Surprising Contributors to Back Pain

Does an aching back feel like a regular problem, and not just something you randomly pulled at the gym? If so, you are not alone. 6 million older adults in the U.S. live with chronic back pain.

According to Gbolahan Okubadejo, M.D., an orthpedic spine surgeon, we start to lose fluid in our discs as we age. When this happens, the discs tend to collapse. Along with this, our lifestyle habits raise the risk of back pain. Here are 5 surprising culprits:

Uninterrupted Sitting

Lots of sitting can take a toll on your health, including producing pain in your back. When you sit for extended periods of time, your joints aren’t being used. Immobility in that nerve-dense location can jump-start what’s known as the pain-spasm-pain cycle, in which a skeletal muscle spasm causes pain in your spine. It doesn't just involve your spine. It can extend to your hips and sacroiliac joints. Studies show that sitting for as little as four hours can result in disc degeneration. You can counter the risk by increasing the amount of physical activity you do. It is recommended that after two hours of sitting you get up for five minutes of stretching.

Cigarette Smoking

Smoking limits blood flow, causing discs to age prematurely. In fact, the number one reason that people who have had spinal fusion surgery don’t heal is because of smoking, says Dr. Okubadejo. Smokers are three times more likely to develop chronic back pain.

Your Mattress

That cushy mattress that makes it seem like you’re floating on a giant marshmallow may feel good when you slip into bed each night, but it is not doing your back any favors. When you sleep on an old or plush mattress, the body tends to sink down, so there is less support for the spine. To prevent back pain, use a mattress that’s at least medium firm.

Your Shoes

Anyone who wears high heels knows that they can do a number on your back. But even sensible shoes can change your gait and lead to back pain if the soles are uneven, which happens when you wear them too long. Think about your shoes the way you think about your mattress. Not only is it important to have support while lying down, but you equally need support while being upright. Look for shoes with soles that provide medium firmness.

Stress

(There’s that word again.) Stress wreaks all kinds of havoc on the body. No surprise, it can also put the squeeze on the muscles around your spine. “People usually carry stress in the neck and shoulder area,” says Dr. Akhil Chhatre, M.D. But stress can also cause pain to travel farther down the back, thanks to the inflammatory response it sets off. To fend off this kind of pain, moving is particularly important, If you’re stressed, you may not be as active. If you are less active, you have pain, and if you have pain, you are stressed out. As far as which exercise is best, Dr. Okubadejo says that it’s all about the endorphins, whether you opt for a long walk, a short run, or strength training. Stretching can also make a difference.

SIX PILLARS OF BRAIN HEALTH

June is “Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Month”. Most of us are aware that Alzheimer's is a progressive neurological disorder that causes the brain to shrink(atrophy), and brain cells to die. It is the most common cause of dementia. This article will focus on brain health. Lifestyle has a profound impact on your brain health. What you eat and drink, how much you exercise, how well you sleep, the way you socialize, and how you manage stress are all critically important to your brain health. Cleveland Clinic’s“Six Pillars of Brain Health” will help you navigate your journey to brain health. Read on. Physical Exercise: Get moving! People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise improves blood flow and memory and stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking. Food and Nutrition: You are what you eat. The aging brain is exposed to more harmful stress due to environment and lifestyle, resulting in “oxidation”, which damages brain cells. Food rich in antioxidants can help fend off the harmful effects of oxidation in your brain. Medical Health: Control medical risks. Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, head trauma, higher cholesterol, and smoking all increase the risk of dementia. You can control these risks. Get annual checkups and take medications as prescribed. Sleep and Relaxation: Rest well. Sleep energizes you, improves your mood and your immune system, and may reduce buildup in the brain of an abnormal protein called beta-amyloid plaque, which is associated with Alzheimers disease. Stay positive. Be happy. Mental Fitness: Mental exercise is as critical as physical exercise in keeping your brain healthy. Like your muscles, you must use your brain, or you will lose it. Reading, doing puzzles, and memorizing keep your brain active. An article fromJohn Hopkins Medicine cites that if you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool, and provides a total brain workout. Social Interaction: Stay connected. Leading an active social life can protect you against memory loss. Spending time with others, engaging in stimulating conversation, and staying in touch with family and friends are good for your brain health. If it is difficult to get out, make phone calls and write emails or letters. Studies have shown that those with the most social interaction in their community experience the slowest rate of memory decline.

Blood Pressure – Need to Knows

Blood pressure is a measurement of the way that blood presses against your artery walls. If your blood flows at higher-than-normal pressure, you may have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Millions of Americans (one out of two adults) have high blood pressure, but many people don’t know it. It is often called “the silent killer” because it gives off no symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked periodically. High blood pressure cannot be cured, but it can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes, and if needed, medication.

If you blood pressure stays higher than 130/80 mm Hg for a period of time, it can cause serious problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and dementia. Blood vessels in your eyes may also burst under increased pressure and when this happens, it can cause blindness.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

Age: Blood pressure tends to get higher as we get older. However, it can affect younger people too.

Genes: High blood pressure often runs in families.

Gender: Before age 60, more men than women have high blood pressure. After age 60, more women have it than men.

Race or ethnicity: While anyone can have high blood pressure, African Americans tend to get it at a younger age. Among Hispanic adults, people of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican backgrounds are at a higher risk.

Lifestyle habits: Eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol, being obese, smoking, and not getting enough exercise can raise your blood pressure.

What should I change?

Eat healthy foods, such as more fruits and vegetables. Eat less salt. Drink less caffeine.

Avoid foods with saturated fats and cholesterol. Consider boosting potassium,

which lessens the effects of sodium on blood pressure.

Move more. Get at least 2 ½ hours of physical activity a week.

Aim for a healthy weight - Losing just 3 to 5 percent of your body weight can improve

your blood pressure. If you weigh 200 lbs., that is a weight loss of 6 to 10 lbs.

Reduce stress by practicing mindful meditation.

Practice relaxation technics, laugh more.

Stop Smoking.

Visit: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hypertension

Am I Getting All of the Benefits I Can From Medicare? 

By Kim Hulme, SHIBA Partner 208-847-0949  The above question is one of the most common questions that I get as a Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisor (SHIBA).   I believe this question is most often prompted by ads that people are seeing on television.  The answer is a two-part explanation of the two different kinds of Medicare and what benefits each provides.    Traditional Medicare  Traditional Medicare is referred to as Medicare A (inpatient hospital coverage) and Medicare B (outpatient medical services). A Part D prescription drug plan also falls in this category. Traditional Medicare can be used anywhere in the U.S., as long as the provider accepts Medicare, (which is usually the case.) There are some things traditional Medicare does not cover, such dental, hearing, and vision. Cataract surgery and jaw surgery are some of the few exceptions to that rule.  Medicare recipients can purchase vision, dental and hearing coverage separately if desired. Traditional Medicare does offer several screenings.  If you are not taking advantage of these screenings, you are not getting all the benefits you could be getting through Medicare.  Medicare Advantage Plans  A Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan is another way to get your Medicare A and Medicare B coverage, and in many cases, a Part D prescription plan. These plans are administered by private, for profit, companies, and these are the plans you are seeing advertised on television.    Many of these plans offer some dental, vision, and hearing benefits.  Often the dental coverage only includes an oral exam, cleaning, X-rays, and flouride treatment.  Plans differ in how they cover these extra benefits.  Advantage plans can have large out of pocket expenses, anywhere from $5500 to $10,000 per year.  In addition, many of them are HMO plans so these plans only pay if you visit a doctor or facility in network.  This could be problematic if traveling or visiting out of state.  Some Medicare Advantage plans have premiums that are almost the amount you might pay for a Medigap plan if you have traditional Medicare.  In addition, some of these plans do not have drug coverage, and if you are enrolled in one of these, you cannot purchase a separate Part D plan.   Medicare Advantage plans are state and county specific.  Several rural counties across America, and especially here in Idaho, do not have Medicare Advantage plans.  Bear Lake county is one of those counties.   Areas with lower population base do not produce the revenue that Medicare Advantage plans find acceptable. 

Practicing Gratitude

From “Family Solutions for Care”  There is a direct and known correlation between practicing gratitude and increased happiness, as well as health improvement.  This can be especially true and important for the elderly.  It’s not always easy to be grateful, especially in challenging times, but learning to see the good in even the smallest circumstances can have a profound impact on the lives of seniors.  While aging is inevitable, feelings of sadness and distress do not need to be part of the process. Whatever your situation, there are small ways to be grateful that will have a big impact on one’s  daily life as well as in relationships with others.   How Seniors Can Practice Gratitude on Their Own  The easiest way to cultivate gratitude is by putting pen to paper.  Begin by creating a list. The goal of practicing gratitude is to focus on the positive things of your life. Begin with one to five things and see what happens from there.  For example, you might write  The sun came out today,’ or ‘the clerk at the grocery store was especially nice today.’ You may have more to write some days than others, but as you persist you will begin to see some of the amazing benefits: physically, mentally, and emotionally.  How Daily Gratitude Lists Can Help Seniors Combat Depression  Seniors who practice gratitude will notice an improvement in their health.  Practicing gratitude has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce headaches, and improve sleep.  Practicing gratitude helps take the focus off an aging body, and emphasize what value we have.  Grateful people are more likely to recall past experiences positively.  It may be helpful to jot down good memories.  Those who have a habit of being grateful look for the good in others.  This makes people more enjoyable to be around.   How Families and Friends Can Help the Elderly Maintain An Attitude of Gratitude  It’s important that close friends and family show the elderly that they are valued.  Experience alone usually means the elderly have wisdom and insight.  Keep a routine by taking a friend or loved one to lunch each week, or at regular intervals, and make it a point to talk about things for which you can be grateful.  Develop lists together.  Ask the elderly what valuable lessons they have learned from hard situations.   If meeting in person is not possible, perhaps it is possible to help someone learn to use technology for communicating.  Remember to use kind words and tell the elderly person why you are grateful for them.  Celebrating their gifts and talents is a good way to help keep their spirits high.   Gratitude goes a long way toward mental, physical, and spiritual well-being; not just for the elderly, but for all of us. 

Heart Healthy Self Care

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, but there’s a lot you can do to prevent it. Taking time to care for your heart can be challenging as you go about daily life. But it’s easier than you think to show your heart the love it deserves each day. Small acts of self-care, like taking walks, getting quality sleep, and cooking healthy meals, help your heart. Research shows that self-care can help you keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. What does “self-care” mean? Researchers define self-care as what you do to stay healthy. It’s also what you do to care for any health problems you have, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or mental health disorders. It’s heart-healthy living. What parts of your self-care routine help your heart? Self-care for your heart is really self-care for your whole self. You can improve and protect your health overall when you: Get a daily dose of physical activity, such as a brisk, 30-minute walk. Cook meals that are low in sodium and unhealthy fats. Take your medications as prescribed and keep your medical appointments. Sleep 7-8 hours a night. Manage stress through, for example, meditation, yoga, a warm bath, or quiet time with a good book or funny movie. Try to reach or stay at a healthy weight by moving more and having snacks like fruits and veggies ready to grab when hunger hits. How can you make self-care for your heart easier? The trick is to plan ahead. Build heart-healthy activities into your daily self-care routine. Schedule things that are both good for you and important to you. You might want to set aside time to: Cook delicious, heart-healthy recipes. Choose some from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s delicious heart-healthy eating website. Go for a bike ride, take an online exercise class, or have a family dance party. Make that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off. Many providers now offer telehealth appointments to make accessing care easier. Organize your medications. What’s your health status? Part of self-care is knowing your health status. Even during uncertain and busy times, get your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels checked. Talk to your health care provider about your heart health. How can technology help with caring for your heart? Your phone or favorite show can make getting off the couch difficult. But technology can be your heart’s best friend! Tools that help with self-care for your heart include: Wearable devices that measure steps, heart rate, and sleep At-home blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate monitors Online activity and healthy eating planners, like these from health.gov and MyPlate.gov How does support from others help you care for your heart? Many studies show that having positive, close relationships and feeling connected to others helps our blood pressure, weight, overall health, and more. Even if it’s virtual, that support makes self-care easier and even more effective. Research also shows that text messages can improve self-care. Connect with friends or family for support. Ask them to text you reminders or encouragement to help you meet your goals. Make new friends who share your goals. Join an online exercise class or a weight- management group to connect with other like-minded people and stay motivated. How does self-care play a role if you or your partner is pregnant or considering pregnancy? Self-care for your heart health is particularly important if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant. Regular physical activity reduces your risk of gestational diabetes, extra pregnancy pounds, and postpartum depression. Talk to your health care provider about what physical activities are safe during pregnancy and soon after delivery. Discuss how to avoid and watch for a type of high blood pressure called preeclampsia. What are the obstacles to self-care? Research shows that the three main obstacles to self-care are: ● Lack of confidence in one’s ability to make a change ● Depression ● Having more than one health concern If you want to boost your confidence, or if you struggle with a mental health disorder, seek support of family and friends, or talk to a qualified mental health provider. Ask your health care provider for help handling the demands of multiple medical conditions. What does it take to give your heart the care—and patience—it deserves? Self-care includes being patient with your body. You may not see or feel the results of your efforts right away. But small steps can lead to big progress. When we take care of #OurHearts as part of our self-care, we set an example for others to do the same. Visit hearttruth.gov for resources and tools to help you and your loved ones make heart-healthy lifestyle changes.  

Covid-19 Vaccines:  Get the Facts 

[caption id="attachment_14307" align="alignleft" width="265"] COVID-19 Vaccinations[/caption] Anyone who can read or hear now knows that vaccines for the Covid-19 virus are becoming available.  Locally, many healthcare workers have already received the first of the two-shot vaccine.  This vaccine is likely the best hope for ending the pandemic.  But as availability for the vaccine increases, so do myths and skepticism The information below is published by the Mayo Clinic to help separate fact and fiction.   Myth:  The COVID-19 vaccine will alter my DNA.  Fact: The first vaccines to reach the market are mRNA vaccines.  According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines work by instructing cells in the body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.  Injecting MRNA into your body will not interact or do anything to the DNA of your cells.  Human cells break down and get rid of the mRNA soon after they have finished using the instructions   Myth:  The COVID-19 vaccine is not safe because it was rapidly developed and tested.  Fact: Many pharmaceutical companies invested significant resources into quickly developing a vaccine for COVID-19 because of the impact of the pandemic However, companies did NOT bypass safety protocols and did not neglect adequate testing New technology has enabled companies to develop the vaccine much more quickly than previous vaccines have been developed.  The safety of the vaccine is closely monitored by the CDC and the FDA  Myth:  The COVID-19 vaccine was developed as a way to control the general population either through microchip tracking or nano transducers in our brains.    Fact: There is no vaccine “microchip,” and the vaccine will not track people or gather personal information into a database.  This myth started after comments made by Bill Gates about a digital certificate of vaccine records.  This does not refer to a microchip. In fact, the technology Gates was referring to has nothing to do with the development, testing, or distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.  Myth:  There are severe side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.   Fact: There are short-term mild or moderate vaccine reactions that resolve without complication or injury.  The early phase studies of the vaccine show that it is safe.  About 15% of people develop short-lived symptoms at the site of the injection.  50% develop reactions which are primarily headache, chills, fatigue or muscle pain or fever lasting for a day or two.  Keep in mind that these side effects are indicators that your immune system is responding to the vaccine and are common when receiving vaccines.  More information can be found at www.mayoclinic.org  

Coping Tools for Happy Holidays During a Pandemic 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the country is experiencing a resurgence of COVID-10 infections. A recommendation has given to keep gatherings small and travel only as necessary.  With the holidays approaching, this can leave many feeling lonely and fearful.  The lead therapist at the Sharp Mesa Vista Post-Traumatic Stress disorder and Trauma Recovery Program, Kim Eisenberg, suggests that we find tangible and realistic ways to have meaningful experiences this year, even if we can’t be surrounded physically by those with whom we normally celebrate. “We are lifted up and out of our own suffering when we do things that are helpful to others,” she said.   Ms. Eisenberg suggests finding some meaningful service to offset some of the loneliness and isolation.  She says others would benefit by remembering the 4 M’s: Mindfulness, Meaningful Connection, Movement, and Mastery.    Mindfulness  Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention and working to stay focused in the present moment. It includes self-care, which involves not letting our minds get side-tracked by strong emotions.  If anxiety starts to set in, practice deep-breathing and take time to see clearly the situation.  Mindfulness helps us know how best to proceed with compassion towards ourselves and others.    Meaningful Connection  Every single person needs connection and needs to be known.  A meaningful connection includes being emotionally vulnerable and open with someone, showing them affection and receiving it in return.  People love to know that someone cares. We need to meaningfully connect in marriage, friendship, and other relationships with our children and neighbors.  This can happen by text, email, phone call, mail, or video chats.   Reach out when you want to connect, check in on someone you care about.  Most people have the desire to connect meaningfully.  If you haven’t found someone who does, keep looking!  Movement  Any type of movement or stretching that you can do in the comfort of your home or yard, helps alleviate negative feelings and emotions.  It improves balance, coordination and flexibility, increases oxygen to the brain, and decreases risk of osteoporosis.    Mastery  Don’t forget brain health.  Taking care of your brain is just as important as taking care of your body.  Try your hand at puzzles, word searches, crosswords, memorizing, and other brain games.  These activities will help stimulate attention, verbal fluency, memory, and other cognitive functions.     

Medicare Annual Part D Open Enrollment 

Fall is a time of change.  Most people love watching the leaves change color and the beauty that nature displays during this time of year.  Some changes are less exhilarating.  One of those kinds of changes could apply to your Medicare drug plan, which could be quite exciting, depending on the amount of money you could save.   October 15th -December 7th is the annual open enrollment for Part D. For Medicare beneficiaries this means:  _-Those who are already enrolled in a drug plan can check to see if all of their medications will still be covered under their current plan in 2021 and if that plan is still the least expensive option. Plans can, and do, change their drug formularies from year to year.   -Even if your plan’s formulary doesn’t change and your drugs are still covered, you could experience a substantial increase in premium. When calculating your drug costs, you should consider premiums, deductibles, and co-pays for the year.  -People who have never enrolled in a drug plan have the chance to enroll.*  If you enroll in Part D for the first time during this open enrollment period, your plan will be effective beginning January 1st, 2021.  Exceptions to this coverage date would be if the person is new to Medicare and is enrolling in a drug plan during their initial enrollment period.  In that case Medicare Part D would begin on the first day of the month after enrollment.  (For instance, if you are new to Medicare and enroll in a drug plan in October, your coverage would begin on November 1st.)  -Although Medicare Advantage Plans are not available in several counties throughout the country (Bear Lake County is one of these), people who have Advantage plans can change during this open enrollment if they so choose.  (Much of the Medicare advertising you see on TV applies to Medicare Advantage Plans, not traditional Medicare).  State Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) are uniquely trained to answer Medicare questions and help beneficiaries during enrollment periods.  Advisors help navigate the different drug plans and tailor them to the individual.  This includes considering all options for acquiring prescription drugs. SHIBA advisors make no commissions, and give free, un-biased advice to beneficiaries.  The locally state-certified SHIBA advisor is Kim Hulme, who can be reached at Bear Lake Memorial Hospital at 208.847.0949.      *If you didn’t sign up for Part D when you were first eligible, you may have to pay a penalty on your premium, which is 1% of the national base premium for every month you could have had coverage.   

Dry Eye Syndrome

From the Mayo Clinic Dry eyes is a common condition that occurs when your tears can't provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. Dry eyes can be uncomfortable, even painful.  Signs and symptoms include:  a stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes, sensitivity to light, redness, a sensation that something is in your eye, difficulty with night driving, watery eyes (which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes), and blurred vision or eye fatigue.   Your tears are a mixture of water, fatty oils and mucus.  This mixture helps make the surface of your eyes smooth and clear.  It also protects your eyes from infection.  Common causes of decreased tear production include:   Aging   - Medical conditions such as: diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjorgren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, and vitamin A deficiency. Some medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs used for high blood pressure, birth control, and Parkinson’s disease. Wind, smoke, or dry air can cause increased tear evaporation.  So can blinking less often, which tends to occur when you are concentrating, for example, while reading, driving, or working at a computer.   For most people with occasional or mild dry eye symptoms, it’s enough to regularly use over-the-counter eyedrops (artificial tears).  Sometimes other treatment is necessary, depending on what is causing your dry eyes.  In some cases, treating an underlying health issue can help clear up the signs and symptoms of dry eyes. This may mean simply changing one of your medications.  Treatment could be as involved as surgery of the eyelids.   There are a number of prescription medications used to treat dry eyes, including those that reduce inflammation of the eyelid or cornea and tear-stimulating drugs.  There are also various procedures used to alleviate dry eyes, such as closing your tears ducts to prevent tear loss,  and unblocking oil glands.   Some people find relief from dry eyes using non-prescription products or even home remedies.  These could include eyedrops, ointments, or gels.  Daily fish oil supplements seem to relieve dry eye syndrome for some.   Talk with your doctor about your dry eyes.  Tell him about all the symptoms you are experiencing, as there may be an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.