Managing Multiple Health Conditions
Advances in medicine mean that people are living longer than ever before. Those extra years we have added to our collective lifespans are not without some challenges. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop a health condition. And many of the health conditions older people develop will be chronic, or unlikely to ever resolve completely. It is estimated that 80% of adults ages 65 and older have at least one chronic condition, and 68% have two or more. Living with one chronic health condition is hard enough, so how do we know the best path forward if we have more than one health condition?
Experiencing more than one health condition can quickly get complicated. There may be multiple specialists involved, or a new prescription or two. How does one manage the many medical professionals, prescriptions and treatments involved? Here are few things to keep in mind if you are navigating the challenges of treating more than one chronic medical condition:
Find support. It is okay to admit that dealing with one’s health conditions—and the physical change they may cause—can cause stress and anxiety. A qualified mental health therapist might offer support and help us regain a sense of control over our lives. A trusted friend or family member can also act as a care partner, to help keep you accountable or attend medical appointments with you.
Be informed. Learn as much as possible to be your own best advocate. An internet search might provide accurate information, but it might not. Ask your primary care provider to point to resources to provide helpful and accurate medical information about any new diagnosis.
Monitor your symptoms. Keep note of your symptoms and how you are feeling, both physically and mentally. There are many smartphone apps that can help you keep track of your health daily, but a pen and notebook work just as well. Tracking your symptoms can help you make the most out of our doctor appointments. That way, you can answer accurately when your doctor asks, “So, how have you been feeling?”
Understand your treatment options. There may be several options available to treat your new medical condition. Each option will come with benefits and risks. You’ll need to decide what’s important to you—independence, quality of life, risk of disability—and make sure your medical providers understand your treatment goals.
Speak up. If the recommended treatment plan doesn’t seem to be working, or it is too complicated for you to reasonably manage, tell your doctor right away. The best plan is the one that will be followed. If the treatment plan recommended to you is difficult to manage, you will be less likely to follow it appropriately.
Have your medications reviewed. A drug prescribed for one health condition might exacerbate another. Or you may be prescribed two medications that have a similar active ingredient. Having your medications reviewed ensures that your health care team knows what drugs you have been prescribed to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment plan.
Invest in your own health. It’s never too late to take small steps to have a healthier lifestyle. Quit smoking, cut down on alcohol consumption and ask your doctor what exercise would be appropriate for you.
Proper preparation and a treatment plan can help older adults manage multiple health conditions and make the most out of life.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have questions about your health, consult your doctor or other health care provider.