As we grow older, we may not mentally feel our age, but our bodies often show signs of aging no matter what our minds tell us. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that offer healthy aging programs to help older adults prevent falls, manage chronic conditions, and improve their lives.
Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital is one such organization, which has begun to offer several new programs aimed specifically at the senior population.
“Keeping our bodies healthy as we age can be a challenge,” noted Jessica Cooper, Senior Services Program Coordinator at Sentara Martha Jefferson. “Fortunately, our community in particular has a number of helpful programs, both within the hospital and without.”
Earlier in 2018, Cooper wanted to find out if there were any perceived gaps in those programs that Sentara Martha Jefferson could help fill. She surveyed seniors and adult caregivers to find out what programming they most wished they had access to. Two ideas came up repeatedly in those survey responses: fitness and chronic disease management.
From there, Cooper worked with community partners and developed two new programs for older adults: Senior Yoga and Living a Healthy Life, a chronic disease management workshop.
Exercise is important for everyone, and aging doesn’t change that. What does change, however, is what the body can do.
“Many seniors have increasing difficulties with balance, strength and flexibility,” said Cooper. “Yoga has been shown to help improve all those aspects as well as provide relaxation techniques, which can in turn help with hypertension.”
The Senior Yoga class is a chair yoga class, which allows people of all levels of mobility practice. After a successful pilot in August, the class is now offered twice monthly.
“We have had a great response to the program, and we hope that the people who come to the class will be able to take what they learn and practice at home, too.”
Living with Chronic Disease
Chronic health conditions are, unfortunately, often a part of the aging process. It is estimated that 92 percent of people over 65 live with at least one chronic health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis.
“Chronic health conditions can be a big challenge for older adults and affect every aspect of their life,” noted Cooper. “It’s important for people to learn to manage these conditions so that they can stay healthy and continue to do the things they like to do.”
Sentara Martha Jefferson offers the Living a Healthy Life workshop in partnership with the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA). It is a six-week course that teaches preventive wellness and managing care for any chronic disease.
“The workshop was developed based on evidence that showed that people learn chronic disease self- management best from people who have been through it themselves,” said Cooper. “So our workshop is led by volunteers from JABA who have learned to manage their own chronic diseases.”
The workshop empowers adults to achieve a better quality of life while living with their health condition, and includes a copy of the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions. Topics covered include how to manage symptoms such as pain, fatigue and stress; how to improve problem solving; how to increase one’s physical activity; building communication skills; and how to eat healthier.
A Number to Call
In addition to developing new programs, Cooper stays on top of the programs available out in the community. From classes to insurance counselors to prescription assistance, Cooper knows that there are many resources available to the senior community that are well-kept “secrets.”
“As we age and begin to need more and more services, it’s hard to keep track of everything that is available,” said Cooper. “Often people just don’t know where to begin.”
As a nurse, Cooper has seen first hands that older adults have, whether it’s feeling that they have nowhere to turn or not having the support they need. These people can easily slip through the cracks and not get the care they need, and Sentara Martha Jefferson is committed to trying to prevent that from happening.
“That’s what I am here for. Sometimes it’s not that a person doesn’t have family, but that their family doesn’t live in town to help them if they need transportation,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t know what is available to them or where to start. In those cases, they can call me and I can help point them in the right direction.”
Cooper is available for adult caregivers who may be struggling as well.
“In addition to helping caregivers get the resources for the seniors in their lives, I can help them get the relief they may need,” added Cooper. “Being a caregiver can be stressful and taxing, and sometimes people just need some extra support. I make sure I know what resources are available in the community for them, too.”