Between old wives’ tales and misinformation online, patients face a lot of confusion about health care, and self-diagnosis has become a popular practice. But when it comes to eye health, it’s important to know the facts and get the right kind of care in order to protect your vision.
Seniors, who are at greatest risk for vision loss from eye disease, need to be especially diligent to keep their eyes healthy through regular checkups with ophthalmologists – medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases. To help protect your vision and prevent vision loss at any age, EyeCare America, a public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, clarifies five common eye health misconceptions:
- Unless I feel pain or notice changes in my vision, I don’t need an eye exam. Most eye diseases, like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have no early warning signs or symptoms. By the time a change in vision is noticed, the damage can be irreversible. Regardless of symptoms, regular eye exams are essential in protecting sight.
- Computer screens ruin your eye sight. Spending long hours in front of a computer screen can cause eyes to feel tired and strained for a variety of reasons, including the tendency to blink less frequently. But the good news is that computer screens are not responsible for any permanent damage to vision.
- Kids don’t need sunglasses. Exposure to UV rays can increase your risk for AMD and cataracts. Since UV damage is cumulative, even the youngest eyes need to be protected from the sun. Make sure sunglasses block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays, and don’t forget to wear them on the slopes or during other outdoor winter sports. Wear a hat and seek shade, too, to protect eyes from UV damage.
- Vision loss is a normal part of aging. Getting older does not mean that vision loss is inevitable. Most vision loss can be prevented as long as you catch eye diseases early and take steps to protect your vision. Staying active, eating healthy foods and practicing other healthy habits will help protect your vision as you age.
- If you got your eyes screened when you got new glasses or contacts, you don’t need an eye exam. Only a dilated eye exam allows an ophthalmologist to examine the entire eye and detect signs of eye disease. Even if you recently got a new prescription for glasses or contacts, you might still need a dilated eye exam.
Taking proper care of our eyes is essential to preserve good vision as we age. The first step in maintaining healthy vision is to schedule regular, dilated eye exams, starting with a baseline exam by age 40. After age 65, you should schedule eye exams every one to two years or as advised by your ophthalmologist.
Outdoor heat is associated with a significantly increased risk of emergency hospitalization for respiratory disorders in the elderly, according to a large epidemiological study of more than 12.5 million Medicare beneficiaries.
“While outdoor heat has been shown to increase respiratory mortality, evidence on the relationship between heat and respiratory hospitalizations has been less consistent,” said lead author G. Brooke Anderson, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In the largest population of the elderly yet studied, we found strong evidence that short-term exposure to outdoor heat increases the risk of hospitalization for COPD and respiratory tract infections. This relationship was consistent for men and women and across all age groups studied.”
Each 10°F increase in daily temperature translates to approximately 30 excess respiratory hospitalizations per day among the elderly in the 213 counties studied, with larger increases in temperature expected to result in more excess hospitalizations.
“Our study provides clear and consistent evidence of a link between outdoor heat and hospitalization for respiratory disease in the elderly,” said senior author Dr. Roger D. Peng, associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “As the prevalence of respiratory conditions and the age of the population continue to increase and global temperatures continue to rise as a result of climate change, the risk of heat-related respiratory disease is also likely to increase.”
The findings were published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study included more than 30 percent of the U.S. population aged 65 or older.
By Carrie Shamel, MSW
I always tell people that one magical aspect of working with people with dementia is that you can still communicate, even if the affected person has lost the ability to speak coherently. I think that people with dementia develop a gift, which is the ability to communicate in a nontraditional way. This forces “us,” the unaffected persons, to learn their language. It is a language with pure emotions, spelled out by facial expressions and body language.
In my work with those with dementia here in Vermont, I began to learn that new language, and watch those with dementia learn it, too. I will never forget a time when I was working as an activities assistant at a nursing home, and saw two of the patients laughing and appearing to tell stories to one another. Curious about what was so funny, I drew myself closer to them. To my astonished ears, I discovered they were not using sentences that made any sense. I could not follow their conversation as “Marion” was discussing the children she used to work with and “Lorraine” was pointing to a man across the room and commenting on his clothing. I could sense by their bodies leaning in toward one another, and by their smiling eyes and mouths, that they felt they were having a perfectly legitimate conversation. I soon learned to communicate with them in a similar fashion. Before long, I shared laughter with “Lorraine,” although I was unsure if we were laughing about the same thing. The content of our conversations was not as important as the emotion behind it.
As I became fluent in their language, I developed intimate relationships with my patients. Though once perhaps labeled “the Alzheimer’s patients who misbehave and get angry,” these were people with true feelings, upset over the idea of not understanding why they could not go to work, or why their children were not coming home from school. I began to realize that addressing their feelings in the moment is the most important thing of all. It didn’t matter if they mourned for their deceased husband as if he had just died yesterday, what mattered is that you connected with them in their reality.
Always liking to travel, I took a two two-month volunteer position in Helsinki, Finland, at a residential care home for people with dementia. I was curious to learn about how their universal health care affected elders, where older people resided, and if the philosophy of dementia care differed from what I knew in the United States, along with other things. Prior to leaving, I regularly emailed the volunteer coordinator, Riikka, at the home. I had read in the literature about Finland that the majority of people speak English. What the literature neglected to tell me, and what Riikka informed me, is that this is only true of those under the age of 60 or so—those above 60 had not learned it in school as the younger population had. I began to have my doubts about whether the volunteer work would be satisfying if I could not talk with the elders. How I loved to hear stories from the older population. Without this, would the experience be gratifying?
Upon starting the volunteer work, I found Riikka to be extremely kind. She gave me the grand tour of the two-story home for the elders, included me in all sorts of activities, answered a plethora of questions and was more than willing to translate what the residents were saying. My questions ranged from “What is the patient to staff ratio here?” to “How do the patients pay for the homes?” and “What is the philosophy of care around dementia care?”
Through Riikka’a translation, she introduced me to the patients. Many were excited to meet a “young lady” from the United States. They were eager to share their culture, telling me stories about growing up in the Finnish countryside, what they did for work, what their families were like, what the common foods they ate were, how they celebrate holidays, what it was like during wars, the difference between a Swedish speaking Finn and Finnish speaking Finn, etc. One lady had been to New York City and this was the basis for her view on the United States. She said she could never live in a country with so many people and tall buildings. I tried to tell her Vermont was different, but this notion was incomprehensible to her.
As I had in Vermont in my work at a residential care home, I began to develop relationships with the residents despite our language barrier. Mostly, I noticed this development through nonverbal cues such as smiling, hand holding, and acceptance of me participating in their activities, including dining. Some of them would recognize me as I came each day, and would say “hi” in English. One resident, Mia, spoke several languages. She could recall that I wasn’t Finnish, but could not recall that I was American. Consequently, she would greet me each day in a different language, sometimes French, sometimes German and sometimes English.
With the residents, I enjoyed doing chair exercises, dancing together, singing songs, having meals, mushroom foraging and going on daily walks. One walk with them stands out in my memory. As we got ready to leave, the staff began pairing up with some of the patients to help them walk and ensure they had no falls. I was hoping to walk with Mia or another resident who at least could say a few English phrases. Instead, the staff paired me with Eiya, a resident with warm eyes who didn’t know a single word of English. We began walking outdoors, down the road, toward the wooded trail. It was a pleasant autumn day with the leaves changing and wind slightly blowing. Eiya began speaking to me in Finnish. In my limited Finnish, I muttered back one of the few phrases I knew—“I do not speak Finnish.” She would nod, then not even a minute later start speaking in Finnish again, as she had forgotten what I had just said. As she spoke she would smile, point at a bird, glance at me and smile some more. Soon, I began doing the same thing is return: I would point to a pretty tree, make a comment on the number of bunnies, and simply smile with her. I began uttering back to her as she spoke, “Kylla, kylla” which basically translates to “Yeah, yeah,” And what do you know? Our conversation went along just fine.
This experience walking with Eiya confirmed my belief that nonverbal communication and connecting with emotions is the basis of the language of dementia. I now feel more strongly than ever that you can always, regardless of language or of verbal ability, communicate with someone with dementia. You just have to be patient and learn the language.
By Phyl Newbeck
Fletcher Allen Health Care doesn’t make a special effort to recruit older volunteers, according to Director of Volunteer Services Margaret Laughlin. Just because there isn’t a special effort doesn’t mean the hospital isn’t filled with volunteers of all ages. “We have 950 volunteers,” said Laughlin “and a huge number are over 50. They’re everywhere. If they are physically able to do the work, they can choose their assignment. There are over 50 different areas for volunteers and each one has its share of mature helpers.”
Dick Houghton of Colchester has been volunteering at FAHC for more than six years, dividing his time between the information desk, working as a guide and promoting the cardiac rehabilitation center. Part of Houghton’s inspiration to volunteer comes from personal experience. In December of 2005, he had bypass surgery, after which he visited the cardiac rehabilitation center, where staff taught him how to exercise properly. Often, cardiac outpatients are reluctant to use the center, so after Houghton’s successful experience, he was asked if he would counsel others on the importance of attending. He agreed, and began spending two days a week visiting cardiac patients, often as many as 20 a day. At 69, he has taken a sabbatical from his work as a cardiac counselor, believing that those whose procedures are more recent might make for better role models.
After three or four months as a counselor, Houghton realized he truly enjoyed volunteering at the hospital and offered to serve as a guide, as well. Guides help patients and visitors navigate the maze-like hospital, either by walking with them or pushing them in wheelchairs. In addition, Houghton volunteers at the information desk, providing directions for those who are able to travel through the hospital on their own. The two positions complement each other and Houghton now guides twice a week and sits at the information desk once a week. He said many visitors are amazed that the hospital provides wheelchairs and offers of assistance to visitors. One couple visiting from Massachusetts swore that if they ever needed a big procedure done, they would come to Fletcher Allen, he said.
Betsy Lawrence of Colchester has spent three years volunteering at the Taylor Family Hospitality Room and Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Three years ago, the 62-year-old former medical social worker retired for health reasons and wanted to find a way to continue being helpful. Lawrence tried a number of volunteer opportunities, but found FAHC to be a good fit. “I felt like I was using my training,” she said “and helping families and patients directly.”
Lawrence divides her time between two related facilities. The Surgical Intensive Care Unit is her “busy” assignment. Once a week, she serves as a liaison between family and staff. Since the unit is a locked facility, Lawrence’s job is to see which family members are interested in visiting patients and arranging for visitation. “Since I was comfortable with the emotional issues,” she said “it felt like a place where I could be useful. I enjoy it a lot.” In contrast, Lawrence’s work at the Taylor Room is far more relaxed. The room is a waiting area for families who want to visit the SICU and it cannot be kept open without the presence of volunteers. While her SICU work involves a lot of walking, the Taylor Room is a place where Lawrence can knit or read while still providing assistance to families. “Those two assignments are a nice mix,” she said. “One is active and intense and the other is relaxed and quiet.”
In the case of Linda Pelkey of South Hero, volunteering at the hospital is a way to give back after two family members were treated for serious medical issues. Pelkey’s son was badly injured in a military accident and her grandson was diagnosed with histiocytosis, an abnormal increase in the number of immune cells. In 2002, Pelkey retired and decided to volunteer at Fletcher Allen to give back for everything the hospital had done for her family. Now 65, she wanted to spend her retirement years being busy and being around people. When Pelkey’s son was injured, she made a promise to herself that if he survived, she would find a way to give back. “I know it sounds trite and you hear it all the time,” she said “but it’s true that you don’t forget people who were kind to you in times of trauma and you carry that with you. It’s as simple as that.”
For the last eight years, Pelkey has worked for the FAVORS program, which provides room service for patients. Patients can request reading material, snacks, games, crafts, music and other entertainment. Although the program is designed for in-patients, volunteers are also willing to go on coffee runs for out-patients. “It’s very rewarding when you see how patients react,” she said. “Sometime it’s just a smile, but other times they say ‘you’ve made my day’ and most didn’t realize the service existed. Once they find out the scope of the program, they’re amazed.”
Lawrence credited the Fletcher Allen volunteer office with being well organized and for recognizing the work of volunteers. She noted that staff members also frequently show their appreciation for the volunteers’ efforts. “The office is really good at helping people figure out what they want to do,” she said. Volunteers receive training, a thorough orientation and annual updates. “It’s very gratifying,” she said. “I would recommend it to anyone. There are times when it’s stressful and sad, but I enjoy it and it makes me feel like I’m still useful.”
Pelkey echoed Lawrence’s appreciation for the volunteer office. “They’re exceptional people,” she said “and they make it fun to go to work with their positive attitude. You don’t get paid a dime, but there are other ways that you are rewarded.”
“If you talk to the volunteers we all say the same thing,” said Houghton. “We get a lot out of this; it feels good to help people.”
Houghton has also gained a group of new friends from his volunteer work. “It really brings a lump to my throat,” he said. “Everyone has been so nice.” After retiring from IBM, Houghton spent his time kayaking and bicycling but found there was something missing. “It gives me great satisfaction to be here,” he said “and it filled a void in my life.”
The Vermont Cancer Center has been awarded a “Three Year Accreditation with Commendation” from the Commission on Cancer, a component of the American College of Surgeons. It is the highest performance rating granted by the Commission, and is based on comparisons to all accredited cancer programs in the nation, according to a VCC press release.
The Vermont Cancer Center earned this renewed designation for surpassing numerous standards that encompass research activity, clinical care, quality improvement and community outreach. Seven areas were given special recognition including outcomes analysis, the number of clinical trials underway and strong efforts to educate the public on prevention and early detection.
“Earning the highest rating is a testament to the teamwork of dozens of specialists and staff who are all dedicated to providing our patients and their families with the excellent care they need from diagnosis to survivorship support,” said Claire Verschraegen, M.D., co-director of the Vermont Cancer Center.
By Luke Baynes
Lillian Jeter prefaced her seminar at the 18th annual 50 Plus & Baby Boomers EXPO with a warning.
“Unfortunately, we’re going to talk about a very horrific topic,” she warned, before adding, “but I’m going to try to pave the way for some of you, and hopefully all of you, as to what factors to look for if you’re placing your loved one in a nursing home.”
A former lieutenant with the Charleston (S.C.) Police Department, Jeter was director of the Melbourne, Australia-based Elder Abuse Prevention Association from September 2001 to May 2011.
The horror alluded to in Jeter’s introduction to the Jan. 26 seminar was a case of sexual abuse in an Australian nursing home, perpetrated by a male staff member on several elderly females. A high-profile appearance on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline program by Jeter and the family of one of the victims led to the passage of mandatory reporting laws in Australia for incidents of serious physical assault and criminal sexual assault.
“If someone feels that comfortable in doing those types of incidents, can you imagine the green light that occurs when you’re just doing the basic neglects?” Jeter asked the audience at the Diamond Ballroom of the Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center.
Jeter followed that rhetorical question with a more concrete query: Why would a nursing home cover up elder abuse, be it as serious as sexual assault or simple as negligence through understaffing?
The audience responses boiled down to two distinct yet not inseparable reasons: money and reputation.
“In order to protect their reputation, they cover it up and they allow it to continue because (the elderly) are old and vulnerable and dependent and they’re going to die anyway and they cannot tell anybody, so it’s their word against everybody else’s word, even other employees,” Jeter said. “How horrific, how absolutely horrific that is.”
All of which raised the more pertinent question, and ultimate focus of Jeter’s talk, how does one choose the right nursing home for a loved one?
Jeter’s recommendations can be summarized as follows:
- Make sure the facility is licensed.
- Talk to the facility administrator and director of nursing. Make sure they’re “on the same sheet of music” in terms of resident care philosophy.
- Visit the nursing home. (“I cannot believe the people that go and put their loved ones into facilities without actually going through and touring and doing their homework.”)
- Beware of outwardly ornate appearances. (“When you walk in the front door and see something that looks like the Sheraton, to me that’s a warning sign. That is a marketing scheme.”)
- Can a resident be visited at any time? Can he or she leave the premises to visit family at any time? A “no” answer to either question is a red flag.
- Ensure that a loved one’s personal physician is required to be contacted whenever a change in medication is made by facility staff.
- Talk to other families.
Jeter put particular emphasis on the last bullet point, citing her own experience when she placed her father in a nursing home.
“Those families that had their own loved ones there, we all looked after each other. I looked after theirs, as well as they looked after my daddy when I wasn’t there,” she said. “It was like a big family.”
In closing, Jeter suggested that apart from safety concerns, a long-term care facility should be chosen based on its recognition that old age should be viewed as a stage of life to be treasured, rather than as a layover en route to the graveyard.
“One of the worst fears of those who are older is going to a nursing home. They see it as the last stop to death,” she said. “It should not be that way. It just means they have long-term care needs that need to be taken care of in a facility that has long-term care.”
ABUSE IN VERMONT
Dr. Susan Wehry, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, told Vermont Maturity that the department investigates approximately 1,000 cases of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation annually. The Adult Protective Services division has published a guide to recognizing abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults, which includes a list of warning signs including:
Possible indications of physical abuse
unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, fractures, dislocations
conflicting stories about injuries
changes in physical or mental health (fear, withdrawal, anxiety)
frequent changes in health care professionals
signs of being restrained, such as rope marks on wrists
Possible indications of sexual abuse
full or partial disclosure, or hints, of sexual abuse
pain, itching or bruising in genital areas, thighs and upper arms
torn, stained or bloodied underclothing or bedding
sexually transmitted diseases, unusual urinary tract or vaginal infections
changes in sexual behavior/attitude, inappropriate sexualized behaviors
changes in personal hygiene—wetting, soiling, reluctance to undress, new obsession with washing themselves
Possible indications of emotional abuse
changes in behavior/demeanor when a certain person is present
prevention of access to friends, family, telephone, social groups
changes in mental health—withdrawn, depressed, low self-esteem, anxious
changes in sleep patterns or appetite
unexplained fear or defensiveness
The complete guide can be found at http://www.dlp.vermont.gov/raising-awareness-handbook/view
By Dr. Richard Isaacson and Dr. Christopher Ochner
Doctors have been recommending dietary changes to their patients with such conditions as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure for years. Soon, they may be doing the same for patients suffering from poor memory function.
That’s because a host of new clinical studies have found that specific nutritional interventions can significantly improve memory function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
But you don’t have to have Alzheimer’s to benefit from the new findings. Eating a brain-healthy diet can also help those of us who, as we age, notice that our mind and memory just aren’t as sharp as they used to be.
Here are five memory-boosting dietary recommendations, based on the latest scientific research and clinical experience treating patients with AD and MCI.
Fast 12 hours at night
If you take advantage of “early bird specials”—having supper at the diner between 4 and 6 p.m.—you’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a brain health secret: the 12-hour nightly fast. If you routinely wake up at 6 a.m., try to eat your last meal by 6 p.m. the night before. There is scientific evidence that substances called ketone bodies, which are produced when there are no carbohydrates to burn for fuel, may have a protective effect on brain cells. This means no late-night snacking between dinner and breakfast.
Proportion your fat-carb-protein intake
Every day, make sure you aim for 25 percent of your total calories from brain-healthy good fat, which includes olive oil, avocados, certain nuts, natural peanut butter, certain seeds and certain fish. Limit your intake of bad fats (most fast foods, anything hydrogenated, dried coconut, butter, animal fats, milk chocolate/ white chocolate and cheese). Consume 30-45 percent of your daily calories from complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole foods that are low on the glycemic index), and wean yourself off high glycemic carbs (sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, processed cereals and grains, anything baked, whole milk and cream, ice cream and sorbet, crackers, salty snacks such as chips and pretzels and anything made with white flour). Finally, get the other 25-35 percent of your calories from high-quality lean protein.
Boost your brain nutrients
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential for memory function and brain health. Most of us don’t get enough from dietary sources (such as fish), so consider high-quality, pure fish oil supplements that contain a minimum of 250 mg of DHA in each capsule, and aim for 1,000-1,500 mg of DHA daily if approved by the treating physician. Antioxidant-rich foods are also great for mental function. Some of the best are berries, kale, 100 percent pure unsweetened cocoa powder, mushrooms, onions, beans, seeds, sardines, herring, trout, and Alaskan wild salmon. Finally, ensure adequate intake of folic acid, B6, B12, and vitamin D in particular. If you’re not eating vitamin-rich foods on a regular basis, it’s good to supplement as needed in pill or liquid form.
Eat whole foods, Mediterranean-style
A brain-healthy Mediterranean-style diet includes fruits and vegetables, lean protein (fish, chicken, and turkey), low-fat yogurt and cheeses and grains, nuts, and seeds. Stay away from red meat and processed foods. Get in the habit of eating whole foods. What are whole foods? They’re foods that have only one ingredient — for example, strawberries, broccoli, or barley. If you must have a convenience (manufactured) food on occasion, find those packaged, canned, and frozen items with the fewest ingredients, especially ingredients that you readily recognize and understand.
Enjoy coffee and pure cocoa
Caffeinated coffee, 1-3 cups early in the day, may be beneficial over time to your brain. Studies done in Europe over several years demonstrate that men who drank coffee regularly for many years showed less of a decline on memory tests than those who did not drink coffee. More good news: An exciting new study released in August 2012 showed that patients with mild cognitive impairment who had regular intake of the strong antioxidants found in pure dark cocoa powder had improvement in memory function.
Adults over 60 are often told that forgetfulness, occasional mental confusion, dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease are a natural part of getting older. But before you accept mental disability, check your vitamin B12 levels, says Sally Pacholok, author of the book “Could It Be B12? An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses.”
Pacholok says that many cases of mental problems in older adults are caused by B12 deficiency and can be completely reversed with simple vitamin treatment.
Not all dementia or cognitive impairment is caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Family visits during the holidays are the ideal time to check on elderly loved ones and let them know the importance of having one’s B12 levels checked, Pacholok says.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is a serious disorder that afflicts millions of Americans, resulting in cognitive decline, mental illness, neurologic disability, and, in many cases, premature death. Low B12 levels are associated with nerve damage and cognitive impairment. Patients with B12 deficiency are frequently misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, mental illness or other disorders, and never get correct treatment
In the majority of people, B12 deficiency is due to poor absorption by the digestive tract, the author says. There are many causes, such as stomach and bowel disease, gastric bypass surgery for weight loss, certain medications, autoimmune disorders and chemotherapy, to name a few. Because B12 is found only in animal products, vegans and vegetarians and people with eating disorders are also at risk, as well as others suffering from gene mutations.
“Whatever the cause, a B12 deficiency is an urgent medical disorder that needs prompt diagnosis and treatment,” Pacholok says.
According to Pacholok, B12 deficiency in older adults is chronically misdiagnosed throughout the United States. She estimates that 15 percent of Americans age 64 and older — 5.9 million people — suffer from B12 deficiency.
“We need to stop warehousing people in nursing homes because of misdiagnosed B12 deficiency; it’s enormously costly and inhumane,” she says. “Many mistake symptoms of the vitamin deficiency, such as forgetfulness, dementia, and unsteady gait or a recent fall with ‘getting old,’ which is tragic.”
“Could It Be B12?” makes the case that early detection and treatment of B12 deficiency can save lives at a cost that’s literally 10 cents a day — and save billions of scarce health care dollars nationwide.
“Could It Be B12?” gives readers vital information and strategies to learn if they or their loved ones are suffering from B12 deficiency and how to work with health care professionals to get the treatment they need.
Sally M. Pacholok, R.N., B.S.N., an emergency room nurse with 32 years of experience in health care, received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Wayne State University. In 1985, Pacholok diagnosed herself with vitamin B12 deficiency, after her doctors had failed to identify her condition.
Survivorship NOW programs help people continue on with their lives
By Phyl Newbeck
The building is ready and the calendar is full. Now all the Survivorship NOW program needs is people to take advantage of its classes. Linda Dyer, founder of Dragonheart Vermont and Director of the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival, is thrilled her organization has been able to create an array of programs for cancer survivors to take part in after their treatment has ended. “We have a full calendar of terrific events led by area professionals,” said Dyer “but we need to get the word out because many people don’t know about it.”
The goal of Survivorship NOW is to give cancer survivors a focus once they have finished their treatment. “It’s about finding the new normal,” Dyer explained. “After a cancer diagnosis, patients are so busy the first year going from treatment to treatment to treatment. Someone takes care of you every step of the way and then you’re let go and there’s a feeling of losing the support you had and wondering what’s next.”
Dyer hopes the programs of Survivorship NOW can serve as a lifeline to help people continue on with their lives. “The new normal can be even better than the old one,” she said.
Although it also conveys a positive vibe, NOW is actually an acronym for Network on Wellness. The program is a series of free workshops and training sessions designed to engage and encourage cancer survivors after they have finished their treatment regimen. Survivorship NOW programs include practical guides on using social media and estate planning, cooking and nutrition classes, nature walks and a wide variety of exercise programs. The exercise programs range from qigong which has been described as the gentlest martial art, ai chi (water-based exercise), Zumba Gold (which involves a chair), and several different kinds of yoga classes, all free of charge. The program partners with Synergy Fitness and PT 360 and is based in the White Cap Business Park on Industrial Avenue in Williston. It is open to all kinds of cancer survivors; not just breast cancer, and both men and women are welcome.
Thea Knight of Burlington is a 10-year breast cancer survivor who has rowed with the Dragonheart Sisters for nine years. “It has been a challenging and joyful journey paddling,” she said. “Survivorship NOW is our gift to cancer survivors for both mental and physical support.” Knight has attended Survivorship NOW classes in qui gong, cooking with grains at Healthy Living, water aerobics and yoga, and plans to attend more in the future. “We hope the classes are filled to capacity,” she said.
Dyer believes Survivorship NOW is important because advances in medicine and early detection mean cancer patients are living longer lives. There are almost 30,000 adult cancer survivors living in Vermont with another 3,500 diagnosed annually. Many of the Survivorship NOW programs are designed to help survivors continue their recovery by fostering healthy habits, some of which may be new to them. Members of Dragonheart Vermont raised money for the programs through the annual Dragon Boat Festival but they also volunteer their time to mentor and provide moral support to those who are entering a new phase of life. Dyer hopes the example of the Dragonheart Sisters will help other survivors to lead healthier lives.
Dr. James Wallace, a radiation oncologist at Fletcher Allen Medical Center, sees Survivorship NOW as part of the continued evolution of cancer treatment. “We used to perform surgery and hope for the best,” he said. “Our first goal was to cure which evolved into curing with continued function, and has now evolved into curing and trying to ensure a good quality of life afterwards.”
Wallace said some patients feel abandoned after they stop coming to his office for chemotherapy or radiation. He hopes that after taking part in Survivorship NOW programs, survivors will take the next step in their recovery, perhaps by joining a health club to continue the disciplines they’ve learned there. “This helps with the transition,” he said. “We’re getting people pointed in the right direction, which hopefully they’ll continue.”
“Surviving cancer is a lifelong effort and it takes support,” said Dyer. “Luckily, in our area, people have given us money and time to create a network for wellness.” Dyer noted that for many cancer survivors, fatigue is a big factor and although she knows it sounds counter-intuitive, she believes being active will help. “The answer to fatigue is getting active; engaged in both mind and body,” she said.
For more information and a calendar of classes, go to www.survivorshipnowvt.org.
Aromatic Australian eucalyptus has been used therapeutically since the mid-1800s for reducing fevers, relieving cold symptoms, preventing infection and even repelling insects. Knowledge of this ancient Aboriginal remedy quickly spread throughout the world—and its stress-relieving, health-improving benefits are still touted today.
Gardener’s Supply uses this naturally soothing, refreshing herbal scent to add a healing touch to its body wraps.
The Ultimate Eucalyptus Wrap ($32.95) filled with rice, flax seed and eucalyptus, combines heat and aromatherapy to relieve congestion and tension in your neck, upper back and chest. The wrap’s custom shape keeps its therapeutic heat in place while you sit or recline. The wrap warms quickly in the microwave.
To purchase, visit www.gardeners.com or call 1-800-955-3370.