Help Your Older Patients Stay Healthy

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Help Your Older Patients Stay Healthy

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By Mary M. Ablan, M.A., M.S.W., Executive Director, Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan

Free classes are now available statewide to help seniors age 60 and older prevent falls, and to help those with Type 2 Diabetes manage their condition. Physicians are urged to take advantage of these classes, offered by Michigan's 16 Area Agencies on Aging.

The evidence-based classes were created by Boston University (A Matter of Balance™), and Stanford University's School of Medicine (Diabetes Self-Management Program), and have been expanded thanks to a $5 million grant from the Michigan Health Endowment. The initiative is called "Great At Any Age." Over 300 classes will be offered for each of these programs over the next 12 months in convenient, easily accessible locations in both rural and urban areas.

The falls prevention program, called A Matter of Balance™, is designed for older adults who are concerned about falls, have fallen in the past, have restricted their activities because falls, or are interested in improving flexibility, balance and strength. The program consists of 8 two-hour classes, taught by two trained lay leaders to groups of 10-12 older adults. The classes are very interactive and incorporate group discussion, problem-solving, skill building, assertiveness training, and training in low-level exercises that can be done by individuals using mobility aids. One class features a physical therapist, who provides an hour of information and addresses questions and concerns of participants.

The Diabetes Self-Management Program is also called Diabetes-PATH (Personal Action Toward Health). Diabetes-PATH is a six-week workshop for small groups, conducted in two and a half hour sessions, and is designed for individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. Individuals with Type 1 and pre-diabetes can also benefit, along with caregivers. Classes are led by two trained lay leaders who may themselves have experience with diabetes. The content includes healthy eating, menu planning, reading food labels, physical activity, dealing with stress and difficult emotions, and how to communicate effectively with health providers. The emphasis is on taking charge of your own health, creating personal action plans and setting practical, achievable goals.

Both programs have been proven to reduce health care costs and improve healthy behaviors. When graduates of A Matter of Balance™ were compared with a control group, there were reductions in hospitalizations, skilled nursing facility care and home health care for a savings of $938/year/person in Medicare costs. Diabetes-PATH graduates have shown significant improvements in symptoms of hypoglycemia, healthy eating, and depression, and communication with their physician. Studies show fewer emergency room visits, and participants have maintained improvements up to 12 months after the classes.

Physicians can refer older patients by calling their local Area Agency on Aging for information and assistance. Local AAAs can be found at Participant testimonials for both programs also may be found on the website.

AAAs play a key role in planning and creating new programs, providing access to services, advocating for older adults, and helping to implement community and social services at the local level. AAAs work closely with a network of more than 1,300 service providers in the state to serve older adults in their service area.