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Help yourself to health through innovative programs

Alicia Colombo

By Bill Conallen

Older Philadelphians need to be proactive in advocating for their own health care. Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) empowers older adults to take charge of their own health and well-being.

PCA has created many programs aimed at supporting the social determinants of health – economic stability,
education, health care, neighborhood and environment, and social and community growth. These five sectors encompass the conditions where people are born, grow, live, work and age that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, social determinants of health impact as much as 50% of local variations in health outcomes. Socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, employment and education, have the largest impact on health outcomes.

“When it comes to health care through empowerment, PCA has always sought to provide older adults with the tools and resources to act,” said PCA President & CEO Najja R. Orr, MBA, DBA. “Even making small,
healthier changes can improve overall well-being, and our programs reflect the broad issues impacting communities throughout the city. Our goals for health take a comprehensive approach and include maintaining and increasing functioning, improving self-care, and stimulating social support networks and personal relationships among older adults.”

This commitment to person-centered, evidence-based education from PCA is born out of the Older Americans Act’s stipulation that health promotion and disease prevention programs are critical elements in helping older Americans remain healthy and independent. The efforts of the aging-services organizations around the country are geared toward supporting older adults so they have access to community-based health promotion and healthy aging programs that can make noticeable differences in their health and well-being.

“Our mission is to build a strong framework of services so older adults can live as independently as possible with the dignity of knowing they are being supported by an agency that has their interests at heart,” said Orr. “Education that emphasizes independence and informational empowerment is just one of the many ways we have pursued this goal for the past 50 years.”

PCA has partnered with many community organizations to provide information, education, skill building, screenings and support for older adults. These programs cover a wide range of topics, including management of chronic conditions and medication, falls prevention, exercise, and nutrition. The goal is to equip older adults with the knowledge and skills to improve their own health and to reduce their risk of dependency, disability and illness.

“Our health promotion programs play an integral role in allowing older adults to determine which questions to ask your doctor and how to approach a concern,” said Lauren Jirinec, PCA health promotion specialist. “Becoming your own advocate for healthy aging can include such steps as: prepping for your medical appointments by writing down a list of your symptoms, current medications and questions. It can also include bringing a companion to your medical appointments to assist in speaking with a medical professional, if helpful. If a medical professional mentions unfamiliar terms, ask them to be clearer in their explanations.”

PCA’s six-week series of evidence-based Chronic Disease Self-Management Programs (CDSMPs) help older adults better manage their own chronic health conditions, including diabetes, pain and HIV/AIDS. Additionally, insights are shared on how to address and combat fatigue, sleep disorders, shortness of breath, stress and emotional challenges related to aging. Older adults are even given falls prevention techniques through action planning, decision making and problem-solving strategies in the event of an accident.

Three virtual CDSMPs begin this month: pain and diabetes management programs start Feb. 14 and “Help Your self to Health” starts Feb. 27.

“Often, older adults in our programs are afraid to ask questions and admit that they do not understand something and need further explanation,” said Jirinec. “Resources, like the Diabetes Self-management Program, allow older adults to gain support from others who may also be suffering from the effect of diabetes, and also learn better menu planning and sugar management tactics.”

PCA also funds and supports a number of programs through its network of senior community centers located in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. These centers offer many health programs, ranging from exercise classes to health classes or workshops.

Many programs, both remote and in-person, are led by trained volunteers who successfully manage health conditions themselves. Programs are open to Philadelphians 60 and older, offered at sites throughout the city, including senior centers, libraries and other community settings.

“Volunteerism has always been at the heart of any number of services offered through PCA and our health promotion efforts are no different,” said Wanda Mitchell, PCA’s director of community engagement. “One of the greatest challenges that older adults and their caregivers face is not knowing what resources are available or how to access help. We provide the tools necessary to meet their needs.”

Those interested in learning more about PCA’s commitment to healthier communities or to register for an upcoming health promotion program, can call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040 – the number to call for resources to help older adults and their caregivers maintain a healthy lifestyle or to improve their well-being. Information is also available at

Bill Conallen is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Categories: Health Milestones eNews News about PCA


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