When Doctors Dismiss Your Symptoms: How to Be a Better Advocate for Yourself (or Someone You Love)

March 2, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness

It’s extremely upsetting when doctors are dismissive of your symptoms or devalue your perceptions about your own health. But the worst thing that happens when doctors don’t take you seriously is that real medical problems often get misdiagnosed and go untreated. And if you are a parent trying to advocate for your sick child, it can be all the more distressing to feel ignored.

According to activist and author Claire Galloway, when doctors don’t take patient concerns seriously, it’s a symptom of a bigger power imbalance that can exist between patients and medical professionals. “Doctors have been trained to listen, to diagnose, to treat every patient to the best of their ability,and to do no harm,” says Galloway, author of A Call to Mind: A Story of Undiagnosed Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury. “Therefore, it can be a serious problem when that training breaks down and patients’ symptoms go unaddressed.”

Galloway recommends that healthcare professionals be periodically retrained, with an emphasis on becoming better listeners and learning to better handle cases that aren’t black and white without shutting down patients. They should also be retrained on soft skills like learning to treat patients with greater empathy and compassion. Until that happens on a broad scale, you’ve got to be your own advocate when you know something is medically wrong—and you must also advocate for your children in the same way.

Galloway offers these tips to help you advocate for yourself and your loved ones when you’re experiencing chronic or hard-to-diagnose symptoms.

Gather the troops. When you are in the middle of a health crisis (either yours or your child’s), it can be very difficult to be an advocate all by yourself. So when you visit the doctor, don’t go alone. You may be nervous, exhausted, or stressed, and this isn’t the time to be anything less than prepared. Having a trusted companion in your corner can help you present a united front that softens the physician’s dismissiveness and leads to a more open-minded approach. Bring your spouse, an older child, a neighbor—anyone who can corroborate the symptoms you are reporting.

Be on the lookout for signs that you aren’t being taken seriously. Take note of any dismissive language you hear from your doctor about your own health concerns or those of your child. Below are a few red flag phrases to listen for. If you hear anything like this, it may be time to find another doctor.

Let it go.

Stop overreacting.

He/she is an imaginative child.

You’re a first-time mother; what do you know?

It’s all in your head.

You seem stressed.

Fight against false narratives. If you must go it alone, fight against the message that you are overreacting about your symptoms or your child’s symptoms.

“My son lived with an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury for 16 years,” said Galloway. “During this time, I was repeatedly given the message that I was blowing his health and behavioral problems out of proportion, even though I was certain there was a correlation between his symptoms and the accident that had immediately spurred the changes I was observing. When you know something is wrong, remind yourself constantly that you are not overreacting as you continue fighting for answers.”

Try to keep your composure. When you or someone you love is sick, it’s totally understandable to feel frustrated, angry, and emotional when your concerns are dismissed. But Galloway urges you to try to stay calm during your appointment if at all possible. And if you do become visibly upset, take a deep breath, forgive yourself for being human, and refocus your energies back to what is important.

Write down your questions before the visit. Before you go to your appointment, write down any questions you have about the symptoms you or your child are experiencing. Being prepared will make you feel calmer during the appointment, and your physician will appreciate hearing a concise checklist of your concerns.

Keep flawless records. Keeping a journal that documents the symptoms not only helps you keep track of important medical details you need to remember, it also provides your doctor with info that can better help them form an accurate diagnosis.

Do your own research. Go to the library or go online to learn all you can about your or your child’s symptoms. Make copies of any information you find that supports any theories you have about what is wrong. You may also want to contact local or national medical agencies to gather pertinent and substantive information that matches your concerns. Take this information with you to the appointment.

Respect your intuition. “Pay attention to your gut feelings when you’re trying to get to the bottom of a medical problem,” says Galloway. “And if you are advocating for your child, listen even more carefully to that little voice. Mothers are particularly blessed with powerful intuition when it comes to their children.”

Connect with other people who feel dismissed. When you are fighting for an accurate diagnosis involving a chronic health problem, it’s a long and often discouraging journey. Galloway encourages you to find support from others who are also struggling to find answers. Talking with others about your shared experience will empower you to keep fighting until you get the correct diagnosis and the treatment you need, and you can help others to do the same.

Be on the lookout for a gender bias. When Galloway fought to get a diagnosis for her son’s symptoms, she felt that much of the dismissal she experienced was a sexist reaction from male doctors in particular. If you feel discriminated against or not taken seriously because you’re a woman, find another doctor immediately.

“When I advocated on behalf of my son, I believe being a stay-at-home mother discredited me in the doctor’s eyes,” says Galloway. “Luckily times are changing, and women are finally starting to demand and receive the respect they deserve. But all of us need to move further in this direction, until all patients are valued equally and listened to. Until then, patients will continue to suffer needlessly.”

Don’t be afraid to get a second (or third) opinion. Do your best to work with your first-line medical team, holding a firm line that you need answers. But if you hit a brick wall and continue to feel dismissed, take your concerns elsewhere and explain why. Maintain an expectation that you will be heard and present your concerns as clearly and concisely as possible.

Gather referrals from people you trust. You can often find a good doctor from word-of-mouth referrals. Ask people you trust—friends, colleagues, neighbors—for suggestions. If you know of someone who has had the same symptoms you are experiencing, find out who is on their medical team and consider booking appointments with those doctors.

Advocate, advocate, advocate. Whatever you do, don’t give up hope that someone will believe you. Don’t fold. If you know something is wrong with you or with your child, never take no for an answer. Fighting for both of you is the very best gift you could ever give.

“When your doctor dismisses or ignores your health concerns, you can’t fall into self-doubt or despair no matter how desperate you feel,” concludes Galloway. “It can be exhausting, but remember, you know yourself better than anybody else—and if you’re a parent, you know your child. Never stop advocating for the diagnosis you need—never give up.”


Climb Stairs to Lower Blood Pressure and Strengthen Leg Muscles

February 13, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness

If you don’t have the time or money for aerobic and resistance training, why not try climbing the stairs? A new study demonstrates that stair climbing not only lowers blood pressure but also builds leg strength, especially in postmenopausal women with estrogen deficiencies who are more susceptible to vascular and muscle problems. The study results are published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

Few people would argue that exercise is good for you. But for postmenopausal women, identifying the right form of exercise to achieve the desired benefits without creating additional health problems is more complicated. High-intensity resistance training, for example, is an effective intervention for reducing age-related loss of muscle strength in postmenopausal women. However, it also has the potential to increase blood pressure in middle-aged adults with prehypertension or hypertension. These negative effects have been minimized by combining aerobic and resistance training, but there are barriers that prevent many women from taking advantage of the benefits. These real and perceived barriers include lack of time, money, nearby fitness facilities, poor weather, and a sense of embarrassment.

Stair climbing, in contrast, offers the benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and leg muscle strength in postmenopausal women without their having to leave the house or pay a fee. It offers the additional benefits of fat loss, improved lipid profiles, and reduced risk of osteoporosis. Before this study, stair climbing had not been evaluated for its effects on blood pressure and arterial stiffness, which is a thickening and stiffening of the arterial wall.

In the article “The effects of stair climbing on arterial stiffness, blood pressure, and leg strength in postmenopausal women with stage 2 hypertension,” results are provided from a study involving Korean postmenopausal women who trained four days a week, climbing 192 steps two to five times a day. The study concluded that stair climbing led to reductions in arterial stiffness and blood pressure and increases in leg strength in stage 2 hypertensive postmenopausal women.

“This study demonstrates how simple lifestyle interventions such as stair climbing can be effective in preventing or reducing the negative effects of menopause and age on the vascular system and leg muscles of postmenopausal women with hypertension,” says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.

 Coping with the Holidays when Experiencing Grief

December 18, 2017  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness

Now that the holiday season has begun, it’s important to recognize that there are many who may not feel particularly festive. After losing a loved one, it can be hard to imagine entering the holiday season when there is someone missing. Maryellen Corliss, director of BAYADA Hospice in Burlington, offers the following tips:


  • Know that it’s ok to do things differently. Some people may find comfort in following family traditions. Others may find the thought of following those traditions without their loved one too painful. Both approaches are completely valid. Since different family members may fall into different categories, it’s important to have open communication and be respectful of each other’s points of view during this time of difficulty and transition.
  • Have a plan. Difficult situations can be made more challenging when they catch you off-guard. Even though it still will not be easy, if you know what to expect, you have the opportunity to prepare emotionally. Once you have made a decision, do not create emotional unrest by second-guessing yourself.
  • Ask for help. There are people who want to support you but don’t know what you need. Here are some situations where you can provide concrete ways for friends to step in:
    • You want to have a tree, but need someone else to be the one to decorate it.
    • You could use another set of hands to help bake cookies with the kids.
    • You have decided to make a dish, or possibly the main meal, for the holiday dinner, but would prefer someone else deal with the crowds at the grocery store.
  • Determine what is: a) Need to do b) Nice to do and c) Nuts to do. For example, you need to eat dinner; it would be nice to have dinner at a family member’s house; it would be nuts to host a five course meal for 30 people. Focus on the “need to do” and if you feel comfortable, sprinkle in a few things that are “nice to do.” Do not attempt the “nuts to do.”
  • Take care of yourself. You will need your rest to help you cope with the physically and emotionally draining times. Your body and mind can also function better through exercising and eating a balanced diet.



5 Tips To Help End  Your Spouse’s Snoring  

December 14, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness

If your spouse snores, you may have just endured another sleepless night.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are steps you can take – or at least have your spouse take – that could end the snoring and perhaps even save your spouse’s life in the process. Read more

Retail Drug Prices Increase More Than 50X Faster Than Inflation Rate

December 7, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

AARP study of 750+ medications widely used by older Americans shows prices continue longstanding upward trend

 aarp Read more

Joint Replacement Expert: Exercisers in Their 40s and 50s Should ‘Agercise’ Their Workouts

November 21, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Sprains and strains are painful, but avid exercisers often see them as little more than a nuisance.

Robert Klapper, MD, calls them something else: a blessing.

“It’s a wake-up call,” said  Klapper, co-director of the Joint Replacement Program at Cedars-Sinai. “It’s your body whispering rather than shouting at you.”

These injuries are warnings that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you could do major damage. “We need to listen to our bodies,” said Klapper, “especially as we get older.”

“Aging is a lot like what happens to a bungee cord,” he said. “You get the cord from the store and it’s new, elastic and stretchy. Leave it out in the sun or the rain, or take it to the beach—over time, it won’t behave in the same fashion. Our bodies are the same way: The collagen that gives us our elasticity dries out over time.”

When our bodies lose elasticity and can no longer accommodate a movement through stretching, sprains, strains, and other injuries are the result.

But that’s not an excuse to give up working out. Your body still needs exercise—it just needs different types of exercise than it used to.

According to  Klapper, the solution is “agercise.”

Klapper encourages physical activity, but urges people to be smart about it. The sport you loved playing in college might not be the best option as you age. Water aerobics and other pool activities are excellent for adults, especially as they get into their 40s and 50s. These workouts allow you to build muscle without hammering on precious cartilage.

They aren’t enough for women concerned about warding off osteoporosis, however. For that you’ll need to come out of the water. Klapper recommends tai chi: slow, graceful movements performed in a focused and flowing manner with low impact on the joints.

Klapper has seen many patients who work out with professional trainers and end up with injuries because they work through pain. If an exercise hurts, stop immediately. It’s a sign you’re doing damage to your body. If parts of your body regularly hurt or the pain doesn’t go away, consult your doctor. Don’t ignore the pain. You could end up needing surgery or other serious interventions.

Klapper divides exercise into two categories: nurturing and abuse.

“We all love the abuse,” he said. “Tennis. Skiing. Running. But keep in mind that you don’t get younger from exercise, and you don’t lose weight from exercise alone. Weight loss requires changes in your eating, not just moving more.”

As you age, you should ease up on the abuse. For nurturing, Klapper loves the pool, bikes, elliptical machines and mat Pilates. He’s opposed to treadmills, lunges, squats, stair machines, and weights for the lower extremities.

“When you’re 50, I’m only going to let you have one abuse,” he said. “Hiking. Racketball. Tennis. Pick one.”


Women Suffer Insomnia Way More Than Men

November 7, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Far more women than men suffer insomnia or chronic sleep trouble and middle-aged women suffer most of all according to a just released international study.


Women are 40% more likely than men to “always” sleep badly.


This figure rises to 55% in middle age (aged 45-54) when the gender gap hits its peak, as does the number of women who report “always” sleeping badly.


By contrast, there is barely any difference in the level of sleep problems among women and men aged 18-24 when both genders are also least likely to report chronic sleep troubles.


This research comes after a survey of 4,279 Britons and Americans was conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the meditation and sleep app Calm.com.


“Our own user data suggest that far more women than men are looking for help getting to sleep,” says Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm, which many users rely on to help them sleep.


While 70% of Calm’s users are women, no less than 85% of listeners to the app’s popular Sleep Stories (or bedtime stories for grown-ups) are female, according to Calm’s own data, compared to just 15% male.


“I certainly see more women with sleep trouble than men,” says Dr Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist and insomnia specialist whose talk on sleep science and advice is one of Calm’s 30+ Sleep Stories.


14% of all female respondents to Calm’s poll report ‘always’ having sleep trouble, compared to just 10% of male.


17% of middle-aged women (aged 45-54) always have such difficulty versus just 11% of men the same age.


40% of women compared to 31% men across all ages have sleep trouble either ‘always’ or ‘often’ 75% of women across all ages sleep badly either ‘always’, ‘often’ or “sometimes’ compared to 63% of men.


There are several possible reasons that so many more women than men sleep badly says Dr. Steve Orma.


“One is hormones – such as estrogen and progesterone – which fluctuate more in women.” Such fluctuations can cause physical discomfort, which in turn can disturb sleep.


Hormonal changes can also cause mood changes and intensity both anxiety and depression says Orma. “All those things can disturb sleep.”


Indeed, for various reasons, women get diagnosed with anxiety and depression about twice as often as men do says Orma. Depression can either increase or decrease the amount someone sleeps, while anxiety tends to disrupt sleep.


Other factors include pregnancy and children.


“Pregnancy involves a lot of discomfort,” says Orma. “You have an increased need to urinate. It can also cause breathing difficulties during sleep, such as sleep apnea.”


Having young children can also often disturb sleep. Newborns are usually bad for both women and men but even nowadays suggests Orma women still tend to take more responsibility for getting up at night and child-raising in general.


Restless leg problem – whether related to pregnancy or not – is also more common in women says Orma. “And that’s something that also disturbs sleep.”


“People in general start sleeping worse when they get older and sleep becomes lighter, particularly in the latter part of the night,” says Orma. “But for women specifically the menopause and resulting hormonal fluctuations and hot flushes can be another cause of sleep problems.”


Six Reasons That Women Sleep Worse Than Men


• Greater fluctuations in hormones like estrogen and progesterone causing discomfort.

• Anxiety and depression are twice as common for women.

• Pregnancy and the associated discomfort.

• More responsibility for newborns and young children.

• Restless leg syndrome – women get it more.

• The menopause brings more hormone fluctuations, hot flushes.



Psychologist’s Three Top Tips For Women With Insomnia


With women more than men, it’s important to identify any biological factors (such as hormones, pregnancy, menopause, etc) causing insomnia says Dr. Steve Orma, a clinical psychologist, insomnia specialist and author of the book, “Stop Worrying & Go To Sleep.”


His top tips are:


1. Seek to determine the cause of the sleep trouble: i.e., is it psychological or is there something biological or hormonal going on?

2. Seek treatment based on the specific cause: e.g. CBT-I (cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia) and/or medical treatment for the biological issue.

3. Maintain good sleep habits over time (based on what you learn from CBT-I).


Exercises that Help Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness

October 19, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

What exercises are best suited for seniors with arthritis? I have osteoarthritis in my neck, back, hip and knee and have read that exercises can help ease the pain and stiffness, but I don’t know where to start, and I certainly don’t want to aggravate it. Read more

Hearing Tests Can Miss a Common Form of Hearing Loss

October 19, 2017  
Filed under Health & Wellness

More challenging tests needed, researchers say

Traditional clinical hearing tests often fail to diagnose patients with a common form of inner ear damage that might otherwise be detected by more intensive behavioral tests, according to the findings of a University at Buffalo-led study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience. Read more

Finding Love After 50

October 19, 2017  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness

By Nicole T. Leclerc

If happiness alone isn’t a high enough priority for those looking for a relationship, add health, wealth and longevity into the equation.

Studies have shown that being in a relationship is healthier than being single. Men who live alone are at a dramatically increased risk of dying from a variety of illnesses. Finding a romantic partner transforms your level of happiness, fulfillment and outlook on life while also having tangible health and longevity benefits.  Read more

Next Page »