Chronic diseases can have a profound impact on the health and quality of life of elder Americans, not to mention the financial burden that is often associated with long-term illness. But specialists in gerontology and the emerging field of anti-aging medicine are quick to point out that while the risk of disease and disability undoubtedly can increase with advancing years, poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a lot of the sickness, disability, and even death associated with chronic disease can be avoided through preventive measures. The CDC suggests lessening the possibility of the onset of chronic disease in later years by:
- Practicing a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular exercise and avoiding tobacco use
- Regular use of early detection and testing such as breast, prostate and cervical cancer screenings, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, bone density scans, etc.
Most common chronic conditions of the elderly
All too often, because there are so many chronic conditions that seem to afflict older persons, there is the mistaken perception that diabetes, arthritis and the like, are just “part of growing old” – and nothing can be done about them. The truth is most of these diseases and conditions are treatable and should be addressed by a physician. According to the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the most common chronic diseases afflicting the elderly are:
- Adult onset diabetes
- Kidney and bladder problems
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lung disease
- Enlarged prostate
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease
If your parents are diagnosed with any of these or other illnesses, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself about how you can best help them.
Usually when an older person is diagnosed with a chronic condition, there is an immediate feeling of facing a loss of freedom and autonomy, a sense that his or her days of living independently at home are numbered. This fear may actually make your aging parents refuse to seek help. Experts agree that one of the most practical ways an adult child can help parents facing a chronic illness is by providing information about available resources to enhance their independence and quality of life. All the major chronic conditions listed in this article have an associated foundation or association with information that can help your parent to live with his or her condition. Providing these resources is one of the most important gifts you can give to your aging parent.
There are also many companies that are dedicated to manufacturing and distributing products specifically made to help people “age at home.” These often inexpensive aids for daily living include, but are not limited to, such things as:
- Kitchen implements to make opening jars and bottles, peeling and cutting vegetables easier
- Reachers – lobster claw-like devices for people with arthritis or other muscle or joint conditions that make bending or reaching difficult
- Shower chairs and bath benches and hand-held shower heads for bathing
- Elevated toilet seats
- Automatic lifts for stairwells, beds and chairs
- Talking clocks, wristwatches, and calculators for people with poor vision
Helping a parent with a chronic condition maintain his or her lifestyle can be a challenge, but by providing information about resources and other help available you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are doing what you can to support your parent's needs and wishes.