Saturday, June 28, 2014

When Self Help Isn’t Helpful

Working with conditions like AIDS, movement disorders, addictions and cancer, the help and knowledge that is gleaned through support groups and peer led approaches to healing is powerful and effective. At the same time, I’ve also witnessed the down sides, where someone who is afire with a new idea, can steer people in the wrong direction. It’s called “peer pressure” for a reason.

Self-help is a billion dollar industry that makes households names of people who may or may not have credentials to back up their claims.  In the June issue of Scientific American, there is an interesting article “How to Protect Yourself Against Bad Self Help.”  This is a good overview of what can happen when self help goes wrong. It’s also an important reminder of how vulnerable people with chronic and life threatening conditions are to scams and frauds promising cures, less pain, happiness etc. and why it’s  important to recognize a self-help program that could be dangerous.

Red Flags to Look For
• Basic needs are denied: This can happen at large group meetings when participants aren’t allowed breaks for food, water, bathroom, sleep, taking medications etc. While traditions like sweat lodges and fasts have been part of some traditional healing practices for centuries, they can be extremely harmful to someone living with a chronic or life threatening condition. If you want to participate in a group that has some stipulations, e.g.  special diet, exposure to high heat or cold,  having to hike up a mountain, be sure to talk to your medical provide in advance.

• The leader of a group makes you feel uncomfortable, induces stress: It’s important to note that this can happen at support groups of recognized and well studied programs, e.g. Weight Watchers. If that’s the case, switch groups.

• You are being encouraged to change your medical regiment. Discuss this with your medical provider. I saw a lot of this during the height of the AIDS epidemic, particularly when new treatments started to become available, and lots of AIDS organizations started “Buyers Clubs.” People swore by certain combinations of vitamins, supplements and even photography chemicals. 

• They have a product they are selling. This can range from books to vitamins. If it feels like a “medicine show,” be very careful.

• Lots of quotes, celebrity endorsements but no published data by a reputable source.

Ultimately If sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What’s Helpful
Consider some of the following resources:
• Dr. John Norcross  has written a book with a group of therapists “Self Help That Works”  that is regularly updated. For 41 behavioral disorders and life challenges, it identifies multiple self-help resources: books, autobiographies, films, online programs, support groups, and websites. Be sure to purchase the most recent edition. An annotated 12 strategies approach by Norcross is available on-line. 

 The National Register of Health Service Psychologists ran a three part series on Self-Help. In the third part, they reviewed top-rated self help books. Interestingly, among the top 50 were some age old books, such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the child rearing books by Brazelton and Spock, a number of books on sexuality. The number one book was “For Yourself” by Barbach. “The Secret” and many other popular self-help books do not appear on this list. 

Seek Help Safely: As the result of their child participating in a self help program that killed her and two others, Kirby Brown’s parents started Seek Safely, which offers a variety of useful resources.

• Check with your condition specific organizations (e.g. American Cancer Society) for information about self help programs that are beneficial. Many hospitals and states now offer the chronic disease self management program Better Choices, Better Health Workshop. The name may vary from place to place, but they are generally based on the Stanford program

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Take a Break: Make a Stress Ball

Squeezing a ball is a great way to decrease stress and tension and may help to improve feelings of well being and even sleep. It can also help with arthritis and building muscle tone. While you can always buy these balls, consider making your own.

The basic method is pretty straightforward.
• Fill a balloon with rice, flour, cornstarch, baking soda, millet or whatever else you have handy using a funnel. If you don’t have a funnel, make one out of paper.
• Tie off
• Start using.

Now that you have the basics, some variations:
• Use play dough in the balloon
• Fill the balloon. Tie off. Cut the narrow neck off of a second balloon and stretch the 2nd balloon over the tied off end of the filled balloon. That gives the stress ball more thickness and less chance of bursting. If you want, you can cover with a third balloon or even a fourth. It really depends on the quality of your balloon and how hard it’s going to be squeezed.
• If you have a gluten allergy, use millet, cornstarch or something other than flour
• Take your filled balloon and put inside a sock.
• Add a couple drops of essential oils to help reduce stress. This would be appropriate when using rice, millet to fill the stress ball.  Lemon and mandarin essential oils are good for reducing stress. Lavender, rose, chamomile and even vanilla also work.
Other ideas
Try making slime-uses the same kneading process-and then clean all those hard to reach places in your house and car. 

Not interested in today’s activity? Check out the Take a Break Pinterest for lots of Take a Break ideas. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Journal Watch: June 2014

 Huffpost Investigates Exploitative Hospice Care: “Nearly half of all Medicare patients who die now do so as a hospice patient — twice as many as in 2000, government data shows. But mounting evidence indicates that many providers are imperiling the health of patients in a drive to boost revenues and enroll more people, an investigation by The Huffington Post found.” The article includes a map providing information about the 866 hospices that have not been inspected in the last six years. 

• Under Obamacare’s “Closed Formularies” Patients with Chronic Disease Like MD Do Not Get Access to Vital Medicines: Americans who sign up for insurance under Obamacare are finding many of these plans offer very narrow options when it comes to their choice of doctors and drugs. To get a sense of how restrictive the formularies are, and its impact on patients, Forbes looked at drugs used to treat two different chronic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. “We examined the drug coverage offered by lower cost silver health plans offered in the most populated counties in ten different states, and focused on ten disease-modifying drugs that are widely prescribed for these patients. We found that none of the plans provided coverage for all of the drugs, or covered any of them without significant cost sharing that would tap out most peoples’ annual deductibles and out-of-pocket limits on spending.” Forbes 

• Long-Term Care in America: Expectations and Reality: A sample of 1,419 adults over 40 years of age found that many rely on their families for long term care; caregivers experiences are mostly positive; those with experience as a caregiver are more concerned with planning for long term care and less likely to think they can rely on family as they age; and only 3 in 10 say they feel prepared to be a caregiver.

• Cancer Survivors Face Mounting Costs of Continuing Care:According to the researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, male and female cancer survivors incur annual medical costs that are almost two times greater than those of people who haven't had cancer. "Throughout their lifetime, they will still be going through treatments and checkups and long-term side effects and late effects that can come as a result of survival." June 13, MMWR 

• Sleeping Pill Use Tied to Poorer Survival for Heart Failure: A new study suggests that the use of sleeping pills greatly increases the risk of serious heart problems and death in people with heart failure. European Society of Cardiology 

• What to Know About Sunscreen Before Buying It: Consumer Reports tested 20 sunscreens and found that only two provided the SPF protection promised on their packages after water immersion. Consumer Reports. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a Sun Safety Campaign website that provides information about the safety of sunscreens

• Multiple 60 Minute Massage Per Week Offer Relief for Chronic Neck Pain Results of an NCCAM-funded study found that multiple 60-minute massages per week were more effective than fewer or shorter sessions for people with chronic neck pain, suggesting that several hour-long massages per week may be the best “dose” for people with this condition. Researchers from Group Health Research Institute, University of Washington, The University of Vermont College of Medicine, and Oregon Health and Science University published their findings in the Annals of Family Medicine

• Pain pilot explores hand shiatsu treatment as sleep aid: Researchers at the University of Alberta are exploring the traditional Japanese massage practice called shiatsu as a potential treatment to help pain patients find slumber—and stay asleep. A small pilot study followed nine people living with chronic pain as they self-administered shiatsu pressure techniques on their hands at bedtime. Participants, who reported falling asleep faster—sometimes even while administering treatment—and slept longer after two weeks and eight weeks of treatment, compared with a baseline measurement. Journal of Integrative Medicine June 17, 2014


• Novel Home Cleaning Method to Reduce Asthma: Researchers received two patents for a new method to rid carpets, mattresses and other furniture of harmful allergens and pests that cause asthma. The method uses carbon dioxide to "freeze clean" home fabrics. The process deactivates proteins found in pet dander and can remove smoke residue and other allergy-causing substances. Science Daily, 27 May 2014. 

• E-Cigarette Use for Quitting Smoking is Associated with Improved Success Rates: People attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum, finds a large UCL (University College London) survey of smokers in England. Addiction

• Healthy Aging into Your 80s and Beyond: 5 Keys to a Long, Healthful Life: From Consumer Reports.

• Maintaining Mobility in Older Adults Can be as Easy as a Walk in the Park: With just a daily 20-minute walk, older adults can help stave off major disability and enhance the quality of their later years, according to results of the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) Study, conducted by researchers at Yale School of Medicine in collaboration with seven other institutions around the country. The study is published in the May 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Stress hormone linked to short-term memory loss as we age: A new study at the University of Iowa reports a potential link between stress hormones and short-term memory loss in older adults. The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, reveals that having high levels of cortisol -- a natural hormone in our body whose levels surge when we are stressed -- can lead to memory lapses as we age.

• Can TaiChi Slow the Aging Process: Tai Chi, a traditional Chinese martial art and sport, has been found to be beneficial in raising the numbers of an important type of cell when three groups of young people were tested to discover the benefits of Tai Chi, brisk walking or no exercise. The group performing Tai Chi saw a rise in their cluster of differentiation 34 expressing (CD34+) cells, a stem cell important to a number of the body's functions and structures. Cell Transplantation 

• 6,000 Steps a Day Keeps Knee Arthritis at Bay: Walking the equivalent of an hour a day may help improve knee arthritis and prevent disability, new research suggests. Every step taken throughout the day counts toward the total. The key is to wear a pedometer. Arthritis Care and Research June 12 

• Regular Exercise Beneficial in Suppressing Inflammation in Rheumatic Disease:  Research shows that exercise transiently suppresses local and systemic inflammation, reinforcing the beneficial effects of exercise and the need for this to be regular in order to achieve clinical efficacy in rheumatic disease. European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2014)

• The Earlier the Cigarette, the More Likely to Develop Lung Cancer: A research team, led by Dr. Fangyi Gu of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, interviewed more than 3,200 current and former smokers in the United States and Italy. People who started smoking within an hour of waking up had a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who lit up more than an hour after waking up. Journal of the National Cancer Institute June 19 

• Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements Lower Chronic Disease Risk: A review of randomized controlled trials and observation studies reveals multivitamin/mineral supplementation moderately yet significantly reduces total and epithelial cancer in male physicians (Physicians’ Health Study II). Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 

• Vitamin D: A key to a longer life? Higher levels of vitamin D may protect people from an earlier death, particularly from cancer and heart disease, suggests a new analysis of existing research. And, the opposite may also be true -- low levels of vitamin D may be linked to a higher risk of premature death. But the researchers acknowledge that the review's findings aren't definitive. Still, the research published online June 17 in BMJ does hint at the possibility that vitamin D may benefit people across genders, ages and Western countries, including the United States. The findings are "compellingly consistent." 

• Eating These 41 “Powerhouse” Fruits and Vegetables Can Prevent Chronic Disease: The study appears in the CDC’s Preventing Chronic Disease. For the list check out the list from Consumerist.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Take a Break: Enjoy The Thirteen Clocks/Dr. Who

Written by the humorist James Thurber, “The Thirteen Clocks” is one of my favorite books. Published in 1950, Thurber, was loosing his eyesight and so it’s all about the words, some of which he made up. Only 124 pages long, with illustrations, it’s the story of a one-eyed evil Duke (he lost his eye to a bird) who wanders through his cold castle that is also home to his beautiful and warm niece, the lovely princess Saralinda. Filled with unusual characters, such as the Golux and todal, it’s a book to enjoy over and over again.

It’s currently this month’s Wall Street Journal’s book-club discussion choice  so you can join fantasy writer Neil Gaiman as he discusses the book. You can also listen to Gaiman read the first part of the book.  Not sure the English accent works, since Thurber was from Ohio and spent many years living in New York City and Connecticut.  

While it can be read in text via a PDF file, it is best enjoyed with all of its illustrations. The first chapter of the book, with illustrations, is narrated by Watch Know Learn. Your local library should have a copy.

Want a different type of fantasy today? Watch season one, episode one of “Dr. Who."  If you’re like me, and a new comer to Dr. Who, you can catch up on the first 47 years of Dr. Who in just six minutes.

Not interested in today’s activity? Check out the Take a Break Pinterest for lots of Take a Break ideas.