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10 Practical Coping Solutions for Chronic Conditions

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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® 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.

  1. Get information. Direct your questions to your doctor or nurse, and also ask them about trusted sources of medical information on the Web.
  2. 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.
  3. Build a team. Your primary care physician may not have all of the answers. Seek out specialists and other resources like nurses and dietitians.
  4. Coordinate your care. Specialists don’t always talk to each other, so coordinate care through a primary care physician.
  5. 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.
  6. Make it a family affair. Make lifestyle changes a family affair instead of going it alone. It’s good for everyone!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Reach out. Look for a support group and talk with people who are dealing with the same condition.
  10. 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.

Last revised: June 20, 2013

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. June 9, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Posted by Carolyn

    Caring for chronically ill spouse for 18 years while raising three kids has been exhausting. I read about moms with disabled kids for inspiration. It's even harder for them. So many parents trying to care for family with little or no help. I do accept help when it comes and a homemade dinner is a godsend I cherish the thought of for months. It's taking a toll on my health and I'm trying to get a handle on that. Sleep is my magic medicine and I try hard to get to sleep earlier. One hour at a time we make it through a day.


  2. July 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Posted by Pat Whalen

    I have been living with a form of Parkinson's disease for more than 10 years. By the grace of God and the help of superb physicians, medication, and working out at the local YMCA almost 5 times a week, I am coping well. My husband and my faith are what help me the most. fI have my limitations but I thank God every day for what I can do and pray for courage and strength to face whatever lies ahead.


  3. July 12, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted by Nancy Johnson

    Husband went through stem cell transplant for recurring lymphoma and hasn't been well since. It was two years ago. He is 71 now and it is like he is 99.


  4. July 12, 2013 at 9:10 am | Posted by Lilly Riley

    I am disability with my back now for 13 years. I have a hard time buying groceries and doing housework for myself and family. Now because my parents can no longer drive or buy groceries I also take care of their needs. It has been a big challenge for me as it about wears me out and hurts my back even worse.. a condition that will only get worse with time anyway. I feel guilty that I cannot give my parents the real care they need and yet I feel like I am making my back worse by helping them.. there is no one else to help and we do not have the money to pay some one to help. It is very depressing at times


    • July 15, 2013 at 10:48 am | Posted by Shannon

      Lilly, Depending on where you live there are programs that do offer assistance for their aging population. These services usually include light household chores, meal preparation, hygiene and sometimes grocery shopping. The best place to ask for guidance and information about community resources for the aged is with the Area Agency on Aging.


      • February 7, 2015 at 8:02 pm | Posted by Anna

        Can relate a lot to Lilly's situation and thank you for sharing. Have permanent back damage and chronic kidney disease. Am trying to take care 89 year old dad who is on walker, has alz and recently lost my mother. Also, appreciate Shannon' s suggestion about contacting the area on aging.


    • May 15, 2019 at 4:22 pm | Posted by Crystal Widerburg

      I understand your feeling of frustration. I myself have chronic pain. I used to own a maid service and often people would feel guilty that they needed help. I would tell them, " You work hard and deserve a bit of assistance. By hiring me you allow yourself some much needed stress release, and you help me to support my family. You're really doing us both a kindness. Were meant serve one another?


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