Taking sting out of their pain

Senior support group explores strategies for managing discomfort


April 15, 2001|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Everyone in the group agrees: What brings them together each week is a pain in the neck.

Or the knees. Or the back. Or just about any other place where pain prowls.

"I never know when it's going to hit," said Columbia resident Margee Flowers, 85, detailing her facts of life matter-of-factly to a sympathetic crowd. "Whenever it wants to, it comes."

At Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, people dealing with the tribulations of aging have an outlet beyond the age-old tradition of complaining about it - they belong to a support group. A dozen sufferers of aches and pains gather for Thursday-morning sessions to share strategies and find comfort.

"I was looking for something like this," said Betty Schuster, 78, who lives in Columbia. "I think what a support group is so good for is to know you're not the only one experiencing this."

Organizers planned to offer the group for six weeks. Now that it's halfway through, they're offering to extend the run because participants like meeting together.

A week and a half ago, they held a discussion about diet, exercise, doctors and pills, sitting like debaters around a table in the senior center's multipurpose room.

Ellicott City resident Al Manasseri, 88, explained his problem: arthritis in his knees. They feel fine if he's sitting or lying down. Move, though, and they complain.

"I've gone to a lot of doctors and spent a lot of money on arthritis. They even operated," he said, his well-used walker beside him.

Graduate student Jill Kamenetz, one of the group's two facilitators, suggested he show up the next Thursday to hear a physical therapist speak about that topic.

"I'm sure she'll have some suggestions," Kamenetz said.

An acupuncturist shared tips the first week, lecturing about the importance of eating well and the usefulness of lesser-known exercises. John Wysong, who practices in Clarksville, got everyone to stand and try new ways to breathe.

"You're actually giving your internal organs exercise," he said, after exhaling in spurts.

Telling members of the crowd that they have the power to heal themselves, he encouraged them to try alternatives to pills and surgery.

"I personally didn't believe in Oriental medicine until I had some aches and pains of my own," he said. "I tried painkillers, muscle relaxants, and they just weren't working over the long term."

Some seniors in the support group already have years of expertise in dealing with pain. Flowers, who has aches all over, offered her strategy to the group: "I'm finding if I exercise and fight against it, it helps," she said.

Schuster told River Hill resident Anne Tart - who says she feels like she's going around in circles, searching for ways to deal with back pain that wakes her up at night - about pills and vitamins that are supposed to help. Some participants warned about side effects from popular medications. Others cautioned against buying so-called cures simply because famous people hawk them on TV.

Listening to the discussion, counselor Sybil McKennon - who helps facilitate the support group, and is a senior citizen - couldn't help feeling good. "This is what we hoped this group would be," she told them. "It's so awful to be in pain and to be all by yourself."

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