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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't believe The London Free Press; Get a flu shot.

It is interesting to note the headline was changed on the online story.

 A lot of people do not get a flu shot. They don't believe in them. They argue: Flu shots can't be trusted; Flu shots don't always confer protection. And now my local paper, The London Free Press, has given these people more ammunition in their fight against the annual flu shot. The paper calls the vaccine used in Ontario "the dregs."

Well, in my humble opinion, when it comes to health stories, it is the local paper that cannot be trusted. The stories are factually correct but the spin often seems misleading, at least to me.

According to the newspaper, Ontario seniors are getting the dregs when it comes to flu shots. The paper reports a super flu shot for seniors is widely available in the States and it is a "game changer." The quote comes from a spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine manufacturer. The quote overstates the value of the new vaccine. It's good, it's an improvement, but it is not a "game changer."

Other medical experts, not employed by Sanofi Pasteur, have called the new flu shot a mild improvement. Why is a 25% improvement, as reported by the paper, not causing more excitement? The numbers. The New York Times reported it this way, "The key finding was that 1.4 percent of the first group [the group given the improved vaccine] contracted the flu versus 1.9 percent of the second group [given the older formulation.]" The spread between the two vaccines was about one half of one percent. In this case, this translates into a 25% improvement. And in this case, such an improvement is not a "game changer."

Consumer Reports warned its readers not to be in a "rush to get the high-dose vaccine." The vaccine, called Fluzone High-Dose, is only "slightly more likely than the standard vaccine to prevent the flu in people 65 and up." CR is in agreement with The Times about the value of the new flu shot for seniors.

CR goes on to report that the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the high-dose vaccine might be more likely to cause side effects, including headache, muscle aches, and fever. The Consumer Reports medical experts believe older people should weigh the possible risks and benefits of the new vaccine before getting inoculated.

When it comes to the new 'quadrivalent' flu shot, Consumer Reports told its readers to consider it. The magazine went on to warn readers that "unlike the standard vaccine, not all insurers cover it, so you might have to pay out of pocket, about $38." In Ontario the flu shot is covered by OHIP. In the States there are uninsured Americans who cannot afford either the improved flu vaccine or the older, less expensive trivalent flu shot.

Back in the day that I worked at the newspaper, The Free Press arranged for flu shots for all staff. They had a nurse spend the day in the building. Everyone was encouraged to get vaccinated. No one bad-mouthed the flu shot.

A time for sharing memories.

When I heard this rendition Sleigh Ride by the Christian pop punk band (what a mix!) Relient K, it brought tears to my eyes. The you I pictured were plural; I pictured my granddaughters. I promised myself that I would find a sleigh ride offered somewhere in the London, Ontario, area. I'll take them all for a memory-making ride, if possible.

From the 2007 holiday album Let It Snow, Baby . . . Let It Reindeer. Be patient, it gets into a lovely groove a little ways into the recording. And the video is far more upbeat than the featured art would have you believe.

Relient K "Sleigh Ride" from Gotee Records on Vimeo.

If you liked that, you might like Run Run Rudolph. An old Chuck Berry hit from the late '50s it was covered by Lynyrd Skynyrd on the group's Christmas Time Again album. It has a gentle intro but it quickly hits full stride.

Whenever I hear a Chuck Berry song, I think back to the 99-cent rock and roll nights at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, in the '60s. My friends and I caught a live performance of Chuck at one of those alcohol-fueled events. He was fantastic - I think.

My personal favourite when it comes to Christmas albums is Phil Spector's  A Christmas Gift for You. Produced and arranged by Spector, the album features Dalene Love, the Ronettes, the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. Spector himself makes an appearance on Silent Night.

The version of Sleigh Ride on this album has become a classic and for that  reason I'm ending this post with a link to that recording. It is a remastered version. Note: In 2003, this Christmas album was ranked No. 142 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Seniors shouldn't eat dog food; It's too expensive.

Some time ago a reporter at the local paper ran an editorial warning Canadians to be worried about their lives in retirement. According to this reporter, many Canadians face the prospect of eating pet food in their senior years. I wrote this was silly. The reporter got in touch with me and defended herself by saying writing editorials wasn't her job. She simply cranked out her piece at the demand of those above her.

Still, the piece was silly. Last night as I ate my dinner I considered how much I had spent on food that day. I don't believe I spent more than $3. I bought all on sale and all was purchased with food value and taste in mind. The soup pictured cost about $2 a serving and was thick with added broccoli and carrots. The vegetables were leftovers. I'd have added a little extra cheese but my wife didn't want the added calories. We could have added some leftover chicken but yesterday was a meatless day for me: doctor's orders.

The bread with the meal was two-day-old baguette and the topping was sun-dried tomatoes with grated Parmesan cheese -- both leftovers sitting almost forgotten in our fridge. The meal was filling, nutritious and delicious. Breakfast and lunch were also put together from food items bought on sale.

If I had written the editorial telling folk how to prepare for retirement, I'd have told them do not eat junk. Junk food is expensive. Don't get a taste for the stuff. It's neither good for you nor easy on your food budget. Build your daily food menu around stuff on sale at your local grocery stores and do the food preparation yourself. You will eat well and on a fraction of what most folk believe you must spend.

Bon app├ętit!

p.s. After writing this I bought some instant oatmeal cereal on sale: 19-cents a serving.  I can have my cereal, a banana mashed into the cereal to add  extra sweetness and food value, and I can make this with milk and cool it with a little more, all for less than a dollar a day. At this price I will never have dog food for breakfast.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Newspaper falling through the cracks

Contrary to the newspaper report, it is American seniors and not Canadian ones most at risk overall.

The headline warned readers that Canadian seniors were falling between the health care cracks. Clearly this can be quite nasty. Falling through cracks is bad enough but smashing against the material between the cracks is surely even worse.

Overall, American seniors fare worse than Canadian ones.
Also falling through the cracks with the publication of The London Free Press article was journalistic neutrality. The survey at the core of the story was published by the American Commonwealth Fund. The survey found, quote: "Compared with their counterparts in 10 other industrialized countries, older adults in the U.S. are sicker and more likely to have problems paying their medical bills and getting needed health care." American seniors, not Canadian ones, are in the most trouble when it comes to health care issues.

This is not to say that the newspaper article did not report the facts. It did. But those facts were carefully picked to fit the aims of the story. This put an all too familiar spin to this story. This has been done in the past with Commonwealth Fund reports. In the past, I have contacted the fund and had it confirmed at the source that the newspaper was spinning the work of the fund and not simply reporting it.

Key Findings from the Commonwealth Fund study:

  1. The United States stands out for having the highest rates of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease: 87 percent of older adults in the U.S. reported at least one chronic illness,and 68 percent reported two or more.
  2. Despite having Medicare coverage, U.S. adults age 65 or older were the most likely to report that cost posed a barrier to care. One-fifth (19%) said cost was the reason they did not visit a doctor, skipped a medical test or treatment recommended by a doctor, did not fill a prescription, or skipped doses.
  3. U.S. survey respondents were also the most likely to report trouble paying their medical bills (11%). Only 1 percent in Norway and Sweden reported the same.
  4. Canadian, Swedish, Norwegian, and U.S. respondents were the least likely to be able to get a same- or next-day doctor’s appointment when sick or to find it somewhat or very easy to get after-hours care without using the emergency department.
  5. Older adults in all countries face care coordination and safety problems. In the U.S., 35 percent reported at least one problem with care coordination, such as not having a recommended medical test, receiving conflicting information from different doctors, or experiencing a lack of communication between a primary care doctor and a specialist. In every country but France, one-fifth or more of older adults have experienced at least one of these problems.
  6. Along with the U.K., the U.S. did well in areas related to managing chronic illness: 58 percent of chronically ill older adults in the U.S. and 59 percent in the U.K. had discussed their treatment goals with their doctor and had clear instructions about when to seek further care. Fewer than half of chronically ill people in the other nine countries said the same.
  7. More than three-quarters (78%) of older adults in the U.S. said they reported talking to a family member, friend, or health professional about their care preferences if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Two-thirds said they had a written plan naming a health care proxy and more than half (55%) said they had a written plan regarding the treatment they want at the end of life.
Note: Canada is only mentioned directly in key finding number four. In a press release, The Commonwealth Fund states "all of the countries in the survey could do better." Why did The Free Press single out the Canadian health care system? Was this a right-wing attack by a Sun Media newspaper?

Also note, the newspaper illustrated the article with a clip art. This image does not show a patient in a London hospital, nor does it show a Canadian nurse. Photojournalism has fallen through the cracks, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The dark side of strawberries

Each spring I take my granddaughters strawberry picking. Strawberries are, or at least used to be, a spring treat. But no more. Today strawberries are available year 'round. Most come from California.

A few years ago my wife and I motored through the strawberry fields of coastal California. They were immense. As we drove along I wondered about the downside to this vast monoculture of fruit. Today I came across an article answering a part of this question: California's strawberry industry is hooked on dangerous pesticides.

I believe this story may go a little heavy on the element of fear but at the article's core it is true. Dangerous chemicals are being used and not just in agriculture in California. In this case, the use is good for the strawberry growers but may not be good for the field workers, the people in nearby communities and even the world at large.

I have a friend who likes to start dinner with a prayer for those children going without enough food. Possibly he should also being praying for those children who have enough food but food that comes at a very high, but hidden, price. These children, or their descendants, may well find that they must pay the hidden costs as the payments can no longer be deferred.

Think Peru and the fields used to grow asparagus for year 'round consumption. When the ground water is exhausted, when the fields are again dry, dusty, desert land, how will the children of the region survive? Big agriculture will simply move on but the people, the people with deep historical roots in the area, will remain.

How Peru's wells are being sucked dry by British love of asparagus
Industrial-scale production risks water tragedy, charity warns

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The tripod grip: Really the ultimate pencil-gripping grasp?

Isla, only 17-months in this picture, is already using the tripod grip.

When my niece looked at my picture of granddaughter Isla working on her scribble art project, my niece exclaimed, "She's already using the tripod grip!" My niece, a physio-therapist, had been taught that this was an advanced pencil-gripping technique which many children don't master until the age of four or later.

I confess, I didn't know what my niece was talking about. When she left, I took to the Internet. I soon read that many folks believe the most efficient way to hold a pencil is the dynamic tripod grasp. In the dynamic tripod grasp, the pencil is held between the thumb and index finger, with the pencil resting on the middle finger.

Some parents worry so much about this grip that when a child fails to use it they go looking for a physiotherapist. Is this really necessary? The short answer is "Maybe not." I discovered in Physiotherapy for Children that there are a number of acceptable grasps. As long the grip is functional and does not cause muscle strain, parents should relax.

Why anyone would be immediately concerned with a variation in pen-holding technique amazes me. One of the finest students I every met did not use the tripod grasp. He gripped his pen with brutish practicality. His penmanship was atrocious, but he was quick and he could read his own writing even if no one else could. He never had a mark that wasn't in the 90s. He really didn't give a damn about penmanship.

For the last word on this read the conclusions reached in a paper found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

The dynamic tripod pencil grasp did not offer any advantage over the lateral tripod or the dynamic or lateral quadrupod pencil grasps in terms of quality of handwriting after a 10-minute copy task. These four pencil grasp patterns performed equivalently. Our findings question the practice of having students adopt the dynamic tripod pencil grasp.

My advice: Look at the results and not the technique. If the child can accomplish their goals using whatever grip they are using, leave 'em be.

One of Isla's finished scribble projects. She scribbles and I colour. We both like 'em.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Why kids should be vaccinated

The London Free Press had an article today looking at the rising numbers of parents who are refusing to have their children vaccinated. It was a good article but for a better one read: A Math Lesson in Vaccines and Infectious Disease

If you enjoyed the first link, here is another: True or False: There are more pertussis cases among the vaccinated than among the unvaccinated.