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Understanding Chronic Conditions and Helping Aging Parents Stay at Home

Chronic Illness Impacts Some Seniors’ Ability to Live at Home

Chronic diseases – and the associated financial burden of long-term illness - can have a profound impact on the health and quality of life of elder Americans. But gerontologists and specialists within the emerging field of anti-aging medicine say poor health is not an inevitable consequence of aging.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) much of the illness, disability, and even death associated with chronic disease can be avoided through preventive measures. The CDC suggests lessening the possibility of chronic disease in later years by:

  • Practicing a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular exercise and avoiding tobacco
  • Scheduling regular early detection and testing such as breast, prostate and cervical cancer screenings, diabetes and cholesterol screenings, and bone density scans

Most Common Chronic Conditions of the Elderly

There is a common misconception that chronic conditions like diabetes or arthritis are just “part of growing old” and nothing can be done about them. The truth is most 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
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney and bladder problems
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Lung disease
  • Cataracts
  • Osteoporosis
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Macular degeneration
  • Depression
  • Cardiovascular disease

If your parents are diagnosed with any of these illnesses, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself about how you can best help them.

Often when an older person is diagnosed with a chronic condition, they fear their days of living independently at home are numbered. The impending loss of freedom and autonomy may even cause them to 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 to enhance their independence and quality of life. All the major chronic conditions listed in this article have an associated foundation or association that can help your parent to live with their condition. Aging parents with a chronic condition need reassurance. Providing these resources is one of the most important gifts you can give them.

"A lot of the sickness, disability and even death associated with chronic disease can be avoided through preventive measures." — Centers for Disease Control

There are also many companies that are dedicated to manufacturing and distributing products specifically made to help people age at home by making everyday chores and tasks 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
  • Easy bottle and jar openers

Helping a parent with a chronic condition maintain their lifestyle can be a challenge, but by providing information about resources and other help available – and walking them through it when necessary - you can take comfort in the knowledge that you are doing what you can to support your parent's needs and wishes.