“Good morning everybody,” says Dr. Shawn Files, Medical Director, Gateway Health Plan®, as she cheerfully greets everyone at the Mt. Washington Senior Center. “We’re going to discuss something many of you probably already have heard of… high blood pressure.”
“Oh yeah, we know that topic well,” the group wryly replies. They come here to listen to Dr. Files who will answer their specific questions and offer advice on the importance of keeping their doctors appointments and taking their blood pressure medications regularly.
The Health Awareness Series (H.A.S.), sponsored by Gateway Health Plan®, is a collaboration with Pittsburgh Citiparks and Giant Eagle Pharmacy. Over the next six months a new health topic will be presented at the City’s five senior centers, located at Brighton Heights, Greenfield, Homewood, Mt. Washington and South Side. The topics include shopping smart for better nutrition, heart disease, breast cancer, and vaccinations for the elderly. The goal of H.A.S. program is to provide a free public service to the community and educate Pittsburgh seniors about health issues specific to them.
At today’s high blood pressure workshop, Dr. Files goes over what high blood pressure is (anything over 140/90 is considered high) and how seniors can work on reducing it. The discussion brings forth questions about nutrition and food.
“Can I fry my fish?”asks on man in the crowd. “Oh no, we don’t want you to do that,” says Dr. Files.
“How else should I prepare it?” he asks.
“You may bake it or broil it. A nutritionist will be here next month and she’ll bring you information on how best to prepare fish,” adds Dr. Files. She advises them to stay away from excess salt, because it is used in everything from canned soups to frozen dinners and quickly raises blood pressure.
Dr. Files later asks the audience what things they can do to control their high blood pressure. The challenge with seniors is that many are on more than one medication to control it, and the dosages can fluctuate between office visits. “I know it can be very confusing for some of you,” says Dr. Files.
“I know all my pills, because the doctor tells me what I need to take,” says 89-year-old Dolores Dalessio, from Mt. Washington. “I write them all down and take them at the same time every day so I won’t forget.”
“That’s what everyone in this room should be doing,” agrees Dr. Files. “Your prescriptions will change a lot of hands by the time it gets into yours. If something doesn’t look right, ask questions,” recommends Dr. Files.
While we cannot control family history’s part in high blood pressure, one thing we can control is exercise, such as swimming, yoga or walking. “I can’t walk much anymore, but I do watch on my TV and they have couch-exercises for people my age,” says a gentleman who didn’t wish to give his name. “I may look silly sitting on my sofa, but it’s better than nothing,” he laughs.
Dr. Files touches upon the smoking issue and says that is the number one thing people can do right away to lower their blood pressure. “I know it’s a hard habit to break, but there are a lot of newer tobacco cessation products that really do work,” says Dr. Files.
“Patients may be intimidated by doctors in a white lab coat. Because of this, they are less likely to ask questions or remember what the doctor tells them. The Gateway Health Awareness Series (H.A.S.) is helpful because the experts meet them in a non-clinical setting where they may feel more comfortable asking questions,” Says Carol Allen, Director of Public Affairs and Program Development, Gateway Health Plan®.
For a complete schedule and list of specific times and locations for Gateway’s Health Awareness Series (H.AS.) near you, visit www.gatewayhealthplan.com.