Taking an herbal supplement, getting a massage and fighting illness with better nutrition are all part of naturopathy, a system of medicine focusing on natural remedies to help the body self-heal. Naturopathic medicine emphasizes disease prevention, health maintenance and patient education to treat the whole person rather than just a disease. Patty Hietpas, who co-owns the Right at Home office in Appleton, Wisconsin, with her husband, Tref, has a doctorate in naturopathy and is certified as a naturopath, a non-physician practitioner who can help direct individuals in holistic health choices.
Patty started exploring more natural processes to improve her family’s health around 2000 after one of her three sons was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Instead of following conventional medicine and putting her son on prescription drugs, the concerned mom researched alternative treatments including behavior modification, aromatherapy and certain herbs to calm her son’s overactive responses.
After Tref and Patty opened their Right at Home business in January 2010, Patty began integrating naturopathic medicine in clients’ care plans to improve their health. “My focus is always on health and people,” says Patty. “And in the business of home care, we’re able to assist clients with living as healthfully as possible every day. Natural healthcare is really assisting the body to heal itself. So we encourage identifying what’s going on inside the body that is wrong, and getting back to health processes that help the body run correctly and heal itself. There are a lot of diseases caused by inflammation, and inflammation is caused by a lot of unhealthy choices people make in their lives.”
Naturopathy Benefits: Preventing Disease, Protecting Health
Patty recommends several natural healthcare approaches to enhance a person’s well-being, including:
“Nutrition really is No. 1,” Patty says. “Our bodies are machines. If we put the wrong fuel in the machine, it’s not going to run correctly. If you eat a lot of refined or artificial foods, your cells weren’t made to handle all of that. Many people experience brain fog, which can be improved by giving brain cells natural, healthy fat and other nutrients the brain needs to run correctly.” Patty, along with her office team and registered nurse team, provides her Right at Home caregiver team in-service trainings on nutrition to better assist clients with choosing healthier foods when they grocery shop or when the caregivers make healthy meals and snacks for the care clients.
“We always talk about hydration, as well, and my care manager works with our caregivers to make sure our clients are drinking enough fluids,” Patty states. “Also, many older folks are on a lot of medications, so it’s important to put nutritious food in their bodies.”
Patty and her Right at Home team follow what the doctors prescribe for the clients but will support the clients’ overall health through providing healthier foods. With the seniors’ improved nutrition, many doctors decrease medications for Right at Home’s clients. As an example, Patty noted, “Because of one of our caregiver’s cooking, a long-time client of ours had his medication list reduced from about 11 medications to just three.”
“Exercise is huge with us, as well,” says Patty. “We try to build range-of-motion exercises into every client’s care plan. If we can get them doing standard ranges of motion—they’re lifting and reaching and pulling—they’re oxygenating their muscles, even if they’re just doing smaller movements. And, of course, it depends on the ability of each client, but even chair exercises make a big difference.”
Patty and her team ask for the recommended exercises for clients coming out of rehabilitation, so caregivers can help the clients stay consistent with their at-home exercise plan. Patty also sees a significant benefit that exercise makes for diabetic clients, too. “If their blood sugar readings are high, it just takes some simple exercises to lower those blood sugars,” she adds. “So that’s been a great way to keep them healthy, too. The body needs to oxygenate itself. If you don’t get your heart rate up and going, you’re not working the heart muscle and you’re not oxygenating the cells you need to live.”
America is considered a sleep-deprived nation, and naturopathy teaches that rest and sleep are crucial to replenishing one’s health. “When you are so busy and trying to fit so many things in your day, your mind races,” states Patty. “So you have to find means to calm yourself, and you have to find means to relax. The body has a chance to reset itself during sleep. You’re healing yourself at night when you lay down to rest. Research says that if you get less than eight hours of sleep a day, you are depriving your brain of what it needs to be able to run smoothly and creating more of a challenge for your body.”
Maintaining healthy relationships is another aspect of naturopathy that Patty sees thriving among her caregivers and clients. “People were made to be with each other; they were made to blend with each other,” Patty voices. “I wrote an article for a natural health magazine several years ago that was called ‘Loneliness Harms Health.’ There are a lot of positive physical things that happen within the body regarding relationships and community and how one gets along with another.”
At work, Patty encourages all of her office staff to take their lunch breaks and step outside the building or go somewhere to just get a way for a bit or to take a nap. And she is challenged to practice this lunchtime respite herself.
“Another helpful practice is to take some time during the day just to meditate—it helps the brain to change directions and ‘take a load off,’” Patty shares. “Take a few minutes away from what you’re doing to think of something completely different, to think of something more enjoyable, so you give your brain a rest from the path it was on and recharge a little.” Patty is quick to call for unplugging now and then from too much social media and electronics time. “You have to learn to shut it off and learn that the technology can’t control you,” she says. “You have to filter those things.”
Holistic Health and Wellness
As Patty continues to nudge her aging clients toward more holistic methods of fortifying their health, the naturopath would like to debunk the misconception that naturopathy is not real medicine. In fact, naturopathic physicians attend naturopathic medical school and complete similar courses as traditional medical doctors plus natural sciences including nutrition, botanical/herbal medicine (herbals), homeopathy, massage, acupuncture and counseling. “Naturopathy is not supposed to be about pursuing pharmaceutical treatments,” Patty explains. “It’s about getting back to basics and applying natural medicine the way the body needs.”
After almost two decades of research, study and application of naturopathic health, Patty is still energized by helping her family and her care clients take better care of themselves. “Nobody is going to be cured of old age,” Patty summarizes. “We’re all going to get older, but your brain and body can function so much better when you take care of yourself from day to day. When our clients take better care of themselves and we help them with their care, what a big difference that makes in their health.”
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.