Eight things area health practitioners want you to know
We asked a panel of local experts what you need to know about your health right now.
Food is medicine
“Nutrition can have a large impact on both disease and health for young and old. It can help with regulation of diabetes, Alzheimer’s prevention, heart disease, hypertension, obesity and more,” says Dr. Sean Miran, family medicine doctor at Meriter Medical Group. Miran suggests a four-week to six-week initial commitment to dietary changes, focusing on whole, unprocessed foods, a large variety
of plant fiber, and probiotics such as yogurt, kefir and kimchee to foster balanced, healthy bacteria. “There’s fascinating research that indicates gut health plays an important role in things ranging from autoimmune disease to mental health and everything in between,” he says, adding that recent studies show it may be your gut bacteria (as opposed to your brain) that drives your food choices. “Moving a little bit in the right direction can make a big difference in the kind of things your body wants to eat,” he says.
Breastfeeding should not be stressful
Nursing your baby offers a host of benefits including affordable nutrition, convenience, health and bonding—but it shouldn’t bring pain, sadness, frustration or guilt. “If new moms are feeling anxious or upset, or [if] they’re worrying excessively about it, that’s a reason to get some help,” says Dr. Carleen Hanson, pediatrician and certified lactation consultant at Meriter Medical Group. Assistance in the Madison area is plentiful, says Hanson. If a doctor’s exam indicates the baby is healthy and there are no red flags, Hanson suggests contacting a lactation consultant at the hospital, clinic or through La Leche League, as well as joining a supportive community such as a mothers’ group, either in person or online. “I’m obviously very pro-breastfeeding but if it’s a source of stress, it’s OK to talk about other ways to give your baby nutrition,” says Hanson. “There’s more to having a healthy child than just breastfeeding.”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
If you’re avoiding the dentist, in a word, don’t. “It’s all about early prevention,” says Dr. Aldrin Sangalang of Dental Health Associates of Madison. “By the time something starts hurting, it’s usually a lot more painful, a lot more costly, and a lot more time and effort [is] needed on both the patient’s part and our part.” Together, proper and consistent oral hygiene habits, professional cleanings and regular clinical exams with X-rays make up the ounce of prevention that could save you literally thousands of dollars in cures. On the other hand, “a lot of people have a misconception that to see the dentist, they must have insurance,” says Sangalang, adding that clients paying cash or utilizing flex funds often have significantly discounted rates. “All dentists will gladly see anybody, regardless of insurance,” he says. “Catching things earlier is much better than later on, when a problem arises.”
Don’t be afraid to visit the dentist
If it has been a long while, though, don’t let fear of judgment or anxiety about cost or pain keep you away. “We never admonish anybody or scold anybody for not coming in, because there’s a reason why they didn’t come back for months or years,” says Sangalang. “We’re here to help, not to be stern or anything like that.” Sangalang promises he and his colleagues will go slowly, and that you won’t be forced into anything you don’t want to do. They’ll take things “one tooth at a time” to get you back up to speed and arm you with the information you need to make good decisions at your own pace. Step by step, issues will be addressed and future problems therefore avoided.
“We ultimately want you to get back to optimum oral health,” he says. “That’s our main goal.”
Growing older and staying healthy
Many people assume declining health is the inevitable result of growing older, but “that’s an unfortunate misconception,” says Keith VanLanduyt, vice president of marketing and community relations at Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries. “Seniors, like everyone else, make lifestyle choices each day that greatly impact their quality of life,” he says.
Cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and balance work focused on fall prevention, and eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables all contribute to optimal health. Having engaging, meaningful conversations, continuing to learn and develop new skills, and interacting with friends and neighbors are key for keeping memory sharp and remaining enthusiastic about life.
“But it can be hard to succeed in these areas while living alone,” says VanLanduyt, citing challenges such as cooking for one, lack of motivation to exercise, and isolation. “Communities like Oakwood offer programs and services that allow people to age the way they want,” he says.
Don’t wait to explore retirement living options
When the topic comes up over coffee, most older adults still consider moving to a retirement community as some sort of last resort in the distant future. Regardless of age, their response is more often a reflection of their state of mind as they say, “I’m just not
But the wait-time to get into most retirement communities can sometimes run a year or more. And those communities have changed since you visited your parents there ten years ago, too. Yesterday’s activities have evolved into intellectually stimulating and culturally relevant offerings such as lecture series, concerts, art classes and gardening clubs. Residents often work, vacation, and continue to pursue their passions and interests—all without the concerns of lawn care, snow removal and home maintenance.
“It’s worth your time to visit and learn about wait lists and costs for later,” says VanLanduyt. “And who knows? You might just decide the time is sooner than you think.”
Palliative care: Agrace offers more than hospice care
Palliative care works alongside your doctor’s care to help you get the best relief possible from the troubling symptoms, worries and stresses of being seriously ill.
“Palliative care can help at any time during a serious illness,” says Dr. Dena Green, chief medical officer at Agrace. “You can have it while you continue to get treatment that is meant to cure your illness or help you live longer.”
During a palliative care consultation, an Agrace doctor or nurse practitioner visits you at home to examine you and talk at length about what medicines, treatments or lifestyle changes could help you feel and cope better. After the visit, Agrace offers ideas for you, your family and your doctor to consider.
“We will not make any changes or take over your care,” says Green. “But, if needed, we will make follow-up visits to find out how any changes are working.”
The Agrace community won’t turn you away
While Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance cover the cost of basic hospice services for most patients, too many others slip through the cracks, lacking coverage for the compassionate care they need at the end of life. But when patients don’t have a way to pay for their care, Agrace doesn’t turn them away; it offers free or discounted services through Care for All, a charitable care program funded by community donations.
“Requests for Care for All assistance have steadily climbed over the past few years, which is why Agrace has begun a Care for All endowment campaign,” says Marcia Whittington, Agrace chief development officer. “Our goal is to raise $15 million over five years and invest those funds to generate annual income of approximately $700,000—the amount we need each year to offer care to patients who need this assistance.”