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Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Life - August 2009

When It Won't Go Away: Managing Chronic Disease
Take Charge of Your Symptoms and Your Care

You are hurting, so you go to the doctor. The doctor diagnoses your problem and prescribes a medicine to take and lifestyle changes to make. You do everything the doctor said to, but you still hurt and the pain and discomfort is starting to interfere with all aspects of your life. Now what?

Chronic disease can be defined as a medical condition that can be treated but not cured. They typically have a slow onset, but their effects will be felt for a long time and will likely only increase in number and severity. While it may be impossible to reverse the effects of chronic disease, education coupled with lifestyle changes can help you manage symptoms and live a productive, happy life.

Take charge of your chronic disease.

The Healthy U Chronic Disease Self-Management Program is a six-week workshop that can help you learn skills and strategies to deal with your chronic disease. Call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 to find the nearest available program and other resources.

Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis and cardio-vascular disease, all have different causes and symptoms, but the problems they create are similar and connected. The effects of arthritis or stroke can limit the use of your hands. Pain or shortness of breath from a variety of causes can make it difficult to walk or exercise. The resulting inactivity can lead to loss of muscle strength and flexibility, making activity even more difficult and increasing the risk of falls.

Chronic conditions also take an emotional toll. People with chronic diseases often deal with depression, fatigue, loss of energy and sleeping problems. They may limit their social activities, which can lead to isolation and deeper feelings of depression. Chronic disease also can make a person more dependent on others, which can lead to concerns about their future independence.

Even though you are dealing with a chronic illness, life goes on. You still have to deal with a job, relationships and various other obligations. Things that you once took for granted can become much more complicated, requiring you to learn new skills to maintain your daily activities and enjoy life. You also need to manage the changing emotions brought on by your disease.

In the business world, managers make decisions and make sure these decisions are carried out. They may do some of the work, but they can't do it all. They achieve real success when they fully understand the tasks and factors at play, take control of the situations and work with others to get the job done. As manager of your illness, your job is much the same.

The first step is to understand your disease. Learn its causes, effects and how treatments may affect you. The more you know, the better able you will be to communicate with your health care provider and others about your symptoms and form a partnership with your doctor in managing your illness. Information about your condition can be found on a variety of medical Web sites. Your insurance plan also may have a "nurse line" or other service you can call for information and advice.

Once you understand your condition and its symptoms, you can start to plan what you want to do to manage it and what help you'll need to do so. You also may need to develop three basic types of new skills:

  • Skills needed to deal with the illness, including taking medicine, exercising, communicating with your doctor and changing diet;
  • Skills needed to continue your normal life, such as how to use a cane or walker, use lift aids or other assistive devices; and
  • Skills needed to deal with emotions, particularly negative emotions like anger, depression, frustration or isolation.

Once you have a plan and the skills you need, any successful work project requires regular evaluation and adjustment. Keep track of the symptoms you experience, rate their severity from day to day and situation to situation, and learn to spot trends (e.g., your joint pain is more intense when it rains). By doing so, you'll be able to anticipate pain and discomfort and take steps to prevent or lessen it sooner. You'll also be more likely to recognize, deal with and communicate new symptoms in a more efficient manner.

People who take an active role in the management of their own chronic pain and discomfort tend to have a better quality of life, reduce their perception of pain and feel more empowered. In addition to overcoming physical and emotional problems, you can learn problem-solving skills and how to respond to the effects of your disease.