If you go
The next Chronic Disease Self Management Program, "Healthier Living with Chronic Conditions," will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m. May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and June 6 at the VNA office, 940 Central Park Drive, Suite 101, in Steamboat Springs. The free workshop is open to anyone with chronic diseases as well as those who support and care for them. To register, call 871-7676.
The snow has melted and the streets are clear. Spring has come just in time for seniors ready to exercise and start other healthy habits.
"I'm going to start walking," said June Carr of Phippsburg, who has asthma and was among 11 seniors who recently participated in the Chronic Disease Self Management Program, "Healthier Living with Chronic Conditions," in Oak Creek.
The free, six-session workshop aims to help people take control of their health to minimize pain, anxiety, depression, fatigue and other common symptoms of chronic illnesses.
"What we're trying to do is break those symptoms and put something in place of them," said Diana Eilers, who leads the program with Jeanne Upbin. "It's about working on other areas of life so pain and disease don't take over."
The VNA's Aging Well program offers the workshop, which will be held Wednesday evenings starting May 2 in Steamboat Springs.
Stanford University developed the program, and researchers followed the progress of more than 1,000 people who participated in the first workshops. After about three years, they found participants (each had heart disease, lung disease or arthritis) exercised more, communicated better with doctors, were less tired, spent fewer days in the hospital and made other significant improvements compared with those who did not take the program.
A chronic disease is any ailment that cannot be cured or never completely goes away. Examples include diabetes, chronic obstruction pulmonary disease, lupus, emphysema, severe back pain and bronchitis.
Workshop facilitators often have experience coping with chronic diseases themselves and attend a special training during which they participate in every step of the workshop.
Leaders lecture on various topics and engage participants, who build confidence by sharing in each others' challenges and successes. Participants also receive a textbook that provides additional information such as specific exercises and nutrition tips.
Loved ones who support and care for individuals with chronic conditions also are encouraged to attend the workshop.
Maxine and Rocco Stefano attended the Oak Creek program together to learn more about helping each other with their health issues.
"We're getting up there in years, and it's really helping us to think about our health," Rocco said.
Tackling anxiety and stress, which can intensify pain, was a topic that sparked interest among Oak Creek participants, who learned deep breathing and guided imagery techniques to help them focus on goals and progress, Upbin said.
Writing and revisiting action plans also encourage participants to be pro-active about helping themselves. Problem-solving - identifying barriers and solutions - is a big part of the process.
"They have to learn to manage some of their problems and not just sit back," Upbin said.
Communication - with loved ones and doctors, especially - is another important issue. Sometimes anger and frustrations overwhelm a person, so their efforts to express what they want become accusatory.
As a different approach, participants focus on "I" statements, such as, "I feel sad when you don't listen to me," instead of "You never listen to me."
"It's taking responsibility for their feelings and emotions : It allows the communication stay open instead of closed," Eilers said.
Other discussions focus on things people can do to ease their fears about the future. Advance directives, for example, allow people to specify what should happen to them if there is an emergency and they can't make their own decisions.
"All these things are really for everyone, but they are just harder if you don't feel good," Eilers said.
The Chronic Disease Self Management Program is ongoing, with future workshops planned in Craig, Hayden, South Routt County and Steamboat.
The Aging Well program is looking for people to lead more workshops. Anyone who has experience coping with a chronic disease and is interested in helping others can call 871-7676 for more information.
- Tamera Manzanares can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.