Senior Health: Seniors can get help for chronic health conditions

Sue Malia

Many older residents suffer from ongoing health conditions that can impact their quality of lives. All too often, people take for granted that it is a normal part of aging and think that nothing can be done to help improve their condition. Actually, there are many programs that can help with the challenges of chronic conditions. Here is some information about cardiac (heart) and pulmonary (lung) rehabilitation.

Cardiac rehabilitation

What is a cardiac rehab program? It’s medically supervised exercise therapy and education, individualized for each patient and designed to promote the fullest possible recovery from heart disease.

What is the goal of a rehab program? To improve your cardiac status while increasing your understanding of heart disease.

Who should go to cardiac rehab? Patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, valve replacement, chronic heart failure (CHF), angina, angioplasty/stents or other major cardiac problems.

What are the benefits? Better management of your heart’s response to exercise; improved stability of your heart during physical activity; better blood pressure control and cholesterol levels; improved fitness and weight loss; decreased dependence on certain heart medications; increased self-confidence and sense of well-being; ongoing motivation and encouragement from staff.

Besides a nurse, are others involved in the program? Programs at different facilities may vary somewhat, but are generally the same. At UHS Delaware Valley Hospital, our Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certified nurse is with you most of the time; our cardiologist supervises the program. In addition, a physical therapist, social worker and registered dietician work with you as needed. Individualized instruction covers topics such as risk factors, smart eating, coping and exercise guidelines. The program at DVH is certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

What do I do while in the program? You will have access to a range of exercise equipment and exercise under the supervision of the nurse. As your heart rate is monitored, the nurse will work closely with you as you exercise so that you can feel safe and more confident.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Much like the cardiac program, the patient receives individualized exercise, behavioral and educational programs to help control symptoms and improve ability to perform day-to-day activities. The difference is, in this program, the focus is on breathing.

Who Should go to Pulmonary Rehabilitation? Patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

How Will the Program Benefit Me? The goal is to help improve your daily life and restore your ability to function independently. The program can help:

• Reduce and control breathing difficulties and other symptoms;

• Learn more about the condition, treatment options, and coping strategies;

• Learn to manage the disease and reduce dependence on health professionals and costly hospital stays;

• Maintain healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation, good nutrition and exercise;

• Increase the chances of living longer.

Who will you see during the program? Different facilities’ programs will generally be the same. At UHS Delaware Valley Hospital, the same nurse who works with our cardiac patients, will work with you. Patients also work closely with their doctors, respiratory, physical and occupational therapists, mental health professionals and the dietitian.

Information for both programs

Does insurance cover the cost? Most insurances will cover the cost when you are referred by a physician. The facility can help determine your coverage if you are unsure.

What happens when I complete the rehab program? Graduates of either DVH program can take advantage of the Independent Maintenance Program. For a low monthly fee, you may use the same facilities on weekdays during independent exercise hours. Staff will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels before and after exercise.

At DVH, pulmonary patients also have access to a monthly support group called Lung Matters. Besides having guest speakers, educational programming and sharing of ideas and concerns, harmonicas are provided to all participants and harmonica playing is part of the program, as this is a proven way to help improve breathing. DVH also sponsors a chair yoga program.

Do These Programs Really Work? Each individual must bring a willingness to work at getting better. Many have started out being very hesitant because they are scared they will strain their heart or lungs. We hear often that the staff provide them with the encouragement to push themselves a little farther than they have in the past. This not only helps them build stamina and endurance but gives them the confidence they need in order to improve.

For more information, contact your local health care facility or call UHS Delaware Valley Hospital Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program in Walton at 607-865-2155.

Sue Malia is a registered nurse at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton.

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