How to manage chronic conditions

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— Chronic conditions are life-altering, but they can be managed. Some diseases can even be prevented.

That is the hopeful message and goal of Healthier Living: Managing Ongoing Health Conditions. Developed and tested through clinical trials at Stanford University, Healthier Living is now a worldwide health program that encourages self-care through symptom management and lifestyle change.

It is estimated that almost half of all Americans have at least one chronic condition. This number rises to about 80 percent among those who are 65 years old or older.

Healthier Living, a program that is available in the Yampa Valley, seeks to improve the health of local residents. The program aims to prevent disease and reduce the impact of chronic conditions. By slowing the course of disease, individuals can stay active and at optimum health longer, delaying disability and the need for long-term care.

Whether you suffer from arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, emphysema or back pain, a tested approach can provide you with the skills you need to better manage your condition in partnership with your physician.

Healthier Living class curriculum provides specific techniques to fight fatigue and frustration, deal with depression, meet goals and eat well. Participants learn how to start a physical exercise program, manage medications, control pain, manage stress, relax and solve problems through brainstorming and weekly action plans.

Testing of this program involved more than 1,000 people with heart disease, lung disease, stroke or arthritis who were monitored for three years. Attendees reported better general health and showed significant improvements in quality of life and basic activities of daily living. Communications with health providers also were improved.

Some specific improvements in health status were noted in the areas of disability, pain and physical discomfort, shortness of breath, and psychological well-being. Visits to physicians and emergency departments were reduced, as were hospital stays.

Finally, self-management behaviors such as exercise, advance directives, relaxation, and the use of community resources were found to change for the better.

Jean Coen, a Steamboat Springs resident and past participant, said, "Especially as we progress in age and infirmity, I can see us using more and more of the tools: action plans, exercise, relaxation techniques, and methods of attitude adjustment."

Healthier Living provides a vital step toward health promotion. Self-management does produce positive health outcomes. Each of us can develop the confidence to master a new skill and affect our own health.

Betty Mauer of Hayden, also a Healthier Living attendee, said, "The things I learned in the class have already had an impact on my life, and I intend to continue to take advantage of my new knowledge to improve my life. I believe anyone could benefit from attending the class."

A presentation about this class will be offered at Yampa Valley Medical Center's Taking Care of Me program at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in the hospital's Conference Room 1. Specific tools to manage various chronic diseases will be demonstrated.

The six-week Healthier Living: Managing Ongoing Health Conditions class will be offered in Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Yampa, Craig and Walden this winter. For details, call the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association at 879-1632.

Teresa Wright, MPH, CHES, is a health educator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. She can be reached at 871-7639.

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