Office on Aging helps citizens cope with chronic disease

Seniors find they're living better through Living Well workshops

September 06, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Program helps seniors face life As one of the few men living in the 55-plus community of Hickory Crest in Columbia, Verdan Wiedel, known as "Buzz," liked to help his neighbors by changing the occasional light bulb or hanging drapes.

But about four years ago, he suddenly found that his hands trembled so badly as he tried to install shelves for a neighbor that he couldn't get the screwdriver in the screw.

He was diagnosed with COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "In a month's time, I went from doing everything to doing nothing, which brought on a lot of depression," he said.

A program called Living Well in Howard County, offered by the Office on Aging, helped him cope with that depression and gave him specific techniques for living with his disease. "It was the right course at the right time," said Wiedel, 82.

The series of six workshops, run by Office on Aging staff members trained at Stanford University, gave him advice on topics such as eating right and communicating with his doctor.

Since April 2005, eight sessions of the program have been offered, four in the spring and four in the fall, for about 120 participants. The next session will run Sept. 22 to Nov. 3. It is open to people who have chronic diseases, as well as their caretakers.

"We're hoping that people will want to go to these," said Wiedel's wife, Martha, 80, who also participated in the workshops.

The program was developed by the Stanford Patient Education Wellness Center in 1996. Representatives from the Office on Aging traveled to California late last year for a four-day training session in its techniques.

"It has to be taught exactly by the script," said Starr Sowers, manager of the senior center division of the Office on Aging, and one of the people who trained at Stanford. "You can't deviate, to make sure you get the same results."

Living Well does not focus on the specifics of an individual's illness, but instead provides general advice for living with chronic disease. "Everybody has frustration, everybody has anxieties and fears," Sowers noted.

Verdan Wiedel said the 2 1/2 -hour, once-a-week sessions helped him immediately, especially the deep-breathing techniques that seemed to give him more energy. "Almost overnight, I could tell the difference," he said.

He began exercising 15 to 20 minutes a day, walking on a treadmill, riding a tricycle and lifting weights.

At the final meeting, he felt so good he brought in his harmonica and played. He is also back to helping his neighbors, he said.

Martha Wiedel, who had recently been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, said she liked learning to meditate, which helped relieve her feelings of anxiety. And sharing her emotions with the workshop's other participants also helped her cope with feelings of helplessness. "Going to this class, you felt free to say what your emotions and feelings were," Martha Wiedel said. In her case, she had to learn to accept a life of watching her blood sugar.

"It was like - let go. It is what it is," she said. "It's not going to go away, but it can be controlled."

"The critical ingredient in this workshop is that peer support piece," said Peggy Rightnour, the client services division manager for the Office on Aging, and a master trainer.

Participants also are encouraged to keep journals and to set goals for themselves, which can be as basic as walking around the block every day. The next week, they report on their success at meeting those goals, Rightnour said.

"It's really helping people self-manage their condition instead of feeling out of control," she said.

Gladys Waite, 83, of Laurel has Type II diabetes, arthritis and other chronic ailments. She retired from nursing in 1997 and moved from New York to Maryland to live with her daughter.

But she felt so lousy, she said, that most days, she stayed in the house all day, doing nothing but watching television.

After she started the wellness program in April, she was inspired to start exercising, she said. Now, she walks a mile one day a week and 15 to 20 minutes the other days. Knowing that she had the stamina to get around gave her the confidence to travel, she said.

As a former nurse, Waite said she knew she had to eat right and exercise, but the program gave her the push she needed.

"I just feel revived," she said. "This course has really helped me a lot."

Information on the program or to register: 410-313-5980.

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