Managing Chronic Diseases

By: Susan Poludniak – December 2012

In 2008, Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc. and Hebrew SeniorLife joined forces to be a leader in the dissemination of evidence based healthy living programs for consumers and to create the Healthy Living Center of Excellence. “We have seen the benefits of our workshops occur in thousands of participants, leaders and volunteers across the state. We are looking forward to the growth and future of the Healthy Living Center of Excellence” says Jennifer Raymond, Director of Evidence-based Programs of Hebrew SeniorLife. Jennifer is referring to the funding received in September by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs for three years to expand evidence based, healthy living programs throughout Massachusetts.

The Healthy Living Center of Excellence is a major partner in this funding opportunity, addressing the growing need for health care consumers to have information, support and to better manage their chronic conditions. For example, they are now able to offer new programs like the Chronic Pain workshop concentrating on anyone who is diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Whiplash Injuries, Post-Surgical Pain, Neuropathic Pain, and other types of ongoing pain. By joining the Chronic Pain workshop participants have the opportunity to learn ways to control their pain, deal with frustration, eat better, and introduce an exercise program to their lifestyle. The center is able to offer twelve different programs to thousands of participants across Massachusetts. The Chronic Disease and Diabetes Self- Management Programs are one of many programs being offered. Both programs help participants cope with their chronic illness while making healthier lifestyle changes.

Sheri, a participant in the Diabetes Self Management Program, suffers with type 2 diabetes, her blood sugar was too high and her weight put her at serious risk of losing her sight, having an amputation or even losing her life. At only 32, the Lowell woman had received her final warning from her doctor before having to choose among surgical interventions. Sheri had tried many diets and lifestyle programs to make her health better, but “nothing worked,” she had told her health professionals. Then she heard about the Diabetes Self- Management Program. Her first thought: “This won’t work either.” But she was desperate to make a change and decided to try the program. “I honestly thought the program would be the same, but it wasn’t. I felt an immediate connection with the facilitators and a comfort level with all the other participants,” Sheri said. She saw dramatic results from participating in the diabetes program. She began to eat more nutritiously, increased her exercise and learned to create attainable goals and celebrate small successes each week. To her surprise, within a 6 month period, she lost 40 pounds and lowered her average blood sugar readings over a three month period from 14.4 to 6.4 (normal blood sugar reading is below 7).

The Chronic Disease Self Management program and the Diabetes Self Management program are six-week courses where participants spend two and a half hours, one day a week learning to deal with all aspects of their disease. Every session also provides 20 minutes for socializing and friendship building. Developed by Stanford University, the programs are administered not by medical personnel, but rather trained leaders who guide patients in an interactive format to understand the cope with stress, avoiding complications of the disease related to diet and medication and closely monitoring their condition.

All of the programs, led by two leaders, are designed to promote confidence, improve physical activity, healthy eating and reduce falls, and become more empowered to manage the chronic conditions. The leaders follow a 6 –week manual to guide participants with goal setting, planning for the future, education, brainstorming and group discussions. “Lots of people don’t want the programs to be over,” said Susan Poludniak, Healthy Living Program Manager and Registered Dietitian. ”Once the workshop is completed, participants organize support groups to continue to work on their action plans and help each other with lifestyle changes.” To learn more about the Healthy Living Center of Excellence, visit or call Susan Poludniak at 978-946-1355.