Originally created 05/14/98

Health capsules



Bouncing back

Elderly people who become disabled are generally thought to be on a downward slide to deterioration.

But that's far from true. A study by Yale University School of Medicine of 213 people older than 70 found that 30 percent of those who had once been disabled regained full independence.

"There is a misperception among the lay public as well as the medical community about the ability of older persons to recover from disability, that once an older person becomes disabled and dependent, it means a ticket to the nursing home," Dr. Thomas M. Gill reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

As long as older people retain their memory, eat well and remain active, they have a good chance of overcoming such disabilities as being unable to dress, bathe, walk, eat or groom, he said.

To your health?

A shattered face may very well be among the risks of excessive drinking, according to British researchers.

They found that half the facial injuries in the 15-to-25 age group were sustained in assaults, usually in bars or on streets, and were associated with drinking by the victim or the assailant. Each year in England more than 125,000 facial injuries from assaults are reported.

One important finding is that alcohol may not increase aggression so much as it makes the victim more defenseless, Dr. Jonathan Shepherd of the University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, reported in the British Medical Journal.

Headache stress

"Not today boss. I have a tension headache."

The first nationwide study of tension headaches finds that nearly 40 percent of the 13,345 people surveyed suffered from episodic tension-type headaches. Chronic tension-type headaches are more severe but less common.

Of those suffering episodic tension headaches, 43.6 percent reported an average of five days of reduced effectiveness annually as a result of their headaches, and 8.3 percent missed an average of 8.9 days of work, said Dr. Brian S. Schwartz of Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health.

"The data suggested that tension-type headaches have a significant impact on the individual and society, accounting for lost work days and an even larger number of reduced-effectiveness days at work, home and school," he reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Poisoning warning

The death rate from poisoning in the United States rose 25 percent between 1990 and 1995, and nearly 80 percent of such deaths are drug-related, according to a federal study published recently.

The study, which reviewed death certificates from around the country since 1979, found that poisoning killed 18,549 people in 1995, the last year studied. It was the third-leading cause of injury deaths, after motor-vehicle injuries and firearm injuries.

Of the 1995 poisonings, 77 percent were caused by drugs, 15 percent by gases and vapors and 8 percent by other ingested substances, including alcohol. The death certificates showed that 56 percent of these deaths were obviously unintentional while 32 percent were known suicides.

The rates varied considerably in different age groups. Among children under the age of 15, the death rates were low, about 0.5 per 100,000 children. For those between the ages of 15 and 24, the poisoning death rate was still lower than traffic or gun injuries. The death rate reached its height among those between the ages of 35 and 44 and then decreased again.

The death rate for poisoning among men was also about two times higher than for women.

The study, by Lois A. Fingerhut and Christine S. Cox from the National Center for Health Statistics, is published in the current issue of Public Health Reports.

Safer anesthesia

Both anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists agree that anesthesia is much safer than it was as recently as a decade ago, a view echoed by experts who study medical errors.

Much of the credit, experts say, belongs to the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation, an 11-year-old organization whose efforts have sharply reduced catastrophic injuries and deaths -- and also has benefited anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists, whose malpractice premiums have been drastically reduced.

The safety foundation, spearheaded by a Boston physician who was then president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, funded research into human performance -- the interaction between people and machines -- and helped persuade medical-device manufacturers to make their products safer. It is no longer possible, for example, to turn off a patient's oxygen and leave anesthetic gases on, a once common -- and catastrophic -- error.

Patient deaths dropped dramatically, from 1 or 2 per 10,000 anesthetics in 1984 to the current rate of 1 death per 200,000 to 300,000 anesthetics, according to anesthesia experts.