My son had his blood pressure checked at a recent doctor’s visit. He made a terrible face as the cuff squeezed his arm. I assured him he was going to live. After the nurse left the room he said to me, “what do the numbers mean?” I told him I was not sure, but your numbers must be good or the nurse would have said something. Not the best answer or the most reassuring, so I decided to educate myself. Blood pressure is commonly recorded as two numbers and written as a ratio. The top (or typically higher) number is your systolic pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom (or typically lower) number is your diastolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries between beats.
What are normal numbers? If you are a person age 20 or older, a systolic blood pressure reading of 120 or lower and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80 or lower puts you in the normal range. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day. It is lowest when you are sleeping and may go up when you are excited, nervous, or physically active. Systolic pressure readings of 140 or higher or diastolic pressure readings of 90 or higher are in the range for hypertension or high blood pressure. The range for high blood pressure does not change with age, and one reading in the range for hypertension does not automatically mean you have high blood pressure.
Even if your blood pressure is within the normal range there are things that you can do to minimize your risk for developing hypertension, especially because hypertension can take years to develop, and you may not experience any noticeable symptoms. Some of the risk factors for hypertension are advancing age, diabetes, family history, obesity, stress, or a sedentary lifestyle. Other risk factors include smoking, high intake of sodium, saturated fats, or alcohol. High blood pressure may increase your risk for further health complications, such as kidney failure, stroke, or heart attack. You can read more about hypertension/high blood pressure and the risks here.
It is vital (recommended that you) to get your blood pressure checked regularly, even if you are symptom free. The HCLS Savage Branch has free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine on the second Monday monthly during the summer from 10-12 pm. You can also measure your own blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure device that can be purchased from your local pharmacy or store. It is a good idea to calibrate your reading with your reading at the doctor’s office. It is best to take the measurement when you are at rest and at the same time every day.
The good news is that if you have high blood pressure there are things that you can do to modify your lifestyle and lower your blood pressure and your risk for other cardiovascular diseases. The next time you visit the library check out one of the books on hypertension or DASH-type (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.
I was just at the doctor’s last week, and I had my blood pressure checked. I immediately sent a text to my son with my readings—120/70. What are your numbers?
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How you can avoid the outbreak of childhood diseases, and what to do if you develop one
As if the flu and Ebola weren’t enough to worry about, now we’re hearing increasing stories of outbreaks of childhood diseases among adults. Angelina Jolie misses the premier of her new film due to a case of chickenpox. NHL hockey players sit out games because they’re coming down with the mumps, along with approximately 1,100 other Americans in 2014. In California, there’s an outbreak of whooping cough, among kids and adults. There’s also a multi-state outbreak of measles, 102 cases in January alone, most linked to Disneyland. Most of the measles cases were among people who were not vaccinated. (Measles cases in 2014 were triple the number from the previous year.)
Even adults who were vaccinated against these diseases as kids are contracting them at record rates. So, what’s happening and why are adults becoming victim to diseases we thought only children could catch?
People old enough to remember the days before vaccines for mumps, measles and chickenpox probably contracted these diseases when they were young, so they have natural immunity and will be unlikely to succumb to the maladies. But adults who were vaccinated as young children, and therefore didn’t contract the diseases, may become vulnerable again because immunity can fade over time.
If you are concerned that your immunity may be wearing off, ask your doctor about a blood test that checks for antibodies to see if you are still immune. This is especially important for people with chronic medical conditions or who do a lot of foreign travel. And be sure you are up to date on vaccinations the CDC recommends for adults: a booster shot every 10 years for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, and an annual flu shot.
Lower vaccination rates for children
The best defense against childhood diseases is to have your children vaccinated. In some parts of the country, skepticism regarding the safety of vaccines has resulted in fewer children being vaccinated for chickenpox, measles, mumps and whooping cough. Among parents of kindergarten children in California, “personal belief exemptions” rose from 1.56 percent in 2007-08 up to 2.79 percent in 2012-13. With fewer children being vaccinated against these diseases, they are much more likely to spread from one person to another.
Childhood diseases that are affecting adults
Causes fatigue, irritability, itchy rash that progresses to raised red bumps and then blisters. Adults who get chicken pox are more likely to contract pneumonia, hepatitis or encephalitis. This virus can also resurface years later as shingles.
Treatment: Bed rest, lots of fluids, a fever-reducer and an antihistamine to relieve itching. Calamine lotion or an oatmeal bath may also relieve symptoms.
Causes violent coughing accompanied by a “whooping” sound, nasal discharge, fever, sore and watery eyes. Lips, tongue and nail beds may turn blue during coughing spells. It can last up to 10 weeks and can lead to pneumonia and other complications.
Treatment: Antibiotics, keeping warm, plenty of fluids and reducing stimuli that provoke coughing.
Causes a rash, fever, runny nose, conjunctivitis, cough, swollen lymph nodes and headache. It can have serious complications in adults and can be fatal for children and adults with compromised immune systems. Complications include ear infection, pneumonia, vomiting, diarrhea and encephalitis.
Treatment: Plenty of fluids, fever reducer and antibiotics if a secondary infection develops.
Causes discomfort and swelling of salivary glands in front of neck, difficulty chewing, fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. In males it can cause pain and tenderness of testicles, and, on rare occasions, sterility.
Treatment: Bed rest and analgesics (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) for fever and pain and applying cold packs to the swollen and inflamed salivary gland region may reduce symptoms and pain.
Causes cold-like symptoms and bright red rash that spreads from the cheeks to trunk, arms and legs. There may also be fever, headache, sore throat, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. It can be associated with persistent fevers and arthritis in adults.
Treatment: Plenty of fluids, fever reducer and antihistamine for itching.
In general, the components of a healthy diet don’t change terribly much over your lifespan. However, as people age, their vitamin needs change, which is a natural part of aging. Following are six vitamin checks for seniors to stay their nutritionally best from Alicia I. Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Medicine, and director of Transitional Care in the Research Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
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As people age, one of their biggest fears is the loss of independence—the inability to do what they want, where they want, when they want and how they want, on their own and without help from their children, spouse or friends. For many seniors, driving represents freedom, and the threat of taking away that privilege feels like the beginning of the end.
The truth is, as we age we do experience physical and mental changes that can impair our ability to drive. Our hearing and vision may not be as acute and some of our reflexes aren’t quite as fast as they used to be. But most seniors in general good health should be able to drive safely and confidently without putting themselves or others at risk.
Awareness is a big part of being a good driver, and AARP, the national organization that addresses the needs and concerns of the 50+ population, launched the new and improved AARP Smart Driver™ Course in January 2014 to help keep older drivers independent, safe and confident on the road.
The AARP website notes that there have been many changes to roads, cars and technology since they developed their first driver safety course, “55 Alive,” in 1979, and warns that if seniors don’t keep up with the changes they put themselves and others at risk.
Things that can negatively affect driving
Medications are of concern at any age, but it takes longer for their effects to wear off as we age. They can cause blurred vision, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness or weakness. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of your medications, including over-the-counter and herbal supplements, could affect your driving ability.
Remember that alcohol stays longer in an older person’s body. Alcohol is absorbed directly through an empty stomach and can reach and affect the brain within 60 seconds. Mixing alcohol with medications may be even more dangerous and have unexpected effects on your driving.
- Loss of hearing
Hearing may diminish with age, causing us to miss cues that alert us to situations around our vehicles, such as honking horns, engine sounds and emergency vehicles. Talk to your physician if you think you may have a problem with your hearing.
- Problems with vision
Reduced ability to see moving objects clearly, color blindness, cataracts, reduced ability to process visual information quickly, reduced depth perception and reduced peripheral vision can all affect our ability to drive safely. Separate glasses for day and night driving; anti-reflective coatings on eyeglasses; and reducing driving at night or when visibility is limited can help. You should have regular eye examinations by a licensed ophthalmologist or optometrist.
How do you know if you are still safe behind the wheel? Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) offers comprehensive clinical driving assessments that include:
- Vision: acuity, visual motor skills, peripheral vision, sign recognition, color recognition/perception, visual processing speed, phoria and fusion
- Cognition: memory, attention and problem solving
- Sensory-motor function: strength, coordination, reaction time
The in-clinic assessment can help identify deficits and sometimes correct them through occupational therapy services. For more information, call 443-718-3000.
Check out the AARP Driving Resource Center for more tips on safe driving for seniors. Sign up for the AARP Driver Safety class offered in the HCGH Wellness Center, or call 410-740-7601.
Saturday, November 8, 2:00 p.m. I’m Going to be a Big Brother or Sister. Prepare for the arrival of a baby in this class at the Central Branch for new siblings. Enjoy stories, activities, and bring a favorite doll or stuffed animal to practice holding a baby. Resources for parents, too. Well & Wise event. Families; 30 – 45 min. Tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.
Saturday, November 8, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Time for a Spa-liday. Need to relax before the holidays? Paint your nails, learn relaxation techniques, listen to soothing music, and make spa treats such as coconut oil hand scrub, bath fizzies, and glycerin soap scrubbies at the Savage Branch. Recipes and ingredients provided. Ages 8-13. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760.
Monday, November 10, 10:00-12:00 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring at the Savage Branch offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.
Monday, November 4, 10:15 & 11:15 a.m. Turkey Twist and Shout. Sing and shake your turkey tail to tasty tunes at the Elkridge Branch! Ages 2-5 with adult; 30 min. No registration required.
Thursday, November 13, 1:00 p.m. A World of Kindness. CCome to the East Columbia Branch and celebrate random acts of kindness. Share books, songs, and make a craft. Choose Civility event. Ages 3-5; 30 min. Tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 to 9 p.m. Happiest Baby on the Block in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Learn successful techniques that can quickly soothe your crying newborn and promote a more restful sleep for your infant. Parent kits are included in the $50 couple fee.
Thursday, Nov. 20, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Great American Smokeout in the Howard County General Hospital lobby: includes information and literature to help you stop smoking. Free event.
Monday, November 3, 10:15 a.m. Just for Me. A class at the Savage Branch for children who are ready for an independent class that includes creative expression, listening comprehension, and early reading skills. Ages 3-5; 30 min. Tickets available at Children’s Desk 15 minutes before class. Also offered at 2 p.m. at the Miller Branch and 11/5 at 10:15 & 11:15 a.m. at the Elkridge Branch.
Monday, November 3, 2:00-6:00 p.m. HiTech Symposium. Join us at the Savage Branch for a dynamic event for students, parents, and educators, featuring STEM industry leaders and showcasing classes and various projects built by HCLS’ HiTech students (including a hovercraft, catapult, weather balloon, and music in our new sound booth). Learn how middle and high school students can participate in this STEM education initiative that teaches cutting-edge science, technology, engineering, and math via project-based classes. HiTech is funded in part through a federal grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.Sponsors include Friends of Howard County Library, Frank and Yolanda Bruno, and M&T Bank. Register online or by calling 410.313.0760.
Monday, November 3, 3:30-5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring at the Glenwood Branch offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.
Tuesday, November 4, 7:00p.m. Shell Shock: A Study in Medical History from Florence Nightingale to World War I.
Philip Mackowiak, M.D., comes to the Central Branch to discuss the impact of war trauma on Florence Nightingale and the combatants in World War I as he explores shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder. He is a professor of medicine and the Carolyn Frenkil and Selvin Passen History of Medicine Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Register online or by calling 410.313.7800.
Tuesday, November 4, 7:00p.m. Guided Meditation. Enjoy a guided mindfulness meditation designed to impart a feeling of peacefulness and connection at the Miller Branch. Please bring a cushion or meditation pillow. Presented by Star Ferguson, M.Ac., L.Ac. Well & Wise event. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.
Friday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. Scott Stossel and Brigid Schulte in Conversation. Do you make notes in a book’s margins? Imagine having a conversation with the author about your thoughts. Scott Stossel and Brigid Schulte indulge in the opportunity to discuss their most recent works and ask the pressing questions they’ve penned in the margins of each other’s books. Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic, is the author of the 2014 New York Times bestseller, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind. An award-winning journalist for The Washington Post, Brigid Schulte wrote the New York Times bestselling Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.
Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7 to 9 p.m. Happiest Baby on the Block. Learn successful techniques that can quickly soothe your crying newborn and promote a more restful sleep for your infant in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Parent kits are included in the $50 couple fee.