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Poor Health Does Not Have to Come With Aging
Simple Changes Can Improve Physical Health and Mental Well-Being
Chronic health conditions plague the majority of older adults and represent an unhealthy portion of the nation's related spending. Approximately 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and may experience some limitation in activities as a result. This epidemic is the cause of seven out of every 10 deaths and is the source of more than three-quarters of all health spending in the United States.
To address this growing problem, research has determined simple interventions that can help older people improve their health by better managing their chronic diseases. These tested methods include being more physically active, avoiding falls by learning balance exercises, improving mental well-being by combating inactivity and eating healthier foods.
In the last few years, the aging network and local health and human service agencies developed wellness programs built on these practices and are delivering them in senior centers, at faith-based organizations and similar locations. Community settings are less expensive than clinical ones and allow programs to reach many people, including those who may lack access to medical care. Evidence-based wellness programs are delivered by staff and volunteers who are not subject experts but are trained in specific tools and techniques that help people modify unhealthy behaviors.
We know that when we improve someone's mental well-being, the effects usually extend to their physical health. In our Healthy IDEAS (Identifying Depression, Empowering Activities for Seniors) program, case managers identify depression and help clients understand it is a treatable condition and develop skills to manage it. The Healthy IDEAS program currently is available in certain areas of Ohio, and the Ohio Department of Mental Health, the Ohio Department of Aging and area agencies on aging are partnering to make the program available statewide by early 2010.
In Healthy IDEAS, the case managers use a behavioral-activation approach to empower their clients to manage their conditions. Using this method, the case manager and client work together to identify and fight the inactivity that often accompanies depression. The case manager identifies appropriate activity goals to improve the client's mood. For someone with more limitations, a goal might be going outside for a breath of fresh air, and for someone with fewer limitations who might prefer a task, the goal may be cleaning their living room. Some clients may need further evaluation and treatments for depressive symptoms, and in such cases, this can be the activity goal. Clients are in the program for a three- to six-month period, which includes in-person visits and telephone contacts by the case manager.
Our other evidence based programs include Healthy U, A Matter of Balance: Managing Concerns About Falls, and "Active for Life®." Healthy U is for people with ongoing health conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants learn how to deal with symptoms, handle frustration and design their own self-management program. A Matter of Balance helps seniors who have restricted their activity because of their fear of falling. This class teaches people about how to see falls as preventable, develop strength, learn balance exercises and change their environment to reduce risk. "Active for Life®" gives older Ohioans the motivation and skills to become more active in their everyday life to reduce the risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. A major benefit of all of these programs is the confidence that participants can better manage their conditions.
For more information and to find out if a program is available near you, call the Ohio Department of Aging at 1-800-266-4346, or visit www.connectmeohio.org (keyword search: wellness).