A six-week workshop to help people manage chronic disease will begin June 7 at the Traverse City Senior Center.
Americans who suffer functional restrictions due to such conditions as diabetes, arthritis, stroke, coronary artery disease, cancer, Parkinson's or cognitive impairment are on the rise. Although people tend to develop these chronic conditions as they age, growing old does not have to mean becoming powerless or incapacitated.
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.
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 its program Personal Action Toward Health (PATH). Although named PATH, it is still the Stanford-based and -designed chronic disease management program and follows the same guidelines.
The Traverse City Senior Center's PATH workshop will be facilitated by Melissa Tolan-Halleck, the northern Michigan diabetes initiative coordinator, and Linda Cronk, of the Michigan State University Extension Service.
The idea behind a PATH workshop is to provide the skills and tools needed by participants living with chronic health conditions, to improve their health and manage their symptoms. According to Stanford guidelines, PATH workshops must use trained leaders, who go through intensive training, to facilitate the program.
"When you facilitate this program, you are a peer in the group," Tolan-Halleck said. "You talk about your own condition or someone you know that has a chronic condition — you have to understand what the participants are going through. We all have something we have to deal with … we find common threads with various chronic conditions, whether it is diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, stroke, Parkinson's, depression or arthritis. These conditions all have common struggles."
PATH workshops offer the following skills and tools:
n Help with an exercise program that is right for the participant
n Help with cognitive symptom management
n Help with the challenges of not feeling well
n Information about healthy eating; breathing exercises and problem solving
n Tips for communicating with family, friends and health care providers
n Tips to maintain functional ability and how to deal with the emotions of chronic illness, overcoming such things as stress, anger and depression.
PATH isn't intended to replace or conflict with information from a doctor or health professional; it is designed to be complementary. Information will reinforce education and treatment. Nevertheless, many former participants give credit to the principles and tools they learned in a PATH workshop for the better health they now enjoy.
"I have run many programs, but this, so far, is my favorite," Tolan-Halleck said. "The reason for that is you see just a big ah-ha and lightbulbs that go on for the participants during this program.
"It's really all about self-direction. When participants acknowledge that they have a chronic condition, needing certain steps taken in order to live with it, it's a whole different perspective for them. In addition, you see someone who is much more motivated and more empowered after these workshops."
During PATH workshops, the participants are asked to disclose the problems that they associate with their chronic condition, and then they can discuss with the group a possible 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 — that they can draw upon when needed.
According to Tolan-Halleck, although PATH has been in Michigan for approximately eight years, as one of the first states after California to be licensed, the program has only become more active in this part of Michigan in the past three years.
"One of our objectives is to let people know about the program, so we have partnered with the Area Agency on Aging and Michigan State University Extension," Tolan-Halleck said. "Additionally, we have master trainers in other associations, promoting the program even more."
PATH workshops are free, except for a $5 donation for refreshments during the sessions.
For more information and to register for the workshop, limited to 20 participants, call the Senior Center at 922-4911 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
PATH is also looking for new volunteers to become trained leaders in this area. For more information, call Melissa Tolan-Halleck at 935-9227.
Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.