His, Mine & Our …

When you live with a Chronic illness, your spouse/partner does too. Did you ever think of it that way? As isolating as your conditions may make you feel, you aren’t in this alone. Likewise, you are living with their health issues too. Because, by age 50, having a Chronic condition is pretty common. In fact, CDC research data shows about 75% of males age 55+ have at least one. As for females, it jumps to 80% of that same age group. This adds a whole new meaning to his, mine & our. Let’s talk about that …

 

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Any Chronic illness, whether it’s yours or his/hers, has the ability to change a relationship. Those bad days, that you sometimes get, place more demands on your loved one. And their bad days do the same to you. It can take its toll. Studies have shown that relationships in which one spouse has a chronic illness are more likely to fail, if the spouses are young. Hmmm. Perhaps, age has more advantages than an AARP card? But these same studies also tell us that spouses who are caregivers are six times more likely to suffer from depression than spouses who aren’t caregivers. Being older and wiser, as the cliche goes, spares us nothing in this department. So, how exactly can we juggle our Chronic illnesses and a marriage/relationship?

There is no easy fix. But with patience and communication, you and your spouse/partner can live with the added stress and pressures brought about by Chronic illnesses. Consider these simple steps:

  • Communicate. Any relationship suffers when communication breaks down. The loss leads to feelings of distance, confusion, frustration, even a lack of intimacy.
  • Watch Those Stressful Emotions. Anxiety can lead to additional problems, i.e. depression. If you need help, then talk to a therapist. This can be done separately, or as a couple. But it will allow you to better manage your health, their health and your relationship.
  • Be Clear About Your Needs. None of us are mind-readers. So, talk. Convey your needs to your spouse/partner about everything. Encourage them to do the same. Affection isn’t a dirty word. Creativity doesn’t end, at age 30. Neither does intimacy.
  • Take Care Of The Caregiver. It’s easy to be so focused on your partner that you neglect your own health & conditions. It’s also unsafe and can lead to additional problems, i.e. depression, lack of sleep, weight loss, irritability, physical exhaustion, possibly feelings of suicide.
  • Stay Connected To Others. Sometimes, a Chronic illness can be isolating. And your spouse/partner has to keep things going for both of you. Friends can help. Relatives, too. Support Groups are another option. 
  • Keep An Eye On Finances. Money can be a strain on any relationship. If one of you must take a Leave of Absence, it can effect your household finances quickly.  You and your spouse/partner may even want to work with a financial planner, to feel better prepared for such a circumstance.
  • Gift Each Other. And, no, I’m not necessarily talking about spending money here. Think of gifting, in the broader sense. Say something nice to each other, every day. Compliments are like building blocks for a relationship. Don’t forget to share a hug, or a tender kiss. Maybe, try sexting? Make his favorite dinner (or dessert). Splurge occasionally … bring some flowers home for her. Treat one another to a massage, in the evening. Little things can and do mean a lot. When I was pregnant, many moons ago, my husband would give me pedicures. Some things are priceless (especially when you can no longer see your feet)!

My husband and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary, a couple of months ago. We aren’t the college kids who exchanged vows. We’re older. Wiser. Slower. More confident. Sometimes, grumpier. And our health is definitely more of an issue than it used to be. But in many ways, despite our Chronic illnesses, we have become better versions of our younger selves. Imagine that! This was made possible through team-work. We have shared, suffered and conquered it all … together! He has always brought out the very best in me. Still does. And I think, he’d say that I have done the same for him. One thing is for certain, it’s never been dull!

Don’t let your Chronic illness/es rob you of living, or loving! Life is too precious for that!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/health_policy/adult_chronic_conditions.htm

https://www.aarp.org/home-family/sex-intimacy/info-01-2013/seniors-having-sex-older-couples.html

https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/chronic-illness-seven-relationship-tips#1

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ServicesAndSupport/Sex-and-chronic-illness#:~:text=another%20healthcare%20professional.-,General%20advice%20about%20sex%20and%20chronic%20illness,of%20comfort%2C%20pleasure%20and%20intimacy.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/chronically-me/202002/chronic-illness-and-relationships

*Photo by Renate Vanaga on Unsplash

Treatment Outside The Box: Homeopathy

Brrr! The frigid temperatures of winter … the gusty wind … the snow … the ice … have a way of going right through you. For many, their joints stiffen and ache. For others, their entire body feels like its consumed by pain. The intensified symptoms are frustrating and stressful. It makes a lot of patients ask themselves, “Is there something more that I can do?” Maybe, there is. It’s called Homeopathic Therapy.

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This is nothing new. Homeopathy is a medical system that was developed, in Germany, back in the 1700’s. It’s commonly used in many European countries. But it has never achieved that level of popularity in the U.S. Does it work? A 6-year study conducted in an outpatient-setting in the UK revealed that 70.7% of patients involved in the study had positive health changes. Still, Homeopathy remains somewhat controversial. Perhaps, mysterious?

Homeopathy is often part of Naturopathy (the belief that diseases can be treated without medication).  Doctors who practice this holistic system of medicine are called  “Homeopaths“. Since Homeopathy training is not included in typical MD degree programs, doctors who are interested in providing this care must pursue additional training. Homeopathic practitioners also provide this treatment. They do not have medical degrees, but their educational background is in science. They do graduate-level training, complete a residency, earn certification and get a licensure.

Homeopathy is based on two unconventional theories:

  • “Like cures like” is the theory that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms in healthy people.
  •  “Law of minimum dose” is the theory that the lower the dose of the medication, the greater its effectiveness. 

Homeopathic products come from plants, minerals, or animals. Treatments are individualized for the patient and their specific illness. According to a 2012 survey, by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 5M adults and 1M children use this type of treatment in the U.S. In 2017, the FDA proposed a new risk-based enforcement approach to homeopathic products. This approach calls for more scrutiny of products. 

Some of the Chronic illnesses that can be treated with Homeopathy are:

  • Migraines
  • Depression
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia Syndrome

It is important to note that every patient is different. The treatment that some respond well to, others may not. We see this also in conventional medical treatment. There are no guarantees in life. Most of us learned that lesson, by the time we reached adulthood.

If you are interested in learning more about Homeopathy, you can read the links provided below. You can and should also discuss this with your physician. Homeopathy is considered, by most medical doctors, as part of Complementary and Alternative medicine (CAM). He or she can discuss the options available, in your area. If not, those who live in North America can contact the North American Society of Homeopaths online at https://homeopathy.org/ for assistance. Sometimes, the path to feeling better and living more fully involves treatment outside the box! 

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16296912

https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-homeopathy#1

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/homeopathy#hed1

NASH | North American Society of Homeopaths

Fibromyalgia (2008)

https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/2007/camsurvey_fs1.htm

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/homeopathy

*Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplas

On A Cold, Winter’s Night …

If you look on the calendar, winter is almost here. But for many, one glance at the thermometer says winter has already arrived. They can literally feel it. Cold weather equates to aches, pains and other issues. Exactly how or why this happens is still somewhat of a mystery. But scientists know enough to have key pieces of the puzzle in place. The main theory is that Barometric pressure ( the pressure of the air) can and does affect the joints. Arthritis patients know this all too well. But seasonal weather can affect more than muscles and joints. Many Chronic illnesses are vulnerable. Your blood pressure is higher in the winter. Why? Cold temperatures narrow your blood vessels. Migraines can also be triggered by extreme temperatures (hot or cold). And the list goes on …

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Back in 2007, a Tufts University study found that a 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with increased Arthritis pain. Imagine, for a moment, what a 20-30 degree drop feels like. Ouch! 

If you or a loved one suffer from weather changes, there are some things that you can do to manage your condition. Thankfully, these tips aren’t difficult:

  • Talk to your doctor about seasonal changes in your disease.
  • Avoid becoming a couch-potato. Exercise actually boosts your body’s production of synovial fluid. That keeps your joints lubricated & feeling good.
  • Stay warm. Remember your coat, gloves, hat, etc., whenever you go outside. And consider treating yourself indoors, too.  Flannel sheets & a heating-pad are always comfy!
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
  • Make sure to get enough Vitamin D, daily.
  • Consider dropping some weight. Just one pound lost eliminates 4 pounds of pressure from your knees!
  • Treat yourself to a massage. It alleviates pain and stress. 

Last, but not least, don’t let the cold of a winter day or night get you down. Address your symptoms and maintain your optimism. The weather can be frightful (yes, a certain holiday song is rolling around in my head), but there are tried and true ways to get through the season with minimal hardship. I believe it starts now, before the pain is overwhelming and your mobility is hampered. So, please, don’t ignore what your body is saying to you. Don’t assume that it won’t happen “this year”. Take a proactive approach to your health and well-being. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/weather-and-joint-pain#1

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326884.php#3

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/tools-resources/weather/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/health-matters/201410/does-rain-cause-pain-and-what-do-about-it

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058250

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/expert-answers/migraine-headache/faq-20058505

https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/pain-and-changes-in-weather-am-i-alone/

https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/natural/other-therapies/massage/massage-benefits.php

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

https://www.fishertitus.org/health/winter-joint-pain-relief-tips

*Photo by Nicholas Selman on Unsplash

Do I Look Like A Guinea Pig?

When you live with a Chronic illness, you get used to periodically taking tests. Blood-work is probably the most common, but there are others too. It’s part of managing your disease. And you get used to taking medications. But have you ever wondered: How much is too much? Have you ever felt like a guinea pig instead of a patient? Unfortunately, millions of people have. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment is becoming a serious healthcare problem.

For example, in a 2014 analysis report, researchers noted that about 40% of adults worldwide have Hypertension. And more than half of them have mild cases of the disease (meaning they’re at low risk and don’t have existing cardiovascular disease). Yet, half of the patients with mild cases were being given blood pressure-lowering drugs (even though there is no research on whether this reduces cardiovascular-related disease and death). Let that sink in, for a moment. Researchers argue that this “overtreatment” is unnecessary. And it costs over $32B a year, in the U.S. alone! 

 

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You may be thinking that it’s better to err on the side of caution. But can we actually call overdiagnosis a cautionary move? Personally, I don’t think so. According to the NCBI, overdiagnosis is “the diagnosis of a medical condition that would never have caused any symptoms or problems”. Aside from unnecessary treatment, this type of diagnosis can also lead to harmful issues of stress and anxiety.

For the record, overdiagnosis is not a misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis is when a doctor says cancer, but what the patient actually has is a benign cyst. Overdiagnosis is the correct diagnosis. But it is diagnosing illnesses that may never actually make you sick. Most screening tests can lead to overdiagnosis. This is not to say that you should avoid having tests. They can and have proved to be vital to our health. But if you are starting to feel like a guinea pig, it could be time to seek a second opinion. If you question a diagnosis, then listen to that little inner-voice that’s eating at you — get a second opinion. Your health may be better for doing so.

According to the Harvard Health Letter, there are 5 things you should know about seeking a second opinion:

  • They’re less common than you think.
  • Your doctor won’t be mad.
  • You may need to make your priorities known.
  • The first opinion may affect the second.
  • You may need to bridge a communications breakdown.

It may feel awkward to ask for one, but this is your health. Your life. Your right. 

If you are sick and actually experiencing symptoms, you need treatment. That’s a given. But, today, we are seeing growing numbers of overtreatment. This encompasses a wide range of healthcare, from routine tests to surgeries. A study published in September of 2017, estimated that 21% of medical care is unnecessary. This leads to more medical expenses, higher insurance costs, more medications, stress, anxiety, possibly even financial hardship for many patients. And none of us needs that.

So before you nod your head and go along with whatever is being said, remember … you aren’t a guinea pig! Speak up. Ask questions. Seek a second opinion.  It’s your body and your health. You deserve good, quality care — not bad medicine!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/how-unnecessary-tests-scans-procedures-and-surgeries-are-affecting-your-patients

https://time.com/3379349/overdiagnosis-and-overtreatment/

https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5432

https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/five-things-you-may-not-know-about-second-opinions

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430655/

https://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2014/07/23/a-patients-guide-to-second-opinions

*Photo by Katherine McAdoo on Unsplash

Taking Care Of The Caregiver

When a person is diagnosed with a Chronic illness, focus naturally centers on the patient. This is necessary, for proper treatment and disease management. While most patients have a Support System (or should for best results), many will at some point require a caregiver. This individual, whoever he or she may be, is an essential part of that patient’s life and a vital part of their disease management. They are also, often times, neglected. And that’s an unacceptable risk. Which is why it is imperative to take care of the caregiver …

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Make no mistake, there is nothing easy about the task. Care-giving can be very difficult. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. I have answered the call, twice in my life. At age 30, I was my father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer. At 48, I was my mother’s caregiver when she was diagnosed with a very rare cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Primary to the Bone). Both were extremely different experiences, despite the fact that both of my parents had cancer. Never think, for a moment, that previous experience prepares you to be a caregiver. It does not. Each patient is unique. And each will require different levels of care. When I reflect back on both of my care-giving experiences, I am reminded of a quote from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale Of Two Cities“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By that, I mean that there were special moments that I will forever hold dear in memory. But there were also times that were heart-wrenching, scary, overwhelming and physically/mentally exhausting. That is care-giving, in a nutshell. Yet, if I had to make the decision again, I would do so. But that’s just me. The responsibility isn’t for everyone. And there is no sin in admitting that. 

If you are a caregiver, or considering the duty, take a moment to reflect upon the demands of the position. And by all means, take preventative action for your own health. No caregiver, regardless of age, is immune to stress … fatigue … or depression. In fact, I would wager that a caregiver is more vulnerable. Why? Because a caregiver naturally puts his/her needs, on the back-burner. As a caregiver, the priority must be the patient that he/she is caring for. So, caregivers often neglect what their bodies need. But if you allow your own health to decline, who is that really helping?

When caring for my dad, his Hospice nurse gave me some priceless advice, “Do something for yourself, because he needs you.” Nancy was so right. It can be once a day, for 30-60 minutes. Or possibly, it’s just once a week. It doesn’t matter which you choose. If you are a caregiver, do something for you, i.e. a massage, a yoga class, a walk around the block, a Bible study, an art class, etc. Indulging in a little “Me Time” may feel a bit selfish, at first. Yet it is vital to keeping you healthy, relaxed and mentally sharp. So, get out and indulge yourself. Then, you can consider these additional tips:

  1. Get some exercise. Even in regular, small increments, it can boost your energy level. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you maintain a healthy weight, etc.
  2. Eat healthy. This too will give you more energy. Eating healthy can help prevent other health problems, too. Also remember to snack healthy.
  3. Don’t Forget How To Laugh. Laughter is good medicine. Try to find some humor in your day-to-day experience as a caregiver. Share a laugh with the loved one in your care (he/she needs joy too)!
  4. Watch-out for depression. The demands placed on you as a caregiver can be difficult and stressful. Stay vigilant. Talk to your doctor, if you think you are experiencing symptoms, i.e. sad, anxious, anger, feeling helpless, irritable, weight loss or gain, sleep issues, difficulty concentrating, etc.
  5. Takin’ Care of Business. Remember that retro phrase? Well, it’s good practice. Balance your checkbook. Pay bills. Work when you need to. Save for a special outing, anniversary, or trip. It’s good for both of you!
  6. Keep Your Dr. appointments. If you’re sick, you won’t be able to do what your loved one needs. So, visit your doctor & dentist regularly. Get your lab-work, or flu shot. Your good health is the fuel that keeps this care-giving engine running!
  7. Optimism is key. Refresh your mind, every day. Yes, you have limitations. We all do. So, let go of that guilt. Acknowledge the job that you’re doing. It’s special and important. Like other things, care-giving has a learning-curve. You will get there.
  8. Stay connected. Use the phone, internet, newspaper, etc. But, by all means, stay connected to the outside world & what is happening around you.

Last, but not least, if you need help … ask for it! Call a family-member or friend and ask for some assistance. Talk to your doctor and your loved one. If the patient’s level of care becomes too extensive, it could be time to consider hiring a professional caregiver. If you need to work, consider utilizing Adult Day-care options in your area. Just remember … you aren’t alone. There are many who are willing to offer ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid to seek their advice. Take care of your loved one — and you!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/caring-loved-one/tips-being-successful-caregiver

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/caregiver-support/top-10-caregiver-tips-for-staying-healthy-and-active

Adult Day Care Services

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2003/04/the-role-of-adult-day-services.html

https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1

*Photo by James Hose, Jr., on Unsplash