At first, and for a while, the news shakes your world. Learning that you have diabetes, arthritis or another disease that is incurable and likely to be with you for a long time, maybe forever, disrupts your sense of security and well-being. The diagnosis brings a host of questions, fears and what-ifs for you and your loved ones.
Living with a chronic illness presents many challenges, but there are many helpful resources available, now more than ever.
Chronic health conditions are on the rise, with four out of five U.S. adults age 50 or older dealing with at least one chronic condition, according to John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers in “Chronic Conditions Among Older Americans.” Longer life expectancies and advances in diagnostic technology and treatment options have contributed to this increase.
More people need information about chronic illnesses, and medical centers, national organizations, insurance companies and the like have responded with a plethora of materials, most easily accessible from your computer.
The Search for Answers Regarding Chronic Health Conditions
Feelings of anger, sadness and fear are not uncommon. You may also feel confused and overwhelmed by your unanswered questions and the lifestyle changes you have to make.
Be gentle with yourself, the U.S. National Library of Medicine advises.
“Know that you will adapt over time. You will feel like yourself again as you learn how to fit your illness into your life. Know that what may be confusing at first starts to make sense. Give yourself time to learn how to take care of your illness.”
As you begin to learn about the illness, make sure the information is reliable. Searching the Internet is easy, but not all online information is credible. You can rely on fact sheets and articles from medical centers, federal and state government agencies, and organizations, such as the Arthritis Foundation, American Diabetes Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. When in doubt, ask your healthcare provider for guidance.
A Chronic Illness Support Group Might Help
Even if you have a supportive network of family and friends, a life-changing diagnosis can be lonely. Meeting others who are dealing with the same illness might be comforting.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the benefits of participating in a support group include:
- Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
- Gaining a sense of empowerment and control
- Improving your coping skills and sense of adjustment
- Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
- Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue
- Developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation
- Getting practical advice or information about treatment options
- Comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.
To find a support group, ask your doctor, local hospital, church, library or community center for suggestions, or search online. In addition to in-person groups, telephone and virtual groups are also often available.
And keep in mind that you might need to visit the group more than once to determine if it’s a good fit for you. Attendance at support groups can vary, as well as the person leading the group. And many organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, offer support groups for caregivers and family members.
Dealing with the Stress of a Chronic Condition
Living with a chronic illness can be stressful. Your favorite foods may be off limits, and hiking and biking may be more painful than pleasurable.
Stress is nothing new for most older adults, so you might already have some handy tools in your tool box, such as yoga and meditation. Rather than going it alone, maybe this is a good time to take a class or join a group to enhance your practice.
Or turn to a new activity. Maybe walking or swimming is easier on your joints.
Think of ways you can adapt, and enlist friends and family to help. If arthritic stiffness is keeping you from hiking in your favorite park, maybe plan a picnic with a friend and take shorter walks.
And find new pleasures. If sweets are now off-limits, treat yourself to a massage or concert.
We Can Help
Community support can alleviate or, in some cases, cure a chronic condition. Here at Kendal at Oberlin, our values include improving “the quality of life and vitality of those we serve”. We do this by providing the physical means to improve via our fitness center and classes, as well as through emotional support provided by our residents and staff. We treat each person as a valued individual in a caring atmosphere.
As a continuing care retirement community, we provide coordinated care for our residents throughout the stages of life.
To sample life at Kendal at Oberlin, we offer a Try It, You’ll Like It program. Sample living at Kendal at Oberlin by spending a night or two with us. For more information, call 800-548-9469.
Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.