For Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellow and University of Texas at Arlington Ph.D. student Elesha Roberts, addressing hypertension in older adults is a key tenant in her role as a Registered Nurse, which for her is about much more than simply delivering care, but also relies education, outreach, and understanding to help her project’s participants and her patients live longer, healthier, and richer lives.
“Older adults are a vital part of the community who help share knowledge and wisdom regarding life issues. This portion of the community is often overlooked, have limited resources, and decreased support. In addition, older adults experience a number of chronic conditions that can place strain on themselves, the family, and community. Due to the many issues that they’re facing, it is my ultimate goal to help motive the participants to remain healthy as long as possible, improve their mental and physical functioning, and quality of life so that they continue to have an impact on future generations,” she explained.
Roberts’ project is based in the Dellcrest Church of Christ in San Antonio, TX, and involves educational workshops and hypertension screening, as well as a health accountability partner program. The workshops have covered the management of hypertension through both lifestyle and medication, while remaining flexible and attentive to the questions and concerns of the participants themselves.
Though she initially planned to keep the focus of the workshops on lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and stress management, medication became a source of many questions early on. Questions such as “Why do I have to take so many different medicines for the same illness?” and “Should I be worried about all the medications that I take and how they affect each other?” drove Roberts to include more information on the different classes of medication available and how they work together or may impact one another.
The blood pressure screenings have been an important part of the program, allowing Roberts to consult with each of the program participants individually about their own questions and concerns. Understanding each participant’s day-to-day life and concerns has been critical to Roberts as she assists them with managing their hypertension in a way that is realistic and sustainable for their own circumstances. For some, this has meant referrals back to their physicians to discuss their full medication regimen to address contraindications or other issues, while for others she has helped them understand the importance of regularly taking their medication as scheduled and managing side effects and other concerns.
Roberts’ project has been a learning experience for her, as well. “I have the opportunity to work with a great group of older adults who enjoy learning about hypertension and method that can used to improve this condition and their overall health,” she explained.
The second piece of Roberts’ project is a health accountability partner for all participants, which she hopes will help them create lasting change in their lives and build a stronger support system. Each of the participants has been partnered, and they will work together to motivate and support one another. During a special workshop dedicated to the role of health accountability partners, the group learned strategies providing emotional support, talking about health and health goals with each other, family members, and healthcare professionals, as well as activities that can done with their partner, such as grocery store trips, cooking or exercising together, and reminders to check their blood pressure and attend upcoming blood pressure events.
Roberts elaborated, “This community of older adults share their health information with each other and have built a strong social support network with each other by attending the scheduled workshops and activities. I can clearly see friendships that have been created and enhanced as a result of each participant’s involvement in the program. This group will call and check on each other regularly and remind each other of the importance of controlling and monitoring their blood pressure.”
For Roberts, the Schweitzer Fellowship has been an opportunity to use her skills and knowledge to help a part of the community that she is passionate about serving, while acting on her ideals. She hopes that her project will have a lasting impact on the community, and has worked closely with the healthcare team at the church since the start of the project to ensure that it will continue beyond her year as a Schweitzer Fellow.
“I cannot put into words the many lessons that I have learned by being involved in this service learning project. This project has taught me that it is important to listen and be flexible when working with others in the community. My needs and desires are important, but it is also important to focus on others and allow them to express their needs and desires; it is important to build relationships with those who you serve,” she concluded.