Aging is a normal part of life, and it is highly individualized depending on a person’s medical history, genetics and lifestyle. As we age, the risk of developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, greatly increases.
Today, 60% of older adults are currently living with at least two of these conditions. While living with multiple conditions may feel challenging, there are many ways you can continue to live well and manage your conditions.
Play an Active Role in Managing Your Conditions
Self-management is a critical component of managing chronic health conditions and can also help lower healthcare costs by avoiding potential hospitalizations. Through small lifestyle changes, you can play an active role in successfully managing your chronic conditions while improving your overall quality of life.
Smoking when you are also balancing chronic conditions can accelerate the progression and worsen your overall health. Quitting smoking can immediately improve your health.
Excessive drinking can lead to additional health issues and changes in the liver’s ability to absorb medications properly. Alcohol can also intensify the side effects brought on by medications, so it’s important to follow your physician’s recommendations.
Eat a balanced diet
Eating a healthy diet can help ease some of the symptoms brought on by your chronic condition. Focus on meeting the dietary guidelines set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and what your physician recommends.
Regular exercise has been shown not only to lower blood pressure and help your heart, but it can also help decrease pain and immobility brought on by your condition. Aerobic, strength training and flexibility exercises can improve your overall well-being and help you better manage your health.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Living with multiple chronic conditions can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living the life you want. Just as you prioritize your physical health, it’s important to prioritize your mental health as well. Leverage the support of friends and family during this time. Having a dedicated support system can be uplifting and help you stay in a more positive mindset. There are also several support groups that are focused on specific chronic conditions, so you can connect with others going through similar situations.
Keep your physician(s) informed about the way you’re feeling. Facing a new diagnosis is challenging, but talking with your physician(s) can help them identify the best treatment plan to help you improve your mental health and wellbeing. This may lead to speaking with a counselor or getting other professional help.
It’s also important to continue doing the things that you enjoy doing. If you’ve had a stressful day, take a bath, read a book or watch your favorite movie. Finding time to decompress can help not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. One recent study found that by practicing mindfulness, participants reported overall lower levels of stress and anxiety after just six months. They also reported that participants experienced less pain and discomfort.
Plan for the Future
Advanced care planning can help you and your loved ones plan for the unexpected, such as a sudden decline in health or a medical emergency. It’s never too early to start discussions regarding your healthcare wishes and begin outlining them in a living will or advance directive. To give peace of mind to loved ones, ensure they are made aware of where these documents are kept in the event anything should happen.
It’s also important to keep your healthcare team informed to ensure you receive care that is consistent with your wishes. They can help you plan for the future and explain how your conditions may progress. Your care team will recognize and recommend when it might be an appropriate time to transition from home health to hospice care.
Taking some of these steps can help you cope and better manage your chronic conditions so you can continue to live well and independently.