Have you ever wondered why exercising your brain is important and how you can exercise it to keep it healthy? Research indicates that exercising the brain is like exercising the heart; when we keep blood flowing, we keep ourselves fit.
I spoke with Dr. Mario Dulay, neuropsychologist at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute, who gave us two important factors on how to keep your brain healthy and in shape, and why doing so is good for you.
Use it or lose it
The more you test and use your brain, the better it will perform. Dulay says that any cognitive stimulation is better than none, so staying physically, mentally, and socially active allows your brain to function better than a less active person.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, mentally-stimulating activities reinforce brain cells and the connections between them, and might even create new nerve cells. Such stimulating activities consist of games, educational activities and social activities.
Practice makes perfect
Cognitive compensation refers to the idea of practicing tricks to improve cognition. Examples include using mnemonics to remember people’s names, or using a calendar to improve the likelihood of not forgetting.
Dulay says people become more forgetful and lose cognitive abilities as they age. By compensating with tricks or reminders, we help maintain our independence and decrease stress.
In addition, compensatory activities may provide mental stimulation that can improve cognitive function and increase cognitive reserve, or the mind’s ability to resist damage to the brain.
Dulay also emphasizes that it’s not just about doing anything; it’s about doing what you love and doing it often.
Here is a list of some suggested activities you can do to help exercise your brain:
- Volunteer or mentor
- Learn something new; a new instrument, hobby, language, etc.
- Explore a region or culture of the world that interests you
- Brain teasers or word games
- Write a blog
- Attend a cooking class
- Play with your grandchildren
Each of these activities can help stimulate your brain; but remember, it’s important to find something you enjoy doing and will consistently do.
When I reflect on the elements which persuaded my decision to become a nurse, I cannot ignore hereditary influence. Between my maternal grandfather’s aunt serving with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War and three of my aunts graduating as diploma nurses after WWII, I would say my genes are pretty entrenched in a passion for nursing!
My first job during college was working as a weekend secretary on an orthopedic ward at a major medical center hospital in the northeast. It was then that I grew to admire the spirit of the floor nurse who wore a starched white uniform, nurse’s cap, white stockings, white shoes and a navy blue cape clasped at the neck worn during cold, snowy weather. I was in awe of how that uniform stayed a pristine white after an eight-hour shift. I loved to sit at the bedside with some of the long-term patients to listen to their stories. I was so excited to be a small part of their team!
Although I was told, “You should have been a nurse,” many times during my life, I don’t think I seriously considered going into the nursing profession until I experienced a life-changing event that happened to me as a patient at Houston Methodist Hospital.
As an adolescent, I developed a chronic hip condition that led to significant arthritic pain and immobility. The predictable treatment was total hip replacement. I was encouraged to wait as long as possible to receive the most reliable implant that would improve my quality of life; a life without chronic arthritic pain. A nurse from our church recommended a well-known, highly respected orthopedic surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital. At 40 years old I underwent hip replacement surgery. I remember waking up in a private room on Dunn 7, surrounded by my family; and best of all, I was free from hip pain!
My nurses exhibited a gentle and caring passion in the art of nursing. They taught me about hip precautions and infection control. I trusted them with my life and I was deeply saddened to say goodbye on the day of discharge!
This positive experience left me with a profound urge toward following the Golden Rule, that is, to “give back.” Could I be a nurse? My hip was fixed, but I was unsure I could endure the physical demands required of a nurse. My ultimate nudge was from my husband who said, “There is nothing wrong with your brain — go back to school and become a nurse.” That gentle push was what I needed to satisfy my need to give back to those who changed my life.
I have since graduated with my master’s degree and have shared my personal story with many elective joint replacement patients, some of whom are nurses and doctors here at Houston Methodist. I hope that sharing my experience has made a difference.
When I was in third grade, my mom was a single parent and worked nights as a charge nurse at the local hospital. She would take her three girls to work with her because she felt it was safer than leaving us at home alone. She would make things convenient and comfortable for us in the break room. She would make sure we had enough snacks, blankets and things to keep us busy during her 11-7 shift.
Most nights I would not sleep. Being the youngest of the girls, I was pretty attached to my mom. I would get up just to follow her around and watch her take care of the patients. She was such a caring nurse and would go from patient to patient checking to see if they needed anything for pain or if they were comfortable.
I remember very vividly when a patient passed away on my mom’s shift and, being the only RN in charge, she had to prepare the body for the funeral home. I asked if I could help, she asked me if I was sure and I told her yes, I wanted to help.
As I assisted my mom, I watched how caring she was to this patient, and considering the family would be there to see him soon. She cleaned him and treated him with so much dignity and respect that even at that young age all I could think about is I how I wanted to be just like her — a caring nurse and loving mom.
Today, my mom is a retired nurse practitioner. I followed in her footsteps to become the caring nurse I am today. After 25 years, I still enjoy taking care of the patients. As a professor of nursing students, I have passion for paying it forward. All this from the inspiration came from my mom.
I will never forget the day I underwent my first allergy prick test. My primary care physician recommended I see an allergy specialist after he had treated me for multiple sinus infections over the course of a year.
I scoffed and said “I don’t have allergies!” But I scheduled the appointment with the otolaryngologist nonetheless. A few weeks later, as I sat there with my arm and back on fire, nose running like a fire hose and eyes feeling like I’d been hit with pepper spray, I thought, “Hmm … maybe I do have allergies.”
What’s followed since that day is a constant battle against my many year-round allergies. Outside of medicinal remedies, there have been many tricks I’ve learned over the last few years that have helped me alleviate allergies.
1. Get informed. I have a little app on my phone that I check every day to check what allergens are in the air and what their level is. It may seem like a no brainer, but since I know ragweed is my mortal enemy, if ragweed levels are high, I know not to spend too much time outdoors. Most television weather forecasts also include allergen information.
2. Be prepared. Until I win the lottery (fingers crossed!), I’m going to have to mow my own lawn. Being allergic to grass I’ve learned that wearing a protective mask, immediately showering after I come inside and throwing the clothes I wore to mow the lawn in the washer all help keep my grass allergy in check as much as possible.
3. Be clean. In addition to taking a shower before I get to bed to get any allergens out of my hair and off my body (lest I take them to bed with me), I also make sure to wash my bedding once a week in hot water. This helps prevent allergens from building up, including dust mites, which some people are allergic to.
4. Seriously, be really clean. High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filters may help keep the air in your home a bit more breathable. Do your homework as you could spend a small fortune on these if you’re not careful. Make sure you change them regularly. Rugs and carpets can become cesspools for allergens. If you have a choice, go with bare floors. You may also want to make sure you dust regularly, especially in places like mini blinds and fans that seem to get dusty very quickly.
5. Drive carefully. That’s always good advice, but I mean be smart when driving. Keep your windows up and make sure your air conditioner is recirculating air and not drawing it in from outside the car. If you’re car has cabin air filter (most newer cars do), make sure you change it at least once a year or as suggested by your car’s manufacturer.
6. Talk to your doctor. If I hadn’t had a conversation about this with my primary care physician, I wouldn’t have gotten that allergy test. Now that I know what I’m up against, it’s been easier to stay healthy.
These are just a few things that others have shared with me over the years that have helped me cope with my allergies. Until NASA starts selling space suits to walk around in, I’ll keep fighting the good fight against allergens.
On May 14, 2010, Jacquline Adams, who goes by the stage name Iman Heartandsoul, abruptly woke up from her sleep and began to shake uncontrollably. She felt as if she was losing control of her body, and when she got up, she knew she wasn’t her normal self.
After numerous hospital visits, doctors couldn’t settle on a diagnosis and Jacquline started losing hope. That’s until she came across “Zipperheads,” a Facebook page about Chiari malformation, a condition in which the cerebellum, or the part of the brain at the back of the skull that controls balance, is too small or deformed, which puts pressure on the brain.
Members of the Facebook page shared similar symptoms to the ones Jacquline was experiencing, including headaches, pressure in the head, ringing in the ears, lack of sleep and depression. They advised her to see Dr. Rob G. Parrish, a neurosurgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital.
After reviewing a previous MRI, Dr. Parrish diagnosed Jacquline with Chiari malformation. Jacquline recalls Dr. Parrish saying he was stunned that she was still walking considering how advanced her condition was. Soon after her diagnosis, Dr. Parrish performed surgical decompression that resulted in the removal of two inches of her skull and two bones from her neck to make room for her brain. While the surgery is not a cure, in some cases it halts or stops the progression of the disease.
“I decided after my surgery that I would be a fighter, a survivor, and I was determined to bring some well-needed attention to an unknown illness,” Jacquline said. “The more attention Chiari gets, hopefully Chiarians will not have to search and suffer as long as I did just to get diagnosed and treated.”
As a singer, Jacquline knew she wanted to use her talent to financially help parents of children with Chiari. After her surgery, Jacquline recorded and released her own CD, “Determination,” where all proceeds went to helping these families in need.
She also founded a nonprofit, Iman’s Zipperhead Hearts for Chiari, and started an annual benefit concert and fundraiser, An Evening with Iman and Friends. The fundraiser was designed to raise awareness and assist Chiari patients financially, and has received a proclamation from the office of Mayor Annise Parker that declared Saturday, May 9, 2015 as “An Evening with Iman and Friends Day.”
“I have had my ups and downs, my good days, my bad days, but with the support of my husband, children, family and friends, I got better and stronger – mentally, physically, and emotionally,” Jacquline said.
Chiari malformation was earlier estimated to affect nearly 1 in every 1,000 people. With the advancement of technology, experts now believe that Chiari is more common than previously thought. To learn more about Chiari malformation, visit this resource page.
Now you’re a Registered Nurse (RN) or working toward graduation. Plans of serious celebration have been rightfully put in order for some time. You have said goodbye to a full night’s sleep, nail polish in exchange for scrubs, learned about evidenced-based practice, good bedside manner and the diligence to work up four-to-five patients since 5 a.m.
To the rest of the world this may sound crazy. Why did you put yourself through all of that? Because you want to do the one thing that has captured your spirit and tugged on your heartstrings ever since the moment you realized you wanted to become a nurse: you want to make a difference.
Nursing school has a way of pushing a sequence of buttons. In the real world of nursing the same is true, but it’s a different set of buttons. The difference is after school you emerge stronger, refined, polished and professional. You have the thinking required to take charge, augment your responses and practice nursing in the clinical way.
Many aspects of your career may change, but there is one thing that does not change: you and the kind of nurse you want to be. If you are in school, listen to your inner voice, do what strikes you best and get inspired. Why did you want to become a nurse? Remind yourself of that every day before beginning a shift.
Tips for new nurses
Positive communication. This is the single most important skill to master no matter. As a patient advocate and university/hospital representative, your communication skills need to be on point 100 percent of the time. People may not remember the exact verbiage that you used, but they will certainly remember how you made them feel.
Be honest about your capabilities. “RN” covers a multitude of jobs that involve patients from all different walks of life, settings and acuities. While I will always be the No. 1 cheerleader for every person climbing that nursing ladder of success, know where your limits are and know when to speak up.
Own your leadership skills. You are on the front lines of leadership and patient advocacy. The difference between someone only wanting to clock in and clock out and someone showing up to make an outstanding difference is noticed.
Get in there. Nursing is a lifelong journey and the destination is not graduation. Whether you are two years or 42 years into your nursing practice, the process of learning never ceases. Find what works for you, the patient and your team, and seek to understand what resources are available to you and your practice.
Organization is key. Nursing is a planning profession. Get your name on the books now. None of this is meant to panic you; only to stress the importance of organization into every element of your life.
The key to success finding out what is expected of you, knowing what tools are available, beefing up your knowledge base and organizing it in a fashion that compliments your practice and life. Watch and learn from those a few steps in front of you and do not be afraid to bring what you have to offer to the table.
Growing pains are inevitable. Bodies grow and so do minds, spirits and personal limits. If your desires are true, your intent pure and your will strong, all the things you thought you couldn’t do you, you will see in time, you have been doing all along.
When she joined our infection control team, we knew immediately that bringing her in was the right call. Staff and patients loved her. It seemed like she never left the hospital and could work 24/7. We knew she was great, but we didn’t realize what a valuable employee she was until the United States had its first confirmed Ebola case.
This employee’s name is TRU-D, or Total Room Ultraviolet Disinfection. TRU-D is a robot that produces natural ultraviolet (UV) light to target common germs found in hospitals. The UV light modifies the DNA structure of a cell so that it cannot reproduce, and a germ that cannot reproduce cannot harm patients or employees.
“There is increased evidence in scientific literature that UV light disinfection technology can sterilize entire rooms and render common hospital pathogens harmless,” explained Mario Soares, director of infection prevention and control at Houston Methodist Hospital.
Currently, TRU-D, often mistaken for R2D2 of Star Wars, sanitizes patient and operating rooms at Houston Methodist after they have been cleaned with the traditional cleaning processes. She rolls in to the room, and we close the doors behind her.
While the light TRU-D produces is natural, you don’t want to be in the room while she’s working; she likes to work independently. Using a handheld remote, TRU-D’s boss activates her from outside the room, and her sensors analyze the shape, size and contents of the room. She calculates the amount of time needed to sanitize the room (usually 20-25 minutes) and bathes the room in UV light before shutting off automatically when the germs are dead.
TRU-D is working around the world to fight hospital pathogens. In addition to Ebola, TRU-D’s light can also kill influenza, norovirus, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
“While TRU-D is already a core member of our cleaning and disinfecting team at Houston Methodist, we are adding more TRU-D robots to our arsenal,” Mario said. “We want to use TRU-D to disinfect more rooms to increase the level of protection for our patients.”
The next time you’re at Houston Methodist, keep an eye out for TRU-D. She might be rolling to a room near you.
Women are constantly bombarded on what they can do to prevent breast cancer. However, there is no definitive known way to prevent the disease. One in eight women in the United States will develop some form of breast cancer.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to several medical experts to address a few common breast cancer myths.
Myth: Mammograms cause breast cancer
Fact: Annual screenings are the key to finding breast cancer early. A mammogram is currently the best screening tool for finding breast cancer. It uses extremely low levels of radiation to create detailed images of the breast.
On average, the total dose for a typical mammogram is about 0.4 mSv. People are normally exposed to an average of about 3 mSv of radiation each year from their natural surroundings. The dose of radiation from a mammogram is about the same amount of radiation averaged from natural surroundings over about 7 weeks.
The Mammography Quality Standards Act was created by the American College of Radiology (ACR) and passed by Congress to mandate rigorous guidelines for x-ray safety during mammography. The MQSA guidelines assure that mammography systems are safe and use the lowest dose of radiation possible. Patients should make sure they are being imaged at an ACR-accredited facility.
Dr. Correna Terrell, medical director of the breast imaging center at Houston Methodist West Hospital, recommends that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual mammograms at age 40. If you have additional risk factors, your physician may recommend mammograms beginning at an earlier age.
Myth: Sugar feeds cancer
Fact: Sugar does not spread cancer. However, if you have too much sugar in your diet, specifically simple sugars found in baked goods, this can cause weight gain. Weight gain overtime can lead to obesity and obesity has been linked to an increase risk of several cancers.
“Our bodies do need simple sugar, for energy,” says Renee Stubbins, registered dietician at the Houston Methodist Cancer Center. “The average American consumes over 130 pounds of sugar per year, or an extra 500 calories per day. The key to any healthy balanced diet is moderation,” Stubbins said.
Natural occurring sugars like those found in fruit, vegetables and whole grain are all needed to help maintain muscle and weight during cancer treatment and have been shown to help fight cancer. Avoiding processed sugars that are found in cakes, baked goods and desserts and sticking with fruits and vegetables helps maintain a healthy weight and prevents health issues in the future.
Myth: All breast lumps are cancerous
Fact: In general, 80 percent of lumps are caused by non-cancerous changes in the breast. This percentage tends to fluctuate with age. As a woman ages, her risk of breast cancer increases. While the percentage of benign breast lumps in older women may be much lower than in younger women, it is still important for women to report breast abnormality to their physician. Only a small percentage of breast lumps turn out to be cancer. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or notice any changes in breast tissue, it should never be ignored.
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Imagine a lush tropical rain forest filled with a rich diversity of plant and animal life. This represents the complexity of our gut microbiome, an ecosystem residing in our digestive tract. Scientists are only beginning to unravel the far-reaching effects of gut health.
With surprising roles ranging from influencing our waistline and mood to promoting dental health and a clear complexion, the microbiome is a promising new frontier in medicine.
Increased awareness of how certain foods keep gut flora flourishing has sparked shifts in grocery store shopping and there’s a rising demand for probiotic-powered foods. Here’s what you need to know to nurture your gut microbiome.
Know the difference between probiotics and prebiotics
This dynamic duo has a harmonious relationship in the gut, working together to promote digestive health. Prebiotics are power food for probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial, living organisms that improve our immune system by helping to crowd out bacteria that can make us sick.
In addition, probiotics enhance absorption of nutrients from food and even help make energy-producing B vitamins.
Prebiotics are fibers in food that resist digestion in the upper digestive tract but are used as fuel by probiotics in the lower digestive tract. Probiotics rely on a steady supply of fuel from prebiotics so they can flourish. The best way to ensure that your probiotic population is happy and well-fed is to load up on fiber-rich plant foods.
Top sources of prebiotics include bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, whole grains and legumes like lentils, beans and peas. Be sure to gradually incorporate these foods into your diet and drink plenty of water to help your digestive system adjust to the increased fiber intake as it helps move things along.
Separate health from hype when shopping
Foods that are cultured or fermented naturally contain probiotics, but food companies are adding probiotics to processed foods such as energy bars and frozen yogurt. The potency of probiotic cultures can be drastically weakened when they are removed from their original source and added into these processed foods.
Sip the champagne of dairy
Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir reign supreme as the most potent probiotic sources. Known as the champagne of cultured dairy because of its slight fizziness, kefir is a low-lactose, creamy drink made by adding “kefir grains” to milk, which cause a very unique fermenting process.
Originating centuries ago in Eastern Europe, keifer has only recently become commercialized in the United States. While yogurt and kefir both contain beneficial bacteria, kefir hosts a more diverse population of probiotic strains, meaning it could offer added probiotic benefits, such as improving lactose digestion among those who are lactose intolerant.
Check the yogurt container
To make sure your yogurt really does have probiotic power, check for the “Live and Active Cultures” seal. Yogurts that say “heat treated after culturing” on the label mean the yogurt was pasteurized after the live strains were added, which deactivates the beneficial bacteria.
Check sugar content since sugar can work against probiotic benefits. Flavored yogurts that list sugar as the first or second ingredient can pack more sugar than a candy bar.
Choose food over supplements
Think twice before choosing a supplement over food. The journey probiotic supplements make from the lab to the gut is long and full of variables. The best and least expensive option for promoting good gut health is to enjoy foods that naturally contain live cultures.