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Assistance, screenings offered for farmers battling arthritis

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Written Tuesday, January 31, 2012  

A new program offered by faculty and students from The Ohio State University Medical Center may offer solutions for farmers struggling with arthritis.

The faculty and students have teamed up with Ohio State University Extension educators and Ohio AgrAbility to offer the OSU Cares About Farmers with Arthritis Screening Project. The program helps farmers with arthritis manage their disease and seeks to prevent other farmers from getting the disease.

The project works by sending teams throughout Ohio to various agriculture events to offer arthritis screenings to farmers and other people in the agriculture field, said Margaret Teaford, an associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and project director.

"The purpose of the project is to help older farmers and their families understand that arthritis can be prevented and managed," she said. "Some people think there is nothing you can do about arthritis, and that is not the case."

A key goal of the project is to provide management and prevention tips so that farmers can maintain productivity on their farms, said Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility program coordinator.

"While research tells us that a third of all farmers have been diagnosed with arthritis, what we are finding through the screenings is that the majority of Ohio's farmers have either developed arthritis or are at high risk of developing arthritis," McGuire said. "Much of that is due to the physical nature of farm work; the day-to-day tasks farmers have to do, oftentimes done in adverse weather conditions."

The screenings, which are free and last about 10 to 15 minutes, are done out in the counties to bring the screenings where the people are, Teaford said.

The screenings include identifying risk factors for arthritis and a physical fitness component to test strength, balance and flexibility, she said. The screenings were developed in conjunction with Sharon Flinn, an occupational therapist and faculty member in health and rehabilitation sciences.

The program has successfully screened more than 600 farmers since its inception in summer 2010 and has a goal to reach hundreds more, Teaford said.

"We want to help them manage the arthritis they have and to reduce the risk of other farmers from getting arthritis," McGuire said. "The average age of Ohio farmers is 57, so age plays a big role simply because the majority of our farmers have been around farm work their entire lives, which increases their chance of developing arthritis."

Funding for the program came from a grant from OSU Cares, an outreach and engagement program at Ohio State; from the Linda Cummings Simmons Research Endowment; and an Area Health Education Center grant which seeks to link health care students with underserved areas, Teaford said.

Upcoming screenings will take place in Piketon on Feb. 8, at the OSU South Centers, 1864 Shyville Rd., from 5:30-7:30 p.m., and at the Fairfield County-Hocking County Ag Day, on April 14 at the Hocking County Fairgrounds.

The long-term goal of the program is to develop ongoing teams of Extension educators and health-care providers to do the screenings on regular basis and to provide helpful information on the issue in Extension newsletters, she said.

"We've been very well-received in the community and overall I think that we've been helpful to farmers," Teaford said.

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