Jim Pitzer, of Yampa, has had diabetes for about 15 years. In that time, he has gathered a lot of information and advice about managing his condition.
So it was mostly curiosity that brought him to the first of six classes aimed at helping individuals with diabetes better manage their symptoms and make healthier choices.
“I was wondering if I was missing something, and it turns out that I had,” said Pitzer, who has nearly completed the Oak Creek workshop offered by the Aging Well program of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.
Pitzer was having trouble sticking to an insulin schedule and eating healthy. The classes, driven by peer support and discussion, have given him the tools and inspiration he needs to stay on track with his goals.
“The most important thing I got from the class was motivation — from being with people who had the same problems and focusing on specific things we could do that could make our situation easier in controlling our blood sugar,” he said.
Led by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and nonprofit health organizations such as the VNA, Healthier Living Diabetes is part of a statewide effort to reduce enormous public health costs associated with chronic diseases.
Patterned after a self-management program developed by Stanford University Medical School, Healthier Living Colorado workshops aim to help individuals take a more active role in controlling their conditions through nutrition, exercise, relaxation and communication techniques, goal setting and other helpful tools.
Ultimately, the program helps individuals feel better, live longer and spend less time and money in the hospital.
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions among older adults — about 23 percent of adults 60 and older have the disease, according to the 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet.
The report estimates that people diagnosed with diabetes spend about twice as much on medical costs as individuals who do not have diabetes.
Individuals with diabetes do not make any, or enough of, the hormone insulin and/or do not effectively use insulin to change glucose derived from sugars, starches and other food, into energy. This causes their blood glucose levels, or blood sugar, to be too high.
The vast majority of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, in which the body makes insulin but does not use it the right way.
People can live with slightly elevated glucose levels for many years. Symptoms, though sometimes mild or gradual, can include blurry vision, fatigue, hunger, thirst, weight loss, frequent urination and slow healing cuts or bruises.
Throughout time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, nerves, teeth and gums.
People with pre-diabetes or higher than normal blood-glucose levels, actually can prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes with healthy lifestyle changes.
Those who have diabetes can delay or prevent complications by effectively managing their health with the help of doctors, diabetes education counselors and non-clinical self-management programs such as Healthier Living Colorado Diabetes.
Thanks to a federal grant and other funding sources, Healthier Living workshops are free to participants.
Each part of the six-class workshop (spread during six weeks) is a little more than two hours, which may seem long until a person realizes they have been talking and listening rather than checking the clock.
“There’s so much interaction that time doesn’t go slowly, it speeds on,” Pitzer said.
Held in a relaxed setting, classes are facilitated by two trained leaders who often are members of the community and have experience coping with diabetes or other chronic conditions.
“Instructors are very sympathetic, very open-minded and have great senses of humor, which certainly contribute to the progress of the class,” Pitzer added.
For more information about the diabetes workshops or other Healthier Living Colorado workshops scheduled in Routt and Moffat counties, call 871-7676.
— Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 871-7676.