DHS Home Page
Department of Human Services    Follow DHS on Facebook Follow DHS on Twitter Watch DHS Videos on Vimeo Connect with DHS on LinkedIn

DHS News Header

DHS News June 2010 

pdf.gif June 2010 DHS News Newsletter in a printable format. 

AAA to offer ‘Better Choices, Better Health’ for seniors

In April 2010, the DHS Area Agency on Aging (AAA) launched the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, also known as “Better Choices, Better Health,” for older adults age 60 years and older with chronic conditions. The program is currently funded to operate through March 2012.

Evidence-based equals positive outcomes

The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program was developed at Stanford University and is evidence-based, which means that scientific studies have demonstrated that the program has resulted in positive outcomes. Specifically, 1,000 workshop participants were tracked for three years, and they were found to have successful outcomes from participating in this program. These positive outcomes included increased exercise, better coping strategies and symptom management, better communication with doctors, more energy and less fatigue, decreased disability, and fewer physician visits and hospitalizations. Please see the "Record of success".

Better Choices, Better Health, a collaboration with Vintage, Inc. and the United Way of Allegheny County, is a six-week series of workshops for older adults with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and high blood pressure. The workshops, which last for 2-1/2 hours, focus on helping participants to develop skills and strategies for more effectively managing their chronic conditions. The workshops are interactive and participatory in nature and cover topics including exercise, nutrition, relaxation techniques and effective communication with medical providers.

Peer Leaders, Master Trainers and workshops

The Better Choices, Better Health workshops are not taught by medical professionals, but by Peer Leaders, who generally are people similar to the workshop participants (older adults with chronic diseases). The Peer Leaders are trained by Master Trainers, of which there are three in Allegheny County. The Master Trainers received four days of program training at Stanford University and are the local “experts” in properly implementing the program.

Peer Leaders are not alone in facilitating the class; all workshops are facilitated by two trained leaders. In addition, leaders have the support of a Master Trainer, who attends the first class and is available throughout the six weeks for support and guidance.

Training the Leaders

Vintage, Inc. conducted a Peer Leader training in April, at which 17 Peer Leaders were trained. More trainings will be held on September 13, 15, 20 and 22 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on all four dates. To become certified as a Peer Leader, a person must attend all four training sessions in order. The trainings will be held at Vintage Senior Center, which is located at 401 North Highland Avenue in East Liberty.

The goal is to have 18 more Peer Leaders trained, which would bring the total number of trained Peer Leaders in the county to 38. AAA hopes to have up to 60 Peer Leaders trained by the end of the two-year program period.


AAA and Vintage, Inc. began implementing the workshops in May 2010 at six locations throughout the county, and two more workshop series are scheduled to start in early summer.

AAA plans to implement fall workshops starting in late September or early October at approximately 12 sites throughout the county and has begun recruiting agencies to host the workshops. Hosting the workshops in low-income and underserved locations will be an emphasis for AAA.
Allegheny County was one of four AAAs in Pennsylvania that was funded for this project; the others were Cambria, Berks and Philadelphia counties.

Becoming a Peer Leader

If you know someone who would like to become a Peer Leader or would like to participate in one of the workshops, please contact John Miller, Project Coordinator, at 412-350-1345 or John.Miller@AlleghenyCounty.US.

Record of success

According to studies of other areas that have implemented this evidence-based program over a two-year period, researchers found that CDSMP participants had:

  • increased their exercise
  • improved their coping strategies and symptom management
  • improved communication with their physicians
  • improved their self-rated health
  • increased their energy and reduced their fatigue
  • decreased the incidence/severity of their disability and
  • reduced physician visits and hospitalizations.

Furthermore, after one year these researchers found that CDSMP participants had:

  • significant improvements in energy, health status, social and role activities, and self-efficacy
  • less fatigue or health distress
  • fewer visits to the emergency room and
  • no decline in activity or role functions

According to the study, the increase in patients' perceptions of their self-efficacy was associated with reduced health care use. Self-efficacy, the degree of belief people have that they can perform the behavior required to produce a desired outcome, is crucial to the success of the CDSMP.
The more self-efficacy people have, the more control they believe they have over their behavior. Therefore, increasing self-efficacy contributes to better decision-making processes, stronger motivation and perseverance.

Living the benefits

One workshop participant, a 74-year-old woman named Delores, called the workshops “wonderful” and described how they benefited her in many ways
“I suffer with both arthritis and high blood pressure. I commend all my instructors as they taught me how to manage – more effectively – the symptoms associated with these chronic conditions. I learned how to make better food selections [and] incorporate daily exercise; also the importance of having a partner that I can communicate with so that we can provide each other with feedback. I truly benefited from the instructions on how to better control the symptoms such as pain, fatigue and emotions that are associated with my conditions. My recent doctor’s appointment confirmed as well the improvement this program has provided. My blood pressure was 140/70 and the doctor stated ‘whatever I was doing – keep it up!’ Again, I can not express how pleased I am with the results of my participation in this program.”

DHS News Newsletter 

DHS News Archive