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Amelia Islander

Healthy Choices, Healthy Living

[heading style="subheader"]October is Breast Cancer Month. Be Proactive![/heading] We all know about the importance of breast health and getting regular mammograms, but many women are confused about how often to have a screening. I recommend all my patients have an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40. Some doctors may recommend mammograms every other year to women age 40 and older, and some even recommend waiting until you are 50. The confusion stems from the fact that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society differ about when to start getting mammograms and how frequently to have them. However, the most reliable studies show a reduction in breast cancer deaths by 30 percent when women are screened annually beginning at age 40. While heredity plays a role, 70 to 80 percent of all women who get breast cancer have no family history of it. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need to start annual mammograms even earlier. For example, if you have a first degree relative (such as mother or sister) who had a diagnosis of breast cancer at age 40, you should start having mammograms at 30, or ten years earlier than when that relative was diagnosed. One of the unique benefits of having mammograms at Baptist Medical Center Nassau (or any Baptist Health location) is that you can talk to a genetic counselor, who can help determine your risk factors at no cost to you. The counselor can help you decide if you should have an MRI or be tested for a mutation of the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene. Women who have a harmful mutation in these genes have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Another important element of breast screening (which is available at Baptist Nassau) is digital mammography, which is faster, involves less radiation, and can be up to 25 percent more accurate. Shorter exam times mean less discomfort. Digital mammography is better than film mammography in women with dense breasts, which have less fatty tissue, making detection more difficult. In addition to annual mammograms, it is also important for women to perform monthly self breast exams. I tell my patients to “know their breasts.” We all have imperfections, but the important thing is to know what is normal for you and, if something changes, to call your doctor. I am often asked if there are ways to prevent breast cancer. My advice is to maintain a healthy weight, modify alcohol intake (one drink per day), exercise, and eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits. A vitamin D3 supplement, which you can get at any pharmacy, has been shown to decrease breast cancer in some studies. The good news is that as long as it is caught early, breast cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. So take advantage of screening tools available, and take your breast health seriously.

Barbara Sharp, MD, is a radiologist at Baptist Medical Center Nassau. For more information or to request an appointment, call (904) 202-2222.

[heading style="subheader"]Make Alzheimer’s Disease a National Priority[/heading]

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every sixty-seven seconds someone is diagnosed with the disease. It is time that Alzheimer’s disease was brought to the forefront of the healthcare world. “Despite the 5.4 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and the 15 million unpaid caregivers that support them, we have allowed this disease to get the upper hand,” says Certified Dementia Practitioner Pam Polowski of Angel Watch Home Care. “Finding a cure is the priority. As a certified dementia practitioner, I see firsthand the stigma and negative experiences that affect family and professional relationships, as well as the lack of understanding of the scope of the disease. There are still so many misconceptions about Alzheimer’s. The biases surrounding Alzheimer’s keep people from seeking or sharing their diagnosis, which only tends to increase their isolation and depression.” The challenge consists in the ever-changing dynamics of the disease. From diagnosis to end-of-life, there is no single method that has proven to be most effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease. It is imperative that the measures implemented in the patient’s healthcare focus on patient safety and quality of life. The caregiver plays a vital role in management of this progressive, fatal disease. The care of an individual with Alzheimer’s disease involves high emotional and financial costs. Caregivers must be well-informed, possess good coping skills, and develop a strong network of family and friends. Healthcare providers must educate and support caregivers to protect them from potential “burnout.” Angel Watch Home Care offers programs that teach compensation methods to both the patient and the caregiver. Each plan is individualized and designed to ensure the patient’s safety within the home in the least restrictive environment. Speech therapy and occupational therapy are the most important components of the program. Speech therapists focus on evaluating and treating cognitive-communication deficits, including memory problems; disorientation to time, place, and person; difficulty with language comprehension and expression; and swallowing disorders associated with dementia. Occupational therapists are responsible for health promotion, remediation, maintenance, and modification for patients with dementia. Physical therapy benefits the patient through a home exercise program and management of acute conditions, like a fall that results in a fractured hip. If you’re worried about Alzheimer’s disease, contact a healthcare provider for more information.

Dana NcCoy is Branch Director of Angel Watch Home Care, Inc. Pam Polowski is available at for consultation services for both patients and caregivers. For more information, please call (904) 491-3222 or visit

[heading style="subheader"]Helpful Hints for a Healthy Mouth[/heading]

Cosmetic dentistry procedures, such as veneers, crowns, bonding, adult orthodontics, implants, and bleaching are becoming increasingly popular. Cosmetic dentistry is a focus of my practice, and a passion of mine. However, as a health care provider, my principal concern is making sure all my patients have a healthy mouth first. We can’t even discuss a beautiful, brand-new smile until a patient’s dental health is in top condition. Here are a few tips to get that healthy smile that you deserve. The foundation of good oral hygiene includes brushing twice a day for two minutes with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing every day. That sounds simple enough, but a healthy mouth starts here. It is also important to minimize sugary foods and drinks. Tooth decay stems directly from acid breakdown by bacteria in the mouth after they metabolize sugar. Foods and drinks that you might be surprised to hear are high in sugar include milk. Lactose is a sugar, and an infant should never be sent to bed with a bottle as this can cause significant tooth decay in your child. Juice has also become very popular lately, and it has a ton of health benefits. However, the high-sugar content can create a breeding ground for oral bacteria. Simply drinking or rinsing with water after juice can help significantly. And it’s great to see so many active people in our community on Amelia Island, but watch those sports drinks, too. Many of them are very high in sugar. If you use them, make sure to brush your teeth thoroughly after your workout. Another easy thing to do for good oral hygiene is to drink lots of water: Not only does water help rinse away food particles and bacteria, but keeping hydrated is important to producing saliva, which can act as a buffer for acid breakdown of your teeth. Be sure to include dark leafy greens n your diet, too: Folate plays an important role in the health of your gum tissue. Spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, and asparagus are some foods high in folate. And see your dentist for frequent checkups: Preventative care is a lot easier than fixing problems when they get big, so be sure to visit your dentist regularly Let’s keep those smiles healthy and beautiful!

Dr. Garrett is a dentist with Amelia Dental Group, located at 1947 Citrona Drive in Fernandina Beach. For more information, call (904) 261-7181 or visit

[heading style="subheader"]Why Yearly Eye Exams Are Important[/heading]

Eye exams are an important part of overall health maintenance for all of us. Your eye doctor does much more during a comprehensive exam than just determine your glasses or contact lens prescription. They check for common eye diseases, assess how your eyes work together, and look for health issues. By checking the health of your eyes, high blood pressure, diabetes and other health issues can be detected. Good visual health is critical to our everyday activities, and keeping our eyes healthy and our prescriptions up-to-date can enhance these activities. The National Eye Institute has determined that more than 11 million Americans have an uncorrected visual impairment that affects the quality of their daily activities. In some cases, these impairments can lead to permanent damage if left untreated. Many eye problems have no obvious symptoms, and therefore go undetected. Early diagnosis and treatment is key in preventing permanent vision loss. Two of the most common eye diseases are glaucoma and macular degeneration. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. An estimated 3 million Americans have glaucoma. Macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that causes loss of straight ahead vision, vision crucial to important activities such as driving and reading. Early detection is important to prevent and slow the effects of these diseases, and yearly eye exams are the best way to detect these issues early. Unfortunately, studies show that only 31% of children ages six to sixteen have yearly eye exams. Eighty percent of what children learn in school is visual. Starting yearly exams is critical to the quality of a child’s learning and academic success, and for early detection to aid in normal visual development. Whatever your age, don’t neglect your eyes. Not only do they play a major role in our daily activities, but they also are the lenses through which we see and experience the world. See and experience it the best way possible. Schedule an eye exam to learn about the latest technologies to enhance the health assessment of your eyes and about new lens features to improve visual clarity.

Dr. Gerald Koss is a board certified optometrist with Amelia Eye Associates. For more information, please call Dr. Koss at (904) 321-1333 or visit

[heading style="subheader"]Focus on Aging Well in National Physical Therapy Month[/heading]

At Nassau Physical Therapy (NPT), we are once again proud to participate in National Physical Therapy Month this October, as we have over the past 26 years. This event is hosted by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) to recognize how physical therapists and physical therapist assistants can help transform society by restoring and improving motion in people’s lives. This October, the APTA’s focus is on healthy aging through promotion of their #Age Well Campaign. Its goal is to educate adults about the many ways in which physical therapists, as movement experts, can help individuals overcome pain, gain and maintain movement, and preserve their independence as they age—without the need, in many cases, for surgery or long-term use of prescription drugs. The APTA’s #AgeWell Campaign will highlight nine important things adults can do, with the help of a physical therapist, to age well, and it will appear on the APTA website beginning in October. To learn more about the APTA’s #Age Well Campaign, please visit In association of this promotion, Nassau Physical Therapy will be offering a free balance/falls risk assessment and educational handouts in order to help individuals age well. We chose this assessment due to the rising numbers of individuals that are at a risk of falling or have fallen, which obviously can impair the “aging well” process. According to the National Council on Aging, falls among the elderly are prevalent, dangerous, and can diminish their ability to lead an active and independent life. About one in three seniors above age 65, and nearly one in two seniors over age 80, will fall at least once this year, many times with disastrous consequences. NPT’s goal for every patient is to enhance their lifestyle by improving movement and activity, not just for the short term, but the long term. We are committed to help individuals be active, which plays a crucial role in improving and maintaining health as well as reducing the risk of falls. To register for this free assessment or if you have questions, contact our offices in Fernandina Beach (904) 277-4449 and Callahan (904) 879-1223, or drop in and talk to our professional staff. All participants will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a FitBit.

Jim Marino, PT is a physical therapist, and owner and CEO of Nassau Physical Therapy, which has been serving the community for 26 years with offices in Fernandina Beach and Callahan. For more information, call 904-277-4449 or visit

[heading style="subheader"]Preparing for Holiday Stress[/heading]

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year. Unfortunately, many of us are not able to enjoy this wonderful time to the fullest because of extra responsibilities that lead to added stress and less time for self-care. Luckily, there are steps we can start taking now to beat the stress and keep ourselves in optimum health during the upcoming season. The first step is diet. The food we take in is the number one way to improve our physical and mental health. Eating dark, leafy greens, like spinach or kale, which are rich in folate, helps improve mood by increasing serotonin and dopamine production. Avoiding sugar, gluten, and processed foods helps to control mood swings and also increases serotonin production. A large portion of the control panel to our mood and stress levels lives within the gut, not the brain! Adequate sleep is at the top of the self-care list, always, but especially during times of high pressure. Make time for at least seven hours of sleep each night as this is the time when your body can rest and repair itself. Supplements are an easy way to ensure you are getting all essential nutrients and targeting specific health needs. St. John’s Wort, Kava Root, and 5-HTP are some of the most popular natural supplements for beating stress and anxiety. Exercise is essential, but it can be stressful to make time for it, so try something easy and fun! Walk the dog do some yoga poses with a friend. If you’re able to get outside during the day, even better! Sunlight is the best way to get Vitamin D3, which also helps to increase serotonin production. Working to minimize and prevent stress is vital, but what happens when it creeps in anyway? Here is a relief technique you can use “in the moment.” Known as the “Relaxing Breath,” this type of breathing exercise is a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system,” according to its creator, Dr. Andrew Weil. Inhale through your nose to a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale completely through your mouth to a count of 8. Repeat the cycle for a total of 4 times. It’s called “4-7-8 breathing.” Start a routine that works for you now, so when the festivities roll around you’ll be able to focus on what’s really important–celebrating our lives, families, and faiths.

Rachel Underwood holds an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Valdosta State University. She is currently studying to obtain a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of North Florida. Rachel is the Point of Sales Manager at Nassau Health Foods.