Resolve to Manage Your Health Conditions in 2020
More people in the U.S. are living into their 80s and beyond, and most of us hope we’ll be one of them! But a longer life also means a greater likelihood that we’ll develop one, or several, of the many health conditions that become more common with age, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, vision and hearing loss, depression and memory problems. The American Geriatrics Society estimates that 80% of seniors have more than one chronic health problem.
It can be challenging enough to manage even one health condition. For example, Jeff was diagnosed with high blood pressure a few year ago. He takes several medications, working with his doctor to adjust the dosage and type of medication as needed. The doctor has also prescribed a special diet and exercise plan, and has instructed Jeff to regularly monitor his blood pressure at home.
And this year, Jeff was diagnosed with diabetes. Suddenly things have become more complicated. He’s checking his blood glucose level along with his blood pressure. He needs to take his diabetes medication and blood pressure pills at different times. His diet plan was adjusted to accommodate his new condition. And now he has two doctors to see regularly, and also period visits to a podiatrist and ophthalmologist.
This might be just the start for Jeff as he grows older. But there are things he can do to ensure the best possible health through the years. If you’re still working on your New Year’s resolutions, here are some health management tips to add to the list!
Learn all you can about your health challenges. Sometimes it’s tempting to be in denial, but education is power. Ask your doctor to recommend good sources of information about your conditions. (Remember, there is a lot of bad information out there, and even well-meaning friends may offer you advice that can be harmful.)
Keep all your doctors looped in. Today we might have a primary care doctor and several specialists—say, our cardiologist, ophthalmologist and orthopedic specialist. Maybe some of those doctors have referred us to yet another doctor for some specialized care. It’s important that all your doctors have a clear picture of your overall health. Talk to your primary care physician about what you can do to better coordinate your care.
Have your medications reviewed. This is a big one! An older adult might be taking 10 or more prescription drugs, prescribed by various doctors. These drugs could interact in a dangerous way. A specialist might prescribe a drug for one condition that could make another health problem worse. Have your doctor or pharmacist regularly review all your prescription and over-the-counter drugs you take. All your doctors should know about all the medications you’re taking.
Dialogue with your doctor. Ask questions about your condition and treatment. If you’re not clear on the instructions, speak up! Ask for written material that you can review later. Find out if your doctor’s practice offers online patient record tools. Remember, you are in charge. If you aren’t sure that you want a certain treatment or you’re worried about risks, have that conversation sooner rather than later.
Bring in a second set of ears. It can be hard to remember everything the doctor says. In fact, if you are dealing with something that’s upsetting—say your condition has taken a turn for the worse or a treatment isn’t working—the emotional effect might make it hard to process information at all in the moment, much less remember it later. Whether it’s your spouse, another family member, a friend or a professional care manager, bringing someone along is so helpful. Ask the person to take notes and to remind you to discuss topics you intended to bring up.
Get a calendar app. Sometimes it seems like we have a doctor’s appointment, physical therapy session or prescription to pick up every day! When you’re checking out at the clinic desk, you don’t want to double book yourself—and you certainly don’t want to forget an appointment. There are plenty of calendars that will display your appointments and remind you what’s coming up. If tech isn’t your thing, an old-fashioned wall, desk or pocket calendar can work, too—just remember to bring it along, and check it regularly.
Look on the bright side. Many lifestyle choices can help us manage a whole host of illnesses! Exercise, a healthy diet, quitting smoking and lowering our stress level can benefit us across the board. And experts today remind us that “healthy aging” doesn’t necessarily mean living without health challenges—instead, more likely, it means managing health conditions that we have.
The information in this article is not meant to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about how to best participate in your own care.