'Organ recitals' are way to vent about health

Sometimes when I'm chatting with my age peers, the discussion turns to individual maladies. I think of those moments as "organ recitals."

Here we are — older adults exchanging sweet commentaries on our changing health status. It's a friendly way of venting about age-related health challenges and sharing anecdotes. Basically it's storytelling — or is it opportunity?

A recent after-dinner conversation: "My blood sugar was 105 at my last doctor's visit. But it's been a lot higher. Yes, I'm always trying to get it down. What's that? Pie? Sure, make it a small piece. Ice cream? Oh heck, why not?"

A chat over afternoon coffee: "Do you see that tremor in my hand. I can hardly light my cigarette anymore. You think there's a relationship between smoking and hand tremor? Nah, I doubt it."

A chance encounter in a store: "How are things with you? My knees are bothering me a lot lately. It feels like I have needles in them. Speaking of needles — you ever tried acupuncture? You think it would work for me?"

I have a theory that as we age and health care systems are strained by an exploding demographic of people in their 70s, 80s and beyond, we will have more limited access to health care professionals and will need to rely on personal research and our own assessments to a greater degree. Health professionals remain critical, of course, but as part of our information-gathering process, we will increasingly query family and friends to get their perspective on possible solutions to health-related issues. In fact, I do it already. I suspect you do, too.

As illustration, I wanted to try acupuncture as a possible solution for high blood pressure, so I followed my usual process of Googling the idea using reliable science-based sites (www.mayoclinic.com and www.medscape.com, for example). There were some interesting references but nothing definitive. I talked to anybody I could find with experience using acupuncture; again nothing definitive on the hypertension front but some incredibly impressive experiences with chronic pain, which I am holding in reserve for future reference as needed.

The prestigious Pew Internet and the American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) reports on "peer-to-peer health care" indicating "many people — especially those living with chronic or rare diseases — use online connections to supplement professional medical advice."

Pew Research goes on to say, "The Internet gives patients and caregivers access not only to information, but also to each other."

Reportedly, "55 percent of adults rely on conversations with family and friends in making health care choices." And 21 percent of us turn to nonprofessionals "who have experience with similar conditions."

"Organ recitals" were rampant in our household over the past weekend. We had a house full of guests that included my husband's funny and talkative 70-something sisters and two of his lovely cousins. Pie was served, but all the pieces were small.

Information was shared and some of it wisely rejected after thoughtful, collective consideration and a few quick Internet searches. One cousin's initially vehement belief that WD-40 was effective for knee pain was found wanting — even the WD-40 website advises against applying WD-40 to the skin and recommends washing with soap and water if there is contact. Now you know.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.

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