Vineyarders, take charge of your healthcare

“My Life, My Health” offers training for Islanders over 60.

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From left, trainer Saran Craig, William Glazier, Healthy Living MV Commonwealth Corps member Celeste Stickney, Gloria Burkin, Margaret Emerson, trainer Kathleen Samways, and Tim Wolff. Courtesy Kathleen Samways. — Kathleen Samways

One afternoon, a doctor told her patient she was prediabetic. The patient knew that without necessary lifestyle changes, she’d soon cross into high-risk territory for having diabetes. She knew she had to take charge of her health, but she wasn’t sure what that meant. On the doctor’s advice, the patient enrolled in “My Life, My Health,” a free six-week, chronic condition self-management program offered through the MV Partnership for Health for any Islanders over 60.

“It’s about making changes in the way people are involved in their own health. The way they eat, physical activity, adherence to medication, enlistment of strengths, and communication with healthcare providers,” Kathleen Samways, a facilitator of “My Life, My Health,” said in an interview with The Times. “‘My Life, My Health’ helps people make a plan to address their entire health, not just a particular chronic condition.”

The program targets the entire spectrum of chronic conditions from hypertension, lung disease, and high blood pressure, to depression, anxiety, and recovery. The wellness-based program is modeled on a Stanford University research project.

“Wellness-based as opposed to sickness-based,” Ms. Samways said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m sick, I have diabetes,’ it’s more, ‘I have diabetes and this is how I am going to be as well as I possibly can be given this condition.’”

The at-risk patient used “My Life, My Health” to develop a plan over the course of six weeks. She started to implement weight management and physical activity into her everyday life. She also started changing the way she approached stress and problem solving.

“She was able to draw from the many tools in her toolbox,” Ms. Samways said. “She eventually went back to her provider, and was no longer in the at-risk group.”

According to Ms. Samways, research shows it takes people six weeks to make a behavior change and actively figure out how it works in their life. That’s why the program takes place over the course of six Mondays at Howes House in West Tisbury.

“You can try it out, change it up, and by the end of six weeks, you can see a new behavior take shape,” she said.

The program uses a self-management model and adult education approach, which provides interactive information, action planning, and group problem solving. “Each of the six sessions enlists different techniques and approaches, so the two and a half hours move along,” Ms. Samways said. “There’s also breaks and a healthy snack.”

“My Life, My Health” has been around for a couple of years, but has regained momentum in the past six months. “We’ve trained six new facilitators, and have a grant from Island Health Care Community Health Center, the federally qualified health center on the Island,” Ms. Samways said. “It’s how we can offer these classes for free.”

According to Ms. Samways, they’ve also partnered with the Massachusetts Service Alliance and Commonwealth Core, who have provided additional support and funding for the program. ACE MV is also a partner, and offers venues for “My Life, My Health” classes.

“My Life, My Health” is one of three evidence-based programs offered through the MV Partnership for Health. The other two programs, also based on Stanford University models, are “A Matter of Balance,” which helps individuals overcome fear of falling, and “Powerful Tools for Caregivers,” which is specifically geared to caregivers taking care of family members. “My Life, My Health” is the only program currently being offered. The latest series of classes began on May 15 and runs through June. The next session will start on May 25.

“I’m hoping people will recognize the opportunity and responsibility for being active in their own health,” Ms. Samways said. “We know that folks aging on the Vineyard come from a generation of people who have been active socially, and active physically, but they also have to be active in their own health and in the choices they make.”

The classes are free and ongoing, and Ms. Samways encourages people to reach out if interested.

“We need enough people to express interest so that we can run sessions on a more regular basis,” Ms. Samways said. “We’re all working together to fulfill the vision of developing health, wellness, and quality of life on Martha’s Vineyard.”

For more information on “My Life My Health,” call 508-939-9358 or email infoMVPH@ihimv.org.