Have a healthy holiday season with these helpful tips from the University of Michigan Health System

University of Michigan Health System
Tuesday, 16 December 2003

It's the most wonderful time of the year, as the song says, and holiday preparations will launch into high gear this week with the arrival of Hanukkah, the countdown to Christmas, and New Year's Eve just around the corner.

But no matter which holiday you're celebrating, you'll want to stay healthy and safe, and make sure your loved ones do too. So, experts from the University of Michigan Health System offer the following tips and advice for everyone plus the story of one Michigan woman who got her Christmas gift a little early.

Holiday driving while drowsy - don't crash your "sleigh"!

Santa may be able to drive his sleigh all night long without a problem, but that doesn't mean you should try to imitate the jolly old elf you could end up wrecking both your vehicle and your holidays.

According to UMHS Sleep Disorders Center member Alon Avidan, M.D., M.P.H., the holidays are prime time for "drowsy driving" that can lead to accidents and near-misses. On top of the usual reasons for sleepiness (sleep disorders such as insomnia, long work hours, overnight work shifts), the holidays bring many more reasons to be drowsy. Avidan warns of sleepy-driving risks from marathon road trips "over the river and through the woods" to see relatives, as well as late-night drives home after parties, alcohol consumption at festive occasions, jet lag from cross-country flights, and disruptions to usual sleep schedules.

To cut your risk of a drowsiness-related car crash, get a good night's sleep (7 to 9 hours) before hitting the road, or a 15 minute nap and some caffeine if you have to drive after being awake for a while. Have a passenger along and make sure they stay awake so they can talk to you. On long drives, stop every 100 miles or 2 hours to stretch your legs or get a snack and some caffeine. Before driving, avoid alcohol and any medications that might make you sleepy and if you go to a party, stop drinking alcohol long before you leave. Alcohol can amplify sleepiness caused by lack of sleep, with disastrous results.

If you experience daytime sleepiness often (not just during the holidays), if you often have trouble sleeping at night, or if you often snore loudly, ask your doctor for help or get evaluated at a sleep disorders center.

For more information on drowsy driving and how to prevent it, visit www.drowsydriving.org, a site from the National Sleep Foundation. For information on the U-M Sleep Disorders Center, call (734) 936-9020.

The season should not be a reason for drinking and driving

Drinking and driving causes the greatest number of fatalities and serious injuries each holiday season. In fact, last year from Thanksgiving to New Year's, 2,464 people in the United States died in alcohol-related crashes, or crashes in which safety belts were not used. Alcohol is involved in 41 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths and roughly one million injuries annually in the U.S.

And every year, U-M Trauma Burn Center medical experts see first-hand the often-deadly consequences of a drinking and driving-related crash. According to U-M trauma surgeon Saman Arbabi, M.D., alcohol is involved in most of the crashes that result in life-threatening trauma. So this holiday season, the U-M Trauma Burn Center is reminding everyone that holiday spirits don't have to come in a bottle, especially if you plan to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Note to editors: U-M Trauma Burn experts are available to discuss the injuries that often result from alcohol-related crashes, the consequences of drinking, and ways to keep the holidays safe if you consume alcohol.

While home for the holidays, look for signs of memory loss in loved ones

When adult children come home for the holidays, they may be surprised to find things seem different with Mom and Dad. The holidays typically trigger an upswing in referrals to the Alzheimer's disease specialists at the U-M Health System. Adult children may find it easy to dismiss worries of memory loss that they detect over the phone, but seeing an altered home life for their parent may trigger concern. "Be concerned if you notice a change in expected abilities. You have to be open to asking the right questions and pushing beyond the easy answers," says Norman Foster, M.D., associate director of the Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at UMHS.

" Holidays are a time of stress for everybody but even more so for people who have memory problems," Foster says. "People who are adjusted to a daily routine may have difficulty adjusting to things out of the ordinary. Holiday preparations can be particularly demanding and make slight problems that have developed gradually more obvious."

Don't automatically assume the worst, though. There are many causes of memory problems in older people and they may need different treatment. While Alzheimer's disease is common, important changes in memory also can be due to a mood disorder or medications. If you suspect a problem, have your loved one evaluated by a physician interested in memory problems. In addition, the Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center is conducting research on memory and older adults, including the effects of aging on memory and treatment for mild memory loss. For more information, visit sitemaker.umich.edu/madrc.

Holidays need not weigh heavily on those prone to depression

For people who are coping with depression, or are vulnerable to a relapse, and for those at risk for developing depression, this time of year can be especially difficult. But Sheila Marcus, M.D., Clinical Director of the Psychiatry Division at the U-M Depression Center, offers these tips to help such people and indeed, everyone -- get through the holidays without too much mental strain:

  1. Protect your sleep cycle. The holidays can be a time when usual routines are disrupted. Try hard to keep your sleep patterns regular, and don't extend your evenings too late, or sleep too long in the morning. This circadian shift may trigger mood symptoms in those who are predisposed.
  2. Maintain exercise routines and use relaxation strategies. At the holidays, exercise and "taking time for yourself" often takes a back seat to many other obligations. Try to carve out at least 30 minutes a day for yourself. Use it for exercise, yoga, or any quiet time that allows relaxation.
  3. Eat regularly and avoid excessive use of alcohol.
  4. Manage your expectations. Even when circumstances are good, for most families the holidays fall short of "Hallmark perfection". Look through the list of things that you feel you must do and try to limit it to activities that are most important -- or that truly bring joy. Sometimes a good book, a walk in the woods, a quiet afternoon by a fire, or a chat with a friend are the most welcome holiday times.
  5. Create new celebrations - Often following a loss or after a particularly traumatic year, families find that holiday traditions have lost some of their meaning. Sometimes preserving a piece of the tradition helps to remember an individual who has died (for example, making Grandma's cookies) but at other times doing something entirely different helps a family to get through a particularly difficult holiday season. Sometimes taking a trip, planning to attend a theater, or assisting individuals less fortunate permits an individual or family to get through a difficult holiday.
  6. Connect with individuals who are emotionally supportive. These may (or may not) be family members. Finding someone with whom you can be emotionally honest is important. For individuals who have experienced loss, many hospitals, hospices, and perinatal support groups provide support networks during the holidays. Have at least one person with whom you can be "real".

For more information, visit the U-M Depression Center at www.med.umich.edu/depression.

Seek relief from caregiver stress during the holidays and beyond

Whether you live around the corner or thousands of miles away, caring for a frail or ill loved one can be incredibly stressful during an already-stressful holiday season. UMHS's Turner Geriatric Clinic offers several programs to help caregivers. "A lot of people are dealing with caregiving long distance. We can help your loved one get resources so when you visit for the holidays, you've smoothed the way," says Ruth Campbell, MSW, associate director of Social Work and Community Programs.

For families in southeast Michigan, Turner Care Connections can arrange for a care manager to serve as a surrogate for a long-distance loved one. The care manager does a thorough assessment of the patient and begins coordinating social supports, home health care and other services. "There are lots of things you can't do when you're not there every day. Even for people who live in the area, it's very hard to be on top of everything," Campbell says. "You can spend a lot of time and go through a lot of stress to find the right services. It cuts a lot of the time and red tape to have someone who knows what's needed and what's available." Turner Care Connections can also help families find services all over the country and link families with local care managers.

Adult daycare programs, which are growing in popularity around the country, are another option to relieve a stressed caregiver. "This gives relief to the caregiver but also provides socialization for the person and other eyes who can spot any problems or concerns," Campbell says. For more information on the caregiving programs at Turner Geriatric Clinic, call (734) 764-2556.

Starting the new year with a new heart thanks to the bionic "gift of life"

Jane Thornton of Manchester, Michigan will start 2004 with a new heart, thanks to a bionic "gift of life" that kept her alive while she awaited a heart transplant.

A year ago, however, things were much different for the 66-year-old. After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Thornton was faced with a life or death decision: give up or give a good fight. Thorton, who had had a heart attack in 1995, decided to fight, and four months ago she had a miniature heart pump implanted to extend her life while she waited for a heart transplant at UMHS. The MicroMed DeBakey ventricular assist device (VAD), designed for end-stage heart failure patients who are waiting a transplant, is implanted in the chest cavity and attached to the heart. It helps pump blood from the left ventricle up the aorta and to the body.

The U-M Cardiovascular Center offers a broad array of options for adult and pediatric patients who need mechanical circulatory assistance over the short and long term, as well as heart transplant, including Thoratec's HeartMate LVAD, Abiomed' s BVS 5000 cardiac support system and CardiacAssist, Inc's TandemHeart pVAD. Such heart assist devices are giving several patients from across the state, like Thornton, and the country the opportunity to be with their family and friends this holiday season. Note to editors: Experts from the U-M Cardiovascular Center, and their patients, are available to discuss the various heart assist devices, and also to comment on patient-focused stories.

For more information, or to contact University of Michigan Health System, see their website at: www.med.umich.edu

Email Article To A Friend Link to us!
Home » Medical Research » University of Michigan Health System » Article 04960