Health Updates 7 September 2012

  • ‘Magic’ carpet could help shield elderly from falls: “Researchers report that it’s possible to use plastic optical fibers in carpeting to warn seniors when their walking patterns might put them in danger of falling.  The fibers, placed on a carpet underlay, work by sensing a person’s movement through electronics and sending signals to a computer where they can be analyzed.  The researchers, a team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, say their technology could be used in carpets in nursing homes, hospital wards and private homes.  ‘Falls are a really important problem for our aging society,’ researcher Chris Todd said in a news release from the university.  ‘Older people will benefit from exercises to improve balance and muscle strength in the legs.  So, being able to identify changes in people’s walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a corridor in a nursing home, could really help us identify problems earlier on.’  The findings were presented recently at the Photon 12 optics conference at the University of Durham in the UK.  Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.” (HealthDay)
  • Really?  Some plants can filter airborne chemicals: “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the levels of air pollutants inside homes can far exceed the levels outside, thanks to household cleaning products, central heating and cooling systems, and other indoor sources.  But scientists have found that certain plants can scrub your home of airborne chemicals, albeit gradually.  In addition to figuring out how to land a car-size rover on Mars, scientists at NASA have investigated ways to rid spacecraft of airborne pollutants, some of them common offenders in American homes as well.  The agency found that at least 15 common indoor plants could filter – to one degree or another – pollutants like the carcinogens benzene, trichloroethylene in used in adhesives, spot removers and other household products.  According to NASA research, some of the plants most effective at cleaning these compounds from the air are devil’s ivy, peace lilies, Pleomele, gerbera daisies and Sansevieria trifasciata, commonly called snake plant.  Two other plants, the ficus and Japanese aralia, are also effective.  A good rule of thumb is to have one plant for roughly every 100 square feet of living space, said Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, an allergist at New York University School of Medicine.  ‘We spend a lot of time with our patients talking about things like pets, humidifiers and air purifiers,’ he said, ‘but this is a way to naturally clean the air’.  The Bottom Line: Studies show that a number of popular household plants can remove common pollutants from indoor air.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Third of hospital staff say hand-washing reminders unwelcome: “Nearly one-third of doctors and nurses are not so thrilled with the idea that hospital patients should be encouraged to remind them to wash their hands before treating them, a new Swiss survey suggests.  The poll was conducted among medical workers at a health center in Geneva, and it also found that very few patients raise the issue with their doctors and nurses, despite rising global concerns about the threat of hospital infections.  ‘The results were very surprising,’ said survey author Dr. Yves Longtin, who conducted the research in 2009 while with the Infection Control Program and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety at the University of Geneva Hospitals.  ‘Patients have been encouraged for many years to ask health care workers whether they cleaned their hands before caring for them,’ noted Longtin.  ‘This movement has been implemented in numerous countries, including Canada, the US, the UK and Switzerland.  There is no doubt that these campaigns were good-intentioned.  However, health care workers’ perceptions regarding these campaigns was little understood.’… In recent years, a rise in the rate of in-hospital antiobiotic-resistant infections in the United States and abroad has focused public attention on hospital hygiene.  The research team pointed out that good hand hygiene among health care workers is widely thought to be the number one way to curtail such infection risk.  To explore how the patient-caregiver relationship turns on this issue, the team randomly distributed a written survey to 700 nurses and doctors at the University of Geneva Hospitals.  About 40 percent (277) responded, with 44 percent of those responses coming from doctors, and 56 percent from nurses.  The authors noted that about two-thirds of those who responded had more than a decade of experience under their belt, and that the hospital had a long history of promoting hand hygiene among its staff….Nearly three-quarters of the respondents did say that, generally speaking, more patient involvement might be helpful in reducing the rate of hospital infections.  However, 29 percent did not specifically support the notion that patients remind them to wash their hands, while 27 percent suggested that it is not the role of the patient to do so, the investigators found.  Why the pushback?  About one-quarter said that patient inquiries regarding hand hygiene would take up too much of their time, while 17 percent and 27 percent, respectively, said that such queries would be either upsetting or humiliating.”  Further, “nearly four in 10 (37 percent) said they would not agree to wear a badge that would specifically solicit patient inquiries on the issue” of whether or not they remembered to wash up.  “‘Health care workers have feelings, too, and patients have to be receptive to them,’ Longtin noted.  ‘[This] shows that the implementation of a real safety climate will require some change in health care workers’ mentalities in addition to convincing patients that they have a role to play in their care’.” On the other hand, 100,000 deaths in the US alone are attributed to hospital-acquired infections, and about 80 percent of all infectious disease is transmitted by either direct contact – coughing, talking, sneezing and so on – or indirect contact, such as not washing your hands after touching a bed, phone, or even a doorknob in a patient’s room.  Hand-washing programs make sense for everyone.  There is no reason to be offended by a patient asking that sort of question, just as the patients themselves need to clean up after using the bathroom, doing any personal grooming or performing any other intimate self-care while hospitalized.” (
  • Health Tip: Cleaning a young child’s teeth:  “Oral care is important even for newborns, long before a child’s first tooth emerges.  The American Dental Association mentions these oral-care tips for infants and young children:
    • Starting within a few days after birth, gently wipe baby’s gums with a clean and moist washcloth or gauze pad.
    • Once teeth appear, gently brush them with a child-sized toothbrush and some water.
    • Once your child is older than 2 years, brush with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste.  Make sure your child spits out the toothpaste.
    • When your child has two teeth that touch, floss the teeth each day.
    • Continue to brush your child’s teeth twice daily until you’re sure he or she can brush without help.” (US Dept. of Health and Human Services)

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