Caregiving Blog: Chronic Disease Risks and Making Good Choices
Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CSA, NCG, CG
The prevalence of chronic disease in the United States is skyrocketing. Diagnosis occur with little or no explanation by physicians of the long-term effects of the disease. Aging adults—of all ages—refuse to act on physician recommendations to change health habits. Choose to grow up and grow healthier, not become physically weaker and more frail. Choose to age positively.
What Is a Chronic Disease?
The most common chronic diseases are: heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic lung disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes, arthritis, epilepsy, dental cavities, and chronic kidney disease. These diseases may not immediately be life threatening but result in significant challenges in middle-and older age.
As chronic diseases progress, the effects on the body become more noticeable and physically debilitating. Each of these diseases has the ability to affect other body systems, leading to the diagnosis of additional chronic diseases.
Lifestyle Risks of Chronic Disease
The main lifestyle risks for chronic disease are tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol use. The U.S. has not been a prevention society. Rather than changing habits, prescription drugs are the easy choice.
Ignoring chronic disease results in significant health issues for older adults. Advancing chronic diseases are irreversible and associated with higher costs of care and physical disability. Quality of life decreases over time. The likelihood of living in and ending life in a nursing home or other care community, rather than living at home, increases.
Chronic Disease Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 60% of adults in the United States have a chronic disease, 40% of adults in the U. S. have two or more chronic diseases. (1)
According to the Partnership to Fight chronic Disease, adults with chronic conditions are the most frequent users of health care in the U.S. They account for 81% of all hospital admissions; 91% of all prescriptions filled; and 76% of all physician visits. Over 1.1 million lives could be saved each year through better prevention and treatment of chronic disease. (2)
3 Tips to Understand and Manage Chronic Disease
You may feel left behind by the healthcare system that should have educated you about the long-term effects of chronic disease. Doctors become discouraged by treating patients who refuse recommendations to change poor health habits. Eventually little or no discussion occurs about the effects of disease.
Why should physicians help patients who refuse to listen? Patients who will not change habits to resolve chronic diseases. Some—but not all—patients listen after they have a heart attack, a stroke, or experience a condition that negatively affects their daily life.
Choose to be different by seeking to understand and manage chronic disease. Take an interest in learning about your diagnosis. Make lifestyle changes today to avoid being sick, frail, and dependent on others for care when you are older.
1. Do Your Homework
If you are diagnosed with a chronic disease research and learn about the health condition. Understand the actions to take to prevent the disease from becoming worse. How do you avoid this chronic disease from turning into another chronic disease and another chronic disease?
Being diagnosed with one chronic disease increases the likelihood that you will be diagnosed with another chronic disease. Poor health is a slippery and life-long slope unless you decide to make changes in lifestyle habits.
Devote time to speaking with your doctor about what your daily health and life looks like with this disease. Do your homework and understand what other health concerns may arise. For example, heart disease may cause strokes. Diabetes may result in glaucoma, macular degeneration, neuropathy, and a requirement for kidney dialysis. Poor cardiovascular circulation may result in dementia.
What actions must occur to improve health? Are you willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes? What steps will you take? How, when, and where will you implement the steps? I suggest finding an accountability partner to hold you to your commitment to improve.
Resolutions are easy to make. Hard to keep. It takes self-discipline and self-love to succeed. Choose to succeed! Love yourself!
2. Understand the Chronic Disease Diagnoses and Prescribed Medications
When you are diagnosed with a medical condition, ask if the condition is temporary or chronic. Ask if there is an alternative to taking medication.
It’s easy to agree to take a medication without asking about the long-term effects of the medical condition. The question rarely asked is what actions may be taken to resolve the medical condition.
For example, blood work indicates you have high cholesterol. Medication is recommended. Is an alternative trying a change in diet first, such as eating more oatmeal and avoiding fried foods, rather than immediately take the prescription medication? If a change in diet does not improve the condition, ask about the long-term consequences and effects of the medical condition and of taking the medication.
High cholesterol results in heart problems. Clogged veins may result in clogged arteries later requiring bypass surgery. Constricted veins result in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Some chronic conditions have serious negative long-term effects and refusing necessary treatment, even medication, puts you at serious risk.
Think about yourself not only today, but also what you want your health to like at 65, 75, 85 and even 95.
3. Be Proactive – Become Your Own Advocate
Attend regular medical appointments. Ask about annual screenings and physicals. Annual physicals may identify new diseases or concerns at an early stage when the condition may be reversible.
We bear the responsibility of being knowledgeable about our health. It’s up to us to implement lifestyle changes.
Ask for a nutritional analysis and dietary recommendations. Good nutrition supports your body. Just like an automobile requires gasoline to run, your body requires super fuel in order to run efficiently and well.
Thirty to 60% of adults over age 65 experience mal-nutrition. Diet is not really the focus of your doctor, unless you ask. We pay attention to the nutrition of babies and children, why don’t we do the same for aging adults?
As for a physical analysis and exercise recommendations. Join a recreation center. Hire a personal trainer to show you exercises and how to use weight machines.
Adjusting Attitudes about Health – Positive Aging
The healthcare industry needs an attitude adjustment. Aging bodies deserve as good, if not better care than young and growing bodies. Physicians become biased against treating older adults. Aging adults also should adjust thinking. Getting better with age is possible with the right attitude.
Middle age isn’t the time to look the other way. Middle age is the time to look at what can be done—rather than say that “nothing can be done”. Rather to say that’s just “part of aging.”.
Grow up and grow healthier, not physically weaker and frail. It’s time to embrace positive aging. Opportunity passes each day. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to feel better and be more active.
(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Disease Prevention Infographic. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm
(2) Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. Fight Chronic Disease Fact Sheet. https://www.fightchronic disease.org/pfcd-in-the-states
© 2018 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.
Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA, is a national caregiving thought leader, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker who solves caregiving problems. Online support and programs are offered to caregivers seeking support and advice for the care of aging parents, spouses, and other family members. Pamela supports adults, age 50+, with positive aging advice and online programs to advance health literacy and self-advocacy. Collaboration with professionals in the specialty areas of estate planning, elder law, and probate, financial planning, and healthcare raises awareness of and sensitivity to stressful family caregiving and healthcare issues.