Health care providers' classes help diabetics cope


It's the beginning of the new year and maybe you've decided to start eating healthy and taking better care of yourself. With type 2 diabetes reaching epidemic proportions in our country, anytime is a good time to start new, healthy habits.

Diabetes is a chronic disease where the body is unable to produce or utilize the hormone insulin, which is used to process glucose. Untreated, it has the potential to cause serious complications. Carrying extra weight is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

According to information from the Washington State Department of Health, 2003-2005, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the state. In Walla Walla County, 6.9 percent of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, which tracks with the statewide percentage.

To assist those at risk for the disease or those who already have it, several local health care providers offer classes, information, workshops and partnered programs. Adventist Health, Walla Walla General Hospital, Providence St. Mary Medical Center and the YMCA provide information for local diabetics and their families.

The Walla Walla General Hospital Diabetes Center offers a variety of services including a series of day and evening classes, "Tools for Living with Diabetes." This is a monthly series for the newly diagnosed diabetic and those who want to review diabetes care and concerns.

According to WWGH Diabetes Educator Eva Saldana, the risk of developing diabetes usually increases with age. Obesity and other health problems aggravate the situation. And the risks are rising. "It used to be that we'd see people in their 60s getting diagnosed. Now, we see them in their 30s and 40s, but mainly in their 50s," she said.

The WWGH Diabetes Center offers group classes and one-on-one counseling. "Many of the 55 and older don't do well in groups and prefer a one-on-one session. Especially if they are hard of hearing, they need somebody right in front of them. We also do this for people who can't read well," she said.

Two keys to treating diabetes are diet and exercise, Saldana said. "You have to change your diet and eat fewer carbs. You must make better choices, more protein and vegetables."

Usually diabetes or prediabetes is discovered after a regular visit to the doctor for a checkup. Blood work indicates a high glucose level, you have a talk with your doctor, and suddenly your life has to change. "The newly diagnosed come to me, we have a one-to-one conversation, and I get them set up with a glucose meter to get them started before they are ready for a class. They're too new and scared to go right to the class. But if you're prediabetic you can reverse it. You still have choices," she said. Paying attention to your diet is a good place to start, then add exercise. Losing weight, even a little bit, can help.

"Exercise is really good. There are always activities you can do. Older people may have hip, knee and shoulder problems. But it's important not to feel they can't do anything." She suggests water exercise, chair exercise and walking if you are able. "Even if a hip is broken, there's always something you can do. Stay in touch with your doctor."

She also suggested getting the whole family involved. In addition to preparing and eating healthy meals together, you can add exercise as a normal part of family activities. Do some research, find good food options, talk with your doctor and use the Internet, Saldana said. A Website she recommends is

It's important to really stay on top of the situation, Saldana said. "It's important because diabetes is a progressive disease. Monitor your blood sugar, find out if what you're doing is working." Saldana can give you a free meter and teach you how to use it properly.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center also offers classes and workshops as well as individual diabetes counseling, if a person has some specific challenges in their new diabetic routine.

Workshops are available for the newly diagnosed diabetic and those who need a review of diabetes self-management. These are held the last Monday and Tuesday of each month, except December.

Ongoing help is available through a support group, "The Power to Prevent or Reverse Diabetes." The group meets at Providence St. Mary Medical Center the third Thursday of each month, except December.

In partnership with the local YMCA, a series of lectures and a variety of exercise sessions are offered for those who have been diagnosed with prediabetes, or are at risk.

There's help available if your new year's resolutions include a healthier lifestyle.

To find out more:

Call the Adventist Health/Medical Group, Clinic, at 509-522-0100, Walla Walla General Hospital at 509-527-8000, YMCA at 509-525-8863, Providence St. Mary Medical Center at 509-525-3320 and visit

Karlene Ponti can be reached by calling 509-526-8324 or by e-mail at


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