March 2022
PlaneTalk Back Issues

Happy March! We hope you enjoy this month’s issue. To access the complete list of previous issues of PlaneTalk, visit and check out our PlaneTalk archive. Many articles continue to remain current and relevant - happy reading!


...head outdoors during tick season?


In last month’s issue of PlaneTalk we discussed the positive effects that nature can have on mental health, so we do not want to deter anyone from visiting green spaces this spring. If you are longing to head outdoors after the cold winter months, but are worried about tick season, we’re here to help brainstorm some ways to protect yourself from tick bites. Nymphal ticks pose a greater risk of transmitting Lyme Disease than adult ticks and spring season is the time of year they become active, so it’s especially vital to be tick aware and work out some sort of prevention before heading outdoors.

The California Department of Public Health has some great prevention tips that include using an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registered repellant, wearing clothing treated with 0.5% permethrin, staying in the middle of trails, and avoiding contact with rocks, logs, and grassy areas. They also give advice on what to do after you return from an area where ticks live and you can read more strategies here. physical fitness as a means to fight dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Physical exercise and activity has long been touted as one of the best ways to maintain a healthy mind and body. In terms of aging and age-related conditions specifically, perhaps it is unsurprising to learn that physical fitness is closely linked to cognition, and can help protect against memory loss. You can also check out PlaneTree’s Losing Memory or Cognition portion of our Later Life Guide here. (It is important to note, however, that memory loss may also be caused by things other than dementia, and that physical activity may not be as beneficial if there are other, more severe underlying causes.) 

Physical activity is considered a key risk factor for dementia, and also fights various Alzheimer’s risk factors such as depression and obesity. While physical fitness is not yet considered a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, a preliminary study released in February discovered that people who are more physically active are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as opposed to those who are less physically active. While it is difficult to quantify exactly how much exercise and activity is needed to prevent these conditions, it is undeniable that physical fitness is deeply linked to maintaining memory and slowing cognitive decline. 

...increase sleep to decrease calorie intake?

Sleep can be an important measurement for overall health, so it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation can raise the risk for many diseases and disorders. For example, chronic lack of sleep can be a risk factor for obesity. These findings have been backed by a recent study which found that adults who increased how much they slept reduced their calorie intake. Researchers were able to show that you can eat fewer calories by extending sleep, which is great information for those trying to lose weight.  

National Sleep Awareness Week is set for March 13-19; a great opportunity to set a goal for improving the quality of your sleep. The National Sleep Foundation offers some expert guidance and practical tips to help you plan for a good night's rest. PlaneTree Health Library also provides information for aging adults on how to improve sleep habits. We hope that setting some sleep goals can help foster other health goals and improve your quality of health and life. 

...engage in conversations about disabilities? 

Absolutely. In the United States, nearly a quarter of all adults live with at least one disability. Disabilities, whether they be physical, intellectual, developmental, etc., exist all around us and in everyday life. There is no need to be afraid of talking about disabilities; in fact, the most progress is often made by having open and honest conversations. 

Emily Ladau, a disability rights activist and writer, notes that language is a critical tool for advancing the conversation about disabilities. There are certain words that should not be used when talking about someone who is disabled, as it may demonstrate a rejection of their identity and potentially cause offense. For instance, referring to someone as “disabled” is preferred over saying “handicapped.” These differences may seem minute, but understanding the significance of language is a central part of being an ally. For a full table of Ladau’s language suggestions, see here

Drug Allergies vs. Drug Reactions

When asked “do you have any drug allergies?”, should you bring up the time that a drug that warned about possible side effects of drowsiness knocked you out solid for two days instead, or the time that amoxycillin gave you heartburn? Those probably were not caused by allergies but by adverse drug reactions. The difference might not be particularly meaningful to the people experiencing them, but it’s an important distinction for health care providers.

In a drug allergy, our immune systems produce IgE antibodies that release histamines whenever we’re exposed to the allergen. Sometimes (but not always) allergic drug reactions increase with each new dose, which could lead to anaphylaxis (lightheadedness, throat or tongue swelling, difficulty breathing, swelling or rash with peeling skin).  That’s why it’s important to identify drug allergies in advance. The most common drug allergies are to:

  • Drugs used to treat seizures

  • Insulin (especially animal sources of insulin)

  • Penicillin and related antibiotics

  • Sulfa drugs

But that list is by no means complete. 

Sometimes the reaction (hives or rash, shortness of breath or asthma) looks like an allergy but might not actually be caused by histamines. Instead it could be a side effect of the drug, often called an adverse reaction, drug insensitivity, or drug intolerance. Individual differences in how our bodies metabolize the drug (like the time that prescription put you to sleep instead of just making you drowsy), or in how well we can tolerate the drug (like the acid reflux often caused by amoxicillin) are the root cause of those. Contrast agents (like dyes used in imaging) or delivery agents (like the compounds used for time-release) can cause adverse reactions too. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or headaches associated with medications are more likely to be drug side effects rather than drug allergies, by the way.

Drug adverse effects can be very serious, and should be reported to our health care providers, along with known or suspected drug allergies. Both the CDC and the FDA maintain information on the reported side effects of drugs; it’s always a good idea to read up on a new medication, or whenever changing the dosage. Also, pharmacists should provide information on the most common side effects, and call out the most worrisome side effects, when prescriptions are filled. Drug information should be frequently updated; it’s wise not to skip the pharmacist even if it’s a medication you’ve been taking for awhile (you can always ask if there’s anything new since the last time that prescription was filled). 

Interactions between drugs and the food we eat, the medical conditions we have, and the other drugs we take can also cause adverse effects. The FDA gives a list of questions to ask when starting a new drug, and also tips to detect possible interactions with over the counter products.

Main Causes of Death for U.S.  Women

When it comes to mortality statistics, the main causes of death in the U.S. for women and men are essentially the same. The most common by far is heart disease, followed in descending order by: cancer; then - for 2020 - COVID-19; then accidental injuries; stroke; respiratory diseases, influenza, and pneumonia; Alzheimer and other dementias; diabetes and kidney disease. That order changes around a bit when considering Asian-American or Pacific Islander women, Black / African-American women, Latinas, or Indigeous American / Alaskan Native women - but those are all among the top 7.

However there are significant differences in the ways women and men experience these conditions and diseases.  Please note that this information also applies in most cases to trans men and nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth.

Take heart disease, for example. Women are more likely than men to have some conditions (chest pain or angina, cardiac syndrome X, broken heart syndrome), and congenital heart disease and other heart valve problems can cause serious issues in pregnancy (or are more likely to be discovered then, if they did not surface in childhood). Heart attacks can look or behave very differently in women than in men, and when they occur, tend to be more severe.

Breast cancer comes first to mind when we think of women and cancer, and it’s certainly far too common, but it’s not the only concern. Breast, lung, and colorectal cancers are the top 3 for women, comprising about half of all new cancer diagnoses in women in 2020. Risk for a reproductive cancer - ovarian cancer, uterine or endometrial cancer , or cervical cancer - are high (1 in 78 for ovarian cancer). Screening tests are still the best way to detect cancers.

Women are more likely to have a stroke than men, or to have multiple strokes. High blood pressure, taking hormonal birth control (especially while smoking), and generally living longer are some of the factors that make strokes more common in women. While some of the risk factors are outside our control, many others can be managed to lower the chances of having one or more. Plus, since stroke is so connected to cardiovascular issues, to diabetes, and to inflammation, the same steps will also benefit those as well.

For the same interconnected reasons (sometimes called metabolic syndrome), women with diabetes are more likely to also have heart disease, stroke, and other complications. That means more to actively manage (en Español), and paying attention to hormonal changes, blood pressure, medications, and diet as well as blood glucose levels. There’s some research that suggests postmenopausal women with diabetes are more likely to develop diabetic kidney disease or chronic kidney disease, perhaps related to the effects of estrogen and testosterone.

Lung diseases, pneumonia, and influenza are similarly interrelated. Asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are more common in women, as is lung cancer; air quality or other environmental issues and smoking may be part of the reasons for that difference. Of course, lung conditions make us more vulnerable to pneumonia and other lung infections. Influenza can be quite dangerous in pregnancy, and to newborns or young children (en Español);  both are strong reasons to get the flu vaccine when expecting.

There are many possible reasons why women are more frequently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than men, and their experiences are often different. Historically, that has been explained as women generally live longer than men (and dementia risk rises with age). But looking more closely raises other possibilities: perhaps genetic factors, higher rates of depression, autoimmune conditions, greater chances of having had a stroke (especially a hard-to-detect TIA or transient ischemic attack), or even the stresses and burdens of being a caregiver itself.

  • As the number of deaths from COVID in the U.S. have surpassed 950,000 and are still climbing, fewer women than men have died so far in the pandemic. Many explanations have been suggested, some biological (for example, men tend to have higher amounts of ACE2 receptors, to which the coronavirus connects), some behavioral (women have been more likely to wear masks and take precautions to slow the spread), some immunological (women tend to have stronger immunological responses than men, the flip side of also having more autoimmune conditions). But it’s important to remember that health care inequities mean that Black women (and men) have died in much higher numbers than Asian or white men, and that social determinants of health play a powerful role in our lives.


There have been several updates on local regulations and recommendations for our area, too many to be listed here - but details relevant to how we can best protect ourselves, our families, and our communities are included in our online COVID collections. Look for the NEW icon to find recent updates throughout.

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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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