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Women’s History Month: Clara Barton

For our last installment of our weekly Women’s History blog post, we’d like to highlight one of the true influential pioneers of women in the medical field. Of course, her achievements are not held in high esteem because of the gender barriers that surrounded her, but because her work was truly amazing. This week we feature Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

As a child she was timid. She didn’t speak much, nor did she interact with the children at her school. However, that didn’t stop her from excelling. At a young age, she thrived in reading and spelling and was an overall good student. She was a natural born talent, but her passion for helping others was not known until later in her life.

Her first professional career was a school teacher. She was very successful at it, especially calming down the rambunctious boys in her class. As a child, one of the few social interactions Barton enjoyed was playing with her male cousins. Due to this, she was able to relate more directly to the boys, and she gained their respect.

Later on, she opened up her own free school in New Jersey. The first one of it’s kind within the state. Under her guidance the school ballooned to over 600 students. Unfortunately, she was not asked to head the school. that position was given to a man. Discouraged she had left her school.

As the American Civil War broke out, she was able to talk to her father about the war efforts. He had convinced her that it was her duty to help out the wounded soldiers. A task she accepted. She gained support from other people who agreed with her efforts. She acquired supplies such as bandages, food, and clothing. She worked closely with the soldiers dressing their wounds, feeding them, and providing them the proper support in order to help them recover.

She was quite courageous, often times doing her work on the frontline. In one instance, she had a bullet tear through the sleeve of her dress. As a result, she was nicknamed “Angel of the Battlefield.” She was well respected by everyone. After the war, there was still much to be done. It was at this time her biggest contribution to the medical world would be given.

She continued her help after the war by starting the Office of Missing Soldiers. She helped identify those who were killed or missing in action after the war. Through her efforts over 21,000 missing men were identified and installed 13,000 grave markers for those who had fallen in battle. It was exhausting work and it wore her down. Her doctor’s told her she needed a break.

In 1869, she took a trip to Geneva, Switzerland. It was here she met Dr. Louis Appia. he introduced her to the Red Cross, and encouraged her to start her own in America. She took the idea and ran with it. She persuaded people that this organization was more than just a united war effort to help soldiers. It could be used for all sorts of disasters like earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, which it did just that.

She became the first initial president of the American chapter of The Red Cross. She continued with its efforts years down the line. Her organization aided during the Spanish-American War, The Johnstown Flood, and even responded to a humanitarian issue over in the Ottoman Empire. Clara Barton was and is a hero in every sense of the word.

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Multiple Sclerosis and Aging

Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological disease that affects mostly younger adults. Often times this disease is diagnosed at the ages of 20 through 50. However, there is no cure for it. The disease does not suddenly go away by the time you reach 65. Also, there have not been too many studies on MS as we age, so there isn’t a whole lot of information out there. This is what we do know.

What Is MS?
It’s a disease that affects the central nervous system. It disrupts information from the brain to other parts of the body. For example, one day you may be walking when suddenly your balance becomes disoriented. Walking is something you’ve been able to do since you were a small child. Now, all of a sudden you’re having difficulty with it because your brain can’t send the proper messages. It can be very debilitating.

What Causes It
As we just said, MS is a disruption of signals from the brain to the rest of the body. To be more specific, these disruptions occur when the immune system attacks the myelin that protects the neurons. Neurons are the connectors and transmitters in the brain and the myelin is what protects it. However, no one knows why the immune system suddenly begins to attack a part of the body that has always been present. Through the years, scientists and researchers have been able to determine what immune cells do the attacking, but there are no new findings on why they do it.

Living With MS As You Age
Most older adults will admit that as you age with MS your freedoms become limited. They require more assistant care, and they feel like they’re aging faster than the average person. Specific plans had to be made when dealing with travelling and spontaneous decisions could not be made as frequent for those with MS. However, life expectancy is not severely lowered after you’ve been diagnosed with MS.

There are treatable options and activities you can do to age better with MS. One of those things is exercise. Along with general well-being, exercise can help those with MS in multiple ways. It grants more strength, lessens depression, and more control over one’s bladder and bowel movements. Unfortunately, not much has been written on MS as you age, however as the numbers continue to grow, and our aging population increases, this will be an issue that needs to be brought to the light. The mysteries surrounding Multiple Sclerosis need to be solved.

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National Craft Month: 3 Activities You Can Do With Your Senior Loved One

March holds plenty of important awareness days. However, it may hold the most enjoyable of them all! With the seasons changing and the days getting longer make sure you and your senior loved one get the most out of National Craft Month! In our latest blog we’ll provide you with three great ideas to get your crafting going, but don’t be afraid to do your own.

Paint a Flower Pot
As we mentioned earlier, March is the perfect time to get crafting. The seasons are changing over which also makes it the perfect opportunity to start gardening. What’s a better way to combine both activities than by painting some flower pots?

Head to your closest agricultural shop and purchase some seeds and flower pots. Then, make a quick stop at a local craft shop and purchase all the necessary items to get styling. The rest is up to you and your senior loved one! However, if you’re looking for an easy starter seed to grow, basil is a great choice. It’ll provide your senior loved one with the confidence knowing that they can nurture and grow their own food. Who knows? This small craft idea can turn into a brand new hobby.

DIY Trail Mix Mason Jar
Looking for a delicious snack and a fun way to personalize the container it comes in? Try making your very own trail mix. It’s a healthy snack packed with important nutrients and an alternative way to get protein that doesn’t require consuming red meat. Pick out a proper trail mix recipe that suits your senior loved one. Then, get crafting on the mason jar you choose to store your tasty treat.

You can even use all the supplies you bought at the craft store for the flower pot activity. However, don’t be afraid to purchase some ribbon or anything else you think that would look great in order to personalize your senior loved one’s mason jar. It’s a great springtime activity for the both of you.

Write Love Letters
This is a great cognitive activity as writing is a good exercise for the mind. However, this isn’t just an opportunity to help your senior loved one get a good cerebral workout. This is a chance to truly tell your loved one how much you care about them and vice versa. The caregiver – caree relationship is a special one. Let them know how special theirs is.

Of course, this is also an opportunity for them to reach out to other loved ones. Perhaps, they had a spouse pass away or a sibling that is no longer with them. Encourage them to open up and write them a letter, too. Then, you can save all the letters and create a Wall-of-Fame of people who made a positive impact in your senior’s life. It’s a nice walk down memory lane.

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Women’s History Month: Nancy Wexler

Nancy Wexler was born in Washington D.C. in 1945, but she spent most of her life growing up in Topeka, Kansas. She had wonderful influences surrounding her as a child. Her father was a clinical psychologist and her mother was a geneticist. As a result, Wexler wanted to pursue her own PhD.

She began with receiving her A.B. in psychology from Radcliffe College. Later, she followed it up by receiving her PhD from the University of Michigan in clinical psychology. She decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. However, due to a medical condition amongst her mother’s family, Nancy Wexler would make her most important impact in the medical world.

Huntington’s Disease is an ugly genetic disorder that comes on without warning and produces a list of ugly symptoms such as reduced coordination, mental decline, and uncontrolled behavior. A person stricken with HD will eventually lose all muscle control and live in a demented state.

As stated, it’s a genetic disease, so it gets passed down from generation to generation. If a parent carries the gene, their children usually have a 50% chance of acquiring the same disease. Nancy Wexler’s mother watched her father pass away from this disease at the age of 15. Then, all three of her brother’s passed away from it. Therefore, when she began experiencing symptoms of the same disease she knew what was going on. She didn’t try to fight it.

Unfortunately, there was nothing anyone could do. Huntington’s Disease had been studied since the Middle Ages, but only its symptoms were logged. No one really knew what caused it. Nancy Wexler set out to discover the truth.

In 1976, she led an expedition to the country of Venezuela where there were two villages that had a high concentration of HD patients. Over the next 20 years, her team collected thousands of blood samples and logged over 18,000 different individuals in order to map out the genetic makeup which could ultimately lead to their answer. What were her results? She and her team were able to clearly identify which gene was the cause of this dreaded disease. She found what she was looking for. Wexler now had a way to test for Huntington’s Disease. This genetic disorder could no longer come on so suddenly. She allowed people to the necessary time to prepare for this disease as well as coming up with treatment for it.

Sadly, there still is no cure for Huntington’s Disease. However, through Wexler’s discovery of the gene that causes it, people can prepare. It’s an important step. It helps provide ample time in order to figure out what types of treatment will work best for the individual diagnosed. It’s also an important step in finding a cure. We now know what causes it. Now, we must figure out how to stop it.

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Brain Awareness Week: The Importance of Sleep

It wasn’t until recently that scientists and researchers determined that sleep is not as much of a passive activity as we imagine. In our minds, sleep is something we do to shutdown and reboot for the next day. However, our minds never shut off and are quite active as we sleep! There are plenty of important processes that occur while we close our eyes, and without them our brains would not be able to properly rejuvenate.

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, here are a few important facts about sleep!

5 Stages
Sleep is actually a complicated process. Scientists have determined that there are 5 stages of sleeping. They include:

  • Stage 1 – This is a light sleep where you can easily be awaken and drift in and out of sleep.
  • Stage 2 – In this stage your eye movements stop.
  • Stage 3 – In stage 3 your brain produces different waves signaling deeper sleep.
  • Stage 4 – Stage 4 is referred to as deep sleep and produces more of the same waves as stage 3
  • R.E.M. – The final stage is known as Rapid Eye Movement. Your eyes move spastically, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, and most dreams occur in this stage.

Each separate stage has its own purpose and is ordered from lightest sleep to deepest sleep. Without spending the proper amount of time in each stage certain negative factors can occur. For instance, certain stages pertain to consolidating memories. If an individual doesn’t spend enough time in those specific stages, they’ll have a hard time remembering all the things that they learned the previous day.

Smoking and Sleeping
Tobacco products have a very negative effect on sleeping. As we mentioned previously, in order to feel fully refreshed after a full night’s sleep, we must enter each stage of sleep. Smokers have a hard time achieving each stage of sleep. Due to nicotine withdrawal, those who smoke cigarettes or any other type of tobacco, might only be able to sleep up to three or four hours at a time. Their bodies stir due to the lack of nicotine in their system. As a result, they wake easily. Three or four hours is not enough time to spend in each sleep stage. That’s why it’s best to kick the habit, and if you don’t smoke; don’t start.

How Much Do We Need?
What’s the proper amount of sleep to get? Well, it depends on age. The recommended amount of hours for adults is seven to eight hours. Unfortunately, for older adults, it’s harder to get the recommended amount of sleep. Over half of the population that is 65 and older have some sort of sleeping problem. It could be a normal part of aging or something that is affected through medication or other treatments.

The best way to counter this sleeping problem in aging adults is to keep to a strict schedule. If the problem continues to exist, consider consulting an expert who will provide additional helpful recommendations. As the mind becomes used to its regular routine, sleep becomes easier. Each stage is reached and your loved one will wake up feeling refreshed and fully charged for the day to come!

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Supporting Brain Awareness Week: Nutrition and the Brain

A lot of people, when asked about nutrition, think about ways to improve their diet in order to lose weight, improve heart health, and even build strong bones. However, what we eat can also affect our brain’s nutrition. It’s the central governing organ to our bodies and requires a lot of upkeep in order to keep us thinking, reasoning, and learning.

In fact, several studies that show proper nutrition for our brains NOW can prevent cognitive decline LATER, and it’s never too late to start eating healthy to help our brains. Here are some excellent foods that can serve you and your senior loved one when it comes to receiving ample nutrition for that big grey matter resting atop of your shoulders.

The Omegas
One of the main nutrients needed to improve brain functions are the Omegas found in fish oils. These fatty acids are a component of the cell membrane surrounding the brain cells. If the brain receives plenty of the Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s it will increase permeability from brain cells to brain cells. Think of the brain as an engine in a car. It has a lot of parts to it that keep it running. The Omegas act like a lubricant. They keep everything running smoothly so nothing gets built up and prevents one piece from operating correctly with another. The smoother all the parts of the brain operate together, the more cognitive ability you or your senior loved one have.

B Vitamins
Unfortunately, the “b” in B Vitamins does not stand for brain, however they can be viewed as “brain” vitamins. These important nutrients help with all kinds of important functions within the brain.

  • B12 – The B12 vitamins help with cell communication. Much like the Omegas, it helps keep the processes running smoothly throughout the brain. It keeps the machine working efficiently. It also assists in the creation of myelin, a protective padding that covers the neurons (brain cells that process and transmit information), which keeps them working properly.
  • B6 – Without a steady diet of B6 vitamins, researchers have found that it can be linked to depression and other cognitive problems. If this is the case with your senior loved one, it might be a good idea to get them checked. See if they have a deficiency in B6 vitamins or any other B vitamins. The various types work together to keep your brain healthy and working properly.

Just like any other muscle, tissue, or organ in your body, the brain needs energy to do its job. Without the necessary energy the brain can’t retain information, make new memories, or repair cells, and its only source of energy is sugar. The glucose found in carbohydrates fuels our brains in order for it to perform daily tasks. Oddly enough, our most important organ only makes up 2 percent of our body mass, yet it consumes 20 percent of all energy our bodies use, so make sure you supply it with ample enough sugars to keep it full and functional!

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Women’s History Month: Antonia Novello

Continuing with honoring the exceptional women who made great strides within the medical world, we feature Antonia Novello this week. Born in Puerto Rico in 1944, she had a difficult medical condition that was hard to diagnose and hard to correct. Luckily, after two successful surgeries; one at the age of 18 and the other at the age of 20, she was completely healed. It was then that Novello realized she wanted to be a doctor.

Novello completed her original M.D. program in Puerto Rico. She then moved to the United States and studied at the University of Michigan. It was here that she fell in love with nephrology, the study of the kidneys. Unfortunately, her passion stemmed from a traumatic death in the family from kidney failure.

Her accomplishments at Michigan did not go unnoticed. She was appointed Intern of the Year, the first woman to have achieved that honor, but she didn’t stop there. She continued learning and gained valuable experience in medical realm of pediatrics. She carried this experience over when she became the deputy director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It was here she began important work on pediatric AIDS cases.

During this time she alerted people that the amount of incidences of AIDS in women and in children had been escalating. It was tough news to break because issues like AIDS, at the time, were not openly discussed.

In the early nineties, public figures finally began seeing this deep passion within Antonia Novello for fixing the health-related problems amongst the public. It was at this time George H. W. Bush appointed her as the Attorney General of the United States. She was the first woman and first Hispanic to hold the title.

While she was the Surgeon General, Novello went after big tobacco companies. She condemned them for their misleading advertisements. She actively fought these big corporations and did her best to protect the children of America. To this day, her work helps kids see the danger in using tobacco products.

Antonia Novello fought hard for the public, doing her best to keep them healthy and safe. She brought to light tough issues that had previously been kept behind doors. She wasn’t just an exceptional doctor, she was an exceptional human being who merely wanted everyone to be armed with today’s top notch medical information.

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Help! My Loved One Won’t Sleep!

I received a great question from a reader, and I think that a lot of people have struggled with the same thing: getting their loved ones with dementia on a normal sleep cycle. Here’s Eva’s question:

My 96-year-old mother-in-law has some form of dementia, and my sister-in-law is her daily caregiver who lives with her. I am worried that neither one of them is getting a good sleep, because my mother-in-law seems to go to sleep and wake up at all kinds of hours in the day or night. Sometimes she’s up all night and day. I would like to help with some suggestions on how to get her on some kind of regular sleep pattern. Have you any suggestions?”
First thing’s first: what is your mother-in-law’s day like? If I were you, I would set up a daily schedule. For example, at my community, we have meals at 8 AM, 12 PM, and 5 PM every day, on the dot. We make sure that all of our residents are up and dressed for these meals. We also make sure our residents get some exercise and are exposed to plenty of light in between meal times. There have been researchers that suggest that exposure to light (even through a window or well-lit indoor room) during the day really helps a person sleep at night.

What is her bedroom like? Make sure that she’s using her bed ONLY for sleep and not just for watching TV or lounging. You want that bed to be associated with sleep, not with general relaxing. There should also be some natural light coming in, and the temperature in the room needs to be comfortable. What color is the room? Is it a neutral or warm, soothing tone? Or is it a bright, active color? Discourage napping during the day (a little napping outside of the bedroom is okay) and find some activities that she’d enjoy instead. My Pinterest has a bunch of crafting ideas and another good site, MindStart, has puzzles and games.

It would also be great to set up a bathing routine, maybe right before she wakes up or right before she goes to sleep. Another routine you could look into is a “before bed” schedule. What does she do before she goes to sleep?

I would also ask her doctor about her medications. There could be something that she’s taking, or the time of day that she’s taking it, that could really affect her ability to stay awake or asleep.

Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a Dementia Program Manager with Brookdale Senior Living. She has her own blog, Dementia By Day, where she shares stories and tips about dementia care.

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Save Your Vision Month: 4 Disorders to Know

In a previous blog, we discussed the issues of low vision and some of the conditions that can lead to that. For the month of March, it is known as Save Your Vision Month, we’ll be discussing at large the conditions that can cause low vision and even blindness. These conditions are as follows:

  1. Cataracts: This is a condition that creates a cloudy film over the lenses of the eyes. This is a completely age-related condition that affects mostly older adults. According to the National Eye Institute, by age 80 almost half of all Americans have had cataracts or have had surgery to remove the cataracts. If your senior loved one is noticing blurred vision, sometimes a different prescription lense may be all that they need to improve their vision. However, if it progresses surgery is required. Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries in America. It’s a quick, nearly painless procedure that yields high, positive results. Your senior loved one does not need to be rushed into such a decision. Cataracts will not cause permanent damage to the eye if left unattended. However, it is a good idea to get it treated as soon as possible, as it may affect their everyday life.
  2. Glaucoma: Glaucoma is not one singular disease that affects the eye. It is a group of diseases that causes damage to the optic nerve. It’s a serious disease that diminishes vision and can even leave someone blind. Luckily, early detection and treatment is enough to prevent any type of permanent damage. If your senior loved one gets their eyes examined periodically, it might be best to ask their eye doctor to do tests for glaucoma. There are various tests that need to be done in order to determine if glaucoma is present, however it’s a small price to pay if it helps save someone’s vision.
  3. Age Related Macular Degeneration: According to the National Eye Institute, Age Related Macular (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 50. The macular itself is a small, tiny spot near the center of the retina that is used for central focus and sharpness. It’s so tiny, yet so important for everyday sight. It will not cause a loved one to go completely blind, but it will make life difficult when it comes to everyday tasks such as driving, seeing faces, reading and writing, cooking, and cleaning around the house. There are no treatments for the early stages of AMD, however there are preventative measures your loved one can take in order to reduce the risk. One of those measures is quitting smoking. Researches found that smoking can increase your chance of getting AMD by 50 percent. It’s also a good idea to maintain blood pressure and cholesterol in order to avoid a higher risk of AMD.
  4. Ocular Hypertension: This eye-related disease involves high pressure within the eye. It can be confused for glaucoma, but one of the criteria for this disease involves no evidence of glaucoma in the eye. Pressure within the eye is measure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Preferably, you want your senior’s eye pressure to be around 10 to 21 mm HG, however if it’s higher than 21 then they can be diagnosed with Ocular Hypertension. This can lead to glaucoma and permanent damage to the optic nerve. There are no signs or symptoms of Ocular Hypertension, so getting a senior loved one’s eye pressure tested is crucial to their eye health. There are also no treatments for this disease, but if it is detected careful monitoring can prevent major losses to vision.

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National Kidney Month: Age Related Changes

The kidneys are an important organ in the human body. They help filter our blood and remove excess waste. As we age, certain changes can occur in the kidneys that lead to various complications. March is National Kidney Month so make sure your senior loved one has healthy kidneys. Just like most health complications, early detection is key to maintaining one’s health. Here are a few age-related kidney complications you should look out for.

Nephrons Decrease
Nephrons are the filtering units within the kidney. Their main function is to make sure blood gets cleaned and excess fluid gets drained from the body. As these decrease it makes it extra hard to maintain the chemical balance within the body. As a result, numerous medical conditions can occur. These include:

  • Pain in the kidney area
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in urine
  • High blood pressure

If your senior loved one is complaining about any of these symptoms, it would be best to get them to a doctor where they can have their kidneys looked at for potential age-related problems.

Hardened Blood Vessels
Another problem that occurs in the kidneys of older adults is that the blood vessels surrounding them can harden. This decreases the blood flow that enters the kidneys and can cause more imbalance within their body. It can even lead to something as serious as kidney failure. Unfortunately, there are no specific signs or symptoms that can tell your doctor if hardened blood vessels are the problem. It usually leads to high blood pressure. However, if it is suspected your doctor can run a few tests in order to determine the problem. The tests are:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine Tests
  • Ultrasound of the kidney

Acute Kidney Failure
Acute kidney failure occurs when the kidneys can no longer filter the blood. There are a few causes that create this problem such as direct damage to the kidneys, slowed blood flow to the kidneys, and blockage to the kidneys’ urine drainage tubes (ureters). Kidneys have a very important function within the human body, and the healthier they are, the less you have to fear about the entirety of your senior loved one’s health!

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