Chronic illness is a general term used to describe a host of diseases an/or conditions which are ongoing or recurrent throughout a persons life. The root of the word chronic comes from the Greek word chronos which means time. One might assume that a person with a chronic illness is also sick or unhealthy. It is possible, however, to be healthy and still have a chronic illness.
Some examples of chronic illness include; asthma, AIDS, diabetes, fibromyalgia, congestive heart failure, COPD, hypertension, and many more. Are the individuals who suffer these conditions sick? Are they unhealthy? Or do they live with a daily awareness of a condition that has the potential to become an acute problem, while still remaining healthy in their everyday lives?
Health has many different definitions. The most commonly accepted definition is that of the World Health Organization (WHO) “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO Constitution, 1947). Illness on the other hand is considered to be “an unhealthy condition of body or mind” (Merriam-Webster).
Based upon these definitions, a chronic illness would be an unhealthy condition that is recurrent or constant. It would seem that these two states of existence are contradictory terms; however, it is possible for health to exist even in the face of chronic illness. Health and alterations from health are concerns that are addressed by doctors, nurses, psychologist, and even the government on a daily basis.
Chronic illness does not have to mean that a person is sick or even unhealthy. A person with diabetes, for example, may be the picture of health. If they control their blood sugars, eat a healthy diet, exercise and refrain from smoking, alcohol and drug consumption, there is no reason for them to ever be unhealthy.
Based upon the WHO definition of health, this is a reasonable expectation. Although many people with chronic illness suffer a decreased quality of life, it is not necessarily the inevitable result. Another factor to consider among the chronically ill is emotional and mental health. A person’s reaction to being diagnosed with a chronic illness may range from shock and anger, to relief. Although it is hard to imagine someone being relieved at being given a diagnosis of chronic illness, for the diagnosed it is often a long sought answer to the question of; “What is wrong with me?” Because chronic illness is often a taboo subject which can make coping with a diagnosis difficult, it is important that a person with a chronic condition have a solid support system.
Effective support systems can include family, friends or a professional with whom they feel comfortable discussing their illness and who can help them deal with the emotional challenges of their diagnosis and the ensuing adjustment period. If emotional and overall physical well-being can be adequately managed by the person living with chronic disease, then they can indeed by healthy.
Currently, statistics show that more than 90 million Americans live with chronic illnesses. Among the most prevalent in today’s society are cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Seven out of 10, or 70 percent of Americans die each year from chronic disease. Medical costs associated with the care of these chronically ill patients are responsible for more than 75 percent of the $1.4 trillion in annual healthcare spending (CDC, 1999). In light of these staggering facts, is there anything that can be done to prevent these statistics from rising? It is the author’s belief that through a healthy lifestyle, a person with a chronic illness can remain healthy in spite of their condition.
So what does all of this mean for you? While it can be complicated, with the help of your physician, it can be made very simple. Regardless of your chronic illness it is important that you work to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition is one of the most neglected factors as we grow older; and in today’s society, it is even easier to eat unhealthy with fast-food becoming such a large part of our daily lives. Speak to your doctor about what foods you should avoid based on your illness. here is not universal diet that is best for everyone, even for two people with same illness.
If your insurance will allow it, make an appointment with a dietician to discuss your body’s specific dietary needs. Labwork can tell your doctor or dietician a lot about what is lacking in your diet. Ask to have labs drawn to include, CBC, CMP, Lipid Panel, Fasting Glucose, Iron, Vitamin D, Pre-Albumin and Albumin. These labs are the most common panels used to assess nutrition and overall health. Once you have received these lab results and talked them over with your doctor or dietician, take it seriously. Food is the fuel that keeps our bodies moving! Eat a healthy balanced diet, and take recommended vitamin and mineral supplements as directed. Short cuts won’t benefit you in any way!
Another area that older people most frequently falter in is adequate fluid consumption. Dehydration is very common among older adults and can easily be prevented. Unless you are on a fluid restriction, you should be consuming eight to 10 eight ounce glasses of water a day. You don’t like water? Try decaffeinated tea (iced or hot) sweetened with Splenda.
Sugar adds calories which turn into fat, so avoid beverages sweetened with sugar, corn syrup, fructose, or any other sugary substance. Avoid sodas as well. Sodas are very high in sodium and can actually add to dehydration; not to mention those sugar loaded calories! Coffee (or any other caffeinated beverage) is a diuretic, meaning it pulls fluid from the body which can further add to dehydration, particularly if you are already on a diuretic (water pill) like furosemide, aldactone or bumex.
Don’t forget about exercise! As you get older, things start to slow down a little. Exercise need not be a 5k run, but a daily walk for 20 minutes can make a huge difference in how you feel. If you suffer from arthritis, be sure to take your doctor recommended pain reliever about 30 minutes before starting exercise. If you have arthritis of the knees or hips, consider taking water aerobics classes which are easier on the joints, but just as beneficial. Keeping moving will help keep your joints limber and prevent increased pain and stiffness!
All three of these factors, good nutrition, adequate hydration and exercise, can also have a positive impact on one area of that body that seems to grind nearly to halt as you age; your bowels! Instead of reaching for the laxatives, take a look at these three factors in your life and see if there is room for improvement. Adding fiber to your diet and increasing fluid intake and exercise are often all older adults need to keep things flowing normally.
And most importantly of all….you don’t have to act your age! Feel good about being an older adult and make the most of your Golden years. Age is only a number, and those who are emotionally healthy are much more physically healthy. So, join in on local activities, make new friends, keep active, and feel alive!
Don’t let the increasing number of candles on your birthday cake convince you that you can’t be just as active as you were 10 or even 20 years ago. You probably know people your age who look and act younger than they are. If you ask them, they would tell you that they feel younger than you do too. It’s not a magic potion, it’s a proven fact…emotions impact our health! Find ways to relieve stress, and if you feel yourself getting sucked into the blues of aging, talk to your doctor; it doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging.
Be well, despite your illness. It is possible!