A Class Act

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Psychology, Seminars, Uncategorized

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

The lady was a class act.  In a sea of loud, silly, and shallow people, Barbara Bush stood like a lighthouse, radiating wisdom and grace.  She demonstrated remarkable equanimity, regardless of circumstance.  Blessed with razor sharp wit and a penchant for fun, she was nonetheless known to her family as “The Enforcer.”  Candid, caring, committed, and tough, Mrs. Bush had a massive impact on everyone around her.  She set the standards high and refused to indulge any twinge of narcissism in herself or others.  It’s a testament to her character that everyone around her succeeded.  She had the longest marriage (73 years) in American presidential history and was the mother of two governors, one of whom (George W. Bush) was also the 43rd president.

There were, however, those who bemoaned the notion that she was “only” a wife and mother.  Those folks ended up looking foolish.  Mrs. Bush had no misgivings about the value of family.  She was fiercely loyal and protective, but she did have boundaries.  When pestered by the media about her role in the political campaigns of family members, she quipped, “I’ll do anything to help.  But I won’t dye my hair, change my wardrobe, or lose weight.”

The reality was that Barbara and George H.W. Bush, in the late 1950s, lost their three-year-old daughter, Robin, to leukemia.  Barbara’s hair turned white shortly after that tragedy.  She refused to hide her age, stress, or heartache by dyeing her hair.  There was nothing coy, contrived, pretentious, or conniving about Mrs. Bush.  She possessed a refreshing candor and confidence that come from authenticity.  It was clear she had no interest in impressing or manipulating others.  As was the case with Billy Graham, she said what she meant and she meant what she said.  This surely must have perplexed the glitterati in Washington.

Historians will write about Mrs. Bush for years to come.  She was a smart, gracious, strong, and virtuous woman.  Countless children learned to read as a result of her efforts.  No doubt her opinions influenced domestic and foreign policy behind the scenes.  However, Mrs. Bush possessed an uncommon degree of humility, maturity, forgiveness, and forbearance that enabled her to rise above conflict and petty partisanship.  As she once explained, “Politics is what we do.  It’s not who we are.”  Have we ever been in greater need of her example?

 

Steady As She Goes

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Are you afraid to open your financial statements for March? Have the recent market gyrations triggered a sudden interest in Xanax? Nonstop news cycles and social media postings have spawned massive overreactions to every comment made by political or business leaders. Down drafts of 1,000 points can cause even the most seasoned investors to panic. Over the past two months I’ve had to curtail my exposure to the business networks. Watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge 700 points at 2 P.M. can make me feel as if I’m about to go into ventricle fibrillation. I’d rather stay in normal sinus rhythm.

Sadly, that is not a joke. I have a vivid memory of sitting at a stoplight in Little Rock, Arkansas, on October 19, 1987. It was about 5:30 P.M., and I was headed home from my office. Over the car radio I heard, “The Dow Jones Industrials are down 517 points.” I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh, he’s reading that wrong! The DOW couldn’t possibly be down that much.” It was.

Shortly after I arrived home, my beeper went off. One of my favorite patients was in the emergency room (ER) with a massive myocardial infarction. George A. was a 76-year-old gentleman from Hope, Arkansas. He had grown up in poverty but had educated himself and built up several successful businesses. He was bright, witty, charming, dapper, and gracious. But on that day, George A. had lost over a million dollars, at least on paper. He was devastated.

I grabbed my bag and raced back to the hospital. We got George admitted to the cardiac care unit (CCU). His electrocardiogram (EKG) looked awful, and he looked worse. He was utterly convinced that one dreadful day on Wall Street had destroyed his future. Around 8 P.M., George become very ill (coded). We worked on him frantically for over an hour, but we couldn’t bring him back. There was no doubt in my mind that the thought of financial ruin had literally scared George to death. I felt numb.

Later that week, two of my colleagues committed suicide. They had also lost a fortune, at least on paper. Everyone was stunned and afraid that week. One year later, however, the market had recovered nearly all of its losses. Thirty years later I still mourn the loss of three good people. For all intents and purposes, they died from acute financial panic.

I am no financial genius. But forty years of investing have taught me a few lessons that may help someone else:

  • Don’t watch market moves minute to minute. Before long, you’ll need heavy sedation.
  • Don’t dump stocks when everyone is panicking. You’ll almost always miss out on the best part of the recovery phase.
  • Remember the wisdom of the ancient Greeks: Moderation in all things. Balance stocks, mutual funds, bonds, certificates of deposit (CD’s), cash, real estate, and precious metals based on your age, health, family needs, and risk tolerance.
  • Don’t give in to ignorance, laziness, fear, or greed. Sixty-six percent of millennials have nothing stashed away for retirement. Failure to invest is one of the greatest mistakes of all.
  • No matter what happens, avoid the temptation to overreact. You are infinitely more important than your financial statements.

Now take a deep breath and open the statements from March. Steady as she goes. You’ll be fine.

Water: The Fountain of Youth?

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Based on the fact that about two-thirds of the body is composed of water, it seems obvious that consuming water is important for health.  Water requirements have been studied for decades.  Recommendations are narrowed to two alternatives:  Consume a minimum of eight cups of liquid per day or drink to quench thirst.

Research now reveals that drinking water when feeling thirsty boosts the brain’s performance in mental tests.  Dr. Caroline Edmonds, the author of a lead study, found that reaction times were faster after people drank water, particularly if they were thirsty before drinking.

Drinking more water than normally consumed is associated with a reduced intake of calories and sodium.  The study, led by Prof. Ruopeng An, showed that people who increased their consumption of plain water by one to three cups daily lowered total energy intake by 68-205 calories each day and their sodium intake by 78-235 grams per day.

A popular trend these days, alkaline water is promoted as a healthier choice than plain water. Several brands of alkaline water are available or machines can be purchased that make alkaline water.

Proponents claim that alkaline water kills cancer cells, banishes belly fat, lubricates joints, protects bone density, reduces acid reflux, and improves hydration.  What scientific evidence lies behind these claims?  Despite the promotion of alkaline water by the manufacturers of the product and by the media, there is very little research either to support or disprove the claims.

The pH of water is neutral, a pH of 7.  Chemicals and gases can alter the pH of water.  For example, rainwater’s pH is slightly below 7, as carbon dioxide in the air dissolves in the water and increases acidity.

Water that is too alkaline (pH above 7) has a bitter taste.  It can cause deposits that encrust pipes and appliances.  Highly acidic water tastes sour and may corrode metals or even dissolve them.  Fortunately, as the kidneys filter blood, the pH of blood and all cells are rebalanced close to neutral, avoiding any unhealthy effect of liquids or foods that raise or lower pH.

Citrus fruits are named for their citric acid content, but don’t be fooled by that fact.  Citrons, lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits — all citrus fruits — produce alkaline byproducts once digested. So, you can squeeze juice from a lemon or other citrus into plain water and make your own alkaline water.  Enjoy!


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

A Bit of Common Sense

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Pain, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Do you take care of patients?  Are you in a position to teach students or other caregivers?  These days, everyone in healthcare is simmering in a sea of policies, protocols, rules, regulations, and algorithms.  Some of them are reasonable.  A few even make good sense.  Unfortunately, however, many of them are downright dumb.  Often, by the time someone reaches the lofty position of creating assorted rules and policies, she has lost touch with her sector of the real world.  The results are not good.

In recent years I’ve been sidelined with a growing list of autoimmune diseases. I used to joke with audiences that with red hair, green eyes, and see-through skin, I was a walking collection of recessive genes.  It’s not a joke anymore.  Being in constant pain and steadily losing functional ability is not fun.  However, in my new role as “patient,” I have learned a few things that are not taught in most training programs.

In the hope that it might help a few other folks, here’s some of what I’ve learned:

  • Sunshine is our friend.  Over the years, I’ve spent far too little time outdoors.  I was a sickly little kid and a natural-born bookworm.  From the mid-1980s on, I was afraid of “skin damage.”  Swell.  Now I have decent-looking skin but my musculoskeletal system is so badly compromised I struggle to get in or out of a chair.  Please encourage patients to get some fresh air and sunshine on a regular basis — especially if these patients suffer from any chronic illness.  Vitamin D supplements are fine, but they can’t undo the damage of decades of deficiency.
  • Small comforts matter.  The point of health care is to relieve pain and suffering.  Many of our colleagues have apparently forgotten that.  Computers can provide information.  They cannot provide comfort and consolation.  There is a true art to easing another person’s misery, and it usually involves small, simple measures.  “Hugging” a king-size pillow while lying on your side can ease pressure and strain on shoulders, elbows, and knees.  Massaging a nicely-fragranced body butter into hands, arms, legs, and feet before bed can help ease the achiness that accompanies chronic illness.  It’s not a substitute for proper medication, but these measures can provide a few moments of respite.
  • Being squeaky clean feels good.  I was obsessed with hygiene even as a little kid.  But chronic pain and illness can make taking a shower, washing your hair, and brushing your teeth feel like a triathlon.  Nearly anyone who has had the flu can relate.  The most simple measures can make a difference:
    • Change pillow cases every 12–24 hours.  I did this for patients when I was a nurse’s aide 45 years ago.  I do it for myself now.  If feels nice.
    • Step up oral and dental care after meals and before bed.  This feels nice, too.  And, there are discernible medical benefits.
    • Try a shower in the morning and a warm bath at night (as long as it’s safe).  Baby wipes, facial wipes, and dry shampoo are essential for travel and chronic illness.
  • Never wake a sleeping patient for vital signs.  I can hear nursing instructors screaming right now.  However, if a patient is sound asleep, her vital signs are probably fine.  Despite all of our impressive technology and sophisticated medications, we have found nothing more restorative than good, deep sleep.

If policies and protocols eased misery, everyone would feel fine by now.  Sometimes what we need is a bit of common sense.

The Message

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Seminars, Webinars

Nearly three billion people throughout the world will observe the most solemn day of the Christian calendar this Friday (March 30, 2018). Good Friday services across the globe will commemorate the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ nearly 2,000 years ago. Even the wizards of Wall Street will suspend trading at noon out of respect for the solemnity of the day. In a world obsessed with narcissism and greed, it’s comforting to know there’s still a vestige of decorum left. I suppose many people today would consider it archaic, but the practice of foregoing activities associated with fun, entertainment, or self-indulgence on Good Friday still seem appropriate to me. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I think the human spirit needs a little expression of reverence and restraint now and then.

I really believe there’s a timeless message for all of us in the events commemorated on Good Friday. It’s a message that’s meaningful regardless of one’s personal theology or lack thereof. It’s a message that’s been embraced by people as diverse as Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, John Paul II, and countless survivors of unspeakable atrocities. The message is contained in nine extraordinary words spoken by Jesus through his agony on the cross. After being mocked, beaten, scourged, humiliated, and tortured, He uttered nine words that seem incomprehensible to this day. “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”

No words could have shocked his tormentors more. Both Seneca and Cicero have described in chilling detail the usual reactions of crucifixion victims. Neither the Scribes and Pharisees, nor the Roman centurions, could have been prepared to hear words of forgiveness from their Victim. Quite the contrary, they would have expected a vastly different response. Even the Man who preached, “Love your enemies” could not be expected to speak forgiveness in response to such hideous torment.

Any thinking person, regardless of creed or culture, can’t help but ponder the ramifications of that kind of forgiveness. How would human history change if everyone practiced that virtue? There would be no fights, no feuds, no lawsuits, no wars. Hostility and revenge would cease to exist. There would be no prejudice or persecution. It’s difficult to fathom a world where forgiveness is foremost in everyone’s mind. But it would surely be close to paradise.

The message of Good Friday goes far beyond doctrine or dogma. It speaks to the exquisite potential within the human spirit to rise above the mean, vicious, and cowardly face of evil. No message could be as noble or as necessary for the world we live in today.

 

Nourish Your Friendly Bacteria

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

In a society of anti-bacterial warfare, who would imagine scientists touting the benefits of consuming foods fermented by living microorganisms?

The organisms are called probiotics, which means “for life.”  Identified on the skin and within the body, these beneficial microbes are part of a community of healthful and harmful micro-organisms called the microbiota.  Most probiotics are located in your gut, particularly the large intestine (colon).  Probiotics aid the digestion and absorption of food, improve immune function, overpower harmful gut microbes, and rebalance the microbiota following antibiotic therapy.

Research continues to demonstrate the versatility of these friendly critters. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment of gut discomfort and diseases of the gastrointestinal system.  Other benefits are treatments of vaginal and urinary tract infections.

Probiotics also release vaporous chemicals into the blood system.  Scientists are investigating the healthful effects of these metabolic products throughout the body and  brain — from fetal life through the elder years.

You can improve the number and diversity of probiotics in your gut.  Eating probiotic-rich foods is the first way to shape the makeup of your intestinal microbiota.  Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink), and some cheeses are major sources of probotics.

Consuming a variety of fermented foods enhances microbial diversity and potency. Include sauerkraut, cider, miso, tempeh (a soy product that originated in Indonesia), buttermilk — or yogurt and kefir made from nondairy sources.  Grapes and grains, which are popular probiotics, can be fermented into wine and beer!

Another way to impact your gut microbiota positively is to eat foods that “feed” the probiotics in your gut.  Called prebiotics, foods with a high-fiber content have a positive impact on the growth of probiotics, but not on the harmful bacteria.  All plant foods contain fiber, but the fiber in whole grains improves the diversity of the probiotics — especially whole wheat and whole barley.

There is some evidence that good quality oils and certain nutrients in plants may also help probiotics to thrive.  The typical Western diet — low in fiber and high in sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods — feeds harmful microbes.  Probiotics are not associated with such negative consequences.

Although the fermentation of food and beverages is an ancient custom, the scientific analysis of the many probiotic species and strains is just now unfolding.  In the future, healthful longevity will certainly include adding more friends (probiotics) to your gut and feeding them well (prebiotics.)


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

A Very Long Reception Line

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

He was a bright light shining in the darkness.  Billy Graham changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people.  His message was simple and consistent:  God loves you.  He wasn’t concerned about denomination or fine points of theology even though he knew the Bible about as well as anyone.  He was a bold but humble force for good in the world.

In an age when being snide and snarky is considered “cool,” Billy Graham’s sincerity, honor, and compassion provided a beacon of hope.  Today, few things come more easily than cynicism.  I struggle with it every hour of the day.  But Billy Graham managed to rise above that temptation throughout his long life.  He never worried that someone might ridicule, criticize, or dismiss him because he never worried about himself.  Few people manage to subdue their egos the way Billy Graham did.  His lifelong focus was to share God’s love with as many people as possible.

Living a faith-filled life is very difficult.  Mother Teresa understood that. Pope John Paul II knew it.  Brave souls like these never agonize over focus groups, polls, or surveys.  Political correctness and fence-straddling, psycho-babble have no place in their lives.  They really do answer to a Higher Power.

Billy Graham gave spiritual counsel to 12 presidents regardless of their political party or religious affiliation.  He didn’t need to play games, massage egos, or create clever sound bites.  He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a clear understanding of right and wrong, and he wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Status had no claim on him. He lived a simple, scandal-free life.  For decades he showed as much attention and kindness to orphans in huts as he did to heads of state in palaces.

Finally, Billy Graham gave us all a noble example of how to endure the ravages of illness and old age with grace and dignity.  As we have seen with other saintly individuals, his patience, courage, and good humor endured until the very end. Protracted illness, pain, and suffering could not conquer the Spirit that worked within him.

I’ve heard it said that when you die, all the souls you’ve helped along the way are there in heaven to greet you.  In Billy Graham’s case, it must have been a very long reception line.

One Devastating Flaw

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It happened again.  Seventeen precious lives were snuffed out by a vicious young man.  Before their bodies were laid to rest, “experts” began screaming at one another on TV.  However, finger-pointing, shouting matches, and emotional rants do not solve problems.  Thoughtful, well-informed, practical strategies solve problems.

Clearly what we have been doing to prevent school shootings has been inadequate.  The reasons are myriad.

  • Gun control laws are flawed.  I’ve long been baffled by the fact that there are more restrictions on me as a physician prescribing four ounces of cough syrup containing codeine than there are on a violent teen buying an assault rifle. Most reasonable people would probably agree:  This makes no sense.
  • Counseling is a fine endeavor.  We need more of it. But caring, prudent advice will not stop slaughter.  It’s impossible to reason with someone who is irrational.
  • School security needs attention.  In Israel, schools are locked at the final morning bell and teachers with military training carry hidden weapons. We now have hundreds of thousands of well-trained veterans who could help secure schools and do data mining of social-media sites to enhance intelligence analysis.  Why are we not enlisting their help?
  • Over the past 30 years, children have been exposed to tremendous levels of violence on TV, in movies, and perhaps most intensely, in video games.  Here there are no consequences to killing, apart from racking up points. Many kids who have been left to fend for themselves never have been taught to respect another person.

Additional resources providing better security, practical law enforcement, and sensible mental health care are needed almost everywhere.  But one devastating flaw remains.  Many people realized the shooter in Florida was dangerous.  The police had been called multiple times over the years.  He had beaten his mother and reportedly tormented and killed small animals.  His social media postings threatened murder.  Other students feared him and school authorities expelled him.  The FBI failed to follow-up on two credible reports.

Why do any of us fear getting involved in difficult situations?  It’s simple. We’re scared to death we might be sued.  We’re afraid of revenge or even the possibility of being called “mean.”

Many years ago, I had to confront a serious situation in a training program. Patient safety and professional standards were on the line.  I took action I deemed necessary and was clobbered with a lawsuit along with several other faculty.  It made our lives a living hell for nearly five years.  Other physicians and administrators simply looked the other way.  They suffered no retribution.  Some of us did what we believed was right.  Some chose to remain silent.

On February 14, 2018, many people did the right thing.  Some of them died trying to save others.  None of us is off the hook here.  Fear can have fatal consequences.  Courage is the antidote.

Memory Loss

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

By Michael Howard, Ph.D.

While some memory loss — such as misplacing the car keys or wondering where that library book is — happens to people as they age, the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementing illnesses is far more dramatic, severe, and progressive.

Memory loss is one of the distinguishing symptoms of AD, and it influences other aspects of the disease as well. Memory loss affects communication because the individual begins to forget words and, over time, loses the ability to read and write. Memory loss also affects mood and behavior because patients inevitably become frustrated, angry, and depressed as continual and worsening lapses impair their ability to think and function effectively. Several medications have been shown to slow memory loss and other cognitive decline. Many professionals also believe that exercises designed to stimulate memory, including memory enhancement and reality orientation exercises, may help slow deterioration somewhat. However, these exercises are demanding because they need to be repeated several times a day, and it would be helpful if caregivers could enlist the help of friends and relatives to work with the patient at specific times of the day or week.

Short-term memory loss, that is, loss of memories of events that occurred from several seconds to several days or weeks ago, is the first type of memory to become impaired with dementia. Patients may forget that they just finished a meal, or that a favorite cousin just paid a visit. Loss of long-term memory, memory for events that occurred months or years ago and that also involves remembering how to perform basic tasks such as cooking and dressing, is affected during the middle and later stages of the illness. The effects of memory loss cut across every aspect of the lives of people with AD and other dementias, affecting their ability to communicate, work, enjoy free time and relaxation, and care for themselves. In the later stages of illness, individuals lose their ability to recognize their spouses, family members, and friends. They forget how to bathe, dress, feed themselves, and use the toilet.

A Bit Of A Twist

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Have you given a thought to Valentine’s Day yet?  I suspect for most people it’s a last minute scramble for dinner reservations or roses.  The Valentine cards and candy in stores have been staring us in the face since Christmas Eve.  But most of us have had a few other things on our minds, things like floods, flu, holiday bills, and taxes.  Hearts and flowers aren’t top priorities for most folks unless they work for Hallmark or Russell Stover.

This year there’s a bit of a twist.  February 14th is Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  It’s most unusual.  As soon as I noticed this anomaly on the calendar, I realized several things would happen.  Some people would turn it into a theological controversy over which observance should take precedence.  I’ve always been perplexed by the propensity of some people to promote “either-or” thinking.  Sure enough, several prominent clerics have issued stern statements about the obligation of their members to fast and forego any Valentine treats.  That’s their call.

Some people will slog through the day unaware of either observance.  They don’t worry about philosophical or theological dilemmas, and, for the most part, they’re not terribly romantic or thoughtful to begin with.  No big deal.

I have a different take on this.  As a 63-year-old woman, I’ve had my share of lovely Valentine surprises and a few bitter disappointments.  That’s life.  As a geriatrician, I know how many sick, lonely, elderly people are ignored on Valentine’s Day.  That’s sad.  As a lifelong Catholic, I understand that Ash Wednesday is all about spiritual priorities and discipline.  We’re not supposed to be self-indulgent morning, noon, and night.  That’s prudent.

Here’s the good part:  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday don’t have to be at odds with each another.  There is no need for “either-or” thinking.  St. Valentine was a real man, a priest who brought great kindness and love to persecuted people in third century Rome.  He was martyred for his devotion in 270 A.D.  Ash Wednesday is a major reminder that life is short.  The only thing we’ll take with us at the end is the love and compassion we have shown to others.

We all have patients, colleagues, neighbors, and even passing strangers in our lives who will be neglected on February 14th unless we remember them.  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  Curious.  There’s never a need to “fast” from being thoughtful.