Pain Management Program Helps Seniors Remain Active

By Puko, Timothy | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Pain Management Program Helps Seniors Remain Active


Puko, Timothy, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Margaret Herman used to give up before her day got started.

Herman, 80, of Bellevue, had -- still has -- arthritis through most of her body, but allergies keep her from taking pain pills. So on her most painful days, Herman would just stop moving.

What helped her was an Allegheny County program called "Better Choices, Better Health," she said. It is designed to help people manage chronic pain, and it helped Herman realize she has to keep her body active, especially when she's feeling her worst.

"I found through coming to this that my mind can do away with a lot of this pain," Herman said, noting she has a husband and sister with medical problems to care for. "I found out through this program that I need to take care of myself to make sure I'm physically able to do things for others."

Allegheny County was one of four counties to get a federal grant to run the program through March, said John Miller, program coordinator at the Area Agency on Aging. The program's workshops are free and last 2 1/2 hours a week for six weeks.

More than 250 people successfully completed it the first year here, in 2010, and Miller is trying to expand the program into more suburbs to help the county reach its goal of 809 graduates, he said.

Originally called the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program and developed in the 1990s by Stanford University researchers, the program focuses on the physical and mental effects felt by people with chronic pain

Peer leaders -- people with painful conditions -- lead classes with around 15 people, talking about exercise and nutrition, but also fatigue, loneliness, communication and problem-solving.

The Vintage Senior Community Center in East Liberty started the first local program and partnered with the county to get the $267,800 federal grant, Miller said. The expansion this spring includes Bethel Park, Hampton and McKeesport, for a total of eight suburban classes and 10 city classes. Some started this week, while others begin over the next month, the latest starting May 26 in Blawnox.

The Bethel Park class was scheduled to start today with a class of 18, said Lois Slocum, coordinator of health ministries and parish nurse at Christ United Methodist Church, the first church to host a local workshop. Several participants said the group work -- including time for personal testimonies -- helps them stay engaged and accountable, one of the prime reasons Slocum likes the program, she said.

"I think a lot of people know what they need to do, but if you have a chance to dialogue and work together, it reinforces those positive things," she said.

The mental aspects of chronic pain are the hardest, said Mike Rebich, 70, of Bentleyville, a Christ United member who signed up for the program because of his coronary artery disease. He has to deal with the mental stress of knowing his father and grandfather both died at around his age, the fact that his body isn't as resilient as when he was younger and the frustration that comes with struggle, he said.

"I know the things to do, but it's the motivation to get it done," he said. "To sustain it over time is difficult."

One of the keys to the program is setting small goals, Miller said. Once participants hit one of the targets they set -- even an incremental one -- it builds their self-confidence and they push for more, he added.

The core of the program is a self-designed management plan. Each person can tailor it to his or her own abilities and needs. It might include exercising more, meditation, or eating healthier foods.

Herman and several of her classmates who completed the program in Bellevue raved about the plans, the help at setting small goals and the time spent working with each other. …

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