May 27, 2015

U.S Toilet Bidets vs. European Bidets: U.S. Wins Hands Down! (Pun Intended)

I needed a quick and easy post for today since my kids are taking me out for a day- after-birthday dinner tonight and I have lots of catching up to do after my Tuscan holiday. So here we are again at what's becoming one of my favorite subjects.

Here's what I wrote in my first bidet post back in February:
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.

U.S. Toilet Bidet Attachment
Here's the inexpensive US manufactured bidet attachment that I've added to the three toilets in my house:

European Freestanding Bidet
Here's a photo I took in my bathroom in the apartment we rented in the Tuscan town of Cortona.

May 26, 2015

Household – Not Just Leisure Time -- Activities Protect Against Parkinson’s

Can regular daily exercise – not time spent working out at the gym or playing tennis, but doing housework, commuting to work, walking the dog –  lower one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease (PD)?

A large study suggests – yes, it can. Results of that study – published in a recent edition of Brain: A Journal of Neurology – was conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Of course, it is already accepted wisdom that exercise – walking, dancing, yoga, tai chi -- helps people who already have PD. Now, this new study adds powerful evidence to the notion that regular everyday exercise brings a neuroprotective benefit.

After this blog reviewed last week’s news about two conditions (loss of smell and history of depression) linked to increased risk of developing PD, it’s good to share some information about reducing one’s risk of developing the disease.

A Large Study
In September, 1997, as part of the “Swedish National March Cohort,” 43,368 people (64.3% female, 35.7% male) completed a 36-page questionnaire that included detailed information about physical activity and exercise habits earlier in life. None had Parkinson’s disease.

Regular follow-ups of this large group ended in 2010, 13 years later.

During that interval, 286 participants – 128 women and 158 men – were diagnosed with PD.

Men at Greater Risk
While men represented only about 36% of all participants in the survey, they accounted for over 55% of all PD cases. That imbalance is consistent with data from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimating that men are 1.5 times more likely to develop PD than women. Possible reasons?

May 25, 2015

A Recommended Read on This Memorial Day

I was going to write today about my two weeks in Tuscany. I was also going to regard today as just another Monday holiday. But then I read this Facebook post from my BNA colleague and friend Tom Caso:
This Memorial Day has touched me deeply as I give thanks to those brave men and women who gave it all. Maybe it's because I live in the Washington DC area or maybe I am just getting old and reflective, but I have a greater sense of what this day is all about.

When the Monday holidays were proclaimed from Congress, I felt we had lost something of the importance of the day. As a kid we would decorate our bikes with red white and blue paper bunting and have a five-flag display on the the handle bars and ride down to see the Parade in Tenafly. It made a profound impression upon a young kid that has matured into respect and graditude.

So today, let's leave all our politics, all our passionate beliefs about wars and foreign policy, all our partisanship and just say stop and say THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS OUR SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN.
Reading Tom's FB post reminded me that I have a greater sense today of the sacrifices made during World War II by both the Yanks and the Brits, having just finished reading Citizens of London by Lynne Olson. In this spellbinding book, Olson gives us a fresh perspective on those times by focusing on the three Americans "who stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour."

The three were Edward R Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking head of CBS News in Europe; Averell Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran FDR's Lend-Lease program in London; and John Gilbert Winant. Never heard of Winant? Neither had I. Olson's book restores him to the place in history that he really deserves. He comes across as the most admirable of the three Americans. Roosevelt appointed him as our ambassador to London in 1941.

For me, the heroes of this book are Winant and the citizens of London. By March 1941, after eight months of bombing, most Americans had abandoned London. Joseph Kennedy, who was the U.S. ambassador to England until 1940, was among those who departed, telling Roosevelt he felt that England would be defeated and that America shouldn't help them. Enter Winant.

This Could Never Happen Today
Winant was a liberal Republican and a former governor of New Hampshire. He was elected governor three times. He broke ties with his party to support social reform. Then he put his career on the line to participate in the Roosevelt Administration.

May 22, 2015

Large Study Links Depression with Increased Risk of Parkinson's Disease

The internet lit up yesterday with reports of a large new study that reported an association between depression and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). The results were published in the May 20 online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The data revealed another link, too: the more severe the depression, the greater the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

This news is an interesting companion to yesterday's post, in which I discussed loss of smell as a reliable early indicator of Parkinson’s.

Researchers in Sweden identified 140,688 people with depression, all born before 1956. For each of those individuals, the study team identified and assigned three people without any history of depression – but the same age and gender -- to a control group.

The research thus involved a large sample of over half a million participants, some of whom were followed for 28 years. Among the depressed group, 1,485 individuals – or 1.1% -- developed PD. Among the study participants without depression, only .4% -- point four percent – developed PD.

That means that the people with depression were about three times more likely to develop PD than their counterparts with no history of depression.

May 21, 2015

Can Diminished Sense of Smell Become a Better Diagnostic Tool for Parkinson’s Disease?

Infographic from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

We’ve known for years that hyposmia – reduced ability to detect smells – is typically an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease (PD). As the graphic above shows, about 96% of all newly-diagnosed Parkinsonians have already lost some sense of smell.

I was certainly part of that 96%. In addition to an arm that didn’t swing naturally when I walked, my diminished olfactory sense was a signal my medical team really should have identified as a PD red flag long before I finally received a diagnosis.

There are a variety of non-motor symptoms of PD, including
  • hyposmia
  • chronic constipation
  • urinary urgency (including frequent nighttime urination) 
  • rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (in which sufferers appear to act out dreams in their sleep)
  • daytime sleepiness
  • anxiety
  • depression
Hyposmia: PD’s Best Early Indicator?
None of these conditions seems to present earlier in the development of the disease, or more regularly, than that diminished sense of smell.

The hyposmia that precedes PD could – should – be a great addition to a doctor’s diagnostic bag of tricks. In the case of PD – the earlier the diagnosis comes, the sooner treatment can begin... and the more likely that depleted dopamine can be replenished.

It’s always surprising to read that by the time most people learn they have the disease, most of their neurons that produce dopamine – the neurotransmitter that enables the brain to manage the body’s movements – have been destroyed.