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www.planetree-sv.org 
December 2021
From PlaneTee Health Library Staff

Images of light-bringing and gift-giving in the longer dark nights of the winter solstice are shared by so many cultures, perhaps in response to the same neurological reactions behind SAD in humans. This issue of PlaneTalk e-newsletter (like all issues) hopes to enlighten us with health-related “news you can use”, and to encourage us to give constructive steps towards better health for ourselves and the ones we love. 

Specifically, this issue includes: making sure that information in our medical records is correct and accurate (a gift to ourselves and to our healthcare professionals, so they can do a better job); the gifts of specific actions to take or not take to boost immunity and counteract depression; and the preventive gifts of avoiding a dangerous fall, avoiding harmful extra doses of supplements, or avoiding undercutting our blood pressure medications with over-the-counter products. 

I’ve referred to these actions as gifts to ourselves, gifts that encourage better personal health. But the current pandemic has made it very clear indeed that preventive care for ourselves includes preventive care for the other people in our communities too. From a disease perspective, avoiding the spread of infection from you to me and from me to you are the same. While we’re not out of the COVID woods yet, we already know how to slow the spread: get vaccinated (including a booster if eligible), and take precautions when around other people. Despite worries about different “variants of concern”, those gifts have not changed.

So, we wish you light and illumination in these darker days, bringing gifts of better health to ourselves and those around us all.And a better, healthier year ahead in 2022!

From the staff of PlaneTree Health Library:

  • Lise M. Dyckman, Executive Director
  • M. Michelle Hogan, Communications Director
  • Bella Hung, Communications and Outreach Assistant
  • Jamie Thill, Outreach Librarian
SHOULD I...?

… check my electronic medical record for errors?

The CARES Act required that patients be able to read their significant medical records, and  that health care providers must create systems to view our records (while keeping them private).  Now a new federal rule lays out penalties for blocking access to our personal medical records.

We all should read through our personal medical records. Undoubtedly, though, most of us will spot errors in our records. What should we do when we find mistakes?

Cait DesRoches, DrPH explains what to do if your record needs revising. All medical organizations should have a procedure for correcting errors in medical records. The first step in resolving these issues is to contact the patient relations group or your health care provider directly. Let them know that you want to begin the amendment and correction process of your records. If the medical professional disagrees with your request for corrections, and refuses to make the change, then you can ask that your dispute be appended to the record. Keep in mind that it can be a challenging process, but you absolutely have the legal right to advocate for yourself.

Those who are not being provided their medical records are able to submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Resources website. WhereIsMyMedicalRecord.org can help you understand your rights and how to navigate the process of reporting any “information blocking” you experience. 

… increase the supplements I take to boost my immune system this winter?

Probably not. While certain vitamins and minerals are important to maintain a healthy immune system, there is no evidence that taking more than the recommended amounts of vitamins C, D, or E, or the minerals magnesium, selenium or zinc offer any additional boost. With many supplements, taking more than the recommended dosage is actually harmful.

Supplements (vitamins,minerals, and herbs or botanical products) are called that because they are intended to supplement our healthy diets. They cannot make up for an unhealthy diet overall. Supplements are regulated as food products, not medicines. “That means companies don’t have to prove that a supplement works before selling it. Companies are required to follow good manufacturing practices in making their products. But bottles still may not always contain what the label claims.” (Carol Haggans, NIH consultant.) Before taking any supplement, ask your healthcare team and/or check in MedlinePlus:

  • Does this supplement help with my health concern? If so, how much should I take?
  • Does this supplement have any harms associated with it? What side effects should I look for?

  • Could this supplement interact with my prescription medications? What about over-the-counter medications?

… just quietly quarantine if I get a positive result on a self-test for COVID?

Don’t stop there. When someone gets a positive COVID test, they should definitely quarantine (and if they don’t develop any symptoms, they should test again in a few days to be certain). But, it’s important to also notify the healthcare team and/or local public health authorities whenever there’s a confirmed case of COVID. At-home self tests are tremendously useful for assessing risk, especially when travelling or possibly encountering someone extra-vulnerable (like visiting grandparents). Not notifying workplace or school of a positive test result, though, can lead to multiple infections (and perhaps also liability). Especially when public health authorities desperately need accurate data on spread of this disease to plan for the Omicron variant, we need to report all positive test results

… invest in light therapy for my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? 

The end of the year can often bring about drastic changes in mood with its shorter days and lack of sunlight. Typically beginning in late fall and dissipating during spring and summer, these unpleasant episodes may be characterized by sadness, feelings of hopelessness, a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and in more severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide. Collectively, these symptoms fall under what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD—a type of depression.

Given its direct connection to daylight and sunlight, a method of treatment by the name of light therapy has frequently been touted as an effective way to provide relief. Also known as light boxes, light therapy involves a bright light box that mimics outdoor lighting and is believed to cause a chemical change in your brain that elevates your mood. It has been a key form of treatment for SAD since the 1980’s, and is widely acknowledged to be successful. 

That being said, light therapy is not the only solution available. Talk therapy as well as antidepressant medications are frequently used to treat SAD as well. Other, more general measures to implement include spending more time outdoors, eating healthy, getting regular exercise, staying connected with others, and more. All of these methods, especially when utilized together, are all effective strategies to manage and treat your seasonal depression. 

… check that I’m not making it harder for my blood pressure medications to work?

Absolutely. Many common medications - both prescription drugs and over-the-counter products - and some foods have the side effect of increasing blood pressure. A recent study published in JAMA reported a high percentage of people taking antihypertensives to control their blood pressure - approximately 1 in 5! - were also taking one or more medications that raise it. That’s counterproductive at best, and in the long run could be quite harmful.  If you’re concerned about high blood pressure, and especially if you’re taking an antihypertensive, check this list and this other list of products, and also this list of foods so you know what to avoid.

COVID-19 CORNER

OMG, Omicron! You’ve probably heard or read scary things about the latest mutation of SARS-CoV-2. Before a total freak out, though, here are some things we know, or are learning, or still don’t know about this “variant of concern” as of Dec. 13, 2021:

We know:

  • It’s already been diagnosed in CA (including Santa Clara County), and in at least 20 other states in the U.S. This probably means it is present in all 50 states; it’s also probably worldwide now. It was first identified in South Africa because that country has extensive surveillance for COVID cases, not because it originated there.

  • The tests currently in use to diagnose COVID infection (including self-tests) detect this variant as well as the other known variants.

  • The same precautions - wearing a well-fitting mask indoors around people who are not in your household, avoiding crowded and/or poorly ventilated spaces, washing hands frequently, getting fully vaccinated including a booster when eligible - work to slow the spread of this variant too. We know how to do this!

It appears that: 

But we don’t know yet :

  • Whether people get as sick when infected by the Omicron variant. There is some evidence coming from both South Africa & the UK that suggests otherwise healthy people are less likely to get seriously ill – but it’s too early to spot trends from individual cases.

  • Whether we’ll need a booster specifically designed against this variant, to protect us better. The current vaccines used in the U.S. do give protection; perhaps that will turn out to be sufficient.

Another good thing to keep in mind: it’s remarkable how quickly scientists have learned a lot about this new variant in such a short time. Their hard work, and levels of collaboration within the scientific communities, have been outstanding – and give us a lot of hope that we can deal with this mutation quickly.

IN DEPTH
Preventing Injuries from a Fall

Taking a tumble can cause serious problems at any age, but the dangers of falling are magnified as we get older. As MedlinePlus points out, seniors “are at higher risk of falling. They are also more likely to fracture a bone when they fall, especially if they have osteoporosis. A broken bone, especially when it is in a hip, may even lead to disability and a loss of independence for older adults.” 

What can we do to lower the chance of falling? First, assess home and work environments to spot the hazards. There are several online checklists that can help (like this one from the CDC, and this from the National Institute on Aging, and even an interactive quiz for those who like such things). Decluttering, improving lighting, and the kinds of simple home modifications described in the links in our library’s collections on Avoiding Falls and Caring at Home can make a huge difference.  Another simple step is to wear safer shoes, slippers, or sandals. (To find reviews for non-slip footwear, search the phrase: fall prevention non-slip footwear .)

But there are also other, maybe non-obvious, complicating factors or reasons why older adults fall (read here; en español aquí). Our library’s collection of links on Avoiding Falls goes into each of these in more detail; briefly, other solutions include:

  • Improving balance and flexibility.

  • Exercising to keep muscles from getting weaker.

  • Take plenty of time when getting up from a chair or bed.

  • Keep up with possible vision or hearing loss; don’t put off getting these checked, and get glasses or hearing aids (if needed and can afford them).

  • Review medications with your doctor or pharmacist (both prescription drugss and over-the-counter products). Side-effects or drug interactions frequently increase falls risk. Each new medication that can cause dizziness multiplies our chance of a serious fall.

  • Use all the tools - a walker, a cane, grab bars, extra steps, etc. - that are appropriate.

Unfortunately, some medical conditions (diabetic neuropathy, heart disease, dementia, low blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions) increase the chances of falling. To find out if you or someone you care for are at risk for a dangerous fall, try this online quiz – and then ask your healthcare team to do a fall risk assessment (en español aquí) if concerned.  

 

 

Looking for more community events?

 
The list of free, public, health-related events in the South Bay that used to be included in PlaneTalk has moved online, as have the events themselves. 

We’ve created an expanded Community Events Calendar on our webpages at: https://www.planetree-sv.org/calendar/

There are many more events on health and other topics of interest to seniors, their caregivers, and anyone interested in healthy aging on this calendar - and since they’re online, you don’t have to worry about travel time or parking!

 
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