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Living a healthy life ... with a chronic disease

OTHER VOICES

Ocala, FL - December 11, 2011

Special to the Ocala Star-Banner Published on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 6:30 a.m.

The title of this essay sounds like an oxymoron. The mind instantly rejects the idea: How could one possibly be healthy with the ongoing stress of a chronic condition?

“My heart disease prevents me from all the activities I used to enjoy.”

“The unpredictability of migraines causes me to miss work and disconnect from family and friends.”

“Diabetes has completely changed the way I eat at home, let alone going out.”

“I haven’t slept in months because the constant pain keeps me awake.”

Those of us — most of us! — have or will have some type of chronic condition. In fact, by the time we reach middle age, the majority of us will suffer from two or more conditions. But natural aging and the conditions that may accompany getting older do not have to diminish our lives. Managing chronic illness is the key.

For the first time in Marion County, residents with an ongoing condition will have the opportunity to learn how to take mastery over their condition through a new self-management program. “Living with Chronic Disease” is a grass-roots workshop that evolved from an evidence-based project developed over two decades by California’s prestigious Stanford University.

In the 1990s, Stanford piloted a program to help those with arthritis manage their illness, relying less on the health care system. The five-year research project revealed that people with a variety of illnesses, though different, shared similar concerns and problems. The program met with such success, it was expanded to include all chronic conditions. Out of the initial project came facilitator training programs to help more people. What started as a fledgling program is now in eight countries and has reached thousands of people to help improve their quality of life.

For the past two years, the Access to Healthcare Inc. (AHI) Board of Directors has been exploring ways to bring the Stanford program to our community. The results of the program speak for themselves: Compared to a control group that did not take the workshop, participants spent fewer days in the hospital and had fewer unscheduled doctor visits, yielding a cost-to-savings ratio of about 1 to 4.

Through a partnership with Elder Options, the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging, AHI was able to bring this program to the community at virtually no cost. Championed locally by Hospice of Marion County, the facilitators group includes health care workers and volunteers from Munroe Regional Medical Center, Marion Senior Services, Heart of Florida Health Center, Marion County Health Department, LifeCare Assisted Living Center, Visiting Angels and the Senior Alliance. A total of 17 people from these entities were fully trained in October and are now preparing to take this self-management program out in to the community.

The chronic disease self-management program empowers people to take control of their health, emphasizing the individual’s role in managing lifestyle and building self-confidence. By adopting healthy behaviors, they can avoid hospitalizations and fulfill their greatest possible potential to once again derive pleasure from life. The 2½-hour workshops meet weekly for six weeks. They are entertaining and interactive, and include techniques for dealing with frustration; depression; fatigue; chronic pain; isolation; exercises for improving strength, flexibility and endurance; nutrition; appropriate use of medication; and communication effectively with health professionals.

Starting in January, the “Living with Chronic Disease” workshops will be offered in locations all over the county, including Munroe Regional Medical Center and Hospice of Marion County. The program is available for other organizations open to hosting the six-week event. It’s free to participants, but reservations are limited to 16 per class, so get your name on a list by calling Lisa Varner at 854-5230, and find out how you and those you love can learn to live healthy, no matter your condition.

Dyer Michell, who worked as president/CEO of Munroe Regional Medical Center for nearly three decades, now serves as chairman of Access to Healthcare Inc., a volunteer community-based panel searching to improve access to health care for all in Marion County.


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