Portuguese-speaking elders learn to take charge of their health via New Bedford workshops

Portuguese-speaking elders learn to take charge of their health via New Bedford workshops

A group of Portuguese-speaking elders completed a grant-driven health workshop at the Immigrants' Assistance Center on Tuesday. AUDITI GUHA/ THE STANDARD-TIMES/ SCMG
A group of Portuguese-speaking elders completed a grant-driven health workshop at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center on Tuesday. AUDITI GUHA/ THE STANDARD-TIMES/ SCMG

NEW BEDFORD — Why am I taking this medication? What questions can I ask my doctor? Why hasn’t my doctor given me a pap smear when I have a worrisome family history?

These are some of the questions a group of Portuguese-speaking seniors had Tuesday at the close of the My Life My Health workshop at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center.

“The whole idea is to empower them and teach them to be advocates for their own health,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the center which has organized two health workshops this year to educate non English-speaking elders in the city.

Bonnie Cabral, 56, whose doctor recommended the class, said the sessions were very informative.Borderline diabetic, with hypertension, back and knee pain, Cabral said through an interpreter that “I learned how to deal with my pain and distract myself to do other activities.”

New Bedford was found to be the unhealthiest city statewide by a Tufts Health Plan Foundation study in 2014 and this galvanized many groups to take action, Hughes said.

Cabral was among 10 residents who completed the eight-week workshop Tuesday and received certificates.

Maria F. Pacheco, 69, also completed it. A participant in art activities at the center, Pacheco said she wanted to learn more about taking care of her health.

This story (written by Auditi Guha) first appeared in the Standard Times on July 6th, 2016. The original can be seen here.

Funded by a grant through the city’s health department, the sessions taught the residents to ask questions about their health and medications, and make some lifestyle changes.

“I think they are more aware of what to say and do. Many of them are not aware of what they are taking and that’s a big problem,” said Lucy Oliveira, senior coordinator and community health worker.

Part of the challenge is to change the norm, said Hughes. Many of the attendees were not schooled beyond Grade 3 and have language and cultural barriers, such as never questioning the doctor or knowing that they can take control of their health.

For example, Pacheco’s husband bought her a bicycle four years ago that she never used. After learning about the importance of daily exercise, Pacheco bikes twice a day and said she loves it.

“If it wasn’t for this workshop, she would have never thought of using it,” said Hughes who is planning to host six more sessions this year.

Instructors Vanessa Araujo and Lucy Oliveira (right) answered questions pertaining to doctor's visits at a health workshop at the Immigrants' Assistance Center on Tuesday. AUDITI GUHA/ THE STANDARD-TIMES/ SCMG
Instructors Vanessa Araujo and Lucy Oliveira (right) answered questions pertaining to doctor’s visits at a health workshop at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center on Tuesday. AUDITI GUHA/ THE STANDARD-TIMES/ SCMG

Coming from a Portuguese family, instructor Vanessa Araujo said she knows first-hand how difficult it is for her father and her grandmother to take care of themselves. A community health worker at Community Nurse and Hospice, Araujo, 23, said she was happy to help the Portuguese elders understand health and take control of their lives.

“I like this. I want this to be more popular and for people to be more healthy and take better care,” she said.

The program is a part of the Southeastern Health Initiative Transformation or SHIFT, funded by the Massachusetts Division of Prevention and Wellness that aims to curb rising healthcare costs and reduce health disparities through prevention of chronic disease, said Brenda Weis, the city’s health director.

Preventing chronic disease and conditions such as senior falls is particularly important for the senior community served by the center, Weis said in an email.

“These communities often bear the brunt of poor health conditions and deserve special attention and support which is provided by this program. Our partnership with the Immigrants’ Assistance Center is critical to reach and serve these residents to keep them healthy. This saves money in healthcare spending and helps our residents lead longer, more productive, and independent lives,” she said.

The grant runs through December 2017 and covers prevention of senior falls, hypertension, pediatric asthma and substance abuse. Services include outreach, education and training. Partners in the effort include the YMCA and the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, among others, Weis said.

This story (written by Auditi Guha) first appeared in the Standard Times on July 6th, 2016. The original can be seen here.

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