February 27, 2015

A Bedtime Snack that Promotes Regularity

Yesterday's post about toilet bidets focused on the end of the digestive process. Today, let's go back to the beginning.

Arthritic hip pain impacts my quality of life less than a few days of constipation. Fortunately, the frequent bouts of unpleasant irregularity that plagued much of my life practically disappeared when I started taking the over-the-counter, serotonin-boosting supplement 5-HTP after my Parkinson's diagnosis in 2009. Since constipation is a common non-motor symptom of PD, the relief from 5-HTP was a special blessing.

Late last year, I tried going without that supplement for a month. Within a few days, constipation came roaring back. My geriatrician recommended Senokot -- the non-prescription laxative containing senna -- and the stool softener Colace. Neither did much good.

The only thing that helped was returning to 5-HTP. But it needs help to keep me regular.

I've used Metamucil crackers at bedtime, but they require lots of fluid to wash them down... intake that means additional bathroom visits during the night. Recently, I've found the most effective, natural bedtime concoction to keep things moving.

Just before hitting the sack, I mix several tablespoons of applesauce with a tablespoon of powdered Metamucil and a tablespoon of chia seeds (picture above). This combo works better than anything else I've ever tried.

February 26, 2015

Toilet Bidets: Safe, Effective, and Great for the Elderly

The bidet is a fixture in bathrooms the world over, but it has never really caught on in the U.S. Instead of washing with water after relieving ourselves, Americans would rather deforest millions of acres in order to produce toilet paper.

We think bidets are too European, too Parisian. We suspect they have something to do with s-e-x.

But more and more people – myself included -- are beginning to tout the bidet as a safer, more effective way for seniors to clean themselves.

Bidets: Not Created Equal
We’re not talking about traditional free-standing bidets. They take up lots of bathroom space, and older users could have trouble mounting them.

What I’ve found very helpful are toilet bidets. These provide an underseat wand that moves into position and sprays water over the perineal area.

I don’t remember how I first learned about toilet bidets. But when I found a cheap one that could be easily installed on my toilet without major plumbing expense, I decided to give it a try.

The Blue Bidet -- now a feature on all the toilets in my house – retails for just $37.12. Kohler, the largest U.S. manufacturer of bidets, has one model that costs over $1,000… and another (with a remote control!) goes for about $2,000, plus installation fees.

When I installed mine several years ago, I became an instant fan. As I age -- and as my Parkinson's infirmities increase – I am more and more disgruntled when I have to use a standard toilet.

February 25, 2015

Author Oliver Sacks Reacts to News about His Metastasized Cancer

Last Thursday, I read a brief op-ed piece in The New York Times by Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author of many books, including Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

Sacks provides the title “My Own Life” for his commentary, while his editor adds the subtitle, “Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer.”

I've already reread this several times.There’s nothing more to say about this piece, which I include below, in full.

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A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out — a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent.

I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted.

February 24, 2015

FDA OKs Faster, Simpler Access to Unproven Drugs for Terminally Inn Patients

Earlier this month, Dr. Peter Lurie – the Food and Drug Administration’s associate commissioner for public health safety and analysis – announced a much simpler and faster process for doctors to get unapproved, experimental drugs for their patients who have serious or life-threatening diseases and no other alternative.

While a 60-day interval for comments must pass before the revolutionary process officially becomes effective, Lurie made it clear the FDA will allow doctors to submit requests according with the new policy now.

In the past, doctors needed about 100 hours to assemble applications for experimental drugs for a qualifying patients. They were required to supply 26 different kinds of information and seven separate attachments.

Now, the process will take less than one hour, requiring doctors to give only eight pieces of information, with only one attachment. They must provide the reason they want to use the experimental drug, along with the patient’s clinical history. 

In sharp contrast to a gridlocked Congress mired in partisan politics, the FDA slices away layers of red tape for sick and dying patients who have no other options. It seems a triumph of good sense, offering hope for terminally-ill people.

Conditions Still Apply
The process, while much simpler, still carries certain requirements:
  • There must be no other product that can diagnose, monitor, or treat the patient’s condition,
  • The patient may not be already involved in some clinical study testing the requested drug,
  • Doctors must show that the risk of using the unapproved drug doesn’t exceed the risk posed by the disease it is designed to treat,
  • Doctors must guarantee that the drug’s manufacturer is willing to provide it.

Even when all conditions are met, the FDA can’t force a manufacturer to supply the requested drug. It simply provides guidance on how to do it.

February 23, 2015

Oil-Burning Furnace Safety

My friend JoAnne sent me an email last week that seemed an important heads-ups for anyone whose heat comes from an oil-burning furnace. I suspect this alert applies for many readers during this continuing cold weather.

Thanks, JoAnne, for the important warning.

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Hi John,

Just thought I’d share with you a close call I had this past week.

I lost my sense of smell many years ago. When I owned my own home I made sure the gas furnace had regular maintenance checks and installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor. As my PD progressed I could no longer afford my home and ended up renting an older home with an oil furnace.

In the last month I’ve woken up to find the house was quite cold and that the furnace had quit some time through the night. I’d press the red restart button and it would run again. Last week I had some misgivings at having to do this for the 5th time. I hated the idea of bugging the landlord, but I asked to have a repair person check it out.