Declining sense of smell a signal of death

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

This may be a Debbie Downer question, but can you guess what condition is most indicative of a person’s imminent demise? It turns out that the strongest predictor of impending death is not cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes or emphysema, but a person’s declining sense of smell.

Scientists at the University of Chicago have revealed that the loss of the sense of smell, officially called olfactory dysfunction, is a significant forecaster of death in older Americans. In this study, 3,005 people aged 57-85 were asked to identify five common scents: peppermint, fish, rose, leather and orange. Five years later, the health of the same people was evaluated.

As this was an older population, some of the subjects died before the study contacted them again. The surprise was that almost 40 percent of those who died had failed the scent test, identifying only one or none correctly. Anosmia is the technical term for complete loss of the ability to smell, while hyponosmia is the significant (but not total) loss of smell. The mortality rate for those with anosmia was four times higher than for those with normal smell. Those who were hyponosmic had an intermediate mortality compared to normal individuals. So being either anosmic or hyponosmic is associated with an increase in a person’s mortality. And because of the limited length of this study and the relatively small group examined, the effect on mortality is probably underestimated. Continue reading

LOL-Laughing Out Loud

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Laughing is the shortest distance between two people.” Victor Borge, actor. Have you noticed how a heartfelt laugh can fill a room like liquid sunshine. A friend of mine is instantly recognized in a room by his loud and infectious laugh. Everyone can quickly tell when he is at the gym or other social setting by the sound of his cheerful laugh. Like the recently deceased Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk fame whose signature laugh on the radio show made even the most tense people smile, my buddy’s easy and natural outbursts of laughing out loud just bring joy to those around him. My little granddaughter Serenity, now nearly seven, can be sitting quietly with us in a room and for no apparent reason, burst into giggles and then uproarious laughter. No matter how bad we might feel at that moment, it is like a switch is turned on by the sound of laughter to bring warmth and pleasure into our lives.

Other kinds of outbursts may have the opposite effect. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have shown that anger can kill. For those at higher risk of heart disease in particular, bursts of anger can bring on a heart attack or stroke. Continue reading

All pain relievers are not equal

Dr. Sally Robinson

Dr. Sally Robinson

Keeping Kids Healthy

Your child has a fever, cough and headache. You reach in the medicine cabinet and find several bottles of pills and liquid medicine. Brand names vary, but the generic names include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen and aspirin. How do you know what is right for your child’s discomfort? Is there any difference?

The answer depends on your child’s age, weight and symptoms. If you are not sure which medicine to give your child, check with your pediatrician or heath care provider according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Two main kinds of pain relievers are available for most children without prescription: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). There are many brands of these two pain relievers/fever reducers. Most can be found in the children’s section of your drugstore. Adult pain relievers and fever reducers contain higher amounts of medicine and should be used only for the ages listed on the package. Continue reading

Pain more than simply a physical reaction

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Writer CS Lewis once said, “when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

In his same book, “The Problem of Pain,” Lewis further noted, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”

Pain is much more than a physical event, the irritation of a nerve ending due to injury. A core phenomenological triad of experience of pain includes the intervention, the condition, and the patient and their motivation. Of course, one would think all of those suffering from pain would be highly motivated to be free of this burden; but it is not always so clear or easy as emotional, spiritual, and psychological factors often play hidden, powerful roles. Continue reading

Smoking in the home can cause long-term medical problems

Dr. Sally Robinson

Dr. Sally Robinson

If you read these articles, in all likelihood you are the parent of young children. So we have a couple of questions to ask you that often remain unasked in polite society. Is there a smoker in your home? Do you smoke?

If so, according to an article in “Contemporary Pediatrics,” by Dr. Dana Best of George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Dr. Sophie Balk of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the smoke that wafts around the house is sufficiently toxic to be causing your children very serious and long-term medical problems, such as lifelong reduction in lung function, increased ear, throat and breathing infections, asthma, and more dangerous periods under anesthesia should your children require surgery.
The smoker really has to stop. If it is you, then you know that you really have to stop — for the welfare of your family, of your children.

Consider this: Continue reading

The secret behind the appropriately offered hug

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A longtime motto of the American Holistic Medical Association is “Hugs Heal.” Sounds kind of corny right?

Well, this group of unabashed huggers has discovered that nothing makes a connection better and faster with a hurting person than an appropriately offered hug. By the way, hug “heart to heart” by putting your head over the left rather than right shoulder. The electricity of the heart to heart makes for a different kind of warmth in a hug.

A study of foundling babies in Great Britain during the early 1900s showed an amazing tale of the importance of touch. Orphaned babies left in a crib with adequate food and diaper changes rarely survived. However, in one story, an old nurse used to cuddle, rock, and hold the babies in her charge. They gained more weight, were brighter, and more socially interactive than those left alone. Important brain connections do not form in the absence of touch. Continue reading

Scientists humanize the mouse

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the 1986 horror movie “The Fly,” a scientist’s teleportation experiment goes awry when a fly lands in one of the teleportation pods and undergoes a transformation becoming part fly, part human monster. Today, science has given us the capability to create animal-human hybrids, although so far none of them has craved human flesh like they tend to do in the movies.

Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been introducing human genes into mice to study the effects on their brains. They are doing this in small steps, using genetic engineering techniques to introduce a specific, single human gene into a mouse. This will allow scientists to evaluate the impact of each human gene on the brain in another species. It’s not quite a monstrous Franken-mouse, but the results have definitely been revealing.

The human version of a gene called Fox2p is connected with language and speech development, a trait associated with the higher order brain function unique to humans. When this gene was introduced into mice in the experiment, they developed more complex neurons and more extensive circuits in their brains. Scientists wondered if this gene is responsible for the enhanced brain and cognitive abilities displayed in humans. Continue reading

Discussing sexuality for seniors

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Despite the media and entertainment industries’ constant emphasis and exploitation of sexuality in the youth culture to sell products, services, films, and so forth, the mention of sexuality in aging persons remains a somewhat awkward and infrequently discussed topic.

There may be a number of reasons for this. Maybe good judgment, a more proper sense of decorum, and a natural modesty develop as we age — in some people at least. Maturity also brings with it a sense of perspective of deeper values in life that the raging hormones of youth do not have time for nor even fathom.

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A recent research study of more than 1,700 seniors in the Netherlands, average age of 71, found that an active love life in older people was associated with improved cognitive function. Those who rated sexuality as “important” or “very important” had higher cognitive and memory scores than those who did not think sexuality was an important component of their lives. Perhaps the group more active sexually had better blood flow to their two most important sex organs- the brain and genitals. Cause and effect were not established by this study though it was an intriguing finding.

Physical capacity for sex changes as we age. Frequency of sexual relations diminishes with age for both men and women, though the desire for it may remain. Most doctors have a number of older patients who are alone due to the death, illness, or separation from an intimate partner but still wish for the intimacy, the touching, and the climactic events of sexuality if it were available to them. Continue reading

Tour your house to identify where you can remove toxins

Dr. Sally Robinson

Dr. Sally Robinson

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s important for parents to remember that not all poisons are in the garage or basement. A number of poisons can be found throughout the house. Small children are both curious and fast, so parents have to exercise special care not to leave dangerous products open or within their reach.

Take a tour of your house or apartment to see if some of these dangerous conditions exist. Continue reading

The wisdom of Sir William Osler MD

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Sir William Osler was one of the founding fathers of modern medical education. His life and work is a role model for every physician. Though he humbly admitted that he started in life “with just an ordinary stock of brains,” his lifelong discipline and system of study and research made him one of the finest physicians of his time and of all times.

In addition to deep knowledge of the subject of medicine allowing him to write the first comprehensive textbook of internal medicine, he was a gifted and innovative teacher. He personally performed over a thousand autopsies, barehanded as they did in those days, to deepen current knowledge of the pathology and physiology of disease. While at Johns Hopkins Medical School, he helped found the structure of contemporary medical education that has endured for nearly a century after his death. He prompted students to develop a consistent system of regular study to digest usable amounts of knowledge and likened cramming before examinations to trying to eat more than you can absorb.

In addition to his astute clinical, observational, and diagnostic reasoning skills, he emphasized the humanistic side of medicine. He taught students that the core of empathy with the patient is, “putting yourself in his place” and attempting to enter the mental space of the patient while offering “a kindly word, a cheerful greeting, the sympathetic look.”

He sometimes shocked contemporaries by his casual, playful nature and was well known for his affection for children with whom he was known to get down on the floor and play. He honored and trusted his medical students and gave them a key to his home so they could browse his extensive library. That would be like giving someone your email password these days. Continue reading