Bigger Frames for Healthy Aging

Feb 11, 2014

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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