May 2012

Listen To Your Elders

I would like to express appreciation for my older patients (those over 80). The longer I practice, the more I have come to enjoy them. They have a lot to say.

Years ago there was an article in one of the journals written by an academic attending physician who displayed to her students how very fascinating people can be. When she arrived to go on hospital rounds with her team that consisted of medical students, interns and residents she asked which patient they would like to present to her. They replied that there was no one worth presenting on their service. She responded by telling them that everyone was presentation worthy. She asked them to pick out any patient on their team and she would find something interesting about them. They chose a woman in her 80’s who was awaiting nursing home placement.

As the attending started taking a history, it was revealed that this patient had been a passenger on the Titanic and had quite a story to tell. She held the group spellbound. The students learned quite a lesson that day.

I am lucky to have some of the most wonderful octogenarians and nonagenarians in my practice. One was a model in New York in the 1940’s, another worked on the atom bomb, and yet another was a genuine beatnik. I have a couple of patients who lived through the holocaust. They have many life lessons to teach and wonderful stories to tell.

So many times in life, we pass by an elderly person or just seem to tolerate our older relatives. If we could stop for a moment and talk to them we might learn about their life and perspective. They can become important teachers and resources.

They have taught me about what it looks like to age gracefully. They have shown me what life is like as we get closer to the end and further from the beginning and what ultimately is important. Not one has looked back on their life and wondered if they could have stayed in their office an hour longer or filed more reports.

Many have expressed regret that they did not have more time with their family members or were unable to mend torn friendships. I think they would all agree that their health, relationships, love and kindness are what matter most in life. Find out what is important to the elders in your life. You might be surprised and delighted with what they have to say.

What Is Beauty?

One of the things I have learned, as I have gotten older is how to spot a truly beautiful person. Have you ever met someone and thought they were OK or average looking, but once you got to know them you realized that he or she was really beautiful? If you think about it, you will notice that after you get to know people you do not see what you did originally, rather you see what they are from the inside out.

There is such an emphasis in our culture on external beauty. Having the most beautiful hair, skin, and smile is touted as important in almost every other commercial on television. I do not believe that the secret to true beauty is found on the outside. Here is my advice for being beautiful:

Be healthy. Exercise, protecting your skin from sun exposure and healthy eating will give you the healthy glow you are looking for. This simple (yet difficult to follow) advice will improve the look of your skin, hair and your overall appearance.

Nourish your spirit. Yoga, meditation and tai chi, (as examples) are all things that can help grow your spiritual side. Finding your passion and what makes you happy is one of the best ways to nourish your soul and bring out your inner beauty.

Practice random acts of kindness. I have an example. When I was in high school, every Valentine’s Day the girl’s club would sell carnations to raise money. The boys and girls were encouraged to buy flowers for each other. I was one of those girls who never got a flower. But, my senior year I finally received one. It felt wonderful to have a flower and to be able to speculate who sent it. This year the flower mystery was finally solved.

At my high school reunion, one of my friends told me that it was her mother who bought all the girls flowers that year. She did not want anyone to feel left out. It was a small act of kindness that made a big difference in a geeky teenager’s life.

You do not need to spend money to provide kindness. Try a smile, a hug, or a word of encouragement. It will help others to feel good and you to feel great. Every time you do something nice for others it is like placing a smile in your heart. The more smiles, the better you feel; the better you feel the more beauty you will project.

Get out there. Be healthy, find your spirit, be bold, be kind and be beautiful!

May Is Stroke Awareness Month

Each year in the US over 700,000 people suffer a stroke and over 143,000 people die as a result.Three-quarters of those who suffer a stroke are over 65 years old.It is important to know who is at risk and how to recognize the symptoms.A stroke occurs when there is lack of blood flow to the brain.

The risk factors for a stroke are similar to those for a heart attack.These include: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a sedentary lifestyle. A family history of stroke, a history of a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), increasing age and alcohol abuse can also increase the risk of stroke.

The long term consequences of a stroke can be devastating.That is why it is important to prevent them.You can do this by reducing your risk and modifying your risk factors.Quit smoking, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol down. Eat healthy and exercise.Take folic acid as part of your vitamin regimen.

What are the symptoms and warning signs of a stroke,they include:

* Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
* Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
* Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
* Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
* Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Other danger signs that may occur include double vision, drowsiness, and nausea or vomiting. Sometimes the warning signs may last only a few moments and then disappear. These brief episodes, known as transient ischemic attacks or TIAs, are sometimes called “mini-strokes.” Since they may clear quickly, many people ignore them but that is a mistake. Many people with a TIA have a stoke within 48 hours.

If you think you are having a stroke call 911. Time is of the essence. It is possible in some cases to reverse the damage of a stroke if you are treated within hours of having symptoms.

Find out more about stroke in our book, “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife and Beyond”.

Have A Good Cry Now And Then

We know that laughing is healthy, but what about crying? It turns out that it can indeed be therapeutic as long as it is now and then and not all the time. After looking into it, I have discovered why a nice, old-fashioned cry can feel so good.

Crying is a natural response to sorrow, frustration and grief and helps relieve emotional stress. It lowers the risk for heart disease by lowering blood pressure and pulse rate and removes toxins from the body. William Frey II, a biochemist at the St Paul Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota, has been studying tears for over 15 years.

He found that tears from stress or sadness contain different chemicals than tears that are produced by an irritant. He has done experiments analyzing tears after subjects watched a sad movie vs. when they cut onions. The sad tears contained 24% more albumin than the onion-induced tears.

They contained an endorphin called leucine-enkaphalin (which helps control pain) and prolactin a hormone, which regulates milk production. Sad tears also contain 30 times more manganese as compared to serum levels. Excess manganese is associated with anxiety, stress and serious mood problems.

Not surprisingly, women cry more than men. On average women cry 47 times a year and men cry 7 times a year. The average cry lasts 6 minutes. Eighty-five percent of women and 73% of men felt better after a good cry.

Removing stress hormones through tears is healthy. Suppressing them is not and can lead to stress related disease. Tears have a cultural purpose as well. They evoke a quick empathetic response from others.

I know in the past I have recommended a funny movie to make you feel better. Maybe once in awhile it would be good to throw in a sad one so that you can have a good therapeutic cry. Of course, if you are Kurt Vonnegut you might want to stick with the funny ones!

“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” ~Kurt Vonnegut


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