Love Your Heart

Heart graphic

Corazon image via Ilhh, used under a Creative Commons license

The leading cause of death for both men and women in the US is heart disease, with 1 in 4 deaths being attributed to it. February is recognized by many organizations as American Heart Month. While there are things that can affect your heart that are out of your control (such as genetics, race, sex), luckily there are many things that can be easily altered in an individual’s lifestyle that can help improve your heart health.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are at an increased risk of developing secondary health issues and engaging in risky behaviors that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. However, many of these secondary issues can be modified, and in exchange lead to a healthier heart. We found what we believe are six of the top factors that affect individuals with IDD (and those without IDD) that can be altered/maintained in their lifestyle to help keep their heart healthy.

  1. Eat healthy and be physically active

Healthy eating leads to increased energy, weight loss, and lower cholesterol levels. If possible, try to stay away from frozen/processed meals, which can be high in trans-fat, and eat fresh foods. Some other healthy eating tips are:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Don’t completely cut yourself off from treats! Once-a-week type special treats or sweets help to reduce cravings and binge eating, but should not be eaten every day.
  • On Sundays, plan your meals for the entire week, so you know what you’ll be eating each day.
  • Cookbooks such as Cooking By Color, can help individuals with IDD learn about how to prepare simple, healthy meals at home.

CDC Vital Signs put out a report in May 2014 stating that nearly half of all individuals with disabilities get no physical activity. Recommended strategies to be more physically active are:

  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. This can include joining a walking club, dancing, online workout videos, or attending a yoga/fitness class at your local Chapter of The Arc or fitness center.
  • If 30 minutes is too long to exercise all at once, split it up and do three 10 minute segments throughout the day. Individuals will reap the same health benefits as doing it all at once.
  1. Maintain a healthy weight

Thirty six percent of individuals with disabilities are considered obese as compared to 23% of individuals without disabilities. Regular physical exercise and healthy eating will help individuals to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes, which is another risk factor that contributes to heart disease.

  1. Quit smoking

According to the CDC the rate of individuals with disabilities that smoke is notably higher than of those who do not have a disability. The chemicals and plaque from tobacco build up on the inside of the arteries, causing the passageway to narrow. This puts a lot of extra stress on the heart muscle to work harder than usual to make sure blood is circulating through the body.

Some resources to help individuals with IDD quit smoking include…

  1. Maintain a healthy blood pressure level

Individuals with IDD are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure/hypertension than those without disabilities. One cause of this could again stem back to lack of physical activity and poor eating habits. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. Other ways to help reduce blood pressure to safe levels are:

  • Reduce sodium – replace salt with spice to flavor foods
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit stress levels
  • Reduce alcohol consumption or drink in moderation
  • In extreme cases medication may be required
  1. Don’t drink alcohol or drink in moderation

Moderation for men is 1-2 drinks per day and 1-per day for women. Excessive alcohol use over time can cause high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, contribute to cardiomyopathy and stroke, or lead to heart failure.

  1. Manage stress

Stress levels for some individuals with IDD can be elevated daily due to frustration caused by communication barriers with peers/physicians/staff, or lack of ability to fully grasp certain concepts in school/work/social environments. In stressful situations, individuals might also choose to respond in non-healthy ways, such as overeating, smoking, or drinking alcohol as ways to cope. Enforcing good daily habits to deal with stress, such as exercising, meditating, or talking with friends/family, will help individuals with IDD manage stress in a healthy manner.

Making a few of these changes could have a huge impact on your heart and the way your body works. Learn more about how these 5 categories and how to improve your health by utilizing the resources from The Arc’s HealthMeet project.

The Arc Applauds Federal Agencies for Standing Up for Rights of Massachusetts Mother with Disability

Washington, DC – Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services found that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) violated the rights of a mother with developmental disabilities. The mother was denied the opportunity to benefit from supports and services following the removal of her two-day-old infant, and over the next two years as she was seeking to reunite with her daughter.  Unfortunately, despite research that affirms the ability of parents with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to raise a child successfully with appropriate and effective supports, access to these supports continues to be limited, fragmented and uncertain.  The Arc is a strong proponent of the right of parents with I/DD to raise children with supports, as needed, from family, agencies and the community.

“Plain and simple, this is a case of discrimination against a person with a disability and a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This mother has rights that the state ignored and the outcome is appalling. The situation easily could have been resolved when she was pregnant, not two days after she gave birth. Had the situation been dealt with earlier, a plan could have been crafted and mother and daughter could be together receiving the supports they needed from family and the community. We are grateful to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services for standing up for the rights of this mother and for parents with I/DD across the country,” said Peter Berns CEO of The Arc.

The Arc of Massachusetts is supporting state legislation to prohibit discrimination against adults with disabilities in family and juvenile court proceedings.  Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce.  According to the National Council on Disability, removal rates of children from parents with psychiatric or intellectual disability is as high as 70—80%. Parents with sensory or physical disabilities also experience extremely high removal rates and loss of their parental rights.

“We hope that caseworkers and leadership at DCF learn from this decision,” said Leo V. Sarkissian, Executive Director of The Arc of Massachusetts.  “Some DCF offices do recognize that persons with disabilities can be effective parents and have shown that in partnering with chapters and other disability support agencies.”

In Massachusetts two local chapters (EMArc and the United Arc) collaborate with DCF in order to provide high quality, curriculum founded, home-based intensive services for parents with I/DD  and have provided these services and supports for over 15 years.

For further information see the recent report of the National Council on Disability: “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children,” which can be found at: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/.

The Arc Receives Support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for Employment Program

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that it has received $105,000 over three years from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to support its Specialisterne Replication project.  The Specialisterne program creates inclusive employment opportunities for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome, in the information technology (IT) field.
 
The Arc has a partnership with Specialisterne USA,  a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a Danish nonprofit organization that works to create meaningful employment for people with autism and similar challenges by building relationships with technology companies that need employees whose skill sets match the characteristics of many people on the autism spectrum.  The program engages top companies with IT needs interested in hiring youth with ASD and pairs them with chapters of The Arc that provide short-term intensive training and on-the-job support for youth with ASD.  At the end of training, companies may hire program participants as developers, programmers, analysts, and administrators.  Employers also receive training on supporting employees with ASD.  Chapters of The Arc in Philadelphia and New York, working in collaboration with Specialisterne USA, began replicating the Specialisterne program in 2014.  The 2015-2016 grant will allow The Arc to expand this crucial program to the Washington, DC area.
 
The program emphasizes that many youth with ASD are qualified to work in highly skilled positions, and with employer commitment and support they can be successful in community-based jobs of their choosing.
 
“There are many young people with ASD that possess the skills that are in high demand in the tech industry.  This program plays matchmaker, and through our chapter network, we can not only connect a population we serve with employment in the community, we are raising awareness in a major industry about what people with disabilities can do.  It’s an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
 
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has released  $1,539,600 in new and continuing grants, as part of its national M>PWR Initiative designed to empower youth and young people with disabilities to lead productive lives through increased employment.