Bigger Frames for Healthy Aging

By Walter Leutz, Heller School, Brandeis University
Last week I went to a meeting of the Healthy Living Center of Excellence advisory board meeting, and I met fellow board member George Iannuzzo, who is a graduate of the Chronic Disease Self-management Program. He is on the board in part to represent the CDSMP experience, and he did it well – pointing to his dog-eared CDSMP class book as his bible and relating how his CDSMP group has transitioned into a social support group that has continued and expanded three years after the class ended. He was an articulate and forceful embodiment of the learning, empowerment and social support that these groups foster.

But George is a testimony to the healthy aging movement on more dimensions than I have been used to thinking. In my nearly four years as a member of what has become the MA Healthy Aging Collaborative, I’ve tended to think of our work on evidence-based programs (CDSMP, Healthy Eating, etc.) that support changes in individual knowledge and behavior as a distinct arm of our efforts. The other arm is “community” healthy aging efforts (e.g., Mass in Motion, BrooklineCAN) that try to help communities become healthier places for people to grow old.

But here I encountered a man who has chronic illness who is in both camps:  He was empowered and enlightened by CDSMP to manage his conditions, but he’s involved in changing his community. And he’s helped build and maintain a new social support network in his group.  I’m wondering how many other crossover people we are enabling (and who are enabling us the professional folk). And are there community activists who find about and take evidence-based healthy aging programs?

I am also wondering whether our initiatives to increase referrals to CDSMP by connecting to the medical community are too narrow. Why not seek referrals from case managers in the state home care program? Are home care users too disabled to benefit from evidence-based programs – or to participate in community activities, broader social networks, or civil engagement? Could Medicaid waiver funds pay for classes and transportation to them? How about residents of assisted living?  What would we need to do to get them more involved?

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One thought on “Bigger Frames for Healthy Aging

  1. Yes! The Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Education Program – in Massachusetts we call it “My Life, My Health” increases the efficacy of participants, which translates into increase engagement in all spheres of life!
    Since 2010, more than 500 CDSME workshops have been held in Massachusetts. The workshops take place in a variety of settings, among them senior centers, health care sites (including hospitals, community health centers, etc.), residential facilities, libraries, YMCA’s, and YWCA’s. With each year, the program is implemented in new places and adopted by new organizations. Program delivery has proven the most successful in organizations whose mission is not only to help participants better manage their chronic illnesses, but also empower and engage them. This is especially true with the Spanish version of the program, Tomando control de mi salud (“Mi Vida, Mi Salud”), as observed by leaders from the Latino Health Insurance Program in Framingham (LHIP). LHIP has been offering Tomando for close to three years, noticing significant changes in participants’ lives, from reduced BMI’s to greater engagement.
    More work remains to be done, we need more sources of referrals to these programs and we need stable fuding sources, thus the heavy marketingconducted now to health systems and insurers.
    Progress is being made on many fronts: last month, over 100 Option Counselors were trained to refer their consumers to CDSME through the healthyliving4me website. Care Managers from key insurers are starting to refer patients to CDSME.
    We also need more corporate partners and unions offering these programs to their members, not only to help employees and members save health care costs, but also to increase engagement. Some progress is also being made in that front. Next month the Department of Revenue will be offering a workshop at their main worksite in Chelsea.

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