Chatfield area residents living with a chronic condition will have the opportunity to learn coping skills for dealing with the affects of their conditions as well as the emotions that may be associated with it. Kelly Owens, a educator with Olmsted Medical Center (OMC) will be presenting a "Living Well with Chronic Conditions" workshop as part of the Help Our Neighbors senior assistance program.

"This program is another tool that we can add to someone's toolbox on how to manage their chronic condition," Owens explained. "Their chronic condition may be with them the rest of their life, and finding out how to live with it on a daily basis is really important. This program will help people realize that they are not alone and that it is okay to reach out and to try different methods."

The Help Our Neighbors senior assistance program is a collaboration of Chatfield churches, emergency services and neighbors who wish to lend a hand to keep seniors independent longer.

Owens explained the workshop is for anyone who has a chronic condition or who may be living with someone who has a chronic condition.

A chronic condition could be diabetes, high blood pressure, back pain, general pain, fatigue, depression, and really any health concern that individuals have to live with on a daily basis.

"This program teaches people how to deal with their chronic condition and the emotions that they have with that condition," Owens added. "We find that even though people may have different chronic conditions, the feelings and emotions that they have around that condition, and the way that they have to deal with that condition daily is the same."

The workshop does not address specific conditions, but ways to live with that condition every day. The topics covered in the workshop include exercise and nutrition, feedback and problem-solving, better breathing, pain, fatigue, future plans for healthcare, medications, communication with healthcare providers, making treatment decisions, depression and working with the health care system.

"At the end of each week, we also create an action plan for everyone for something for them to work on," Owens added. "It could be increasing their exercise to eating healthier, to cleaning out closets and canning tomatoes - things that people want to do, but have not figured out how to do them with their condition."

The class teaches positive thinking skills that may encourage participants to become more creative in problem-solving, thereby possibly allowing them to remain in their homes.

"People with chronic conditions often think about the things that they can't do, rather than the things that they can do, and we help them brainstorm ideas and problem-solve," she stated. "It gets people thinking about ways to stay healthy even with their condition. For someone who says they can't do anything because of their condition, we have problem-solved with them something that they can do."

Owens gave the example of a very ill participant who "has a hard time doing anything - walking, sleeping, et cetera" who was lacking for something to do with her time, and together, they discovered that the participant could take up knitting, a pastime that she had long since given up.

"Her action plan was to take out her knitting and move it to her chair where she has access to it, and then for her to start knitting one hour three days a week," Owens continued.

Though she had only gotten her knitting out of the closet and placed in her chair, part of the goal had been met.

"It is OK that she did not meet that entire goal. Through problem-solving with the other participants, she realized that she was successful because to start any knitting project, she has to have her yarn untangled," Owens pointed out. "She was now set up for the next week to start on her knitting and that is what she did."

When individuals have a chronic condition, they tend to think only of the things they cannot do, not the things that are possible.

Owens said this workshop will give people the tools they need to help manage their condition on a daily basis.

"The main benefit from this workshop is for participants to see that there are others around them dealing with the same feelings, emotions and pain. There is a lot of interaction within the group and great ideas that people get from each other. As a leader, we are there to facilitate the curriculum - it is the group dynamic that comes up with the answers," she explained.

Owens cited "the emotions and the pain" as the two hardest parts of living with a chronic condition.

"Some people don't know of any other way to manage their pain except for medications. In this workshop, we talk about a number of other tools that people can use along with their medications to help relieve the pain. People with chronic conditions get very angry and feel that they are disappointing others because they can't do what they use to be able to do. We help them work through those emotions and teach them how to communicate what they are feeling with their loved ones."

Most importantly, she stated, "Family members and neighbors need to understand where the person with a chronic condition is coming from. Too often, we just think that someone is being lazy or whining that they don't feel good, but those with chronic conditions are sometimes living with continual pain and frustration. I think being aware of what people with chronic conditions go through would be very helpful. Learning different tools that you can use with someone who has a condition would also be helpful."

She pointed out that all types of assistance are available to people who need it. "I think people are afraid that if they ask for assistance, that opens the door for skeptics to think, 'Maybe this person shouldn't be living alone, or driving, et cetera.' We have to get rid of the fear of asking for help. Organizations are very willing to offer assistance without judgment, with the goal of keeping people in their homes longer. This workshop is just another tool for people with chronic conditions. With the right resources and tools, people can stay in their homes longer."

Owens invited residents of any age to join the discussion.

"This workshop is for anyone over the age of 20, is not just for OMC patients but for anyone who would benefit, and has been very helpful to the participants," she concluded. "Even as a leader with very few health problems, I have learned so much from the class, but more from the participants. I give a lot of credit to the participants who come even though they have a hard time walking, or are in pain. Very courageous people out there."

The free program runs for six weeks, two hours a week, and starts Nov. 7, lasting through Dec. 12, at the Chatfield Public Library from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evenings.

Participants will receive an OMC journal and a book. Owens asked that prospective participants register for the workshop by calling her at (507) 292-7210, "as there is a limited number of people that we can have in each class."