Tag Archives: checkups

A Healthy A1C Level

Long View: What Does A1C Mean to Me?

Our community liaison team has never met a health fair or expo they didn’t love! Health fairs and expos are great places to learn about the abundance of services available in our communities to support seniors and their families.

With brightly colored, free shopping bags in hand, visitors gather pens, lip balms, and hand sanitizers, along with informational brochures and contact information for everything from beautiful, new living communities to financial planning. I’ve never seen so many butterscotch hard candies in one place since my grandmother’s candy dish in the 1970s.

Many health fairs and expos offer free checkups for various parts of your body and health. Participants aren’t the only ones taking advantage of a little free TLC. So far this summer, I’ve had the kinks rubbed out of my neck, the skin on my face analyzed for sun damage, and my blood pressure checked.

But one of the most interesting tests I’ve done recently came from my friends at Memorial Hospital in Carthage, IL. They measured my A1C level.

“What is A1C?” I asked, with a donut in one hand and a cup of coffee with cream in the other.

A1C is the measurement of the average blood sugar levels for the past 3 months, they told me. “Oh no,” I said. “I can’t get that done today. I’m eating a donut!”

The kind nurses assured me to sit down and relax. No fasting is required. In the blink of an eye, my finger was (painlessly) pricked, and a small amount of my blood slipped into a tiny little tube. The tube took a 5-minute spin in the centrifuge, and bingo, my A1C for the past 3 months is…. I’ll keep you in suspense until the end.

The National Diabetes Education Initiative recommends that diabetics have the A1C measurement taken at least twice a year. Everyone else should measure A1C once every 3 years. The nurses from Carthage recommended that most people should have measurements below 5.7%, since measurements between 5.7 and 6.4% indicate a greater risk for becoming diabetic.

The daily measurement of glucose levels is very important for diabetics who need to keep their levels within healthy ranges. Knowing your 2- to 3-month average can help you determine your overall glucose health, which in turn can help you make healthy choices throughout each day, like about sleeping, playing, working, eating, and more.

And if you don’t have diabetes, knowing if you have a higher than average A1C level can be a valuable piece of information to help you make healthy changes to curb your chances of getting diabetes at some point in your life.

Those who are already diabetic should strive to lower their A1C to at least 7% when possible. This could be a struggle for those who suffer from the disease, but the research points toward a much lower risk of developing diabetic complications like eye, heart, and kidney disease the closer you can get to 7%.

To tell you the truth, waiting for my blood to spin around for those 5 minutes in the centrifuge had me sweating a little. This could be the year my chickens come home to roost. I’ll be having one of those special birthdays next year where everyone wears black. I’m not exactly the healthiest eater. Leggings and stretchy-fabric pants have become my best friends.

This A1C measurement was an important wake-up call for me. The good news is that I measured well below 5.7%.

While I could have spiked the football, declared myself invincible, and grabbed a second donut, I didn’t. I decided to really pay attention to this information and be grateful for my health today, maybe take an extra walk around the block every week. Next year, I’m setting my sights on something in the high 4s.

Pass the kale.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Aging with Your Pets

Long View: Aging With Our Pets

My grandparents had a Chihuahua that lived to be 20 years old. Suzy had her own knitted sweaters to wear when she went outside. Every night, Grandma cooked and cut up liver in tiny, bite-sized pieces for Suzy’s dinner.

I’m not sure what the life expectancy and living arrangements for most dogs were in the 1950s and 1960s, but I would wager that Suzy’s life was particularly plush for that era. When I came along in 1968, my parents gave me the middle name of Sue. I often wondered if this was a happy coincidence or a tribute to that beloved Chihuahua.

Today, I have a yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Harvey. Grandpa’s name was Harvey. Touché.

Americans love their pets. Take a stroll through your local big-box pet supplies chain, and the number of things a person can buy for their animals will amaze you. Strollers, raincoats, probiotics, gluten-free and vegan dog food, and even memory foam mattresses. Within just a few miles of my house, Harvey can go to a doggy day camp, swim at an indoor pool just for pooches, and later have his hair and nails done at the pet spa.

Your pet pampers you in different ways. Owning a pet lowers stress, reduces blood pressure, and raises mental sharpness. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that petting a dog for 15 minutes releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while also lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

Pets can open up a lonely world and get you out of bed in the morning. Walking a dog (or a cat, if you are particularly brave and the cat is extremely cooperative) is good exercise. Those of us with an empty nest find a new sense of purpose. And nurturing a beloved animal gives us unconditional love in return.

An older person with a pet companion can be a heartwarming love match. I reached out to Stacey Teager, from the Quad City Animal Welfare Center, for some advice for those who are looking to add a pet to their home in later years.

  • Make sure your pet gets regular checkups and immunizations. Have your animal spayed or neutered.
  • Never give your pet “people” medications. Always consult a veterinarian before medicating your pet.
  • Have a plan in place with your family or close friends for caring for your pet should you become sick and need to be hospitalized or stay in a nursing facility.
  • Match your pet with your physical capabilities. My 50-pound Labrador retriever puppy can drag my mother down the sidewalk. This is dangerous for both her and the dog. A quieter, smaller animal is a better choice for her to walk around the neighborhood.
  • Despite my grandmother’s loving intentions, don’t feed your pet table scraps or human food. Animals can get overweight and unhealthy with just a few added ounces. If you like to bake, there are lots of recipes for animal treats that use ingredients found in your pantry.

Lora Felger is a community and broker liaison at Health Alliance. She is the mother of 2 terrific boys, a world traveler, and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan.

Don't Fall with Tai Chi

Your Ultimate Guide to Fall Prevention

Each year as the weather turns icy, we return to one major health topic for older adults, avoiding a fall. How big is the risk actually, though?

Truth in Numbers

No matter how healthy you are, falling is a real risk. About 1 out of 3 adults age 65 or older falls each year, but less than half of those talk to their doctors about it.

Sure, you might think, but everyone falls once in a while, right? Kids fall all the time! But your mom falling could be a lot more serious than your toddler. Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults.

In 2013, 2.5 million people were treated for nonfatal falls, and 734,000 of those had to be hospitalized. And in 2012, the medical costs from falls reached $30 billion.

They cause the most broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and over 95% of hip fractures in older adults. And women are twice as likely as men to break a bone.

What Causes A Fall

Icy and slippery weather is of course a big reason that falls happen, but winter isn’t the only time to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Seeing is an essential part of most of our days, but as you age and your vision gets worse, it can increase your risk of falling. If you can’t see the danger, it’s harder to avoid it.

Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter can cause side effects, like dizziness and drowsiness, that can make it more likely you’ll take a tumble.

Dangers in your homes, like tripping hazards, stairs, and slippery bathtubs, are a huge risk.

And many people who fall once are afraid of falling again and what could happen if they do. This leads them to limit their activities, lowering their mobility and fitness, which can actually increase their chances of falling and of getting hurt.

A recent study also found that many people’s falls are because of an infection, which can cause low blood pressure, which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. This can both lead to your fall, or make you confused about what happened afterwards.

Year-Round Protection

There are ways to help stop falls before they happen:

Get your eyes checked each year, and always keep your glasses prescription as up to date as possible.

Ask your doctor to review all your meds, and see if there are other options for any drugs that might be increasing your risk of falling.

Fall-proof your home. Adding grab bars in the bathroom and railings to stairs and even improving the lighting in your home can make a huge difference.

Get enough calcium and Vitamin D from foods like dairy, soy milk, orange juice, and salmon, or take a regular supplement.

Get tested for osteoporosis.

Remove clutter. A messy house can actually increase your chance of falling at home. Learn more.

Get active! There are great options and resources for getting healthy at any age.

  • Tai Chi is especially helpful for improving your balance and leg strength. Use this Tai Chi Fall Prevention Toolkit to get started now.
  • Try walking outside with friends or family.
  • Weight bearing exercises can lower your chance of hip fractures.
  • Water aerobics is a great way to move without stressing your joints.
  • Moving to the beat and changing to a rhythm are shown to reduce falls. Get dancing at your local senior center’s events, take lessons, or just let loose at home.
  • We want to help, too. Our Medicare members have access to the SilverSneakers® fitness program to help you get fit at a gym or in your home.  Our members also get discounts at certain fitness locations.

All statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Time Is Up: Make Healthy Resolutions

Making Healthy Resolutions

It’s that time again to start picking out your New Years Resolutions. If you always go too big and forget about them within the month, each day this week we gave you some little changes and healthy resolutions you can stick to.

The hardest one is to quit smoking. It’s hard to do, but it’s standing in the way of your healthy life. We can help members connect to resources and support with our Quit For Life program.

Quit Smoking Resolution

 

Today’s resolution is to get more sleep. Sleep is when your body and mind heals and prepares. Find more info about sleep on our Pinterest.

Getting Enough Sleep

 

Stress has been linked to big health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Find info on ways to relieve some of your stress on our Pinterest board.

Managing Stress in the New Year

 

Resolve to get yearly checkups with your main doctor and dentist. It helps catch problems early and keeps you up-to-date on things like shots.

Regular Checkups for Your Health

 

Floss your teeth! It sounds simple, but only half of Americans do it. Yet smiles are the first feature we notice. Take the time on your teeth, and people will notice.

Flossing for Your Future

 

Dieting sounds like a lot, so instead, focus on only eating healthy portions this New Year and watch your health improve!

Portions

 

Make a routine and stick to it. A routine in the morning can help you get up to workout, and one at night can help you go to sleep.

Building a Healthy Routine

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Reasons You Have High Blood Pressure

Breaking Down Why You Have High Blood Pressure

Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

Some people are more likely to have high blood pressure, and this can be because of things you can’t control, or because of lifestyle choices you make.

  • Age – The risk of high blood pressure increases with time. Men usually develop it around age 45 and women after age 65.
  • Race – High blood pressure and serious complications are more common for African Americans.
  • Family History – High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Certain Chronic Conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can raise your blood pressure.
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy – Your blood pressure may be raised during pregnancy.
  • Being Overweight – The more you weigh, the more blood your body has to pump to perform normal tasks like carrying oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. That more blood that’s pumping, the higher the pressure.
  • Not Being Physically Active – Not being active usually makes your heart rate higher, which means your heart’s working harder than it should and pumping more.
  • Tobacco Use – Smoking and chewing tobacco raise your blood pressure temporarily, but it can also damage your arteries which raises your blood pressure in the long-term.
  • Too Much Salt –  When you eat too much salt, you also gain water-weight, which increases your blood pressure.
  • Too Much Alcohol – Heavy drinkers can damage their heart over time.
  • Too Little Potassium – Potassium helps balance sodium in your body.
  • Too Little Vitamin D – Not enough vitamin D in your diet might affect an enzyme your body makes that affects your blood pressure.

If you have some of these other risk factors, your doctor may set your blood pressure target lower.

Other Causes of High Blood Pressure

If you have secondary high blood pressure, it’s caused by an underlying condition. It usually appears suddenly and goes away when the condition has been treated. These things might cause it:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Kidney problems
  • Adrenal gland tumors
  • Thyroid problems
  • Birth defects in your blood vessels
  • Certain meds, like birth control pills, anti-depressants, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs
  • Illegal drugs like cocaine

Reasons for High Blood Pressure After Meds

Some find that even though they’ve gotten on a medication, their blood pressure is still not low enough. If you find that your blood pressure is higher than normal at certain times, think about these factors.

Lifestyle Choices

Some of your lifestyle choices could be raising your blood pressure.

  • Quit smoking, and cut back on alcohol and caffeine.
  • De-stress.
  • Watch your diet.
  • Get active.
  • Make sure you’re taking your meds exactly as your doctor prescribed.
  • Visit your doctor for regular checkups.

The Season

Believe it or not, studies show that the season can have an effect on your blood pressure. It’s more likely to go back to normal levels in the spring and summer than it is in the winter, no matter if you live in a very cold climate or a very warm one.

Perhaps it’s because it’s harder to get out and exercise and because of the extra pounds you can pack on during the holiday season. Either way, this means in the winter, it might be necessary to take higher doses of meds or even different drugs. Talk to your doctor if you notice this seasonal difference in your readings.

Medications

Did this raise go hand-in-hand with a new pill you started? Did you get a cold and start taking some over-the-counter meds you don’t normally?

Check to make sure that what you’re taking isn’t to blame. And talk to your doctor about the risk or if you should make changes to your prescriptions.

Bigger Problems

If your blood pressure is still strangely high, your doctor might need to adjust your meds. And if this still doesn’t help, it might be a sign of something more serious, like kidney problems or a chronic condition. Then, it’s time for a doctor’s appointment and maybe some tests to find the cause.