Blog Posts

Remote Control

July 15th, 2018

Minimally invasive robotically assisted heart procedure proves effective.

Adam* describes himself as a fitness fanatic. The 55-year-old retired Naval officer works out at the gym at least five days a week and usually gets in a jog of at least five miles every other day.

He’s in excellent physical condition for a man his age, which is why he thought something must be wrong when he suddenly found himself out of breath midway through the 30 minutes it usually takes him to mow his lawn.

After taking the advice of his general practitioner and visiting a heart specialist, Adam was surprised to learn that he was suffering from mitral valve disease, which is the most common form of heart valve disease in the United States.

Nearly half a million patients are admitted to a hospital each year as a result of some form of mitral valve disease.  In turn, those visits result in approximately 40,000 Americans – most of them 50 or younger – undergoing surgery for the malady.

One of four heart valves, the mitral valve is the one that allows the blood received from the lungs to flow from the left atrium, also known as the upper chamber of the heart, to the left ventricle, or lower chamber of the heart.

What Adam learned upon his visit was that he was suffering from mitral valve regurgitation, a condition in which the mitral valve fails to close tightly when the left ventricle contracts. This failure results in a leakage or backward flow of blood through the valve.

When this leakage occurs, blood flows through the valve in both directions, causing an increase in the volume of blood in the valve as well as an increase in pressure in the atrium. This, in turn, increases the pressure in the veins leading from the lungs to the heart.

In mild cases of mitral regurgitation, sufferers may not feel any symptoms at all. In more severe cases, however, the lack of efficient blood flow can cause palpitations and may leave sufferers feeling tired and short of breath the way Adam did.

For years, the primary treatment for mitral valve regurgitation was a surgery designed to repair or replace the valve that required the surgeon to access the affected area by sawing the sternum in half, spreading the ribs and operating through the front of the chest.

As a result of advances in medical technology, however, surgeons can now perform the same operation remotely with the aid of a small camera and thin robotic arms that are fed into the body through a series of small incisions on the right side of the chest.

While the surgeon works at a computer console that provides complete control of the movement of the robotic arms, the camera provides a clear, three-dimensional view of the mitral valve and its surroundings.

Like traditional mitral valve surgery, the robotically assisted version requires general anesthesia and the use of heart-lung bypass machines to perform the functions of those organs during the procedure. It provides several advantages, however.

In addition to alleviating the need to break or cut the breastbone, the advantages of robotically assisted mitral valve surgery include less blood loss, less post-operative patient pain, less scarring and a shorter recovery time than with traditional surgery.

And research shows that robotically assisted mitral valve surgery is just as successful as the traditional option. In an NYU Langone study of 1,000 patients who had the minimally invasive surgery, their long-term clinical outcomes were equivalent to those achieved by patients who had a traditional sternotomy.DaVinci Robot Heart Valve

Adam is among those who can attest to the fact that the robotically assisted surgery works. He opted for that approach after he was told of his condition and says now that the surgery has given him a new lease on life.

“When I was told I needed to have heart surgery I wasn’t just shocked, I was scared,’’ Adam says. “Along with the concern I had for my general overall health, I was worried about the long layoff that I thought I’d be facing after surgery.

“But I was in the hospital for only two days with this new surgery and within a month of leaving, I was back working out and going through my normal routine. If had been forced to have the traditional surgery, it might have been months before I was active again.”

Need New Hip Joint?

July 9th, 2018

Positioning system makes replacement surgery more precise.

The number of Americans having hip replacement surgery has grown steadily over the past eighteen years. It’s estimated that this year, more than 300,000 people will undergo the procedure, up from 138,000 in 2000. The procedure, fortunately, has matured as well.

A recent advancement to hip replacement surgery was the release and FDA approval of a technology that helps surgeons determine the most accurate alignment of the replacement implants. This technology is the optimized positioning system or OPS™.

The inspiration behind OPS is the fact that no two people move the same way, and this can make a significant impact on the proper positioning of the hip implants. OPS is designed to account for the differences. It tailors the implant placement to each patient.

OPS factors in that no two people move the same way.

The hip joint has two essential parts, the ball and the socket. The ball of the joint is the head of the femur, or thigh bone. The socket, or acetabulum, is a concave depression in the pelvis, in which the ball sits. The ball and socket are the parts that are replaced during surgery and must be positioned appropriately for the best outcome.

To get the proper position, hip replacement surgery using OPS begins long before the procedure is performed. An extensive preoperative evaluation is first performed to determine how the patient’s femur, pelvis and spine work together during routine daily activities. This evaluation provides a specific functional simulation of the patient’s movement.

This information is essential to achieving optimum results during surgery. If the implants aren’t positioned precisely during surgery, there’s a greater risk for complications such as premature wear, implant loosening and dislocation, as well as nerve impingement.

The preoperative evaluation also includes imaging such as x-rays and CT scans to generate pictures of how the patient’s hip moves in three dimensions. The imaging captures the anatomical geometry around the person’s hip joint.

Using all of the information gathered from the preoperative evaluation, surgeons create exact 3-D models of the patients’ anatomy. They then use these models as guides to optimize implant position during the hip replacement procedure.

The preoperative evaluation is the first step in the hip replacement using OPS process. The second step is using the system during the procedure itself. During surgery, the 3-D model, which is unique to each patient, is combined with a laser guidance system. Surgeons match up the laser points to ensure the optimized plan is accurately recreated during surgery.

Need for OPS

The most common reason for needing hip replacement surgery with OPS is deterioration of the hip joint from arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Osteoarthritis generally develops with age. It’s estimated that more than 28 million Americans suffer from the disorder.

Osteoarthritis can develop in any joint in the body, but it most often affects weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips. The hip is one of the largest joints in the body, and like other joints, its surfaces are covered with a smooth cushioning material called articular cartilage. This cartilage enables the bones to slide over one another more easily.

Joints also contain another cushioning substance called synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint cartilage and aids in movement. With osteoarthritis, the articular cartilage begins to wear away, and the synovial fluid begins to thin out. This results in the bones of the joint rubbing together without cushioning. Damaged bone may also start to grow. These resulting growths are called bone spurs.

All of the damage to the hip joint is degenerative; it gets worse over time. It also causes pain, swelling and other symptoms that get progressively more intense. Additional symptoms of osteoarthritis include tenderness around the hip, limited range of motion, a grating sensation with movement and difficulty walking.

The doctor can generally diagnose osteoarthritis through a complete history and physical exam. The doctor will confirm the findings with an x-ray of the patient’s hip.

Treatment for osteoarthritis generally begins with lifestyle modifications, such as switching from high-impact activities to lower-impact activities and losing weight. Other conservative treatments include doing physical therapy, using support such as a cane when walking and taking anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications.

If conservative treatments fail to relieve symptoms, the doctor may suggest surgery. Surgical options include hip resurfacing and total hip replacement.

“Wasting” a Donation

July 2nd, 2018

During Digestive Disease Week in early June, a group of researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada presented the results of their study to a gathering of physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, endoscopy, gastrointestinal surgery and liver disease. The study results came from a 32-question online survey of about 800 people in the US, Canada and UK.

Graphic from istockphoto.com.

Lead researcher Breanna McSweeney, a medical student at the University of Alberta in Canada, says “As studies come back showing that fecal transplant is beneficial for more conditions, most likely we’re going to need more donations.”

The purpose of the survey was to gauge the respondents’ attitudes toward donating stool samples for fecal transplantation. That’s right, poop donations. But before you laugh, consider how donated stool is used in medicine and how it can help people who’ve failed all other treatments.

Currently, fecal transplants are used to treat Clostridium difficile infections. C difficile is a bad news bacterium that can cause life-threatening diarrhea if its allowed to flourish in the digestive tract. It generally runs wild after people have taken a lot of antibiotics that have killed off all the beneficial bacteria. These “good” bacteria keep the environment in the gut balanced and healthy.

C difficile causes nearly half a million infections and 15,000 deaths in the US each year. In many cases, C difficile infections are resistant to most available antibiotics. This leaves many infected people with no effective treatment. Remarkably, fecal transplantation has been shown to be a lifeline for these otherwise untreatable patients.

During fecal transplantation, doctors take a donated stool sample from a healthy donor and purify it. The purified sample is then used in the sick individual to create colonies of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. This levels the playing field. One, healthy bowel movement can help up to five people.

Right now, the FDA has approved fecal transplantation only as a last-ditch treatment for C difficile infection, but studies have shown it’s just as effective as antibiotics as a first-line treatment, too. Researchers are currently studying its potential to treat other nasty gut disorders as well, such as irritable bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.

What makes a person agreeable to donating? According to the study results reported in June, the majority of respondents said the opportunity to help others was their primary motivation. The payment for donating helped a little, although the amount is minimal, from $15 to $40 depending on the country and the donation center. The researchers also noted that the majority of those who agreed to become donors were also blood donors. Altruistic at heart, I guess.

There were a couple turn-offs to stool donation, of course. The inconvenience of donating was one. Most centers ask for a donation three times a week for at least two months. Talk about pressure! In some cases, donors have to make their donations at a hospital if their transplant centers aren’t set up to accept them. The ickiness of collecting their own stool was cited as another hindrance to participation.

Becoming a poop donor isn’t as easy as it seems. Potential donors go through a rigorous screening process that includes an exhaustive questionnaire, a thorough clinical evaluation, and intensive stool and blood screening. In the end, nearly 97 percent of applicants are rejected. Apparently, they’re pretty particular about poop. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to find a stool bank and make a deposit!

To find a provider near you, please visit the Fecal Transplant Foundation.

Do You Feel How You Eat?

June 27th, 2018

The broiled fish filet with steamed broccoli and rice you had for dinner last night and the salad you opted for over the hamburger at lunch yesterday may be doing more for you than just keeping your waistline in check.Do You Feel How You Eat

It may be giving your mental health a boost as well.

Medical researchers have long known that people who are depressed tend to eat greater quantities of fast food. New research suggests, however, that by simply changing their diet, depressed individuals may be able to improve their mood.

Through a study using 67 participants who had either been prescribed antidepressants or were attending regular psychotherapy sessions, the researchers at Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre discovered what may be a new link between food and mood.

When the three-month study began, the diet of each of the subjects involved was virtually void of dietary fiber, fresh meats or vegetables and consisted almost exclusively of processed fast foods and sugary or salty snacks.

During the study, half of the subjects were allowed to continue eating as they were before the trial began while the other half were given diets made up exclusively of lean proteins such as grass-fed beef, fish, fresh vegetables, eggs and nuts.

All of the subjects’ depression levels were tested both before and after the trial began, and what the researchers found was that among those who ate healthier during the 12-week study, the scores improved by an average of 11 points.

In addition, nearly a third of the 33 individuals in the intervention group recorded scores so low they were deemed to be in remission. As for those who continued to eat normally, only 8 percent achieved remission while depression scores on average rose just 4 points.

While the study is hardly definitive, it suggests that any individual suffering from major depression could improve his or her mood simply by eating a healthier diet, which will likely result in better overall physical health as well.

All of this does, of course, fall under the category of easier said than done. After all, it is well known that when people are depressed, they often have a tendency to reach for comfort foods that they hope will lighten their moods.

It’s doubtful, though, that a bowl of ice cream or a box of chocolates will actually make anyone feel better. It’s quite possible, though, that by substituting a handful of grapes or some nuts and raisins for the ice cream or candy will make you feel better.

Some other eating tips that might help swing your mood in a more positive direction include eating a health breakfast; eating foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish and walnuts and consuming at least 600 international units of Vitamin D per day.

It’s National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month

June 26th, 2018

Migraines are not “all in your head,” and the pain is not only real but may have serious consequences for your life and bank account.

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, a time to support those whose lives are often made unbearable by chronic migraines that can be difficult to treat, even with prescription medication.

An estimated 36 million Americans suffer from migraines, but only one of every three talks to a doctor about them, according to the American Migraine Foundation.

A migraine is an inherited neurological disorder in which specific areas of the brain become overexcited, the foundation defines. Sufferers are more susceptible to “triggers” that raise their risk of having a migraine attack.

Those triggers include hormonal fluctuations, weather changes, bright lights, specific smells or foods, alcohol, poor sleep and high stress.

A chronic migraine recurs 15 or more days a month for at least three months and has the features of a migraine at least eight days out of the month, according to the Chronic Migraine Awareness organization.

“Chronic migraine poses a greater impact on the patient’s life than episodic migraine, including lower household income levels, less ability to do chores and more missed workdays,” according to the tax-exempt group’s blog.

The World Health Organization considers migraines one of the 10 most disabling medical illnesses globally, with chronic migraines impacting patients even more severely.

Migraines cost the United States more than $20 billion each year, the American Migraine Foundation reports. That includes direct medical expenses such as doctor visits and medications and indirect expenses such as missed workdays.

“But the burden doesn’t stop there. Those afflicted with migraines are more likely to have depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, other pain conditions and fatigue,” according to the foundation.

“People who have a history of experiencing an aura phase (migraine with changes in vision) have been shown to be at an increased risk for stroke and heart attack,” the foundation adds.

How do you know if you’re suffering from a migraine as opposed to a garden-variety headache? Consider these migraine symptoms:

  • A headache with moderate to severe pain;
  • A headache that worsens with physical activity
  • A throbbing headache that’s often worse on one side of the head;
  • A headache that leads to missed school, work or other activities;
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound or smells during the headache;
  • A headache that lasts four to 48 hours if left untreated.

If your migraines are negatively impacting your quality of life, and over-the-counter medications don’t help, visit your primary care provider, who may refer you to a neurologist or a headache specialist.

For more information on migraines, visit americanmigrainefoundation.org or https://chronicmigraineawareness.blog/.

Are You SAD in the Summertime?

June 12th, 2018

For most of my life, I lived in Pennsylvania and for a while in Ohio. What these states have in common are the dark, dreary, depressing winter months. For me, they were really depressing because I suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder. I even ordered a therapeutic lightbox from Alaska, which I willed to my former officemates in Cleveland when I moved to Florida.

I’m not the only one who gets depressed during the dark months of the year. SAD affects about 4 percent to 6 percent of the US population. People with SAD in the winter typically feel lethargic, sleep a lot, eat more and gain weight, and generally stay inside until spring.

Getting SAD in the winter kinda makes sense, mainly because daylight is sparse and you have no energy to do anything anyway. Amazingly though, about 10 percent of people with SAD get symptoms of depression during the daylight-heavy summer months. It’s called reverse SAD or summer SAD.

People who get SAD in the summer typically have symptoms that are the opposite of those of winter SAD. They generally can’t sleep or don’t need as much sleep, eat less and lose weight and are agitated or anxious instead of lethargic. One thing people with summer SAD have in common with their winter counterparts is the tendency to avoid outside activities, which can lead to isolation. Not good!

Researchers have no definitive answers for what causes summer SAD. There’s been more research done on winter SAD because it’s more common, but studies that have been done on summer SAD point to a few possible reasons for its development.

Dearth of daylight is known to be a culprit in winter SAD. An overabundance of it is thought to contribute to the summer variety. Sunlight affects the production of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that’s an ingredient of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a role in controlling mood.

Messing up melatonin screws up the serotonin levels in the brain, which can lead to mood changes, including depression. Melatonin also affects the sleep-wake cycle, altering sleep patterns.

The higher summer temperatures are suspected of contributing to summer SAD, too. The heat in the summer can be oppressive and agitating to people with SAD. Some research suggests summer SAD has a genetic component. It’s been found that as many as two-thirds of people who suffer with SAD have a family member with a major mood disorder.

Researchers have floated a few other theories as well. Some suggested a link between SAD and allergies. Others are trying to determine if the season you were born in has any impact on the development of a seasonal mood disorder.  Sounds pretty out there to me!

If you get depressed during the summer months, there are some things you can do to help you get through it. Here are a few tips:

Don’t suffer in silence. Consider talking to a qualified therapist to share your struggles and get some management strategies. Another option is a physician or psychiatrist. Medication may be an appropriate treatment for you.

Get enough sleep. You might not feel like sleeping, but not getting enough can trigger symptoms or make them worse. The recommendation for adults is seven to eight hours of sleep per 24-hour period.

Don’t forget to exercise. Summer is a busy time, but take time to get in a workout. Physical activity is known to fight the symptoms of depression. Schedule your exercise for early mornings or evenings when it’s not so hot outside or consider an indoor exercise routine to beat the summer heat.

Don’t overdo dieting. I know you want to fit into that bathing suit, but being on a restrictive diet can make you feel stressed and unhappy. Instead, eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in protein, fruits and vegetables.

Plan ahead. If you currently take medication for a mood disorder, consult your doctor in the spring. He or she may adjust your dose ahead of time to prepare you for the depression of summer SAD that’s coming your way.

If you get SAD during the summer, take heart; fall’s just a few months away!

Stop Suicide

June 8th, 2018

Victims may appear happy when in fact they’re not

In the days just prior to the moment in which she took her own life, world renowned fashion designer Kate Spade was described as happy, jovial and in good spirits by friends and family members.Graphic from istockphoto.com.

Three days later, friends and associates of Anthony Bourdain were saying the same thing after the celebrity chef took his own life while he was on location in France shooting an episode of his CNN TV show, Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown.

Mental health experts weren’t surprised to hear that. It’s not unusual they say for suicide victims to mask their true emotions all while displaying a completely different set of feelings while they’re with family and friends.

Many with suicidal thoughts simply do not want to burden their friends or family members with their darkest feelings. Others refuse to share those thoughts out of fear they won’t be taken seriously and will be see as simply seeking attention.

But attention is precisely what anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts needs, and as the recent deaths of Spade and Bourdain suggest, anyone from any walk of life can develop and eventually act on his or her suicidal tendencies.

Simply put, suicidal tendencies do not discriminate. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24, but people 85 and older have the highest suicide rate among all adults.

Some members of the population are, however, more prone to falling prey to suicidal tendencies. For example, it has long been known that members of the Native American and Alaskan Native communities are more prone to suicide.

The same goes for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and according to a 2016 report by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in which the records of 55 million veterans were analyzed, 20 veterans take their lives each day.

But suicide is not a problem only for those suffering from depression, such as Spade. In 2016, more than half of the nearly 45,000 suicide victims in the United States had not been previously diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s one reason clinicians are convinced that many potential suicide cases can be prevented, and why most of those clinicians believe that by simply paying attention, friends and family members can do the most to prevent a suicide from happening.

In particular, it’s important to look for significant behavioral changes such as a sudden desire to withdrawal from or avoid social activities involving family and friends, decreases in activity levels and increases in anxiety, agitation or restlessness.

The reason, according to Dr. Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), is that suicide is not something that someone typically attempts on a spur of the moment basis.

“It’s not as if one morning someone wakes up and says, Today is the day I’m going to do this,” Dr. Reidenberg told ABC News shortly after Spade died.  “It happens over time and falls on a continuum.”

Dr. Reidenberg added that simply being available to talk to someone who may be contemplating suicide can change that person’s plans and that letting someone know you are always there for them can save a life as well.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) provides several tips for helping someone who may be contemplating suicide that also apply to anyone who may be going through a crisis that could lead to such thoughts.

They include asking the person if they are thinking about suicide. That may seem to be a rather blunt approach, but studies show that asking someone if they are contemplating suicide does not increase the risk of it happening.

It is also wise for those around someone who may be displaying suicidal tendencies to rid their environment of anything that might be used to commit suicide, such as guns, knives and drugs.

Finally, encouraging someone to seek professional help, be it from a volunteer at a crisis center, a doctor or a spiritual advisor clergyman, can go a long way toward preventing a suicide as well.

It’s also important to remember that, should the crisis pass, it’s wise to continue to keep tabs on a person who may have expressed suicidal thoughts. After all, that person may seem to be happy, jovial and in good spirits, when in fact they are not.

Screen Time Sensibilities

June 3rd, 2018

There is a big debate in this country and others over the effect of screen time on our kids. Some experts say the constant use of tech devices has a negative impact, while others argue tech use has many benefits. My thought is that the use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and more has both. Use just has to be moderated. Let’s look at both sides of the issue before deciding what to do.

The Verge.com ran a great article detailing how this country, especially its parents, are divided on the issue of screen time. In the article, author Lauren Smiley relates how research on screen time with various tech device is actually very limited. Smiley notes further that studies that have been done came to mixed conclusions.

According to The Verge article, some researchers liken the results of using today’s tech with results we already know about, those of an older, well studied technology, TV. Of course, TV watching in excess has been linked to obesity, poorer school performance, social and language delays, sleeping problems and difficulties within the family dynamic.

Some studies link high levels of screen time to mental health problems, including higher rates of depression and anxiety. The results of another study, released in January, backed that up. This study showed that teens who get a lot of screen time are less happy and less satisfied with their lives. The study was a large national survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders conducted annually since 2012, the year smartphones reached the 50 percent concentration point in the US.

The January study found that adolescents’ psychological wellbeing decreased the higher the number of screen hours. In addition, the teens’ correlation between happiness and screen activities was negative, while the correlation between happiness and non-screen activities, such as sports and person-to-person interaction, was positive.

A little older study, in 2015 in the UK, recorded the tech use activities of more than 800 14-year-olds. They then analyzed these students two years later using the UK’s standard secondary education testing protocol. The study results found that those kids spending an extra hour a day on screens earned 9.3 fewer points on the test, the equivalent of dropping a grade in two subjects.

The results of the January study were not all anti-screen time. The researchers found that teenagers who get a small amount of screen time, between one and five hours a week, are happier than those who get none at all. The happiest teens, they say, are those who are above average at face-to-face social interaction and below average in social media use.

There are other positive arguments made by the defenders of technology. For one, students have access to more information than ever before. Instead of having to trek to the library to do research, they have a library of information at their fingertips. They can find what they need in less than ten seconds. As a result, our kids are learning more and getting smarter.

Not only does technology make getting information easier, it makes learning more fun. Our kids are spending time online, and they’re learning at the same time. The tech devises are just another way of taking in information. Kids using them don’t even see it as learning; they view it as having fun. The new tech fills in the knowledge gaps.

Defenders argue against those who say the tech devices are acting as a crutch to our younger generation by making so much information available to them in an instant. Defenders say by looking something up, the kids have no choice but to absorb what they’re reading and actually learn it. They’re passively learning.

The question everyone seems focused on is how much screen time is appropriate for kids, and there are no distinct rules to follow. This leaves parents to decide how much screen time their children can have each day. There are a few general thoughts on the subject to take into consideration.

For one, a Harvard clinical psychologist and school consultant studied the impact of digital technology on infant brain development. She concluded there is no productive role for technology in the life of a baby under two years. Others agree with this assessment.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its updated guidelines, suggesting no screens before age 18 months, with the exception of video chatting with family members. They also suggest kids ages two to five should be limited to one hour a day with exceptions for educational programming. They leave it up to the parents to limit screen time for kids over five.

Tech Advisor, a company in the UK, agrees with the AAP’s guideline for children under two and those two to five. They go further, however, and recommend kids five through 18 get no more than two hours of screen time per day. This does not include time at school if their school uses tablets for student education or for homework. It includes leisure activities on tech devices.

Any parent will tell you it’s a constant battle getting their kids, particularly teens, to give up their tech devices, especially their smartphones. But common sense suggests you balance your kids’ screen time with screen-free activities. Here are a few tips for a sensible screen time plan for your family:

  • Check access and availability. Don’t let your kids have TVs, computers or any other device with a screen in their bedrooms.
  • Set rules. Set screen time protocols for your family, and create media-free zones in your home.
  • Explain the reasons for limiting screen time. Discuss the dangers of excessive screen time with your children. They’ll be more open to limits if the dangers are clearly pointed out.
  • Be a role model. Set the example. Limit your own use of computers and smartphones. Your kids won’t be willing to reduce their time on tech devices if you’re constantly using yours.
  • Take breaks. Screen time often leads to over-stimulation. Have your kids take breaks to calm down their brains.
  • No screens before bedtime. Most screens use LCDs that emit a blue light that inhibits sleep and the circadian rhythm. Leave an hour or so after screen use before bedtime.

There are more tips on the second page of this article, as well as some ideas for alternatives to screen time. There are no hard-and-fast rules about screen time, but there are a few guidelines. Still, it’s up to you to decide how much screen time your kids get each day. Use your best judgment.

Safe at Work

June 3rd, 2018

Every day, nearly 13,000 Americans are injured on the job. The more startling fact is that all these injuries are preventable. Workplace safety is a main point of focus for the Nation Safety Council, and not just during National Safety Month in June. Businesses and employees must be aware of potential safety hazards all twelve months of the year.Safe at Work

Workplace safety involves a vast number of concerns. Some of the more commons are hazardous chemicals, drug use in the workplace, and slips and falls. Of course, I can’t cover all safety topics here, so I’m going to take a brief look at three that the Safety Council and other organizations have chosen as priorities this year.

Things like toxic chemicals and boxes blocking exits are obvious safety hazards, but we might not think of fatigue as a safety risk. One thing you’ve got to realize is that fatigue is more than just being tired. Fatigue is a whole-body weariness that includes feeling tired, but also feeling reduced energy and needing to put more effort into doing everyday tasks at the level you desire.

The truth is people who feel this way let down their guard, and their safety performance decreases, so does their job performance. It’s estimated that fatigued workers cost employers $136 billion annually in health-related lost productivity.

Eating right, exercising and getting an appropriate amount of sleep can all help ward off fatigue. According to the National Safety Council, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each day to reach peak performance at work. However, 30 percent of workers report averaging less than six hours. It’s time to get some sleep and be safer at work, and everywhere else.

Here’s another interesting fact from the National Safety Council. They say two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence every year. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2014, 409 people were fatally injured in attacks at work, about 16 percent of the total workplace deaths that year.

Here are some more recent statistics. A 2016 publication reported that workplace violence and deaths occurred in most every type of occupation, even ones you wouldn’t suspect. They noted that there were 4,460 injuries and 65 deaths in professional and business services. Who’da thunk it!

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health divides workplace violence into four categories: criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker and personal relationship. Women are most often the victims of personal relationship violence at work. Of course, there’s the active shooter situation. That would fall under the criminal intent category.

There are a few steps employers and businesses can take to help curb and prevent violence on the job. First of all, they need to create a violence prevention plan and make it an essential part of their strategic health and safety plan.

A few things they can include in their plans are making sure the workplace is secure and their employees know whom to call in an emergency, doing background checks on new employees and providing active shooter training. There are other suggestions in this article.

It’s likely the next workplace hazard plays a role in both fatigue and violence. It’s work-related stress. Research has found that 45 percent of lost work days are due to stress, anxiety or depression. That comes out to 11.7 million days. What’s more, the cost of lost productivity due to a stressful work environment is staggering. It totals $500 billion annually.

An in-depth survey done in 2017 by Mental Health America noted that overstressed people add to unhappiness in the workplace, which has an indirect effect on everyone else. That means that stressed-out people who dread coming to work contribute to productivity losses. Those losses are often not reflected in the calculated numbers, so that annual cost figure could actually be higher.

We know stress affects us emotionally. It can lead to disorders such as anxiety and depression. But stress has a negative effect on us physically as well. According to the American Institute of Stress, there are few diseases in which stress doesn’t play an aggravating role. Some of the conditions linked to stress are heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and an increased susceptibility to infections. To learn more about the symptoms and effects of stress, read this.

Reducing stress at work can be challenging, but it’s important for your mental and physical health. There are many articles on the net with helpful tips, and this is one of them. Among the tips in is this article are: try medication and contemplation, balance your work and professional lives, learn to say “no,” and write down and remember the things that you’re grateful for.

There’s so much more to know about workplace safety, but your best bet is to be aware. Know your surroundings, take the proper precautions and always be safety-conscious.

Rip Currents: More Menacing Than You Think

June 3rd, 2018

The traditional dawn of summer here in Florida brings with it the dawn of storm season, a months-long period in which heavy afternoon thunderstorms are the norm and conditions are ripe for the development of tropical storms and hurricanes.

Gusty winds, lightning strikes and flash floods are among the most common byproducts of these intense summer storms. But so too are rip currents. That’s why the American Red Cross always chooses the first week of June as Rip Current Awareness Week.

The National Weather Service defines rip currents as “strong narrow currents that move away from shore.” They can occur at any beach where there are breaking waves, and they are often swift enough to drag away even the strongest of swimmers.

Studies show that rip currents have at times attained speeds of eight feet per second. That’s faster than Olympic swimmers can swim and in terms of danger, they are a greater menace to swimmers than tornadoes are to non-swimmers.

Since 2013, when the National Weather Service first began keeping data on them, rip currents have been responsible for an average of 65 deaths per year, which is more than the number of deaths reportedly caused by tornadoes and lightning strikes over that period.

In addition, the United States Lifesaving Association says that rip currents are the reason for 80 percent of all beach rescues in the United States, where the NWS says Florida ranks first in rip-current related deaths the past four years.

Rip currents are known to have a quick-sand-like effect on their victims as disaster often strikes as a result of a swimmer attempting to swim back towards the shore, against the stronger pull of the outward-bound current.

That’s a natural instinct, but swimming into the current will quickly tire out even the best of swimmers, which can result in drowning. It’s recommended then that swimmers caught in a rip current instead swim parallel to the shore line until they reach the end of the current.

For more tips on how to survive being caught in a rip current, check out this safety video courtesy of the American Red Cross. And keep in mind that a wicked storm doesn’t have to be immediately present to create a rip current.

Storms that are well offshore can produce rip currents as well, which is why it’s wise to always keep track of local weather conditions, including checking the NWS’s rip current forecast, before heading out to the beach.

 

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