Black History Month and the Medical Advances We Have Today Thanks to People of Color

Have you ever touted the wonders of laser eye surgery to remove cataracts, blood transfusions, or pacemakers? We might not be promoting these and other advancements today if it were not for the ingenuity of African American scientists, practitioners, and other innovative people of color.

Black History Month highlights the significant contributions that African Americans have made to crucial medical advancements. Many of these people still need to receive the historical accolades they deserve. Nevertheless, if not for them, we wouldn’t have the life-saving medical innovations we take for granted today.

Black History Month graphic

The Importance of Black History Month

This observance originates in the founding of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, which author and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson spearheaded. In 1986, Congress passed legislation that designated February National Black (Afro-American) History Month. Black History Month raises awareness of African Americans’ significant contributions, despite the prejudice, discrimination, and bias they have and continue to face.

Many pioneering African Americans have applied their skills and knowledge to solve medical problems, contributing to advancements in public health and healthcare delivery, despite the adversity and health inequities they encountered.

African American Trailblazers in Medicine

Open-heart surgery, blood transfusions, and pacemakers are some modern innovations for which we can thank African American trailblazers in medicine and healthcare. The following individuals are some of the pioneers who overcame cultural barriers to facilitate medical developments that have saved millions of lives.

James McCune Smith, M.D. In 1837, American-born Dr. Smith earned his medical degree from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he did not face as much bigotry and discrimination as he would have in his home country. He later moved to New York, where he became the first Black man to practice medicine in the United States.

Patricia Bath, M.D. Dr. Bath is a research scientist and educator with a medical degree from Howard University. She developed a method of laser eye surgery to remove cataracts. Patients worldwide have benefited from this widely used procedure.

Leonidas Harris Berry, M.D. In the 1950s, gastroenterologist Dr. Berry worked to encourage the inclusion of more black physicians in hospitals. His leadership in Chicago also led to more healthcare facilities being opened in underserved sections of the city.

Otis Boykin. Boykin, an electronics pioneer, is perhaps best known for improving the pacemaker, a small device that detects when the heart is beating too slowly or irregularly. Also, he patented almost 30 other electronic devices.

Charles Richard Drew, M.D. Dr. Drew is often hailed as the “father of blood banking.” He provided leadership in developing methods for preserving blood for donations and transfusions. Dr. Drew also led the first blood bank of the American Red Cross, also creating mobile stations that have since evolved into bloodmobiles.

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, M.D. Dr. Gaston is mainly responsible for advancing our knowledge and understanding of sickle cell disease, which leads to pain and complications for millions of people. Her research led to the development of sickle cell screening methods for newborns that are now widespread.

William Augustus Hinton, M.D. A graduate of Harvard Medical School in 1912, Dr. Hinton was the first African American to publish a textbook, which was titled, Syphilis and Its Treatment. He developed the “Hinton test,” a water-based chemical process for detecting syphilis in patients.

Mae C. Jemison, MD
Mae C. Jemison, M.D., the first African American astronaut in NASA history.

Mae C. Jemison, M.D. Dr. Jemison became the first African American astronaut in NASA history in 1992. She collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research many types of vaccines and conducted many experiments aboard the Shuttle Endeavor.

Daniel Hale Williams, M.D. Many people depend on open-heart surgery to save their lives. Dr. Williams was the first African American cardiologist to perform this surgery successfully. In addition to serving as the first Black member of the American College of Surgeons, he opened the first Black-owned and non-segregated hospital in the United States in 1891.

Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D. A researcher in immunology and infectious diseases, Dr. Corbett has worked on novel coronavirus vaccines since 2014. Her work has been influential in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine, which helped slow the spread of the virus.

Many of the medical advancements we take for granted today are largely due to the contributions of many African American researchers and physicians. Despite the cultural obstacles they have faced, their contributions to medicine and healthcare have improved our life expectancy and quality of life.

Understanding Palliative Care Compared to Hospice Care

Some older adults and people with serious illnesses, unfortunately, experience the end of life in certain healthcare settings that do not align with their desired wishes. If you have a serious illness or are a caregiver of someone planning end-of-life care, knowing the difference between palliative care and hospice care can help you make an informed decision when the time comes to transition to one of these healthcare settings.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a form of care that focuses on improving your quality of life and that of your family when you are living with a serious illness. It focuses on your whole-person health rather than only on your condition. If you are receiving palliative care, your treatment plan may focus on reducing symptoms of your illness and on improving secondary conditions such as depression, sleep deprivation, and side effects of medications.

Palliative care may be given in various healthcare settings, such as at the hospital, a residential care facility, or your home. Anyone can receive this type of care regardless of age or the severity of their condition.

If you receive palliative care, you may work with and be treated by various healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, physical therapists, counselors, and nutritionists. If you need spiritual care, your palliative care team may even include a chaplain. The healthcare professionals that make up your palliative care team will depend mainly on your recovery needs and level of care.

Studies show that palliative care offers many benefits, including:

caregiver's hand on patient's shoulder

What Is Hospice Care?

Hospice care focuses on improving your comfort and quality of life when you are nearing the end of your life. This type of care is usually given in circumstances in which an illness continues to progress despite treatment or when the patient chooses not to receive certain treatments. Hospice care is similar to palliative care in that it provides comfort care and support for the family. However, treatments are not given to improve the illness.

Like palliative care, hospice care can be given in many different healthcare settings, though it is most frequently given at your home, where you can be most comfortable and spend quality time with your loved ones. In addition, it is typically given when your healthcare provider believes you have no more than six months to live. Some benefits of hospice care include 24/7 access to nurses and healthcare workers who can address and relieve symptoms and side effects and access to medical equipment and medications that can reduce your discomfort.

Many of the same types of healthcare professionals that make up a palliative care team will also be part of your hospice care team. This includes doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and volunteers who dedicate their time to giving you the support you need and making you feel as comfortable as possible during your final months.

To be eligible for hospice care, you will discontinue aggressive treatment efforts to combat your terminal illness (such as experimental surgeries, aggressive chemotherapy, or other treatments that require prolonged hospitalization and recovery).   However, you may continue to receive treatments for other conditions, such as antidepressants to treat depression or insulin medicines to control Diabetes.   

What Is Comfort Care and End-of-Life Care?

Comfort care and end-of-life care are both terms that describe the type of care you receive when you are near the end of your life and are no longer receiving treatment for your illness. It is highly similar to palliative care in providing you with whole-person care that focuses on your physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health. Comfort care and end-of-life care may include palliative care or hospice care, or a combination of both.

What Are the Main Differences Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

Sometimes, palliative care is given as part of hospice care, and both types share many similarities. For instance, the goal of both palliative and hospice care is to improve your quality of life and help you find relief from painful and severe symptoms and side effects of treatment. Both types of care also focus on whole-person health. However, there remain many differences between palliative care and hospice care.

Some of these differences are:

close up of holding hands with elderly

Who Should Consider Palliative Care?

You may want to consider palliative care if you or your loved one has a serious illness or chronic condition that requires long, intensive care or that causes severe physical symptoms and/or emotional distress. For example, cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and kidney failure are some of the many conditions that can benefit from palliative care.

Additionally, palliative care may benefit you if you:

When Would Someone Transition From Palliative Care To Hospice Care?

A person may transition from palliative care to hospice care if their doctor thinks they have no longer than six months to live. Sometimes, it can be difficult for doctors to predict exactly how long it will take for a particular disease to run its course or how long a person has left to live if their health is in decline. In these circumstances, it’s important to consider how transitioning to hospice care could improve your quality of life during your final months.

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), doctors should strongly consider referring chronically ill patients to hospice care if they spend more than half their time in bed, are unable to function efficiently, and are experiencing both physical and psychological distress. The NLM adds that hospice referrals are usually necessary when the patient’s condition has progressively declined to the point that their highest priority is to take control of their healthcare and achieve the greatest possible comfort in their homes as they near the end of life.

Talk to your doctor if you think you may need hospice care but aren’t sure when you should transition out of palliative care. Your doctor can talk to you at length about your options and the benefits of transitioning to hospice care based on your condition and unique circumstances.

Taking advantage of hospice care as soon as it’s needed could result in access to quality care and lots of extra quality time to spend with your loved ones. Additionally, studies show that patients who plan their care in advance are more likely to be satisfied with their care, given how they can make decisions that align with their end-of-life wishes.

How to Get Palliative Care or Hospice Care

Consult with your healthcare provider if you or your loved one is interested in learning more about palliative care or hospice care. Your doctor can refer you to a palliative or hospice care specialist who can answer all your questions and help you determine which of these services may be more ideal.

Palliative care and hospice care are covered by many major health insurance providers, including Medicare. The exact benefits covered will vary based on your health plan. Benefits covered may include medical equipment and supplies, skilled nursing care, bereavement support, and medications to provide comfort, among many others.

Abode Hospice and Home Health is a leading provider of home health and hospice services throughout the United States. Specialty services we offer include diabetes care, orthopedics, and pain management. Fill out our online form today to learn more about our many home healthcare services.

References

  1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-palliative-care-and-hospice-care
  2. https://www.ninr.nih.gov/newsandinformation/what-is-palliative-care
  3. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/palliative-care-fact-sheet#what-is-palliative-care
  4. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/end-of-life-care/hospice-care/what-is-hospice-care.html
  5. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/comfort-care
  6. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/frequently-asked-questions-about-hospice-care
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554501/

November is American Diabetes Month

When you hear the word “diabetes”, chances are it hits home on some level. It may be a loved one, a parent, a friend, or yourself who is living with this disease. They are just one of 34 million Americans living with a diabetes diagnosis. Another 96 million have prediabetes. Of those 96 million, 80% of them do not know they have prediabetes, highly increasing the likelihood of developing diabetes down the road. The consequences of this disease are high, and the prevalence across our population is increasing. November is American Diabetes Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about how to prevent diabetes and improving the resources available to those living with it.

diabetes

There are three different types of diabetes that contribute the most to the diabetes epidemic. They include prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Though they are all a bit different from one another, all forms of diabetes are related to insulin and blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas and its job is to regulate the levels of glucose, also known as sugar, in your bloodstream.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes, also known as “insulin dependent” diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder during which the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed. When these cells are destroyed, the body cannot produce insulin. This results in glucose staying in the bloodstream rather than being taken up by the cells in your body. Over time, this causes blood sugar levels to rise without the body having a way to naturally regulate them back down to normal. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence, though it is possible for adults to develop type 1 diabetes. The treatment for type 1 diabetes must involve taking insulin every day because the body cannot make it and checking blood sugar levels regularly throughout the day. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet and partaking in regular exercise should be included in the management of type 1 diabetes to help avoid complications.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes, also known as “insulin resistant” diabetes, is caused by the body not producing sufficient amounts of insulin or the body resisting the insulin being produced. In both cases, the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar levels. The biggest risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are obesity and high blood pressure. In the past, you would see this type develop most often in adults over 45. In recent years, the number of children and teens developing type 2 diabetes has been increasing as a result of poor nutrition and rise in obesity. Due to the nature of type 2 diabetes, it can be successfully managed through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. In some cases, when lifestyle changes aren’t sufficient, type 2 diabetics must supplement with oral medications and insulin to help control blood sugar levels.

Prediabetes

When blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, it is called prediabetes. While prediabetes isn’t technically classified as diabetes, it often develops into a full diagnosis of diabetes if no intervention is implemented. Awareness is the key to success here as many individuals may not develop symptoms until it is too late. Lifestyle changes that are implemented by individuals with prediabetes can often prevent or drastically delay the development of type 2 diabetes. These lifestyle changes include following a diet of minimally processed foods and regularly partaking in exercise.

If you or a loved one have already been diagnosed with diabetes or you suspect you may be at risk, schedule an appointment with your doctor to share your concerns and maintain regular checkups. Without proper care, serious complications such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), kidney failure and heart disease can occur. Preventing these complications requires adherence to treatment per your doctors’ guidelines, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

diabetes chart

Diabetes is widespread across America, but it is not an insignificant diagnosis. This disease must be taken seriously and treated properly in order to avoid complications. Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to the medical resources and education that makes living a normal and fulfilling life with diabetes possible. Raising awareness and equalizing care is one of the major goals throughout the month of November. We encourage you to take the time this month to share this article with family, friends and loved ones. Encourage those around you to speak up about the risk and prevalence of diabetes in our communities. The more we open up the discussion about diabetes, the more we can band together in order to support our loved ones and improve the health of our community.

Visit The American Diabetes Association to learn more or to offer a donation towards ending diabetes. https://diabetes.org/

Sources:

Image 1 – https://newatlas.com/medical/type-2-diabetes-protein-beta-cell-protection/

Image 2 – https://www.diabeticwarehouse.org/blogs/articles/diabetes-complications

American Diabetes Association – https://diabetes.org/

CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/spotlights/diabetes-facts-stats.html

Endocrine Society –

https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/diabetes-and-older-adults

National Institute on Aging – https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/diabetes-older-people

Speare Memorial Hospital –

https://spearehospital.com/november-is-american-diabetes-month/# World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes

october

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

It’s time to speak up about breast cancer, and the month of October is dedicated to doing just that. As the most common form of cancer, it’s likely that someone in your life whom you care for deeply has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Given how prevalent breast cancer is and the repercussions it has on individuals and families affected, this month is a time to rally together and raise awareness about it.

october breast cancer

Breast Cancer Statistics

In the United States, more women die from breast cancer every year than any other form of cancer. It’s currently estimated that 1 in 8 women in their lifetime will be diagnosed with an invasive form of breast cancer. Two of the greatest risk factors of getting breast cancer are female gender and older age, though men and younger women can get it as well. The statistics are alarming, and a diagnosis can feel daunting and isolating, whether it’s yourself or a loved one or family member who is receiving it. Fortunately, breast cancer research continues to thrive, which has led to improvements in screening processes and treatment success. These improvements have been given some of the credit for the slightly decreased death rate from breast cancer over the past several years. In order to take further advantage of the strides we’ve made in battling breast cancer, we must continue to educate our communities about the screenings and treatments available.

breast cancer stats

Self-Monitoring for Changes

While there is no way to guarantee prevention of breast cancer, it is recommended that all adult women perform a breast self-exam monthly. This is a great way to self-monitor for any changes or abnormalities that may occur in the breast tissue. As you age, this becomes an even more important habit as age is one of the main risk factors. It is important to note that not every growth or lump felt in the breast tissue is a cancerous mass. Some non-cancerous masses are abnormal but do not grow outside of the breast tissue. While these lumps do not innately pose a risk, some of these growths can increase a women’s risk of getting breast cancer down the road. Any abnormality or change in your breast tissue that you notice or feel should be examined by a health professional immediately. Just under half of women diagnosed with breast cancer were diagnosed after noticing a lump during a self-exam, so the importance of this routine cannot be overlooked. In addition to regular self-exams, maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and a nutritious diet is another important way to reduce your risk of breast and other cancers.

Receiving a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Should you receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, take the time to find a team of doctors whom you are comfortable with and trust with your care. This team can include an oncologist, or cancer doctor, a surgical oncologist, a radiologist, a case worker, a registered dietician who specializes in cancer nutrition and possibly several other specialty providers. These individuals will be with you, alongside your personal support system, to make sure you receive the best care available from diagnosis on. Treatments and interventions will differ depending on the type of breast cancer you are diagnosed with and your doctors will help you navigate all of the options and should use their expertise to recommend the best course of action. Make sure you feel comfortable asking questions and engaging in your treatment plan. Your providers have the knowledge and the skill sets to provide excellent care, but it is just as important that you feel included in the decisions being made and prepared for the treatment road ahead.

breast cancer ribbon

Raising Awareness

Whether you are young, old, male, female, part of a high-risk category or not, it is our shared efforts in spreading awareness this month of October and all months following that will successfully raise awareness, education, and resources about breast cancer to every individual diagnosed and every family and friend supporting them. As a society working together, it is within our reach to decrease breast cancer diagnoses within our communities and to improve the outcomes and survival rates of those diagnosed.

Sources

Image 1

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Image 3

American Cancer Society

BreastCancer.org

National Breast Cancer Foundation, INC.

Breast Cancer Survivors – A Cut Above the [Breast]

As a survivor of breast cancer, few will understand the struggle you endured, but many acknowledge and honor the strength it took to carry on.

breast cancer ribbon

Alongside the relief and celebration that comes with completing treatment and hearing the long-awaited word “remission” may come a host of other emotions. Some of them may not be as positive. You may feel fear of the cancer coming back or anxiety about not seeing your treatment team as often. Surgeries and treatments can alter the way you feel about your body. These emotions are natural after what you’ve been through, and it’s important to know that you’re not alone and that you have resources at your disposal to live your life as fully as possible following recovery.

Listen to Your Doctor

After completing treatment and entering into recovery, it is important to abide by your doctor’s recommended follow up care. This care often includes checkups every few months for the first several years after treatment. As your cancer-free time increases, the frequency of appointments can begin to decrease. If you had breast-conserving surgery to include a lumpectomy or a partial mastectomy, it is recommended that you get a mammogram 6-12 months after surgery and radiation and continue to get them annually for monitoring. Pelvic exams may also be included in your follow up care as some of the hormone drugs can increase your risk of endometrial or uterine cancer. Another test that may be done, especially if you have gone through menopause, is a bone density scan. Monitoring your bone health will be a priority for your doctor especially if your cancer treatment included drugs that can reduce bone density.

women in pink

Focus on Your Mental Health, Too

Battling cancer and enduring the challenges that come with treatment can leave you feeling exhausted. It can be challenging to find the energy to keep up with follow up care, knowing that it will be a crucial part of your life as a survivor. Express any concerns or anxiety or overwhelm you are feeling about your continued treatment and monitoring with your doctor. Collaborate with them and let them help you feel more in control when it comes to your checkups. Equally important as your medical team is your support system. Continue to lean on the individuals who supported you through treatment, whether it be family, friends, a loved one, a support group or a therapist. Support systems can often help to shoulder some of the burden when it comes to remembering appointments, driving to procedures, and encouraging you to continue doing the things you love outside of your healthcare.

breast cancer ribbon tree

Everyone’s Experience is Unique

Every single individual’s experience with surviving breast cancer is unique and special. You will have your own thoughts, feelings, challenges and success that you overcame and that you will continue to experience as you embrace a heightened awareness of your health for the rest of your life. Beyond this, you are an example of hope and strength for others who are fighting their own battle against breast cancer. Continue to spread awareness this month and every other so that we can continue to win more of these battles.

Sources

Image 1

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Image 3

American Cancer Society

Cancer.net

World Mental Health Day

With a big initiative to provide education and resources to improve the physical health of more people around the world, the mental health of our society cannot be overlooked in achieving this goal. World Mental Health Day, which falls within Mental Illness Awareness Week, is a dedicated day that is honored globally once a year. While mental illness must be acknowledged and supported 365 days of the year, World Mental Health Day is a dedicated time during which the world comes together to raise awareness, increase support, and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness. Each year Mental Illness Awareness week focuses on a specific theme, and the theme for 2022 is ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. In doing so, the health and wellness of our society as a whole can be substantially improved. Mental Illness Awareness week runs from October 2nd through October 6th this year. Several important days during this week include the following:

Tuesday, October 4th – National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding

Thursday, October 6th – National Depression Screening Day

Monday, October 10 – World Mental Health Day

mental health day

What is mental health?

Everyone has mental health. It’s the way we feel inside, good or bad, to include our emotions, feelings, mood and more. While the emphasis of health is usually placed on the physical, mental health has an incredible impact on what we are able to do, ranging from our ability to socialize, go to work, provide for others, and take care of ourselves. It allows us to participate in and contribute to society. Similarly, our mental health can be impacted by countless things. Our work situation, home life, physical health, friends and family, financial state, even our genetics and the way we were raised, or an event that happened many years ago can play a role in determining the state of our mental health. Good mental health supports the way we work, learn, grow and interact with others. When our mental health is good, we are more resilient to the inevitable stresses of life. Even in times of good mental health come moments of sadness, despair, and struggle. These moments are a normal part of life and can even teach us how to overcome things in the future. However, sometimes these situations are too much for us to tackle on our own, and the impact they have on our mental health requires support. No one is too strong or too brave to be immune from these life events. It is better to reach out sooner rather than later when you feel like sadness, despair or negativity are consuming your days and preventing you from living your life so that you can work to restore your mental health.

Who does mental health impact?

Anyone, from any age group, race, gender, background or belief system can suffer from mental illness. Sometimes it can be challenging to differentiate between a bad day or a tough month from a mental illness, as there is no official test that can definitively tell us what is happening. Whatever you are feeling though is valid and could ultimately lead to more serious mental health consequences. Your thoughts and feelings should be acknowledged and supported and evaluated by a professional. Varying degrees of mental illness will require varying levels of support and treatment. Consider if you have noticed any of the following signs or symptoms listed below. This list is not comprehensive but does address many of the signs and symptoms that occur for some of the major mental illnesses. If you experience any of these things regularly or consistently, or notice a loved one or friend who may be experiencing them, reach out to a professional.

Signs and symptoms:

– Excessive worrying or fear

– Feeling excessively sad or low

– Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

– Extreme mood changes

– Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

– Avoiding friends and social activities

– Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

– Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

– Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

– Changes in sex drive

– Difficulty perceiving reality

– Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack

of insight” or anosognosia)

– Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

– Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach

aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

– Thinking about suicide

– Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

– An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

The impact of mental health on our society

The impact that mental health and mental illness have on our society is huge. Consistently, research shows that individuals with mental illness have a shorter lifespan.1 in every 20 adults experience serious mental illness every year, yet only two thirds of those individuals receive treatment. Some of the major mental illnesses that individuals are struggling with in order of prevalence are anxiety disorders, major depressive episodes, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia. As millions of individuals across the globe are directly impacted by a mental illness of their own, just as many are indirectly impacted as they witness a loved one, a friend, a coworker or a neighbor struggling with a mental illness. The impact of mental illness goes beyond the individual it is affecting to interfere with the lives of many around them. Therefore, it cannot be on the individuals alone who struggle with mental illness directly to support and treat themselves. Our communities must band together to support those who need awareness raised and treatments provided.

mental illness awareness week

Raising awareness and increasing support

The stigma that mental illness is a weakness or can be overcome by mental toughness leads to many individuals trying to keep their struggles quiet, ignoring their feelings, or resisting help, which only makes things much worse. Like any physical ailment or chronic illness, mental health must be addressed and treated in order to make recovery possible. This is only one of the many stigmas surrounding mental health. Others include societal stigmas such as viewing individuals with mental illness as violent, dangerous or crazy. Self-stigma, or the beliefs held by individuals with mental illness, can lead to lack of reporting or seeking out treatment out of shame or due to fear of society’s response. In order to decrease societal and self-stigma surrounding mental illness, we must normalize the reality of mental illness and continue to have conversations about it. Increasing discussions and public awareness, as well as making support more accessible to everyone, is crucial in order to increase mental illness reporting and mental illness treatment.

You can help to decrease stigma and raise awareness in your own community! Show your support this year by talking to friends, family members and coworkers about Mental Illness Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day. Post about it on your social media, advocate for improving treatment access for mental illness, and continue to educate yourself on the topics of mental health. Together, we can better support our community!

Sources:

Image 1 – https://sdgresources.relx.com/special-issues/world-mental-health-day-2021-0

Image 2 – https://www.siouxcenterhealth.org/latest-news-and-blog/tag/mental-illness-awareness-week/

American Psychiatric Association – https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination

National Alliance on Mental Illness – https://www.nami.org/get-involved/awareness-events/mental-illness-awareness-week

https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Warning-Signs-and-Symptoms

Rethink Mental Illness – https://www.rethink.org/get-involved/awareness-days-and-events/world-mental-health-day/

Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/public-engagement/world-mental-health-day

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/about-mental-health

Listening to Your Heart – Atrial Fibrillation

Everyone knows about heart attacks… but have you ever heard of atrial fibrillation? Despite being the most common heart arrhythmia (meaning irregular heartbeat) that is medically treated and being the cause for 1 in 7 strokes, most people aren’t familiar with atrial fibrillation. Surveys have revealed that even those who are aware of it often don’t consider it a serious medical condition. Education is key here, as leaving atrial fibrillation untreated doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and increases the risk of having a stroke significantly. It is estimated that by 2030, about 12.1 million people living in America will have a diagnosis of AFib. Considering how high that number is, it’s time to start paying attention to what it is and how you can mitigate yours and your loved ones’ risk factors!

a fib diagram

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

So what is atrial fibrillation? Atrial fibrillation, abbreviated AFib, is an abnormal heart rhythm during which the top chambers of your heart, called your atria, quiver rather than beat, leading to inefficient movement of blood through your heart. Given the inefficient contraction of the heart, individuals with AFib are at a higher risk for clots. The higher risk of clotting and the decreased ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently is what leads to an increased risk of further heart conditions and stroke should a clot form and travel to the brain.

Common Symptoms

While some individuals with AFib might not know they have it and may experience no symptoms at all, others could experience a number of various symptoms. Pay attention to the symptoms and take action. Consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following:

Risk Factors

In addition to symptom monitoring, there are a number of risk factors to be aware of related to AFib. Considering the risk of stroke and heart disease increases significantly with AFib, mitigating the risk factors of AFib is crucial. Risk factors include:

If any of these risk factors apply to you or a loved one, consider if your risk factors are modifiable, meaning you have more control over reducing how much of a risk they pose. Focus on lowering your blood pressure, losing weight if appropriate, reducing or eliminating alcohol intake and quitting smoking. Consuming whole, natural foods when possible, incorporating exercise and purposeful movement every day, and staying hydrated can go a long way in preserving your health!

Treatment

If you have already been diagnosed with AFib, it is important to continue to mitigate as many risk factors as you can using the guidance above, in addition to seeking proper medical treatment for your condition. Lifestyle changes, even after being diagnosed with AFib, can greatly decrease the severity and frequency of your symptoms. These lifestyle changes include cutting back on alcohol, reducing caffeine, quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a nutrient rich diet, losing weight if required and lowering your blood pressure. When prescribed medications for AFib, especially blood thinners to reduce the risk of clots, it is imperative that you follow the guidance of your doctor and stay consistent with the treatment.

Understanding Your Medications 

Given that AFib is a chronic condition, meaning it doesn’t go away, it is likely that you will be on medication to manage it for the rest of your life. This can be scary and anxiety inducing if you don’t understand your medications or don’t have a plan to stay on track. Meet with your doctor and be sure to understand what medications you are taking, why you are taking them, how long you will be taking them for and what side effects to look out for. You deserve to understand and feel comfortable with your treatment, so be sure to collaborate with your medical team and find support from your loved ones.

heartbeat

Atrial fibrillation – if it’s not taken seriously, it could cause serious problems!

Know the symptoms, schedule regular visits with your doctors, and practice a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk!

Sources:

Image 1 – https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm

Image 2 – https://www.mcrmedical.com/blog/aha-2020-guidelines/

Heart Foundation –

https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/your-heart/hearthelp/atrial-fibrillation/managing-your-af

CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm

American Heart Association –https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/atrial-fibrillation/what-is-atrial-fibrillation-afib-or-af

Cropped image of military service member holding PTSD block letters

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Awareness, Recognition, and Support

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Life is full of events that cause challenge, fear, or even sometimes pose a threat to us. Those serving in the military are even more susceptible than the general public to these events due to the high-stress, high-risk nature of their occupation. Often and commonly, individuals react to the situation at hand and are temporarily unsettled by these events before returning to normal daily living. In other cases, the event that is experienced can have long-lasting, life-altering negative effects and this is known as post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, as a disorder that develops in individuals who have experienced shocking, scary, or dangerous events who continue to feel stress or fear even after they are safe from the original event.

Signs and Symptoms

While it is common for individuals to be temporarily disrupted by a trauma, especially during combat, PTSD diagnosis is less common and requires an individual to experience symptoms for more than a month and in a great enough capacity to interfere with work and/or relationships. Symptoms are categorized into four subgroups: re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognition and mood symptoms. Below are some examples of each.

Re-experiencing

Avoidance

Arousal and Reactivity

Cognition and Mood

Treatment Options

Whether you recognize these signs or symptoms in a loved one or perhaps in your own behaviors, you are not alone and there are many treatment options available. Treatment by a mental health provider can open up the door to options such as medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. The medications that have been studied and utilized most extensively are antidepressant medications which help to mitigate anger, worry, sadness and numbness. Additional medications can be sought out and explored to help alleviate other symptoms such as trouble sleeping and nightmares. Psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy”, can be done one-on-one or in a group setting. Along with specific and individualized therapy goals, treatment should aim to educate individuals about their triggers and symptoms and prepare them with strategies to manage them when they occur.

PTSD can be incredibly isolating and takes a toll on the lives of many individuals in our community. While it may be hard to imagine living without the symptoms, recovery is possible. In congruence with medication and therapy, there are steps you can take on your own to facilitate recovery. Exercise can be a useful tool to improve both physical and mental health, as it is proven to reduce stress and improve mood. A strong support system of family and friends, as well as the veteran community, can be key to recovery. Involving loved ones in your life and engaging in a community that can relate to your experience can help to alleviate the loneliness associated with PTSD. While working with your therapist to build skills to reduce symptoms, consider partaking in activities that previously sparked joy and interest.

Caring for someone with PTSD can take a serious toll on those providing support as well. If you are a family member, friend or loved one of someone with PTSD, it is imperative to

prioritize your health and seek care and support for yourself as well. Look into local support groups within your community or virtual platforms to connect with other individuals in similar positions and keep regular checkups with your doctor. Make sure to set aside time to sleep, exercise and eat while you are offering care. You are not alone in offering care; seek out professionals and encourage the individual you are caring for to get further treatment. The better you care for yourself, the better you will be able to offer support.

Looking to the Future

Research has been underway for years looking into both the mental and biological components of PTSD, and new research directions continue to develop as scientists acquire new information. A subgroup of research studies called clinical trials seek to study if new tests, prevention measures, or treatments are effective. While clinical trials are an excellent method to further scientific knowledge, individuals should be aware that new information is the goal and there is no guarantee of successful treatment. If you are interested in learning more about current clinical trials or being involved in one, you can visit clinicaltrials.gov for a current list of National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies being conducted across the country or visit the NIMH’s Clinical Trials webpage for information about partaking in a study.

Resources for Veterans and Caregivers

Seeking treatment can feel overwhelming and lonely initially, and it is important to know that there are many organizations that are in place to help you find the support you or your loved one may need.

If you are a veteran with PTSD, the Veterans Crisis Line is available to you and your loved ones. You do not need to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to access the 24/7, 365-day-a-year support that this line offers. Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and press 1

If you are a caregiver for a friend, family member, or loved one dealing with PTSD, the VA offers caregiver support in the form of a helpline as well as a caregiver program. To visit the website, go to caregiver.va.gov or call the helpline to speak to someone directly. Caregiver Support: 855-260-3274

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, abbreviated SAMHSA, has a free and confidential hotline for individuals and family members facing mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. This hotline is also referred to as the Treatment Referral Routing Service and provides referrals to treatment centers, support groups, and community-based programs. The hotline is free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year and is available in Spanish and English. SAMHSA hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) has a Monday-Friday, 10am-10pm, ET. informational helpline as well as an email address, helpline@nami.org, to

provide support and resources to individuals in need. The NAMI is NOT a hotline, crisis line, or suicide prevention line. NAMI helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Thank you to our veterans and their community caregivers.

We see you and we support you.

Elderly couple with dementia putting together a puzzle

Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Health Awareness Month. This month, take time to discuss the importance of brain health with your friends, relatives, and elderly adults in your life—especially those who may be at risk for dementia and cognitive impairment. Taking steps to improve brain health early on can often reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.

What Is the Prevalence Of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease affects an estimated 6.5 million Americans. As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disorder that destroys brain cells and causes the brain to shrink. It is most common among adults over the age of 65.

Memory loss is the primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s can also affect a person’s concentration, judgement, and decision-making ability, leading to problems with carrying out essential daily tasks like bathing, getting dressed, and cooking. Many people with Alzheimer’s often require hospice care so they can get help with performing these activities.

The Importance Of Early Screening

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition that develops gradually over time. There is no designated screening test for Alzheimer’s, though your doctor can review your medical history and perform an evaluation to determine your risk.

Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

Maintaining optimal brain health is key to reducing your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. If you are caring for Alzheimer’s patients, you can work with them to improve their brain health and reduce the severity of certain symptoms.

Eat Healthy, Nutritious Foods

Leafy greens, fatty fish, and almonds are some of the many foods that contribute to good brain health. Foods like these are loaded with nutrients, including vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, that are shown to boost brain health and delay the progression of Alzheimer’s. Eat a higher amount of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, and nuts to improve your cognition.

Stay Social

Socializing with others on a regular basis can stimulate your memory and attention, strengthening neural networks to improve overall brain function. Being social can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, boosting the quality of life in people with Alzheimer’s. Go dancing, join book clubs, and attend social events at community centers. Many hospice care providers can help you find social activities geared toward older adults and seniors.

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity offers a wide range of benefits for cognition and brain health. It improves your circulation and blood flow, boosting your memory and problem-solving ability. It can even help ward off anxiety and mood disorders, including depression. Schedule exercise into your daily schedule, even if it’s only a 10- to 15-minute walk. Better yet, join exercise classes for seniors, such as water aerobics and yoga.

Challenge Your Brain

Learning new skills and challenging your brain can lead to the formation of new connections between brain cells, which reduces your risk for cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s. Play board games with your relatives and other seniors in the community, or take classes that teach you a new language or how to cook a certain cuisine. You can even download and play brain games on your smartphone, such as Wordle, Lumosity, and Candy Crush.

Hospice Care With Hospice At Your Side

Hospice At Your Side is a leading provider of home health and hospice services throughout the United States—including hospice services for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Visit our website to learn more about our hospice providers nearest you.

Senior woman walking on outdoor trail

5 Things To Do On National Senior Health and Fitness Day

Staying fit and healthy year-round is essential for a fulfilled lifestyle. But as people age, it becomes increasingly more difficult to remain active and feeling your best. ​​If you have been struggling with your health or fitness lately, then May 25th is the perfect day for you. This year, May 25th is National Senior Health and Fitness Day, and to kick off the celebration, here is a list of our favorite things you can do to improve your well-being on this inspiring day, and throughout the year.

Get Active Outside

As the weather starts to turn in May, now is the perfect time to dust off your walking shoes and get outside. For seniors, low-intensity activities are safer and easier to do on your own. They still promote increased heart health and strength while putting reduced pressure on your joints and muscles. Some activities can include walking to the park with your family, doing lawn work, or riding a bike. These are all great ways to get outside and get active, and the best thing is, seniors of all ages can enjoy them without pushing themselves to their limit. The bottom line is as long as you are getting outside and moving your body, you’re taking steps in the right direction to leading a healthier life.

Get Active Inside

We all know the weather can be very unpredictable at times, especially during the spring months. At times, it can go from rain to sunshine within the same hour. That’s okay because there are plenty of ways that you can still stay active indoors, no matter if you’re living independently or in a community living setting. For example, yoga and dancing are great options because they work all parts of the body, are low impact, and can be performed indoors. If you need something a bit more tangible to do, look into using resistance bands when doing some basic exercises. These bands are much safer than weights and will not take up nearly as much space.  While you might have to get a little more creative if you’re working with less space indoors, there are plenty of ways you can get your body moving inside even just by walking up and down the stairs. Your local gym or YMCA also may offer a dedicated space for activities such as swimming to get active while still staying indoors.

Schedule Your Health Screenings

Maintenance is key to living a long and healthy life. The best way to maintain your health is by staying on top of your regular health screenings. If you find yourself in the situation of not having been to the doctor in a while, now would be a great time to schedule an appointment. Keep in mind that your health goes beyond just your normal primary care. Scheduling a cleaning with your dentist, getting new prescription eyeglasses from your optometrist, and getting a head-to-toe skin check at your dermatologist are all commonly skipped areas of health maintenance. If you can’t remember the last time you addressed these areas of your health, use today to take that step in scheduling your health screening appointments so you can ensure you live the longest, healthiest life you can.

Eat A Healthy Meal

I’m sure you have heard the saying that “food is your fuel”. The food that you put into your body plays a major role in how you feel and operate on a daily basis. Don’t wait, start eating some healthy meals today! To begin, try and get your daily serving of greens, whole grains, and protein. While they are all important, eating an adequate amount of protein each day can help prevent the muscle breakdown that most seniors will face as they age. Another thing to keep in mind is the roles that certain foods have. For example, if you’re having a hard time with digestion, try eating more fiber as it helps food move through your digestion system. Lastly, staying away from processed foods and sugar as a whole can make a world of difference for your overall nutrition.

Meet With Your Friends/Family

Happiness is a foundational building block of your health, and don’t let anybody tell you anything different. Make time to visit with friends and family today; even if it’s only for a half-hour. Grab a coffee, eat lunch at your favorite local spot, or even invite company over. Not only does seeing your loved ones show that you care, but it also allows a space for happy memories to be created. In addition, being happy has been shown to fight stress, reduce blood pressure, and may even extend your lifespan. Take the opportunity to get out of the house, enjoy some great company, and reap the benefits that come along with it.

Hospice At Your Side Thanks You

Even though Hospice At Your Side acknowledges the importance of our seniors every day, National Senior Health and Fitness Day gives the larger population an opportunity to shed light on the importance of their health and wellbeing too. No matter what you do on this day, the memorable lesson is that you’re acting upon the matter and seizing the opportunity to better yourself.

We are looking forward to seeing how you participate this year. We hope you enjoy National Senior Health and Fitness Day 2022.

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