I See Some Bad News Rising

Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, this seems like the perfect time to talk about something that definitely affects how many milligrams of Lexapro I need: negative news. 

Here’s a perfect example; today I woke up to this headline:

Pollution can be 5 to 10 times worse in your home than outside. Here’s what to do about it

Now, call me Pollyanna but has anyone else noticed that AS SOON AS something relatively good happens in the world, we’re immediately BASHED with something bad? Like, I’m just starting to feel somewhat safe walking through the grocery store parking lot without a mask (Vaccine 1 – check; vaccine 2 – check; two-week waiting period – check) and BLAM, now I might be able to go outside somewhat cautiously but I can’t go back inside because my house is going to kill me.

Is it just me?

In case you think I’m overestimating the proliferation of bad news, just take a look at some of the statistics in this March 2021 Letter.ly post, “16 Eye-Opening Negative News Statistics You Need to Know.” (FYI these statistics are based on results from studies and reports that have analyzed the issue and provide an “unbiased look at why the media reports negative news.”)

  1. Approximately 90% of all media news is negative. (Quora)
  2. Sensational stories form 95% of media headlines. (The Guardian)
  3. Nielsen ratings are at fault for 50% of negative news statistics. (The Balance Careers)
  4. 38% of Americans believe the media exaggerated the COVID-19 coverage. (Pew Research Center)
  5. Approximately 1 in 10 American adults checks the news every hour. (Time)
  6. A website lost 66% of its readers when it published positive stories for a day. (Quartz)
  7. Studies show that headlines with bad news catch 30% more attention. (Kinder)
  8. Reports show 65% of news organizations ignore mistakes. (The New York Times)
  9. Around 26.7% of people that are exposed to negative news go on to develop anxiety. (NCBI)
  10. An average of 79% of media companies print biased stories for advertisers. (ScienceDirect)
  11. Headline manipulation has been proven to double readership. (IndustryWeek)
  12. People are 49% more likely to read something negative than positive. (NCBI)
  13. 63% of kids aged 12–18 say that watching the news makes them feel bad. (Common Sense)
  14. Most people blame the public for the popularity of negative news headlines. (Quora)
  15. 79% of Americans believe media articles are not balanced in their arguments. (Pew Research Center)
  16. 87% of the COVID-19 coverage in 2020 was negative. (The New York Times)

So, about that 87% …

Even though any bad news is … bad news, I’m generally able to maintain some perspective before I start writing my obituary. I might be freaked when I read, “C.D.C. Issues E. Coli Warning on Romaine Lettuce Ahead of Thanksgiving,” but at least I can find out (sure, it takes me EIGHT PARAGRAPHS TO GET THERE!) who the manufacturer is, what the sell-by date is, and that “The products identified are already significantly past their use-by dates, so this voluntary recall most likely does not affect any product currently on store shelves.”

Good to know … maybe next time tell me that in the first paragraph?

But, when we’re talking about a GLOBAL PANDEMIC and a new strain of virus that has not ever been identified in humans, it’s pretty hard to maintain perspective. So if 87% of the coverage of that virus is negative, it’s no wonder that “more than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in December, an increase from 11% the previous year.”

David Leonhardt’s New York Times weekday newsletter, “The Morning” first brought that 87% statistic to my attention. In his March 24, 2021 (updated April 22, 2021) article “Bad News Bias,” Mr. Leonhardt refers to a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Why Is All COVID-19 News Bad?” by Bruce Sacerdote, Ph.D., an economics professor at Dartmouth College, and undergraduate fellow researchers Ranjan Sehgal (Dartmouth College), and Molly Cook (Brown University). 

In this study, Dr. Sacerdote and his colleagues analyzed the tone of COVID-19 related English-language news articles written since January 1, 2020 (written articles and transcripts were analyzed from television sources). They focused on the subtopics of COVID-19 vaccines, increases and decreases in case counts, and reopenings (businesses, schools, parks, restaurants, government facilities, etc.).

Here’s a few things they discovered: 

  • The most popular stories in The New York Times, CNN, and the BBC have high levels of negativity for all types of articles but particularly for COVID-19-related articles.
  • 87% of stories in the major U.S. news sources are negative versus 50% for non-U.S. major sources and 64% for scientific journals and that “the negativity does not respond to changes in new cases.”
    • Potentially positive developments receive less attention in U.S. than do negative stories. 
  • Negativity appears to be unrelated to the political leanings of the newspapers or network’s audience.
    • COVID-19 stories from all major U.S. outlets have high levels of negativity and the variation that does exist is not correlated with readers’ political leanings. 
  • Among U.S. major media, 15,000 stories mention increases in caseloads while only 2,500 mention decreases (a 6 to 1 ratio) During the period when caseloads were falling nationally (April 24 to June 27) the ratio remains relatively high (5.3 to 1)
  • U.S. major media are 38% more likely to be negative in vaccine articles relative to non-U.S. general media, and the gap in vaccine article negativity between U.S. major media and all other sources remained even after vaccines were approved for use (November 2020). 
    • The U.S. major media outlets ran 1,371 stories that mention COVID-19 vaccines and any names of the top ten institutions or companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine, while during the same period they ran 8,756 stories involving Trump and mask wearing, and 1,636 stories about Trump and hydroxychloroquine.
  • In the examination of school reopenings and U.S. major media consumption, the authors found that the strong negative correlation (across counties) between school reopenings and consumption of U.S. major media appears to be driven by selection rather than causality. 
    • Scientists collecting data on school reopenings have found that infection rates among students remain low and schools have not become super-spreaders; however, these positive findings are not reflected in the “overwhelmingly negative” U.S. major media. 86% of school reopening articles from U.S. major media are negative versus 54% for English-language major media in other countries.
  • The U.S. media outperform the non-U.S. media in promoting prosocial behavior (five percent of COVID-19 articles in major U.S. outlets mention the benefits of mask wearing compared to .6 percent for non-U.S. outlets and 2% for general U.S. sources), “though perhaps because such messages are more needed in the U.S.”
  • Demand for negative news is strong in U.S. and other countries. Considering more than 5000 Facebook shares during 2019 and 2020, heavily shared CNN, Yahoo!, MSN, and BBC articles are all very negative in tone, with the U.S. sourced articles being just as negative in 2019 (pre-COVID) as in 2020.

Wait, but why?

In their study, Dr. Sacerdote and colleagues ask, “why are the U.S. major media so much more negative than international media and other outlets?” While their study shows demand for negative stories is quite strong in the U.S. and the U.K. among readers of The New York Times, CNN, and BBC, they find that “U.S. news outlets are more likely to cater to the demand for negativity than are international outlets.”

The authors suggest three possible explanations:

  1. Most of the non-U.S. markets in their sample include a dominant publicly owned news source that is the #1 news source in their countries: BBC (England); CBC (Canada); ABC (Australia). The publicly owned sources may follow a different objective function than private news providers.
  2. U.S. media markets are less concentrated than media markets in other OECD countries which may cause U.S. major media companies to use negativity to attract audiences.
  3. The U.S. Federal Communication Commission eliminated its fairness doctrine regulation in 1987 which required broadcasters to provide adequate coverage of public issues and fairly represent opposing views (the U.K. and Canada maintain such regulations). While this may be a reason why we see more partisan bias in U.S. media, it may also explain why U.S. news providers feel justified in responding to their consumers’ high demand for negative news.

Which brings us back to Mr. Leonhardt who won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, has worked at The New York Times since 1999, and offers some reasons for the cynical perspective many journalists take.

Sometimes … our healthy skepticism can turn into reflexive cynicism, and we end up telling less than the complete story.

David Leonhardt, The New York Times

“In the modern era of journalism — dating roughly to the Vietnam War and Watergate — we tend to equate impact with asking tough questions and exposing problems. There are some good reasons for that. We are inundated by politicians, business executives, movie stars and others trying to portray themselves in the best light. Our job is to cut through the self-promotion and find the truth. If we don’t tell you the bad news, you may never hear it.

“Sometimes, though, our healthy skepticism can turn into reflexive cynicism, and we end up telling something less than the complete story.”

Looking for bad news

With this information, it’s pretty easy to see how this negative news about COVID-19 has affected our mental health. What seems contradictory to me is our “demand” for bad news when we know it will affect our levels of anxiety and depression (and by “our” I mean whoever it is who’s “liking” and “sharing” the most depressing news ever!).

In the next post I’ll share some explanation for why we seek it out negative news, and what we can do to break that habit (and by “we,” please see definition above). 

And in the meantime, here’s some really great news … “Prancer the ‘Demonic Chihuahua’ Who Went Viral Finds Dream Forever Home.”

Image credit: Ariel Davis

The Story of a Toy Inventor and the Daughter Who’s Telling His Tale

This September, toy inventor Eddy Goldfarb will be 100 years old. Most likely, he’ll spend part of his day tinkering in his garage, developing a new idea, and figuring out how to make it work. A process, he says, that is a big factor in his longevity. 

You’ll probably recognize some of Eddy’s most famous inventions: Kerplunk, Giant Bubble Gun, Chutes Away, Arcade Basketball, Stompers, Vac-U-Form, and the iconic Yakity Yak Talking Teeth. It’s no wonder Eddy Goldfarb is a member of the Toy Industry Hall of Fame, along with such notables as Milton Bradley, George Parker (Parker Bros.), Herman Fisher (Fisher-Price), Jim Henson, and Toys R Us founder, Charles Lazarus.

Eddy Goldfarb is the father of more than 800 toys and holds nearly 300 patents. But Eddy is also the father of Lyn Goldfarb, Fran Goldfarb, and Martin Goldfarb. And while I could paraphrase from the hundreds of articles written about Eddy Goldfarb’s fascinating life, no one could tell Eddy’s story better than his daughter Lyn, an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker who directed and produced, “Eddy’s World.” Lyn’s 18-minute film tells the story of Eddy Goldfarb’s creative, optimistic, and curious personality, and shares his “philosophies of life and his wisdom on aging.”

So while I started writing this post about the indomitable spirit of Eddy Goldfarb, it’s also the story of a daughter who found her father’s life, his work, and his outlook interesting and worth sharing. And unlike the hundreds of other articles about Eddy on the Internet, this one was literally told through his daughter’s lens. 

“I first started out really to do a family Legacy project,” Lyn told me. “My mother had Parkinson’s and my father was her caregiver, and he didn’t look well either. After my mother died in 2013, my father walked his way back to health and creativity. His optimism allowed him to grieve, but also look forward towards life. That was one of the reasons I started making the film – to capture his grace in aging.

“I realized that it really would be a great little film. And has been great – I really got to know my father in a different way making the film about him and having the opportunity to talk about the items, tell the stories of his life, but also the real privilege of watching him work.”

Because while Lyn does remember playing with prototypes (while being sworn to secrecy) and getting “tons of cereal” sent to the house during the time that Eddy was designing the premium toys that were included in cereal boxes, she didn’t see Eddy as the “toy inventor,” but as her father.

“He went off to work like most parents that went off to work outside of the house,” she says. 

I can relate to Lyn Goldfarb’s memory of the father who just “went off to work.” As children, we don’t really pay attention to what our parents are doing or what they are thinking. We’re more aware of our experiences, and how our parents are seemingly only there to interrupt our agendas.

But have you ever thought about their motivations, their struggles, their loves, their fears? Do you remember some of the stories you heard from and about their lives? 

In the film, Eddy tells the story of meeting his wife of 65 years, Anita Stern, at a dance in Chicago after World War II. He asked Anita to marry him the next day, and nine months later they were wed. Eddy’s tale reminded me of the story I had heard about my father and mother meeting at a USO dance in Chicago during the war as well. Like Eddy and Anita, my folks fell in love immediately, and although my father returned to his deployment two days after meeting her, he would return six months later, and they would marry immediately. 

Lyn’s loving film reminds me how important it is to record those few stories I still have of my parents to keep their memory alive. While my media will not be as professional as Lyn’s, I realize that if I don’t record their stories somewhere, no one other than my siblings and myself will ever know them. If I don’t record the other memories of my parents (who died when I was barely in my 40s) what will my children, and their children, know about their lives? I’ve already lost the stories of my grandparents, how they immigrated to America, how they lived, worked, and loved. I don’t want to lose those few I have of my parents.

Toward the end of the film, Eddy talks about making lithophanes of family and friends. “For some reason, the lithophane has a little magic to it,” he says. Maybe it’s because it’s a lasting memory of someone you love. It’s the same “little magic” that Lyn Goldfarb has created in “Eddy’s World.”

Rosamund Pike Sheds Light on Guardianship Fraud in Golden Globes Acceptance Speech

Last night on the Golden Globes, Rosamund Pike won “Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy” for her portrayal of Marla Grayson, a professional legal guardian who defrauds her elderly clients using loopholes in the US guardian/conservatorship system, in the Netflix movie “I Care a Lot.”

“If we delivered this story on this subject matter in a way that tugged at the heart string and was told from the victim’s point of view, it would be unbearably difficult to watch,” Pike said in a recent interview. “We took this subject matter and flipped it. So, yes, we go on this fun, seductive ride, which is fun and funny, but we also get to get angry at the same time. I’m open to the debate whether this is a comedy or not.”

I watched the movie about a week or so ago, and I don’t remember one LOL moment. In fact, it freaked me out, because as far as I know, I don’t have a Russian mobster family to protect me (but I do remember my dad telling me about a Russian great-great-great-great grandfather who was a rabbi. … although I don’t feel any safer knowing that).

Unfortunately, there are some scary examples of guardianship/conservatorship fraud, and you don’t have to be elderly to become a victim. Just look at the ongoing struggle Britney Spears has been facing in court battles to stop, or at least limit her father’s 13-year legal conservatorship that removed her control over her finances, career, and well-being. If Britney can’t win, how can we expect to protect our anonymous, financially modest, sometimes disenfranchised elderly?

The day after I watched the movie, I contacted the Florida State Guardianship Association. I figured if ANY place was familiar with elderly guardianship it was Florida in which 1/4 of the state’s population is age 60 or older. Evidently, they were well prepared for my query and sent me this white paper from the National Guardianship Association (NGA), written in preparation of the release of “I Care a Lot.”

Guardians “follow a code of ethics and statutory guidelines, caring for individuals and managing their property after they have been deemed incapable of doing so,” the paper states. “Typically, our clients have serious chronic mental illness, dementia, a developmental disability, or traumatic brain injury.” These clients are evaluated by licensed mental health professionals, physicians and others with the ultimate goal of ending guardianship whenever possible. And the paper goes on to give examples of wards who have regained their independence.

I truly believe the NGA is “leading the way to excellence in guardianship” through its mission to establish and promote nationally recognized standards, encourage the highest levels of integrity and competence through guardianship education, and protect the interests of guardians and people in their care. However, despite the NGA’s intentions, the best laid codes aren’t always followed, and people can still find ways to take advantage of the system and the wards in their care. (In her acceptance speech last night, Pike thanked “America’s broken legal system for making it possible to make stories like this.”)

Here’s just a few examples of how guardianship can go wrong:

This is a conversation that has been gaining volume, and Pike’s award will hopefully bring even greater awareness to the situation. If you have ANY concerns about guardianship fraud, contact:
Adult Protective Services in your area (these differ by state)

And learn more from:
The National Center on Law and Elder Rights (See paper here, “When the Guardian is an Abuser”) and The National Association to Stop Guardianship Abuse.

Nighty Night! How to Get the Sleep You Need

Are you getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? 

Wait let me rephrase that  … are you over 55 and getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night without taking anything?

Because I’m not.

I used to. I’d fall asleep literally sitting up in bed with my Kindle in my hands. At some point, my husband would remove it (because he’s an insomniac), and I’d gain consciousness again 8-10 hours later. NOTHING happened in between. Total oblivion.

But lately, when I finally fall asleep (caffeine stopped, exercise done, Kindle down, lights out, post hot shower), I do so only to WAKE BACK UP anywhere from 1-4 hours later. And then, I’m in middle-of-the-night-psychotic hell. Here’s a little glimpse into what happens in my brain next:

Okay, okay, I’m NOT going to turn the lights on. I’m just going to breathe and relax. Did I turn the stove off? I’m sure I did, but should I check? Nah, I know it’s off. Okay, relax. Where’s the cat? Oh the cat… did I put the rug she pee peed on in the dryer? Is the dryer still on? I probably shouldn’t fall asleep with the dryer on. Dryer sheets. I need to add that to the grocery list … but what else do we need? Wait, where’s my husband? Is he okay? He’s probably just walking around, but maybe he went to check on the dryer/cat/grocery list and fell down and is hurt.

By that point, he’s usually back from whatever nightly perambulation he was on so I can go back to thinking about how I can’t fall asleep.

While it seems like fun to think about getting a text-pal in a time zone that’s 6-8 hours ahead of mine, the fact is that not getting enough sleep can have severe consequences on your physical and mental health … and I can’t afford either of those!

So, I did some checking into the most current research and information about insomnia – and if these suggestions don’t help you get sleep, just try reading this at bedtime – I’m pretty sure it can bore you into unconsciousness!!

What is insomnia?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is defined as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality.”  It is more prevalent in older adults (30% to 48%), women (25%), and people with medical and mental health issues. (Oh, I am SO SCREWED!)

In a 2018 article entitled “What’s New In Insomnia Research,” Dr Dieter Riemann, the founder of the European Insomnia Network said, “Ultimately, insomnia rates have risen because there are so many more distractions in today’s society. It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.”

It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.

AND THAT WAS PRE-PANDEMIC!

Although I couldn’t find any research later than 2018, Google Trends affirms a dramatic increase in internet searches for insomnia as we’ve experienced the COVID-19 global pandemic. Studies are being discussed to determine whether an increase in insomnia symptoms as a result of the pandemic will persist and lead to higher rates of chronic insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer).

Techniques for Overcoming Insomnia

CBT-I

For chronic insomnia in adults, guidelines published in 2016 by the American College of Physicians, and supported by the British Association for Psychopharmacology, and jointly the National Institute of Health and the Sleep Research Society recommend that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Insomnia (CBT-I) as the first-line treatment.

CBT-I is a short, structured, and evidence-based approach to insomnia. The program typically takes 6-8 weeks and involves cognitive, behavioral, and education components that help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep you awake, develop good sleep habits, and avoid behaviors that keep you from sleeping well. To find a practitioner, contact your physician, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine or the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

Unfortunately, due to the widespread need for this treatment, there aren’t enough CBT-I professionals to meet the current demand. However, researchers have developed successful digital, group, and self-help formats as alternative ways to provide treatment.

In a year-long study (Northwestern Medicine and University of Oxford) involving 1,711 people, researchers found online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) improved not only insomnia symptoms, but functional health, psychological well-being and sleep-related quality of life.

If you’re interested in participating in a study on the efficacy of online CBT-I, the Stanford University Sleep Health and Insomnia Program (SHIP) is recruiting participants. Click here for more information.

Behavioral changes

Not quite ready to try the structured approach with CBT-I? There are a LOT of other things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. So with an attitude of optimism, these are some of the easiest things you can try TONIGHT to help you get the sleep you need. 

Take a shower or bath and add aromatherapy
People who took baths or showers (even as short as 10 minutes) measuring between 104°F–108.5°F 1 to 2 hours before bedtime found that going from warm water into a cooler bedroom causes your body temperature to drop, naturally creating a sleepy feeling. Sleep-inducing aromatherapy ingredients for your bath can provide added benefit. Many are available already mixed, and you’ll find some great recipes here.

Try relaxing music
Various studies report that slow, soothing music can lower the heart rate and relax the body, reduce anxiety and stress, or simply distract from stressful thoughts that prevent sleep. Look for playlists that feature songs with an “ideal” tempo of 60-80 beats per minute on Spotify and other music resources.

Set an intentional “worry” time earlier in the day
Plan a 15-minute worry break during the day to process thoughts. During this time, you might consider writing a to-do list or thinking about solutions to your concerns. Actively working on this during the day will keep you from giving it space at night.

Start a gratitude journal
In a study of college students who reported insomnia, expressing gratitude in writing each evening at bedtime helped improve their sleep compared to baseline. 

Breathe Deeply
Breathing exercises are designed to bring the body to a more relaxed state by bringing down some functions that can make you anxious. Want to try some now? Download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Try imagery distraction
Studies show that guided imagery, where you are given a specific cognitive task (and involving all of your senses), can calm your body and relax your mind.  You can find many guided imagery scripts online and on apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Spotify. You can also download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep:
Be Cool
Our body temperature is cool while sleeping and warmer when we’re up. So the goal at night is to mimic that change in body temperature. Research advises setting your thermostat to 60–67°F at night.

Avoid clocks in your bedroom
People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep tend to focus on the time and the fact that it’s passing while they’re watching it – the perfect storm for anxiety and sleeplessness! Don’t look at the time in relation to your sleep routines. However if you need an alarm, turn the clock away from you or place your alarm clock where you can’t see it.

Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy
Ultimately your goal will be to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (weekends included). BUT for now, you should not get in bed unless you are sleepy. By the way, you’re supposed to read that book (made of paper) in another room until you’re sleepy and THEN go to your bed. Reading IN BED is not allowed! Who knew?

If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning off the lights, or if you wake up and can’t fall back asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed and reset
Lying awake in bed for too long can “create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness.” Get up and try a “reset break.” During this time you should do something relaxing like read a book,, have a cup of camomile tea, or listen to relaxing music. The goal here is to shift your attention away from trying to go to sleep, which is NOT a relaxing exercise!

Bed is for sleep (and for some people – sex) not awake activities
It’s not your home office, so bringing your laptop, TV, and food into bed with you is a no no. Your bed should conjure feelings that are conducive to sleep, and research shows that these activities can trick our brains into thinking this space is for these activities and thereby training it to be more awake than sleepy in bed. If space is an issue (studio apartments, etc.) then use one side of the bed for sleep only, and the other side for other activities. This is a last-resort option!

Stick to a sleep schedule
While you’re aiming to go to sleep at the same time each night, it’s also important to wake up at the same time each day, regardless of the time you went to sleep at night. If you didn’t sleep well at night, chances are you’ll fall asleep more easily the subsequent night. Alternatively, if you allow yourself to stay in bed to “catch up,” you may find it difficult to go to sleep that night. 

Stay active
A great stress reliever, regular exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. Research suggests that you get your exercise in at least three hours before you turn in.

Check your meds
Many medications can affect your sleep. Check with your physician or pharmacist to see if anything you’re taking might be causing your insomnia. 

Avoid or limit naps
Especially when you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, the temptation to take a nap can be powerful. But don’t. However if you just can’t avoid it, limit your nap to 30 minutes or less and don’t nap after 3 pm.

Don’t tolerate pain
If you have pain that is affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor about a pain reliever.

Be aware of when you need light, and when you need dark
Exposing your body to light, whether it’s natural light or a digital device (e-reader, phone, tablet, etc), tells it to be alert. Darkness, on the other hand, promotes a sense of sleepiness and boosts the natural production of melatonin. During the day, try to expose your body to natural or artificial light (light boxes work great). But at night, turn off digital devices and keep your bedroom as dark as possible. 

Focus on trying to stay awake
I’m not sure I’ll try this one … but some studies have shown that when you force yourself to feel sleepy, your chances of falling asleep decrease dramatically. However, although research is mixed, some studies have shown that people who try the “paradoxical intention” to stay awake tend to fall asleep faster. Let me know if this works for you!

Acupuncture
Some studies have shown that acupuncture may be a beneficial treatment for insomnia, but more research is needed. Ask your doctor how to find a qualified practitioner (unless you’re from my hometown … in which case I have a great name for you!)

Weighted blankets
A recent study of 120 adults published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that weighted chain blankets are a safe and effective intervention in the treatment of insomnia. “A suggested explanation for the calming and sleep-promoting effect is the pressure that the chain blanket applies on different points on the body, stimulating the sensation of touch and the sense of muscles and joints, similar to acupressure and massage.”

Yoga or tai chi
Some studies suggest that the regular practice of yoga or tai chi can help improve sleep quality.

Avoid certain foods and drinks
A few hours before bed, avoid caffeine, alcohol, large meals, and foods that induce heartburn. However, consider eating (in moderation and earlier in the day) from these five food groups that support good sleep:

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty Fish
  • Teas, expecially chamomile

Prescriptions, OTC Medicines, and Herbal Treatments

FIRST, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR before you try any of these remedies.

Totally exempting myself from legal ramifications, prescription medications like Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Ramelteon (Rozerem), Zaleplon (Sonata), and Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist) are often prescribed for insomnia although doctors prefer to limit their use to a few weeks because of side effects including balance issues, daytime drowsiness, and the concern of their habit-forming tendencies. 

Over-the-counter sleep aids
Because the Food and Drug Administration does not mandate that manufacturers show proof of effectiveness or safety before marketing dietary supplement sleep aids, talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or other OTC products. Some products can have harmful interactions with certain medications.

Drugs like Benadryl,  Aleve PM, and Unisom contain antihistamines that can help you sleep but are not intended for regular use. Additionally, side effects including daytime sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, cognitive decline are possible, which may be worse in older adults.

Melatonin
Some research shows that the hormone melatonin can help reduce signs of jet lag and can help you fall asleep. Side effects can include headaches and daytime drowsiness. While generally considered safe, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises caution when using melatonin.

“Evidence-based recommendations published by the AASM indicate that strategically timed melatonin can be a treatment option for some problems related to sleep timing, such as jet lag disorder and shift work disorder. However, another clinical practice guideline published by the AASM suggests that clinicians should not use melatonin in adults to treat chronic insomnia, which is what many are experiencing during the pandemic.”

“Melatonin isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to nightly sleep trouble,” said Jennifer Martin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a member of the AASM board of directors and a professor of medicine at UCLA. “People who have difficulty sleeping should try making changes in their bedtime routine and environment first, and if that doesn’t help, or their insomnia becomes chronic, they should work with their medical provider to find the best treatment option.”

Valerian
There’s mixed study results on this plant-based supplement, but you should talk to your doctor before trying it. Some people who have used valerian in high doses or for a long time may have liver damage, although it’s not clear if valerian caused the damage.

One more thing to try
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, try reading the articles in this list of resources. Let’s just say, I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep!! Now gey schluffen!

Resources:

The Anerican Academy of Sleep Medicine

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Facebook)

“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)”

“The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction”

Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial

“Can Music Help You Sleep Better?”

“Google Trends reveals increases in internet searches for insomnia during the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

Mayo Clinic – Insomnia

“What’s New in Insomnia Research?”

“Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options”

“Weighted blankets can decrease insomnia severity”

“Insomnia symptoms, overall health improve with online insomnia program”

“What to do when you can’t sleep”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

“Healthy Sleep Habits”

“Five Foods That Support Good Sleep”

“Sleep tips during isolation: Preventing insomnia”

“Missing the mark with melatonin: Finding the best treatment for insomnia”

“Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities”

“One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover”

Insomnia (Sleep Foundation)

“Insomnia in the Elderly: A Review”

US Department of Health and Human Services – Women’s Health – Insomnia

There She Was, Just a Jogging Down the Street …

“… singing Do Wah Diddy, Diddy Dum, Diddy Do. Snapping her fingers and shuffling her feet” … and that’s when she face planted, just as natural as could be! 

That’s what happened Tuesday when I was jogging down the street, headphones blaring some awesome tune from my 60s mix, definitely shuffling my feet, hoping no one was around so that I wouldn’t have to put on my mask, but then noticing those four people standing right there, and blam, next thing I know, I’m flying face-first into the sidewalk.

FLAT. ON. MY. FACE!

When I was a kid, I fell all the time. I thought it was so cool to go flying off my bike and scrape the living daylights out of myself. If it stopped bleeding within 30 minutes or so, I’d keep playing. If it kept bleeding – enough that stitches were a possibility and therefore cool and worth the trouble – I’d go home for a professional assessment from my mom (who was not, in any way, a healthcare professional but was a nervous 50s mom and therefore more likely to think stitches were in order!).

The problem was, she always wanted to “clean” it first. If I was LUCKY, she’d pull out the Mercurochrome and pour it all over injury, leaving me not only my giant abrasion, but lots of red-dyed skin to call even more attention to my bravery when I showed it off at school the next day.

Mercurochrome didn’t hurt. But then there was Merthiolate. Killed the same germs, left the same cool red stains all over you, BUT HURT LIKE HELL!! Oh, how I would pray that my mother wouldn’t use Merthiolate – it took all the cool out of the injury when the treatment would make you cry.

Like my other favorite childhood drug, Paregoric, which was removed from the market because of the opium content, MERcurochrome and MERthiolate were also removed from the market because of the MERcury content and risk of mercury poisoning. Of course, there were levels to consider, but when you fell as much as I did, the likelihood of mercury poisoning probably wasn’t out of the question. 

So back to my recent “senior fall.” Here’s the problem: the minute you fall as a “senior” you don’t typically think, “oh cool. I’m going to have an awesome scar and a great story to tell at school.” Instead, you think “did I just break my hip?”

And here’s why that’s what happens:

  • You’re not seven years old and you don’t go to elementary school anymore.
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling—usually by falling sideways.
  • Women fall more often than men and account for three-quarters of all hip fractures.

And trust me, the list goes on. If you’re 65 or over, just save yourself some time. Don’t bother looking up “Falls in Seniors” – just know it’s bad, and depressing, and … bad.

So, I freaked out for about a few hours, during which I couldn’t stop bleeding because of those damn daily aspirin I take for my “senior” heart. 

And then I “googled” how to prevent falls in ‘the elderly” and found out two really important things:

  1. LOTS of people google “how to prevent falls in seniors” – I bet everyone over 60 does it after the first time they fall!
  2. Exercise is one of the best fall prevention strategies there is. It makes you stronger, keeps you flexible, and may slow bone loss from osteoporosis.

So, I thought about any recent falls I’ve had, and they all had pretty much one thing in common … I just wasn’t paying attention to the jogging AT ALL!!

Just take a look at that second paragraph!!! I didn’t fall because my medication makes me dizzy, or because my balance is compromised, or because my eyesight is bad. I fell because I WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION!!!! Probably the same reason I flew off the front of my bike four million times!!!

So, here are my takeaways:

  1. I’m going to keep jogging – but maybe I’ll try to find a softer surface to do it on.
  2. I’m still pretty proud of my giant scrapes and cuts. 
  3. If anyone has a Paregoric connection, DM me.

Just Step Right up on the Scale …

“Okay, just step right up here onto the scale, and let’s get your weight real quick, sweetie.”

No matter how gently those words are uttered, you might as well be saying, “okay, let’s just cram this knife right into your neck real quick, sweetie, and see how fast your blood flows.”

I hate getting weighed at the doctor. Unless I walk in there and specifically ask, “would you mind finding out how much I weigh, because I don’t have a scale, a mirror, 4,000 apps on my phone, or clothes with waistbands anymore, so I just can’t tell on my own,” then PLEASE don’t weigh me. 

Unfortunately, my health care practitioners think this is my first (and only) concern when I visit them. My left arm might be hanging off from a chainsaw injury or I may have passed out in the elevator from a fever, but darn if that scale isn’t going to be my first stop.

I remember the last time I went in for my physical. It was a freezing day in December, let’s say around 4 degrees. As you might expect, I happened to be wearing a tank top … under a sweater, scarf, leggings, pants, socks, shoes, a coat, sunglasses, REALLY heavy earrings, and my wedding band. And I had a surprisingly hefty rubber band in my hair. 

“Okay, just step right up here onto the scale, and let’s get your weight real quick, sweetie” my otherwise very understanding and sympathetic nurse requested. 

“Um, do you want me to take off my coat? Or, maybe everything I have on before I do that? I don’t mind being completely naked in this hallway as long as it will shave an ounce or two off the results” I said, horrified.

“Oh no,” she replied, “that’s fine. We WANT to see just how much you can possibly weigh. According to medical research, if we put you on the scale in the dead of winter and make you look right at the numbers, we can effectively humiliate you enough that you’ll spend the rest of the day beating yourself up, buying diet books on Amazon, and scouring the Internet for weight loss plans. It’s a deal we have with therapists, publishers, and software developers.”

And don’t even think about losing weight when you’re a woman over 55. Instead, you’ll find out that once you get to “that certain age,” it’s nearly impossible to lose weight and keep the weight off. I’ve tried everything, but the real joke was the “Intermittent Fasting” trend that has become so popular.

I tried …

  • the 5:2 diet involves eating normally 5 days of the week while restricting your calorie intake to 500–600 for 2 days of the week,
  • the 16/8 method (fasting every day for 14–16 hours and restricting your daily eating window to 8–10 hours),
  • “Eat Stop Eat” (24-hour fast once or twice per week),
  • alternate-day fasting (you fast every other day),
  • and The Warrior Diet (eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eating one huge meal at night)

I gained seven pounds.

Now I’m trying the 5:5 intermittent dieting plan.

I eat anything I want for five minutes, then look for something else to eat for five minutes, then eat that for five minutes, etc.

And next time, I’m scheduling my physical for a hot summer day.

I said, “LET’S TALK ABOUT HEARING AIDS”

A few years ago, I realized that the number of times I misheard what someone was saying to me outweighed the number of times I got it right. Or that the knowing nods and smiles I would display when my daughters talked to me were clearly signs of not hearing a word they were saying (especially because I was nodding and smiling while they were saying, “you don’t hear a word right now, do you?”). After a while, it got annoying. For me. And for everyone around me.

So, I visited Dr. Leah Ball at Richmond Hearing Doctors and found out that yes indeed, I had a significant hearing loss at a certain level. (Don’t ask me for too many details … all I know is, I can’t hear my husband talking to me when we’re in the same room, but I can hear someone talking about me from miles away. Amazing!)

Dr. Ball fitted my impossibly difficult ears with impossibly small hearing aids, and it was incredible – who knew RAIN was SO LOUD??? And can you please not accost me with that thundering aluminum foil?

At the time, I was nervous and embarrassed about transitioning from being a “young” person who doesn’t require those things my grandfather wore, to someone who was now officially “old.” And for all the BOTOX and injections that could hide wrinkles, there wasn’t a thing I could do to hide those little plastic things on my ears.

I hated them so much at first that I would take them out all the time. One day, I forgot I had removed them … and I lost them. Thousands of dollars lost because of vanity. I went back to Dr. Ball, ordered a new pair, and embraced a new attitude.

Here’s how.

While aging is one of the most common causes of hearing damage, chronic exposure to loud noises is a big cause also. And let me tell you, l have enjoyed some very loud noises in my life!

I vividly remember the joy I felt the first time my dad took me to shoot pistols. I must have been about 10. There were no headphones – but there was a lot of happiness and pride at being with my father and doing something so “grown up.”

I am delighted by every song I blared on the radio and every REALLY LOUD concert I’ve ever attended, from the Beach Boys asking me, “Do You Wanna Dance?” to Bruce Springsteen loudly and emphatically telling me “Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny,” …

… to my 50th birthday gift of “Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp” where my bandmates (including Spencer Davis, Dickie Betts, Jon Anderson, Randy Ryder, Fred Dawson, and the entire horn section from Late Night with David Letterman) played gloriously loudly – and it was the best time of my life!

And I’m thrilled by every July 4th fireworks display I’ve ever seen, sitting in the grass with the people I love, anticipating that loud “boom” and not wanting to spoil a minute of it covering my ears.

My hearing aids are a badge of honor that represent all of the joyous “CHRONIC exposure to loud noises” that made up my life. They remind me of experiences that I wouldn’t trade for all the world. Certainly not for vanity. But most of all, they are the promise of enjoying all of the sounds still heading my way.

Problem “Salved!” The Pain-Relief Benefits of CBD

If you’re over “a certain age” and are alive, you probably have some aches and pains. Even the most inactive among us walk (and your hip/knee/ankle hurts) and sleep (and your back hurts. Or your arm where you slept on it funny. Or your shoulder after you shook your arm out. Or your neck after you tried to relieve the pain in your shoulder. … You get the idea).

If I’m not doing ANYTHING and still have aches and pains, you can only imagine what my husband, the habitual exerciser, feels on a daily basis (he’s in constant pain – he just doesn’t complain!).

So when a reader wrote in asking about treating aches and pains with CBD, I thought, “this is a great time to talk to a real expert, someone who can give us FACTS about CBD, and really educate us before we use it.”

Unfortunately, the guy at the gas station convenience store wasn’t really sure about the efficacy, molecular formula, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, clinical efficacy trials, indications and usage, contraindications, drug interactions or warnings of the “Phoenix Tears” gummies at the counter. 

Clearly, I needed a REAL expert. And I found just the right one!

Founder and president of Integrative Pain Specialists in Richmond, VA, Dr. Ben Seeman is board-certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation with a concentration in pain management. Dr. Seeman completed a three-year residency at the prestigious Virginia Commonwealth University/ Medical College of Virginia’s (VCU/MCV) Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. In 2006, Dr. Seeman was awarded a select fellowship at VCU/MCV in interventional pain management. 

Dr. Seeman’s practice mixes conventional medicine with non-conventional medicine to provide pain relief without narcotics. CBD is among many treatment modalities Dr. Seeman uses in his practice, and he is an expert on CBD. So, I started firing off questions:

NYD (Not Yet Dead): First, what is CBD?

Dr. Seeman: CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally occurring cannabinoid that comes from industrial hemp. CBD interacts with cannabinoid receptors in the body. Those receptors are part of the endocannabinoid systems, which plays a role in regulating appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory. When CBD binds to a receptor, it triggers various activities that help regulate your immune, nervous, and gastrointestinal systems. 

(NYD thinking to herself: Oooooooh, so THAT”s why you get the munchies!!)

NYD: What have you experienced in your practice treating patients with CBD products?

Dr. Seeman: I’ve seen CBD successfully impact patient lives, relieving joint and muscle pain, headache pain, neuropathic pain, and relieving inflammation. Since every person is different, the dose or method of delivery that helps one person may not be effective with another. 

NYD: What are the different types of CBD delivery systems?

Dr. Seeman: the top three products that we use in our practice are 

  • Tinctures
  • Capsules
  • Salve sticks or creams

Depending on the pain you’re targeting you might choose one option over another. If you’re having an ache in your calf, you may try a lotion or salve. If you’re having all-over pain, you may do better with tincture drops under the tongue or capsules. 

NYD (timidly and cautiously): So, um … can you get high (at all) from using CBD oils?

Dr. Seeman: If the CBD is pure, it does not contain THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you “high.” Pure CBD may help you feel less pain, less anxiety, or more relaxed, but you don’t have to worry about any psychotropic reactions. 

(NYD thinking to herself: Whew! I really don’t want to see another 257-lb walking carrot with a top hat and cane cruising through my den!)

In addition, many people need to ensure that the CBD they are taking for pain, stress, anxiety, etc. does not contain any THC because of their employer drug testing programs. Without ever meaning to, someone might use a CBD product containing THC and lose their job as a result. 

NYD: How can you ensure the product you are using does not contain THC?

Dr. Seeman: To really ensure quality, I would recommend speaking with a healthcare professional who can best guide your decision about using clinical strength hemp-based products.

In my practice, we use VERSÉA products which are medical grade, cultivated and manufactured in the United States, and formulated to promote maximum absorption of CBD. The plants used to make the products are the highest purity organic, naturally grown, non-GMO hemp. The products offer higher clinical strength than most other hemp oils on the market.

NYD: Is an office visit necessary?

Dr. Seeman: We see our clients twice annually if only for CBDs (For these patients, we do not manage the other aspects of their pain) – The first time to discuss the patient’s medical history  and discuss treatment options, and the next, six-months later, to ensure that the patient is getting the relief they expect. 

NYD: Is a prescription necessary?

Dr. Seeman: No, there is no prescription for the product which is available in our office. 

NYD: Are there any contraindications or drug interactions that people should be aware of?

Dr. Seeman: The CBD tinctures, capsules, and sticks recommended by our office carry minimal contraindications or drug interactions. Our initial office visit includes a thorough discussion on these matters.

Of course, while CBD in general does not cause problems in terms of drug interactions and side effects, I would caution patients who are looking for the true benefits of CBD to consider the importance of purity when choosing their products. 


If you’re interested in learning more about CBD products, specifically VERSÉA, please contact Dr. Seeman at Integrative Pain Specialists (804) 249-8888