FALMOUTH — Eighty-five-year-old Eunice Stone wasn’t convinced that a class would help her with the challenges of aging and living with a chronic health condition, but her doctor recommended the workshop — called Living Well for Better Health. Also, she said, it cost only $10.

“It was well worth it,” Stone said after finishing the fifth of six weekly sessions. “I loved it.”

Stone, who was getting no regular exercise six weeks ago, now spends 30 minutes walking or riding a stationary bicycle several days a week, she said, and her arthritic back and her mental outlook have improved.

“I feel better,” said Stone, who lives in Gray. “My daughter said to me last night, ‘You seem more like your old self.’ “

As Maine’s population ages, more people are living with a range of chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes or cancer; and a growing number of Mainers are taking on the challenges of aging the same way they once prepared for jobs and careers — in a classroom.

The Living Well class is offered in Cumberland and York counties by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging and its partners. It’s also offered by other agencies in other parts of the state.


The small, friendly workshops focus on managing symptoms such as pain, fatigue, stress and depression with exercise, nutrition, better communication with doctors and a variety of other tools.

Participants set small, specific goals each week — adding 10 minutes on the treadmill, perhaps, or drinking two glasses of water with lunch — and typically feel the benefits long before they get to the final session.

“That’s what the whole thing is really,” said Stone, “to set goals for yourself and plan to do it and do it.”

There is no minimum age requirement for the class, which is open to people with chronic health conditions and people who care for others who are ill. Most of the students are senior citizens; plenty are in their 40s or 50s.

The classes are intended to provide knowledge and skills to help people keep themselves healthy and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals; but as it happens, the workshops also serve as support groups, where students find people who are experiencing similar challenges.

At a recent session in Falmouth, Emily Brostek, a professional health educator, and Priscilla Platt, a retired teacher and volunteer, led the class through a discussion about depression and the healing power of positive thinking.


“It’s not that the disease itself is causing all the problems, but sometimes the symptoms of the disease are causing a lot of other symptoms.” Platt said. “Depression is definitely one of the symptoms of a chronic disease.”

The students — eight women and one man — knew what Platt was talking about.

“I went into depression for a while, and I’m not a depressive person,” Stone told the class.

Her problem started when she lost her job as a school bus aide last fall, and she eventually didn’t want to eat or do anything. “And I’m not usually ever depressed,” she said.

After discussing how to identify depression and when to ask for medical help, the class talked about practicing the skill of positive thinking — turning negative thoughts into positive ones.

For one thing, they agreed, let’s give ourselves a break when we forget that we’re not as young and healthy as we used to be.


“That’s my first thought, ‘Well, that was stupid, because I can’t move like that anymore,’ ” said Deb Arbique of Portland. “I used to be a really obnoxiously cheery person.”

“You have to accept the fact that as you get older, there are physical limitations,” said Lars Asbjornsen of Freeport. “I have to keep reminding myself, ‘You’re not 25 anymore.’ “

At the end of the two-hour session, the students share their weekly action plans and set small, achievable goals that they can report back about the next week.

For Asbjornsen, 75, the plan is another 10 minutes on the treadmill twice a week. He is trying to lose weight and lower his cholesterol, he said. “My ultimate goal is to get rid of all the medications I have to take.”

Arbique’s goal for the week is to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Arbique is 57 and attends the class because she has been struggling with an undiagnosed condition that causes pain and muscle spasms so severe that she sometimes can’t walk or get out of bed.


“I’ve always been very active and very healthy as an adult,” she said.

The class helped her from the first day, when the instructors talked about the mystery that often surrounds chronic health conditions, Arbique said.

“It’s allowed me to accept it and not be frustrated and angry about what I’m going through,” she said. “Part of the progress I have made is due to that positiveness of the class and the support.”

A two-year, $27 milliongrant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is helping to expand access to the classes nationwide, including in Maine.

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