Thursday, December 07, 2017

3 Common Challenges for People with a Chronic Disease

Managing chronic illness is nothing new for older adults. In fact, AARP reports that over 70% of adults 45+ have at least one chronic condition, and 20% are reported to have three or more. Most commonly older adults suffer from obesity, heart disease, depression, diabetes, cancer, and emphysema, though as you age, rates of conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia rise as well.

Medication Management
Many chronic conditions are managed in part by a fixed medicine schedule aimed at keeping symptoms at bay and even reversing recent damage. Unfortunately, prescriptions and supplements for a chronic disease can be numerous and complex. Take, for example, a patient with advanced Parkinson’s Disease who also has seizures, arthritis, and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). They may need to have seizure medicines crushed up and administered with applesauce, Parkinson’s medication applied as a patch to a different part of the body every day, topical arthritis aids applied to their joints, and then additional liquid supplements and over-the-counter medicines thickened and given orally multiple times a day.

The Mayo Clinic reports that upwards of 50% of patients with chronic disease don’t actually take their medicine as prescribed, leading to countless hospitalizations and alarming mortality rates. For a number of reasons including confusion, complicated medicine schedules, cost, health illiteracy, lack of caregiver support, and communication barriers between doctors and patients, it’s no surprise that many suffering from chronic illness are unable to adhere to their prescribed treatment plans.

Experts recommend that patients with chronic conditions use pill organizers to sort and manage daily medicines as well as alerts - be they smartphone apps or alarm clocks. Alerting caregivers when medicine hasn’t been taken has also been shown to increase adherence rates for patients. Continuing a dialogue with medical providers is also key as they can help simplify medicine schedules by altering frequencies or dosages, and provide greater insight into side effects, drug interactions, and more.

Completing Basic Daily Tasks
Whether it’s neuromotor changes like you see with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease, peripheral neuropathy like is common with diabetes, joint stiffness and pain like with osteoarthritis, or confusion and disorientation like someone suffering from dementia may experience, varying symptoms of chronic disorders can negatively impact a person’s ability to complete daily tasks. Dressing, showering, brushing teeth, eating, toileting, etc. are all key markers of basic functioning, however, they often become more and more difficult as a person’s disease progresses.

Patients and their caregivers can benefit from adaptive equipment and ease-of-use tools which simplify everyday tasks and empower greater independence and self-reliance. The best grabbing aids, for example, will allow a person to reach up to a shelf or down to the floor to pick things up (i.e. keys, jars, etc) without having to bend or stoop over, or awkwardly strain up and possibly lose their balance. Additional tools might include bed rails, shower stools, dressing aids, and mobility aids like walkers, canes, or knee scooters.

Organizing Care Networks
Sometimes a chronic condition will qualify a patient for in-home health care which simply means medical professionals like nurses, physical therapists, home health aides, and speech therapists can come to the home to administer treatment and train caregivers. Unfortunately, the rules for receiving this type of skilled care are strict and not every patient with a chronic condition will qualify. Broadening the care network and finding ways to coordinate friends and family to pitch in becomes of utmost importance.

Some free online tools like and help people set up online signups, care calendars, meal trains, and other resources to organize a network of friends and family who can help with caregiving tasks like transportation to appointments, picking up prescriptions, making meals, etc. New hospital and family caregiver laws, like the one that passed in California in 2015, are also requiring hospitals to communicate with family caregivers when their loved one is discharged from the hospital. Hospitals must provide counsel and training about continuing care at home, medication management, and even skilled tasks like dressing wounds and managing incontinence.

This is a guest blog post.

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