Hear This: Understand and Limiting Hearing Loss

Listen up. This is one of those good news/bad news stories. First, the bad news. No matter how hard you try, there isn’t much you can do to prevent hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss affects approximately one-third of all people aged sixty-five and older. Age-related hearing loss is due to the changes that occur in the body as we grow older. Circulatory disorders, for example, which limit the flow of blood throughout the body, as well as to the brain and auditory system, are common in later years.

There are any number of reasons why circulation slows down as we grow older, among them heart disease, hardening of the arteries, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyles. And there are a number of lifestyle and work-related activities that aggravate hearing loss. However, this actually is the good news part:  You can do something to help prevent or limit unnecessary and premature hearing loss.

Nature will run its course

Over a lifetime, both the external ear and the inner ear experience changes. In the external ear, the ear canal narrows, which can cause an easily remedied buildup of earwax that can temporarily impair hearing. The most common age-related hearing loss, however, occurs from changes in the inner ear. At birth, people have about 15,000 sensory “hair” cell receptors lining the cochlea, the spiral-shaped cavity of the inner ear that contains nerve endings essential for hearing. As people age, these sensory cell receptors degenerate or are damaged, causing a form of hearing loss called sensorineural.

Some people lose up to half these cells. This type of loss (also called nerve deafness) can be caused by infections, hereditary problems, trauma and benign tumors, but it is most often a result of aging. The loss usually begins in middle age, occurs in both ears simultaneously, and progresses slowly, beginning with high-frequency sounds such as speech, and slowly stealing the ability to distinguish between sounds.

For the aging baby-boom generation, research shows exposure to loud music may be exacerbating the age-related hearing loss. Experts have known for many years that exposure to too much loud noise produces hearing loss. This condition, known as noise-induced hearing loss, affects construction workers, farmers, musicians, airport workers and people in the armed forces, among others. Sometimes repeated exposure to loud noise causes a ringing, hissing or roaring sound in the ears, called tinnitus. Loud music, personal music technology (phones, MP3 players, etc.) and other prolonged or cumulative noise exposure has shifted causes of hearing loss from war and heavy industry to recreation.

Take steps to reduce hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. Clinicians note several ways to protect and preserve hearing. First and foremost, wear protection in loud situations. The general rule is that if it’s too loud to carry on a conversation without raising your voice, then it’s too loud for your ears. Experts recommend wearing ear protection when using power lawn mowers, listening to live music or firing guns.

In addition, good nutrition and vitamins can help. Niacin, for example, causes vasodilatation, a widening of the arteries, and that helps circulation, as does exercise. It’s important to maintain good blood circulation to protect the hair cells. Limiting caffeine and nicotine intake also can protect hearing and reduce tinnitus.

More good news is that technologic advances are improving options for those with age-related hearing loss. A decade ago, hearing aids did little to help with the earliest stages of sensorineural hearing loss. However, changes and advances over the past several years have allowed many patients with age-related hearing loss to benefit greatly from new hearing aid technology. With the advent of micro-circuitry, hearing aids are now being designed with computer chips that allow multiple programs to be placed in a single hearing aid. These “programmable” hearing aids can be customized to give an individual the best response. The various programs allow the user to select a specific setting for different listening situations, from a quiet conversation to a noisy meeting place.

These and other advances in the auditory sciences will benefit all of us, eventually. But we can start by taking charge of our hearing health now.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate; Knowledge and Action Saves Lives

While the threat and dangers of breast cancer are now well known, thousands of American women (and hundreds of men) are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Early detection and treatment are key to treating and containing this disease. In addition to knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities, there are a variety of natural preventive measures you can take to decrease your chances, including proper diet and exercise, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation.

When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer can be treated through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

However, men need to tune in, as well. Each year it is estimated that approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also give themselves regular breast self-exams and note any changes. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Don’t let tales of other people’s experiences keep you from having a mammogram or from visiting your physician. Base your decision on your doctor’s recommendation and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns with a medical professional. Breast cancer remains insidious and scary, but you can play an important role in preventing or limiting its spread in you, your children and friends and family by tuning in and knowing the facts.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Eat Healthier When You Eat With the Seasons

Seasons form a natural backdrop for eating. We look forward to apples and gourds, pumpkins and squash in the fall, local strawberries and fresh ears of corn in the summer. But there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

All of the world’s healthiest foods are seasonal. For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing, high-tech storage and worldwide distribution networks make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July. And with the growth of supermarkets and an ever-widening smorgasbord of imported food, the link between what we eat and when it’s in season has almost disappeared.

Consequently, nutritionists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that what we gain in choice and convenience we lose in health benefits, leading to a call for a movement back towards seasonal eating. Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but may contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content.

In a research study conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in London, England, significant differences were found in the nutrient content of pasteurized milk in summer versus winter. Iodine was higher in the winter; beta-carotene was higher in the summer. The Ministry discovered that these differences in milk composition were primarily due to differences in the diets of the cows. With more salt-preserved foods in winter and more fresh plants in the summer, cows ended up producing nutritionally different milks during the two seasons. Similarly, researchers in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.

A guide for eating seasonally

To enjoy the full nourishment of food, you must make your menu a seasonal one. In different parts of the world, and even in different regions of one country, seasonal menus can vary. But here are some established principles you can follow to ensure optimal nourishment in every season:

  • In spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth of this season. The greening that occurs in springtime should be represented by greens on your plate, including Swiss chard, spinach, Romaine lettuce, fresh parsley, and basil.
  • In summer, stick with light, cooling foods in the tradition of traditional Chinese medicine. These foods include fruits like strawberries, apples, pears, and plums; vegetables like summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn; and spices and seasonings like peppermint and cilantro.
  • In fall, turn toward the more warming, autumn harvest foods, including carrots, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic. Also emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, peppercorns, and mustard seeds.
  • In winter, turn even more exclusively toward warming foods. Remember the principle that foods taking longer to grow are generally more warming than foods that grow quickly. All of the animal foods fall into the warming category including fish, chicken, beef, lamb and venison. So do most of the root vegetables, including carrot, potato, onions, and garlic. Eggs also fit in here, as do corn and nuts.

In all seasons, be creative! Let the natural backdrop of spring, summer, fall and winter be your guide.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Primary Care Emphasis and Incentives Pay Off in Workplace Wellness Programs

Employers are taking control of health care costs by creating smart, effective new strategies to keep employees healthy and to keep employees at work during tough economic times. And, according to a recent national wellness survey, employees who take control of their health and are more engaged and active in their own health management are more valuable assets.

Despite tight economic times, paying employees to participate in worksite health and wellness programs is a common and successful practice among employers of all sizes to boost program success and return value. Almost two out of three U.S. companies offer programs to keep employees healthy, and 66 percent of those offering programs also use incentives, with a healthy number showing an ROI of greater than $1 for each dollar spent.

The findings are part of a survey conducted by Health2 Resources, a health marketing and public relations company, to determine what activities employers incentivize, and how success and return on investment is measured. The web-based survey of 372 small, medium and large U.S. companies employing 1.8 million employees was conducted to determine the prevalence of employer-based programs to keep employees healthy and the use of incentives within those programs as a tool to encourage participation, engagement and program completion. This past year many small-to-midsize companies were included in the survey, not just larger organizations. The survey explored several new trends, such as the role of primary care in prevention and health-management programs, and extension of programs to spouses and children.

Key findings:

The use of a confidential health history/questionnaire is an important starting point for worksite wellness and disease management. Two out of three employers ( large, mid-size and small) offer a health risk assessment to employees, and nearly three out of four of those offer incentives to take it. Incentives to take the questionnaire range up to $300 annually, with about 10 to 15 percent exceeding $300.

Smoking-cessation programs are the most popular health and wellness program offered. More than half of employers surveyed (53 percent) offer smoking cessation to employees, but weight management and physical activity programs are not far behind. 

Perks matter. The value of incentives is up, averaging $329 in 2009 and ranging from $1 per pound for weight loss to annual premium reductions valued at more than $1,500. The most commonly used incentive is premium reductions, followed by merchandise/tokens and gift cards. Employers offer cash and gift cards to spouses and family to keep them healthy. More than half of the companies surveyed offer health and wellness or disease management programs to spouses and a third extend the programs to other family members.

Company size matters, but doesn’t dictate value of incentives and investments in wellness. Among large employers, a bigger percentage offer programs and incentives when compared to small and mid-sized companies.  However, results count, and employers are counting. The percentage of companies successfully measuring return on investment for health and wellness programs has sharply increased over the years, from 14 percent in 2007 to 73 percent in 2009. Some 83 percent of those who have measured say the programs return better than 1:1 on their investment. In growing numbers, employers are rewarding goal achievement during and after health and wellness program completion.

“Employers are becoming more sophisticated about measuring the return on investment from wellness and disease management programs, and today’s economic outlook dictates that these programs bring a positive ROI,” said Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. “No other kind of health management program has been given the same scrutiny as health and productivity management in measuring its effectiveness in reducing total health-related costs, including sick days, disability claims and impaired performance at work. Employees are too valuable a human capital investment for companies to take their health and productivity for granted.”

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!