Chronic diseases are conditions that come on slowly over time. They tend to progress in an unpredictable way, affecting different people differently. For the most part, they cannot be cured, only managed. While that may sound discouraging, it is very possible to live an active, fulfilling life while managing your chronic conditions. Chronic disease self-management is a term you may be hearing more of and, if you have one or more chronic conditions, it’s something you should probably learn more about.
In the U.S. 85% of people over 65 have at least one chronic condition, and 60% have two or more. These are conditions like diabetes, congestive heart failure, COPD, arthritis, hypertension and asthma to name just a few. Chronic diseases can have a negative impact on your quality of life because they often cause symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, pain, poor sleep, anxiety or weakness that affects mobility.
One of the main reasons to put some effort into managing your chronic conditions is to reduce the effects of annoying or uncomfortable symptoms. Fewer symptoms means more time feeling good and doing the things you like to do!
You should work with your doctor when managing any medical conditions. Take your medications as directed, do your therapy or other recommended treatments. Try not to miss check-ups with your doctor. Ask questions about your condition and let your doctor know about new symptoms you may experience.
However, what you do once you leave your doctor’s office is just as important as what happens during appointments.
Choosing healthy lifestyle practices can help you manage your chronic conditions and will have a very positive impact on your overall health as well. These choices are something you have control over in a situation that can sometimes feel out of your control. It’s no great mystery either. The things we’ve always been told are good for us, still are! Practices like eating mostly healthy foods, being physically active, coping with stress, and getting good sleep can reduce the effects of chronic diseases and help you feel better.
When trying to make positive changes to your current lifestyle, it’s best to take things in small steps.
Most of us are very settled in our daily routines. If some of those routines include doing things that aren’t good for us, it can be difficult to suddenly stop behavior we’ve gotten very used to. Look at your current lifestyle practices and decide on one thing you would like to change for the better. You might choose something you feel would be the easiest thing for you to change, or you might choose something you feel is having the most negative effect on your health.
Whatever you choose, start with a small change and gradually increase how often you do your new healthier behavior. It’s a good idea to write out your goal as an action plan. An action plan includes: what you are going to do, how often or how much you will do, and how many times a week you will do it. People tend to have more success if they take at least a day or two off from their plan each week. When the new behavior becomes a regular habit for you, work on the next thing.
Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t always successful. Consider what barriers are coming up and adjust your plan, maybe do a little less than you originally planned. You are aiming for progress, not perfection. If you are using Hanson Services, let your caregiver know about the changes you are trying to make and ask for their help and support.
Some changes you might consider would be things like:
If you would like more guidance and support with managing your chronic conditions, Hanson Services’ Education Director Laura Hazen can help you with putting together an action plan for positive lifestyle changes. And for even more support, there are free classes you can take that teach you a variety of useful strategies to help you deal with the difficulties of chronic diseases and ways to add healthy choices into your everyday life.
These classes are offered by Fairhill Partners and, while they may have in-person classes offered soon, for now most classes are happening as a once-a-week phone call, for six weeks, with leaders and other participants. You receive a free booklet and once a week leaders go over different topics that will help you manage your chronic conditions. Participants have the opportunity to discuss their challenges, and also their successes as they try different techniques along the way.
Call Fairhill Partners and ask about the Take Charge of Your Health: Chronic Disease Self-Management classes. They will get you assigned to a group and explain how everything works. There are also classes that specialize in Pain Management and Diabetes Management. All are free! Fairhill Partners is a non-profit group and can be reached at 216-421-1350.
Remember that many small choices add up to improved general wellness over time. Decide what you want to work on, start with a small change and build from there! Good luck taking charge of your health today!
Laura Hazen, Education Director of Hanson Services
Besides having a B.S. in Education from Ohio University, Laura is a Certified Community Health Worker and has completed the training as a leader for the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program developed at Stanford University.