Gaining Ground

Gaining Ground

Retirees don't always seek out the Rogue Valley with intent to rest on their laurels.

Many pursue lifelong dreams of gardening, growing wine grapes, herding goats or maintaining a bit of forestland, says Sharon Johnson, associate professor of health and human sciences for Oregon State University. Amid agricultural pursuits, says Johnson, the reality of aging can be more painful for older adults with arthritis.

"It sort of goes with the aging territory," says Johnson, a local authority on the topic. "There's no cure for it — you need to manage it."

Resources exist, however, to help arthritis sufferers reclaim territory from the disease. Among these is the National AgrAbility Project, the inspiration for Johnson's November class "Gaining Ground on Arthritis: Managing Arthritis in the Agricultural Workplace," planned for Nov. 22 at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. The event is open to anyone affected by arthritis, even those in non-agricultural fields, says Johnson.

"The idea is to get people in here ... who may not think of education as part of the answer," she says. "They're just too busy workin.' "

AgrAbility aims to empower farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities to live successfully in rural America. Although serious injuries and impairments — such as amputation, paralysis and visual and hearing difficulties — are a focus for AgrAbility, arthritis is among the wide range of debilitating conditions addressed in the program.

"It has real farmers demonstrating how they really deal with this," says Johnson of a program DVD she plans to show at the Extension class.

Serving 24 states through partnerships with land-grant universities, AgrAbility was created in the 1990 Farm Bill. The program is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and led nationally by the Breaking New Ground Resource Center at Purdue University in partnership with Goodwill Industries International and the Arthritis Foundation's Indiana Chapter. Oregon, however, does not have its own arm of AgrAbility.

"We'll identify local resources," says Johnson.

Among those is the Arthritis Foundation's Oregon Branch in Portland. The organization produces a 30-page booklet, "Arthritis Answers: Learn About Arthritis Prevention, Treatment and Your Risk," and the 25-page guide "Managing Your Pain." Both will be distributed to class participants with materials covered by their $5 course fee, says Johnson. Also included will be a fact sheet from AgrAbility.

"They will get a whole package of materials," says Johnson.

To start, participants will conduct a self-assessment to help direct the classroom discussion. Questions have a general — rather than agricultural — context, such as opening car doors or standing up from armless chairs, says Johnson, adding that there are about 100 types of arthritis, which in one form or another, strike most people as they age. Johnson says she plans to discuss related disorders, such as gout, lupus and osteoporosis. OSU pharmacy interns also will be on hand to answer questions about medications.

"The emphasis will be on what works," says Johnson.

Some of those solutions are likely to come from participants, who cite arthritis among the top concerns in the Extension's popular Living Well workshop series, aimed at people with chronic health conditions. Diabetes and fibromyalgia tend to be more common complaints elsewhere in the country, says Johnson.

"Continuing to work without pain are just things that people are struggling with," she says. "Folks love to share their stories."

Participants will be asked to share their stories about six months after the class, when Johnson plans to follow up by phone. If large numbers turn out for the event, she will conduct a sample survey, says Johnson. The class will be held on a later date at the Extension's Josephine County office, 215 Ringuette St., Grants Pass.

In the meantime, Johnson urges arthritis sufferers to consult the Arthritis Foundation and AgrAbility websites, www.arthritis.org and www.agrability.org. The arthritis foundation maintains a help line at 1-800-542-0295.

And, says Johnson, stay as active as possible despite arthritis.

"It hurts to move, but if you don't, it hurts more."

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