Family

Grandparents, your hands are amazing. But we all need to know this about our hand hygiene.

This new study is alarming, but what simple steps would a medical professional recommend we take to help our loved ones as they depart a hospital stay?

If you're a grandparent, your hands are amazing.

Image from Jessie Jacobson/Flickr.


Your hands might be soft and warm, meant for hugging grandkids or making batches of cookies. Or maybe they're a bit more worn, bearing the scars of years of hard work. After all, they're the same hands that may have raised a family or built a house or driven across the country uphill both ways without air conditioning. Your hands carry the legacy of everything you've created in your lifetime.

But if you're a senior and were recently in the hospital, your hands might be carrying something else too.

Roughly 1 in 4 seniors leaving the hospital and going to other care facilities may be carrying superbugs on their hands, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Health System.

Superbugs, also known as multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), are bacteria that have grown immune to antibiotic drugs, making them incredibly hard to treat and potentially deadly.

One of the most common superbugs is MRSA, seen here under powerful magnification. Image from Janice Carr/CDC/Wikimedia Commons.

"There are 2 million people who become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics," study author Dr. Lona Mody said in an interview, "and about 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these resistant infections."

The results of the study suggest seniors picked up the superbugs while in the hospital — but the really scary thing is that while carrying the bugs on their hands doesn't necessarily mean those seniors will get sick, they can still transmit them to other people around them.

There has been a huge focus on making sure doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff have good hand hygiene, but Dr. Mody's study highlights the importance of educating and enabling patients to stay bug-free when they leave the hospital as well.

The good news: There are some really easy steps anyone who's been in the hospital recently can take to protect themselves and others.

The new study focused on seniors going to care facilities, but these rules could apply to anyone who has stayed in a hospital recently. So without further ado:

1. The best thing is also the simplest: Wash your hands with soap and water.

While this might seem obvious, there's actually a specific twist on this piece of advice based on the results of Dr. Mody's study — it turns out that while doctors and nurses already have to regularly wash their hands, most hospitals don't ask the patients to do the same.

Image from Arlington County/Flickr.

Hospitals should do this! No matter how scary a superbug may be, a good scrub with soap and water will usually eliminate any potential threat before it gets too far.

Dr. Mody also recommends that hospitals pay attention to the layout of a patient's room, which could make it difficult for them to get to a sink. If hospitals and care facilities work with patients to figure out how to make it easy for everyone to practice good hand hygiene, we can prevent these superbugs from spreading earlier on.

2. If you can't get to soap and water, alcohol gel disinfectants work too — and antibacterial soaps are not your friend.

If you can't get to a sink, "alcohol gel is an excellent alternative to using soap and water for hand hygiene," says Dr. Mody.

Image from Gadini/Pixabay.

You can leave the antibacterial soaps behind, though. After 40 years of government study, the FDA concluded that antibacterial soaps don't actually do much to curb bacteria.

In fact, when it comes to preventing the spread of superbugs, reaching for antibacterial and antibiotic products too soon may actually be harmful, because...

3. Too many antibiotics may actually make more superbugs.

Besides good hygiene, Dr. Mody says people can also help reduce the creation of superbugs by using antibiotics and antibacterial products as a last resort, rather than turning to them first.

MRSA bacteria under a microscope. Image via CDC/Wikimedia Commons.

Normally, antibiotics kill enough of an infection to keep us healthy. But sometimes, bacteria can mutate and pick up resistances to the drug. Haphazard use of antibiotics encourages these mutations and makes it easier for the newly dangerous bacteria to spread.

Using antibiotics more wisely, as Dr. Mody recommends, can help curb the spread of the superbugs.

What does this mean for you? Be more thoughtful about when to ask for them — antibiotics don't work for viral infections like the flu, for example. And many common infections, like ear infections, may not always need antibiotics — you should talk to your doctor and see what they think before requesting them.

4. That said, if you are on antibiotics, make sure you take all of them.

Image from freegr/Pixabay.

Don't just stop taking them when you're feeling better. If you stop early, there's a chance that a few superbug hangers-on will survive and become resistant to the drugs! Taking all your antibiotics will ensure that you get 'em all the first time around.

These steps may seem simple, but they're powerful.

Whether you're a hospital staffer who can reorganize a patient's room or remind them to wash their hands before they head out the door, or a grandparent eager to play with your grandkids, following these steps will help make sure we're all able to hug, touch, and play with our family and friends without fear of getting anyone sick.

Image from debowscyfoto/Pixabay.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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