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Multiple medications are a problem for seniors. Here’s how to reduce the risks

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

My mother is in her 70s and suffers from a lot of health problems. I am very worried that she has been given too many different medications that are too strong for her. What should I do?

THE ANSWER

It’s possible that your mother may need all the drugs she is currently taking. But it’s also true that patients sometimes get prescribed drugs and remain on them when they are no longer required.

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How can Ontario’s new ombudsman address patient concerns?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

I have a complaint with the care my father received at an Ontario hospital. I’ve heard in the news media that the province has a new patient ombudsman – Christine Elliott. Can she help me?

THE ANSWER

Ontario is the first province to establish an ombudsman to deal specifically with the concerns of patients and their caregivers.

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Can doctors actually predict how long patients have left?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

My aunt was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. Her doctor said she had about six months to live. But she died just over one month later. Are doctors usually this bad at predicting how long patients will survive?

THE ANSWER

Unfortunately, doctors get it wrong more often than they get it right, and most of the time, they overestimate how long patients will live.

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Weight loss is not always the answer to better health

KATHLEEN TROTTER

If, as a society, we want to become healthier – as opposed to simply continuing to spend money on “health” products and wasting time in a constant cycle of weight loss, weight gain, frustration and self-sabotage – we need to rethink how we frame health and weight.

For the most part we use aggressive language to talk about health and weight: “Fighting the battle of the bulge” becomes about going to “war” with one’s body. The problem is, this type of discourse does not set anyone up for long-term success. If you launch a full-on assault on your body, it will inevitably fight back.

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Tips for helping elderly loved ones keep track of their medications

RENÉE HENRIQUES

A client of mine recently presented me with her pretty basket of pill bottles. “I never miss one,” she reported with a smile. “I am very careful with my medications.”

With reading glasses perched on her nose, she picked up Bottle 1 and said, “This is for my blood pressure and I take this twice a day.” Check. She pulled out Bottle 2, and said, “This one I am not sure of.” The label was from the local vet clinic, and the “patient’s” name looked like one of a pet. My heart sank.

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Is it normal for Lyme disease symptoms to return after stopping antibiotics?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

After I’d been feeling really miserable for many months, my doctor finally concluded I had Lyme disease. He put me on antibiotics for a month and my symptoms went away. But now that I’ve stopped taking the antibiotics, I’m feeling horrible again. Is this typical for Lyme disease?

THE ANSWER

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How to prevent golf injuries after a winter off

KATHLEEN TROTTER

Too many people underestimate the stress that golf puts on the body; after months of not golfing during the winter, they jump right back in.

To prevent injuries, golfers need proper biomechanics and a specific base level of strength, range of motion and co-ordination. When the body doesn’t have the capacity to meet those demands, participants are at greater risk of long-term aches, pains and even injuries. No wonder more than half of novice golfers are suffering from back pain at any one time.

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Instead of a give-and-take approach to health, just ‘find your kiwi’

KATHLEEN TROTTER

Too often health is framed as deprivation: Something you have to do rather than something you want to do, an existence based on the cake you can’t eat and the social activity (such as drinking) you have to cut out.

It is no wonder so many of us yo-yo diet and exercise, develop feelings akin to adolescent rebellion toward healthy food and exercise, and adopt the all-too-common “I deserve” mentality (the “I have been good all week, so I deserve [fill in the blank]”). Who wants to feel constrained and deprived?

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What types of sunglasses will best protect my eyes this summer?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION: Summertime is finally here and I want to get a new pair of sunglasses. What should I buy to best protect my eyes?

THE ANSWER: There is certainly good reason to guard your eyes against the sun. But it can be a challenge finding a reliable pair of sunglasses that protect you from damaging rays, because the companies that make them are self-regulated.

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Heartburn medications are common and effective, but they pose risks

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

I have a new family doctor and she wants me to stop taking a drug called omeprazole, which I need to control my heartburn. I’ve been on this drug for years without any problems. Why should I stop it now?

THE ANSWER

Omeprazole, also known by the brand name Losec, is one in a class of medications called proton pump inhibitors – or PPIs. They are extremely effective in reducing the production of stomach acid, which can back up into the throat and cause that horrible feeling of heartburn.

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How to choose the right pillow to help you get a better sleep

DWIGHT CHAPIN

Soft or hard, thick or thin, memory foam or latex?

When selecting a pillow, there are many choices. Making the right choice, keeping that pillow clean and knowing when to replace it will affect your sleep quality and potentially how you feel each morning.

There is no single pillow that is best for everyone. And unless you’ve been waking up with neck pain, proper pillow selection is likely not on your radar. Most people use a pillow that is well past its prime – if it has lost its original shape, become flat or lumpy or has been in regular use longer than a year, it’s likely ready for replacement. If that’s your case, consider the following recommendations.

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How can I get medical marijuana for my terminally ill father?

PAUL TAYOR

THE QUESTION

My father is 84 and has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The medication he has been prescribed for pain isn’t working. He wants to try medical marijuana. But getting a doctor to prescribe cannabis is like pulling teeth. His doctor says there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support its use, even though it’s legally permitted by the Canadian government. What can I do to get my father cannabis?

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How a disorienting hospital visit can lead to delirium

PAUL TAYLOR

QUESTION

My 80-year-old mother recently spent more than a day in an emergency department waiting for a hospital bed so she could be treated for pneumonia. During the long wait, she became confused and agitated. She just wasn’t herself. The doctor said she was suffering from delirium. What is delirium and what causes it?

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My mom has colon cancer. How long will she have to wait for surgery?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

My mom has been diagnosed with colon cancer and has an appointment to see a surgeon. What is the average waiting period from the consultation visit to surgery?

THE ANSWER

Provincial health authorities have established general targets for how long patients should wait for surgery. (I will return to those targets later.) But it’s still hard to say how long your mother will have to wait because the timing of her surgery will likely depend on the characteristics of her tumour.

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Yoga vs. Pilates: How to choose the right discipline for your needs

KATHLEEN TROTTER

Pilates and yoga can be misunderstood as being one and the same.

Both disciplines emphasize breath regulation, mindfulness during practice and alignment, but that doesn’t mean they should be used interchangeably. It is important to understand the key differences; depending on your goals, exercise history and body type, one might be more appropriate for your individual needs.

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Why we should care that many teens experience sexual difficulties

LORI BROTTO

There is a wealth of information about the sexual activities, unwanted pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infection patterns seen in adolescent girls and boys. As a society, we have become preoccupied with the role of social media on a young person’s sexuality and on their sense of sexual self-esteem. However, one domain of sexuality that we know little about is in regards to the sexual difficulties that adolescents experience.

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Can you describe a 'typical' assisted death?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

Can you describe a “typical” assisted death? I would like to know exactly what is given to the patient and whether it involves any suffering.

THE ANSWER

The federal government is still in the process of drafting assisted-dying legislation. It has until June 6 to enact a new law that complies with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2015 that struck down the country’s ban on doctor-assisted death.

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Three ways to improve sleep quality and brain function

DWIGHT CHAPIN

Research shows that sleep is among the most critical factors for peak performance, memory, productivity, immune function and mood regulation – but the speed and information overload of today’s pace of life can challenge sleep quality, resulting in a decline in health and cognitive function.

Our best intentions to catch up on a sleep debt can lead to inconsistent patterns of sleep. This is a slippery slope. Unfortunately, an hour less tonight does not equal an extra hour tomorrow.

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Will physical activity help me with my depression?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

I suffer from depression and my doctor has given me a prescription for antidepressant medication. She says my mood may improve if I also increase my level of physical activity. But I find it hard enough just getting out of bed in the morning – not to mention exercising. Can physical activity really help?

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Five tips for rebooting your workout this spring

ALEX ALLAN

It’s that time of year when we throw out the old, acquire some new, clean up what exists and organize what remains.

Historically, the concept of spring cleaning has been applied to our houses, but moving forward it should also include our bodies.

The winter months can wreak havoc on our physical structure – often encouraging inactivity, muscular imbalance, overall weakness and the accumulation of “possessions” (yes, fat cells) that we may want to shed as the weather improves.

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Three families share their stories about getting around on a bicycle

DAVE McGINN

 

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Finding relief from restless legs syndrome

JUDITH DAVIDSON

Do your legs ever drive you crazy in the evening when you are sitting or lying down? Do you feel compelled to get up, stretch them, walk around?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an apt name for a common disorder that is considered sleep-related, even though it occurs when you’re awake, usually in the evening. In some cases, it is just annoying; in others, it is downright frustrating, interfering with evening activities and the ability to get a good night’s sleep.

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How to go from the couch to running 5K in eight weeks

KATHLEEN TROTTER

My biggest piece of advice for anyone who wants to start running is “just start” – lace up your running shoes and go.

The hardest part of any exercise program – especially running – is getting started. When I first started to run, each step was torture. Now running is my bliss.

Your first workout doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you simply jog for one minute and then walk the rest of the time, it is always better to do something rather than nothing.

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The last things a caregiver for a loved one needs to hear – and the first

RENÉE HENRIQUES

Have you ever said the wrong thing? Of course you have. You’re human. And when it comes to speaking to caregivers, conversations can be especially fraught.

Statistics Canada tells us more than eight million Canadians provide care to a chronically ill or disabled loved one. That’s a lot of people that are going through caregiving journeys, and if you are not one of them, you may find yourself putting your foot in your mouth unknowingly.

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Why must ER patients wait so long for a hospital bed?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

I recently took my elderly father to a hospital emergency department because he was suffering from severe stomach pain. A doctor saw him fairly promptly and decided to admit him. But my father then had to wait more than a day in the emergency department before he was moved to a bed in a hospital room. Why did he have to wait so long?

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Marijuana’s effect on sleeping still unclear

JUDITH DAVIDSON

At least once a week, I hear from patients that smoking marijuana helps them to relax and to sleep. I know that other clinicians hear the same thing because they ask me about it at insomnia workshops. Does cannabis really improve sleep?

Several studies done in the 1970s examined the effects of smoked marijuana on objective sleep patterns, measured using polysomnography. This method of overnight recording involves the tracking of brain waves, eye movements and muscle tone in order to distinguish the sleep stages and their pattern of occurrence throughout the night.

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Why do researchers churn out so many contradictory food studies?

PAUL TAYLOR

THE QUESTION

Food studies frustrate me. One week a study says one thing. The next week another study says the opposite. Why do researchers churn out so many contradictory studies – and why does the news media keep covering them?

THE ANSWER

It’s fair to say that many people share your frustration – despite the fact that food studies have a lot of popular appeal. After all, in theory at least, this type of research has the potential to empower people. If you knew what specific foods could prevent certain diseases, you wouldn’t need to rely on doctors and prescription drugs.

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After baby, can parents ever regain that lost lovin' feeling?

LORI BROTTO

Sex makes a baby. But babies can be bad for sex.

Six weeks after a child is born, most women are given the green light to resume sexual activity as long as the typical healing-signs of delivery – whether a vaginal or a cesarean birth – are evident, and the couple have considered contraceptive options.

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How you’re self-sabotaging your fitness success

KATHLEEN TROTTER

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can be overwhelming; when the going gets tough, too many of us consciously (or unconsciously) sabotage our own success. I have been there. As an adolescent I was chubby and awkward; I constantly sabotaged my own health.

Learning to crave movement and healthy food has been a process; a large part of the process was learning how not to self-sabotage and, possibly more significant, figuring out that when I did self-sabotage I didn’t have to beat myself up. I could learn from the experience and then make more informed decisions in the future.

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Young baseball players need to be wary of overuse injuries to throwing arms

DWIGHT CHAPIN

Little Leaguers will soon be taking to baseball diamonds across the country with a little extra enthusiasm thanks to Jose Bautista’s bat flip and Josh Donaldson’s MVP performance last fall.

To prepare for a new season, many young ball players have already been training indoors with their teams for a couple of months. Coaches look to leverage these early reps and hours of practice into reproducible, midseason success.

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