Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 6, 2012

Senior Focus: PATH helps seniors

Older Americans who suffer functional restrictions due to such chronic conditions as diabetes, arthritis, stroke, coronary artery disease, cancer, Parkinson's, depression or cognitive impairment are considerable. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition and 50 percent at least two. In addition, 95 percent of health care spending is spent on helping people manage chronic health conditions.

Although people tend to develop these chronic conditions as they age, growing old does not have to mean becoming powerless or incapacitated. Lifestyle changes like exercising, managing stress and eating better help fight troubling symptoms of chronic disease. Yet, clinicians cannot always provide the education, motivation and support their patients need to successfully make long-term lifestyle changes.

In view of this, the School of Medicine at Stanford University received a five-year federal and State of California research grant to develop and evaluate a community-based self-management program that assists people with chronic illness. The study, completed in 1996, led to the development of the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP).

The State of Michigan purchased a license, along with several other organizations throughout the state, to offer the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program to its citizens. Michigan has renamed the program, Personal Action Toward Health (PATH). Although named PATH, it is still the Stanford based and designed chronic disease management program and follows their guidelines.

A variety of PATH workshops are scheduled to start in Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties, beginning this month, including workshops for individuals with chronic disease, diabetes, and chronic pain.

"We hold workshops that help people make small changes during the six-week workshop — changes they choose. After completing the six weeks, participants say they feel more confident and are better at managing their health," said PATH Leader and Registered Dietitian Darcia Brewer of the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan.

The idea or goal behind a PATH workshop is to provide the skills and tools needed by participants to upgrade their health. According to Stanford guidelines, PATH workshops must use trained leaders, who go through intensive training, to facilitate the program.

During the workshop, participants learn health self-management skills to manage pain; cope with difficult emotions, like frustration and depression; deal with stress and fatigue; improve communication with family, friends and health care providers; make informed decisions about nutrition and exercise; to properly use medications; and apply problem-solving and the power of the mind to enhance their health — all in a supportive group atmosphere. Weekly action plans increase participant's motivation and aid them in achieving their goals. Two trained facilitators lead the interactive workshop, and at least one leader has successfully managed their own chronic condition.

"I was trained by master trainers who received certification by Stanford University," Brewer said. "As a lay leader, my experience with chronic disease, which I share during the workshop, is having clinical depression for years. I also have family members who deal with diabetes."

One of PATH's objectives is to have participants disclose the problems that they associate with their chronic condition and then come up with an action or plan to alleviate or reduce the problem. When the session is finished, many of the participants will leave with a mini support group — exchanging phone numbers, which they can draw upon when needed.

Further, PATH does not replace or conflict with existing and traditional patient education through a participant's doctor or health professional; it is complementary to and reinforces such education, designed to enhance regular treatment and disease-specific education. Nevertheless, many former participants give credit to the principles and tools they learned in a PATH workshop for the better health they now enjoy.

"PATH participants find that while they may not be able to cure their conditions, there is still hope," said Brewer, "Because we teach them tools during the workshop that enable them to live enjoyable, meaningful lives."

PATH workshops are free to participants, except for the Chronic Pain workshop, partnered through the NMC University Extended Education and offered for $25. For more information and to register for the PATH workshops, call 800-442-1713 at the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to

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