December 2004 Health News Tips

How learning about Santa can help teach the kids the true spirit of the holiday season

If your children insist on knowing the true identity of Santa Claus, their inquisitiveness may spark the chance to help them embrace the positive values the holiday season represents, says Dr. Carroll Hughes, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"How you deal with the myths, magic and beliefs in your particular culture offers a wonderful teaching opportunity," he says. "Whether it's Santa or St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Pere Noel or Kris Kringle, each represents an icon that stands for kindness and generosity. And how can you go wrong teaching those values and the importance of traditions and family togetherness to children?"

Likewise, the same holds true with other cultural holidays such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan, as each embodies a similar spirit of generosity and giving, he said.

As children develop, they learn early - between the ages of 4 and 6 - that cartoon characters aren't real. They will identify with Santa Claus in the same way if parents take the approach that Santa is a symbol of the spirit of the season, he says.

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

If your holiday party list includes asthma sufferers, make them comfortable

As host, you've probably thought of everything that would make your holiday get together a success. But Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, chief of the allergy and immunology division at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, recommends a few extra precautions if your guest list includes an asthma sufferer. The following suggestions can create a comfortable atmosphere for guests and help them avoid an asthma attack:

  • Don't use juniper or cedar trees, which are pollinating this time of year. Instead, invest in an artificial tree and keep it dust free.
  • Be mindful of fragrances, and avoid using scented candles and room sprays.
  • Reschedule your party if you get sick. People with asthma are more susceptible to colds and the flu, which can exacerbate respiratory problems.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

Don't put a damper on your holidays by mixing medications

When your doctor asks what medicines you're taking, mention every single one.

"Your physician needs to know about all medications - including over-the-counter drugs and home remedies - to assess for possible drug interactions and overdosing," says Dr. Craig Rubin, a specialist in geriatric medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Seniors with several medical problems are especially vulnerable because they may see more than one doctor. Each physician must be made aware of other doctors' treatments, including prescriptions, to avoid exposing the patient to potential complications, says Dr. Rubin.

He says a common scenario is the patient who has been prescribed a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and is mistakenly taking another drug from the same class, like ibuprofen or Alleve. Such patients, regardless of age, would increase their risk of complications from gastric ulcers or kidney failure.

Media Contact: Kara Lenocker

One gift you don't need in this season of frenzy - the holiday blues

The hustle and bustle of the holidays doesn't always translate into feelings of warmth and "good cheer" for everyone. A sense of loneliness or isolation - particularly when compared with the glowing environment depicted all around us in seasonal movies, television dramas and store settings - often brings the "holiday blues."

Quite different from true clinical depression, the holiday blues are transient and can be resolved or prevented fairly easily, says Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, director of the Mood Disorders Research Program and Clinic at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Some people don't have the opportunity or the wherewithal to get involved with family and friends and that offers a stark contrast to the pictures painted by the media and the attention focused on the season," says Dr. Trivedi, professor of psychiatry. "On the other hand, it's surprising how soon people can shake those blues, if they just make a concentrated effort."

Dr. Trivedi offers the following suggestions for combating holiday blues:

  • Get involved in your community or with charitable activities.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat properly.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Stick with a routine.

"There's a natural way to deal with the holiday blues," he says. "Basically, it involves taking the same advice that your mother would have given."

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

For your holiday buffet, remember the two-hour rule - bacteria certainly will

Visiting with family and friends over long leisurely meals or grazing on buffet-style spreads while watching football games for hours is an integral part of many holiday settings. For the safety of your guests, however, make sure your holiday banquet doesn't turn into a rampant bacteria buffet.

"One out of every four Americans suffers from some type of food-borne illness each year," says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "To make sure you're spreading holiday cheer and not holiday food poisoning, don't leave food out for more than two hours at a time. Two hours is a critical time, after which bacteria begin to multiply rapidly."

If you're watching calorie intake, Ms. Sandon offers another suggestion. "Provide smaller plates for holiday feasts. You also can place holiday offerings in smaller serving dishes."

The result: guests tend to take smaller portions.

"In addition, if your buffet table is loaded with more choices than you should take, consider passing on foods that you can eat any time, such as mashed potatoes," she said. "Go for those special items that you only get once a year, such as Granny's sweet potato pie."

Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard


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