July is National Park and Recreation Month – And a Great Time to Start Exercising

Boy outsideOne great way to improve your health is to go outside and get moving.  During the month of July, parks all across the United States will be celebrating Park and Recreation Month by holding fun events open to everyone.  By taking part in these events, you will not only have a good time but you can also improve your health by exercising.

Exercising can help you stay in shape and keep a healthy weight.  But, it also has other benefits. Activities like horseback riding can help improve coordination and physical fitness. Also, exercise can also help prevent heart disease, reduce risk of certain types of cancer, and improve mental health.  Whether you enjoy playing basketball, practicing yoga, biking, swimming, or any other physical activity, staying active helps improve your health.

But, how much should you exercise per day?  All adults – those with and without disabilities – should exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes to stay healthy.  Children should exercise at least 5 days a week for 60 minutes a day.  While people with and without disabilities can do many physical activities, everyone should make sure to exercise at a safe level so they do not strain or hurt themselves.   There are also resources specifically for people with disabilities that you can use to get ideas of how to stay active and healthy.  The Arc’s HealthMeet program also promotes good health among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with local health assessments, webinars on health topics, and other information available online.

With so many different fun events and healthy activities available, July is the perfect month to visit your local park or recreation center.  For more information about how to get to a park or how to get around a park, contact your local park or find information about accessibility for people with disabilities online.

With this information in mind, we hope you can make the most of your summer and get outside!

Mental Health and How You Can Help

HealthMeetOn June 3rd, President Obama held a conference at the White House about mental health.  Mental health issues are a national policy concern, but it is important to also think about mental health in your life too.  By seeking support and fighting the stigma, or embarrassment, about psychiatric disabilities, you can create a healthier world for yourself and others.

Anyone can have mental illness and around 25% of adults in the United States have a mental health disorder. Mental health is also a big concern for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Some professionals may be unable to correctly diagnose psychiatric disabilities with people who have I/DD so these individuals may not receive the care they need.  Untreated mental illness alone makes you less healthy and it is also associated with other health issues like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The Arc’s HealthMeet project works to improve physical health for people with I/DD, but you can contribute too by creating a healthier conversation about mental health.

One of the bravest steps to improve health is getting help for living with mental illness. There are many mental health resources available for you or someone you know. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or committing suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you are worried about someone you know, stay with them and urge them to seek help, either at a hospital or from a mental health professional. For other support, like finding mental health services, the National Institute of Mental Health website has many resources listed under “Finding Health.”

In addition to encouraging others to get help, you can also help change how we talk about mental health.  Mental illness can affect anyone, but it is often seen as something shameful. This makes it harder for many people to get help.  By talking in an open and non-judgmental way about mental health, we can all work to create the healthier world envisioned by HealthMeet and The Arc.

HealthMeet® In Action – In 5 States, Changing Lives

Young girl with audiologistBy Ann Cameron Williams, Ph.D., Senior Executive Officer, Research and Innovations and Karen Wolf-Branigin, Senior Executive Officer, National Initiatives

Many of us at The Arc at local, state, and national levels get up and go to work every morning to make a positive difference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  It’s not only what we do, it’s who we are.

When I have the opportunity to go visit local and state Chapters, I am usually stunned by the creativity and sheer genius that is activated on behalf of people that are in need of a better solution.  This past month, The Arc US invited five Chapters from the five states that are engaged in our HealthMeet®: Promoting Health for People with Intellectual Disabilities that is funded by the CDC, to share with us their approaches to improving health in their communities.  As we listened, once again, I found myself marveling at the depth of understanding and quality of response that our Chapters deliver.

For example, in Massachusetts, The Arc of Massachusetts is working in collaboration with the health providers from the Boston Medical Center, the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association and Simmons College to conduct health assessments. They translated the HealthMeet flyer and engaged in specific outreach efforts in Boston’s Portuguese community. In addition, The Arc of Massachusetts is coordinating a four-week Health and Nutrition program for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities

In Pennsylvania, ACHIEVA, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, recruited physicians, medical residents and students, nurses, retired nurses, nursing students, paramedics, physical therapists and speech/language pathologists to conduct health assessments at ACHIEVA programs, community recreation programs and community health fairs. ACHIEVA created and produces an e-newsletter, Your Health Matters, with articles on policy, applied research, services and training events related to HealthMeet events and health and intellectual/developmental disabilities.

In North Carolina, The Arc of North Carolina is building the HealthMeet program within their local chapters with 8 sites across the state. Their goals are to work in rural and urban areas, serve as a catalyst to build and strengthen partnerships, bring value to the membership and let chapters shine. They have created an infrastructure with a list serve, real-time contact lists, and shared group workspace to share tools and processes. Significant community involvement from a plethora of stakeholders is an important part of the North Carolina model.

The Arc of New Jersey is working with The Arc of Atlantic County, The Arc of Camden County, The Arc of Essex County, The Arc Gloucester, and The Arc of Monmouth to implement HealthMeet events. The chapters complete assessments as part of their day program services and at ambulatory care centers. Publicity efforts have included print and broadcast media, including guest appearance on a local radio show, podcasts and interviews with local television stations.

And in San Francisco, The Arc San Francisco hosts Wellness Wednesdays, an organized drop in health assessment for the people they serve. The program is held on site so it’s easily accessible to individuals, allows for private screenings, and is easy to quickly set-up/breakdown. The Arc San Francisco developed their own registration system and uses Nurses and volunteers to conduct the assessment. In addition, they are developing processes to identify potential health issues on an ongoing basis by training Direct Support Professionals to be aware of hidden health issues.

In each state, Chapters are facilitating life-changing events that are helping people with I/DD identify health concerns and training medical health professionals and students to become more familiar with interacting with people with disabilities.  Each Chapter has developed a customized approach, which is one of the hallmarks of our responsive network.  The Arc of the United States is also helping with systems level changes through innovative and timely training via our HealthMeet webinars, partnering with the University of Minnesota to advance self-advocacy training in health promotion and other essential life areas at www.selfadvocacyonline, and advancing in-community health promotion program training.

This effort is bringing into clear relief the chronic and often unattended health care needs of the people we serve.  Who is looking?  The CDC is, for one.  The health systems of the five states in which HealthMeet runs are, for another.  And the thousands of medical health professionals that are contributing their time and interests into this effort are, as well.  We are changing the world.

This thing is, health is – and should be considered – a civil right.  Chapters of The Arc are helping to get this word across to many who may be hearing this message for the first time.  Simply stated, with gratitude:  thank you.

The Best Tan Is No Tan – Learn to Protect Your Skin!

Woman applying sunscreen

Photo by Bill Branson, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute

May is here and that means Memorial Day Weekend lies ahead, which for many is the kick off for beach trips and afternoons spent by the pool.  With all this fun in the sun also comes the responsibility of making sure that we protect our skin from harmful UV rays, which is why May is also Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  Even though skin cancer is the most preventable form of cancer, it is still the most common cancer in the United States with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer within their life.

Being informed of the facts that can make you a higher risk for skin cancer and effective ways to help prevent and spot skin abnormalities can make a huge difference.  The number one way to prevent skin cancer is to stay out of the sun, but that’s very hard to avoid all the time.  When the sun’s UV rays are the strongest (between 10am and 4pm) it only takes 15 minutes of exposure for your skin to burn.  So when you have to be in the sun for extended periods of time it is essential to apply sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 or higher and a lip balm with an SPF about 30 minutes before going out and generously reapplying every 2 hours.  When possible, try to seek out some shade or wear a hat to help shade your face.  Certain factors such as fair skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, family history of skin cancer and freckles are all indicators that you might be more susceptible to burn easier.

The most common types of skin cancer are non-melanoma, such as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, which are usually not fatal.  However, without spotting the signs related to these types of cancer early on and treating it you could be at risk for them developing into melanoma.  Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and the leading cause of death from all forms of skin cancer, so early detection could be lifesaving.

Individuals with disabilities are less likely to receive routine check-ups, have fewer doctor visits and be less aware of their own health disparities, so it is important that they are educated to know to look for moles, lesions and scars on their skin that could be cancerous and to say something about it right away. The ABCs for teaching what to look for are easy:

Abnormality – is one side shaped differently than the other
Border – is it irregular
Color – various shades of tan/brown, black or red
Diameter – bigger than a pencil eraser
Evolving – has it changed shape or size

Being attentive to any skin abnormalities and making sure to use sunscreen and avoid the sun during its peak hours are all steps to protecting your skin from getting damaged.  It’s essential to make sure you and your loved ones regularly check themselves for possible cancerous moles/spots and to get routine check-ups.  Through its HealthMeet project, The Arc is offering free non-invasive health assessments to individuals with disabilities in 5 pilot sites across the US to help increase awareness of these types of preventable disparities.  Contact your local chapter of The Arc if you need help finding a doctor or dermatologist that could help you and visit the National Council for Skin Care Prevention for more information and tips on sun protection.  And don’t forget the sunscreen when heading outside this summer!

Get in the Game! Sports and Autism

Athletic womanSports are a huge part of many kids’ lives.  Not only is it a social gathering for adolescents to meet friends and learn to be part of a team, it also encourages healthy active lifestyles, and as we know exercise is important for everyone – disability or not. Some parents might think that having a child with autism means playing sports may never be a reality for their child. However, sports can be just as beneficial, if not more, for children with autism.

While many team sports such as basketball or soccer may be a little bit more challenging to grasp due to gross motor coordination, sensory problems or communication issues, individual sports may be the perfect fit. Individual sports like swimming, track and field and karate provide structure and team camaraderie while at the same time being very individualized. This perfect mixture could be very beneficial in allowing the child to fully participate in the activity at their own level while not having the social anxiety that can be brought on from other involved team sports. In a basketball game there has to be that thought process of knowing when the ball is going to be passed to you or who to throw to next.  A sport like swimming permits the child to focus in on one skill only helping to keep their attention and reducing that social anxiety that can be brought on in other team sports.

This team aspect, while helping them develop their motor skills, will also help them develop their social skills too by providing the feeling of being a valued member of a group and increasing self-confidence.  Individualized sports also eliminate the fear that your child will be picked last for the team or “ride the bench” the whole game, creating a sense of failure and rejection in their heads and turning them away from the sport completely. While a child may come in last in a track race, putting the focus on just finishing the race and having their teammates cheer them on to the finish line can be a great self-esteem booster.

Another great aspect of individual sports is the ability to continue participating throughout one’s lifespan. Individuals with disabilities have a higher prevalence for obesity and one large contributor to that can be a sedentary lifestyle (although other factors are also influential). Encouraging fitness at a younger age will help to find fun inclusive ways to exercise that can be carried on into their adult years too.

The Arc’s programs such as HealthMeet and the Autism NOW Center are great places to turn to for valuable information and resources on fitness and healthy living for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Autism NOW’s website contains printable handouts with dietary recommendations and tips that promote healthy eating habits as well as a Health Promotion Guide  containing ideas and suggestions for developing and sustaining a healthy, active lifestyle for individuals with autism.

Working Toward Healthier Lives for People with I/DD

HealthMeetThe Arc of United States recently launched its new HealthMeet® project, funded through a 3-year, $1 million cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). ACHIEVA (The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh) has joined four other chapters of The Arc nationwide, to pilot local health care screenings, provide assistance with health care navigation and offer health promotion activities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

“We are extremely excited to be chosen to partner with The Arc of the United States, The Arc of Massachusetts, The Arc of New Jersey, The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of San Francisco to be part of this project and provide free health screenings across our region,” says Nancy Murray, President, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh.  “These screenings will allow us to provide health screenings, collect data on the health of people with I/DD and provide training and information on healthy lifestyles.”

Screenings began in March. “ACHIEVA has gotten off to a great start by screening our first 46 individuals and we have collected valuable health data during the screenings,” says HealthMeet screening coordinator Melissa Allen. “We are providing wellness informational brochures and encouraging healthy lifestyles by giving participants a gift bag at the end of their screening.”

In addition, ACHIEVA worked with Eruption Athletics, a personal training program for men and women with disabilities, and they are joining ACHIEVA’s HealthMeet events to offer fun fitness activities and exercise guidance to those that participate.  Eruption Athletics is dedicated to providing athletic trainer-certified programs to develop strength, flexibility and wellness with a focus on men and women with disabilities. This was a unique way for ACHIEVA to partner with a business in their community to enhance the HealthMeet event and put a fun and interactive spin on the benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle for their participants.

ACHIEVA supports the HealthMeet effort with a bi-monthly electronic newsletter that provides health and wellness information and information about access to healthcare. For more information about HealthMeet you can visit www.thearc.org/healthmeet. If you want to receive ACHIEVA’s HealthMeet electronic newsletter please contact Melissa Allen at mallen@achieva.info.

March is National Nutrition Month

By Kerry Mauger, The Arc’s HealthMeet Team

HealthMeetMarch is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness month and it is also National Nutrition Month®. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics created an annual campaign to help educate and inform people all over the US about the importance of creating healthy eating habits, making more informed food choices and increasing physical activity. This is especially important for individuals living with an intellectual or developmental disability. It’s been shown that individuals with a disability have a higher prevalence for obesity, which can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and other preventable health issues.

Learning more about nutrition and what types of foods to eat can make a huge impact in your overall health. By teaching and using the MyPlate methodology, individuals can get a visual perspective of the types of foods and portions that they should be consuming daily. To help show different portion sizes that are appropriate for certain foods you can compare them to household items that the individual will be able to relate to.  For example -knowing that a 3-4oz serving of chicken should be about the size of a deck of cards or half a cup of pasta is the size of a baseball will help to put portion sizes into perspective for future meals.

Small changes to the foods you consume can also make a significant imprint in your health over time – switching to skim milk from 2%, replacing sour cream with Greek yogurt, eating whole grain bread instead of white bread and controlling sodium intake are all very simple steps to take to making healthier eating habits. Many resources are available through The Arc’s HealthMeet project and their webinars that feature presentations by nutritionists, dieticians, nurses and more to help individuals to be more educated about the foods they chose, portion sizes and ways to improve fitness levels to help reduce obesity and many of its related preventable illnesses.

The Arc joins Million Hearts™ to Help Save Lives from Heart Attacks and Strokes

Heart attacks and strokes are the 1st and 4th leading causes of death in the United States each year.  Everyday 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease in America.  In addition heart disease and stroke are also among the leading causes of disability in our country, with more than 3 million people reporting serious illness or a decrease in the quality of life afterwards.

Many people may not even be aware that they are at a high risk for a heart attack or stroke.  The Arc has taken the pledge to help increase awareness of cardiovascular disease by partnering up with Million Hearts.  Million Hearts was created in attempt to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are co-leading this initiative, which hopes to raise awareness by educating people on the associated risks of heart attacks and strokes, encouraging exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet to reduce cholesterol and sodium intake. By learning the “ABCs” of preventing heart disease and stroke (Aspirin Therapy, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management and Smoking cessation) we can empower individuals to make healthier choices to reduce these occurrences. Million Hearts is bringing together a variety of public and private sectors to help spread their educational campaign across the country and find innovative ways to use technology and information sharing to promote these efforts.

Individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability are at an even higher risk than the rest of the population for heart attacks and stroke.  It is shown that individuals with I/DD are less likely to maintain routine check-ups, receive the medical attention or medicines they need to sustain their health or have enough health knowledge to be aware of their own health disparities to make healthier choices. The Arc’s HealthMeet project is helping to educate and promote healthy behaviors, by providing free health assessments, educational webinars, trainings, and activities to increase fitness in hopes to create a change in individual’s lifestyles leading to fewer instances of heart attacks and strokes.  Log on to The Arc’s HealthMeet page on our website, www.thearc.org, to learn more about the project and access health resources that can help you put your heart’s health into your own hands.

Get the Facts on Women with I/DD and Cervical and Breast Cancer Screening

Caregivers Report Many Barriers to Life Saving Screenings

A recent study in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities titled, Family Caregivers’ Perspectives on Barriers and Facilitators of Cervical and Breast Cancer Screening for Women with Intellectual Disability found  that family caregivers often did not realize the importance of regular cervical and breast cancer screenings for women with I/DD. These lifesaving screenings are important for ALL women, and this study clearly shows that we need to do more to increase awareness and reduce barriers to breast and cervical cancer screening for women with disabilities.

Through the Arc’s HealthMeet® project, we will survey women with I/DD about their frequency of breast and cervical screening as part of the larger health assessments that will be conducted in 2013 in 5 states across the country.  The data collected during the health assessments will further inform the disability and health care field about women’s access to the these critical screenings.  We must do better to protect the health and lives of women with I/DD.

For more information about breast and cervical cancer in women with disabilities, visit the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities page for women with disabilities.

What Do You Think About Autism NOW?

Have you ever visited www.autismnow.org? We’d like to know what you think. Did you find what you were looking for? Do you have any suggestions for how we might improve? Take our short survey to help us ensure that this website is serving you well.

If you’re not familiar with autismnow.org, we highly recommend you take a look. Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center is a project of The Arc funded, in part, by a grant from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. It is designed to be a dynamic, interactive and central point of quality resources and information for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities as well as their families and others. In addition to autismnow.org, this project has created events, online education opportunities and a vibrant online social community dedicated to collecting and sharing quality information, vetted by experts and easily accessible. If you are an individual who identifies as being on the Autism spectrum or are just interested in getting more information about ASD, we invite you to explore and share the site and then take the survey if you have some feedback you’d like to give.