Flourishing After Diagnosis: Managing Chronic Illnesses

It can be scary to face the reality of a diagnosis. Our own health and wellness plays a crucial role in how we define our identity and think about ourselves. The onset of a chronic illness such as diabetes or heart disease comes with a laundry list of lifestyle changes, medications, and symptoms. After a diagnosis, it is easy to get weighed down by the label of being “sick” or even feelings of being “old”. The truth is that there is life after a diagnosis and it is possible to flourish even with a chronic illness.

Quality of life really has many components and at different times in our life we may define our quality of life based on changing values, finances, choices, and circumstances. It can be helpful to think of wellness as a scale instead of an on and off switch. Rather than having or not having quality of life, being or not being well, we can pursue greater wellness and higher quality of life regardless of where we find ourselves on the spectrum at the moment. The truth is that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all adults have at least one chronic disease. When talking about older adults that number jumps to 92% that have at least one chronic condition and 77% that have a least two. Understanding chronic diseases and pursuing wellness after a diagnosis is not only possible but crucial for the vitality of an aging society.  

Understanding Chronic Disease

According to the CDC, a chronic disease is any human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effectiveness, usually lasting more than 3 weeks. By comparison an acute disease has a short course. This distinction becomes extremely important in the way that Medicare pays for care. The most common chronic diseases are arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, diabetes, and aids. In 2010, the CDC did a national survey of residential care facilities and found that the 10 most common chronic conditions found in aging individuals in care facilities were:

  • High Blood Pressure 57%
  • Alzheimer’s Disease 42%
  • Heart Disease 34%
  • Depression 28%
  • Arthritis 27%
  • Osteoporosis 21%
  • Diabetes 17%
  • COPD 15%
  • Cancer 11%
  • Stroke 11%

What Causes a Chronic Disease?

Some of the most common causes of chronic diseases are lifestyle choices that accumulate negative consequences over time. As we age, it is our consistency in making small healthy choices every day that makes an impact on our risk factors for chronic diseases. For example, more than 1/3 of all adults do not meet recommendations for aerobic physical activity. Many Americans have poor nutrition, engage in tobacco use or excessively drink compounding the risks for the most common chronic diseases. What is more is that ¼ of people with chronic conditions have activity limitations putting them at greater risk for further chronic diseases later in life. It requires much less effort and money to take steps to prevent chronic diseases than it does to manage one, two, or three diseases later in life.

Influencing Change

The Center for Managing Chronic Disease believes in putting people at the center of solutions and diagrams out the circles of influence that surround each person in their fight to prevent chronic diseases. Not surprisingly, it is our own choices and self-management that have the greatest impact. The second circle closest to our own choices is family involvement. As loved ones of an aging adult, your influence in proper nutrition, regular exercise, and proper medication management can help them maintain vitality and longevity. 

The Role of a Care Manager

So, what happens when our ability to care for ourselves and make healthy choices declines? What happens when an aging parent is struggling to manage one or two chronic diseases? Adding a Geriatric Care Manager to their circle of influence can have an enormous impact on their quality of life and really help a loved one flourish after a diagnosis. Managing various medications, special diets, and treatments can become overwhelming for an aging adult, especially those dealing with various types and stages of dementia. A Geriatric Care Manager can be an important ally in coordinating and managing chronic illnesses to maximize safety and independence for an aging loved. For adult children helping to care for an aging parent, having an RN or MSW expert in eldercare to lean on can be a relief and lifesaver.

A Care Manager plays the key roles of:

  • Creating a long-term care plan to ensure consistent care
  • Minimizing financial stress through long-term planning, and reduction of hospitalization and ER visits.
  • Assisting with making lifestyle changes and educating about healthy diet and activity habits for the illness.
  • Managing medications to ensure correct dosages are taken consistently and meds are reordered properly and in a timely fashion.
  • Navigating the healthcare system to help get needed care.
  • Advocating at doctor’s appointments to address symptoms and get answers to important questions.
  • Educating loved ones and family members about the chronic illness, giving tools, resources, and skills for coping with the disease(s).
  • Monitoring for changes in condition, symptoms, and behaviors to proactively address them before they become worse.
  • Engaging individuals in healthy activities and reducing stress which can aggravate symptoms of chronic illness.
  • Reducing isolation and give techniques to cope with the condition and maintain as much independence as possible.
  • Monitoring safety within the home environment to reduce risks of falls and other common injuries.
  • Researching and arranging care services as they are needed.  

A Certified Geriatric Care Manager can be found anywhere in the United States by visiting www.CareManager.org If you would like to know more about Sound Options Geriatric Care Management services in the Puget Sound region and how they can help you or your loved one achieve a higher quality of life and manage chronic illness click here or give us a call at 800.628.7649


Published on May 30, 2014.