Push to get people with diabetes more active

Siblings and soon-to-be health professionals David and Erika Burton are giving back to the Kawhia community this summer, helping people with diabetes and pre-diabetes get more active.

David and Erika, both Kawhia born and bred, saw it as a great opportunity to give back to their local community and to support their father Dr John Burton, owner of Kawhia Medical Centre.

David, who is about to start his fourth year studying medicine at Otago University, says his dad needed additional support to help manage those patients not where not taking all the steps that could keep them well.

"The practice team is doing a great job working with many of these patients, but diabetes is a huge problem in Kawhia. We saw this as a chance to keep the ball rolling. 

"Dad had a long list of patients that needed encouragement, each was called to ask if they were interested in a free home visit by us." says David. 

"We took free fit strips (a large rubber band used for exercise) and set them up with a workout plan in their own home, which we found very effective. 

"Patients responded well, as they could do a workout while watching TV and easily fit it into daily life. They are a lot more comfortable in their own space."

Erika, who is studying nursing at Massey University in Wellington, says they found using fit strips to be particularly useful as they can be used at all levels and be made harder or easier by doing more repetitions or making the resistance greater.

"We have some patients who are largely chair-bound and they have been able to do a simple series of exercises that we have shown them. Although we have been encouraging people to do more walking, and giving a few patients exercises without a fit strip, we have largely used the strips in what we are doing," says Erika. 

The home visits have helped break down any emotional barriers patients may have had preventing them from becoming more active.

"One of the patients we saw was a woman who could not leave the house because her mobility was impaired. She appreciated the visit from a social point of view and has been doing her exercises almost every day since our visit.  She says her walking has improved because of them.

"We took photos of patients doing the exercises and used these in an education brochure we created, making it more relevant to the community.  This further motivated patients with the idea that 'If they can do it, then I can too'," adds Erika. 

David says he and his sister got an insight into what patients' lifestyles were like.

"There were some elderly and lonely patients who enjoyed the companionship we provided. 

Sometimes it felt like we were offering a mental health service. We made return visits to many of the patients to follow up.

"There was a male patient in his 80s who struggles from bouts of depression, but when we connected with him he began to really enjoy himself.  It was a step forward to getting active again," says David

Erika adds "a health provider can tell a patient presenting at hospital to exercise, but it is not going to be effective if the patient is not supported when they get back into the community.   Having a closer relationship with the patient can make all the difference.  We got to know them better, even knowing their dog's name was a good conversation starter.  They opened up to us a lot more than what would be possible in a typical 15 minute consultation."  

The siblings say they are part of a great, close knit community in Kawhia.

"People look out for each other.  One woman who lived alone in her house slept in one morning.  There were a few people knocking on her door at 8:00am because she had not opened her blinds like she routinely did at 7:30am," says David.  

"People would say 'oh you are John's kids.  We have known you since you were this tall'. Dad is definitely the main driver behind our campaign.  He is always keen to try new ways to improve the health of the local community."

David and Erika's campaign ran from November 2015 until the end of January 2016. 

Kawhia Medical Centre is a part of the Pinnacle general practice network, offering innovative quality care to ensure patients achieve the best possible health outcomes.

Photo: Medical student David Burton demonstrates how to use a fit strip.  "The kids were a bit shy at first, but then they really got into it.  They have been encouraging the patient to do his exercises regularly." 

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