Nature’s medicine: Spending time in nature may improve memory and concentration among cancer patients

We tend to underestimate winter’s beauty. The days are cold and short — and all too often dreary.

Bernadine Cimprich's research shows that spending time in nature can help cancer survivors fight attentional fatigue.

But every now and then it startles us: The sparkle of an icicle compels our attention. We “ooh” and “ahh” when snow dusts tree boughs like powdered sugar. And even if we dread the shoveling, we still pause to admire the way snow blankets imperfections before we dig in and muddy up the path.

With so many things competing for attention in our lives — particularly for those who have been diagnosed with cancer — it can be easy not to hear the snow crunching under our boots. But a growing body of research suggests that our lives might actually be better if we did. Bernadine Cimprich, Ph.D., R.N., an associate professor of nursing at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, has conducted studies that have shown that breast cancer patients who made a point of spending time in nature were better able to concentrate and had fewer problems with memory than those who did not spend time in nature.

“The women showed signs of having problems concentrating before any chemotherapy. The thought is that it’s related to fatigue and stress and that possibly when a woman gets chemotherapy, that’s compounded, but we don’t know that yet,” Cimprich said. “In any case, the women who spent time in nature showed improvement in cognitive functioning and maintained it over the course of the year that we followed them.”

Other studies have shown similar effects in the general population as well. Caregivers, in particular, may benefit from nature activities. Cimprich recommends spending at least 20 minutes in nature per day, or about two hours per week. Patients and caregivers should choose nature activities that appeal to their interests.

“Some people like to do gardening,” she said. “And some people just like to watch the garden grow.”

Read tips on the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to see how you can get your daily dose of nature–even in the winter.

Getting real about limiting TV time for toddlers

The American Academy of Pediatrics has released new recommendations related to limiting the amount of “screen time,” children under the age of 2 are exposed to.  We asked Dr. Kelly Orringer to help us make sense of the new recommendations and how real parents can integrate them into busy, chaotic lifestyles.

The American Academy of Pediatrics last addressed media consumption by children under two years-old in 1999, well before advances in technology allowed for TV programs, DVDs, mobile games and more to be accessed anywhere from our child’s bedroom to the backseat of our mini-vans. Even then, the AAP’s recommendations warned against the danger of too much screen time for our little ones.

Now, with easy access to iPads, smart phones, and TVs a-plenty, combined with the allure of programming marketed as “educational,” it’s become harder and harder to keep kids’ eyes away from screens.

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What you need to know about cancer screening

Between 3% and 35% of cancer deaths could be avoided through screening. The risk of developing many types of cancer can be reduced by practicing healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and not smoking. But if cancer develops, it’s best to catch it early: The sooner a cancer is found and treated, the better the chances are that treatment will be successful. Learn more about how you should be screened for cancer at

7 ways to simplify the holiday crush when you’re coping with cancer

One Christmas while Ben Graham was going through treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma — a type of soft-tissue cancer — his entire third grade class at North Branch Elementary School sent him gifts. To Ben, then 8, it was awesome. But after he’d ripped open the packages, he told his mom, Brenda, that even though he really appreciated his friends generosity, he’d give it all back if it meant he didn’t have to have cancer anymore.

“You really realize what’s important, and the holidays become more special,” Brenda Graham said. “Having Ben here, sitting down to dinner with him and spending time with him: That’s what’s important.”

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday scramble can be daunting under even the best circumstances. But people coping with cancer face different stresses. We’ve assembled tips from patients, parents, survivors and social workers about how to make the best of the season.

Visit the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to read seven tips.

When to ask for help: Talking about symptoms is first step in treating them

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone asked for help with symptoms related to his cancer treatment.

Larry Stone joined a clinical trial in fall 2009 to test a medication that offered the possibility of prolonging the effectiveness of the hormone therapy he was taking to stave off prostate cancer. When he started to experience mild numbness in his hands and feet later that spring, he didn’t think too much about it. But by June, pain and swelling sent him to the hospital overnight.

His hospital stay relieved his pain somewhat, but it prompted him to ask his oncology team a question: “Is there a specialist I can see?”

That simple question triggered a referral to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic. Stone met with Susan Urba, M.D. — the clinic’s leader — as well as pharmacist Emily Mackler, Pharm.D. Together, the team mapped out a program to reduce Stone’s discomfort.

“That was the start of a great relationship,” Stone said.

Read more about symptom management in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, Thrive. Or, if you are a U-M patient, call 1-877-907-0859 to make an appointment with the U-M Symptom Management and Supportive Care Clinic.


Something’s different about that bottle…

What parents need to know about changes in infant’s and children’s acetaminophen

The FDA recently recommended a number of changes related to children’s and infant’s acetaminophen products, such as Tylenol®.  The current formula of liquid acetaminophen marketed specifically for infants will soon disappear from shelves — replaced instead by the children’s strength product with new dosage devices and guidelines.  We asked Mott pharmacist Claire Konicek to help us understand what parents need to know about these changes.

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