Ho Ho Ho: health hazards for Santa

santa_claus obesityAfter weeks of harried holiday shopping, when the stores finally close on the evening of December 24, it will be a welcome reprieve from the madness. Families and friends gather together and enjoy a relaxing day or two of rest.

But for one man, the real work is just beginning. That’s right – Santa Claus is coming to town!

And while he spends most of the year enjoying a flexible work schedule, monitoring naughty-and-nice behaviors around the world and occasionally checking in on his elves and reindeer, things are about to get frantic for Old Nick.

And to be honest, this year we’re a little concerned about his health.  That belly fat!  The all-nighter he’s about to pull!  All those cookies!

He may know when you are sleeping, but the only way for Santa to get the job done is to stay up all night on December – and that can lead to some serious health concerns.
Studies have suggested that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  Even if he manages to get Rudolf and his friends safely parked on the rooftops, sleep deprivation could cause his judgment to become fuzzier, leading to the wrong presents traveling down the wrong chimneys.
What’s worse is that sleep loss has a cumulative effect. So while people in the Southern hemisphere might do OK, those of us in Northern climes, and especially those on the West Coast aren’t so lucky. Chronic sleep deprivation could mean he could fly over some houses altogether.

santa + sackBut even if we manage to keep him awake with coffee and Red Bull rather than the usual glass of milk, we’ve got to change Santa’s sack. By carrying something that weighs more than 10% of his body weight, one shoulder is going to end up taking on most of the burden, which could lead to back strains, sprains and spasms.
If you’re thinking of getting Santa a gift this season maybe you could consider a backpack, or better still, a rolling suitcase.

That’s not to say Santa doesn’t need the exercise of his Christmas Eve jaunt. Like 70% of adult men in the US, he is severely overweight. The health risks linked to obesity include Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

With his giant waist comes the risk of belly fat associated problems such as insulin resistance, high triglycerides, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Santa beardThen there’s that beard to worry about. After a month or so of letting thousands upon thousands of kids sit on your lap at the mall, we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s harboring some germs in his whiskers.  So if Santa touches his beard followed by his eyes, ears or mouth, he’s pretty much bound to catch something, especially in the midst of this cold and flu season.

We suggest leaving some hand sanitizer next to the milk and cookies this year to give him a fighting chance.

And finally we’re worried about that thin Red Suit. While we’ll give Santa props for covering his head with a hat, traveling outside all night in December in a red velvet suit and a touch of faux fur seems ill advised. In addition to the hat, he should probably throw on a scarf or knit mask, mittens, thermals and a water-resistant coat to ward off hypothermia.

So whether you’ve been naughty or nice, there’s still time to give some thought to Santa’s Health, as well as your own this Christmas season.

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Geriatric Medicine?

old doctorsPicture this…a distinguished vascular specialist in his 80’s performs surgery, then goes on vacation, forgetting he has patients in the hospital; one subsequently dies because no doctor was overseeing his care.

Or imagine this? An internist who suffered a stroke gets lost going from one exam room to another in his own office.  Crazy? Unbelievable?? Well how about the beloved general surgeon with Alzheimer’s disease who continues to assist in operations because hospital officials don’t have the heart to tell him to retire.

No, these aren’t plots from a new medical drama, they are all real-life examples, exemplifing an emotionally charged issue that is attracting the attention of patient safety experts and hospital administrators.

mƒqƒoƒNƒVƒƒL“‡^’·èn'‚O‚X“~@”픚ŽÒ‚ðfŽ@‚·‚é”ì“c‚³‚ñAbout 42% of the nation’s 1 million physicians are older than 55.  21% are older than 65. And their ranks are expected to increase as many work past the traditional retirement age of 65, for reasons both personal and financial.

Unlike commercial airline pilots, who by law must undergo regular health screenings starting at age 40 and must retire at 65, doctors are subject to no such rules. And while most states require continuing education credits to retain a medical license, “you can sleep through a session, and if you sign your name, you’ll get credit,” observes Ann Weinacker, chief of the medical staff at Stanford Hospital.

The public thinks that physicians’ health and competence is being vigorously monitored and assessed. It isn’t,” said geriatrician William Norcross, 64, founding director of a program at the University of California at San Diego that performs intensive competency evaluations of doctors referred by state medical boards or hospitals. The program, known as PACE, (Physician Assessment and Clinical Education) is one of about 10 around the country.

Norcross, who evaluates 100 to 150 physicians annually, estimates that about 8,000 doctors with full-blown dementia are practicing medicine. And as if that in itself isn’t worrying enough, studies have found, that approximately one-third of doctors don’t even have a personal physician, who might be on the lookout for deteriorating hearing, vision and motor coordination, or the cognitive impairment that precedes dementia.

old-doctor-3Although doctors are not immune to the effects of aging, those with cognitive and neurological problems almost never have insight into their problems many deny that anything is wrong.

While few experts would argue that age alone should control who can continue to practice, some studies suggest that doctors’ skills tend to deteriorate over time. A 2006 report found that patient mortality in complex operations was higher among surgeons older than 60 than among their younger colleagues.

Colleagues have a code of silence,” says New Hampshire health-care consultant Jonathan Burroughs who spent 30 years as an emergency department physician. During his career, Burroughs said he followed several elderly doctors around, quietly correcting their orders to prevent mistakes. According to him, such experiences are nearly universal in medicine. But that kindness can backfire, subjecting patients to potentially disastrous consequences such as serious injury or death, and the faltering physician to a malpractice suit or the loss of a medical license.

Although an older doctor can be a font of wisdom and experience, their skills have not necessarily kept pace; meaning that although they claim they’re practicing state-of-the-art care it’s maybe 20 or 30 years out of date.

Dr-Ephraim-Engleman-100-year-old-doctor-longevityEven so, rheumatologist Ephraim Engleman, who will turn 102 in March, said he plans never to quit. One of the nation’s oldest practicing physicians, Engleman drives from his San Mateo home to the medical campus of the University of California at San Francisco three days a week. There he sees about eight longtime patients per week.  “I’m very much opposed to retirement,” said Engleman, “As long as I’m able intellectually and physically, I’m going to continue.” His only impediment, he said, is severe spinal stenosis, which has left him stooped and dependent on a cane. “I walk like an old man,” he said.

Informed that Stanford, his undergraduate alma mater, has recently begun requiring doctors older than 75 to be tested, he quipped, “I’m glad they don’t do it here.”

So next time you catch yourself thinking cops are looking younger, maybe you should start taking a closer look at your healthcare provider.

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The Growing Cost of Aging

With the election looming, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about healthcare. Rising costs, limited access, reforming Medicare…the list goes on and on.  Whatever happens on November 6, it seems the American public has already spoken. According to new research just unveiled at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting, the cost of lifestyle drugs now exceeds the cost for medications used to treat chronic disease.

The research suggests that medicines used to treat conditions considered a normal part of aging, including those related to hormone replacement therapy, sexual dysfunction, menopause, aging skin, hair loss and mental alertness, are becoming so popular that they now rank third.  Only diabetes and high cholesterol have a greater cost impact among commercially insured patients.

Researchers at Express Scripts in St. Louis looked at trends in prescriptions filled for aging medications.  In 2011 alone, the cost per person for aging medications ($73.30) was 16% greater than the amount spent on both high blood pressure and heart disease medications ($62.80).  The cost for diabetes medications was $81.12 and high cholesterol medications was $78.38.

The research found that among these insured individuals use of drugs to treat the physical impact associated with normal aging was up 18.5% and costs increased nearly 46% from 2006 to 2011. Increased use of these drugs was even more pronounced for the Medicare population (age 65+), up 32% from 2007 to 2011. The largest utilization jump among Medicare beneficiaries was from 2010 to 2011, up more than 13% and outpacing increases in the use of drugs for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure combined.

At a time when people are forgoing care due to rising health costs, this study reveals a growing trend on where the public is placing its healthcare dollars,” said Reethi Iyengar, PhD, researcher at Express Scripts.  “Continued monitoring and potential management may be warranted for this category of medications.”

While there is no doubt that pharmaceutical advances and greater awareness have improved the quality of life for many aging Americans what was not known, until now, is the significant cost associated with treating these conditions. Couple that with the proliferation of people living longer and it’s clear that managing the trend and spend from treating conditions associated with aging will become increasingly important.

The United States is in the midst of a profound demographic change, with the number of elderly people projected to reach nearly 20% of the entire population by 2030, up from less than 13% in 2009. This increase will continue to drive both use and costs of medications to treat the natural conditions of aging.

But the problem may be even bigger. The greatest growth in cost per insured was seen among the 45 to 54 age group – up almost 21% over the last five-years. And because the study only analyzed prescription medications it may have underestimated the total costs of aging treatments, which include a variety of over-the-counter medications, cosmetic treatments and surgery.

Seems getting old hurts not only our bodies, but our wallets and the economy too.

Getting Cheery Over Cherries!

Regular readers of SRxA’s Word on Health will be familiar with the many claimed health benefits of fruit. Bananas for HIV prevention, citrus to safeguard us against stroke, berries to prevent Parkinson’s Disease and even exotic cupuaçu for improved reproductive health.

According to many, including TV’s Dr. Oz, the latest superfruit on the block is tart cherries. Extensive research has linked the delicious bright red fruit to a number of benefits, including better sleep, reduced pain from gout and arthritis, reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain as well as reduced cholesterol, and decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Oz, has gone so far as to say that tart cherries are the ultimate antioxidant.

New research from Oregon Health & Science University presented last week at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference confirmed that tart cherries can help to reduce chronic inflammation and can help people with osteoarthritis manage their disease.

In a study of twenty women ages 40 – 70 with inflammatory osteoarthritis, the researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers – especially for those women who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study.

With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it’s promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications,” said principal study investigator Kerry Kuehl, M.D. “I’m intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults.”

Often characterized as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Athletes are often at a greater risk for developing the condition, given their excessive joint use that can cause a breakdown in cartilage and lead to pain and injury.

Anthocyanins – the antioxidant compounds in tart cherries – appear to reduce inflammation to levels comparable to some well-known pain medications.

Previous research on tart cherries and osteoarthritis found that a daily dose of tart cherries helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20%.

Leslie Bonci, Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine, has incorporated tart cherries into the training menu of her professional athletes. She claims they are a natural and easy way to manage pain and also taste great.

Never heard of tart cherries, or concerned that they have such a short season?  The great news is that they are available year-round in dried, frozen, powder and juice forms too.

Nutty about Brain Health?

Last year, we posted news of an epigenetic diet rich in broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fava beans and kale that claimed to reduce cancer and degenerative brain changes.  Despite its alleged health benefits, the diet has found few followers among your average American carnivore.

And although it’s unlikely that we will ever see nutritionists advocating a hamburger, beer and potato chip diet, maybe more people will be tempted to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems by following the dietary advice of a new study published in the May 2, 2012, online issue of Neurology®.

This research showed shows that eating foods such as fish, chicken, salad dressing and nuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, is associated with lower blood levels of beta-amyloid, a protein related to Alzheimer’s.

The study followed 1,219 people 65 and older, who were free of dementia. Participants, provided information about their diet for an average of 1.2 years before their blood was tested for beta-amyloid.

The researchers looked specifically at 10 nutrients, including saturated fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, mono-unsaturated fatty acid, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D.

They found that the more omega-3 fatty acids a person ate, the lower their blood beta-amyloid levels. Consuming one gram of omega-3 per day – the equivalent of approximately half a fillet of salmon per week, lowered blood beta-amyloid levels by 20-30%.

“It was a continuous association.  More and more intake of omega-3s was associated with lower and lower levels of beta-amyloid in the blood.  There was no threshold effect,” author Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, from  Columbia University Medical Center

The association between omega-3 consumption and beta-amyloid was unaffected by whether or not a person took supplements – meaning if two people consumed the same amount of omega-3s, one through food and the other through supplements, the person who consumed more omega-3 rich foods typically had lower blood levels of beta-amyloid.

Other nutrients were not associated with changes in plasma beta-amyloid levels. And results stayed the same after adjusting for age, education, gender, ethnicity, amount of calories consumed and presence of the APOE gene, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The beneficial impact of omega-3 on brain health would fall in line with past studies of the nutrient.  “Previous studies have suggested that omega-3s and other aspects of diet may be related to brain function,” Scarmeas said. “Here we demonstrate one possible mechanism could be through amyloid, the main biological mechanism that relates to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Scarmeas speculated that omega-3s may be able to reduce oxidative stress on the brain and the resulting vascular damage, or even have some kind of impact on beta-amyloid in the brain.

And although there is not enough data yet to suggest omega 3’s and beta-amyloid are directly related, I, for one, will be ordering the pecan crusted chicken salad for lunch today, dressing on the plate!

Drugs That Can Land You in the Emergency Room

It’s midnight at the fire station and a call goes out for a patient who has overdosed. In addition to an ambulance and medic unit, police are dispatched.  As we stage for the police, to ensure that the scene is safe, we speculate as to what we’re going to encounter. Will the patient be conscious? What sort of emotional distress has driven them to this? Is it a serious attempt or a cry for help?  Will there be weapons?

As we mentally run through all types of scenarios, it’s doubtful that many of us have considered that our patient will be an 82 year old great grandmother armed with nothing more than her reading glasses and the remote control.

But increasingly that’s what we might find.  As Americans live longer, we have an increasingly frail population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions, taking more medications than ever before. Among adults 65 years of age or older, 40% take 5 – 9 medications and 18% take 10 or more.

This type of polypharmacy is associated with an increased risk of adverse events. Older adults are nearly seven times as likely as younger persons to have adverse drug events that require hospitalization.

According to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine blood thinners and diabetes drugs cause most of the unintentional overdoses that lead to emergency hospitalization in older patients.

Researchers reviewed the records of 100,000 hospitalization events due to major drug side effects in people aged 65 and above from a representative sample of 58 hospitals.  Almost half, (48%) of adverse drug event (ADE)-related hospitalizations occurred in patients older than 80.

The drugs they looked at included prescription and over-the-counter medications, vaccines, and dietary supplements.

Adverse events were categorized as allergic reactions, undesirable pharmacologic or idiosyncratic effects at recommended doses, or unintentional overdoses.  Other effects included problems due to medication-delivery methods (e.g., choking) and vaccine reactions. Visits for intentional self-harm, drug abuse, therapeutic failures, and drug withdrawal were excluded.

Shockingly, just four medications accounted for more than two-thirds of emergency hospitalizations:

Given that emergency hospitalizations caused by ADEs result in significant morbidity and enormous costs it’s not surprising that decreasing harm to patients and reducing costs by preventing re hospitalizations is a goal of the $1 billion federal initiative Partnership for Patients.

Achieving a 20% reduction by the end of 2013 may sound ambitious, but in fact there are a number of simple steps that we can take.

  1. Make sure that everyone taking medications has an up-to-date list, including all prescribed drugs as well as vitamins, herbs, and OTC medicines. Copies of the list should be kept in their wallet and should be shared with all doctors they see so that the potential for drug interactions can be assessed and avoided.
  2. Alert your loved ones that blood thinners and diabetic medicines account for 50% of hospitalizations due to ADEs. Blood thinners and diabetes medications should be regularly monitored by the primary care physician.
  3. Encouraging medication compliance can lengthen a person’s lifespan. Too many times patients stop their medications due to a comment made by a well-meaning friend who has  read something on the Internet. Often the doctor is not informed and the patient may not understand the positive effects of the medication or the dangers of stopping them suddenly.
These small measures may not only save the life of your elderly loved-ones, but they may also  reduce your Word on Health bloggers’ middle of the night 911 dispatches.

There’s a Shot for That

On May 14, 1796 Edward Jenner injected fluid from the cowpox blisters on the hands of dairymaid Sarah Nelmes, into James Phipps, an 8-year-old boy.  Jenner hoped the fluid from the cowpox lesion would somehow inoculate the boy against the smallpox scourge which at the time was killing over 400,000 Europeans a year. His hunch proved correct.

Today vaccines save 3 million lives per year worldwide. By training the human immune system to recognize and ward off dangerous pathogens, vaccines can protect against disease for decades, or even for a lifetime. Preventive vaccines work by introducing harmless microbial chemical markers, known as antigens, which resemble the markers on living microbes. The antigens train the immune system to recognize and destroy those microbes should they ever appear in the body. By injecting cowpox antigens into Phipps bloodstream, Jenner primed his immune system to attack the similar smallpox virus.

Now, medical scientists are taking Jenner’s ideas in a whole new direction. By exploiting a growing understanding of the immune system they are developing therapeutic vaccines targeting established diseases rather than trying to prevent them.

Last spring, the FDA approved Provenge, a personalized immunotherapy that activates a patient’s own immune cells to target and attack advanced prostate cancer. To make the Provenge prostate cancer vaccine, biochemists at Seattle’s Dendreon Corporation extract a sample of a patient’s own immune cells and bathe them in a chemical soup of prostate cancer antigens that are chemically linked to a cytokine that screams, “Attack this!”.  The activated immune cells are then injected back into the patient’s body to spread the call to arms.

While Provenge was the first of the new generation of therapeutic vaccines, it’s certainly not the last. BCC Research has identified 113 therapeutic vaccines in development, many of which are already in human trials. They even go so far as to estimate that the market for therapeutic vaccines will have an annual growth rate of 115% and reach an estimated $2.9 billion in 2014.

Other cancer vaccines are among the front runners. With a near-endless supply of patients willing to undergo novel treatments, cancer researchers have been among the most aggressive in experimenting with therapeutic vaccination. The Cancer Vaccine Collaborative is working on treatments that target multiple cancer antigens, which should trigger a more aggressive immune response and increase the odds of defeating tumors. All of which is good news for the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year.

While cancers cause a proliferation of diseased cells, some autoimmune diseases, cause the cells of the immune system to turn against healthy tissues. In diabetes, for example, the immune system attacks insulin-making pancreatic beta cells.

In multiple sclerosis, it’s the myelin sheaths that are designed to protect the nerves that come under attack.

Autoimmune vaccines hold the promise of shutting down these attacks. One promising approach boosts T-regulatory cells, a subgroup of the white blood cells. At the University of Calgary’s Diabetes Research Centre in Alberta, immunologist Pere Santamaria has attached a cocktail of antigens from pancreatic beta cells to synthetic iron oxide nanoparticles. This stimulates the development of T-regulatory cells into killer T cells that destroy the immune cells which cause the serial killer like autoimmune attack.

Santamaria’s team recently tested his vaccine in diabetes-prone mice. It restored normal blood sugar and insulin levels in animals that already had diabetes and prevented or slowed its onset in young mice that had not yet developed the disease. The team is now readying the vaccine for human trials and is designing related vaccines to treat other autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

If effective, such therapeutic vaccines could help the three million Americans with type 1 diabetes and the 400,000 people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Vaccines against dust mites and asthma are also in the works.

Some of the new therapeutic vaccines are actually designed to attack the body, albeit in a selective way. A new experimental heart-disease vaccine takes aim at unwanted biochemicals within the body, specifically low-density lipoprotein (LDL), better known as bad cholesterol. When large quantities of LDL cholesterol circulate through the bloodstream, it can be deposited on artery walls, leading to a buildup of plaque and triggering inflammation. Anti-cholesterol vaccines encourage the immune system to attack LDL and remove plaques. Scientists have also discovered that the vaccine lowers blood pressure and protects against the rupture of aneurysms, at least in mice.

Clinical trials in humans are expected to start later this year and if successful could help to prevent the 800,000+ deaths per year from cardiovascular disease.

Even more people could be helped by an anti-obesity vaccine. Nearly 75 million adults are classified as obese in the United States. Researchers are working on a vaccine that targets ghrelin – a gastrointestinal hormone that appears to stimulate appetite.

Others, are looking at vaccines to prevent addiction to cocaine, methamphetamines, opiates and nicotine.

It is too soon to know how and when these vaccines will come to market or how effective they will be, but it’s clear that therapeutic vaccines are coming and will be used against a host of the most prevailing public health issues of the 21st century.

Heart Health Hits Home

As I child, I didn’t understand the concept of death, as an adolescent I thought  I was invincible, as a young adult, death was something that happened to grandparents, parents and their friends. But now I’ve come to the point in my life, maybe it’s the final step in growing up, when I suddenly realize it could happen to me.

Why the sudden comprehension of mortality?

Last week, two of my closest friends almost died.  One was sitting in my kitchen, drinking wine and catching up on the latest neighborhood gossip, when he remarked he didn’t feel well. A few questions and a blood pressure reading later, we were testing the limits of my car’s performance on route to the local Emergency Department. A few hours and a few tests later, he was in a Medevac helicopter and on his way to emergency cardiac surgery. Thankfully, he’s home now, doing well and embellishing the story of his MASSIVE heart attack, brush with death, and quadruple bypass surgery with each passing day. (Actually it was just a stent, placed under local anesthetic – but let that be our secret, I wouldn’t want to ruin his 15 minutes of fame!)

The other , a fabulous, funny, vibrant woman, suffered a thrombotic stroke and also ended up being hospitalized and having surgery.

Prior to these events, both friends had been generally healthy. They both exercised, they both watched their weight and neither saw these life-changing events coming. Their brush with mortality was the wake-up call they needed, and further lifestyle changes are being implemented as we speak.

It was also the wake-up call I needed. Yesterday I rejoined the gym and resolved to exercise more, eat and drink less and visit my doctor more often.  Nearly losing my friends was the inspiration I needed.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.

“Heart disease takes the lives of far too many people in this country, depriving their families and communities of someone they love and care for—a father, a mother, a wife, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse. With more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes a year, and 800,000 deaths, just about all of us have been touched by someone who has had heart disease, heart attack, or a stroke.”  says Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

Recently, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association  joined forces with Million Hearts™ to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. As part of this they have developed a heart attack risk calculator and a life check calculator to help you understand your cardiovascular health and move you closer to your life goals.

For those, still looking for a motive, I highly recommend viewing a “Living Proof” video, created by physicians, nurses and patients at MetroSouth Medical Center.

In it, heart disease survivors and those who have lost loved ones to heart conditions used cardboard signs to deliver an urgent call to action. Their main messages?  Get screened for heart disease and early intervention and prevention pays off.

February is National Heart Month and I for one am taking notice.  Are you?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Jingle bells and carol concerts are sounds that help make the holiday season special. But, they may also give people an opportunity to recognize if they are having trouble hearing.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), 36 million American adults report some type of hearing loss. Of these, an estimated 26 million have high-frequency hearing loss caused by too much exposure to loud sound.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is usually painless, progressive, permanent, and completely preventable. NIHL happens when a person is exposed for too long to sound pressure levels of 85 decibels or more. And we’re not just talking about exposure to endless rock concerts or pneumatics drills.  85 decibels is roughly the sound of heavy city traffic.  Prolonged exposure can result in damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear. The process is so gradual that people often do not realize they have a hearing loss until it affects the ability to carry on conversations in daily life.

With NIHL, softer high frequency sounds are difficult to hear, which means a person can hear what is said but they cannot understand what is said.

So how can people recognize if they have noise induced hearing loss?

When a person frequently has trouble understanding conversations at holiday parties, family gatherings, and in noisy restaurants it might be a good time for a hearing test and ear examination,” says John House, MD, president of House Research Institute.

The holidays give family and friends the opportunity to notice a change in a loved one’s hearing as well. People with hearing loss may have trouble participating in conversations because they miss key words.

“We hear from our patients that they first noticed a change in their hearing several years before they finally come in to the Clinic to have their hearing checked,” said Dr. House. “Often it is a spouse or family member who urges a patient to get their hearing tested.”

There are some forms of hearing loss, which are not noise-induced, that can be treated with surgery. The sooner a hearing loss is identified, the sooner the patient can learn about the treatment options that may help.

So if you know someone who is having trouble hearing, maybe you can consider giving the gift of hearing this holiday season by encouraging them to schedule a hearing test.

A Healthy Holiday Dinner Table?

Before you click away, this is NOT one of those stories admonishing you to eat broccoli and brussel sprouts rather than turkey and all the trimmings.  This blog could improve your health without having to forego a single calorie!

Will Grandma be coming up from Florida during Thanksgiving or will Great Uncle Tony be joining you for Christmas?  Do you need something other than the Presidential candidates, Penn State sex scandal, or football scores to talk about over dinner?

Well, according to University of Alabama genetics experts you should use this opportunity to learn more about your family health history from the very people who know.

The holidays are a great time to collect your family history,” says Lynn Holt, M.S., Director of the School of Health Professions Genetic Counseling program. “Most people don’t know much about the family history beyond their first-degree relatives, their own parents and siblings.”

She advises people to talk to their grandparents or great-grandparents about any health problems that they may have had.  Also find out about their immediate family such as  parents, siblings and children. And don’t just talk, jot down names and their year of birth and death. Ask if any siblings died during childhood and if so, why? While many people don’t like to talk about a sibling who died young, knowing if it happened – and why, can produce very valuable information.

We sometimes hear people say they’ve been told their mother’s brother dropped dead at age 20, for example,” says Holt. “Was it because of a genetic heart condition that you might have inherited, or is it simply that brother was guilty of some accident that nobody wants to talk about?

Likewise, if there is cancer in the family, ask about the kind of cancer and at the age at which family members first were diagnosed. Age of diagnosis is more medically valuable than age of death in determining inheritable conditions. Ask similar questions about heart disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and other common conditions. And don’t forget to look into any environmental exposures that may explain family health problems such as occupational exposures, smoking or pollution.

Not only will you learn a great deal, the knowledge you gain can help you protect your own health.  As an added bonus, older family members may welcome the chance to share their story and memories of loved ones who have passed away…and it’s a chance to grow closer as a family.

So rather than bickering over the green beans or sulking into the sweet potatoes, how about serving up a dose of health history these holidays?

After you’ve collect all this information, share it with your physician to help determine if there are any health conditions, based on your family history, that need further evaluation or monitoring.

Happy Holidays!