August 2022

…think of gardening as an investment in my health?

New evidence suggests that gardening may contribute to increased amounts of brain nerve growth factors that are related to memory. Another study found that horticultural therapy may be effective in treating people with dementia. Overall, these studies focusing on the effects of gardening see improvements in some older adults’ “physical function and mood.” There are even reports of “boosts in quality of life” for those living with mild Alzheimer’s disease.  

There is a long list of reasons why gardening may improve your mental health: it may act as a mood booster, calm you after stressful events, be an effective tool for addiction, foster feelings of connection, and give you a sense of agency and empowerment. Other positive factors are that you get outside and build physical strength.

 NIH highlights the importance of exposure to plants and green spaces and recommends that health professionals encourage their patients to take advantage of these activities. They also suggest advocating to your local authorities for more green spaces in your community. One of the items for our upcoming online auction is a membership to the SF botanical garden. You can get more involved yourself or give the gift of green spaces to a friend or family member!

… borrow my friend’s walker if I need some extra support?

If someone needs short-term help with balance while walking, it makes sense to borrow rather than buy - but only if it can be used properly and adjusted to fit the user. A CDC study of ER admissions 2001-6 found that when an older person had a fall while using a cane or a walker for support, 87% of the time it was with a walker - and the chance of being injured in that fall was 7 times higher with a walker than a cane. As this article points out, “walkers are not appropriate for everyone.  If the user has limitations with their upper body strength, if they have dementia / Alzheimer’s, if the environment they are in is small and/or cluttered or if they have limited vision – a walker may prove to be more dangerous than helpful.” 

To minimize risk of falling, make sure that the handles are raised or lowered so that the center of gravity is as close to normal as possible; follow these tips for navigating turns, steps, and curbs, and these tips when hopping on one leg or using a rollator (rolling walker).

Our online collections on avoiding falls will also be useful. If borrowing from a friend isn’t an option, check out our links to  local Bay Area resources for free or low-cost walkers and other medical equipment.

… be concerned about monkeypox?

The recent frenzy over monkeypox has led to a plethora of misinformation spreading around on the Internet. So what exactly is monkeypox? The NIH explains monkeypox as a virus that is similar to smallpox in that it can be spread from infected humans, animals, and materials contaminated with the virus, but far less deadly. Transmission from human to human may occur through direct contact with body fluids, lesions, extended face-to-face contact, and indirect contact with infected clothing or bedding. While monkeypox can be spread through sexual contact, it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection or disease as it can also be transmitted through any form of skin-to-skin contact. 

There also exists the misconception that monkeypox is only spreading among men who have sex with men, which has perpetuated harmful rumors and stigma against the LGBTQ+ community. While the majority of cases in the U.S. are indeed related to male-to-male sexual contact, monkeypox can infect anyone; there have been two reported cases of monkeypox among children. The California Department of Public Health commends staying vigilant, but reassures that the current risk of getting monkeypox among the general public is low. To protect yourself and prevent the spread of monkeypox, the CDC recommends avoiding close skin-to-skin contact with individuals who have monkeypox rashes, avoiding contact with any items an infected person has touched, and washing your hands frequently. 

Supply of the monkeypox vaccine is extremely limited, but Santa Clara County has recently expanded vaccine eligibility as of mid-July. Check to see if you qualify for an appointment here.

…prepare for hot weather?

Yes, you should absolutely be prepared for hot weather. The County of Santa Clara Office of Emergency Management (Santa Clara OEM) gives plenty of hot weather safety tips. Drink plenty of water, limit physical activity, cool off by taking a cool bath or shower, rest often in shady areas, wear cool clothing, and stay in air-conditioned areas.

Santa Clara County Public Health warns that older adults are among the most vulnerable to heat related illness. If you know someone who is vulnerable and living without air-conditioning, please consider getting them to an air-conditioned space between the hours of 10am and 8pm. Santa Clara OEM shares an extensive list of free cooling centers in the area.  

Extreme heat can lead to sunburn, heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and sometimes death. The city of San Jose has a chart that lists the signs and symptoms and the treatments for each of the above illnesses. PlaneTree’s Emergency Health Guide also lists resources that outline signs of different heat diseases and how to cope.

Consider also signing up for ALERTSCC to get up-to-date info on emergencies and disasters taking place in your area.

Obesity Discrimination, Fat Phobia, and Medical Gaslighting

Our culture’s obsession with being thin, and its prejudice against fat people, causes so many serious health problems for so many. Unfortunately, health care professionals are not immune. Attitudes that “heavier people are usually unhealthy, that having excess weight is easy to modify and is usually a person’s ‘fault,’ and that heavier people must always trying to lose weight if they care about their health” too often results in substandard care and ignoring serious medical issues while over-emphasizing weight loss or fat-shaming. The fact that there are so many terms used to describe this problem - weight or fat bias, fat phobia, fat or weight stigma, obesity discrimination, sizeism, medical gaslighting, and more  - is a sign that poor communication between patients and health care providers is at the core of the problem. 

If you feel that your health care team are not listening to you, or are too focused on weight loss instead of your main concern, here are some ways to frame the conversation:

  • Try to keep the conversation focused on your concern. If you’ve scheduled an appointment, you can use language like “my presenting problem is X”, or “in our limited time today, I need us to focus on X” .

If they assert that your current concern isn’t as important as losing weight, some useful assertive language might be:

  •  “I understand that you have opinions about my weight”, but I’m worried about X - can we talk about that?” 

  • Another powerful statement is “I’d like us to keep looking at X because it significantly impacts my quality of life.”

What if they claim that being overweight is the cause of your concern? Some people have had success with reframing the discussion by asking how they would approach your concern if weight was not a factor:

  • “If we just put my weight to one side, is there anything else this could be?” 

  • Or ask what they would tell patients who have the same symptoms or condition who are not overweight.

If they assert that losing weight will resolve your concern, ask:

  • “What is the evidence that shows that losing weight is the best treatment or way to deal with X”?

  • Another tactic is to point out that very few people manage to lose weight and keep it off. (Within three years after a significant weight loss, one study found 97% gained it back – plus more.) Ask “What treatment would have a better success rate?”

If losing weight is required before getting surgical care, the gatekeeping reason may be anesthesia. As this article points out, there is no one set of guidelines around BMI and anesthesia; it may be worth exploring this issue further with your health care team (and perhaps using the BRAIN questions to ask whether losing weight is a realistic goal and whether putting off the procedure until the future is more risky).

Other suggestions for getting appropriate care include:

  • Before stepping on the scale at a medical office, ask why you’re being weighed - and decline to be weighed if it’s not directly connected to your medical concern (yes, it’s perfectly within a patient’s rights to refuse to be weighed).

  • Explain to your health care team that dieting could cause serious problems for your mental health, especially if you have a history of eating disorders or body dysmorphia.

  • Plan ahead your list of concerns and questions, and what you plan to say if the situations mentioned above should come up. 

  • Ask someone to come with you to the appointment to help advocate for you.

  • If the health care team really won’t consider offering you the same treatment or diagnostic tests that they would offer someone who is not labeled overweight, formally request that they state that in a note in your medical record, along the lines of “test Y not offered to patient” or “treatment with Z not recommended to patient”.

If you feel that poor communication with your health care provider is putting your health in danger, try to find another. The Health at Every Size movement is gaining ground among health care professionals, and the Association for Size Diversity and Health maintains a list of adherents.

Ingredients in your Beauty and Personal Care Products

The personal care products we use such as perfume, deodorant, shampoo, and more may oftentimes contain harmful ingredients that we are unaware of. While these products are regulated by the FDA, they do not have to be approved by the FDA before they begin selling, which means companies often do not have to prove their products are safe or effective. Overall, cosmetics are one of the least regulated types of products and may be hiding harmful chemicals. 

WebMD provides a list of harmful chemicals to look out for in your beauty products. The most commonly known ingredients to stay aware of are parabens, which are endocrine disruptors and may irritate the skin, as well as fragrance products, which may be a mixture of countless unknown ingredients. Other endocrine disruptors are phthalates, PFAS, and triclosan, all of which can negatively affect the body’s hormones. 

In order to stay healthy, it is critical to remain vigilant and avoid potentially risky or dangerous chemicals. Staying cautious and carefully reading product labels can help you identify which personal care products to avoid or stop using. Some further precautions from the NIH include: 

  • Not sharing your cosmetics 

  • Not utilizing old coemstics

  • Stopping product use immediately if irritation occurs

  • Not mixing various hair dye products

Healthy Pleasures Online Fundraising Auction Note

We’d like to take this opportunity to announce that PlaneTree Health Library’s “Healthy Pleasures” Online Auction will soon begin. The auction will run from Saturday, October 1st through Saturday, October 15th. Visit the auction website here, for a sneak peek.

What do we mean by healthy pleasures? It includes a long list of activities – basically any activity or hobby that relieves stress, exercises our bodies and minds, brings a sense of accomplishment, or encourages creativity. They can be solo or social, active, or soothing, serious, or silly. The items you will be bidding on will be products, services, and activities that help promote relaxation, fun, stress relief, and finding healthy forms of self-care.

3 ways you can help:

1. Bid soon: Your generosity will help PlaneTree continue to support the community.

2. Tell Friends: Share auction information with friends and family.

3. Donate Now: Maybe you or someone you know would like to donate items or services such as a gift certificate to a fine dining experience or a monetary donation. You can donate an item to the auction here. The easiest way to make a monetary donation is to use the “Donate Now” button on our webpage here.

Please browse, place a bid, shop for yourself, or purchase items as gifts. You can bid on exciting items like one-month of unlimited yoga, a family dual membership to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, a four-hour kayak rental, and tickets to the San Francisco Symphony. There will be more items listed each week, so keep an eye out!

Thanks for your attention/consideration, and thanks in advance for your participation.


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:

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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