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Sleep smarts: Sleep is an important part of back-to-school preparation

  • Written by ARA

16133102_webDoes your list of school supplies include sleep? Studies say it should, especially for teens.

Only 8 percent of American teenagers are getting the required nine or more hours of sleep needed, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In fact, a recent study published in the “Journal of Adolescent Health” found that more than 60 percent of high school students get less than seven hours of sleep per night. The situation does not improve in college, either.  A 2010 study conducted at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota revealed, not surprisingly, that 70 percent of college students get less than the 8 recommended hours of sleep.

While most people have, at times, battled sleep issues, poor sleep habits plague college campuses. Let’s face it: Most college kids do not place a premium on a good night’s rest. In addition to sleep falling low on the priority list, most students are sleeping on cheap dorm mattresses and worn out pillows which can affect sleep quality.

Perhaps reminding your student that there is a proven relationship between healthy sleep habits and academic success might help encourage healthier habits. In 2010, a University of Minnesota study found a significant positive correlation between the amount of sleep per night and GPA. Additionally, as the average number of days per week a student got less than five hours of sleep increased, GPA decreased.

Once a pattern of bad sleep has developed, is it possible for teens and college students to “reset” their internal clocks? Researchers at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine say it is. Suggest that your students try following these tips, a little bit at a time, over several weeks:

• Try your best to avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, heavy exercise and heavy snacking (pizza included) at least three hours before bedtime.

• Don’t pull all-nighters or cram for exams late at night. Specifically schedule studying for when you’re most alert so your performance won’t be affected.

• Be as consistent as possible with your sleep habits, ideally aiming to go to bed at the same time each evening and get at least eight hours of sleep per night.

• Wake up at the same time every morning and head outside. Sunlight helps reset circadian rhythms, the body’s internal biological process that rotates around a 24-hour schedule.

• Turn off your cell phone and laptop at night. Besides being a distraction, exposure to light can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that aids sleep.

• Make sure your bedroom is set up for sleep. If you are a light sleeper or your dorm is noisy, try wearing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. Keep the room cool and dark. Make your bed as comfortable as possible.

Consider investing in a foam mattress pad and a quality pillow. For example, for around $100, you can purchase a mattress topper and a waterbase pillow, both of which greatly improve head, neck and back support while you sleep.

“While you most likely cannot control the amount of sleep your teens or college-aged kids receive, at least you can make sure that once they are in bed, the sleep they do get is of the best quality,” explains Maurice Bard, founder and CEO of Mediflow Inc., a company that makes waterbase bed pillows. “One simple way to accomplish this is to make sure your teens are sleeping on the right pillow - one that adjusts to properly support their head and neck throughout the night.”

Countless studies have shown that people who get the right amount of sleep are physically and emotionally healthier —  which is of course is something we all want for our children. Getting better grades is just the icing on the cake.

King County, EvergreenHealth join forces to reduce falls in the home

  • Written by Deborah Stone
One of the major concerns for elderly individuals is a fear of falling and the risk of incurring a serious injury in the process.

In King County alone, more than 14 percent of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responses for patients age 65 and older are attributed to falls in the home.

Moreover, there is a greater number of accidental deaths each year attributed to falls than there are deaths attributed to motor vehicle accidents within this population.

Two of the strongest risk factors for falls are older age and a prior history of falls, according to Dr. Brad Younggren, medical director of EvergreenHealth Emergency Preparedness and associate trauma medical director at the hospital.

He says, “The elderly have a greater risk of falling because as we age, we lose our balance and fine motor skills. And then there are also other factors, such as certain medical conditions, that add to this risk.”

Dr. Younggren notes that falls in this population can result in fractures, broken hips, hemorrhages and more, adding, “Almost half of the emergency department trauma visits we see from patients over 65 years old are a result of falls.”

With this statistic in mind, Dr. Younggren began looking at ways to prevent or reduce the frequency of such accidents from happening.

He discovered One Step Ahead, a program of King Country EMS, which began as a pilot a few years ago with Northwest Hospital

The program provides free assistance to patients who experience trauma due to a fall and are seen at a local emergency room.

“It’s a really good program,” comments Dr. Younggren, “and I felt that it would be something Evergreen could easily get involved with as a collaborative effort.”

In One Step Ahead, a trained specialist from King County does an in-home assessment to determine the patient’s risk factors.

According to Dr. Younggren, EMS can refer the patient to the program, as well as staff members at Evergreen’s emergency rooms in its Kirkland and Redmond locations.

To qualify, patients need to be older than 65, ambulatory, living independently, at risk for a fall or have fallen in the past six months.

They cannot be suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia nor can they be living in subsidized housing, retirement facilities or nursing homes.

Once the patient opts into the program, the intervention specialist makes a home visit to identify the exact set of risk factors and design a prevention action plan.

The specialist evaluates the individual’s physical balance and strength, surveys the home for fall hazards and reviews medical conditions and medications in order to customize a course of action.

He/she also frequently arranges for the installation of safety equipment around the home to reduce fall risk.

“To successfully prevent the next fall, you need to identify which specific risk factors each individual may have,” explains Alan Abe, program manager for Injury Prevention at King County EMS. “One Step Ahead uses successful fall-prevention strategies that match the individuals’ risks with specific interventions so that the individual receives a personal program.”

The program has had success, evidenced by a study conducted by King County EMS, which noted that participants experienced 36 percent less risk of suffering a fall in the home than those not enrolled in the program.

“It’s a very individualized program,” says Dr. Younggren, “and you’re working with the patient right in his or her home to make it a safer environment. You’re educating the participant while providing a very specific plan. And you’re connecting the patient to resources in the community, such as classes in Tai Chi or yoga, for example, which will help with balance and strength.”

Dr. Younggren emphasizes that the program is the first step toward creating more of an umbrella network of such services at Evergreen. He explains that the hospital already has an inpatient falls program.

“The idea is to catch those at risk who are “pre-hospital,” he says.

“They might be going to our senior health clinic or our anticoagulation clinic, for example. And if they’re on blood thinners, it’s very important to reach them because if they fall, it can be extremely serious. When that happens, they’re treated with a modified trauma protocol.”

Evergreen began its collaboration with King County EMS in January and according to Dr. Younggren, upwards of 20 patients have been referred to One Step Ahead.

He adds, “We’ve seen some great results with those who participate.”

Food labels 101: Do you really know what you’re eating? Certified organic and natural - what’s the difference?

  • Written by ARA

(ARA) - With so many people trying to improve their eating habits, the good news is that there are a lot more healthy options on store shelves than ever before.

But the dizzying array of products makes it hard to know what the best choices truly are. Have you ever stared at the products on a store shelf and wondered what all the labels meant? How do you know which ones you should feed your family?

Two prevalent labels that seem to be especially confusing are “natural” and “organic.” If you have been wondering what these two terms mean and what the difference is between them, here’s a hint: One is strictly regulated, while the other can mean just about anything. Which is which?

If a product has the organic seal, it means that it is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must meet strict government standards which control how such foods are grown, handled and processed. To be certified organic, the food must be grown without toxic synthetic pesticides and herbicides, genetically engineered ingredients (also called GMOs), antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. That means when you and your family are eating organic foods, you are not putting any of those things into your bodies. Organic farming helps by not adding chemicals to the air, water and soil, as well as keeping it away from you, your family and future generations. Some studies have shown that organic farming also helps produce more nutrient-dense crops.

When it comes to products labeled as “natural,” there is no strictly defined or regulated definition. It may mean that it has minimally processed ingredients, no preservatives or additives, or it may mean none of these things.

Natural products do not have to abide by any standards, so they may contain heavily processed ingredients, toxic chemicals and GMOs. If you and your family are eating natural products, you don’t really know exactly what you are putting into your bodies.

“Despite what many people think, organic and natural are not interchangeable. When you eat something marketed as ‘natural’ you may think you are doing something good for your body, and you could be, but the reality is that it’s more likely you are consuming toxins and GMOs which wouldn’t be allowed under the organic certification.

Our bodies are meant to use food for energy —  they get confused, irritated and harmed when presented with food and chemicals. To put it simply, organic is food, the best fuel for any body,” says Registered Dietician Ashley Koff, author of “Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged.”

If you’d like to eat more organic foods, it is easy to take the first step:

A good place to start is with the foods that you consume every day. For instance, if you and your family start off each morning with a bowl of cereal, try eating organic cereal instead, like Nature’s Path (www.naturespath.com), which has an extensive line of cereals (as well as waffles, granola, oatmeal and granola bars) that are all USDA certified organic.

To learn more about organic food, go to the websites of The Mayo Clinic, The Rodale Institute or The Organic Center.

There are a lot of confusing choices out there, but with a little knowledge about the difference between the certified organic and natural labels (check out the chart at www.naturespath.com/eat-well/organics), you can find peace of mind that you are making the best choices for your family. For the best assurance that you are not consuming toxins and chemicals along with your food, look for the USDA certified organic seal on the products you buy.

Non-adherence is killing us, needlessly

  • Written by ARA

(ARA) - Millions of Americans are plagued by chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis. These are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all existing health problems in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there’s another, lesser-known condition that’s taking a huge toll on Americans’ health: non-adherence, a problem caused when patients don’t follow their doctors’ orders.

While it may be hard to believe, the simple act of forgetting to take a pill or not filling a prescription at the pharmacy costs the U.S. as much as $317 billion each year on unnecessary medical expenses. Beyond the financial cost is the health impact: Non-adherence can lead to additional complications, which in turn lead to more medical tests, emergency room visits and hospitalizations — all avoidable by simply taking medications as prescribed.

A new Express Scripts survey found that more than 90 percent of the 40,000 adults polled agree that taking their medication is important for their health, ranking higher than avoiding smoking, eating healthy and getting enough exercise. Despite these findings, Express Scripts’ 2011 Drug Trend Report shows that for many diseases requiring drug treatments, less than half of patients take their medication as prescribed. So while Americans recognize the importance of adherence, their intentions and behaviors are not always aligned.

There are many reasons why people don’t take their medications regularly; but in contrast to common belief, the main reason for non-adherence has nothing to do with the cost of the medicine or fear of its side effects. In fact, more than two-thirds of patients are non-adherent simply because they forget or procrastinate, according to survey responses.

The good news is that there are some very simple solutions for treating the common condition of non-adherence:

• Visual or auditory reminders: Keep your medication in a location where it can be easily found. Tape a note to your refrigerator or set an alarm that will help make taking your pills part of your daily routine.

• Home delivery: Having your prescriptions delivered to your home in 90-day supplies has been proven to increase adherence. Go to www.express-scripts.com to learn more.

• Automatic refill reminders: Some prescription insurance plans provide automatic refill reminders to ensure you refill your prescriptions on time. Check your pharmacy plan to see if these alerts are available and how you can sign up to receive them.

• On-time prescription renewals: Long before you near the end of your final refill, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your physician to renew the prescription. If you wait until the last minute, you might not be able to get there in time to stay on your medication therapy.

No matter what method you use to be adherent, it is important to remember that better decisions today lead to healthier results tomorrow.

For more information on Express Scripts’ 2011 Drug Trend Report, visit www.drugtrendreport.com.

Pointers from protecting feet from skin cancer

  • Written by ARA

(ARA) - Walking on the beach, frolicking in the surf, participating in sports, strolling through a theme park while on vacation — your feet will carry you through a lot of fun this summer. But can paying attention to them help you avoid the most common form of cancer in America? Possibly, experts say.

Each year, more than 1 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yet only 32 percent of Americans use sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays, NCI says in its Cancer Trends Progress Report.  Even when sunscreen is applied, the feet are often neglected.

“While skin cancers typically appear on areas of sun-exposed skin like the face, arms and hands, they can also occur on areas that get much less sun, such as the feet,” says Dr. Joseph Caporusso, a podiatrist and president of the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). “With flip-flops and sandals being common summer foot attire, more Americans than ever are exposing their feet to the sun’s potential harmful rays.”

Sun exposure, however, isn’t the whole story when it comes to skin cancers on the feet. More often, skin cancers of the feet can be linked to exposure to viruses or chemicals, chronic inflammation or irritation, or even inherited traits, according to APMA.

“Unfortunately, the skin on our feet is often overlooked during routine medical checkups,” Caporusso notes. “Yet, foot health can be an indicator of overall health. It’s important for everyone to have their feet checked regularly by today’s podiatrist for any signs or symptoms of skin cancer.”

APMA offers a few tips for protecting your feet this summer:

• Apply the same broad-spectrum sunscreen you use on the rest of your body to your feet, including the tops, on and between the toes, and even the soles of your feet. Reapply every two hours when you’re out in the sun and more frequently if you spend a lot of time in and out of the water.

• Conduct regular self exams of your feet. Look for signs of problems, such as cracking or sores. Keep in mind that freckles and moles on the soles of the feet are very unusual and may be a sign you should see a podiatrist.

• Be aware of the warning signs for malignant melanoma - the most deadly type of skin cancer. This type of cancer may occur on the skin of the feet and on occasion, beneath a toenail. Learn the ABCDEs of melanoma: asymmetrical lesions, border irregularity, color variation, diameter larger than a pencil eraser,and evolving characteristics of any of the ABCD traits. If you notice a mole, freckle or lesion with any of these characteristics, have your health care provider take a look.

• Skin cancer of the feet can easily be mistaken for other, less serious problems. For example squamous cell carcinomas, the second-most-common type of skin cancer, may resemble a plantar wart, fungal infection, eczema, an ulcer or other common dermatological condition.

• Skin cancers in the lower legs, ankles and feet may look very different from those that occur in the rest of the body. Podiatrists are uniquely qualified among medical professionals to treat lower extremities, so their knowledge and training can help patients detect both benign and malignant skin tumors early.

To learn more and find a podiatrist in your area, log on to www.apma.org.