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www.planetree-sv.org 
September 2022
GOING ONCE … GOING TWICE … GOING ONLINE!

Online bidding opens on October 1 for PlaneTree Health Library’s Healthy Pleasures online auction, featuring healthy ways to feel good, feed your body and soul, and enjoy life. The auction opensat 1 pm on October 1st until 9pm on October 15th; a sneak peek of some of the items is available now.

Everyone is welcome to browse, shop, or donate to show their support for PlaneTree Health Library at: https://planetreehealthlibrary.betterworld.org/auctions/healthy-pleasures.

You can also make a direct donation is you wish – simply log on to the site and click on the listed donation amounts at the bottom of the auction listings. And please also contribute by sharing the auction information with a friend!
SHOULD I...?

… talk to my friend who I think has an eating disorder?

Speaking up can be crucial to recovery, as eating disorders can be linked to self-injury or suicide ideation. But before bringing up the subject, consider what you know about your friend’s situation, and how they deal with stress and conflict. To quote this article, it is important that:

  • If you think someone you know has an eating disorder, it may be helpful to share your concerns in a supportive, non-judgemental way. 

  • When talking to them, be careful of the words you use, and remember that recovery is a process.

  • You cannot diagnose or treat a loved one’s eating disorder. But educating yourself on eating disorders and encouraging a person to get help are supportive actions. 

Another source points out “One of the best things you can do for him or her is to stay calm, and do not regularly pressure them to talk about something they do not want to talk about”; the goal is to support them without shame or blame. If they are open to learning more, or maybe reaching out for help, the Eating Disorders Resource Center’s website, helplines, and support groups are a great place to start.

... skip the flu shot this year?

Epidemiologists say it is a bad idea to skip this year. The rate of influenza cases in the first two years of the COVID pandemic was low under lockdown, but with more people back at work, in school, and resuming social activities, this year’s flu season could be tough. 

Check the CDC’s advice on who should (and who should not) get vaccinated for the flu this year, and which version. Per the CDC, it’s best (for us and for our communities) if most people get a flu shot by the end of October; other experts advise getting it even earlier, perhaps at the same time as the new COVID booster. Whenever you get it, it’s critical to get vaccinated against influenza in this flu season.

... buy a hearing aid over the counter? 

As of this month, hearing aids can now be purchased retail, often at a significantly lower cost than they had been. But it’s important to know that over the counter hearing aids are generally intended for people over the age of 18 with fairly mild, uncomplicated hearing loss. More severe hearing loss, or additional conditions such as “ringing in the ears, a history of ear infections, drainage, pain in the ears, ear deformities, vertigo or dizziness, or a sense that one ear is better or worse than the other, are all reasons to see both an ear, nose and throat doctor and an audiologist before pursuing the OTC hearing aids”, audiologists advise. (For hearing assessments and related services in the local Bay Area, check out the links in our collection for deaf or hearing impaired, and also the Pacific Hearing Connection.)

If more affordable OTC products make it easier for people to obtain hearing aids before hearing loss gets worse, those benefits extend past our ears. Sensory loss (problems with hearing or eyesight), is a significant risk factor for dementia - yet another reason to keep an eye on our ears.

… ask to be tested if I suspect that I might have ovarian or endometrial cancer?

It depends - is this a screening test or a diagnostic test? As the CDC explains:

Screening tests are “used to look for a disease before there are any symptoms. Cancer screening tests work when they can find disease early, when treatment works best. Diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms. The purpose of diagnostic tests is to find out, or diagnose, what is causing the symptoms. Diagnostic tests also may be used to check a person who is considered at high risk for cancer.” 

Unfortunately, at present there is no certain method to screen people for cancer of the ovaries or of the endometrial lining of the uterus (what used to be called uterine cancer). Pelvic exams, ultrasound, and the CA-125 blood tests can be used to try to catch those cancers early, but those procedures are not as reliable as the Pap smear for cervical cancer. Some types of these cancers can run in families, and genetic testing can point to a higher risk - but some people with those genetic markers never develop these cancers.

The lack of reliable screening tests, and the concerning rise in cases of these cancers (especially among Black women), means that patients as well as health care workers need to be more alert for the possible signs. Symptoms of ovarian and endometrial cancers are similar; if you experience vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause, bleeding between periods, or menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer lasting than normal, definitely consider seeing a gynecologist. Other possible symptoms include pelvic or back pain; painful urination; painful sexual intercourse; blood in the stool or urine; bloating (feeling full) or having a hard time eating or feeling full quickly; constipation or changes in urination (urgency or frequency); fatigue or unexplained weight loss. While there might be many different causes for these symptoms, if symptoms persist for a month or more, it may be worth the discomfort and aggravation to insist on a gynecologist exam. 

IN-DEPTH
Wildfire Trauma

Given the frequency and intensity of wildfires in California, it unfortunately may not come as a surprise that many individuals suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of living through fires. 

Children are especially vulnerable to these kinds of trauma, sometimes even developing sleep or attention problems. For such a young population that requires reassurance and comfort, wildfires can generate instability and create a scary, unknown environment. Seeing their parents stressed or upset may also severely negatively impact a child’s health and sense of security. 

To alleviate the stress caused by wildfires, keeping a routine is recommended to help children stay calm. Stick to established mealtimes, bedtimes, etc., and encourage playing with familiar toys and games. If necessary, professional help and counseling can also be sought to make the recovery process smoother. Establishing a sense of normalcy and providing as much support as possible in the aftermath will be critical to a child’s mental health. 

In addition to children, firefighters and first responders often suffer from staggering amounts of PTSD as a result of battling countless wildfires. Many struggle to sleep, overcome with fear, fatigue, and often, suicidal ideation. The pervasiveness of mental health issues among the fire force has even been described as an epidemic. Oftentimes, firefighters will hide or suppress their trauma by resorting to alcohol and substance abuse. Fortunately, Cal Fire has taken steps to send their firefighters to monthly workshop retreats involving yoga, mindfulness exercises, and other self-care activities to target mental health, with hopes that other fire departments take note and follow similar practices to protect their fighters. 

The bottom line: dealing with fires can be enormously distressing for all parties involved. Sonoma County has a resource guide specifically detailing how to cope with wildfire-induced stress. The American Psychological Association has tips for taking care of your mental health in response to a fire, and you can also check out our wildfire preparedness guide under our emergency resource collections for information on being alert, preparing, and coping.

IN-DEPTH
Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (SPAM), a month dedicated to spreading awareness about and destigmatizing suicidal thoughts, as well as the related mental health conditions which frequently go untreated. In the United States alone, approximately 46,000 people die by suicide each year. Overall, it is the 12th leading cause of death and should definitely not be swept under the rug. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has provided a plethora of graphics that can be shared to help spread the word about suicide prevention and encourage the use of available resources.  

It is also important to recognize the disproportionate impact of suicide on various communities. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that LGBTQ+ youth are especially vulnerable, as well as high school students, young adults, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Depression, isolation and loneliness later in life can make older adults more vulnerable to thoughts of ending it, too. These thoughts and warning signs can involve a multitude of words, behaviors, and actions, such as explicitly talking about death, withdrawing from social contact, giving away belongings and more. Fortunately, resources are becoming more widespread as the topic is being discussed more in mainstream media. 

For instance, you may have heard about 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline approved by Congress in 2020 and recently launched this past summer. However, the line garnered widespread criticism on social media, particularly in regards to LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color. One of the largest concerns is that this service may enlist police involvement without the consent of the individual, and may force treatment into psychiatric hospitals. 

That leads to the obvious concern: is 988 safe to use? Unfortunately, it depends on what resources are locally available at the time. Emergency responders will indeed be dispatched, although only when the caller is in immediate danger, or will not collaborate on a safety plan. This may be a difficult gray area, as the caller’s perceived safety may be subjective in accordance to the counselor. However, counselors are trained to “actively listen, discuss the callers’ concerns and wishes, and collaborate with them to find solutions”, and the vast majority of calls are safely de-escalated without police involvement. 

Calling 988 isn't the only option in the Bay Area. Our Later Life Guide lists several local helplines and places to get support, for people of all ages. Also, Kaiser Health News lists alternatives that may speak directly to someone’s needs: 

  • BlackLine: a hotline geared toward the Black, Black LGBTQ+, brown, Native, and Muslim communities

  • M.H. First Oakland and M.H. First Sacramento operate during select weekend hours in the California cities of Oakland and Sacramento

  • Peer Support Space hosts virtual peer support groups twice a day Monday through Saturday

  • Project LETS provides support by text for urgent issues that involve involuntary hospitalization

  • Wildflower Alliance has a peer support line and online support groups focused on suicide prevention

You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line. NAMI has a comprehensive guide on navigating mental health crises (en español aquí), as well as its own hotline.

COVID-19CORNER

Boosters: 

The big news this month is that bivalent vaccine boosters are now available! Updated to cover multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2, this updated formula protects against the Omicron lineage. It is intended to be the only booster that vaccinated people 12 years and older will need for the next year. For where to get this booster, see the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 vaccination webpage; for more details on this formula, click here.

Testing:

At the beginning of September the federal government announced federal funding for free home antigen test kits has run out (not been renewed by Congress). These tests are still commercially available at pharmacies and through healthcare systems, but there may be costs or co-pays associated. Check with your health insurance (including Medicare) to see what its policies may be. 

However, health care providers are still required to offer PCR tests free of charge to anyone who has symptoms or was exposed to COVID. See the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s website for more details on where and how to get home antigen test kits or PCR testing in our area.

People who are blind or with low vision can use the Ellume COVID home antigen tests, along with a smartphone and a dedicated  app, to get audio step-by-step instructions to test and to hear their test results. At present there still are supplies of the Wllume home tests available at no cost. You’ll find more details on how to get and use these tests, and on other options to support those who are blind or with low vision to test for COVID at home, on the Administration for Community Living’s webpages. Trained staff at the Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) can provide additional assistance with “swab and send” COVID tests and with connections to community transportation and assistance networks. That service is available by email, or calling 888-677-1199 during the week (Monday-Friday) from 6 am to 5 pm PT.

What if that positive line appears on your antigen home test, but it’s barely visible - does that mean you’re barely contagious? Could be, but there are other reasons that line can be hard to see. Most experts agree that this should still be interpreted as a positive test, especially if you have or have had symptoms of COVID. If you can, it’s best to re-test again after a short interval to make sure, and to take precautions until a test gives a clear answer.

Should we still test if we think we might have been exposed or infected, even if we don’t feel sick? The short answer is “yes”; in fact, last month the FDA  recommended testing three times to be sure. It’s unclear whether the currently dominant variant (BA.5 version of Omicron) has more, less, or similar rates of infections without any symptoms. The fact that vaccinated folks usually have mild symptoms, and those symptoms can be caused (or blamed on) other issues like allergies or colds, complicates our ability to know how many cases are asymptomatic. But research has proved that there are plenty of recorded instances of asymptomatic cases (for example, 39% of those who tested positive in the UK last June, and 56% of a sample of vaccinated health care workes in Los Angeles ). Oftentimes, people can spread COVID-19 without even being aware they are doing so. 

 

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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