Use this step-by-side guide to manage your disease and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
If you have a long-lasting disease or condition that can be managed but not cured then you have what’s called a chronic disease. Chronic diseases are very common. They include heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis to name just a few.
Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, accounting for 70 percent of deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly one in two adults lives with at least one chronic disease. The older you get, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with one since increasing age is often a risk factor. In fact, reports the CDC, more than 88 percent of Americans age 65 and older are affected by chronic disease.
Coping with Chronic Disease
Chronic disease irreversibly changes your life. You may be living in pain and feel tired, overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed. However, there are many positive changes that you can make in your life to limit the impact of the disease on your body and to live very well with it. By managing your chronic disease you can avoid the hospital, reduce your risk of injury, and enjoy your independence while living a quality life.
The Role of Risk Factors
Some risk factors may be in your control and some may not be. For instance, smoking is a risk factor for many diseases. It’s a behavior that you have control over. You can quit smoking, though we all know that’s a lot easier said than done. Quitting smoking will help you better manage the disease you have. Another risk factor for a chronic disease is advancing age, which is not in your control.
In chronic disease management, it’s important to look at all of your lifestyle habits that negatively impact your disease, figure out what you have control over, and then make a change for the better. Interestingly, the same controllable risk factors show up for many diseases. So like a domino effect, stopping one negative behavior (such as eating poorly) can help protect you from the complications of not just one but many diseases.
Living a healthy lifestyle greatly reduces your risk for illness and death due to chronic diseases. Plus, it puts you in control of your health – rather than letting the illness control you.
6 Disease Management Tips
Disease Management Tip #1: Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
The first step in managing your chronic disease is to look at some of the leading behaviors that can worsen the condition. These behaviors – or bad health habits – include using tobacco, not getting enough exercise, eating poorly, and drinking too much alcohol.
*Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States, according to the CDC. If you smoke, you have more tools available than ever to help you quit. There are numerous smoking cessation programs, support groups, nicotine replacement therapies and relaxation techniques to help you. Talk to your health care provider about making a plan to quit. And then do it. You will experience immediate benefits. For instance, just 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drops. Twelve hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Two weeks to three months after quitting, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
*Exercise is another healthy lifestyle habit that can provide many benefits, such as improving your medical condition and your mood, as well as preventing injury. If you have always led a sedentary lifestyle, starting an exercise program can feel daunting. Don’t let it be. Talk to your health care provider about a program that’s right for you. Buy a pair of comfortable sneakers and walk down the street and back each day. It can be as easy as that. Remember, any amount of exercise at any age is beneficial. Find an activity, such as walking, that you enjoy and make it a part of your daily routine. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense; just make sure you do it regularly for long-lasting health and wellness.
*When it comes to your diet, try to fill your grocery cart with as many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats as possible. Experiment with different seasonings to add flavor and cut down on salt and unhealthy fats. These are standard recommendations from the American Heart Association, which also recommends eating fish at least twice a week, particularly oily fish such as salmon, and reducing alcohol intake.
*Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with many illnesses such as liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and brain damage. Also, it has shown to increase the risk for respiratory infections. In addition, if you take medications, alcohol may make those medications less effective or toxic to the body. If you don’t think you can quit drinking alcohol on your own, talk to your health care provider about getting help.
Disease Management Tip #2: Educate yourself on your disease and how to manage it
Knowledge is power. When you educate yourself on your disease, you are empowered to make the best choices for your health. A computer is a great place to start. Go to the library or a bookstore for information. Ask your health care provider for pamphlets or educational guides about your specific disease. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips.
Disease Management Tip #3: Keep track of your medications
On average, people with one chronic condition see three different physicians and fill seven prescriptions a year, according to Partnership for Solutions, a research group at Johns Hopkins University. People with five or more chronic conditions make 12 physician visits and fill 50 prescriptions a year. That’s a lot of doctor appointments and medicines to keep track of. It’s easy to see how appointments can be accidentally forgotten and medications mismanaged.
To manage your medicines more effectively:
- Write down a list of every single medicine you take, including your prescription drugs, as well as over-the-counter medicines, herbal medicines, and supplements.
- Keep the list current, jot down the doses, and bring it with you to all of your health care appointments.
- When your doctor prescribes a medicine, follow the directions exactly.
- You can ask for large print type on your prescription labels to read them more easily.
- Don’t miss any doses.
- To help you better track your medicines and dosages, shop around for a medication organizer or ask your health care provider for suggestions.
Since people with chronic disease often take multiple medications, there is a risk of a possible drug interaction. To avoid drug interactions:
- Make sure to use one pharmacy for filling all of your prescriptions. That way the pharmacist can be on the lookout for possible drug combinations that can cause problems.
- If you experience negative side effects to your medicine, report it to your health care provider along with the name of the medicine, the severity of the side effect, and how long the side effect lasted.
Keep in mind: If you ever get to the point where you limit your doses or stop taking your prescription altogether because you can’t afford it, contact your health care provider immediately. There are many discount prescription options available including online coupons from some of the drug manufacturers’ websites.
Disease Management Tip #4: Communicate regularly with your health care provider
Remember, your health care team wants the best for you. Prior to your scheduled appointment, write down all of your problems, concerns, and questions. And be sure to bring that list of medications and dosages that you created. During the appointment, ask lots of questions, don’t be afraid to have the doctor clarify something you don’t understand, and take notes. Better yet, ask the doctor for written instructions. If the doctor has already left the room, ask the nurse. Don’t leave the office without fully understanding your diagnosis and treatment. If it makes you more comfortable, bring a family member or friend along to assist you at the appointment. It never hurts to have an extra set of eyes and ears around for support.
When your doctor schedules follow-up visits, or appointments with specialists, write those dates and times in your calendar and don’t miss the scheduled appointments. Also, your doctor will probably recommend that you get a yearly flu vaccine as well as the one-time pneumococcal vaccine. These vaccinations protect against the flu and bacterial pneumonia, two possibly life-threatening infections for seniors who have chronic disease. Follow the advice of your doctor and get the vaccinations.
It’s no wonder that people who are dealing with the emotional and physical aspects of having a chronic disease feel overwhelmed. In addition to living with disease, you are trying to change habits you’ve had for a lifetime while juggling doctors’ appointments and a bag full of medications. It’s okay to reach out to friends and family for help.
Disease Management Tip #5: Ask friends and family for help when you need it
You can’t expect to cope with chronic disease all on your own. It’s okay to reach out to the people you care about. Confide in them your feelings of anger, sadness, fear, if that’s how you feel. Ask them for help. Let them know you may need a ride to a doctors’ appointment or to the pharmacy, or grocery store, or help with cleaning.
Be aware, however, if you feel fatigued all of the time and lose the desire to do much of anything – or if you start neglecting caring for yourself or for your home. These are signs of depression, which can be treated. Tell your health care provider immediately.
Disease Management Tip #6: Create an action plan for success!
Let’s assume that you want to make a change for the better in regard to your condition. To help you do this, you may want to create an action plan. An action plan contains very specific steps you can take to help you work toward healthier behaviors.
You may want to ask yourself: “Is there something I would like to do this week to improve my health?” This question allows you to choose which behavior you are motivated to change and gets you on your way to reaching your goal.
Say your goal is to start exercising. Your action plan should contain what exercise you plan to do, when, where and for how long. For instance you could write down: ‘I will walk to the end of my street and back every morning for five days.’ Once you achieve that goal. Write down another goal and your action plan to help you reach it.
Another goal might be to eat healthier. Your action plan may have something like this in it: ‘I will eat five servings of vegetables four days a week for the next three weeks.’
Remember your goal is more general, but your action plan is highly specific. Start off with an action plan you can easily achieve, which builds confidence in your ability to make positive life changes.
By making positive life changes, you are telling yourself that you are taking control of your chronic disease, which puts you in control of your health.