2018-04-06 / Community News

Empowerment key to chronic conditions

Southern Maine Agency on Aging, Scarborough Public Library to host series of classes on dealing with chronic pain
By Grant McPherson Staff Writer

Relief is on the way for Scarborough residents living with chronic diseases and pain thanks to Southern Maine Agency on Aging and Scarborough Public Library.

Living Well with Chronic Pain classes will begin at the Scarborough Public Library meeting room on Thursday, April 26 at 9 to 11:30 a.m. and continue for six weeks. The program is run by Southern Maine Agency on Aging with a Chronic Disease Self-Management Education grant through the Administration for Community Living, a subset of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Nicole Petit, an Agewell Programs Coordinator for Southern Maine Agency on Aging, has taught the chronic pain classes and has lived with a chronic illness, Type 1 diabetes, for 32 years. She said her own experience helps sympathize with how participants are feeling during the classes and better understand what they are going through.

“From all the classes I’ve taught and participants I’ve heard from, it gives people a sense of empowerment,” Petit said. “It tends to raise their self-esteem and shows them they can be in control of whatever chronic condition they have. It can be very overwhelming between different doctors and healthcare costs. Maintaining a chronic illness is hard, for elders in particular. I feel they can use the support as an opportunity for them to know that they are not alone and there are other people in the community that are dealing with the same challenges as they are.”

Classes are hosted by two trained facilitators and focus on a new topic related to managing chronic pain each week. Petit said neuropathy, caused by nerve damage in the hands and feet, multiple sclerosis and back injuries are just some of the more common sources of chronic pain that are seen in the classes, but that anyone suffering from chronic pain is welcome no matter the source.

“We focus on ways to try and reduce pain both temporarily and long term,” Petit said. “We use distraction techniques, mind body techniques and body scan imaging exercises. We focus on nutrition and chronic pain action planning. People will set up a plan each week and come back next week to report on it. It’s an opportunity for people to figure out something they want to do to improve their health situation. A key part of this class is the moving easy program that includes gentle exercise we do specifically designed for people with chronic pain. This class is free and open to public. It’s a very supportive environment that’s safe to talk about these things.”

The classes also focus on an individual’s mental health and how one symptom of chronic pain can lead to others.

“For instance, poor sleep intensifies tense muscles which further restricts movement, leading to more stress, anxiety, sadness and fatigue which leads to more poor sleep,” Petit said. “We look at way to break the symptom cycle.”

About a year ago, Southern Maine Agency on Aging partnered with South Portland Housing Authority to bring chronic pain classes to the residents of several different facilities including the Betsy Ross House, Mill Cove and Ridgeland Estates, with more classes planned at other locations in the future.

Phillip Smith, a resident services coordinator for South Portland Housing Authority, said having the classes on site has been critical for older individuals who have a difficult time moving.

“It turned into a support system for people to encourage each other throughout the week to do an extra bit of walking or stretching and get out of their apartments,” Smith said. “They do more social things on site and in the community. It’s been very positive. We’ve had some groups, after the class is completed, voluntarily keep meeting, supporting each other and developing their own kind of community support system. A class that ended last August is still meeting today and asking to have class again. It’s difficult getting people motivated to do something different and challenge themselves to get outside. Usually once a routine is set they get involved and stick at it.”

Aside from the chronic pain classes, South Portland Housing Authority also provides classes on healthy eating, frugal shopping, cooking, Medicare and Medicaid. Smith, a clinical social worker himself, has also trained three social work interns to conduct the chronic pain classes. He said he hopes to continue working with Southern Maine Agency on Aging to continue providing classes and expand the services offered.

“Maine is one of the top aging populations in the whole United States,” Smith said. “We need to do everything we can for that population.”

Staff Writer Grant McPherson can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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