Monthly Archives: January 2012

Can Games and Reading Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay?

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, in a retirement home corridor. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, in a retirement home corridor. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

Every 69 seconds, another American develops Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, of the top 10 causes of death in America, Alzheimer’s Disease is the only cause of death with no known treatment or cure.

The cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is a mystery as well, but a leading suspect is the protein beta-amyloid that accumulates and appears to cause brain cell death. The combination of degenerating brain cells and the amyloid forms plaque.

A medicine to stop the amyloid buildup would be welcome, but today, U.C. Berkeley researchers say they have potentially identified a simpler approach. Continue reading

A New Voice for A Cancer Patient

Cancer survivor Rene Foreman (right) with her daughter, Michelle. (Photo: StoryCorps)

Cancer survivor Rene Foreman (right) with her daughter, Michelle. (Photo: StoryCorps)

As I got in my car to go work this morning, I switched on NPR. Instead of the predictable sounds of host/reporter/interviewee, I was confused by what sounded like a computer talking.

Then I was riveted.

What I was hearing was the story of Rene Foreman, an Orange County woman, who had lost her voice box to cancer in 1999. Foreman’s piece is part of the StoryCorps project. As NPR reports, Rene now uses an electrolarynx. It’s a small device that Foreman holds against her throat to produce her voice, electronically.

Yes, initially she sounds something like a creature from Star Wars, but right away, I got past the strangeness. Foreman says she’s happier without her voice now than she was with her voice. She says, “it’s a small price to pay for being alive.” In addition, she enjoys the distinction that her unusual “voice” provides:

“People are really very kind, once they realize what the situation is,” she says. “I may go into a restaurant once, and if I go back there a year later, and it’s the same woman at the front desk, she’ll say, ‘Where have you been? We haven’t seen you for a while.’ So, I feel like a movie star.”

You have to listen to this remarkable woman speak to get the full impact of her story. The NPR feature is not even three minutes long. I guarantee if you hear five seconds of Foreman talking, you’ll be hooked.

Quick Read: Diesel Truck Pollution in West Oakland Plummets

Diesel trucks in West Oakland. (Photo: Xan West)

Diesel trucks in West Oakland. (Photo: Xan West)

West Oakland residents have long been plagued by polluted air that comes from living near a huge port and three freeways. Rates of asthma and other illnesses are high. In early 2010, the Port of Oakland implemented a program to replace and retrofit the diesel trucks that rumble in and out of the neighborhood to comply with new state laws to reduce pollution.

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley measured emissions before the program started and again in mid-2010, just months after it went into effect.

The researchers found a dramatic change, just in those few months. The Berkeley Transportation Letter reports that “after the first phase of the emission control program took effect in early 2010, black smoke emissions were reduced by about half. NOx emissions also dropped by 40 percent.”  NO(nitrogen oxide) is a key contributor to smog.

Read the entire story here.

Lead Levels in Oakland May Exacerbate Burmese Refugee Children’s Health

A Burmese family rest in a temporary camp on the Thai/Burma border. (    Rusty Stewart: Flickr)

A Burmese family rest in a temporary camp on the Thai/Burma border. (Rusty Stewart: Flickr)

Some Burmese refugee children heading to the U.S. have toxic levels of lead in the blood, according to a study released this week in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention measured lead levels in Burmese children living in Thai refugee camps. They found that children under age two were at highest risk. Fifteen percent of them had lead poisoning, as did five percent of all children. That compares to less than one percent of all children in the U.S. [PDF] But Burmese refugee children who resettle in Oakland may not be very safe against lead exposure, once they arrive here.

Joan Jeung, a pediatrician who works with Burmese refugees at Asian Health Services in Oakland, was quick to identify the problem. “Moving from a low-income area and conditions of political oppression in Burma, to low-income areas here in the United States where environmental lead levels area still high, I think the quickest link to find is poverty.”

About 400 Burmese refugees resettled in Oakland since 2007, and the majority are living in extreme poverty, with many families surviving on less than $1,000 a month, according to a joint study by San Francisco State University and the Burma Refugee Family Network. In addition nearly two-thirds of them are unemployed.

Continue reading

A Painful America

(Photo: Paul Bradbury)

(Photo: Paul Bradbury)

The numbers are staggering. One hundred and sixteen million Americans experience pain that can last from weeks to years. Costs of treatment and lost wages total between $560 and $635 billion each year. Yet treatment does not always relieve a patient’s suffering.

In a Perspective published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers outline how significant the problem of pain is in the U.S. and suggest approaches for more effective therapy. The piece recaps last year’s Institute of Medicine Report, Relieving Pain in America.

The writers say that undertreated acute and chronic pain is a “significant overlooked problem.” Dr. Phil Pizzo, Dean of Stanford’s Medical School, is co-author of today’s Perspective and led the IOM committee that reviewed the issue last year. In an interview, he described that both patients and doctors have differing approaches to pain and how to manage it. Some patients feel they need to tough it out. Others need someone to listen and work with them. Doctors may be either caring or judgmental about a patient’s pain. Continue reading

Obesity Epidemic May Be Leveling Off

(Malingering: Flickr)

(Malingering: Flickr)

For the first time since the numbers were crunched in 1980, the U.S. obesity epidemic seems to have reached a plateau. Americans got heavier and heavier through the 1980s and 1990s, but starting in the early 2000s, the steep increases seemed to slow.

Two studies, one in adults and one in children, were published online today by the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009-2010. They found no change from the prior survey, the second period of no change in the last 10 years.

Pat Crawford, Director of the Center for Weight and Health at U.C. Berkeley called the studies “cautious good news. … I am thrilled with the plateauing and I am encouraged. I think the biggest risk is that people relax and think we don’t have an obesity issue any more.” Today about one-third of American men and women, and about one in six children and teens are obese. Continue reading

Who Gets an Organ Transplant?

(Magnus D: Flickr)

(Magnus D: Flickr)

January 18, 2012: This post has been updated to reflect the family will meet with the hospital.

The story of a three-year-old girl, Amelia Rivera, who was apparently denied a kidney transplant last week at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has sparked outrage and debate. Amelia’s mother, Chrissy, asserts that a CHOP doctor said Amelia was being denied because she is “mentally retarded.”

Amelia suffers from a rare genetic defect, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, which results in severe developmental delays, a characteristic facial appearance, intellectual disability and seizures. Continue reading

Women Veterans Suffer from PTSD at Same Rate as Men

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a major issues for female soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Chris Hondros: Getty Images)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a major issue for female soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Chris Hondros: Getty Images)

The number of women in the military has doubled in the past decade. According to the Pentagon, about 10 percent of the 2.2 million troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been women.

These women are more likely to be in the line of fire than those serving in previous wars — and that means they’re also at a higher risk of having depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) wanted to see if gender played a role in mental health outcomes after soldiers were exposed to combat-related trauma. In a recent study, researchers looked at 7,251 veteran responses to different kinds of combat exposure: witnessing killing, sexual trauma, killing in war, and injury. They found that PTSD rates are the same among male and female vets of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, with about 18 percent of both groups screening positive for the disorder.

While both male and female vets had equal chances of having PTSD after exposure to killing, sexual trauma, or witnessing killing, women vets who were injured were more likely to have PTSD than men.

The study also found that while female veterans were more likely to suffer from depression, their male counterparts were more likely to abuse alcohol.

Continue reading

Do No Harm — And Keep An Eye On Costs

By Kaiser Health News staff writers

The American College of Physicians startled and astonished the medical establishment when it released an updated ethics manual calling for doctors to provide “parsimonious care” – in other words, “to practice effective and efficient health care and to use health care resources responsibly.”

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

(Image: Kaiser Health News)

This recommendation, included in the January 3, Annals of Internal Medicine special supplement, drew immediate reaction – and not just because of its use of the infrequently heard “parsimonious.” It’s been viewed as a definitive statement of medical ethics directed at the organization’s 132,000 members – physicians who practice internal medicine and its related specialties, among them cardiology and oncology, that often involve expensive procedures. And, the guidance comes at a time when health care costs are central to the national policy debate. Continue reading

ouRXperience: Concerns with New Rail Yard; Gambling Addiction; Dancing for Exercise

Line dancing in South Sacramento. (Photo: Larry Dalton)

Line dancing in South Sacramento. (Photo: Larry Dalton)

Editor’s Note: KQED produces ouRXperience, a blog from community correspondents, to enrich coverage of health issues across California.

This week ouRXperience featured posts from three California communities:

  • Anabell Romero in Wilmington wrote about a proposed Port of LA rail yard and its possible pollution impact.
  • From San Bernardino, Bobbi Albano described problems people can have with gambling.
  • And ouRXperience welcomed our newest community correspondent, South Sacramento resident Sharon Chandler. Chandler featured profiles of people who are improving their health by line dancing.