Beware of Health Scams

Published in Pawtucket Times, December 19, 2014

Like millions of older baby boomers and seniors, some nights you just can’t get to sleep. It’s very late and you begin channel surfing. Does this sound familiar? Many TV viewers may ultimately find themselves, usually from 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m., watching an infomercial announcer pitch a health product or service, always claiming your health will improve, or that the aging process can be stopped or reversed, if you just purchase that bottle of dietary supplements, weight loss product, baldness remedies or sexual enhancement supplements, that home exercise machine, even register for a memory improvement course. The lists of products pitched on these paid commercials are endless.

The Vancouver, BC-based International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), a nonprofit group that supports professionals who develop wellness facilities, programs and services for adults over 50, calls on older consumers to beware of false promises and products with little health benefit. “Unfortunately, as people over 50 pursue this goal, many succumb to what one industry insider calls graywashing – claims that chip away at older adults’ retirement nest eggs with dubious promises of renewed youth and health,” says Colin Milner, CEO and founder of ICAA, who coined the term, graywashing.

There is No Fountain of Youth

According to Milner, there is no shortcut to improving your health. “Yet, people spend billions of dollars a year on products that claim there is,” he observes. “Many products also say they will turn back time,” he says, noting that the research shows these claims to be unsubstantiated.

Milner points to a statement by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health, which states: Despite claims about pills or treatments that lead to endless youth, no treatment has been proven to slow or reverse the aging process.” Be aware, warns Milner, as health fraud scams are abundant.

According to NIA’s Age Page, “Beware of Health Scams,” health product scams offer viable “solutions that appear to be quick and painless.”

As to dietary and weight loss supplements, American consumers spend a small fortune on potions claiming to help shed pounds, many sold over the counter. Be careful. Some supplements contain hidden illegal drugs and other chemicals that could cause serious harm.

The NIA fact sheet also claims that most dietary supplements are not fully tested by the Federal Drug Administration, a federal agency charged with protecting the public’s health. In 2014, FDA issued 63 Warning letters to companies that cited unapproved or unsubstantiated claims, tainted products or other health-fraud-related violations.

So, think carefully before you purchase that item. It is important to talk with your physician before you begin taking a supplement or using a health product remedy.

The NIA Fact Sheet notes that arthritis remedies, using Magnets, copper bracelets, chemicals, special diets and electronic devices, oftentimes unproven, can be quite expensive, potentially harmful, and unlikely to help. There is no cure for some forms of arthritis and rest, exercise, heat and some drugs, are the best ways to control the painful symptoms.

Health scams oftentimes target very sick people, especially those afflicted with cancer, in an attempt to trick people who are desperate for any remedy they can find. Buzz words to beware of include: “quick fix,” “secret ingredient” or “scientific breakthrough,” says NIA’s Fact Sheet.

Furthermore, weight loss, sexual enhancement and bodybuilding “supplements” are especially suspect, too, warns the NIA Fact Sheet. Some vitamins may help, but some supplements can harm people taking certain medicines or with some medical conditions. In particular, avoid those supplements claiming to shrink tumors, solve impotence or cure Alzheimer’s. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease at this time.

Milner urges older Americans not to be swayed by personal testimonials featuring “real people,” or “doctors,” often times played by actors who claim amazing cures. These testimonials are no substitute for real scientific studies, and can tip you off to a scam. In general, never purchase or start taking a medical treatment without first talking to your healthcare professional, particularly if you already take other prescribed drugs, recommends Milner.

Don’t Become a Victim of Scam

Be knowledgeable about the health care products you buy, suggests Milner, noting that the NIA Fact Sheet recommends that a person question what he or she sees or hears in ads or online. Always ask your physician, nurse, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about products you’re thinking of buying. Most important, avoid products that “promise a quick or painless cure.” Beware of claims that a health care product is made from a “special, secret or ancient formula” or it can “only be purchased from one company.”

Also, be wary if the infomercial claims the product can cure a wide variety of medical conditions or even successfully treats a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s or chronic arthritis. Put your credit card away and hang of the phone if you are required to make an advance payment or there is a very limited supply of the product.

“Science may be getting closer to a Fountain of Youth, says Milner, but, “we’re not there yet. “The pillars of healthy aging are simple. They include a sensible diet, regular exercise, good sleep habits, meaningful relationships, and engagement in life,”

A Final Note for Rhode Island’s AG…

The Consumer Protection Unit at the Office of Attorney General receives very few consumer complaints about deceptive health and beauty products, because most of these products are regulated on the federal level. The best advice they can offer consumers is to file a complaint with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB. Although these types of products are not regulated by individual states, and therefore the Attorney General has no jurisdiction over the sale of such products, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin reminds consumers that the age old tip applies when considering a purchase, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

One way consumers can protect themselves, says Kilmartin, is to “ask for medical documentation backing up the claims and to ask and understand the refund policies before making a purchase. Another way to protect yourself is to pay by credit card, not debit card. Many credit card companies will allow you to dispute payment if the product or service doesn’t match up to its claims.”

For more information about the National Council on Active Aging go to http://www.icaa.cc/.

FDA s created a new website (www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm278980.htm) to help consumers protect themselves from fraudulent health products and schemes.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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Tips on Finding an Age-Friendly Fitness Center

    Published on November 16, 2012, Pawtucket Times

           With the cold frigid weather approaching, that 30 minute daily walk around the block may well fall by the wayside in the winter months. While this activity is just what the doctor ordered to help keep you physically fit and feeling good, many aging baby boomers and seniors ‘look inward’ by turning to a local gym, by bringing their regular exercise indoors.

Seeking that Perfect Age-Friendly Fitness Center

            According to the Vancouver, British Columbia-based International Council on Active Aging (ICAA),aging baby boomers and seniors are joining health and wellness facilities faster than any other age group today, however many of these facilities are ill-prepared or not equipped to serve those in their later years.

While older “adult-focused” small gyms like ‘Nifty After Fifty’ are available, “even the large 24 Hour Fitness chains seek to attract older adults”, says Patricia Ryan, ICAA’s Vice-President of Education, noting that “over 70 percent of YMCAs had older adult programs according to a stat cited in ICAA Active Aging in America, Industry Outlook 2010.

Ryan recommends that when shopping around for a fitness center that caters to older baby boomers and seniors, always compare and contrast information gathered, using the following checklists, created by ICAA, to identify age-friendly fitness center.

            Become a savvy shopper when touring your local fitness center, by making sure it gears its amenities and organizational philosophies towards your needs – those age fifty-something and beyond.  ICAA, the world’s largest senior fitness association, has created a check list to help older persons to rate and compare local fitness facilities so they can choose one that meets their age-specific needs.

Some specific questions to consider can ultimately ensure that the center you choose meets your specific physical needs:

  1. Are the locker rooms clean, accessible and monitored by staff?
  2. Do you feel comfortable in the atmosphere of the facility?
  3. Are the membership contracts and marketing materials available in large print?
  4. Are signs visible and easy to understand?
  5. Does the facility’s cardiovascular equipment have the following age-friendly features – a display panel that is easy to read, easy to change and easy to understand?
  6. Is the music acceptable and set at a reasonable level?
  7. Do the facility’s treadmills start slowly, at 0.5 mph?
  8. Do the recumbent bikes or steppers have a wide and comfortable seat with armrests?
  9. Does the facility’s strength-building equipment have instructional placards that have simple diagrams, easy-to read text and font, and correct usage information.
  10. Does the facility’s strength-building equipment have a low starting resistance, less than five pounds?
  11. Does the facility offer programs designed to meet the needs of those with a variety of chronic conditions (specifically osteoporosis, cardiovascular, disease, diabetes, balance abnormalities, muscular weakness)?
  12.  Do the group exercise classes have different levels of intensity, duration and size?
  13.  Is there an extensive screening and assessment process (for balance, functional   abilities, osteoporosis)?’
  14.  Is the staff certified by a nationally recognized organization to work with people who have various health issues that may arise with age (specifically osteoporosis, hypertension, arthritis)?
  15. Is the staff knowledgeable about the impact that medication can have on exercise?

To download the complete checklist, visit the ICAA website,  www.icaa.cc/checklist.htm.

Getting Healthy, Building Closer Relationships   

It’s no secret to Maureen Wilcox, 45, of the need to cater to an aging population.  Wilcox,  a certified Personal Trainer at the Attleboro YMCA located across from the City’s Public Library on South Main Street in Attleboro, MA estimates that 30 percent of the nonprofit group’s membership is age 50 and over.  Many of these members are seeking advice on how to better manage or prevent age-related health concerns, the most common being: arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac health and obesity.

Wilcox notes that this large constituency finds value in the Attleboro YMCA’s wide variety of programs that are geared towards baby-boomers and seniors.  These programs include resistance and strength training, aqua classes, Zumba classes, chair exercises, yoga and Tai Chi. “These classes will help you to manage a healthy body weight, stimulate your immune system, increase strength, improve posture, increase your flexibility and balance and help prevent chronic illnesses”, she adds. 

             According to Wilcox, a fitness center can also be a place to build friendships among older persons.  “A supportive community can enhance camaraderie among the participants, keeping them motivated and committed to meeting their exercise goals,” she says, adding that commitment to an exercise regime may well be more important than pushing weights around..

Over the years working, Wilcox has seen many new members in their later years forge new friendships at the Attleboro YMCA.  “Seeing people regularly allows them to develop meaningful relationships where they ultimately become an extended family,” she says.

“Relationships developed by participating in exercise classes also builds a small community among the senior age group members,” Wilcox notes, adding that they often participate in social trips and group outings outside of the Attleboro YMCA.  She notes, some seniors while exercising on their stationary bikes, read a big print book, To Kill Mocking Bird, adding health and wellness to an already established community literacy initiative.

Finally, in addition to personal training, various group exercise classes, including a running club,  LIVESTRONG is also offered at the Attleboro YMCA, says Wilcox.  It’s a free 12-week personal training program that provides a place where cancer survivors can come together.   Along with specially-trained staff to safely work in small groups,  participating members receive one-to-one attention while working toward maintaining or regaining their independence, everyday fitness, and overall health & wellness.  These participants share a bond that only cancer survivors can relate to.  “This is an inspirational program and one which we are all proud to be a part of,” prides Wilcox.

Getting to the Bottom Line

             Outdoor walking or the gym? That depends on personal preference and time availability.  “Brisk walking is beneficial, emphasizing ‘brisk,’ “says ICAA’s Ryan. “Faster walking to increase intensity has been reported in several studies in ICAA Research Review, to enhance your health, rather than the frequency,” she noted.

In addition, Ryan adds that scheduled classes in a fitness center help a person plan physical activity into their days and there should be equipment and classes for variety. There is expertise available in many (but not all) cases, especially in gyms targeting older adults and medically integrated fitness centers, a.k.a hospital wellness programs. There is recognition among most fitness clubs that older adults are not only a huge population to attract, but also a very good customer because of expendable income, she says.

“Exercise plays a vital role in healthy aging,” says Michael Fine, MD, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.  “Regular exercise is an important weapon in the battle against chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.  Exercise also helps us maintain flexibility, balance and mobility.  It isn’t necessary to join a gym or buy expensive equipment; a brisk walk around the block is a great place to start if you’ve been sedentary. The key is to find an activity you enjoy and to make time for it each day.”

Ryan strongly agrees with Dr. Fine. “The most important message for those late in life is to MOVE, and to add physical activity into each day.  Physical activity is the magic pill. Whether walking, raking and hauling leaves, playing soccer or even going to a fitness club, it’s the right thing to do for healthy aging.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12,  is a Pawtucket-free lance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best Of…Ten Simple Tips for Staying Fit

          Published September 26, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Times

         In their younger years aging baby boomers never went onto the basket ball court without wearing their Converse, Reebok, Nike, New Balance or Nautilus tennis shoes.  This generation with their strong interest in health and fitness will not spend their retirement years as a couch potato watching television or sitting in an oak rocker on their porch.  With winter approaching, aging baby boomers can work to stay slim, trim and fit by remaining physically active.

            According to the International Council on Active Aging, aging baby boomers can become physically fit by simply following these tips:

1,  See your physician.   A medical checkup will determine whether you need to consider any medical clarifications before starting an exercise program.  Talk with your physician about any of your concerns or limitations.  After a day or two of exercise, if you experience major discomfort from working out including shortness of breath, headaches, chest pains, sore muscles and dizziness, see your physician.

2.   Look at options.  Do you join a local gym, aerobics in your house, enroll in a yoga class, make time for a daily walk in your neighborhood.  The key to your fitness success is doing your activities regularly.

3.  Know your style.  Some may like to take classes, others may prefer to go solo.  Exercising indoors may be more acceptable to some then outdoor physical activities.  Your schedule may also dictate when you can block out time, either in the morning, lunch time or evening, for your daily fitness program. 

4.  Start off slowly.  Learn to listen to your body. Be realistic when you begin to exercise and don’t overdo it at the beginning.   To reduce soreness and injury always ease your way into your fitness program.

5.  Get a buddy.  An exercise partner can be a great motivator in getting you started and to maintain a daily exercise regimen.  Whether it’s making a date with a friend to take a walk, play racket ball or golf or regularly seeing a personal trainer at your local gym, the personal interaction can motivate you to continue to exercise.

6.  Be realistic.  Don’t try to workout like you did in your younger years.  Always be realistic, setting age-related goals you expect to gain from participating in a physical exercise program.  If enormous benefits do not occur, like losing 30 pounds in one month, you might feel disappointed and quit exercising. 

7.  Make choices.  What are you willing to give up to make room for exercise?  What bad habits, (like smoking, drinking, sedentary and nonproductive activities, are you willing to give up?  It is up to you to choose wisely.

8.  Keep in motion.  Keeping moving all day long. Stretch, walk, march in place, stand and sit daily as often as you can when you are talking on the phone or watching television.  Every step counts.  A step counter will give you an idea as to how many steps you take a day.  Less active people may take about 4,000 steps or fewer per day.  Aim to do 250 to 1,000 additional steps of brisk walking, until you reach 8,000 to 10,000 steps in a day. 

9.   Create a support network.  Get your friends, colleagues and family members to support your new physical activity goals and ask them for their support and encouragement.  Consider getting others to help you keep your physical exercise commitments.  Telephone reminders from your vast network can keep you motivated and on track.

10.  Always Reward yourself.  Once you’ve reached your goals, recognize that milestone.  Treat yourself to something that reminds you what has been accomplished and encourages you to continue. 

One Final Note…Gold’s Gym Opens New Pawtucket Facility

            Finding the right gym can be as easy as getting referrals from your family and friends or shopping around for the right price or specific services that you need, says Mike Kasun, a personal trainer at Gold’s Gym, located at 550 Pawtucket Avenue in Pawtucket. “There are many gyms out there that may be cheaper than others but they just don’t offer a wide range of services.  Price, services provided, classes, and the gym’s location (being close to home or work) are key factors that people should consider when shopping around for a gym membership, he says.    

            Last Saturday,Pawtucket’s Gold’s Gym, officially opened its newly refurbished 25,000 square foot building with state-of-the art exercise equipment, notes Kasun. The new gym facility has 60 pieces of cardio equipment each with their own 14-inch plasma television; 105 pieces of resistance-training equipment, a “Cardio Cinema” where you exercise while watching a full length feature movie, a private woman’s workout room, along with a country club-like locker room. Two hundred free parking spaces surround the new gym.

            When joining Gold’s Gym, a new member receives two free personal training sessions, Kasun tells Your Later Years. “At your first session we assess what the person needs and wants to get out of their membership. Some may want to tone or lose weight while others are more interested in building up muscle strength, he notes. 

            “With information and health data gathered during this initial assessment a workout program can be especially designed for the individual.  During the second session the member is taken through a one hour work out specifically designed for them,” adds Kasun.

            Group exercise programs are also included in the Gold’s Gym’s membership price.   Kasun notes, “We have Les Mills Body Pump Class, offering a full body workout for participants using light weights.  Yoga, Step and other toning classes are also available, too,” he says, noting that all of the personal training staff is nationally certified in the classes they teach.

            Pawtucket’s Gold’s Gym, one of 650 locations nationwide offer AARP members the ability to enroll for only $49 and a savings of up to a 20 percent on their monthly membership as well as a seven day free trial membership period.  For more information, call Gold’s Gym at (401)722-6600.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  This article appeared in the September 26, 2008 issue of My Back Yard.   He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.