeling of sadness, lack of energy, changes in normal eating and sleeping, memory disturbances and impaired concentration, loss of interest in usual activities, and trouble keeping up with normal activities at home and work.

If you compare these symptoms to those of Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions, you will notice some striking similarities. Many of the symptoms of depression are known to mimic dementia, so closely that families and even healthcare providers may at first mistakenly suspect that a person with depression has Alzheimer’s disease. Ruling out depression is an important first step in diagnosing dementia.

Further complicating things, depression itself may be one early sign of dementia. But if depression is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, could it also be a risk factor? For years, researchers have speculated that people with depression are more likely to later develop dementia. What is the connection? How could a history of depression make it more likely that a person will suffer cognitive losses later in life?

The American Academy of Neurology states that depression may nearly double a person’s risk of developing dementia. Researcher Jane Saczynzki, Ph.D., from the University of Massachusetts Medical School says, “While it’s unclear if depression causes dementia, there are a number of ways depression might impact the risk of dementia. Inflammation of the brain tissue that occurs when a person is depressed might impact the risk of dementia. Certain proteins found in the brain that increase with depression may also increase the risk of developing dementia.” Researchers from the University of Edinburgh also looked at brain shrinkage caused by high levels of certain stress hormones.

It is also possible that a particular factor—perhaps not yet known—underlies both depression and dementia. Research is underway to determine the precise nature of the connection between the two conditions.

Treating depression supports brain health

One thing researchers agree upon: Depression makes it much less likely that we will follow a healthy lifestyle that protects our memory health. It saps our will and motivation and our desire to be active. Says Saczynski, “Several lifestyle factors related to long-term depression, such as diet and the amount of exercise and social time a person engages in, could also affect whether they develop dementia.”

This is yet another reason to seek professional help if you or a loved one is showing signs of depression. Depression can become disabling if not properly treated. All too often, people are resistant to the idea that they might have a true depression, feeling that somehow they will “just snap out of it.” But depression is an illness that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it can respond successfully to treatment.

The first step in reversing depression is to have it diagnosed by a physician or other qualified professional. After a thorough exam, the healthcare provider will first try to identify the cause of the depression, which might stem from:

  • Distressing life events such as the death of a spouse, financial worries or illness
  • Chronic pain
  • Nutritional deficiencies such as lack of vitamin B-12 or folic acid, or poor nutrition in general
  • Underlying medical conditions such as low thyroid or other hormone changes, diabetes, heart disease or Parkinson’s disease
  • Side effects of specific medications, overmedication, or effects of polypharmacy—taking many drugs which might have a negative interaction.

Treatment for depression may include…

Lifestyle changes—Patients are advised to focus on better nutrition, spending more time with others, increasing physical activity, making more time for enjoyable activities, managing other health conditions, and confronting and dealing with negative thoughts.

Counseling—It’s not always possible for a person with depression to work through troubling thoughts on their own. Talking with a mental health professional may help identify the stressors that have led to depression, aid in developing strategies to lessen those stressors, and change negative thoughts as patients learn to take better care of themselves.

Medication—Antidepressant medications work by helping the brain make its normal chemicals again. These medications can help with sleep, improve energy and reduce anxiety and negative thoughts. There are several classes of these drugs; it is important to work closely with the healthcare provider during the process of finding the best medication for each patient. This may take several months.

Many older adults avoid seeking help for depression. They may have a generational attitude of self-sufficiency and keeping one’s problems to oneself. To help overcome that preconception, seniors should be encouraged to understand that treating depression is no different than treating any other illness. Professional help can let them get their lives back on track. And now we know it may very well also protect their brains!

Better treatment of depression and understanding of the connection between depression and dementia is not only important for senior patients; it is vital for our nation’s healthcare system as well. According to University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine professor Meryl Butters, Ph.D., “An understanding of how late-life depression increases the risk of dementia could lead to better prediction and prevention mechanisms. Early diagnosis and prevention of depression could have a major dual public health impact as they could also potentially prevent or delay cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.”

Copyright © AgeWise, 2013

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Four Myths About Seniors and Computers

Today, most of us take our computers for granted—in the workplace, in our homes, at the doctor’s office, and right at our side no matter where we go. But as soon as computers began to appear in the workplaces and homes of Americans, researchers expressed concerns about the “digital divide”—the line between those with computer skills and access, and those without. Florida State University researcher Neil Charness pointed out, “The technology gap is a problem because technology, particularly computer and internet technology, is becoming ubiquitous, and full participation in society becomes more difficult for those without such access.”
The divide today is drawn along economic and educational lines—but also, it seems, along age lines, with seniors slower to adopt digital technology and embrace computer use.

How are we doing today, a quarter century after the first personal computers arrived on the scene? Let’s take a look at the ways computers are revolutionizing the way we age in America, beginning by examining four common myths about senior adults and computers:

Myth #1: Computers are only for younger people

First of all, let’s dispense with the notion that computers are a new invention, developed by young people. The reality is, computer technology has developed over the course of years, and there are plenty of elders who were computer-literate when computers were a lot less “user friendly” than they are now.

On the other hand, if you are old enough to have taken a typing class in high school, you are probably aware that those of us who encountered computers later in life didn’t benefit from early exposure to such skills as software features and keyboarding. So, for many seniors, there is a steeper learning curve.

It is true that at present seniors lag behind other age groups in adoption of computer technology. But seniors are catching up. In 2010, the Pew Foundation reported that only 42% of people 65 and over used the internet; that number grew to 53% in only two years. Computer use is growing fastest in the over-65 population. And as the baby boomers age, the digital divide between younger and older Americans will continue to close. Seniors are using e-mail, going on Facebook, sending out Twitter tweets, playing games and surfing the web in rapidly increasing numbers.

Myth #2: Computers are too complicated for seniors

There is an element of truth to this commonly held belief. Constant upgrades, ever more complex programs and the lighting speed evolution of technology are a challenge for anyone—and when you add some of the physical and cognitive changes of aging, developing computer literacy can seem daunting. Many family caregivers today report that tech support is one of their major eldercare responsibilities!

But, as we saw above, plenty of seniors have eagerly and easily entered the computer age. And new senior-friendly technologies are encouraging the trend. Computer manufacturers, software developers and e-commerce companies realize that with the aging of America, it’s good business practice to offer simpler user interfaces, website features for people with visual and cognitive impairment, and adaptive hardware such as arthritis-compatible mice and keyboards with larger letters. Seniors are adapting to computers…but computers are adapting to seniors, as well.

Myth #3: Computer use doesn’t have much impact on healthy aging

On the contrary! Not only do computers help seniors stay in touch with the world today, but seniors also stand to benefit by the advantages of new technologies. E-commerce, online banking and finding information online are convenient for everyone—and all the more so for people with mobility challenges. The internet can also be a great source of information about “real world” activities and events, providing incentive to remain active in the community. Indeed, surfing the web provides a powerful mood boost: a recent Phoenix Center study demonstrated that internet use by the elderly reduced depression by 20%!

Computer use also promotes brain health, combining reading and interactivity in a powerful way. You have probably heard of “brain exercise” computer programs and games—but did you know that going online also gives our memory a good workout? A 2009 study by UCLA researchers showed that while seniors perform simple web searches, blood flow is increased to areas of the brain that are vital for cognitive health. Researcher Teena D. Moody explains, “Searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults.”

And what about gaming? A waste of time for couch potatoes? Another recent study shows that seniors who play strategy videogames, such as Rise of Nations or Halo, experienced improved cognitive skills. Active video games, such as the Wii system, have also been found to give a good workout.

Myth #4: Online social networking is only for young people

Facebook, Twitter, email, chat rooms, online communities…older adults are going online for socialization in increasing numbers. Social networking is bringing seniors closer to friends and loved ones, and helping them make contact with new friends around the world. Connecting with friends and family in this way helps seniors avoid isolation and loneliness.  [Note to AgeWise subscribers: during April, content about seniors and social networking will be available, if you would like to include an invite at the end of this article.]

Learn More

Microsoft offers information on computer accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities. See Guide for Individuals with Age-related Impairments  to learn more about making your PC easier to see, hear and use.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013