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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Health Matters: An Interview with Gail Owens, RN

Background: Gail and I know each other through my long-time friend and her new wife, Lisa. They live in Madison, WI, but get down to Chicago at least once a year. On their last visit in December, I asked Gail--who is a community nurse in southern Wisconsin--if I could interview her about the work she does with older clients.

She graciously agreed.

What is your professional title and training?

"Registered Nurse BSN," Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

What is your current position?

I’m an RN with Home Health United/Xtra Care based in Madison Wisconsin.

I travel to area community/senior centers and provide community nursing services: diabetic/non-diabetic foot care; blood pressure screenings; and influenza vaccinations.

How long have you been working with older people?

I've been a hospital nurse for 30+ years, and older demographics have always been the largest inpatient population then and now. This is the first time I’ve worked in a non-hospital setting.

What interests you in working with this population?

I think my interest started at a young age. Growing up, I was close to, and spent a lot of time with, my paternal grandparents.  They were retired and, with both of my parents working full time, they watched my brother and me when we were little. From this experience, we both came to respect and love our grandparents, to treat them kindly and with respect. 

And over the years, I've grown to appreciate older folks even more: their life skills; survival through life tragedies and loss; their resilience and toughness. Also, I find that age group to be better listeners and storytellers. Many, too, have maintained a sense of humor, which I love.

Many demographers now break down the term "old" as follows: young old: 65 - 74; old: 75-84; old/oldest old: 85+. Of these three categories, which have you/do you mainly work with?

All of these ages in my past hospital career, but now fewer of the "young old" and more of the "old" and "oldest old."

In your work with people in those categories, what are the major chronic health problems you see in this population? Especially those you think are related to lifestyle?

Obesity, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, joint problems, loneliness/isolation. And while we can’t say that the causes of these conditions are 100% related to lifestyle—some chronic illness is genetic—there are some correlations.

So based on correlation as a factor in chronic illness among the old, what changes in lifestyle would you recommend as people enter their 50's?  In other words, what can they be doing now to ward off or at least minimize the chronic health problems you see in your older clients?

In general, staying engaged, active, and eating healthy, including the Mediterranean diet and whole foods. 

Specifically: exercise, including walking; yoga or some type of stretching routine/class; keeping weight down; staying connected/socially interacting with friends, etc.; reading and other hobbies; and working at least part time for as long as possible in a job you enjoy.


With many thanks to Gail for sharing what she's learned in her long and fulfilling nursing career, especially as it applies to those of us post-50. Because we all want to live a healthy long life, not just a long one.

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