Friday, December 1, 2017

Elder Care Can Be Confusing, But These Services Are Here to Help

A caregiver places her hands on an elderly woman's shoulders.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
As Baby Boomers reach their elder years, an unmet need is reaching critical mass: What happens when senior citizens get to the point in their lives when they need extra help? How do you navigate the maze of possibilities for assisting your elderly relatives—in-home care, retirement communities, assisted living facilities, memory care facilities, full-staff nursing homes—and find the right option for your senior family member?

Fortunately, there are services that can help. Elder care referral services can help you navigate the ball of confusion and find the best possible place for the elders in your life.

A Place for Mom

Probably the best known among elder care referral services, A Place for Mom has received endorsement from no other than author, journalist, and TV host Joan Lunden. It has also received funding from a number of private equity firms, including General Atlantic and Silver Lake. 

“A Place for Mom sits at the critical intersection of a number of exciting trends across the information technology and healthcare sectors, including the continued shift in consumer research from offline to online channels,” said Anton Levy, General Atlantic Managing Director and Head of Global Internet & Technology. 

A Place for Mom’s advisors provide referrals for an array of services from in-home caregivers to memory care facilities. It serves the entire U.S. 

Eldercare Consulting

Patricia Throop founded Eldercare Consulting in 2006 after dealing with the many complexities of moving her elderly mother to Seattle. After she connected with the best professionals in the industry and built a network of trusted vendors, Throop’s organization opened for business in 2010. Eldercare Consulting provides a free one-hour consultation to identify the challenges people are facing when locating elder care services in their area and to connect them to organizations and people that can help. Eldercare assists not only with arranging care but also with connecting people to trusted professionals from yard workers to elder law attorneys. Eldercare Consulting also serves the entire U.S. 

First Choice Advisory Services

Founded in 1993, First Choice Advisory Services serves six metro areas in the Pacific Northwest. The company provides personalized referrals for senior housing, senior care, and in-home care services. They also provide assistance with the sale of the elder’s home and even with moving to a facility, whether that’s a retirement community, assisted living facility, or nursing home. A free consultation begins the process, and once the care advisor has found out what the client’s needs are, they help to locate appropriate elder care options. First Choice offers a complimentary printed resource directory as well. 

How are these companies funded? Typically through fees paid by care facilities and in-home care organizations once arrangements are successfully made through the companies. Typically, these services require that care facilities or in-home care be paid by private funds or long-term care insurance benefits rather than Medicare or Medicaid. Veterans’ benefits can also provide funding for elder care services.

Have you used an
elder care referral service? How did it work out for you? Please share your experience in the comments!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Just What's In That Gerber Can?

A baby being spoon fed.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Granted, Halloween is coming up, but this may not be quite the fright you're looking for: A recent study by the Clean Label Project found that many of the most popular baby foods out there tested positive for arsenic—including 80% of all infant formulas.

The study looked at 500 infant formulas and 60 brands of baby food products. Each product was scanned for over 130 toxins, including heavy metals, BPA, and pesticides.

For a little added legitimacy, the Clean Label Project had the products reviewed by a third-party chemistry lab to check their work and look at other possible problems such as environmental contaminants.

Details on each brand reviewed can be seen on the Clean Label Project website's brand report cards.

Now granted, the Clean Label Project didn't publish their work in a peer-reviewed journal, so it's worth taking with a grain of salt. However, their findings are pretty concerning: 65% of the brands tested positive for arsenic, 36% for lead, 58% for cadmium, and 10% for acrylamide. Some tested as high as 600 parts of arsenic per billion.

The brands in question include Gerber, Enfamil, Plum Organics, and Sprout.

Naturally, Gerber has responded with doubt regarding the study. In an email to USA Today, Gerber said the study is generating "unnecessary alarm," adding that they "want to reassure parents that the health and safety of babies is our number one priority…all Gerber foods meet or exceed US government standards for quality and safety."

So what's a good parent to believe, let alone do? Speaking to Mercury News, Dr. Keith Fabisiak, Assistant Chief of Pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente's Campbell Medical Center, offered one solution: make your own baby food.

"When parents ask me the question, 'What is the best brand of baby food to feed my baby?' my answer is always home-made," Fabisiak said. "Even the baby foods that are labeled as 'organic' or 'all natural' can still contain significant amounts of contaminants like lead and arsenic, so the best baby food is the one that you make yourself."

Obviously that's not going to work for all parents, so luckily there are other things you can do, like increasing your child's intake of fruits and vegetables and cutting back on juice (or cutting it out altogether).

Some contaminants are just part of our environment and can't be entirely removed. But it also behooves a parent to learn as much as they can about the food their baby is consuming. Hopefully government regulations around contaminants in food will continue to improve with new studies and data as well.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Avocado You Didn't Know You Needed Is Here

A photo of two avocados, one of which is sliced open.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Was anyone actually looking for a low-fat avocado? Even if not, the option is now here—well, in Spain, anyway.

Eurobanon's Isla Bonita has released a "light" avocado that has 30% less fat than the regular kind. According to the company, it's also milder in flavor with a juicier and lighter pulp. Additionally, it has a slower oxidation rate, gets ripe faster than traditional varieties, and is available year-round.

If you're looking for details on how (and maybe why) this fruit was developed, you're out of luck. Isla Bonita has said they won't release the exact location of the avocados' cultivation, though they do admit that they're grown somewhere other than Latin America, where most avocados on the market today come from.

While a low-fat food can be a great thing, particularly for those wanting to eat healthy, nutritionists are already questioning this development. After all, avocados, though high in calories and fat (322 calories and 30 grams of fat), also contain vitamins B, C, and E, as well as minerals like potassium and folate. They're low in sugar, high in fiber, and contain monosaturated "good" fat that can help lower cholesterol. You want to eat them in moderation, but they can easily be part of a healthy diet.

While it's pretty common for people to look for low-fat alternatives, professionals say this "light" avocado may not be the best route. 

"Being that fresh avocados are pretty much a perfect, creamy, dreamy, and delicious produce pick, I'm a tad skeptical about fussing with something that's not broken," said Joy Bauer, founder of Nourish Snacks. However, she admits a potential upside: "If this new product has all of the same nutrient attributes—without any suspect add-ons needed to reduce some of the fat—perhaps this will be a new way for those looking to lose a few pounds to enjoy avocado."

Other nutritionists are far more negative. 

"This sounds like an awful idea to me!" said Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN. "It reminds me of low-fat peanut butter, which I say is about as good as eating vitamin-free vegetables! Foods should be eaten in their whole real form."

The "light" avocado will be launched at the October Fruit Attraction trade fair in Madrid and is already being sold in supermarkets and specialist stores in Spain. Its nutritional make-up has been verified in lab tests, and it's received the Spanish Health Foundation's Food Health Programme approval.

We'll have to wait a bit for it to be released in the US, as it's only available in Spain right now. But when the time comes, it will be interesting to see how quickly American consumers pick up on it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sharing Your Genetic Information Could Save a Life

A strand of DNA.
Image credit: Shutterstock
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but if you have a genetic disease like Lynch Syndrome or other kinds of cancer, you can save the lives of your family members by letting them know and encouraging them to get tested. There are a variety of resources to help you do this, including sites like and

Kintalk, “an educational and family communication site for individuals and their families with hereditary cancer conditions,” is one example of the way technology is making it easier for families to talk about genetics. Funded in part by Silicon Valley businessman Thomas Weisel and run by a board of directors including Dr. Jonathan Terdiman, Kintalk helps families confidentially share information about hereditary cancers and keep up with screening opportunities. There’s also a forum where visitors can share information and support.

Then there’s, an educational and awareness organization created by Georgia Hurst, who has tested positive for Lynch Syndrome herself. That diagnosis—along with the death of her brother from cancer—has put Hurst on a mission to connect patients and healthcare professionals—especially genetic counselors. Using tweet chats, blog posts, podcasts, and more, Hurst’s organization gives sufferers and their families access to all the information they need to make informed decisions about their care.

The big question when it comes to this sort of thing is how much (if anything) you tell your family. On the one hand, your genetic information could very well save their lives; on the other hand, you might be scaring them unnecessarily.

In Hurst’s case, she decided to let her family know—with mixed results. A cousin got tested and came out negative. Other family members refused to get tested and, Hurst says, were angry that Hurst was “trying to scare them.”

It’s particularly tough if you want to let your children know. “Whether to tell children and when and how to tell them is one of the most common reasons people seek support in the process of genetic testing,” says Karen Hurley, a clinical psychologist who specializes in hereditary cancer risk.

This is particularly true when it comes to breast cancer.  Do you let your daughter know about her potential risk even she hasn’t reached puberty yet? Dr. Jill Stoller, a pediatrician who carries a BRCA mutation (which means she’s more likely to develop breast cancer) decided to tell her daughter Jenna. When Jenna was 18, she chose to get tested. “She told me that the stress of not knowing was worse than knowing,” Stoller said.

On the other hand, Massachusetts special ed teacher Ann Little decided not to tell her 13-year-old daughter when Ann learned she had the BRCA gene—though she did tell her older children. “It would be a huge, dark cloud hanging over her,” Little said about her decision.

It’s a tough choice to make—deciding whether or not to tell your family about a genetic predisposition for cancer. Definitely a downer. At the same time, though, by sharing information—particularly through an online option like Kintalk or—you give your family a fighting chance at early diagnosis and treatment. In this case, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Switching from Tanning Beds to Sunless Spray Tans

A female technician holding a spray tan gun. There's another woman in a bikini in the background (she is getting the solution applied on her).
Photo credit: Shutterstock
By now, everyone knows that tanning beds are harmful. The American Academy of Dermatology has beaten us over the head time and time again about how prolonged UV exposure can cause skin cancer. This article is for those of you who want to make the switch from tanning beds to sunless spray tans, but aren’t sure what to expect.

Before I get started, I want to start out by dispelling a common myth about spray tans. Most people hear the words “spray tan” and automatically imagine someone with unnaturally orange skin. To be fair, when spray tans were first introduced, the pigment did have somewhat of an orange tint to it. However, technology has advanced quite a bit since then and the chances of this happening to you are slim to none.

With that being said, it is still possible for a person to end up with an orange hue or a shade that is way too dark for their natural skin tone. That’s why you should always go to a certified spray tan technician (yes, there are actual courses on this).

This brings me to my next point. There are two options when you get a spray tan: you can go into a private booth that applies the solution via machine, or you can get a custom spray tan applied by a technician. The custom spray tan is more expensive of course, but you do get what you pay for. The benefit of getting a spray tan applied by expert hand is that you will receive even coverage and the color itself will last longer.

Now, as far as upkeep goes, you will have to moisturize your skin daily to keep the color from fading. With that being said, be careful about the moisturizer that you use. In a recent article published in Elle, Victoria Dawson Hoff warns that oil-based lotions will deplete your tan in no time.

But perhaps even more important than what you do after your tan is what you do before your tan. In order to ensure the best application possible, you’ll want to exfoliate every inch of your skin before you head to your appointment. You should also wear dark loose-fitting clothes to prevent the solution from rubbing off.

As you can see, maintaining a spray tan is a lot more time-consuming than getting a UV tan. However, your skin will thank you for it in the long run.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Depression Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

Photo via Pixabay
An estimated 350 million people in the world, and almost 15 million in the U.S. alone, suffer from depression. Depression is different from being sad, although people often misuse the term “depressed” for “sad.”

There’s a big difference between being sad and having a depressive episode or suffering from depression. Most people have “felt depressed” as a normal reaction to grief, loss, or struggles such as losing a job or having relationship problems.

But when feelings of intense sadness, including feeling that you’re helpless, hopeless, or worthless, last for weeks and keep you from functioning normally, you may have depression.

According to the DSM-5, a manual used to diagnose mental health disorders, depression means that you have at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (being unable to sleep or sleeping too much)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities that were once pleasurable (including hobbies or sex) nearly every day
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • A sense of restlessness or being slowed down
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain

What do you do if you have these symptoms? First of all, seek help. If you are suicidal, call 911. You can also call a mental health crisis line such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline. You probably have local crisis lines, too, and you can look them up here.

It can be hard to reach out, especially when you’re in the throes of depression, but it’s critical that you do. Trained professionals at these crisis lines can assist you in getting the help you need.

You can also talk to your physician; he or she may be able to refer you for counseling or medication assistance.

And speaking of medication…needing to take psychiatric medications is nothing to be ashamed of. Psych meds help your brain to work better, in much the same way that insulin helps diabetics to stay alive and functional.

How is depression treated? The best treatment for major depression is a combination of therapy and medications. Therapy will help you process life events that could be contributing to your depression. You’ll also learn techniques to stop negative self-talk and other behaviors that contribute to your depression. Medications will regulate your brain chemistry to make you more resilient when stressful situations arise in your life.

For more information about depression and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder (alternating periods of deep depression and elation/risky behavior), visit this WebMD guide or the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

Don’t be ashamed if you’re suffering from depression. You’re not alone, and you deserve to live. Reach out for help; it’s there, and better is possible.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why Medical Care and Dental Care are Separate

Photo: Shutterstock
If you’re fortunate, you have health insurance and dental insurance provided either through your employer or through your parents or guardians. If you’re an adult on Medicaid, you may not have any dental coverage at all.

But why are dental insurance and health insurance—and the professions of doctors and dentists—separate, when our teeth are so important to our general health?

The separation between dentistry and the rest of medicine starts from the fact that dental procedures were often performed by barbers. They would pull painful teeth and lance abscesses once they were done giving their clients a haircut or beard trim.

The dental profession didn’t really become a profession until 1840, when the first dental college in the world opened at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Prior to that, Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden tried to get dental courses to be taught in medical schools, but the doctors believed that dentistry was more of a “mechanical challenge” than a medical issue and rejected their proposal.

Because of the “historic rebuff,” as it is known, medicine and dentistry became separate professions, and remain that way to this day, despite many efforts to make dentistry an essential part of the healthcare system and provide insurance for dental and medical procedures under public insurance programs.

Oddly enough, these days it’s dentists who want to stay separate from doctors. Part of it is about the marketplace, and part of it is about the fact that medical records and dental records have separate diagnostic codes and it would be difficult to get dental records integrated into medical ones. It’s also the reason why health insurance and dental insurance are separate entities.

It’s this divide that brings more than a million people each year to emergency rooms with dental pain. The doctors there can’t do anything but provide antibiotics and pain relief and encourage people to see their dentist to have the problem treated—and for that, it costs the system more than $1 billion a year.

This separation between dentistry and medicine is especially frustrating because dental problems can affect everything about us: our ability to meet our basic nutritional needs, our ability to maintain our overall health, and even our ability to get a job (missing teeth can be a real handicap when searching for employment).

The state of our teeth is also an easily visible status symbol. Wealthy people tend to have nice, straight, white “Hollywood smiles,” while the poorer among us may have crooked teeth, extensive tooth decay, or other dental problems. “Perfect teeth are a very clear way of signaling your wealth,” wrote Julie Beck in The Atlantic, “More clear than if everyone had access to good care and had decent teeth.”

What do you think? Should dental care and medical care be separate? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.