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You’ve Been Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness. What to do Next…

According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of all adults in the United States have been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This includes some of the more well-known ones: diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, the likelihood for such a diagnosis increases with age.

There all kinds of chronic illnesses – their permanence does not imply their severity. Osteoporosis, for example, is a chronic illness (increasing brittleness and fragility of the bones) but certainly not a death sentence. Many chronic illnesses, if treated the correct way, will not stop a person from living a full, active life. The sad truth, however, is that some do impair former ways of living and require some adjustment in terms of habits and way of life – known as disease management.

Nobody is immune

Advances in medicine have given us shared levels of health that no generation has known previously. It’s more likely that you will live longer and healthier now than ever before. However, we are all still susceptible to chronic illnesses. The options can be divided into three basic categories: mental (Alzheimer’s; depression; dementia), physical (scoliosis; hypertension), and sensory (macular degeneration; hearing loss).

Living with illness

Living with a chronic disease can also start out as a minor nuisance and deteriorate over time. Arthritis can lead to a joint replacement, and diabetes could possibly cause a stroke. Disease management tries to prevent these eventual effects through correct treatment and behavior. “Patients and their families do better in dealing with a chronic illness when they acknowledge it and accept it,” says Dr. Matthew McNabney, a professor at Johns Hopkins Medical School. “Most people can live many years and live well if they are thoughtful, proactive, and organized about their condition.”

What to do next:

1. Be vigilant

After being diagnosed, watch your health on a frequent basis for signs of symptoms or changes. If you’ve been prescribed a medicine, take it as required. “There is a tendency to almost dismiss the problem,” Dr. McNabney says. “People tend to reject it – to not own it or to wish it away. They want to put it aside and continue to live the way they were living.”

2. See a geriatrician

We all get older and our bodies change. However, many of us find it hard to admit and accept. Geriatricians are trained to help older and elderly people with chronic illnesses.

3. Stay in touch

Staying in touch with your doctor is always a good idea. Ask him questions and give him feedback about the effectiveness of a particular treatment, therapy or medicine – whether positive or negative. The better a doctor knows your way of life and priorities, the better he can adjust long-term treatments to best fit you.

4. Seek out knowledge

Sign up for newsletters that deal with your particular condition; there are tons out there. Research treatments, personal stories of other sufferers and new innovations in relevant fields. There are always new medicines, theories and treatments being publicized for the whole gamut of illnesses. Additionally, you can contemplate joining a chat room or support group for people suffering from the same illness as you. This will provide practical as well as emotional support. Your doctor is not God – any knowledge that you can find on your own can only help his wealth of information.

5. Make changes

Sometimes, managing a new disease means giving up certain things you’ve come to take for granted in life: certain sports, fatty foods or an element of laziness. You must mentally prepare yourself for the changes involved in treating a disease and preventing the deterioration of your condition. Similarly, you must be open to trade-offs. While one food or medicine might be troublesome for you, your doctor could suggest an alternative.

6. Emotional wellness

Chronic disease will most certainly affect you body, but can also effect negative changes in mood and mental wellness. Don’t forget to try and notice any changes in your mood, including depression. Do not ignore these changes – seek psychological help if necessary. Dr. McNabney comments, “People have to adopt a new attitude that says, ‘I’m aging, but that’s a normal part of living, and I am going to approach this in a healthy way’ – not as a diseased person who has a disease mindset.”

Prevention is the best defense

Leading a healthy lifestyle, even before you are diagnosed, can help prevent disease altogether and certainly ease illness if and when it does happen. Avoid toxic habits like smoking, excess drinking, and unhealthy heating. On the flip side, DO keep learning at all ages, stay social, and exercise often.

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