March 15, 2009
Asked and Answered
(Solutions to seniors' health questions)
(Could you have this widespread ailment?)
Affordable Health Care
(A place to start)
Table of Contents
What Happens in Vegas
Principals of the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA)
are packing their bags for Las Vegas to attend the National Council on
Aging and American Society on Aging's annual conference. On March 17th
of the conference, SFA will accept the 2009 National Council on Aging
Health Promotion Institute's Best Practice Award. The association
is being recognized for its educational training of older adult fitness
professionals on an international scale. SFA provides distance-learning
courses in senior group-exercise instruction, personal fitness training,
and long-term care physical activity management. Be sure to see the next
issue of Experience! which will provide a report on the
proceedings -- because contrary to popular belief, what happens in Vegas
won't be staying there!
Asked and Answered
Experience! readers haven't heard from SFA author Jim
Evans since January, but that doesn't mean his in-box hasn't been
filled with wellness-related queries from older adults far and wide. In
the following articles of today's issue, we'll catch up with Jim as he
discusses three timely health matters. Jim Evans is a 41-year veteran of
the health-fitness industry and an internationally recognized senior
DEAR JIM: My grandson gave me a computer for Christmas last
year because he thought his 75-year-old grandmother needed to "get in
touch with the real world." I must admit it has been a wonderful
experience. I never imagined how much information and social contact is
available on the Internet, and I am having a ball. Recently, however, I
have gotten into the habit of "googling" whenever I feel under the
weather. I just type in my symptoms -- like headache, stiff joints,
dizziness, and so forth -- and my computer comes up with all kinds of
possibilities of what might be wrong with me. But when I call my doctor
and tell him that I think I might have a particular medical problem
based on my findings, he makes me feel foolish for calling and says it's
nonsense. Is he right? FEELING FOOLISH IN FAYETTEVILLE
DEAR FEELING FOOLISH: Well, yes and no. There is a lot of
valuable information on the Internet, but a lot also depends on how we
interpret it and whether or not we are qualified to interpret it the
right way. In this case, your doctor is probably right, but don't feel
bad because I am just as foolish as you are. You see, we are both
suffering from a modern condition called "cyberchondria" or "Internet
self-diagnosis," and there are millions of people just like us all over
Several months ago my wife and I were traveling in northern
California and spent a night at a motel. The next day, after we arrived
back home, I noticed a rash of small red blisters developing on my lower
torso and one leg. I immediately went online and pinpointed what I
thought was the problem: bed bugs! I was so sure of my self-diagnosis
that I was fully prepared to write a scathing letter to the motel and
demand a refund for my discomfort.
However, I decided to wait a few more
days before contacting the motel. I'm glad I did.
After about a week, the rash seemed to have stopped spreading but,
just to be sure, I scheduled an appointment with my physician to confirm
my self-diagnosis. I described my symptoms to her before my office visit
and told her I was sure I had been bitten by bed bugs. I was absolutely
certain I was right, but as soon as my doctor walked into the examining
room and saw my rash, she said without hesitation, "You have shingles."
I realized at once that I was a cyberchondriac.
A self-misdiagnosis may be less serious or more serious than what
actually ails us. This doesn't mean that we should stop googling about
our health concerns on the Internet, but it does mean that we should
stop trying to interpret our symptoms as serious or even terminal
because of what we find. Sometimes just worrying about what we think
is wrong can create legitimate health issues. So let's schedule regular
checkups with our doctor and let him or her figure out what is really
wrong with us. After all, we might find a hundred different reasons for
a headache on the Internet, but which reason is the right one for our
particular headache? That's why doctors go to medical school.
DEAR JIM: My husband, age 71, suffers from chronic
constipation. It is making our lives miserable because he is constantly
bloated and has painful hemorrhoids from straining during bowel
movements. We don't do anything together anymore because of his
continual pain and discomfort, and it has made our "golden years" less
than glittering. I should probably mention that he takes several pain
prescriptions for other medical issues. I love him dearly and just want
to find something to help him feel better so that we can get our lives
back while we still have some time left. Is there anything you can
suggest to make this condition more tolerable? SUFFERING IN SILENCE IN
DEAR SUFFERING: Constipation is generally defined as straining
frequently during bowel movements, passing a hard stool fewer than three
times a week, and regular bloating or abdominal discomfort, according to
the Mayo Clinic. Almost everyone experiences constipation at one time or
another, but regularity varies among individuals, too.
While usually not dangerous, constipation can be very uncomfortable
and can greatly diminish quality of life. There are many causes and I'm
sure by now that your husband and his physician have probably discussed
most of these issues. One of the most overlooked causes of constipation
is certain prescription medication including drugs used to treat
Parkinson's disease, depression, and high blood pressure -- and,
especially, narcotics to control pain. In fact, narcotic pain
medications such as codeine (e.g., Tylenol #3), oxycodone (e.g.,
Percocet), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) have been known to precipitate
severe constipation with fecal impaction which can be extremely
uncomfortable and painful to resolve. Most doctors have to make a
judgment decision with regard to the overall benefits of the medication
they prescribe as opposed to the risk of side effects. Your husband's
doctor may be able to prescribe alternative medications without the same
side effects if, indeed, his medication is a factor in his constipation.
The most immediate natural suggestions that I would offer to you
would be to make sure that your husband eats a well-balanced diet
including natural fiber, drinks plenty of liquids, and exercises
regularly. This physical activity does not have to be a complete
exercise regimen (I doubt that your husband would feel like it anyway),
but even a simple daily walk around the block -- something to get the
body moving -- can make a big difference. Hold hands, talk with each
other, walk at a pace at which he feels comfortable, and enjoy each
other's company. He will probably grumble and complain all the way, so
it will be up to you to set a positive tone until he begins to look
forward to the experience. Physical movement stimulates the entire body
to higher function and performance -- and does a lot for the mind, too!
Affordable Health Care
DEAR JIM: I am a single woman 58 years old with a good job.
However, my company doesn't have health insurance and I can't afford it
on my own. I'm in relatively good health, but I feel extremely
vulnerable if anything should happen to me. Is there anything I can do
to protect myself? UNINSURED IN URBANA
DEAR UNINSURED: You are not alone. According to the National
Coalition on Healthcare (NCHC), almost 47 million Americans are
uninsured even though the U.S. spends more money on health care than any
other industrialized nation. What to do if you are one of those 47
While an accident can happen to any of us, many chronic health
conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes,
osteoarthritis, depression, anxiety, colon problems, and others can be
discouraged or managed with regular physical activity. The Surgeon
General of the United States, the National Institutes of Health, the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of
Sports Medicine, and the American Heart Association all tout the
benefits of exercise in disease prevention.
It is generally recommended that you participate in at least 30
minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. You don't
have to join a gym, run a marathon, or climb a mountain. Even a simple
everyday activity like walking can make all the difference in the world.
The important thing is to make it an integral part of your daily life
just like eating and sleeping.
As I have said many times before, exercise is not a cure-all, but it
can go a long way toward maintaining our health and preventing many of
the ills that might befall us. It is cheap and everyone can afford it.
Not surprisingly, however, many people will not lift a finger to take
care of themselves. Enroll in your own health insurance program by
starting a regular exercise program today. Until you obtain coverage --
and afterwards, too -- prevention is the best medicine.
Experience! readers: Thank
you for your interest and questions. Due to the high volume of contacts SFA
receives, we cannot respond to individual queries or comments. However, the
newsletter does address frequently asked questions and topics of vital interest
to our members.
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