TWIN FALLS • “Chronic disease.” For many senior citizens, the words are all too familiar.
The inability to effectively combat chronic maladies or help manage them for loved ones can often cause depression, pain, fatigue and a host of other symptoms.
But there’s help, and it’s called Living Well in Idaho. The goal? To help older adults stay active and engaged in life as long as possible.
Or as program peer leader Carol Tombre said: “It’s just better living as we age. Retiring to rocking chairs leads to no good.”
The programs are offered twice a year in spring and fall. They are supported by the College of Southern Idaho and certified through the Stanford University Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop.
Funding is provided by the Idaho Health and Welfare Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, and the programs are endorsed by the U.S. Administration on Aging and Centers for Disease Control.
Four concurrent six-week programs are held each semester and meet 2 1/2 hours a week — 15 hours total — at different Magic Valley locations. The course is free for students older than 60, $125 for others. Besides hands-on instruction from peer leaders, participants interact with each other and receive a resource book and other printed material.
Participants in past programs — who have ranged from 20 to 94 years old — typically suffer from a litany of problems: heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, depression, obesity, stroke and early-stage dementia. And though the program certainly doesn’t guarantee miracles, it can help reduce trauma associated with chronic disease, leaders said.
“Just being able to talk about their problems and find people who understand is invaluable,” said peer leader Cindy Jardine, 67.
Recent Twin Falls transplant Bud Preston, 70, attended last fall’s program primarily to support his wife Linda, 73, who lost 50 percent of her vision after a May 2011 stroke and has had fibromyalgia for as long as she can remember. But Bud, who doesn’t have a chronic ailment, benefitted from the program as much as anyone.
He discovered, in fact, a universal truth: Old age is, itself, a chronic disease.
“It was nice to learn that some of my problems just growing old everyone else has too,” he said. “It was just a tremendous boost to know that you are not alone and that there is no easy out.”
And he learned a lot of practical information, too.
“Some of the suggestions were quite valuable, such as taking care of things like wills,” he said. “We also discussed the kind of care we may want as we grow older and what resources we can use through the state.”
While Bud soaked in the knowledge and camaraderie, Linda focused on becoming more motivated.
“The main thing I gained from it was living more intentionally,” she said. “It helped me to make a plan for the day and to get up and tell myself that I will accomplish this or that today. It was truly motivational, and Ilearned that I could do a lot more than I thought I could.”
The programs’ peer leaders can relate: They’ve been through a lot, too.
Jardine, for instance, has early osteoarthritis that causes her “emotion, anger, frustration and a lot of loss of independence.”
Tombre, 70, originally took the class because she has Graves’ disease — an autoimmune thyroid problem — and systemic lung disease.
“There were good examples of people in the class who had more extreme examples of chronic problems and were leading active lives,” she said. “So now when Iwake up with pain, I’ve learned to work through it.”
So has peer leader Jeanene Ellis: A cancerous tumor blocking 80 percent of her breathing forced doctors to remove her right lung four years ago.
“Because of that, I was told I’d be a perfect example for other program participants,” said Ellis, 63. “I was one who lived in bed all the time on the pity potty.”
Shelly Wright, a College of Southern Idaho physical education professor, oversees the Living Well program. She suffers from no chronic ailment, but her parents do: Her dad is a paraplegic and her mother had a stroke.
“So I’m coming from the other side of it as a caregiver for someone with chronic conditions,” she said. “The program really helps because it’s well rounded. It’s associated with the physical, mental, emotional and social dimensions of wellness.”
Added Jardine: “Much of this stuff they’ve heard before, but not in an applicable, practical way that they will gain here.”
Alice Anderson coordinates the Living Well program for Wright and taught at the college for 32 years in the nursing and early childhood education departments. She has no chronic aliment, either, but was interested in becoming a peer leader.
“It’s just about the issues of aging,” she said. “And there are lasting friendships that can come from this, too.”
Aging, they all agree, is the main obstacle. And coping with it gracefully and energetically is the goal.
After all, Ellis concluded with a grin: “We’re not all the women we used to be.”