June 20, 2013
Many people who are caring for a loved one have their own daily struggles with chronic conditions, facing challenges that aren’t always apparent to their friends and family. You may look fine on the outside, which may make it hard for others around you to recognize your limitations and offer the support you need. Between work, driving Mom and Dad to appointments, and maybe even cooking and cleaning for them, you’ve probably wondered how much longer you can keep up these duties.
Facing the Realities of Chronic Illness
When dealing with a sudden illness or accident, there’s a likely end in sight for the related health issues. But chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes or arthritis, mean dealing with health concerns for the rest of your life. The good news is, the better informed and better organized you are, the easier it can be to manage your disease and take charge of how you respond to the challenges.
A Growing Problem
According to the Arthritis Foundation, the prevalence of arthritis is 48 percent in adults over age 65 in the U.S. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by age 85, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is nearly 50 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a quarter of seniors over 65 have diabetes, and that chronic diseases cause 7 out of every 10 deaths in the U.S.
According to a Statistics Canada study, as is common in other countries, age is a major indicating factor for the risk of developing arthritis. Approximately one in three (33.8 percent) senior males and one in two (50.6 percent) senior females reported having arthritis in 2008. The World Health Organization projects that by 2015 death from chronic disease will increase by 15 percent, including a 44 percent increase in deaths from diabetes.
10 Steps to Help You Cope
While the figures are indeed startling, the following 10 steps from the Harvard Health Publications and the Home Instead Senior Care® network can help you effectively cope with these complex illnesses, whether you’re dealing with your own chronic condition or that of the family member you’re caring for.
- Get information. Direct your questions to your doctor or nurse, and also ask them about trusted sources of medical information on the Web.
- Don’t leave everything to the doctor. Listen to your body and track changes so you can spot potentially harmful changes before they may become real trouble.
- Build a team. Your primary care physician may not have all of the answers. Seek out specialists and other resources like nurses and dietitians.
- Coordinate your care. Specialists don’t always talk to each other, so coordinate care through a primary care physician.
- Invest in yourself. Those who make healthy lifestyle changes like stopping smoking, losing weight, exercising more and adopting healthier eating habits are more likely to successfully manage a chronic condition.
- Make it a family affair. Make lifestyle changes a family affair instead of going it alone. It’s good for everyone!
- Manage medications. Medication is usually an important part of a chronic condition treatment plan, but it can be difficult to keep track of multiple prescriptions and how and when to take each of them. Download this medication tracker worksheet (PDF 331k) to help stay organized and bring it when you visit the doctor or pharmacy.
- Beware of depression. It’s believed to be more common in people with chronic diseases. Learn the signs, as depression can discourage you from taking important medications, seeing your doctor when you need to, or pursuing healthy habits.
- Reach out. Look for a support group and talk with people who are dealing with the same condition.
- Plan for end-of-life decisions. A chronic condition may have the potential to cause your health to fail suddenly and unexpectedly. Having a good plan of care in place “just in case” may avert a potential crisis. Here are tips for putting together a plan of care, along with an explanation of the documents you may need.
Stay Aware of Your Situation
Stress is a hidden culprit that can worsen chronic disease symptoms, so it’s a good idea to regularly try to gauge your stress level and understand what you can do to help protect your own health.
Get Help When You Need It
Don’t be afraid to ask other family members, friends or neighbors for help when you’re having a rough stretch. There are also professional caregiving services and respite care services available that can step in to give you a break.
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