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Boomers: help stop a silent killer

Tony Thomas and his family

Tony Thomas and his family

(BPT) – Eating well, exercise, sleep—these are all things we can control when it comes to our health. But unfortunately, some health-related things are out of sight, and therefore, often out of mind. Hidden health issues can escalate for years before becoming potentially life-threatening. For example, the term “silent killer” refers to fatal medical conditions that often exhibit no warning signs. High blood pressure is one such condition that many people are familiar with, but there is another very serious condition that most people have never heard of: abdominal aortic aneurysm.

More than 1 million people are living with an undiagnosed abdominal aortic aneurysm, also known as AAA (pronounced “triple A”), and it’s the third-leading cause of death in men 60 and older. The good news is that AAA can be managed and treated if found in time through a simple ultrasound screening test; so, it’s important for boomers to know the risk factors for themselves and their loved ones so they can ask their doctor about screening, if necessary.

What exactly is AAA? AAA is a balloon-like bulge in the body’s main artery that can burst unexpectedly. The problem with AAA is there are no symptoms, and when the aneurysm ruptures, only 10 to 25 percent of people will survive.

Tony Thomas of Detroit, Mich., is one of the lucky survivors. One morning Thomas woke up feeling great, and with no warnings, suffered a ruptured AAA. He was reading a newspaper, suddenly felt a gurgle on the right side of his back and quickly become incapacitated. His daughter called an ambulance and he was rushed to emergency surgery.

Today, Thomas feels very fortunate to have survived a ruptured AAA. He has partnered with a non-profit, AAAneurysm Outreach, to become an advocate for their ambassador program – made possible by Medtronic, Inc. – spreading the word about AAA risk factors and the importance of screening.

A quick and painless ultrasound screening of the abdomen, similar to a pregnancy ultrasound, can easily detect the condition. In just a few minutes, a doctor can determine if AAA is present and if corrective action is necessary. The good news is at least 95 percent of AAAs can be successfully treated if detected prior to rupture through screening and most health plans cover AAA screening tests at no cost for people who fit the risk profile.

So who is at greater risk of developing AAA? Risk factors associated with this condition include:

* Age: Individuals 60 or older are most likely to develop this condition.

* Gender: AAAs are between five to 10 times more common in men than in women. However, research shows AAA may be more deadly in women.

* Family history: 15 percent of those with AAA have close relatives with the condition.

* History of smoking: Tobacco users are eight times more likely to be affected than non-smokers.

* Other health conditions: Including clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), high blood pressure (hypertension), and high cholesterol.

“I want to urge others to learn about AAA and get screened if they are at risk. I didn’t have that opportunity when I was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery,” says Thomas. “It’s important for others to know that a simple ultrasound screen can help save your life.”

If you or a loved one may be at risk for AAA, ask your doctor about a simple ultrasound screening. Visit www.AOutreach.org to learn more.

 

 

 

 

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No one dies alone

 

Hospice of Michigan volunteers sit vigil during patient’s final moments

After caring for her sick mother for months, doctors tell Stacey that her mother’s death is approaching.  Stacey’s focus has shifted from finding a cure for her mother to making sure she’s comfortable and that she doesn’t die alone. Stacey finds herself overwhelmed. Her grieving process has already begun and while she spends countless hours at her mother’s bedside, she fears she might not be there during the final moments.

“When it’s apparent that a patient has reached the end of life, it becomes very important to family and friends that the patient has support through the dying process,” says Kathy Julien, volunteer services manager at Hospice of Michigan. “It is our goal that a patient never dies alone. To achieve this, we have an incredibly compassionate and dedicated team of volunteers who go anywhere a patient is and ‘sit vigil’ during the final days and hours.”

HOM typically sends vigil volunteers for a two- to four-hour time frame. Volunteers play music, read inspirational readings or scripture, light candles, hold the patient’s hand, pray with the patient or just talk about the day. Julien says that in addition to sitting vigil with the dying when their family can’t be there, volunteers often sit alongside loved ones to offer comfort, reassurance and a shoulder to cry on.

“This isn’t a new concept,” Julien explains. “People have been sitting vigil with the dying for centuries. Traditionally, family, friends and clergymen would gather around the dying person to offer comfort and support to the patient and to each other.”

Julien explains that when people begin actively dying, their sense of sound is the last sense to go. While they may be unresponsive or appear unconscious, it’s very possible the patient can still hear what’s happening around them. In addition to creating a peaceful and comforting surrounding, sitting vigil is also the time to reassure patients that they are not alone, it’s okay to go and that their family will learn to cope with their passing.

“Hospice of Michigan vigil volunteers are very special and important people,” Julien says. “Most volunteers feel it’s a privilege to be with someone during the final moments in life. There is a love they have for their patients and this shows in the way they care for them and interact with their families.”

All prospective HOM volunteers go through a 12-hour training course where they learn more about HOM, the principles of hospice, the grieving process and how to help patients, families and staff. There’s an optional three-hour grief support session that, while not required, is recommended.  Julien explains that vigil volunteers also receive direction on:

Recognizing the signs that a patient is actively dying

Talking with the patient to provide comfort

When and when not to comfort patients through the physical touch of hand holding, rubbing their arms, etc.

Comforting family and friends and sharing details and stories from time spent with the patient

“When someone accepts that their loved one will die, their fear of the loved one dying is often replaced by a fear that they will die alone,” adds Julien. “It’s our job to help ease these fears and provide comfort, support and reassurance to patients and their families.”

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities for Hospice of Michigan or sign up as a volunteer, contact Kathy Julien at 888.247.5701 or kjulien@hom.org.  For those who have experienced a loss, HOM encourages a waiting period of one year before becoming a volunteer in order to allow for processing grief.

 

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H1N1 detected in three recent deaths

 

From the Kent County Health Department

Testing has confirmed three recent deaths in people over the age of 50 in Kent County who were suffering from influenza A (H1N1) virus. Two of the individuals also had other known medical complications; we do not have a medical history yet on the third person. There are over 400 reported flu cases in Kent County so far this season, and of those reported, at least 26 people have been hospitalized.

“In two of these cases, we are certain there were additional underlying medical conditions,” says Adam London, Administrative Health Officer for the Kent County Health Department. “We have seen, in other parts of the state, healthy young adults are becoming extremely ill from H1N1, as well as several deaths.”

In late December, the CDC issued an advisory, noting an increase in severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults due to H1N1 this year.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. The influenza vaccine this year is highly effective protection against the flu, including H1N1. The CDC recently reported that the influenza vaccination prevented approximately 6.6 million illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations last year. It is critically important that people get a flu shot now. It takes 10—14 days after receiving the vaccination for a person to develop immunity. This is why you often hear people wrongly claim that they got the flu from the flu shot.

Multiple studies have confirmed that the flu vaccine does not cause influenza. People can, however, become ill from exposure to contagious people during those 10–14 days before their immunity develops. Some children ages 6 months to 2 years old may require two doses of vaccine (parents should check with a health care provider for details).

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses can spread when people with flu cough, sneeze, or even talk. Someone might also get flu by touching a surface or object (like a phone) that has flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose. Signs and symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue (very tired), vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). If you think you have the flu, try to limit spreading the illness. Do not go to school or work until you recover.

The Kent County Health Department seasonal influenza program provides vaccinations for all individuals six months of age and older. Vaccines start at $25 for injection, and $33 for FluMist nasal spray. Children from six months through eighteen years who have no insurance, or who have insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines, will pay a sliding scale administration fee of up to $15. The Health Department can only bill Medicaid and Medicare. Cash, check, MasterCard, Visa, or Discover are accepted. To make an appointment at any of our five clinic locations, call (616) 632-7200. You can also schedule online at www.stickittotheflu.com. Flu information is also available on our information only line at (616) 742-4FLU (358).

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American Red Cross issues new Pet First Aid App

App helps dog and cat owners provide emergency care until veterinary assistance is available 

HEA-Red-Cross-PeticonPets are an important part of many families, and a new Red Cross Pet First Aid App puts lifesaving information right in the hands of dog and cat owners so they can provide emergency care until veterinary assistance is available.

The 99-cent Pet First Aid app gives iPhone and Android smart phone users instant access to expert information so they learn how to maintain their pet’s health and what to do during emergencies.

“Pet owners learn how to recognize health problems and when to contact their veterinarian,” said Kelly Hudson, Regional Communications Officer for the American Red Cross of West Michigan. “The Pet First Aid App provides step-by-step instructions, videos and images for more than 25 common first aid and emergency situations including how to treat wounds, control bleeding, and care for breathing and cardiac emergencies.”

Additional topics include burns, car accidents, falls and what to do for cold and heat related emergencies.

Other features in the app allow pet owners to:

Create a pet profile including tag identification number, photos, list of medications and instructions.

Use the list of early warning signs to learn when to call their veterinarian.

Use “click-to-call” to contact their veterinarian.

Find emergency pet care facilities or alternate veterinarians with the “animal hospital locator.”

Locate pet-friendly hotels.

Test their knowledge with interactive quizzes and earn badges that they can share on their social networks along with their favorite picture of their pet.

History shows that people have not evacuated during disasters because they did not want to leave their pets behind. The Red Cross app contains resources to help owners include pets in their emergency action plans. Pet owners may also take a Red Cross Pet First Aid course so they can practice the skills and receive feedback. People can go to redcross.org/takeaclass for information and to register.

The Red Cross has made great strides in making emergency information available whenever and wherever people need it. The Pet First Aid App and other Red Cross apps can be found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross or by going to redcross.org/mobileapps.

 

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Healthy lifestyle choices help prevent birth defects

During National Birth Defects Prevention Month in January, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is joining with the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to raise awareness of birth defects, which are a leading cause of infant mortality and chronic illness. Raising awareness about birth defects is closely in line with Governor Snyder’s call to reduce infant mortality rates in order to improve the health status of Michigan as a whole.

A baby is born with a birth defect in the United States every four and a half minutes. Healthy lifestyle choices as well as medical care before and during pregnancy can reduce these chances, resulting in better infant health outcomes for all Michiganders.

“Most people simply do not realize how common, costly and critical birth defects are in Michigan, as well as nationally, or that there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of birth defects,” said James K. Haveman, Director of the MDCH. “Through awareness efforts across the country we can reach millions of women and their families with vital prevention information.”

More than 120,000 babies born with a birth defect (approximately 1 in every 33 live births) are reported each year in the United States with around 7,000 cases occurring in Michigan. Some have only a minor and brief effect on a baby’s health while others have life-threatening or life-long effects. Birth defects are the most common cause of death in infants and the second most common cause of death in children aged one to four years.

Throughout National Birth Defects Prevention Month, MDCH will work to raise awareness among healthcare professionals, educators, social service professionals, and many segments of the general public about the frequency with which birth defects occur and the steps that can be taken to prevent them. Small steps such as visiting a healthcare provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can make a significant difference towards protecting the health of women and babies. Public awareness, appropriate medical care, accurate and early diagnosis, and social support systems are all essential for ensuring prevention and treatment of these common and often deadly conditions.

In addition to its prevention efforts, the NBDPN works to improve nationwide surveillance of birth defects, provide family support, and to advance research on possible causes. Information about the NBDPN can be found at www.NBDPN.org and www.EndBirthDefects.org. For more information about birth defects in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/birthdefectsinfo or www.migrc.org.

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Blood donations fall due to cold weather

Donors needed throughout Michigan to help save lives

 

N-Donate-blood-Kathy-Uzarski-0213Historically low temperatures and heavy snowfall are increasing the need for donors at Michigan Blood, a nonprofit blood bank that provides blood and blood products to more than 40 hospitals throughout Michigan, including those in the West Michigan area.

“On a normal day we receive up to 400 donations throughout the state,” Jim Childress, Vice President of Community Relations at Michigan Blood said while explaining the importance of maintaining donors during rough weather periods. “However, this unprecedented weather has caused our donations to fall sharply. Monday we received only 44 donations across the entire state, and Tuesday we had to close our center in St. Joseph because roads were impassable.”

Blood donors make a lifesaving difference everyday, but since blood is a perishable resource that can only be stored for a short time, the need for donors never ends. This increased need at Michigan Blood is a great opportunity for veteran and first time donors alike to start the New Year off right, or fulfill a New Year’s resolution.

“This is going to have implications for us over the next several weeks,” Childress said. “So even if you are not able to make it out due to the weather, please call and schedule a time to come in and donate this month.”

Anyone interested in donating blood can visit www.miblood.org for more information or contact the local Michigan Blood donation center at 1036 Fuller Ave NE, Grand Rapids 49503.

 

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Give back by volunteering for hospice care

Free training program here in January and February

By Judy Reed

 

N-HospiceWould you like to make a big difference in someone’s life? Would you like to serve those in your own community? You can—and it doesn’t have to be more than one or two hours a week. But those two hours could mean a great deal to both families and individuals facing an end of life.

Spectrum Health Hospice will offer a five-week volunteer training session at Cedar Springs United Methodist Church beginning January 22. There will be five sessions, of three hours each—January 22, 29, February 5, 12 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Yvonne Elliot, Volunteer Coordinator for Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care, said they are continuing to see a rapid growth in support needed for patients and families on the north end of Kent County and beyond into Montcalm County. “As we provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to these patients through our paid staff, we see a great need for additional volunteers to ensure that all our patients are offered the same level of support regardless of their location,” she explained. “Therefore we are taking our volunteer training on the road to the Cedar Springs area to encourage volunteers to join our program that are interested and willing to support patients and families in that geographic area.”

Volunteers play a vital role in supporting the patient by providing relief for the caregiver, friendly visits for the patient, music (both vocalists and instrumentalists needed), life story review, visiting dogs, haircuts, massage therapy and much more.

Local volunteer Betty Patterson, 80, of Sparta, gets great enjoyment from giving back to the people and families she visits. “I get more back than I give,” remarked Betty. “They are nice people who welcome you into their homes and lives. They are people in a hard place.”

Betty has been working with Spectrum Hospice for six years. During that time, she’s done a variety of things with the patients and families, depending on what they need. “I baked cupcakes with a lady who could barely hold a spoon,” she recalled. “I put the bowl in her lap and helped her stir.” Betty explained that she put chocolate frosting on the woman’s fingers when it was time to frost the cupcakes. “It was a chocolate mess all over,” she said with a laugh. “We were both covered in chocolate trying to frost those cupcakes. We had fun.”

There was a man that Betty visited who never spoke a word to her, but the family told her that he enjoyed gospel hymns. So she brought a hymnal and sang him songs out of it for an hour each time. She told him that if he ever wanted her to stop, all he had to do was blink his eyes, but he never did.

Another patient of Betty’s was a war bride from Germany. “The woman had a lot of pictures, so we took a trip down the Rhine,” said Betty. “I learned a lot.”

Betty read Winnie the Pooh to one patient. With another, she just held her hand. “In the training you learn how to just be present with somebody,” she explained.

Betty said that sometimes she just relieves a caregiver that needs to sleep, or needs to go out and do some shopping. They have often exhausted family. Other times a patient has no family.

Betty is also an 11th hour volunteer—one who will visit people who are right at the end of life’s journey. And she’s happy to do it. “I’m a good Episcopalian,” she explained. “It’s part of being a Christian—you give back.” She urged anyone thinking about volunteering to give it a shot. “It’s been a wonderful experience for me,” she said.

Yvonne spoke highly of Betty and the other volunteers they have. “We are always amazed at the wonderful community that we live in. It is humbling to see the amount of truly caring people who desire to use their time and talents to support our patients and their families. It is awesome to know that there are people interested in making a difference for people facing end of life. It is a very appreciated and rewarding volunteer opportunity.”

Spectrum Hospice supports patients in a wide geographic area (one hour distance from downtown Grand Rapids). Volunteers select the geographic area that they would like to serve. Additional volunteers are especially needed for the Northern Kent and Montcalm county area.

After completing training, most volunteers donate approximately one hour of their time per week. There are others who choose to donate more as their schedule allows.

If the winter training session will not work with your schedule, contact Yvonne to be placed on a notification list for future volunteer trainings. For more information or application materials please contact Yvonne Elliott at 616-391-4240 or via email Yvonne.elliott@spectrumhealth.org.

 

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Aging in Place

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

FAMILY FEATURES

 

Most people prefer to stay in their home or apartment for as long as possible. The best way to make this a reality is to plan ahead of time to make the amenities in your home as safe and accessible as possible. It can be hard to imagine that tasks around the house that were once done with ease can one day pose a challenge. Anticipating the challenge and planning accordingly may allow you to remain in your home for an extended period of time. Often, with some minor modifications, your home can be adapted to help you stay as long as possible even with some loss of mobility

 

Home Modifications

Living at home longer may mean renovating a home to make it more accessible. This can include such things as installing ramps to bypass stairs, building a bedroom on the main floor, placing grab bars in the shower, changing the height of kitchen countertops or making a bathroom safer and more accessible. Before you make home modifications, you should evaluate your current and future needs by going through your home room by room and answering a series of questions to highlight where changes might be made. Several checklists are available to help you conduct this review. The National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modifications is a good place to start. Go to the center’s website at http://www.homemods.org and click on the link to the “Safety Checklist and Assessment Instrument.”

Getting Help

Keeping a house running smoothly requires a lot of hard work. If you are no longer able to keep up with the demands, you may need to hire someone to do laundry, buy groceries, run errands, clean the house or perform any necessary repairs. Those who are unable to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as getting in and out of bed, walking, bathing, dressing, and eating, can often continue to stay at home with outside help. There are a number of services that can be brought in to assist with ADLs and other personal care. You can hire someone, such as a personal care aide or home health aide, to help you out a few hours a day or around the clock.

Some health care services can be provided at home by trained professionals, such as occupational therapists, social workers or home health nurses. Check with your insurance or health service to see what kind of coverage is available, although you may have to cover some of these costs out of pocket. If very specific conditions are met, Medicare will help pay for all or a portion of home health care.

Transportation

Declining health often causes a decline in independence and mobility. Many seniors lose the ability to drive or simply feel uncomfortable behind the wheel at night. Investigate transportation options in your area so you can maintain an active social life, get medical care and shop for necessities. You might find family members willing to take you to the grocery store, friends who will drive you to social events, nearby bus routes, reduced fare taxis or senior transportation services funded by a local not-for-profit. Staying in your home should not mean being cut off from community activities you enjoy. Finding new ways to get around, even after you are no longer driving, may allow you to stay engaged and active.

 

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Flu cases rising in Kent County

 

 

Flu cases are rising in Kent County, and the Kent County Health Department urges parents to make sure their family is protected against the flu by getting vaccinated.

The KCHD said that we have not yet reached the peak of flu season, and the number of cases continues to rise. There are 324 reported flu cases in Kent County as of January 7; epidemiologists estimate only 8 percent of cases get reported, so the actual number could be more than 2800.

“Many adults have this misconception that the flu vaccine is just for kids, the elderly, or people who have medical conditions,” says Adam London, Administrative Health Officer for the Kent County Health Department. “Even healthy adults need protection. The CDC reports an increase in severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults due to influenza A (H1N1) this year. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age.” The vaccine can take ten days to two weeks to become effective. Some children ages 6 months to 2 years old may require two doses of vaccine (parents should check with a health care provider for details).

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses can spread when people with flu cough, sneeze, or even talk. Someone might also get flu by touching a surface or object (like a phone) that has flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose. Signs and symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue (very tired), vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults). The KCHD says that if you think you have the flu, try to limit spreading the illness. Do not go to school or work until you recover.

The Kent County Health Department seasonal influenza program provides vaccinations for all individuals six months of age and older. The cost of the vaccine is $25 for injectable three strain vaccine, $29 for preservative free three strain vaccine, $30 for preservative free four strain vaccine or $33 for FluMist nasal spray (a live, preservative-free, four strain vaccine).

Children from six months through eighteen years who have no insurance, or who have insurance that doesn’t cover vaccines, will pay a sliding scale administration fee of up to $15. The Health Department can only bill Medicaid and Medicare. Cash, check, MasterCard, Visa, or Discover are accepted. To make an appointment at any of our five clinic locations, call (616) 632-7200. You can also schedule online at www.stickittotheflu.com.

Flu information is also available on an information only line at (616) 742-4FLU (358).

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Be aware of carbon monoxide dangers

 

From the Michigan State Police

 

As temperatures continue to hover around 0 degrees with wind chills at 25 below or colder, citizens are encouraged to be aware of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide poisoning when using alternative heating sources to warm their homes.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and tasteless gas produced when fossil fuels—such as coal, gasoline, natural gas and oil—are burned. In only minutes, deadly fumes can develop in enclosed spaces. When you breathe carbon monoxide, it enters the bloodstream and cuts off delivery of oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.

The first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may be headache, dizziness, confusion, fatigue and nausea. As more of this gas is inhaled, it can cause unconsciousness, brain damage and even death. If you do suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move yourself, your family and pets to fresh air quickly and immediately call 911.

“Think twice before using a gas stove or gas heater to heat your house or garage,” said Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, Deputy State Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security and commander of the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division (MSP/EMHSD). “Within minutes, the fumes could overcome you and your family and ultimately cause death.”

Families are encouraged to follow these carbon monoxide poisoning prevention tips:

Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline or charcoal burning devices inside of homes, basements, garages, or near a window. These appliances give off carbon monoxide, which can build up quickly in a home.

Follow operating and maintenance instructions for fuel-burning appliances and equipment.

Do not use a cooktop or oven to heat your home as these appliances are not designed for this purpose and may result in carbon monoxide poisonings.

Do not let a vehicle run in an attached garage.

Do not sleep in a room with an un-vented gas or kerosene space heater.

Ensure your home has a battery operated carbon monoxide detector, which can be purchased at local home improvement and retail stores.

Get your furnace checked every year to make sure it isn’t leaking carbon monoxide.

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and poisoning prevention, visit

www.michigan.gov/carbonmonoxide or www.cdc.gov/co.

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