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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 14, No. 2, Spring 1998

Wellness for Polio Survivors

Sunny Roller, MA, University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan, elsol@umich.edu

Polio survivor Sunny Roller has been a post-polio educator and researcher for fifteen years and has authored professional and consumer literature on the late effects of polio and wellness programs for polio survivors. Roller is the project manager for Wellness for Women with Polio: A Holistic Program Model and is currently serving on the federal subcommittee to write "Healthy People 2010," which will outline our new national guidelines for health and health promotion for all American citizens, including those with disabilities.

Halfway to completion, Wellness for Women with Polio: A Holistic Program Model, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, is proceeding at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Two hundred women who have various levels of disability from polio are participating in this investigation, which is directed by Denise G. Tate, PhD, and James A. Leonard, MD.

The purpose is to test the effectiveness of a holistic wellness program. One hundred women are participating in a wellness workshop; 100 others are the control group. The major question to be answered is: "does attending a ten-week workshop on nutrition, exercise, and stress management lead to greater physical fitness, improved nutrition and reduced stress for polio survivors?" Further, "as polio survivors grow older with their disability, would focusing on health promotion activities lead to optimal health (i.e., a higher state of wellness) and improved quality of life, as well as inhibit the development of secondary conditions such as osteoporosis or carpal tunnel syndrome?"

The specific intervention in this study is a comprehensive and integrated (holistic) wellness workshop. The holistic approach was developed on the premise that mind and body work together as one, and that sound nutrition, appropriate exercise and stress management are interrelated and contribute to a woman's overall state of wellness.

In this study, the three-hour workshop covering each key health topic convenes every other week for eight weeks. Approximately twenty participants with similar disability levels come together to learn about the interrelationship of good nutrition, safe exercise, and stress reduction from four different facilitators. Polio and its late effects is also woven in as part of the course content. There are lectures, group discussion, literature-sharing, deep breathing to soft music, with practice in stretching and strengthening exercises.

The wellness workshop's content and activities are individualized for each participant. Regular at-home health promotion activity and positive buddy-system support outside of class are encouraged. Two weeks after the workshop has ended, each participant meets individually for a coaching session with each facilitator to discuss and create a personalized plan for wellness activities. Goals are not grandiose; the activities laid out must be safe and achievable, including small but regularly-practiced improvements in daily health-promoting activities.

Participants in the study are clinically examined before, after (for short-term effects), and six months following the finish of the wellness workshop (for longer-lasting effects). Self-report questionnaires are also completed at each point to register change during the study's entire nine-month duration.

As of this writing, 112 of the total 200 women have started participation in the study. By June 6th, two-fifths of the study sample will have completed their participation requirements. Anecdotally, several women expressed extreme relief to learn that intelligently-planned exercise is an option for them, alleviating fears that polio survivors could never exercise without dangerous risk attached.

Companions and spouses attending clinics or workshops have also expressed appreciation at the feeling of support from others who have had similar experiences and for the opportunity to learn more about polio's late effects.

This study is slated for completion by October of 1999. Investigators will continue to provide regular updates to Polio Network News regarding the study's progress and data trends.

For more information on wellness ...

Wellness from Within: The First Step
The American Holistic Health Association, www.ahha.org