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Senior Health

Aging and Your Sense of Smell

As we age, we may experience some problems that affect the body and mind, including a change in our sensory perceptions. Our sense of smell may affect how we eat, enjoy food and drink and also affect the type of nutrients we put in our bodies. Depending on how severe the loss of smell is, it could actually be dangerous if it means we don’t smell hazardous chemicals, gas leaks and smoke.

Our sense of taste is also affected by our sense of smell. If you eat something while holding your nose, you might taste salt, bitterness or sweetness, but you won’t taste the robust flavor of what you’re eating. The sensory perception that affects our sense of smell is call olfaction and this is what weakens when you age.

The fact that you lose sense of taste as you lose sense of smell is especially problematic for seniors. It could result in lack of appetite or of eating foods that aren’t good for you just to try and taste them. Think about how fresh bread baking makes your salivate and then think about how it would be if you couldn’t smell it. Your enthusiasm for eating would certainly wane.

Anyone who needs to control his or her diet may be greatly affected by sense of smell. If the olfactory system quits working or weakens, it’s more difficult to control and stick to a nutritious diet plan and a greater risk of chronic diseases is possible. You might eat less fruits and vegetables because they only seem to taste bitter rather than producing the same great taste they used to have.

Some seniors eat a lot of sweets and food that contain a high volume of fat because they can taste them and tend to eat more than those without a sense of smell problem. These seniors may become overweight or obese and become even more susceptible to dangerous or deadly diseases.

Surprisingly, when you chew food, the flavor of it is recognized in the olfactory bulb that rests behind the bridge of the nose. Seniors who have gum disease or other problems with teeth and gums may not chew as heartily and much of the taste disappears because the flavor never reaches the olfactory bulb.

Sinus problems and blockages of the nasal passages can also interfere with the olfactory bulb and your ability to perceive the taste of foods and your sense of smell. These disorders are often found among seniors and the results may damage certain receptors which can lead to diet problems and eventually, immunity problems.

Cancer patients, especially those who have had chemotherapy, radiation and/or surgery could possible go through a cycle of damaged sense of smell and a reluctance to eat a proper diet because of lack of appetite or damaged sense of taste.

Research has found that spices and herbs don’t help with the taste of foods when a person loses their sense of smell. There’s no way to restore olfaction, but you can balance the problem by choosing natural sweeteners, powerful herbs and spices and by taking vitamin and mineral supplements.

Are You at Risk for Colon Cancer?

There are a number of risk factors that figure in to your susceptibility to colon cancer, but the truth is that each of us, no matter what our background or current health status, is at risk – and most of the people who are diagnosed with colon cancer have no specific risk factors. That’s why it’s important that you know the warning signs and are aware of what the risk factors are so that you can discuss them with your health care provider.

One of the high risk categories for developing colon cancer is people over 50 years of age, and the risk increases with each decade after that. Also, women are at greater risk for colon cancer than men, although men are at higher risk to be diagnosed with rectal cancer. Here are some other risk categories for colon cancer:

· Medical history – Women who have experienced other cancers such as ovarian and breast are at greater risk to develop colon cancer. Those who have inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis are also at risk. If you’ve had colon and/or colorectal cancer once, it may come back again.

· Family – If you’re a parent, brother, sister or child of a person who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you’re more likely to develop it.

· Polyps – These are non-cancerous lumps found on the wall of the colon, but even though they’re non-cancerous, they can lead to colon or rectal cancer. Adenomas, a type of polyp, increases the risk factor.

· Diabetes – Diabetics have an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

· Smoking and alcohol – Smoking is definitely a high risk factor for getting colon cancer. Alcohol should be drunk in moderation or not at all.

· Diet and exercise – High fat in your diet increases the risk of colon cancer as does obesity. Your diet should include high fiber — and exercise should be a part of your daily routine.

Don’t think you’ll definitely get colon cancer if you have one or even more of these risk factors, but do discuss them with your doctor and begin to change your lifestyle so that you minimize the risks. Some people who seem to be at extremely high risk for developing colon cancer won’t get it, and others who seem at almost no risk will be diagnosed with colon cancer — researchers can’t explain why.

Scheduling a screening for colon cancer should be an important part of your medical examinations if you’re over 50 years of age. Your health care provider can advise you how often a colonoscopy should be scheduled. At that time, polyps can be easily removed and you and your doctor can discuss the results and possible actions you can take to lower the risk of hearing a diagnosis of colon cancer.

Basic Dental Care for Senior Citizens

As you age, dental care becomes more and more valuable to your overall health. Many senior citizens experience dental problems, but it’s good to know that these problems can be reduced and improved by a few simple techniques. Basically, changes take place in your mouth as you age — gums soften and the muscles in your mouth become weak. Saliva production is reduced as is the ability to chew your food.

Tooth decay may increase as you age – one of the results of reduced saliva in the mouth. It’s more difficult to use fillings to restore teeth because the decay often occurs near the gum line. Teeth often become brittle with aging because the pulp of the tooth becomes smaller, resulting in less fluid to the teeth. Teeth become brittle and can be easily chipped.

Periodontal disease often happens during the aging process. This causes swollen gums that bleed even when brushing your teeth. Loss of teeth can occur when food is trapped between the teeth and gums in tiny pockets. If you suspect periodontal disease, you should seek treatment immediately to avoid tooth loss.

You can improve your dental hygiene by practicing a few basic techniques, including:

· Brushing and flossing – It’s best to use a medium soft brush and paste. If you can’t appropriately grip a toothbrush because of arthritis or other joint problems, you can purchase a rubber strap that helps you secure a better grip. Be sure to brush your teeth, tongue and gums thoroughly after every meal. Flossing every day gets rid of debris that toothbrushes can’t reach and is essential to good dental hygiene.

· Rinse – As the flow of saliva is reduced, it’s more likely that food particles will damage your teeth and gums. Rinsing gets rid of the particles. Since some mouth washes are irritating to the gums, dilute it if necessary.

· Gauze wipes – If it’s difficult for you to brush or rinse, try wiping your teeth with gauze – this will help remove some of the debris found around the teeth and gums.

· Electric tooth brushes and irrigators – Electric tooth brushes are a boon to senior citizens. They’re easier to handle and very effective in cleaning teeth. Irrigators remove debris from teeth that toothbrushes miss, but can damage gums if it pushes food particles into gum pockets.

· Glycerine – A flavored lubricant that can stop irritation of the gums. It can also help stimulate saliva production.

A plan for better oral dental hygiene can reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease. If you have dentures, talk with your dentist about the difference in promoting good oral hygiene. Dentures are like your real teeth in that they can cause problems with gums if they aren’t properly taken care of.

Do your research on good dental hygiene and develop daily techniques that will ensure your dental health as you age. Your dentist can also help you develop a plan.

Can You Reverse Hearing Loss?

Unfortunately, hearing loss can’t be reversed, but you can boost your hearing with special aids or treatments. Hearing loss due to aging is common and it’s believed that heredity and a constant dose of loud noises are also causes. Blockages, cause by earwax can cause a certain amount of hearing loss that prevents you from hearing sounds. Ear infections and bone growth or tumors that affect the middle or outer ear can also cause hearing loss.

You’re able to hear noises when the nerve cells in the inner ear part of the cochlea sends sound signals to the brain and lose the ability to hear as earwax build up or hairs and nerve cells in the cochlea are damaged. Signs of hearing loss include muted speech or sounds, constantly turning up the volume of the radio or television, not hearing conversations clearly so that you don’t join in and avoiding social activities because of hearing problems.

Your quality of life can be greatly affected by hearing loss. Anxiety and depression can occur as well as frustration over not being able to hear conversations. Senior citizens may experience problems for years before seeking treatment and those who are close to them may begin withdrawing or at the very least become frustrated by the hearing loss predicament.

When you do seek treatment for hearing loss, your primary doctor will likely send you to a hearing specialist – an audiologist. The audiologist will evaluate your hearing loss based on what you tell her, so be sure you write down symptoms that you’re experiencing and ask friends and family about changes they’ve noticed that could possibly be attributed to hearing loss.

Jot down a brief history that includes jobs you may have had that surrounded you with loud noises, family history of hearing loss and medical information that lists medications, vitamins and supplements or any diseases you may have experienced – even if you think they don’t have anything to do with the problem. Also write any questions that you have for the doctor, including which tests she recommends.

Questions that your doctor may have for you to help her better understand the cause(s) of your hearing loss include, a description of your symptoms and how rapidly they’ve come on, if there’s any ringing or similar sounds in your ears, whether or not you’re experiencing pain, your history of ear problems including infections, ear surgery or any other medical problems that may have affected your ears.

Treatments for hearing loss have improved greatly over the past few years. You may be able to wear a hearing device that is minimally noticeable and that you barely know is there. Once you seek treatment for hearing loss and regain at least a part of your hearing, your self-esteem will probably return as will your relationships with others. Your entire lifestyle will be much brighter and improved.

Coping With the Chronic Pain of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is likely to affect men over 70 and women over 50 and can result in serious and life-changing fractures if not treated. Osteoporosis occurs when calcium and phosphate leave the bones and are reabsorbed in the body, leaving the bones thinner and weaker. Osteoporosis in women is sometimes caused by an estrogen shortage during menopause and in men – a drop in testosterone.

Fragile bones eventually result in a fracture of some type, and when the disease is in the later stages, those fractures can be very serious. Fractures in seniors can lead to extreme pain and loss of mobility as well as negative changes in lifestyle. Even after the fractures heal, pain may remain and the issue then is to try and cope with it as much as possible.

The chronic pain and problems of osteoporosis can occur in the form of stiffness and weakness, muscle tension and spasms. Your doctor can order a bone density test to see if you have osteoporosis and determine how severe it is. Then, she can help you manage the pain in a number of ways that’s best for you.
Some ways to manage osteoporosis pain are:

· Regular exercise – Exercise releases natural pain killers called endorphins from the brain. Engaging in a regular exercise program also helps you build your strength and increases energy, makes you more flexible and builds muscles that protect the fragile bones – among many other benefits.

· Massage – A therapeutic massage therapist can do wonders for the pain caused by osteoporosis. Other benefits include relaxation and increasing blood supply. Be sure to tell your massage therapist if you have osteoporosis and he or she can adjust the pressure so that your spine won’t be affected.

· Hot and cold packs – Cold packs can relieve pain by anesthetizing nerves in the painful area(s). Taking a warm bath or shower or adding warmth to the pain area can loosen stiff muscles. Try both of these methods to see which works best for your pain.

· Acupuncture – An acupuncturist might be able to relieve pain associated with osteoporosis by inserting specially-developed needles at specific body areas. The needles cause the brain to release endorphins.

· TENS – Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation are small mechanisms that are sometimes used to send electrical currents to the area where pain occurs, preventing pain transmissions to be sent to the brain. These devices are small and can be fastened to a belt for uninterrupted relief.

The chronic pain suffered with osteoporosis can affect victims emotionally as well as physically and could cause depression, isolation and hopelessness. Seniors suffering from osteoporosis may feel despondent and withdraw from life, so it’s very important to be tested and treated for the chronic pain that may occur.

Depression and Aging

The longer we live, the more likely we are to suffer life-changing situations and grief in our lives that might bring on bouts of depression. We’re more vulnerable to changes and sometimes don’t have the energy or the money or any other means to change situations that happen to upend our lives.

Most elderly depression occurs when there is separation or loss. There’s a feeling of helplessness – especially if aging leads to poverty and isolation. Even a bout of bad weather may cause depression if an elderly person feels “stuck.” The elderly are certainly more vulnerable than the rest of the population and as physical and environmental changes lead to isolation, depression may occur.

There are a couple types of depression that you should be aware of. Short-term depression occurs in most all of us at some time or other in our lives, but severe depression is more serious and may require some type of medical care or intervention. Severe depression is when the feelings become so agonizing that it extends to every area of life, and the person suffering may think that there’s no solution.

The depression may be so severe that reason or encouragement from others can’t penetrate the wall of sadness that forms a shell around the victim. There are a number of “depression guides” online and quizzes that you can take to test your level of depression, but that should also be possible by using a bit of introspection. When you examine your mind and soul, you should be able to discern whether or not you’re depressed.

You may be depressed if you feel sad and lonely and can’t seem to shake the feeling, or you might have trouble sleeping and become irritable. You may eat too much or lack any kind of appetite at all and you also may have problems in focusing on anything you’re doing or planning to do. Crying uncontrollably and often is also a symptom of depression.

Everyone may suffer from the above depression symptoms at some point, but when the feelings become deep and dark and the victim begins to lose self-confidence, energy, emotions run rampant, no sex drive and an intense mood changes that result in loss of interest in everything that he or she once cared for, the depression may be severe and counseling or medication may be in order.

Any type or symptom of depression that could last for years is called Dysthymic disorder and may cause physical health problems sooner or later if not treated. Reactive depression is a depressed state caused by stress or a situation in life. Bipolar disorder is a type of depression in which a person has severe mood swings from low to high — and possible other symptoms.

Thinking about death and even attempted suicide is a major and concerning part of severe depression. See your health care provider if you experience these thoughts. Depression can be treated.

Facts About Cataracts that You Need to Know

One of the main reasons that people develop cataracts is the aging process, but they can also occur if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, smoke, drink too much alcohol, have a family history of cataracts and numerous other medical problems. The first symptom of cataracts is usually that your vision is hampered by “cloudy” lens. Cataracts develop slowly and usually don’t impair your vision until later on.

Cataracts form on the lens part of the eye which is behind the iris. Lens use light that comes into your eye and send an image to the brain of what you’re seeing. If you have cataracts forming on your lens, they will cause the light to disperse and a clear image won’t be presented to the brain. Your vision then becomes blurred.

The aging process causes changes in the lens, such as inflexibility and thickness, and that clouds may form around the lens. As the cataracts begin to shadow over the lens, your vision becomes even more blurry. There are several types of cataracts including those you are born with, and others such as:

· Posterior subcapsular cataracts – This type of cataract forms in the back of the eye’s lens. You might notice glaring, especially at night — and reduced ability to read.

· Nuclear cataracts – Nearsightedness is common to those with nuclear cataracts. You may also have double vision and have trouble seeing colors.

· Cortical cataracts – These cataracts affect the outer edge of the lens cortex and as they grow, streaks or opaque film moves more to the center of the lens. Some people experience night time glaring with this type of cataract.

Cataracts can occur in both your eyes or only one and can begin slowing so that you may not really notice big changes in your vision. But, as the cataract grows, you’ll begin to notice vision loss and cloudiness. When this occurs, it’s time to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.

To prepare for your appointment thoroughly, be sure to jot down the symptoms you’re having and any questions that you may want to ask the doctor. Since some medications directly cause blurred vision, write down a list of all the medications you’re taking and present them to the doctor at your appointment. As with all important medical appointments, it’s good if you can take someone with you to possibly hear statements that you miss.

With an onset of cataracts, you’ll probably notice that you’re having difficulty reading and driving a car. Glasses may help at first, but if the cataracts begin to hinder your lifestyle, it’s time to see an ophthalmologist and think about cataract surgery. If you decide to have cataract surgery, you should know that it’s a fairly safe procedure and is usually very effective in restoring your vision.

A Guide to Treating High Blood Pressure

One of the most important things you can do for your overall health is to keep your blood pressure (hypertension) under control. 140/90 should be the goal for a healthy person’s blood pressure reading, and lower if you have a medical condition such as diabetes or kidney disease. Changing your lifestyle is critical if you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure. If that doesn’t work, your health care provider can prescribe medication to keep it under control.

Among the lifestyle changes that you should make are changing to an appropriate diet plan and getting a moderate amount of exercise each day. Here are some specific lifestyle changes that you can make immediately to lower your blood pressure:

· Reduce salt and sodium – Sodium is a major factor that could significantly raise your blood pressure, and it’s virtually hidden in many of the foods we eat today, such as soups and frozen dinners. Be sure to read the labels of canned or frozen products you purchase and limit your sodium intake to 1500 mg per day.

· DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet – This diet was formulated specifically for people who suffer from high blood pressure and includes a diet of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. You should also get plenty of potassium and reduce your intake of saturated fats.

· Smoking and alcohol – Tobacco causes hardening of the arteries and alcohol may raise your blood pressure. If you smoke, consult your doctor about a plan to quit, and limit your alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day.

· Lose weight – Even if you’re slightly overweight, losing unwanted pounds may help to lower your blood pressure.

· Stress – Too much stress in your life is a major concern if you have high blood pressure. Exercise sometimes help reduce stress as does relaxation and deep breathing techniques, so strive for at least a half hour of physical activity per day and get plenty of sleep.

Lifestyle changes can certainly help to keep your blood pressure under control, but it may not be enough. If your blood pressure remains higher than your doctor thinks it should be, he or she may prescribe a medication to control it.
Diuretics, or water pills, are among the medications that are usually prescribed for high blood pressure. They help your kidneys flush out the sodium and water in your system and reduce blood volume. Diuretics may also reduce your chances of having a stroke or heart failure – especially if you’re 80 or older.

Beta blockers are also effective in reducing blood pressure. They serve to open blood vessels so that your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. There are other medications such as enzyme inhibitors, receptor blockers and channel blockers that may also help to lower blood pressure.

A combination of drugs may be in order to more effectively reduce your blood pressure, and after the high blood pressure is under control, your health care provider may suggest that you take an aspirin on a daily basis to lessen the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Are You a Prime Candidate for Skin Cancer?

Your skin type is the best barometer of whether or not you may be susceptible to skin cancer. People who are light-skinned are more likely to get sunburned and run the risk of developing skin cancer, specifically melanoma. But, tanning also causes skin damage and can increase your risks of the disease.

There are basically six types of skin types. You can predict how susceptible to skin cancer you are by identifying your type of skin you have:

  1. Very light-skinned – You never get a tan, but always get sunburned when you spend any amount of time in the sun. If you’re type 1, you’re at extremely high risk for melanoma (a deadly skin cancer) or other cancers such as basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas.
  2. Fair-skinned – You can manage to tan, but it’s difficult – and a sunburn is much more likely. You should wear sunscreen with a high SPF and check yourself periodically to make sure you’re not burning.
  3. Medium-skinned – You can tan or burn easily in the sun and are susceptible to skin damage and skin cancers. Wear a sunscreen when outside and get an annual physical checkup to be sure you have no worrisome growths.
  4. Darker skin — If you tan easily and not likely to burn, you’re probably a type 4 skin type. You should still wear a sunscreen and check yourself for suspicious growths.
  5. Dark skin — You tan very easily and seldom burn. A very serious form of melanoma – acral lentiginous – is common among those with darker skin and those who tan easily, so again, check yourself for growths.
  6. Very dark skin – You may not burn, but you’re still at risk for skin cancer and you should definitely wear a sunscreen. Some melanomas often appear on the lighter skinned areas of soles of feet and palms, so check those areas for growths.

Don’t forget about your eyes when you seek protection from the sun. Wear glasses that protect you from the UV rays of the sun. Keep in mind that there are also medications that can increase your risk for skin cancer. Any medicines that lower your immunity to diseases and drugs such as birth control pills, certain antibiotics, tricyclic antidepressants, diuretics, some anti-inflammatory medications and tetracycline or sulfa drugs can increase the risk.

Also, check your skin. If you have irregular or large moles – or many moles, check with your doctor to see if any are suspicious. If you were treated for skin cancer in the past, be sure and get regular checkups to see if it’s returned. Those with freckles may also be at risk.

People who live at high altitudes receive more UV radiation and may be more at risk, as do those who live or spend a great deal of time in tropical or subtropical zones. Avid gardeners and swimmers may have more sun damage –and check to see if your family has a history of cancers – especially skin cancer.

Caution is wise when dealing with skin cancer, so check out your skin type, history, medications or medical conditions to see if you’re at risk – and always wear sunscreen.

Avoid Prostate Cancer by Preventative Measures

Men fear prostate cancer, but most don’t even know what the prostate is, what it does or know how to prevent cancer. Over 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and over 20,000 die from it. Some men will never be diagnosed with the cancer, but maladies concerning the gland could cause problems and sometimes affect quality of life.

If you’re a man over 50 years of age, it’s important for you to know about the prostate and some of the situations that could affect your life and your health. Number one on the list of things you should know is that if you’re over 40 years of age, you should have the prostate checked on a yearly basis.

Some symptoms that indicate there might be a problem with the prostate gland include frequent urination, sexual difficulties, low sperm count or blood in the urine or ejaculate. Certain conditions, such as Prostatitis may also cause fever, chills, aching muscles or back, painful urination and extreme fatigue.

Prostatitis is the most common form of prostate problem. There are three types of prostatitis – bacterial, nonbacterial and prostatodynia, but all can usually be diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Prostatitius doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer, and it’s not considered to be a serious illness, but if it persists, surgery is sometimes recommended.

Some of the above symptoms for Prostatitis may also occur as symptoms for prostate cancer. It might also be accompanied by swelling in the legs, pelvic discomfort and severe bone or joint pain. Besides regular screening and immediately consulting your doctor if you have any signs that concern you, living a healthy lifestyle is crucial to preventing prostate cancer.

A diet high in fiber isn’t only healthy for your digestive system – it’s also great for the prostate. Basically, if you enjoy a healthy diet that is mostly plant-based and includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you may reduce the risk of any type of cancer and other diseases such as heart and colon problems.

Some medical studies have shown that certain components in plant-based foods that contain flavonoids and lycopene might help prevent cancer. Other studies show that it has no effect. But, considering the enormous benefits to eating foods such as tomatoes (high in lycopene) and fruits and vegetables high in flavonoids, it won’t hurt to include them in a cancer-preventative diet.

Obesity also increases the risk of developing prostate cancer – and many other health problems, so a healthy diet is a way to keep many problems at bay, especially for the over “50” set. Lose a few (or many) pounds by adopting a diet plan that includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains – it’s a win-win situation.

And, always drink plenty of water. Water flushes harmful toxins from your body, and everything you can do to get rid of bacteria and keep the bladder and urine clear is a positive step to keep from developing prostate cancer.

Cause and Treatment of Shingles

Over a million cases of shingles are diagnosed each year – mostly in people over 60 years of age – so, it’s important that you know what causes shingles and how it can be treated if you’re unfortunate enough to acquire it. Shingles is a skin rash that’s caused by a herpes virus (Varicella zoster virus) and can be extremely painful. This same virus can cause chickenpox and can lay dormant in your body until a deficiency in your immune system makes it run rampant again – in the form of shingles.

Shingles is contagious and can be passed to anyone who hasn’t contracted chickenpox, including children. But, the virus will appear in the form of chickenpox, and although they can no longer catch shingles from another person, there is a chance that they can develop shingles later on.

The first signs of shingles could be sensitive skin and burning pain. The rash may not appear for several days or weeks, so it’s difficult to diagnose at first. When shingles does appear, it’s in the form of small blisters on an reddish background. New blisters will continue to appear until treated.

When the symptoms of shingles appear, you should see your health care provider immediately. She’ll likely prescribe a drug that attacks viruses such as Zovirax, Famvir or Valtrex. These drugs can diminish the harshness of the outbreak and also lessen the time period of the eruption. She may also prescribe a medication for pain and a non-steroidial anti-inflammatory drug.

If you have an outbreak of shingles, be sure to keep the rash area clean with soap and water. You may also use cold packs and seek relief from lotions such as calamine and an aluminum acetate solution available at most pharmacies to dry the blisters. After the blisters burst and crust over, shingles is no longer contagious.

The aftermath of shingles is usually non-existent, but if the blisters become infected, the skin will redden, feel warm to the touch and very sensitive. Streaks may feather out from the wound. These symptoms warrant an immediate visit to your health care provider who will probably prescribe an antibiotic. Another, uncommon, complication is when shingles affects your eyes and could lead to loss of vision.

The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia and happens if nerve pain continues even after the disappearance of the rash. Although the pain may be excruciating for a time, postherpetic neuralgia can be treated with a variety of medications. Ramsay Hunt syndrome is another complication, but very rare. This syndrome occurs when the cranial nerves are involved in the outbreak of shingles and you may experience weakness in the facial muscles and possible loss of hearing.

The VZV virus isn’t the same one found in genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease or in mouth sores. If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re not likely to get shingles, but if you’ve never had it, the herpes zoster virus may attack when you’re in your 60s or older. If you think you might be susceptible to shingles, vaccines are available to reduce the likelihood of getting shingles or the severity of it if it does occur.

Coping with Osteoarthritis

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, you may be feeling isolated and frustrated. Osteoarthritis can drastically upturn your lifestyle by making you feel like the disease is running you and that you’ve lost control. There are ways to manage the pain and restrictions that come with this debilitating ailment – and the first step is attitude.

Educating yourself about osteoarthritis and what you can do to maintain a positive attitude and develop a plan to keep it from interfering too much with your lifestyle can greatly reduce the impact that this diagnosis has in your life. Besides talking with your health care provider about medications to control the pain and restrictions, talk to her about a plan for your everyday life. When you take charge of the situation, your attitude and outlook should improve.

Some great coping mechanisms that work well in controlling osteoarthritis besides keeping a positive attitude are:

· Relaxation and meditation – If you feel tired during the day – rest. Take a short nap, if possible, and just relax your muscles and joints. Other techniques such as deep breathing should also help. Don’t overdo and become fatigued or experience pain from over tasking your body.

· Gentle exercise – Yoga is a great and gentle exercise for those who have osteoarthritis. You can join a club that offers yoga classes or purchase CDs and DVDs that offer step-by-step lessons. Online information can also be found about yoga exercises. Swimming and water exercises is gentle on the joints as is walking. Just keep it low key and operate at a slow pace.

· Tools that help – You’ll be able to find tools that assist you in everyday tasks – such as a walking cane, grippers and extenders that can help you reach for items stored in top shelves in cabinets or closets. Check out catalogs and supply stores and be sure to ask your doctor what she might recommend.

· Lost weight – Weight increases trauma to bones and joints, so if you’re overweight, attempt to lose some unwanted pounds. It can serve to relieve some of the pressure and the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

· Hot and cold packs and pain creams – Hot and cold packs can help you to manage the pain suffered with osteoarthritis. Heat packs (warm) should be applied to the affected joint for about 20 minutes at a time and several times a day, if needed. Ice packs are also helpful if your joints are inflamed. A word of caution – don’t use cold packs if you experience poor circulation.

Above all, when coping with pain and restrictions caused by osteoarthritis, don’t give up and become sedentary. Take charge of your life and the pain by taking medications regularly, exercising and giving yourself some slack if you need to back off of commitments or plans that you simply don’t feel up to.

How Important is Socializing as You Age?

Socializing ranks right up there with diet and exercise on the “aging” ladder of importance. Sometimes, when a spouse dies or a senior falls into ill health, friends and family withdraw simply because the person doesn’t fit in anymore with their lifestyles. Rather than keeping busy and finding other friends or methods of socializing, seniors often develop depression which can lead to other diseases such as alcoholism, heart disease and even cancer.

It’s been proven that seniors who enjoy an active social life can extend their lives by years. There are an abundance of benefits for socializing other than life extension –stress reduction, a feeling of importance and high self esteem are just a few of the benefits. Keeping active also reduces the risk of mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sometimes seniors must make the effort to become involved rather than waiting for someone to come to them. Getting involved in the community or other organizations soon after a spouse’s death can mean the difference in seniors wallowing in self-pity or enjoying a healthy mix of friendships and outside activities. Attending church, joining clubs and making or nurturing old friendships takes little effort, but the benefits are enormous.

Being around people who have the same interests help seniors enjoy life even more. Laughing, sharing old memories and creating new ones are the best medicines to keep from thinking and focusing on the negatives in life. Joining an activity that’s new or something challenging, such as dancing classes, are especially helpful for seniors.

A new research study from Harvard University advocates that socializing for seniors has as much benefit as regular exercise. Having a job, whether paid or volunteer, is also an important and valuable way that seniors can socialize. Feeling needed and helpful is extremely mind-lifting and can make all the difference in seniors’ lives.

Most of us rely on human contact for our very survival, unlike other species in the animal kingdom. From the time we’re born and depend on our mother and father to feed and take care of us until the later years when we may need to depend on others to drive us to the grocery store or take us to a doctor’s appointment, most of us depend on other human beings.

It’s not surprising that as we age, socializing with others becomes more important than ever. We need all types of stimulation, including contact with others who either share our interests and opinions or have interests and opinions that are entirely new to us.

Remember the movie, Cast Away, when actor, Tom Hanks played a man alone on a desert island. He becomes so lonely that he creates a buddy by drawing a face on a ball he found. In the end, he mourned the loss of the ball much as we would a friend or family member. Deprived of socializing, we may also feel isolated and alone.

Aging Gracefully – With Exercise

There are many reasons that senior citizens should exercise on a regular basis, but the main one is that it helps to increase your overall health and ward off life-threatening diseases – especially those associated with aging. Simply put – exercising helps us age more gracefully.

Almost everyone knows the sort of problems we face when aging – slower metabolism, bone loss and stiffness in joints, muscle loss, balance problems, less endurance and heart and lung problems. We all want a quick fix to aging, such as injections and facelifts or a pill we can take to halt or reduce the aging process. But, in reality, regular exercise is the only thing we can do for ourselves that will increase our overall health and well-being.

Exercise can help us maintain the ability to do things we love and to accomplish everyday tasks that we need to do rather than depending on someone else. Even if you’re a very out of shape senior citizen, there are simple exercises you can do that will make you feel better and enjoy your life.

Stretching is simple to do (you can even stretch while sitting) and can make remarkable strides in improving your joints and muscles. You can find online stretching exercises, choose from the many television shows that promote exercising or get a book from the library or bookstore. You’ll want to be sure to choose exercises that stretch your back, arms, calves, thighs, stomach and chest – but don’t overdo it. Stretch for 5 to 20 minutes per day or whatever you feel up to.

Any activity that increases your endurance is great for senior citizens. Those exercises might include gardening, biking, swimming or simply walking the dog. Try to increase your breathing and heart rate, but don’t exercise so strenuously that you lose your ability to talk. Take it easy and you’ll benefit more than you realize.

Strength exercises are very important to engage in as you age. The more you can strengthen your muscles, the better able you’ll be to increase your metabolism (maintain a normal weight) and keep your blood sugar at normal levels. Strength exercises can be in the form of machines at a gym or fitness center – or, you can even use items around the house, such as books and cans of food.

Exercises designed to strengthen your back should be an important part of your exercise program. Back pain can be excruciating and life-changing and is common in senior citizens. Ask your doctor for a list of exercises you can do to strengthen back muscles or research on your own to find some that are right for you.

One of the worst maladies that can affect senior citizens is balance problems. Aging can cause loss of balance, but so can certain medications. There are exercises to specifically build your leg muscles and increase your perception of balance so that you’re less likely to fall. Keep in mind that in the United States, hospitals admit over 400,000 people per year for broken hips – and most are senior citizens.

Customize Your Own Diet for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating and devastating illness, but you can do some things to reduce the pain and fatigue, including developing a proper diet plan. For example, fatty foods can exacerbate the effects of rheumatoid arthritis as can foods that promote weight gain – sugars and breads.

Trial and error might be in order to pinpoint some foods that might be causing flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis. Then, you can eliminate them as needed. Here are some types of foods to avoid and some to include in a diet that may ease pain, stiffness and tiredness:

· Avoid fatty foods – Saturated fats found in some foods such as butter, bacon and various dairy products might increase inflammation. Chemicals called prostaglandins are found in these foods and have been identified as culprits in arthritic joint destruction. Meats contain arachidonic acid, which can convert to prostaglandins after it’s ingested.

· A vegetarian diet can help – Some people find that eliminating meat and adopting a completely vegetarian diet helps relieve the pain and stiffness caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Others find no advantage to eating a meat-free diet.

· Eliminate alcohol – It’s best to entirely eliminate alcohol from your diet if you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. On the other hand, research shows that alcohol may protect against developing the disease. If you’re taking arthritis medication, be sure to talk to your health care provider about harmful side-effects.

· Take vitamins – Certain vitamins and minerals should be included in any diet to prevent symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis – especially if you take certain prescriptions such as methotrexate. A diet high in folic acid (a B vitamin) can help to alleviate side-effects of methotrexate and also helps manufacture important red blood cells. Selenium, found in tuna, is also a good way to prevent damage to tissue. Vitamin D can prevent bone loss.

· Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids – Foods such as nuts, some fish, flax seed and soybean products are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that can effectively reduce inflammation. As an added benefit, these fatty acids also help prevent heart disease, which is more likely in those who have rheumatoid arthritis.

· Consider a Mediterranean diet – Research has shown that cases of rheumatoid arthritis are rare in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece – or less severe if diagnosed. A Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables and foods rich in vitamin C. Olive oil and legumes also figure in to this healthy and disease-fighting diet.

Although there is no specific “arthritis diet,” customizing your diet by identifying certain trigger foods may be a way to improve your own diet and get rid of some of the debilitating and painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.