30 years in public health ‘my great privilege’

Dr. Jeff Duchin, who is Seattle-King County Public Health’s health officer and a nationally recognized expert in communicable disease, will retire this summer after 30 years with the department.  

His retirement, which was announced in March, will take effect July 1. Dr. Mia Shim, who heads the department’s community health services, will replace him on an interim basis during a national search for his successor.  

Duchin joined the Seattle-King County agency in 1994 as a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) medical epidemiologist assigned to tuberculosis and HIV programs, and became chief of the communicable disease and immunization section in 1998. He has served as health officer since 2015. 

He has served leadership roles for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which makes national immunization recommendations. He currently serves on the CDC’s Board of Scientific Counselors, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and a National Academy of committee on emerging infectious diseases and health threats.

Duchin’s impact “on the health of King County residents and on the public health profession is difficult to overstate. Our entire community leaned on his guidance for safety and support during the COVID pandemic, but his legacy goes far deeper,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director Seattle-King County Public Health. “He’s led us through countless outbreaks and served as a national expert on immunizations and infectious diseases, shaping national policy and practice. His leadership on climate and health has driven our resolve to fight for a livable planet for this and future generations. And he’s been a mentor for scores of colleagues inside and out of the department. Jeff leaves a long-lasting imprint on public health practice and everyone it touches.” 

“It has been my great privilege to serve here with so many outstanding colleagues in the department and from the King County healthcare system, the University of Washington, and with community partners who value collaboration, improving population health, and achieving health equity, Duchin said. 

An honored elder

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ House of Respect in Tacoma was decorated like Bourbon Street for a Mardi Gras-themed Elders Luncheon. Lorelei Evans, the Honored Elder (middle of picture), received a tribal blanket and cedar hat. Others in attendance at the February event won cash prizes in a raffle.

Regular memory screenings are an important early detection tool of potential memory problems and should be part of everyone’s health and wellness routine.

That’s a reminder from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA), which offers free, confidential memory screenings every weekday through secure videoconference technology, with no minimum age or insurance prerequisites. Appointments can be scheduled at 866-232-8484 or alzfdn.org.

“Memory screenings are important for everyone, even if they aren’t currently experiencing memory problems. Just as with other facets of health, early detection of potential memory issues is critically important,” said Charles Fuschillo Jr., AFA’s president.

He said the screenings are simple, quick, and non-invasive, and consist of a series of questions to gauge memory and other cognitive functions. Any device with an Internet connection can be used for the videoconference.  

Memory screenings are similar to other routine health screenings, such as those for blood pressure, cholesterol, and skin checks. Results aren’t a diagnosis of any particular condition, but can suggest if someone should see a physician for a full evaluation.

Many types of conditions can cause memory issues, including treatable or curable conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, urinary tract infections, sleep apnea, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Even in the case of a dementia-related illness such as Alzheimer’s, early detection can help start treatments to slow the symptoms, take advantage of community services such as support groups and therapeutic programming  aimed at helping maximize quality of life, and help give people a greater say in making decisions about their  legal, financial, and healthcare situations.

How’s your driving?

The baby boomer generation is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S.—and still behind the steering wheel.

By 2030, partly due to the aging of the boomers, there will be more than 70 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 85 percent of them will be licensed drivers. AAA, a not-for-profit organization with motoring and travel services, notes older motorists are known for practicing safe-driving habits by wearing safety belts, not drinking and driving, and observing speed limits, yet are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash due to age-related fragility. With the exception of teenagers, seniors have the highest crash death rate per mile driven.

AAA, in an effort to help keep seniors driving for as long as safely possible, offers a brochure titled “Drivers 65 Plus,” which features a 15-question self-rating driving assessment. How a driver answers the questions helps determine their driving capabilities, including strengths and weaknesses. Examples of questions include “I signal and check to the rear when I change lanes,” “My thoughts wander when I drive,” and “I think I am slower than I used to be in reacting to dangerous driving situations.”

AAA also has information on other types of driver assessments, some of which require a fee. Local office locations include Tacoma (253-756-3050), Tukwila (425-251-6040), and Bremerton (360-377-0081).

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), a federal government agency, notes that while many older adults value the independence of driving, some natural effects of aging can alter a person’s ability to drive safely. For instance:

  • Stiff joints and muscles. Arthritis, which is common among older adults, can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely. Reaction time and reflexes can get slower, too.
  • Trouble seeing. Diminished eyesight can be a problem when reading street or traffic signs or when driving at night. Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, can also cause problems. NIA recommends that drivers 60 or older get a dilated eye exam from every one to two years.
  • Trouble hearing. This can make it harder to notice horns, sirens, or even noises coming from your own car. According to NIA, drivers should get a hearing checkup at least every three years after age 50.
  • Medications.  Some drugs include a warning about driving, but even those that don’t might have a negative effect. Ask a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Certain medical conditions. The effects of Parkinson’s disease and strokes can mean it’s no longer safe to drive.
  • Dementia. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, some people can keep driving. But as memory and decision-making get worse, they will likely need to stop. Family and friends need to monitor the person’s driving ability and take action if they observe a potential problem, such as forgetting how to find familiar places like the grocery store or the way home.

Sources: AAA and National Institute on Aging.