St Vincent’s Community Health Fair

By Eoin Meegan

Sinead Stynes and Ailsa Lyons, Dept. of Preventive Medicine and Health Promotion. Photo: Eoin Meegan.

The public had the opportunity to learn more about health, especially preventive health, at the Community Health Fair which was run in St Vincent’s University Hospital earlier this year. The theme was ‘Prevention, Early Detection and Self Care.’

NewsFour went along and talked to Sinead Stynes of the Dept for Preventive Medicine in St Vincent’s, who organised the event. Firstly, she was very happy with the turnout. “It’s all about raising awareness of health issues and a chance for the public to get information for free,” she said, “as well as an opportunity for students and staff here in St Vincent’s to learn what other departments are doing, and avail of services they might not be aware of, such as the Couch to 5k, an event for staff who may be new to running or have lapsed for whatever reason.”
Among the thirty plus stalls on offer, I stopped at a few that were of particular interest.

DeafHear Ireland
While it’s important to point out that deafness is not an illness, it is a condition that affects approximately 4,000 people in Ireland. The information on view was aimed at those with full hearing and the message was very much about reaching out.

Apparently, many people feel intimidated by deafness and thus may avoid direct contact with a deaf person. Often it’s because they’re unsure of what to say. This can leave people with deafness feeling isolated. The important thing is not to be afraid to approach a deaf person, even if it’s to just smile and shake their hand. They will understand more than you do the difficulties of communication.

You may not be aware that there is a deaf village in Cabra, which boasts a sports centre, conference hall, chapel, lounge, café, and much more. It is a vibrant hub and of course not exclusive to deaf or hard of hearing. Both Irish sign language and spoken English are used there. It is known as Deaf Village Ireland. The Irish DeafHear organisation has been in existence since 1964 and is still going strong.

Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition whereby the air waves get blocked and breathing stops, anything from 10 seconds to a minute while we sleep. As the mouth and throat become relaxed during sleep, the soft tissues in the throat can coalesce (the same cause of snoring) resulting in a temporary shortage of oxygen to the brain. This causes the body to awaken abruptly, and it can take anything like thirty seconds before the person is breathing normally again.

This, as you can imagine, is a very frightening experience because if feels like they’re going to die. If it happens several times throughout the night, then what may seem like a minor irritation becomes a serious problem. On the other hand, a person can be unaware they have sleep apnea, and one of the symptoms is feeling tired and sluggish the next day due to interrupted rest.

Obesity is a major cause of sleep apnea and the condition can be fatal combined with other concerns like heart conditions, but don’t worry unduly if you have the condition as there are various treatments. These usually employ some kind of nasal or mandibular device.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) uses a type of mask worn over the nose that keeps the airflow constant and prevents the airway from collapsing. Your GP’s advice needs to be sought before using any of these. Sleep apnea is not the same as regular snoring, which is harmless, although it will annoy the hell out of your partner!

Another illness that affects so many of us today is asthma. Over 450,000 people in Ireland are affected with asthma, not only adults but children too. The most common type is probably allergic rhinitis, or hay fever as it’s commonly known.
On show were a range of information booklets, including what to do if someone is having an attack, a dvd containing seven short videos on child asthma, and leaflets for pregnant women who may be worried about taking medication.

Ashling Jennings, the Health Promotions Officer, says, “as long as it is managed correctly, there is no reason that people with asthma cannot live a full, active life.”
I was surprised to hear how many well known sports people suffer from asthma, including David Beckham, Paula Radcliffe and former Irish rugby internationals Denis Hickie and Ronan O’Gara, as well as footballer John O’ Shea. With correct management this is an illness that need not prevent anyone reaching their full potential.

A Pound of Fat
We hear so much today about losing weight and staying fit that I had to pay a visit to the Health and Nutrition stand, where student dietician Liadh Timmons was on hand to demonstrate what actual fat looked like, using plastic replicas.
Liadh showed me the rough equivalent of a pound of fat, which looks smaller up close than you might expect. I was somewhat taken aback as we all think it’s so hard to lose those few extra pounds, and it didn’t look so much. Could it be our own thinking is all that’s preventing us from having the figure we desire?

Men’s Sheds
Men’s Sheds is a community-based organisation which began in Australia, and started here in 2011 It is open to all men regardless of age or background. The idea behind it is to create a safe space for men to meet and talk in a non judgmental environment.

The rate of suicide is five times higher in men than in women in Ireland, a very disturbing statistic. Traditionally, men found it difficult to talk about their feelings, which is something Men’s Sheds wants to change, and their approach is one that is apposite to the male species. Their motto being: “men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”.
With this ethos, the sheds engage in a variety of activities; including woodwork, arts, crafts, and gardening. They also enjoy social outings, and have choral and walking groups. Each man brings his own unique skills and talents to the sheds, and there is a big emphasis on encouraging men to talk about and look after their health.

The organisation upholds the autonomy of the individual shed. Each one elects a committee and is run by its own members, who decide what activities they will engage in. Currently there are over 400 sheds in Ireland, about 50 in Dublin, benefitting some 10,000 men each week.

There is a perceived notion that only women get osteoporosis. Not only is this untrue, but it’s a factor that is putting men at risk due to ignorance. While one-in-two women over fifty have osteoporosis, one-in-five men in the same age bracket also suffer it.

Osteoporosis occurs when the insides of the bones become fragile and lose much of their density and mass becoming more brittle. There are nearly 200 causes of bone loss, including radiation, chemotherapy, certain treatments for breast and prostate cancer, and some medications; particularly those containing cortisone.
A contributing factor is low calcium and low vitamin D intake. So anyone who’s had cancer is particularly at risk. A DEXA scan of the spine and hips is the standard screening test for detection.

Susan van der Kamp from the Irish Osteoporosis Society recommends this. She says it’s important to have a DEXA test, especially if you’ve had chemo. Also she warned of the link between steroids and osteoporosis. “This is something of a contentious issue at present and is not getting as much attention as it ought to,” she says, “anyone on steroids should have a DEXA test.”

It is estimated 300,000 people in Ireland have osteoporosis. 90% of broken hips are due to the disease. As there are no outward signs or symptoms that a person has osteoporosis, it is often called the silent disease. However, loss of height can be an indicator, as can back pain, or a curve on the upper back, also unexplained broken bones.

Any of these can be indicators that the bones in the spine are collapsing. And because you will not feel your bones getting thinner, it is important to get screened if you feel you might be at risk.

The good news is that osteoporosis is preventable and the best means of this is to take calcium, vitamin D and protein in sufficient amounts, preferably from food and not supplements. Susan reckons children today are not getting enough calcium or vitamin D and drink too many sugary drinks.

Irish Heart Foundation
The Irish Heart Foundation were on hand to advise on maintaining a healthy heart, and also emphasised food’s important role.
Saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and the risk of heart disease or stroke. Trans fats are deadly because they not only lower HDL, the good cholesterol, but also raise LDL, the bad cholesterol.

Sometimes the information overload on health issues today can be confusing, but the truth is we do need to get the correct information. Overall, the Irish Heart Foundation emphasised the importance of prevention, sensible diet, cutting back on salt and sugar, and regular exercise. “Everything in moderation” was the advice of their cheerful Health Promoter Nicola Murphy.

The Fair had raffles and prizes throughout the day, and everyone had a relaxing and fun day out. It was last held in 2011, so kudos to Sinead and the others for reviving it. Let’s hope it returns next year.