Dukes County Health Council: Working for your health

Why are evidence-based programs important?

Dukes County Health Council welcomes community input and involvement. — MV Times

Imagine going to your doctor for a routine visit, and being advised to exercise more regularly to preserve your mobility and to improve your balance. Lately you’ve felt less steady on your feet, and had envisioned that your physician would review your medications, offer a diagnosis, and prescribe a treatment. You never imagined that exercise would be among the recommendations. You take a walk each day when the weather is nice, mow your own lawn and run errands, certainly enough exercise you had thought. Yet you don’t feel the way you used to, can’t accomplish as much, and are beginning to become worried that you might fall. Living alone, you’ve had recurrent fears that if you fall, it might take days before a friend or neighbor finds you. Although the time you actively spend outdoors puts you in better spirits, you begin to wonder if your activities may put you at risk, and what you might do to stay safer as you age. Although your doctor recommends exercise, you’re unsure where to find an exercise program that can address your particular concerns. That’s where evidence-based programs come in.

Evidence-based programs (EBPs) are important because they are based on a collection of researched health benefits derived from data (if you’ve read past columns, you know the value of data collection!), and have a track record of providing participants with successful outcomes. There are many types of EBPs available to the public, from exercise programs to smoking cessation, weight loss to youth development. What sets an EBP apart from others is that it is evaluated by professionals who are knowledgeable in the field, as well as the participants themselves, not just the program’s designers. Programs are rigorously tested in trials that are closely monitored, and the results documented. Everyone involved in the evaluation has to be in agreement that the program is actually delivering the results for which it was designed. Evaluators will ask the question, “Is this program really working, or is it not?” Because the contents of an EBP has proven benefits, you can feel more confident it will likely improve your well-being, something most programs can’t offer because they are not supported by solid evidence.

EBPs are typically offered by healthcare agencies, town departments, and clinical partners as part of a community health strategy. They can be found Island-wide, and play an integral role in helping to keep our population healthier and safer.

Because September marks Falls Prevention Month, it’s fitting to describe some of the EBPs that are making impactful strides in improving the well-being of our community.

A Matter of Balance is an evidence-based falls prevention program which launches on Sept. 29. Sponsored by Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard and hosted by the Edgartown Council on Aging, it will meet weekly for two months, with the expectation that participants will experience fewer falls and have an improved quality of life. Many falls are preventable, and attendees will discover ways to avoid them, such as identifying the physical factors that can be triggering, and the changes that can be made inside a home to reduce the risk. Among other topics, it will address common fears associated with falling, and help participants set personal goals to increase their exercise levels in a safe and comfortable way.

A Matter of Balance is an important community-wide health initiative triggered, in part, by startling figures released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): that older adults experience 36 million falls each year, resulting in more than 32,000 deaths. The most common reason for falling is a decline in balance, as well as lower body weakness, ill-fitting footwear, dizziness from medications, and vision problems. By facing these concerns head-on, those who attend will enjoy a safer and better quality of life.

If you are an older adult, now is the time to review your Medicare coverage. By Sept. 30, each Medicare beneficiary receives an Annual Notice of Coverage which includes important information regarding Medicare costs and benefits. Open enrollment is Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, and state certified SHINE counselors will be available by appointment to help you understand health care coverage, review cost increases, and find out what’s new with Medicare. For more information or to set up an appointment please call your local Council on Aging.

For more information, call Healthy Aging M.V. at 508-693-7900, ext. 455, or email trogers@hamv.org.

Dukes County Health Council meetings occur on the third Thursday of the month from 7:30 to 9 am. They are open to the public. Agendas are published on the Health Council’s website at dchcmv.com. Victoria Haeselbarth is an outreach worker at the Edgartown Council on Aging and former council member, who continues to serve on the health information subcommittee.