Health Signals

Learn about normal signs of aging and when there may be cause for concern.

Shingles: A Legacy of Chicken Pox

Posted by on Mar 4, 2013 in Health Signals | 0 comments

“Shingles” is a painful, blistering rash experienced by about 130,000 Canadians every year. Your risk of having an episode of shingles increases after age 50, but the majority of people experiencing shingles are 60 or older. Here are the ABC’s of shingles:   What are the symptoms of shingles? Shingles symptoms begin with headache, fever and the chills, and upset stomach. These often occur before the rash appears. Usually the rash occurs on one side of the trunk of the body but can also erupt on the buttocks, neck, face and scalp. The rash produces painful, reddish, fluid-filled blisters, which last 7 to 10 days. During this time, the blisters break, dry out, then crust over. The discomfort can range from an itchy, tingling sensation to severe pain. If severe, an infection can last more than a month. Unfortunately, some people have pain that persists even after the rash is gone (this is called post-herpetic neuralgia or PHN).  What causes shingles? Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox; namely, varicella-zoster or herpes zoster. After chickenpox symptoms have passed, the virus can hide out in the root of some nerves and then re-activate at any time to cause a painful skin rash. The rash occurs in the area of the body connected to the infected nerves. Who can develop shingles? About 1 in 5 adults will develop shingles. You must have been previously exposed to the virus and had chickenpox. Although it can occur at any age, the majority of people experiencing shingles are those over the age of 60. Some people may have more than one episode. Often an attack occurs when your immune system is already compromised. How is shingles treated? If you suspect you might have shingles, see your physician as soon as possible. The rash is usually easy to identify. Anti-viral drugs can help stop the spread of the rash and reduce the length of the infection. However, to be effective, these drugs must be given early in the course of the illness. Cool, moist compresses, calamine lotion, or other ointments applied to the rash can reduce the pain. Your physician or pharmacist can suggest the best products for you to use.  Is shingles contagious? To get shingles, you must already have had chickenpox at some point in your life. When you have shingles, the fluid from the blisters does contain the virus. Therefore, you could give chickenpox to someone who has not had it already. Avoid contact with people who have not had chickenpox. However, the reverse is not true; a person with chickenpox cannot give shingles to someone else because shingles occurs from the virus that is already present inside the body. Can shingles be prevented? A shingles vaccine is now available. The vaccine is not 100% effective but it does reduce your chances of developing shingles by about 50 percent. If you do get shingles after receiving the vaccine, you are more likely to have a milder infection and less likely to experience PHN.  Currently the vaccine is not covered by provincial health plans; you must pay privately. Because it requires specialized storage, not all clinics offer the vaccine.  Consult your physician to decide if you should consider receiving this...

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Health Risks & Family History

Posted by on Nov 18, 2012 in Health Signals | 0 comments

We don’t choose our blood relatives but, in some cases, our future health may depend on knowing more about them! Our genetic make-up may increase our risk or pre-dispose us to developing chronic conditions or diseases. Knowing our family’s health history may help us take steps today to prolong both our years of life…and add life to our years!   Lifestyle choices have a major effect on our health, but tuning into our family health history helps us know our risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer. Identifying these risks early on can spur us to take action to reduce them.   According to a recent article published by Manulife Financial, here are some things to look for in your family’s health history: several closely related individuals affected with the same or related conditions a common disease that occurred at an earlier age than expected (i.e., 10 to 20 years before most people would get the disease) sudden death in someone who seemed healthy an individual or couple with three or more pregnancy losses a disease that does not usually affect a certain gender (e.g., breast cancer in a male) certain combinations of diseases within a family (e.g., breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes) To put the risks in perspective, the article also suggests looking at the lifestyle habits of family members who have the same disease. This could be a key factor in increasing or decreasing your risk, depending on whether you share or avoid the same lifestyle habits.   Your whole family can benefit from you taking the lead on compiling your family’s health history. Include grandparents, parents and their immediate families as well as your own siblings, their children and yours, in these discussions.  Consult older family members who may recall information about relatives that you may never have known. Here are some things you can ask about: A list of health problems How long family members lived, and what they died from Pregnancy losses or birth defects Ethnicity (some conditions are more common in certain groups) Lifestyle habits that may have contributed to longevity, early illness or premature death   Share what you find out with your family doctor. Our family history is usually only one of several risk factors. Work with your doctor to help assess risks both for you and younger family members, and put together a plan for reducing those risks. (c) ElderWise Inc., 2012. You have permission to reprint any ElderWise INFO, provided you do so in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s go-to place for boomers with aging parents and for anyone who wants to do “age-smart” planning. For more information, visit www.elderwise.ca     Ready to compile your own or your family’s health history? Learn more about our interactive workbook, My Passport to Health and Wellness.  ...

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Health Product Buzzwords: Buyer Beware

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Health Signals, Safety Concerns | 0 comments

More people than ever are looking for “health foods” and dietary supplements to help with chronic problems, and to take a more active role in their own health. The exploding demand for these products has spawned many new terms in the media. But what do these buzzwords actually mean? “Organic” means that no synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, bio-engineering or ionizing radiation have been used on produce. Organic meat comes from animals that were not given antibiotics or synthetic growth regulators. Producers who market “certified organic” products must meet Canadian government standards to be allowed to use this title. Other products – for example, those described as “pesticide-free” or “free range” – may have positive benefits, but are not  necessarily “organic”. Antioxidants – such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, lutein, lycopene, and beta-carotene – slow down or prevent oxidation in the body by destroying free radicals, which are the byproducts of many natural processes in the body.  Oxidation can damage the cell wall, cell structures or the genetic material of the cell, and appears to be one of the causes of many degenerative diseases. Active debate continues regarding evidence that antioxidants can influence aging itself. However, there is growing evidence that antioxidants offer some protection against specific diseases. For many people the words “natural foods” imply that a product or its ingredients have not been processed. But currently there is no standard definition where “natural” appears on food labels.  Recently a soft drink company attempted to attach the moniker “100% natural” to its product because it had removed artificial preservatives from the soft drink. The drink still contained fructose/glucose syrup, a sugar made from highly processed corn syrup. In 2004 Health Canada developed a new regulatory framework for natural health products (NHPs) including: vitamins and minerals; herbal remedies; homeopathic and  traditional medicines; probiotics; and amino acids and essential fatty acids. Products having a Drug Identification Number (DIN), a Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number – Homeopathic Medicine (DIN-HM) have been assessed by Health Canada. Currently there are no regulations governing marketers’ use of the term “anti-aging”.  In terms of supplements, Quackwatch.com warns that “anti-aging” has no scientific definition.  The product may help boost or maintain your health, but not necessarily reverse or prevent the aging process.  This area is continually evolving. Before buying,  take into account the agendas of producers, marketers, regulators and other participants in the food and supplement industry. In many cases, it’s still…buyer beware! For further information, visit these websites: BC Health Guide: http://www.bchealthguide.org QuackWatch: http://www.quackwatch.com   Vol.2, No.18; © ElderWise Inc. 2006 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO articles, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s “go to” place for “age-smart” planning.  Visit us at www.elderwise.ca and subscribe to our FREE newsletter....

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Osteoporosis and Bone Health

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Health Signals | 0 comments

 According to Osteoporosis Canada, at least 1.4 million Canadians over the age of 50 – one in four women and one in eight men  – suffer from this disease. What is osteoporosis? This disease has been called the “silent thief” because you may not experience any symptoms until a fracture occurs. Literally meaning “porous bones”, osteoporosis is a disease in which bones lose density, becoming more porous and therefore more fragile. What are the risks? More porous bones can lead to increased risk of fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist. Of the more than 25,000 hip fractures reported annually, 70% are caused by osteoporosis. Loss of bone strength also shortens the spine; thus seniors get shorter as they age. (Have you noticed that you or your parents seem to be shrinking?) In addition to aging, here are the other risk factors for decreased bone density: §  Body size: small weight and small bones §  Family history of osteoporosis §  Medical conditions that reduce the absorption of nutrients such as calcium §  Some drug treatments, such as prednisone §  Lifestyle: low calcium intake, excessive caffeine and alcohol use; and smoking. To continue “standing tall”, here’s what you can do to lower your risk:  1.    Consider taking a calcium supplement and Vitamin D if you’re not getting enough from food. Your pharmacist can help you select a supplement that is right for you. Choose a product with a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or General Product (GP) number. This indicates that the product meets Canadian quality standards. If you are curious about the absorption of a specific calcium product, place a tablet in vinegar – it should disintegrate within 30 minutes. 2.    Engage in regular physical activity. Both weight bearing and strength training exercise can help improve bone health. 3.    Talk to your doctor about Bone Mineral Density (BMD) testing. To learn more, visit Osteoporosis Canada to find information on the latest research, programs and to find the center nearest you. http://www.osteoporosis.ca Vol. 2, No. 23; © ElderWise Inc. 2006 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO articles, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s “go to” place for “age-smart” planning.  Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.        ...

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Dental Health May Slow Aging

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Health Signals | 0 comments

Flossing our teeth is a simple habit, costing next to no time, money or effort, that can add years to our life.  According to www.realage.com, brushing and daily flossing can reduce your “biological” age by as much as 6.4 years – and possibly extend your lifespan by that amount. Gum disease is the most common “infectious disease” in the world. Seven out of ten Canadians will develop gum disease sometime in their lives. Sore, swollen gums and bleeding are among the first symptoms. In advanced stages, receding gums and even tooth loss can follow.  There may even be a link between gum disease and heart disease? The American Federation for Aging Research cites evidence that links chronic gum disease to release of toxic substances and bacteria that enter the blood stream.  This can lead to plaque formation in the arteries, increasing your chances of heart disease.  The Federation states that increased risk of stroke and accelerated aging are also possible. NOTE: The Canadian Dental Association cautions that current evidence is insufficient to be certain gum disease can lead to heart disease.  They don’t dismiss current studies, but say more work is necessary to be positive that links between gum disease and heart disease are not influenced by other factors.  Remember these basics for good oral health: Brush at least twice each day Floss at least once daily Don’t smoke Eat a healthy diet Have regular dental check-ups. Regular exams can help in the early diagnosis of oral cancers, diabetes and even osteoporosis. Vol.2, No.7; © ElderWise Inc. 2006 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO articles, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s “go to” place for “age-smart” planning.  Visit us at http://elderwise.memwebs.com and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.  ...

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Dementia or Normal Aging?

Posted by on Mar 1, 2011 in Health Signals | 0 comments

Worried about an elderly person’s behaviour change? How do you distinguish between normal memory changes that occur with aging – and the more serious possibility of dementia, such as Alzheimer Disease?  A few things to watch for: Forgetting things – including peoples’ names and events – is more common as we grow older. But forgetfulness together with confusion could be a warning sign of more serious problems. And forgetting names of family members or familiar places is not an expected change. Here are some other warning signs: Doing or saying the same things repeatedly Difficulty making simple everyday decisions or completing everyday tasks Appearing restless and agitated Withdrawing and doing nothing for extended periods of time Also, look for personality or behaviour change, such as someone suddenly becoming stubborn and uncooperative (as opposed to displaying a longtime character trait). Talking to oneself – for company, or as a long-standing habit – may not be a concern, but noticeably nonsensical monologues could be your tip-off that something’s wrong. If you are worried, seek medical help. Underlying medical conditions can cause these types of changes – and treatment can be effective. For more information, visit http://www.alzheimer.ca   Vol.2, No.1; © ElderWise 2006 You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO articles, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc., Canada’s “go to” age-smart planning.  Visit us at www.elderwise.ca and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter....

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