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Event provides local seniors with health resources

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Despite a last-minute location change and early morning rain, more than 100 seniors participated in Clayton County's first-ever Sickness Prevention Achieved through Regional Collaboration, or SPARC, event on Wednesday.

Hosted by the Clayton County Senior Services Department, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and a number of health organizations, the gathering gave local seniors access to immunizations, screenings, and other vital health information.

According to ARC Health and Wellness Coordinator Jessica Gill, SPARC was started three years ago as a regional effort to involve seniors in preventative health care. She said previous SPARC events have been held in Fulton, Fayette, Rockdale, and DeKalb counties, and that Wednesday was the first time the program had been introduced in Clayton.

"It is really a collaboration of partners working together to provide clinical services in a one-stop-shop setting," Gill said. "We [the ARC] are focused on creating healthy lifestyles ... Access to health care is a component to healthy lifestyles. I think the collaboration is outstanding. Whether or not someone gets screened, we are still providing awareness about certain health topics."

Originally scheduled to take place at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center, the SPARC program was held, instead, at the Clayton County International Park VIP Complex in Jonesboro. At the event, nursing students from Clayton State University, took blood pressure readings; registered nurses from the Clayton County Board of Health administered flu vaccinations; and specialists with Advanced Diabetic Solutions fitted people for diabetic shoes. Other organizations offered foot screenings, scheduled mammograms, and gave presentations on healthy eating.

Wanda Nelson, a certified foot-care specialist with Advanced Diabetic Solutions, said that foot health is often the last thing on one's mind. She said the SPARC event gave health organizations a chance to educate the public, particularly seniors, who are more vulnerable to certain types of health conditions.

"Most people don't think of their feet, unless they hurt," Nelson said. "You'll find that a lot of seniors have problems with their feet, whether they are diabetics or not. A lot of amputations start from improper foot care. When people see the [diabetic] shoes, they get interested. When they get the mammograms and screenings, they are becoming active partners in their health care ... not just leaving it all up to their doctor."

Eleanor Peterson, 67, of Jonesboro, said she has attended other health-care events held in the county. She said programs like the SPARC initiative are helpful to people in her age group.

"I learned some things that I didn't know before," Peterson said. "A lot of people don't know what's out there, [and] the different types of medicine. This just helps them become knowledgeable."

Mary Byrd, director of the Clayton County Department of Senior Services, served as the ARC's health and wellness coordinator at the time the SPARC program was started. According to Byrd, the county will use statistical data gathered at the event to try to persuade the federal government to make SPARC a nation-wide effort.

"The ultimate goal of this program is to have data, so that this can be taken under the wing of the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and be implemented all over the U.S.," Byrd said. "Our older adults do not travel a lot. A lot of them don't drive. It is important for us, every year, to provide our seniors with a venue for vaccinations and health and wellness information."

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m., to 2 p.m., the county will host a second SPARC event, this time at the Frank Bailey Senior Center, located at 6213 Riverdale Road in Riverdale. For more information, call (770) 477-3211.