Today, Chronic Disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. It affects millions of individuals all through the country. 2012 Center for Disease Control data indicates that half of all adults are afflicted with at least one chronic condition, and one-quarter suffers from two or more.
Chronic disease accounts for most of our country’s healthcare costs. This results in diminished quality of life for individuals and families. Many people bear extreme financial and emotional burdens as illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and Alzheimer’s take their toll.
Photo source: Center for managing chronic Disease
The unfortunate news is, the number of people suffering from these often preventable conditions is on the rise. As a healthcare professional who has cared for people with chronic disease for 20 years, and as an individual who suffers from chronic illness, I’ve seen its effects first-hand.
The primary barrier to overcome is not necessarily the disease itself but gaining the ability to cope and live with it. Countless people are blindsided by their doctor’s diagnosis and fall into psychological tailspins. Learning to adapt from a physical, financial, and emotional standpoint is necessary for individuals and families to move forward.
Change in Lifestyle
Coping physically with chronic diseases is usually the first step and often involves lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes are often necessary after receiving a chronic disease diagnosis. Educating oneself about the condition is also important. You can begin the initial phase by understanding what needs to occur moving forward. Consulting with a specialist is a good place to start. Bring a list of 5-10 targeted questions relating to the ailment to each doctor’s appointment. Ask about additional resources, and how to locate them. Use the information gathered to brainstorm with the physician, family members, and potential caregivers.
Map out an action plan
Map out an action plan to learn how to perform as much self-care as possible. Remember to factor in current and prospective future limitations. You can make some initial changes in the areas of nutrition and physical activity. Again, consult your physician and ask for a referral to a registered dietitian physical therapy, rehab, or a medically supervised exercise program if one is available.
For certain chronic diseases, adaptive equipment like walkers, braces, and other devices may be necessary and helpful. Activities and tasks of daily living may also need to be evaluated and modified. If so, ask for referral physical or occupational therapy to learn how to use assistive devices correctly and receive training in activities of daily living. Try to find enjoyable, realistic activities and incorporate them consistently. Adjusting to new physical limitations may be easier for some than coping financially.
Financial coping is sometimes easier said than done. Healthcare for chronic disease is often expensive and can deplete monetary resources. This situation can be especially daunting for those on fixed incomes. For individuals who are employed, take advantage of healthcare savings or “Flex” plans offered by employers.
Find out if your employer has any charity program in which workers donate money or sick leave for others in need within the company. Ask members of the healthcare team about information on programs for prescription drug assistance, and how to qualify.
Find out if a church or service organization would be willing to hold a benefit dinner to raise funds. An increasing number of people are exploring the option of medical tourism to help reduce costs. Several countries now offer top-rated health care services at facilities that are accredited by Joint Commission International. The total costs for travel, accommodation and treatment can reveal substantial savings. If costs are mounting, find out if the healthcare facility offers payment plans or has a financial counselor to whom you can speak.
Let’s look at some tips that can help you cope with a chronic disease;
Coping with chronic disease emotionally
The overall toll of physical and economic changes and challenges can put enormous strain on a person’s emotional health. For many individuals, finding ways to manage emotionally presents the biggest challenge. Emotional health can often be the most sizable aspect of care that gets overlooked. Knowing that the condition isn’t going away anytime soon can be confusing, frustrating, and deflating.
Above all, know this: each person’s feelings are normal. Each owns them, and they aren’t wrong regardless of others’ opinions. Having the reassurance of the medical team, family and friends will be crucial. Sometimes, people need someone to listen as they sort through their feelings. Having someone who can be emotionally present during these times can help immeasurably.
If you need more support, you should consider joining a support group or chronic disease support groups. Many are disease-specific, and allow attendees the chance to connect with each other to tell their stories. You can learn successful strategies and tips from peers, and receive education about their illness.
Churches can also be a steady source of assistance, therefore you should probably go to a hospitable community church for support. Other church members can help share the load of physical tasks and provide much-needed empathy to the individual and their caregivers.
Clergy professional are often trained in counseling and can offer a confidential listening ear. If you need professional help, mental health professionals can help you work through your issues. For those who don’t feel comfortable talking through their feelings, blogging may be an avenue to off-load worries and concerns.
Socialize with People
Isolation can be a common and particularly severe situation when dealing with chronic disease. Spend time socializing with others and maintain or develop new connections as able. Identify and follow through on opportunities to regularly get out of the home environment. Develop a daily or weekly structure or routine to allow for quiet time and avoid spending much time to think and worry.
Sometimes, it can be frightening and disorienting when you have a chronic disease or have a family member suffering from one. Ongoing illness adds to everyday challenges we already face. Learning to cope well can be the ultimate obstacle for many of us. The inability to cope frequently stems from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of changes that need to be made. When making any change, you should choose something that will be easy to do and start there.
Therefore, once the change has been implemented and is successful, you should choose something else. Then, try to use the success of the first change as a building block for making the next one. Take a holistic approach to coping and address each of the three areas. Make an effort to connect with others who have the same condition and are fighting the same battle.
In addition, you should show gratitude to those who have been involved in walking with you on your journey. Don’t be afraid to give up control to others who offer help. If possible, volunteer to assist or mentor others who are beginning their journey – serve as a resource.
Draw strength from your successes and your relationships. Remember to celebrate small victories and fight to persevere through defeats. Finally, you should be kind to yourself; forgive yourself and others for failures. Concentrate on developing realistic expectations of life. Remember that you are a person of value, and protect yourself against becoming the disease.
Jeff Redekopp is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has worked in cardiac and pulmonary rehab programs as a staff member, coordinator, and manager for twenty-two years. He is also a freelance writer and web researcher.