According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the most common chronic diseases afflicting the elderly are:
- Adult onset diabetes
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lung disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease
Any one of these can be a challenge to keep on top of. The difficult fact is that 1 in 4 Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control, have at least one chronic condition. Over the age of 65? That percentage rises to 3 in 4.
What do you need to do when you, or a senior that you care about, is diagnosed with one of the above problems?
Here are 5 steps that you can take, starting today, to help you make the best of the road ahead.
- It’s OK to be sad
When we have major transitions in our lives, grieving is normal. But for some reason, we don’t seem to allow people to experience their emotions about the change. Talk about the ways that this diagnosis affects you and your future. Talk about the dreams that you had that you may have to give up on or will have to take a different direction with. The other side of the coin is that we need to not be so engulfed by our sorrow that we lose that ability to face what needs to be done. Get support, talk to friends or a trained counselor. As a friend of mine says “feelings buried alive never die”. The point is to get to the place that you have processed the change in your health and you can move forward.
- Take on a learner’s mindset
You have much to learn to take on the task ahead, even if you do have medical training. You will often get a lot of information on your disease from your doctor. What gets in the way for people is the that there is “too much information”, a sense of hopelessness or overwhelm. The good news is that most of the worst complications in chronic disease happen because of poor management and you have a lot of control over that! But you need to decide to learn how to manage it. Never be ashamed to ask questions and to re-ask if you don’t understand the answer that your doctor or nurse gives you. Your future depends on it in many cases!
- Become the expert on you
You may be one of the 1.5 million cases of adult-onset diabetes every year, but your disease has a unique factor, YOU! Track how your body reacts to medications, how you feel when your blood sugar gets too high or low, and how your favorite foods effect your conditions. You have to learn about how your body works with this and how to “dance” with the difficult partner that is the disease.
- Find your reason to fight
Why does managing your disease matter to you? For example, you want to see your granddaughter graduate college, so you are going to take your glaucoma eye drops faithfully. Finding your reason and keeping that clear will help you keep going when you want to bag it!
- Get your resources for the journey
There are great resources and support groups out there for many different diseases that can be a great source of support. If you use the internet for research, you are best to stay with reputable sources like the American Heart Association, the Alzheimer’s Association. The other resources are a good relationship with your doctor’s office, if you feel that they are open to answer your questions and act as guide.
Chronic disease management, most of the time, is just self-management with a few twists thrown in complements of the aging process! You can do this, but no one can do it alone. The good news is you don’t have to!