Are You Sunscreen Savvy?

Summer is in full swing! Maybe you’ve ventured into the great outdoors, only to suffer your first sunburn of the season. If you forgot your sunscreen, you are among the majority of Americans who don’t use sunscreen properly—or at all. The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) report that few people use sunscreen to protect their skin, and those who do may not be selecting a product that provides effective protection.

According to the AAD, only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women are regularly using sunscreen correctly. Dawn Holman, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that women may be more likely to use sunscreen, specifically on their faces, because they want to prevent premature aging of the skin. People who have lighter skin that burns easily also are more likely to use sunscreen. But, warned dermatologist Dr. Mark Lebwohl, former president of the AAD, “Anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should take steps to protect themselves from the sun.”

A second study, published by JAMA Dermatology, found that consumers who do use sunscreen are likely to be confused by labels as they try to select the best product. Fewer than half understand what “SPF” means, and even fewer know what “broad-spectrum” means. (“SPF” stands for “sun protection factor,” which rates a product’s effectiveness in blocking UV rays. “Broad spectrum” sunscreens protect against both UV-A radiation, which is associated with skin aging, and UV-B radiation, which causes sunburn. Both can cause skin cancer.)

Fortunately, noted Dr. Lebwohl, “Recent sunscreen regulations implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration make it easier for consumers to see on the sunscreen label whether the product is broad-spectrum.”

The AAD offers tips for selecting and using sunscreen:

  • Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Use enough sunscreen to cover your whole body (about an ounce for most adults), and apply it to all exposed areas, including the ears, scalp, tops of the feet and legs.
  • Ask someone else to help you apply sunscreen on hard-to-reach spots like your back.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.

Visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s website to learn much more about selecting the sunscreen that’s right for you.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with materials from the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Medical Association.

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Traveling in the West? Know the Symptoms of Valley Fever

Ben felt lousy. He thought he had the flu, but when he didn’t feel better after a week, he went to the doctor. The doctor guessed that Ben had viral pneumonia, but then he asked Ben if he’d traveled recently in the desert southwest. “Yes,” said Ben, surprised. “We went hiking in Saguaro National Park last month.” The doctor ran some tests, and told Ben he was suffering from Valley fever.

What is Valley fever? Valley fever, also called coccidiodomycosis, is caused by a fungus that lives in the dry, dusty soil of certain desert areas of the U.S., including parts of Arizona, New Mexico, southern California, western Texas and eastern Washington state. It also is found in Mexico and areas of South America. The spores of the fungus are carried by the wind. If a person inhales the spores, they settle into the lungs and cause a flu-like illness or pneumonia. You cannot catch Valley fever from another person.

What are the symptoms? Many people who have inhaled the spores develop symptoms that make them think they have the flu, including fatigue, cough, fever, muscle and joint pain and a headache. Some people get a rash on their upper body or legs. The symptoms can be mild, but Dr. John N. Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at University of Arizona, says, “In many patients it’s more debilitating than mononucleosis. These patients feel horrible, they can’t get out of bed or go to work and often they are sick for weeks or months.” The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) says complications include meningitis—and about 160 people die from the disease each year.

How common is Valley fever? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 10,000 cases are reported each year—but according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), 150,000 people each year will be infected. It is hard for experts to determine the exact number, because many patients are misdiagnosed or don’t report their symptoms.

Can I get it more than once? The IDSA says that while some people may fight the infection for a long time—even for their whole life—once our immune system has rid our body of the infection, it is very unlikely that we will get it again.

Who is at risk? The CDC says that seniors are most likely to be affected, but anyone who lives or travels where the fungus is present can be infected. People with a weakened immune system, people with diabetes, pregnant women and people who are black or Filipino are at higher risk of developing a severe form of the disease.

How is Valley fever diagnosed? The disease is diagnosed with a simple blood test—but many people are never tested because neither they nor their doctor suspects the cause of their symptoms. The IDSA is seeking to raise awareness of Valley fever among primary care physicians. Dr. Galgiani says that many patients “worry they have cancer or another disease, so getting correctly diagnosed puts a name to the illness and dispels that fear.” He adds, “Doctors need to ask patients with pneumonia about their travel history and if they’ve recently traveled to endemic areas, and need to consider Valley fever.”

Can Valley fever be treated? Sometimes the symptoms of Valley fever go away without any treatment. But a person’s doctor might prescribe an antifungal medication. The CDC estimates that as many as 40 percent of people diagnosed with Valley fever will need to be hospitalized.

Can Valley fever be prevented? Basically, no, if you’re spending time in an area where the fungus lives. There is no vaccine to prevent it, and while the CDC recommends that people stay out of blowing dust in the desert, the spores can be carried anywhere in the area, indoors or out. The best way to prevent serious illness is to be aware of the symptoms and report them right away so treatment can begin, if recommended, and patients can avoid receiving unnecessary treatment if their symptoms are mistaken for a different illness.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)

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Medicaid Cuts Will Affect Older Adults

How will Medicaid cuts affect older adults? Says a New York Times op-ed, “Many American voters think Medicaid is only for low-income adults and their children — for people who aren’t ‘like them.’ But Medicaid is not ‘somebody else’s’ insurance. It is insurance for all of our mothers and fathers and, eventually, for ourselves.”

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British Study Calls for End to “Age Apartheid”

Like our own country, Britain is in the midst of a polarizing political situation—made worse by intergenerational tension. A recent report from the organization United for All Ages pinpointed part of the problem: the generations spend much less time together than they once did! We hear about people of various political beliefs isolating themselves into a “bubble.” It seems that the generations, too, spend less time interacting.

United for All Ages is a think tank and social enterprise promoting an “all ages” approach to key social and economic issues. They recently released a report with suggestions on how to improve the situation in Britain, which could be very useful for policymakers and senior service organizations in the U.S., as well. The report, “A Country for All Ages: Ending Age Apartheid in Brexit Britain,” calls for “bringing older and younger people together through building multigenerational communities, innovative two-way relationships and better communication between generations.”

“Tackling intergenerational inequality is the challenge of our times,” according to United for All Ages. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Building multigenerational communities: support for community businesses, making public spaces and shops more accessible, opening up community facilities from universities to older people’s housing programs for all ages, and co-locating childcare and eldercare facilities
  • Mutual support through two-way relationships: online mentoring of younger people, advocacy for older people needing health and social care, homeshare programs where younger people live with older people, and increased interaction between grandparents and grandchildren
  • Better communication between generations: establishing a national council for all ages supported by an intergenerational convention bringing older and younger people together from across the country, building bridges between generations with shared identities and interests, and using theatre, other arts activities, and street parties.

Today in the U.S., we are seeing some of these innovations. Children’s day care facilities located in nursing homes, assisted living communities and adult day centers are benefiting both young and old participants. For better or for worse, we have more multigenerational households today as rising housing costs make it a smart economic choice for senior parents and adult children. And statistics show that retired baby boomers are providing a growing amount of childcare for grandchildren.

We can do much more! These policies and programs enable young people to benefit from the wisdom and experience of older citizens, and reduce ageism and the stigma surrounding aging—which not only hurts seniors, but also makes it less likely that younger people will plan for their later years and make healthy-aging-friendly lifestyle choices.

Said United for All Ages Director Stephen Burke, “By sharing our concerns and interests and sharing our experiences and community activities across generations, we can promote stronger understanding and trust between people of all ages. Starting in our neighborhoods and communities, we can all take responsibility to make it happen. In our aging society, this is the big challenge for social innovation in 2017 and beyond.”

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on the “A Country for All Ages: Ending Age Apartheid in Brexit Britain” from United for All Ages. Read the whole report here.

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An Overview of Long-Term Care Financing

Will you need long-term care? What’s available? Who pays? The Motley Fool provides a quick overview of an important topic.

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An Exercise Lesson from Our Ancestors of Long Ago

When we look at fossils of early man, we might be in awe of their heavy, powerful bones. Yet research from University of Cambridge in the UK reveals the surprising truth that our own bones have the potential to be just as strong.

The research team found that human hunter-gatherers of 7,000 years ago had bones that were as strong as those of orangutans—yet today, people have significantly lighter and weaker bones. Is the change due to our genes? Our diet? No, the team says—the culprit is our much less active lifestyle, specifically, a great reduction in activities that strengthen the bones. When it comes to “use it or lose it,” most of us are losing it!

The study authors reported, “There is, in fact, no anatomical reason why a person born today could not achieve the bone strength of an orangutan or early human forager. But even the most physically active people alive are unlikely to be loading bones with enough frequent and intense stress to allow for the increased bone strength seen in the ‘peak point’ of traditional hunter-gatherers and nonhuman primate bones.”

Study co-author Dr. Colin Shaw says that for millions of years, the lives of our primitive ancestors involved much action and physical activity. Said Shaw, “It’s only in the last 50 to 100 years that we’ve been so sedentary. Sitting in a car or in front of a desk is not what we have evolved to do.”

Why do strengthening activities make our bones stronger? It’s complicated (read more here), but in short, says Shaw, “This thickening is the result of constant loading on the bone from physical activity as hunter-gatherers roamed the landscape. The fierce exertion caused the bone mesh to grow back ever stronger and thicker throughout life—building to a ‘peak point’ of bone strength which counterbalanced the deterioration of bones with age.”

Even though few of us spend our days roaming the wilderness in search of food, Shaw assures us that we can still benefit from regular workouts. He says, “The fact is, we can be as strong as an orangutan—we’re just not, because we are not challenging our bones with enough loading, predisposing us to have weaker bones so that, as we age, situations arise where bones are breaking when, previously, they would not have.” He adds, “Hip fractures, for example, don’t have to happen simply because you get older, if you build your bone strength up earlier in life so that as you age it never drops below that level where fractures can easily occur.”

Strength training should begin early in life, but is of benefit at any age. Why don’t more people take part in weight lifting and other strength-building activities? Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine speculate that while most people today are aware of the benefits of aerobic exercise, guidelines for strength training were only issued a decade ago.

It’s time to bring our knowledge up to date! Strength training not only builds bone and muscle, but is also linked with improvements in diabetes, low back pain and obesity—and longevity! Penn State professor Jennifer Kraschnewski and her team studied a large group of seniors and found that those who took part in strength training lived longer—with a 41 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease, and a 19 percent lower chance of death by cancer during the years of the study.

These findings are very encouraging, say researchers. Says Kraschnewski, “We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from today’s 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our older adults who are engaged in these activities.”

Strengthening activities include lifting weights, using a resistance band, and exercises that make you lift your own body weight, such as toe stands. There are weight training exercises you can do while seated in a chair. Check out senior exercise programs at the gym or local senior center. Visit the National Institute on Aging’s Senior Health website to learn more.

It’s never too late to start an exercise program—but talk to your doctor first. Your healthcare provider can recommend strengthening exercises that will be safe and effective for your individual health condition.

Source: IlluminAge Age Wise, reporting on studies from University of Cambridge and Penn State University.

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Yoga For Seniors

More seniors are trying yoga. Here’s a Seattle program designed especially for people older than 50.

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A New Therapeutic Use for Music

Yet another benefit of music: Could it help seniors who have hearing loss better understand speech when they’re in a noisy room?

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Help Seniors Break the Cycle of Poor Health and Loneliness

Loneliness is a serious health problem for older adults. Studies over the past decade have found that feeling isolated can cause depression, raise our blood pressure, suppress our immune system, hasten the signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and increase the perception of pain. Lonely people are less likely to exercise or eat a nutritious diet. A March 2017 study from the American Psychological Association even noted that people who feel lonely have a worse time of it when they come down with the common cold!

With all this evidence that loneliness raises our risk of illness and disability, could the opposite also be true? Researcher Meaghan Barlow of the Personality, Aging, and Health Lab at Concordia University in Quebec said, “We were surprised by the amount of literature that examined whether people who are lonely are more likely to get sick. Yet none of them asked the opposite question: ‘Do sick people get lonely?’”

To find out, Barlow and her team conducted a study of seniors with chronic illness, and found that illness can indeed lead to loneliness. The team urged people who are dealing with chronic illness to make social connections a priority. Said Barlow, “Putting a halt to socializing only contributes to a downward spiral. Dealing with a chronic illness shouldn’t prevent you from still trying to get out there if you can.”

The team warns of one pitfall: People with chronic conditions may blame themselves for the illness they are dealing with. Barlow said, “The fact that loneliness can lead to further complications means that measures can be taken to prevent the effects from looping back around. Finding different ways to connect with other people also means you are less likely to blame yourself for being sick.”

Another finding confirms that an ill person’s spouse or partner can’t provide all the social support they need. Said Barlow, “You can’t count on a partner to fill that gap. The quality of our social ties plays a role when it comes to coping with the effects of serious disease in later life. And just having a partner around may not be enough.”

Understanding this cycle can motivate ill seniors, their families and our public and private senior care organizations to make social opportunities a priority. Adapted activities, transportation and senior support services all help. And support groups can be of great benefit. When we’re dealing with a chronic condition, who better to understand what we’re going through than other people who are coping with the same challenges? Organizations that advocate for and serve the needs of people with health conditions often sponsor support groups—for example, the American Diabetes Association, the American Lung Association, The Alzheimer’s Association and the American Heart Association. Support groups traditionally have met in person, but today more and more seniors are enjoying virtual companionship and a real mood boost through online support groups.

Source: IlluminAge Age Wise, reporting on study from Concordia University (

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I Have Cataracts—Can I Drive?

June is Cataract Awareness Month, a great time to get an eye exam. During the exam, your doctor will check for the presence of cataracts, which are caused by the clouding of the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause dull, blurry vision and make it harder to take part in normal, daily activities.

The bad news is that cataracts are very common among older adults. But there’s good news: cataracts are very treatable. A simple, safe surgery can markedly improve a senior’s sight. Today, this is the most often-performed surgery in America, and that’s paying off in senior health. A recent study from Harvard Medical School even reported that cataract surgery has increased our life expectancy, right along with medical advances in cardiac care!

Before older adults undergo cataract surgery, they—and their families—might wonder if it’s safe for them to drive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers this information:

Be alert for signs of cataracts which might make it dangerous to drive:

  • Difficulty seeing at dawn, dusk, and at night
  • Sunlight seems too bright
  • Night driving is harder due to glare from car headlights
  • Colors look faded
  • You might see double images with the affected eye

If you notice these symptoms, see your eye health care provider right away. Your doctor may recommend surgery, and you may also be referred to a specialist who can help:

  • A driver rehabilitation specialist can test how well you drive on and off the road. This specialist also may offer training to help improve your driving skills, and keep you and others safe on the road. To find a driver rehabilitation specialist, visit the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
  • An occupational therapist with special training can provide driving skills assessment and remediation. To find an occupational therapist, contact local hospitals and rehabilitation centers.

Can I still drive with a cataract?

If your doctor has told you that you have a cataract, there are certain things that you should know and do to remain a safe driver. The NHTSA says:

Every person’s cataract is different. In its early stages, your cataract may be so small that it does not affect your vision. You may be able to drive safely for many years if you have no other serious medical problems. However, over time, the cataract may worsen and cloud more of the lens of your eye.

It may become difficult to see and to drive safely if you have a cataract. You may need to plan car trips to avoid times when vision may be most affected—for example, driving west at dusk into a setting sun or during rainy conditions at night. Clean your car windshield (both inside and outside) often so vision is not reduced even further. You also should clean your automobile headlights to provide as much light as possible for night driving.

What if I can’t drive?

Giving up driving doesn’t mean giving up mobility. Learn about alternate transportation in your area, such as the bus or rapid transit, taxi cabs or ridesharing services. If you think you only need a short-term solution until you have cataract surgery, family and friends also may be happy to give you a lift.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Visit the NHTSA website to learn more about safe driving for older adults.

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