Monthy screenings at De Soto Senior Center help citizens stay on target
Johnson County Health Department nurse Patti Rule greeted each of her patients with a smile Monday at the De Soto Senior Center.
"Hi," she asked John McCaslin as he approached the empty chair next to her sphygmomanometer. "How are you?"
"I don't know," McCaslin laughed. "I'm going to let you tell me."
Blood pressure monitoring equipment in tow, Rule visits the Senior Center from 11 a.m. to noon the fourth Monday of each month to offer free screenings. She said the service provided not only a way for seniors to monitor blood pressure between doctor visits, but also a friendly way to promote health education.
"Our goal is preventative medicine and not just picking up the pieces afterward," Rule said.
McCaslin, it turned out, was doing very well this week. He proudly showed off the blood pressure readings Rule penned on a scrap of paper for him: 118/74 and 122/74.
According to recent guidelines, 120/80 is a healthy blood pressure, Rule said. Anything higher than 140/90 on three consecutive readings is cause for concern and usually requires medication to treat.
People whose blood pressure falls in between those numbers are good candidates for education and lifestyle changes, Rule said.
"I'm real big on letting them know that they're a big partner in their health care," Rule said.
"The health department is always looking to teach."
Besides genetics, several factors contribute to high blood pressure, Rule said. Lack of exercise, high salt intake, obesity and stress are some of the biggest culprits:
- Regular cardiovascular exercise is important in monitoring blood pressure, Rule said. She explained that a weak heart must work very hard to pump blood, applying an excess amount of pressure on artery walls. Strengthening the heart muscle helps it work more efficiently.
- Rule said decreasing salt in the diet helped keep a healthy balance of fluid in blood vessels.
- People who are overweight may help lower their blood pressure by dropping a few pounds, Rule said. The heart pumps blood to all tissue, even useless adipose tissue, and would be more efficient without the latter.
- Finally, Rule said, stress is a huge contributing factor to high blood pressure and should be monitored as much as possible.
High blood pressure may detriment small arteries in the eyes and kidneys, enlarge the heart or cause strokes, so it's important for people to keep it in check, Rule said.
While she's checking blood pressure, Rule also takes a look at things like funny-looking moles, unusual bruising or a lump on the leg. She answers questions about medications and offers advice on what types of questions to ask to make the most of an upcoming doctor visit.
Rule said she had been making Senior Center calls in De Soto for 17 years. She also makes some house calls for those who can't make it to the center.
If she sees a concerning condition, Rule recommends a doctor visit. If someone has high blood pressure for one or two months and doesn't show up for the next screening, Rule checks on them.
"Any of those people who do not come back to my next clinic are given a phone call," Rule said. "We do follow up."
Archie and Sally Bedford, who stopped in the Senior Center Monday after delivering their regular Meals on Wheels route, are regular pressure-checkers.
Sally Bedford pulled a pink, paper booklet from her purse with documentation to prove it -- line by line, the booklet listed a date and blood pressure reading for every month since March 2003.
Archie Bedford said he and his wife went to the doctor regularly but found extra peace-of-mind from monthly checks at the Senior Center.
"We're both in our 70s," he said. "It's reassuring, even though we get annual physicals and all that."