NHS has the equipment to deal
with this – but have they the will?
~”You have improved”, said Mary, my nice Physio at my local hospital, when I had my last physio session. Which was cheering.
I had just returned from a superb Italian treatment centre, where they had said they were used to helping those of us with osteoporosis.
And, unlike most medical centres, the Villa Eden was filled with people of all ages, such as footballers from AC Milan and Inter-Milan clubs, sent there because treatment is Ace.
The experience had been so cosseting and luxurious, I just enjoyed myself and hadn’t thought of any extra bonuses that might appear! But there is no doubt that in Europe, weekly exercise is seen as the way to help prevent problems caused by osteoporosis such as expensive fractures.
Why I went to Italy
Depressed it was taking so much time and energy to get information and treatment in London for my osteoporosis, I was ready to give up. Put on one of the cancer drugs that possibly has osteoporosis as a side effect, iit was devastating to be told I had developed it.
So it was back on the Internet to find out what to do. First, I found out that exercise was advised.
I was lucky enough to have an insurance company that paid for weekly exercise classes, and at the end of a year my annual DEXA scan showed I had gone in to reversal – I was beating osteoporosis!
Looking at my scan, my Professor said he was delighted, and my bone density had increased by 21%. I was now osteopeanic. He told me to continue with what I was doing, but easier said than done in today’s NHS culture of dumming down.
After a year the insurance company said they had paid out enough – so I went to ‘my’ cancer hospital, who referred me to another hospital. The outcome was yes, they knew that exercise could help, but the NHS can’t provide that.
“Even though it may save me from have a fracture, which costs around £12,000+ to treat?”
No – they weren’t prepared to help. But would be happy to repair fractures. You couldn’t make it up.
So it was back to Europe, and find out what I could there – and copy this when I got home. I needed to know more: which were most effective exercises, how should I do them, etc. and needed a ‘kick start’ with professional advice to cheer me up and really get me going.
Trying the Italian Way
Friends recommended Villa Eden, in the middle of the Trentino mountains in Northern Italy. Its director, Dr. Claudio Taverna, is also a specialist in sports medicine, which augured well.
I used to visit Italy frequently, many years ago, when their health system was ‘Third World’. But boy! has it improved, and I was staggered when I analysed what is done to help at Villa Eden, to see how simple their solutions are – and how, if only Andrew Lansley had the will, we could copy their treatment ideas in Britain – particularly in dealing with Osteoporosis.
Where is Villa Eden?
The Villa is in the Northern Italian mountain resort of Merano, which sits at the entrance to the Brenner Pass. It was a favourite resort of the beautiful Austrian Empress Sisi of Austria; now, she really was obsessed with her health – so if it was good enough for her – it should suit me.
Arriving at the Villa I walked inside what seemed like a charming, welcoming large home. Staff smiled, guests smiled, the wood panelling didn’t look a bit like a health spa, and my bedroom was palatial. I was going to enjoy the holiday – and forget about osteoporosis.
Dr. Taverna’s English put my languages to shame, as he swiftly took a health history from me. No lectures, no heavy programmes – it was, “I will introduce you to ……” and a little card with my programme was given to me. All I had to do each day was to turn up in various venues at the time I was told to, and enjoy talking to the other guests. I was given a computer test (Italians love the IT age), but stopped laughing at this when Dr. Taverna said the Milan football clubs sent their top players here if they didn’t recover quickly enough; the computer could often point to what was wrong.
First surprise was the Aquagym. I had been told that swimming, although good exercise, wasn’t the best for osteoporosis. But whoever told me that hadn’t taken part in a Villa Eden Aquagym!
The instructor was in the water, encouraging us to jump up and down – vigorously – then leapt up onto the side and demonstrated all the various moves we had to copy. Without even thinking about it, we were definitely doing load-bearing exercise, but having fun in the water, which meant we worked hard but didn’t notice the effort.
Any hospital with a hydro pool could easily copy this.
Now I am home, I have been copying the moves we were taught – and hopefully my Physio will continue to be impressed.
I knew exercising on the Treadmill was highly recommended, but was surprised to be told that it didn’t matter how fast I walked on it – what mattered was to set it to incline, so I was doing a gentle climb. When I came back to London I asked Mary about this – and she said that was right. So now I need to find a supervised programme near me, where I can be watched as I walk and walk – to make sure I don’t slip.
My programme had another surprise – usually one gets one specialist massage, and that’s it. But instead of only one, I had been told I would have one every morning. Dr. Taverna had seen I had a history of lymphoedema, and dry skin, and Pamela was given the task of zapping this; that ten days later I am still feeling lovely after-effects.
Irmi is one of the villa’s treasures – she takes guests out every day on walks into the surrounding villages, as walking is one of the best ways of exercise for osteoporosis. She takes guests off the beaten track to see life as it is really lived in the farming communities, and the mountain towns that lived on trade going through the Brenner pass. But this isn’t hard walking – Irmi drives the hotel’s mini-bus up to a pretty village, then you get out and walk, and wander. A lovely way of doing exercise, if you are like me and think cars were invented so I didn’t have to walk.
Mind you, if you want, you can go off up the mountains on your own, and walk for miles.
Dancing and Trampolining
are also good for exercise, and you would see some of us bouncing around and doing a mean quickstep whenever there was a burst of music!
Dr. Taverna took me through what I eat each day, and said I should include more alkaline foods in my diet. So went on National Osteoporosis website, and there was a question on the forum asking what were alkaline foods – and the answer.
Also it is important to include a visit to the Dietician to ensure you are getting your calcium and the right vitamins.
This programme was a lovely relaxed way of doing exercise, focussing on Aquagym exercises which I can now do in my local health club’s pool; explaining the benefits of the treadmill, and most effective way to use it – again when I went to my local hospital’s exercise classes there was talk about not using it – Elf n Safety etc. But I insisted that that was what I had been told to do. Fun walking, and a look at what I ate, and no wonder Mary was pleased with progress.
I also had the benefit of the very knowledgeable staff who did computer tests, talked about my fears, and gave lots of sensible advice, but in a friendly way so it was easier to remember. The English-speaking staff go out of their way to help and demonstrate the best exercises, and you come away with ground rules ‘set’ in your mind, so it is easy to copy the programme at home.
This was genuinely a marvellous ‘kick start’ to what I needed to know to do the right exercise – all I have to do now is to get my local hospital to help with providing classes where I can use the treadmill and the trampoline. Easier said than done – they want me to use a local gym, but beware – once you have been assessed that’s it. You do NOT get supervision – and when you are potentially fragile and more unsteady on your feet with osteoporosis, this is asking for trouble,
For anyone who wants to follow my ‘holiday’, I flew to Verona and then you can either hire a car, or the hotel can arrange a taxi.
For a four night, five day programme, with one treatment per day, cost is from €880 (approx £750) per person for full board.
Back in UK – most hospitals have weekly classes of general exercise for heart and other patients.
- It is very simple to include those with Osteoporosis
- The equipment will already be there
- Supervision will be in place
- As classes are already in place, there will be NO extra cost to NHS or patients
But the NHS seems totally incapable of keeping up with the times – when are hospitals going to listen to Cameron and Lansley and copy what Europeans get?