By Jana Soeldner Danger
Today’s seniors are proactive about staying fit and healthy. When illnesses or other medical conditions do occur, they want to be informed consumers and know the best options for care and treatment. Here are some of what practitioners in our community are offering.
Senior Cancer Care
At Boca Raton Regional Hospital, doctors have developed a program tailored to address the needs of older cancer patients. “The senior population can be more vulnerable to side effects from treatment and have longer recovery times,” says Dr. Louise Morrell, medical director of the Lynn Cancer Institute at BRRH. “Sometimes wellness issues can become more challenging than treatment.”
To make the process a bit easier and more convenient, BRRH is building a fitness facility within the Lynn Cancer Institute where staff will design individual programs that address strength training, nutrition, pain, neuropathy and other issues that are part of the recovery process. The center is scheduled to be completed later this year. “The idea is to start survivorship from the beginning of treatment,” Dr. Morrell says. “The best outcomes today won’t be from going to just one specialist, and this way, the efforts of a variety of people will all be coordinated in one place.”
Can’t remember where you put your keys? Or why you came into the room? Just as exercising the body has its benefits, exercising the brain can help with memory loss that is a normal part of aging, says Dr. Sara J. Czaja, professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Brain Fitness Pavilion at UHealth, University of Miami Health System.
Healthcare professionals at the Brain Pavilion administer tests to assess a patient’s memory, concentration, attention and mental speed. Then they design a program tailored to the patient using BrainHQ, a brain training program. The programs include structured exercises for brain speed, memory, attention, people skills and navigation. A patient will typically participate in two 45-minute sessions a week at the pavilion, as well as at-home exercises.
“The data indicates this training can result in improvement in cognitive ability,” Dr. Czaja says.
Dr. Jessica Taha, a senior research associate at the Brain Pavilion, performs the exercises herself as part of her work with patients. “It’s like a gym for your brain,” she says. “My memory is better than it was.”
When fingers bend permanently inward toward the palm, simple activities like washing dishes can be difficult. A likely cause is Dupuytren’s Disease, a condition in which normally elastic fascia tissue under the skin of the fingers and palms thickens and forms tough, inflexible bands.
Dupuytren’s usually occurs when patients are in their 50s and 60s, says Dr. Brian Fingado, a hand specialist at the Holy Cross Orthopedic Institute. “It’s an abnormal type of collagen that causes the contracture.”
In the past, surgery done under general anesthetic was the only treatment available. “It was a delicate procedure, because nerves were involved,” Dr. Fingado says. “The patient would then have to have stitches and go through six to eight weeks of occupational therapy.”
Now, doctors can treat the condition by injecting a drug that weakens the affected tissue. Two days after the injection, the patient returns to the clinic and, under local anesthetic, the physician breaks the cords apart. “There’s no incision, no stitches and no formal therapy afterward,” Dr. Fingado says.
Slowing Parkinson’s Symptoms
Parkinson’s Disease gradually steals a patient’s flexibility, mobility and balance. But exercise classes at Memorial Regional Hospital Fitness Center in Hollywood may help slow the process. “The classes give Parkinson’s patients the opportunity to stretch and be active and to do strength training with other people,” says fitness instructor Jeri Beaucaire.
Patients use equipment that helps build coordination, balance and core strength. “The activity increases circulation, which helps with mobility,” Beaucaire says. “And as they sweat, they make endorphins. That leads to dopamine production, and Parkinson’s is caused by a lack of dopamine.”
The workouts also stimulate feel-good hormones. “One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is depression,” Beaucaire says. “Exercise can lift their mood.”
Botox is well known for smoothing wrinkles, but it can also decrease the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. A doctor injects the drug in several locations that may include the forehead, eyebrows, scalp and neck. “The Botox blocks the nerve receptors that trigger the pain of a migraine,” says Dr. Faride Ramos, group practice manager at Holy Cross Hospital. “It desensitizes the nerve.”
Christina Crespo, an office manager at Holy Cross, had suffered from debilitating migraines nearly every day for more than 10 years and got little relief from traditional medications. After Botox injections, the number of her migraines was reduced to once or twice a week. “And the intensity is not as severe,” she says.
The treatment can take one to two weeks to take effect and can last for three months.