Partners in Wellness teaches basic nutrition lessons
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Partners in Wellness teaches
basic nutrition lessons


Alexander County agent Margo Mosley (left) finds that nutrition lessons as well as fellowship attract participants to the Partners inWellness programs.  (Photo by Herman Lankford)

At noon on a weekday, a group of senior adults at Alexander County’s Friendship Church is sifting through a truckload of free bread to take home. They come here each day for lunch and, with instruction from North Carolina Cooperative Extension, they learn basic lessons of nutrition to help them lead healthy lives.

The group is one of many across the state participating in Extension’s Partners in Wellness program. In 36 counties across the state, Extension provides training to elderly adults who come to lunch each day at “congregate nutrition sites.”

The sites have a federal mandate to provide education along with the hot, nutritious meals and fellowship that draw participants to these programs. It is required that more than half of the participants served at the sites have limited resources.

The goal of Partners in Wellness is to prevent malnutrition. When the program started three years ago, the first step was to survey the nutritional needs of limited-resource older adults in the state. The assessment showed that among those individuals, 36 percent were at moderate risk for malnutrition, and 33 percent were at high risk — more than two-thirds of all limited-resource older adults.

Extension developed a program of 11 educational modules made up of 47 educational sessions that take 15 to 30 minutes each. Modules have names such as Eat Smart, Stay Well; Meals on a Budget; Managing your Medications; Overcoming Obstacles: Using the Kitchen Space.

Last year, more than 1,300 people across the state participated in Partners in Wellness. Participants were asked diet and nutrition questions before and after the workshops, and nearly half improved scores on these questions.

In Alexander County, agent Margo Mosley conducts the PIW program at two churches that host luncheon sites each week. Since Mosley started the program three years ago, the number of participants at each site has grown. Many participants say they have put her lessons to use to improve their own nutrition and health.

Many of those who attend the programs have disease problems like high blood pressure and diabetes that can be managed through diet. “They are encouraged to eat a balanced diet, but many may not realize what a balanced diet is,” Mosley said. In the Eat Smart, Stay Well program module, Mosley discusses serving sizes, the importance of breakfast, dietary fiber, vitamin C and more.

Today’s lesson is on “Pills, Potions and Powders: Herbs and Dietary Supplements.” Mosley explains to the group that many herbal remedies and supplements are not regulated by government agencies the same way that drugs are.

To prove her point, she hands out two samples of herbal products purchased at local drug stores. Several groups compare the labeling and quickly find differences in recommended dosage, in warnings listed or not listed and in other label information.

Participants have begun keeping a medications “checkbook,” in which they list all medications they take on a regular basis – both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Mosley urges them to list any herbal remedies they take as well.

The medication checkbook really paid off for one of Mosley’s program participants. The woman had a mild stroke, but when she arrived at the hospital, no one in her family had information about her medical history or medications. The checkbook in her pocketbook provided the doctors with the information they needed to treat her.

When the lesson is over, the group enjoys a hot, balanced lunch. The meal and the nutrition lesson, along with the fellowship and change of scene, are the things that bring them here.

Wilma “Sis” Speaks is one of the program’s success stories. Following a lesson on dental health last year, Speaks began to wonder about the cause of dental pain she had tolerated for a long time. A trip to the dentist confirmed that Speaks had tumors in her mouth that needed treatment.

Though she is not wild about her new dentures, she can now eat without pain. And she has cut her regular doctor visits from every two weeks to every three months.

“I’ve learned quite a lot down here,” Speaks said. “How to take care of myself, how to eat right, how to live.”

—Natalie Hampton


 


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