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The Aging Brain

Leah Sarich | posted Thursday, Jan 28th, 2016


We’ve all forgotten our keys or an item on the grocery list, but when is this forgetfulness a problem? For Alzheimer Awareness Month, Neurologist Dr. Eric Smith explains, alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for it, but it’s one of the biggest problems facing medicine. Right now 1.5 percent of the population has the disease and in 30 years, Dr. Smith says that number will climb to 2.8 percent and doctors, scientists and patients are still waiting for the big breakthrough.

What doctors do know is the brain ages, it shrinks over time, and it works differently as we get older too and this is normal aging like getting wrinkles or grey hair. Dr. Smith says it’s not unusual to become a bit more forgetful as you get older, but the question is how often does this forgetfulness impact the quality of your life. For example, are you unable to balance a chequebook or forget where you’re going when you’re driving? If these events are occurring frequently, Dr. Smith says it’s time to talk to your doctor.

Dr. Smith says while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are things doctors can do to help. There are medications that can provide a boost to your memory or in the case of vascular dementia which is caused by strokes, doctors can prescribe medication that can prevent more strokes from happening and preserve memory. Doctors can also set patients up with various supports in the community so you can live the best life possible with the disease.

The good news is The University of Calgary has recognized brain aging as a priority and just last year the Ron and Rene Ward Centre for Healthy Brain Aging Research opened. At this Centre, all under one roof, are neurologists, stroke specialists, brain imaging experts, psychiatrists and more. The goal is to come up with new and exciting research studies that will one day lead to major improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

For more information on dementia visit this website. For more information on healthy brain aging go here. For more information on this new Centre at the University of Calgary visit this website. 

Zika Virus and Travel Health

Leah Sarich | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2016

Lots of talk these days about the Zika virus. It’s a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization announced this week the virus is expected to spread to all countries in the Americas except Canada and Chile.

Infectious Diseases expert Dr. Stephen Vaughan says it’s highly unlikely the virus will come to Canada because we simply do not have this mosquitoe in our country. But if people travel, specifically to South America or the Caribbean, they are at risk.

Most people who contract the virus, 80 percent according to Dr. Vaughan,  do not even know they have the virus and do not develop symptoms. But researchers are investigating a very troubling link between the Zika virus and brain damage in unborn babies. In Brazil they’ve seen a 20 fold increase in babies born with a small brain and Zika infection in the mothers.

So, Dr. Vaughan recommends any woman trying to get pregnant and travelling to South America or the Caribbean wait until they get home. In fact, he recommends waiting 21 days upon return to Canada to start trying again to get pregnant. If a woman is pregnant, he strongly recommends she avoid travel to the area or at least going to a travel clinic to discuss her risk in relation to the areas she’ll be visiting.

Dr. Vaughan says anyone travelling should visit a travel clinic before they go, ideally six months before, to get the necessary vaccinations and information. Even if travelers don’t have that time, Dr. Vaughan recommends going to a travel clinic regardless. He says it’s not just Zika virus people need to be worried about… he says travelers need to be prepared for malaria, Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and may require booster vaccines.

And if you return home from travelling and have a high fever, Dr. Vaughan says go straight to the emergency room and tell them you’ve been travelling. He says malaria, for example, can be fatal if not treated quickly.

For more information on the Zika virus visit this website. For more information on travel health visit this website, to find a travel clinic go here.

New Teen Psoriasis Treatment

Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Jan 22nd, 2016


Randy Kneubuler says, “it’s really tough being a teenager with skin problems.” He should know. He was diagnosed with psoriasis at the age of five, but says the junior high and high school years have been a real challenge.

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease where skin cells divide up to ten times faster than normal skin cells. This process results in raised red spots on the skin that are itchy and painful. Pediatric Dermatologist Dr. Vimal Prajapati says these red areas most commonly occur on the elbows, knees and scalp. These are visible areas and Randy says kids can be mean and that causes him anxiety and hurts his self confidence and self esteem.

Randy had tried everything, speaking of his suitcase full of various skin creams. But then Dr. Prajapati put him on a new biologic medication called Stelara. This drug has just recently been approved for use in young people aged 12 to 17 with moderate to severe psoriasis. Randy says he started seeing improvement within a week of being on this medication and that his skin is starting to clear up dramatically. This improvement has helped to improve his confidence and self esteem.

Stelara is given by injection… about five a year. And Dr. Prajapati says it has very few side effects, the most common being an increase in common infections like the common cold or a sore throat. But the frequency of these infections is quite low.

This medication is very expensive. But some extended drug plans do cover it, and in certain cases the drug company that makes it may help out an individual patient.

Dr. Prajapati says when psoriasis is not treated adequately in this age group, the disease has a tremendous social and emotional burden. It can lead to depression, anxiety, isolation and more. This is why Dr. Prajapati is so thrilled with Stelara. Randy says the medication has changed his life completely. He’s now ready to look forward to graduation and his life ahead.

For more information on psoriasis visit this website. For more information on Stelara go here. 



Leah Sarich | posted Wednesday, Jan 20th, 2016


We’ve all felt a little burnt out at work, but at some point when does it become something that needs to be addressed? Psychiatrist Dr. Monique Jericho says burnout has become a serious phenomenon these days that needs to be nipped in the bud. Burnout is defined by three pillars: emotionally depleted – meaning you feel you have nothing left to give emotionally, depersonalized – meaning you are not connecting to people in a human way anymore and hopelessness about your job – meaning you don’t find fulfillment in your work the way you had in the past.

But Dr. Jericho says these pillars are often hard to recognize and she says it may be easier to recognize the early warning symptoms instead. Are you more fatigued even after a weekend? Are you more cynical or irritable at work? Do you have less patience for your coworkers and are you more easily overwhelmed with your work when in the past you may have been able to roll with it.

If you’re able to recognize these symptoms, Dr. Jericho says it’s important to take action sooner rather than later. She recommends basic self care first. Get enough rest, eat well and exercise. But what is really important for combating burnout, according to Dr. Jericho, is knowing what brings you joy and meaning and making time for it. She says we need to focus more on creating a better work life balance.

She also recommends looking at your job. Can you delegate more or talk to your boss about some flexibility in your hours? Dr. Jericho says most bosses know when their employees are burnt out and want to help because it may prevent the employees from taking a leave or quitting.

Also, Dr. Jericho says it’s critical to take a break from technology. She explains if we don’t, we’re constantly being asked to “think, do or respond.” And we all need a break from our work.

If the symptoms of burnout are not addressed, Dr. Jericho warns it will affect your mental and physical health. She says burnout can lead to feeling more run down which leaves you at risk of more infections and burnout can lead to diagnosable depression or an anxiety disorder.

So, Dr. Jericho says it’s important for all of us to learn how to fill up our tanks and avoid burnout.

For more information visit this website. 


Leah Sarich | posted Friday, Jan 15th, 2016


Many of us are feeling a little blue these days…. the holiday spending is catching up with us and the days are so short… but it’s also the time of year for a more serious mental illness called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Dr. Scott Patten, a psychiatrist with the University of Calgary, explains SAD is actually a subset of major depression. It’s characterized by a pattern of depressive symptoms that usually start in the winter and resolve in the spring, and while many of these symptoms are similar to those of major depression there are are a few differences. People with SAD usually experience a depressed mood, lose interest in previously enjoyable activities and have trouble concentrating. But unlike major depression, SAD patients will also sleep more, eat more and gain weight.

The treatment for SAD has similarities to major depression as well. Like depression, treatment can include psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. But unlike depression, Dr. Patten says some patients may feel better with light therapy. This therapy includes using a light box that emits light and looking at it for about 30 minutes a day, sometimes twice a day. Dr. Patten explains if SAD patients use more than one form of therapy they may do better. So for example, a patient may use light therapy in addition to psychotherapy and experience more benefit than a patient that only uses a light box. While the light box seems rather innocuous, Dr. Patten warns it’s not for everyone. For those patients who also have bipolar disorder, light therapy can trigger a manic response. So, Dr. Patten recommends talking to your mental health professional about what treatment option would be best for you.

For more information about Seasonal Affective Disorder visit this website. If you need to see a mental health professional call Access Mental Health at 403 943 1500 or talk to your family doctor.

Don’t make these 5 New Year’s health resolutions

Chatelaine | posted Thursday, Jan 7th, 2016

Next year, say no to detoxes and yes to weight training

It’s that time again: You’ve gorged yourself on the wings and legs of every festive bird in sight and are now more than ready to engage in the ritualistic fitness and nutrition snapback prompted by a change in the calendar. While there’s nothing wrong with committing yourself to a more balanced, less bonbon-heavy lifestyle — and there’s certainly something seductive in a “new year, new you” mentality — there are just some health resolutions we should resolve ourselves not to try.

“This year, I promise to finally give that teatox a try.”

No, no, no! Jan. 1 is the day we are easily the most vulnerable to fad diets and detoxes, but stay strong. We’re talking about alkaline diets, juicing, and other deprivation schemes disguised as “cleanses.” In particular, “teatoxes,” which supplement a low-calorie diet with large amounts of herbal tea, can have a devastating effect, not only on your sanity, but on your bowels (sorry). Most teatox packs include senna, which can cause diarrhea, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and even heart irregularities. Anyway, isn’t tea supposed to be relaxing?

“This year, I promise to adopt an intense, all-cardio fitness regimen.”

Go ahead, get your blood pumping. But remember to make time for lower impact exercises, like walking. Not only is going for a stroll a potent calorie burner, but it also fights depression and can actually increase the size of your brain. Same goes for weight training, which is especially important in aging women to guard against osteoporosis.

“This year, I promise to finally cut out cheese [or bread or any other life-affirming food].”

For some (most) people, the idea of eliminating dairy or sweet, sweet sugar is a punishment tantamount to death. Dramatic? Maybe. But if you’re looking to give your diet a cheese-less makeover, most experts recommend avoiding the deprivation mindset entirely. Instead, resolve to add more water, whole grains and leafy greens to your diet. A simple yet effective mental switcheroo that gives your new nutritional outlook some staying power.

“This year, I promise to move my entire exercise regime into the comfort of my own home.”

We get why you’d want to avoid the frustrated and sweaty January gym masses. And, being Canadians, we are also plenty aware of the frigid hellscape that is winter. Still, outdoor exercise is a game-changer; it can boost your happiness and even contribute to a better night’s sleep. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take advantage of our country’s very attractive landscape and try snowshoeing.

“This year, I promise to avoid the frozen food aisle.”

Surprise! The quick convenience of the frozen-food section makes it seem like it would be a vitamin deadzone, but broccoli, chickpeas and blueberries on ice are actually quite high in antioxidants, protein and, yes, vitamin . C. Looks like you learn something new every year.