Tuesday, July 17, 2012

UNPLUG Your Kids!

As summer goes on, kids get sucked deeper and deeper into their electronic abyss. Before you know it, they are sleeping past lunch, staying awake all night and receiving all their light rays from a computer screen or their phone. Today's blog is my public service announcement to parents to UNPLUG your kids!! Remember that all the medical academies recommend we limit screen time to LESS than TWO HOURS per day. Yeah, I know- your kid had that much screen time before she ever got out of bed this morning...

I love camps that prohibit all electronics and allow kids to go back to being kids- jumping in lakes, riding horses, crafting or just hanging out and actually talking out loud instead of texting. Kids (yes, teens, especially) seem to come back home recharged and more socially engaged. However, YOU can create (force, whatever!) your OWN electronic fast  for your kid right at home. Create at least a day (or start with a half-day) of UNPLUGGED time. What can they do? Read a book. Talk. Play cards, or maybe a board game. Better yet- make THEM come up with a list of 10 things they could do.

Of course, adults, we could all use this advice, too. So, stop reading this blog & UNPLUG yourself for a few hours!

BOTTOM LINE: Don't let your kids (or yourself) stay "plugged in" to electronics- limit that screen time!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Swimmer's Ear PREVENTION

Swimming all summer is FUN...till someone gets "swimmer's ear". An ounce of prevention here is truly worth the proverbial pound of cure, and the best news is that you can MAKE that "ounce" right in your kitchen!

Swimmers ear is caused by bacteria and fungi, which get access to the ear via the pool or lake water during swimming. (By the way, using q-tips to "clean" the ear serves to cause minor trauma to the ear canal and tends to make it easier to get these outer ear infections, so skip the q-tips, please.) 90% of the time, swimmer's ear only affects one ear. If you wake up with both ears hurting, it is more likely your middle ear causing the problem, and all the topical treatments in the world won't help.

Back to your kitchen- grab a bottle of vinegar and then a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and mix them together half & half. This mixture can be spilled on to a cotton ball and squeezed into the ear canal OR my preference is to use the bottle from the over-the-counter swimmer's ear prevention product and fill it up with my "home brew". Place around six drops in each ear, and allow to drain back out- do this after every swim session, and three times/day if you develop a sore ear. Warming up the bottle in your hands will make it less irritating to your ears. The vinegar kills the bacteria & fungus and the alcohol dries up any remaining moisture. Voila! Prevention & cure- same solution. I would estimate this will treat the vast majority of infections, but if your sore ear isn't improving in a couple days, please call your doctor & let them take a look. We certainly see "swimmer's ear" infections that require topical antibiotics and or topical steroids (to decrease inflammation and swelling.)

BOTTOM LINE: If you (or your kids) are frequent swimmers, don't wait for a sore ear to start using swimmer's ear prevention this summer!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why Visit Someone with Dementia?

Visiting a friend or relative with memory loss can be daunting. What will you say? What if she doesn't remember you? What if he is inappropriate? If you are taking your child, will she be nervous or scared around the other residents? What about the smell? There are so many potential barriers to a simple visit.
So, take a deep breath, and relax. PLEASE GO VISIT. Period. Perhaps I should change that- exclamation point is better- GO VISIT!! Or pick up the phone, and at least call, if they are able to talk on the phone. Ultimately, that friend or relative will have a better day if you visit. Whether they can carry on a full conversation with you about your high school high jinks together or they have no clue what you are talking about, they are human, complete with the full range of emotions that we all enjoy. Sadly, loneliness and boredom often occupy much of your time when you are suffering from memory loss. People treat you differently, talking to you as if you were less intelligent or perhaps deaf. Even if you don't catch a punch line, you can share a hearty belly laugh with someone.
So, here are a few suggestions for an easier visit:
1. Bring pictures, especially of you and your friend together.
2. Use technology- iPhones, iPads, and laptops are wonderful for sharing pictures or for finding images of special places and events (think the Grand Canyon or the Olympics) to chat about.
3. Music- again, the MP3 players are terrific for finding a tune or a snippit of a song.
4. Avoid food that requires utensils, but finger foods like french fries, or a small ice cream cone can be a delight to enjoy together if conversation is a challenge. (Obviously, check with your friend's caregiver for appropriate food choices.)
5. Consider a "Sunday drive". Often folks enjoy simply getting out and about for a short car ride. Pop on the radio or seasonal music and cruise around for a half hour. Yes, this is expensive in gas dollars, but often well worth the price for the sense of "escape" from the residence.
BOTTOM LINE: Visiting someone with memory loss (dementia) need not seem so stressful- relax, smile, hug, laugh...and your friend will, too. And hopefully, when we are the one with memory loss, our friends and families will return the favor.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Memory Loss Equals Alzheimers?

Alzheimer's disease (AD) should be simple to diagnose, right? How hard can it be for a doctor to decide if memory loss is a normal part of aging, or if it is severe enough to "count" as Alzheimer's? Well, if diseases only occurred one at a time, it might be simple. Unfortunately, as old Texas doc's say, when you itch, it's possible you've got ticks AND fleas. I find in family medicine, it's rare we see any disease state by itself, and Alzheimer's is no exception.

Many different issues can affect memory. Depression and/or anxiety very frequently preoccupy the brain so much that short term memory loss can be a predominant issue. Low thyroid levels can decrease memory. B12 deficiency is another cause. The list of medications that can affect memory seems to be growing each year as well.

When my mother first noticed significant memory issues at the age of 61, she was convinced she had Alzheimer's. I literally laughed when she told me her concerns...We had no family history of early or even late onset dementia. She had recently started a medication known for impairing memory (Digoxin.) As her medical workup progressed, I was relieved to find out she had not only that medication as a possible cause, but literally every cause I listed above- B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism and depression. I felt confident that as we addressed each of these problems, her memory would improve. In many cases, that would have been true, but unfortunately for Mom, she did indeed have underlying Alzheimer's, which took roughly another two years to fully decipher.

If you are concerned about memory loss, please make an appointment with your family physician to address your concerns. Head to the Alzheimer's Association website and review the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's. Until those biomarkers for AD become more refined, physicians will not have a quick or simple answer, but a thorough history and exam, combined with possible neuropsychiatric testing, will take us a long way in the right direction.

BOTTOM LINE: Memory loss can have many different causes, and these causes can and frequently do overlap.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day, Indeed!

July 4th is a wonderful day in America, filled with family celebrations, picnics and fireworks. We are so fortunate to live in a country that allows us so many freedoms! In our family, this day has additional significance, as today marks the 8th anniversary of my mother's independence from Alzheimer's Disease. As we once again visited her grave today, surrounded by the incredible beauty of the wildflowers and the snow-capped mountains, I looked around the cemetery and wondered how many other lives represented there were affected by this disease.

Did you know we have over 5.3 million Americans living with Alzheimer's? Chances are good that you either have a family member or friend affected. We have medications that can improve some behavioral and cognitive functions in people with dementia, but none yet that can stop or cure it. With our aging population, it is clear that this disease alone will consume a progressively larger chunk of our healthcare dollars.
Check out the Alzheimer Association website, and consider participating in a local Memory Walk or other fundraiser.

BOTTOM LINE: Let's celebrate our country's independence today by thinking about the future of our aging population, and pro-actively working towards a cure for Alzheimer's.