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Chronic conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart disease) are long-term conditions that require ongoing medical care. One in four Americans has more than one chronic condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that rate rises to three in four after age 65. Those with multiple chronic conditions also face risks including higher health costs and hospitalization.
The good news is that you can still live a long and fulfilling life even if you have multiple chronic conditions—as long as you manage them well. These six tips can help you cope with and self-manage your chronic conditions.
Your primary care physician and specialists can help you make decisions about how to manage your conditions at home, but they aren’t with you frequently enough to hold you accountable to the treatment plan you agreed upon together. Family members make great care partners. They can help you make sure you are taking your medicine appropriately and at the right time, monitor your symptoms and go with you to your doctor appointments.
Many insurance providers also cover care management services. Your care manager (who works directly with your doctor) has regular phone consultations with you in between your appointments to see how you are doing with your management plan. You can also ask your care manager questions about your medication or any other health concerns you have.
People with chronic conditions are more likely to experience depression, but the opposite is also true: people with depression are more likely to develop chronic conditions. If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, anger, stress or other negative emotions, consider seeking the help of a behavioral health counselor. Your counselor can help you understand these feelings and learn coping strategies. If you are having a hard time staying accountable to your health goals and self-management plan, a behavioral health counselor can also help you identify obstacles and find strategies to overcome them.
“Keeping notes on one’s health has been shown to be a tool for improving it,” according to Pew Research Center. Tracking your health can also give you and your healthcare providers a better picture of your progress.
Smartphone apps are a great way to monitor your health, stay accountable to goals and track your progress. Some popular apps include:
For those less tech-savvy, a paper notebook or diary can be just as helpful. Also, many healthcare systems offer a tool called patient portals, an online personal health dashboard, that you can use to take notes, refill prescriptions and message your provider.
If you have a hard time remembering what you want or need to tell your doctor at your appointments, write down a list beforehand to jog your memory. Your list should include things like new, better or worsening symptoms, medication side effects and any questions you have.
Before you leave, make sure you understand the next steps. Next steps could include:
Bring a care partner with you to your appointment for support.
Decide what is most important to you and communicate that with your doctor. For example, if you do not want invasive treatment (even if it prolongs your life more than other treatments), your doctor may be able to find a less-invasive alternative and prioritize what’s most important to you.
An advance directive, which is a written statement that describes how you want your medical care in a situation in which you are unable to communicate your wishes, is essential to have as well. Discuss this more with your physician and care partner.
Having multiple health problems can sometimes make you feel like you don’t have control of your life. Research professor Andrew Shatte, Ph.D. suggests making a list of the things your condition prevents you from doing and find a creative workaround. Your condition might make it hard for you to chop fruits and vegetables, for example. Instead, buy pre-cut food to make your meals easier. If there are things that you are still unable to do, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Steps to Help You Better Manage Your Chronic Conditions.” PinnacleCare.
“How Can I Communicate Effectively?” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing.
“Living with Multiple Health Problems: What Older Adults Should Know.” HealthInAging.
“The Resilience Rx: 6 Ways to Live Your Best Life With a Chronic Illness.” Johnson & Johnson.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.