It's time to winterize your health
There's been a nip in the air and we all know what that means. Winter is coming. As we continue to take steps to avoid contracting COVID-19, we also have to remember not to neglect the rest of our health.
Get your flu shot
If you haven't already, get your flu shot. The flu struck an estimated 39 to 56 million Americans during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to CDC estimates, with between 410,000 and 740,000 Americans requiring hospitalization. Getting the shot will not only protect your health, it will make more hospital beds available in case there's an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the coming months. Some of the major grocery chains are even offering drive-up flu shots! And many doctors, from dermatologists to cardiologists, have the shots available in their offices as well.
Check your treads
When you check your car tires to make sure they're ready to handle winter ice and snow, check your shoe treads, too. If your winter boots or shoes are looking a little worn on the bottom, now is a good time to replace them. Slips and falls are a leading cause of emergency room visits, especially for those over age 65. Seniors should consider limiting their trips outdoors when there's ice or snow on the ground and opt to have essentials like groceries and medicines delivered.
Hire a snow service
Snow shoveling is hard on your heart. If you are over 55, have heart problems, high blood pressure or don't exercise regularly, it's best to leave the shoveling to someone else. Hire a service or a local teen to shovel for you.
Stock your medicine cabinet
Make sure you have a good working thermometer (with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting) or a digital model (which are reasonably priced and easy to use), a supply of your prescription medicines, some acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and some throat lozenges.
Keep an eye on your eyes
With so many of us working from home and connecting over virtual meetings, our screen time has increased. It may increase even more as the weather gets colder and we spend more time indoors. Practice the 20-20-20 rule to keep eye strain to a minimum: look away from the screen every 20 minutes at a point 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Some people find matte filters help cut the glare from their screens. Others swear by blue light glasses, although evidence of their help is only anecdotal. If dry eyes become a problem, treat them with preservative-free artificial tears. Check in on your home-schooled children to make sure they are practicing good screen-time habits, too. If symptoms like blurry vision or burning eyes persist, visit an eye doctor to rule out a vision problem.
Make sure you're taking time to destress every day. Dentists have reported seeing an increase in emergency visits in recent months for cracked teeth caused by people clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth -- sure signs of stress. Be aware of your body and take a moment to relax your muscles if you feel them tensing up. It's a small step, but one that can go a long way toward protecting your health.
If you have been sitting home for months because of the pandemic, it's time to get in better shape.
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Work it out
A cardiologist just told me that he is seeing an increase in complaints from patients about muscle pain, weakness and lack of energy. He attributes much of it to the months we have been sheltering at home. Even if we continue our exercise program, for much of the day, we are probably in a home office and only walking to the kitchen and back. Top that off with steaming movies and watching TV (sometimes even in bed) and we are not getting the typical exercise of going to an outside job, running errands and leading our regular active lives. Try going for an afternoon walk or even doing more housework to get the body moving.
As we await a vaccine, let's keep a watchful eye on our health.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services (SeniorsAlone.org), a not-for-profit organization that serves the area's senior orphans. She also is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates, www.northshorern.com.