Ask the Nurse and Preserving Dignity | Alcohol Awareness Month

They're losing enough; don't take their dignity too.

by Christine Hammerlund, President of Assured Healthcare and "Mother"

Part three of a four part series about Christine Hammerlund and her Mom.

When a person becomes less capable of caring for themselves - or even functioning as a thoughtful adult - your first reaction as a loving adult child is to take away every choice they have. Don't.

Don't treat Mom as if she was a child, even though her behavior is childlike. It is very important to maintain their dignity.

My Mom is a very dignified person. She's has earned the right to have that dignity respected and supported.

Especially with dementia it is hard to tell what a parent is absorbing, and what they are not.

I've found with Mom that she remembers more clearly when it is important to her. So, if you talk down to her, she'll react negatively. Again, I try to give Mom some household responsibilities that she can handle to help her feel she's a vital part of the family.

It is very important to me that Mom continues to do what she can for herself for as long as possible. I think it strengthens her independence and preserves her dignity.

Next month, part four and the final piece in our series: It's your Mom. You didn't expect her to surrender her sovereignty did you?

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Be aware of how much alcohol is being consumed.

Be aware of how much alcohol is being consumed.

Drinking too much alcohol increases people’s risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer.

If you are drinking too much, you can improve your health by cutting back or quitting. Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking:
• Limit your drinking to no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men.
• Keep track of how much you drink.
• Choose a day each week when you will not drink.
• Don’t drink when you are upset.
• Avoid places where people drink a lot.
• Make a list of reasons not to drink.

If you are concerned about someone else’s drinking, offer to help.

For more information visit National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence website:

Ask The Nurse: How Can We Improve Our Approach to Healthcare?

improving healthcare

Dear Nurse Chris: I am watching the national debate on health care very closely and wondering what would really make a difference in how healthy we all are? What’s your prescription for how to change the system to do a better job? Marcy in Hinsdale

Dear Marcy: Your question shows one of the problems with our system. We are an “illness-treating-nation” that wants to avoid being sick, but we’re not always as focused on staying well. This is not just a semantic word game.

I definitely think that the biggest improvement in healthcare would be keeping people healthy as opposed to treating their illness.

It’s not as if the way we do health care is the only proven method.  In China, people go to the doctor to stay well, and when they become ill they fire their doctor and find a new one who will keep them healthy.

In the United States, we go to the doctor to get well by fixing what is wrong.
Americans think in terms of mechanisms being repaired, like a car with a bad carburetor.  We tend to pay less attention to how to keep the car running perfectly before something goes wrong. Plus, every serious study about why things cost so much in our health system always goes back to the lack of preventive care. Fixing 300 million carburetors after they break can be very expensive.

I like the Chinese way of thinking.

The medicine that is practiced here is really focused on treating symptoms as opposed to preventing the illness. There is an American mindset that we should be able to take a pill and feel better.  All too often there are many things a person can do to improve health but it takes focus and commitment.

Sunburn and Heatstroke - Dangers to Avoid


It's a beautiful summer morning and you head to the beach. By mid-afternoon you're on your way to the ER. What went wrong?

Odds are, you thought the sun was your friend. But too much of a good thing can make you sick.

The most common sun-related problem is sunburn. Fortunately the risk of sunburn often chases us inside before we suffer an even worse fate. Sunburn is indeed a burn, caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun, both UVB and UVA. The superficial layers of your skin are actually cooked and start leaking fluid, like a sizzling steak. Once the damage is done there is no medical cure except to allow your body to heal itself. Pain medications and cool compresses may relieve the discomfort, but do not speed healing. Do yourself a favor and leave your sunburn alone. You don't want scarring from peeling a deep sunburn, or infection from opening the blisters.

Certainly prevention is the best answer. Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10 and 4 p.m. Always use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, and apply it to all sun-exposed areas a good half hour before exposure. Even sunscreens that claim to be water resistant should be reapplied every few hours after sweating or swimming.

When the core of your body becomes overheated, not just the skin, the danger becomes much greater. The body core can become overheated due to direct sun exposure on a hot day, or other high temperature environments, especially when physical activity is involved. Below 80 degrees Fahrenheit this rarely happens. Above 130 degrees F the danger is extreme. Between 80 and 130 degrees the danger rises dramatically.

The body becomes overheated from a combination of internal heat production (as in fever) and external heat. In order to maintain a normal body temperature the body must be able to get rid of excess body heat. Think of your car engine, for example. If the fan goes bad or the water leaks out, it will overheat. Similarly, if the body cannot be cooled through a combination of evaporation (sweating), convection (a cool breeze), conduction (cold packs or cool water, or radiation, it, too, will become overheated.

A car that overheats will start sputtering and steaming, and eventually quits working. So will your body. The first symptom you are likely to experience is heat cramps, which generally occur in the calf muscles or abdominal muscles. Stretching your muscles before exercise and keeping yourself hydrated with a sports drink such as Gatorade can help prevent heat cramps. If they do occur, stop exercise, cool your body, and if you haven't done so already, drink some Gatorade.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and/or sodium. Core body temperature is usually between 100.4 and 104 degrees F. Again, an adequate intake of sports drinks can help prevent heat exhaustion. In addition to heat cramps, you may experience light-headedness, confusion, headache, nausea, vomiting, and lack of urination. For milder symptoms, immediate cooling with fans or water is helpful. However for severe symptoms, especially disorientation, other mental symptoms, or a rapid heart rate, you should seek immediate medical attention, where a doctor can check your electrolytes and provide the proper balance of replacement fluids through an I.V.

The worst case scenario is heat stroke (sun stroke, if due to the sun). Heat stroke can be deadly, especially if treatment is delayed. At an internal temperature of 104 or above the internal organs stop functioning properly. Therefore, heat stroke is a medical emergency - call 911 immediately.

Symptoms of heat stroke can occur even when a person is not sweating. Confusion is common, which may delay recognition of the problem, especially in the elderly. Persons suffering from heat stroke should be moved to a shady area and excess clothing should be removed. A heat stroke victim should be doused with water and/or fanned, and ice packs should be applied to the armpits, groin, and neck until professional help arrives.

In summary, avoiding hot environments and keeping well-hydrated are the answer to preventing most heat and sun related problems. Don't plan to run a marathon on a hot summer day, especially if you are not conditioned to the heat. Keep an eye on granny, in particular if her home is not air-conditioned. Don't leave your children or pets in the car where the sun can bake them. Preventing the problem in the first place is the key to avoiding life-threatening illness.

For practical advice on affordable health care visit: Cynthia J. Koelker MD is a family physician of over twenty years, and holds degrees from MIT, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She is the author of "101 Ways to Save Money on Healthcare."  Article Source: