Health and wellness tips from Indiana University
Lessons learned recovering from stroke. The brain is an "amazing, resilient organ," much of which still remains a mystery to science. While the mysteries abound, most people have more control over how their brains function than they think, says Indiana University neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor. "We have a lot more say about what's going on inside our brains than we were ever taught," she said. "The thoughts we focus on become more prevalent. If there are thoughts you don't want to think about anymore, then you can teach yourself to consciously choose to activate new thought patterns by coming back to the present moment." Taylor has studied the brain in a way few others have. As she suffered a rare form of stroke 10 years ago, she was conscious as she lost the left half of her brain. She remembers the day clearly, when she eventually curled up into a ball and expected to die. "I was shocked when I awoke later," said Taylor, who teaches neuroanatomy to medical students studying on the IU Bloomington campus. "I couldn't talk. I couldn't understand language. I lost all recollection of my life and lost all perception of my physical presence -- I was at one with the universe. By anyone's standard, I was completely disabled. I describe myself as an infant in a woman's body." Taylor's new self-published book, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, offers a message of hope. She said many neurologists will say the brain has only a short window, just six months, during which it can recover following a stroke. Taylor disagrees. "I watched my brain grow, change and recover for eight years before I thought I was fully recovered," she said.
Below are some of Taylor's suggestions and observations for recovering from a stroke.
For the survivor:
- Give it time -- more time than the experts say. The brain is constantly changing because it has a plasticity that lets its cells make new connections.
- Honor the healing power of sleep. With a brain trauma, every moment is filled with millions of bits of information. Sleep, said Taylor, is when the brain organizes and files away this information, leaving people refreshed and ready to learn when they awake.
- Break every action down into little steps, otherwise the person recovering from the stroke could become discouraged by constant failure. Taylor uses the action of sitting up as an example. Instead of expecting someone who recovered from a stroke to sit up right away, begin with rocking -- and celebrate the rocking. When the survivor can rock with enthusiasm, begin working on a roll -- and celebrate the roll -- until eventually the person can progress to sitting up.
- Constantly remind the survivor how far they have come. "Keep it in my face that I've made progress. You can't cheer enough." Taylor was not aware of her past during much of her recovery so she often was not aware of what she could and couldn't do -- achievements were news to her.
- Remember that the survivor is wounded, not stupid, and treat her or him with respect.
- When talking with a survivor, come close to them and speak slowly and clearly. There is no need to speak loudly, however.
- Be as patient with the survivor on the 20th time you teach him something as you were the first time.
For more information about My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, visit, http://www.drjilltaylor.com. The book describes in lay terms the anatomy underlying her experience of stroke and her commitment during the next eight years to rebuild the left side of her brain, all from her perspective of a curious scientist who considers her stroke a blessing. "How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I've gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career," Taylor said. To read a more about Taylor's experience, visit http://newsinfo.iu.edu/web/page/normal/4481.html.
Got chubby kids? A recent national Institute of Medicine report said that one third of American children and youth are obese, or are at risk of becoming obese. Parents cannot always tell just by looking at their children, however, if they are overweight. Children, like adults, come in all different shapes and sizes. That paunch, says Alice Lindeman, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science, could be a sign that a child needs to lose some weight or that a growth spurt is just around the corner. "They get tired, they get cranky, they get these little paunches, and then they grow," she said. Pediatricians track children's growth from birth and can help parents recognize whether their children are overweight or anticipating a growth spurt. Lindeman said the combined approach of increasing activity levels and creating a healthier lifestyle is the best way to help overweight children achieve a healthy weight, but it also means the child won't be going it alone. Healthy eating habits and other lifestyle changes should be adopted by the whole family to be effective. "Don't tell them to be active and then sit and read a book, that's not right," Lindeman said. "Get up and play with them."
Lindeman offers the following suggestions:
- Mirror each other's behavior. Don't tell your child, for example, that she can eat only six M&Ms while you munch on 60. "If you don't want them to go back for seconds, you shouldn't go back for seconds," Lindeman said.
- Create an environment that applies to everyone in the family and maintains a healthy lifestyle for all. This will help prevent any one child from feeling singled out.
- Teens get at least 25 percent of their calories from snacks and possibly as much as 50 percent. Lindeman says snacks should include two food groups, not just one, to provide more balanced nutrition. "If you're going to have pretzels, how about some peanut better? If you're sensitive about glucose fluctuations, including protein in your snack, with such foods as yogurt, milk or lunch meat, can help keep glucose levels from jumping," she said. Meals should include three food groups.
- Talk to your children about hunger -- are they really hungry for seconds?
- Parents should put the child's food on the plate so they can control the serving sizes.
- Eat at the table, not in front of the TV or standing. Take time to eat slowly, rather than wolfing down meals. Children can make a game out of eating slowly. They can, for example, eat a cookie in circles, taking tiny bites.
- Some structured diets, such as Weight Watchers, have children's versions. Lindeman said parents should talk with their child's pediatrician before starting them on such diets.
Suicide myths and facts. Suicide may be a taboo topic, but it ranks 11th among causes of death in the United States, accounting for more than 31,000 deaths each year. John McIntosh, a professor of psychology at IU South Bend and an expert in suicide prevention, said that many common assumptions about suicide are inaccurate, including how often it occurs, who dies of suicide, signs of risk for suicidal behavior, and the myth of the suicide note.
- Not so rare. Suicide is nearly twice as common as homicide, killing one person every 16.7 minutes in the U.S. It is the third leading cause of death among young people. McIntosh estimates, based on an average of six people being closely connected to the victim, over 4.5 million people in the U.S. (1 in 65) have lost a loved one to suicide.
- Old, not young, and men, not women, make up the greatest numbers. Although suicide ranks higher as a cause of death for young people, the number of older adults who die from suicide is significantly higher than the number of young people who kill themselves. According to the latest data, adults over age 65 accounted for 16.7 percent of suicides in the U.S. whereas young people aged 15 to 24 accounted for 12.7 percent, even though older adults represented a smaller portion of the population. With respect to gender, there were four male deaths by suicide for every female death. However, women are more likely to attempt suicide than men.
- Talk of suicide is serious business. "When people talk about suicide, it's often dismissed," McIntosh said. "Many people seem to think that if someone is talking about the idea, then they are not seriously contemplating it, but really it is the opposite. That is the most common sign that someone is actually at risk. The worst thing you can do is to ignore it or to call their bluff. Instead you should call a prevention professional -- one free hotline is 1-800-273-TALK -- and they can give you some suggestions and refer you to the nearest certified crisis center." Other signs of risk include substance abuse, withdrawing from friends and family, recklessness, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.
- No explanation. "Suicide notes are found in only 25 percent of cases. Even when there is a note, it is almost never revealing or informative," McIntosh said. "The note might say, 'I love you' or where to find a bank account, but it typically does not give an explanation for why the person did this. There are few insights into their psyche."
McIntosh said the effects on surviving friends and family members are similar to those coping with the murder of a loved one, like the shock of sudden loss, searching for answers, and feelings of anger and guilt. With suicide, he said, people also struggle with social isolation due to negative stigma. He advised that the best way to support someone who has lost a loved one to suicide is to give them the same kindness and caring you would offer in any other bereavement. "Tell them you are sorry for their loss, give them instrumental support with their daily needs, and don't dwell exclusively on the way that their loved one died. Recognize that they may feel very sensitive about the circumstances and try to avoid platitudes like, 'I know how you feel,' if you haven't experienced the same situation," he said.
Engraved in cyberspace? Teens need to think before they post. For today's teens, getting their first personal laptop or computer has joined the driver's license and the first kiss as a new rite of passage. As teens boot up their new Christmas booty, parents need to talk with their kids about the need to be sensible online, not just safe, says Gregory Travis, a technology expert with Indiana University Bloomington's Pervasive Technology Labs' Advanced Network Management Lab. "Parents need to encourage kids to think about their future ambitions and help them understand that there is no such thing as online privacy," Travis said. "The Internet is a public space -- and it doesn't forget. Lots of good kids probably never consider future consequences of what they put online today. It's up to adults to teach kids to think before they post."
Travis offers these tips:
- Teens may believe information they remove from personal pages, blogs and social networking sites like Myspace or Facebook is gone, but with archiving Web sites like http://www.archive.org/index.php and cached or past versions of Web sites being easier than ever to access, there is a good chance the "erased" version is still available. This means teens should think twice before griping about their teacher, making insulting or inflammatory statements, or sharing potentially embarrassing information and photos. "Before they start typing, kids need to ask themselves 'What kind of impression will this give to give the admissions officer at my favorite college? Is this really what I want my future employer to think of me?'" Travis added. According to a recent poll reported in the National Association of Colleges and Employers Summer 2006 NACE Journal, 50 percent of employers currently use online technology to research the background of potential employees during the job search process and 7 percent more plan to start.
- Never give personal information to online friends. Personal information includes your name, messenger ID, e-mail address, school name, phone numbers, home address, and pictures of you, your family or friends.
- If you publish a photo or video online, be aware that anyone can change it or share it.
- Never say or do anything online that you wouldn't ordinarily share with parents, friends, teachers or employers.
- Some people don't tell the truth online. What you see may not be what you get.
- Never arrange to meet someone you've met online without a trusted adult.
- Never respond to e-mail or chat that makes you uncomfortable. Tell an adult about inappropriate Internet material or activity.
EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.