A whopping 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health problem, while 77% suffer from at least two. These conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, are also the leading deaths of seniors each year.
Chronic health conditions and pain can be incredibly hard to deal with both physically and mentally. When chronic health issues affect younger bodies, they are often easier to manage and control, and may not immediately affect quality of life. However, when people aged 60 and older are faced with them, treatment and care are often far more challenging.
In turn, let’s explore how chronic illness in the elderly can be managed and steps to take to improve their health and wellness.
1. Be Prepared for Seasonal Changes
Winter can be the most difficult time of year for seniors suffering from multiple chronic conditions. In order to weather the harsh conditions and feelings of isolation that often come with staying indoors for prolonged periods of time, seniors should prepare in advance.
For starters, insulating their home properly and ensuring that all the heat and water installations work well should be a task caretakers start thinking about in the fall.
Stocking up on necessary groceries and other supplies, including medication, is also a great way to ensure seniors don’t need to leave their homes every day when the snow sets in.
For caretakers, one of the most important aspects of boosting winter wellness is staying in touch with the seniors in their life. Even if visiting isn’t an option, they can still spend virtual time together using video or audio calls.
Loneliness can have a very detrimental effect on older people who suffer from chronic conditions. In order to maximize healthy aging, it’s important to minimize long-term isolation.
2. Prevention Is Key
Falls are one of the biggest contributing factors to becoming bedridden and homebound among the elderly. In fact, they can cause many seniors’ primary chronic illness to deteriorate even further. For example, a broken bone may not heal properly, and a broken hip can prevent a senior from walking again.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls prevention is important. Caretakers should take steps to fall-proof their senior’s homes and make sure that the older adult wears appropriate footwear when going out. If possible, consult with their doctor to see if mobility aids, like canes or walkers, might help.
3. Diet Makes a Difference
One of the staples of a healthy lifestyle at any age is eating a well-balanced diet. A balanced meal will depend on factors like:
- how active a person is
- what chronic conditions they are living with
- what their meal prepping options are
Caretakers should consult with their senior’s primary care physician and discuss what they should and should not be eating. Additionally, they can also consult with a nutritionist who will provide advice on a diet tailored specifically to the chronic illness.
In most cases, a nutritionist will recommend eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean meats. However, it might prove to be a challenge to provide access to these foods.
If an older adult is faced with limited mobility, caretakers can organize food delivery for them. The local market might offer a delivery option. As an alternative, ask their neighbor to include your senior in their weekly shopping trip.
There are also services that deliver ready-made meals straight to the door, so having one of them on call might also be an excellent option.
4. Stay Physically Active
Chronic pain and illness require a fair bit of rest. However, ensuring that a patient moves every day as much as they can is essential for their recovery and wellness.
Bodies were designed to move. The less they move, the more the heart and lung functions will suffer, and bones and muscles get weaker, none of which will contribute to feeling better.
While it may be a challenge to find an exercise and movement regime that will fit within the treatment plan for a chronic disease, it certainly isn’t impossible.
Three kinds of exercises are often recommended for seniors:
- Aerobic exercises, like walking or swimming
- Strength training, with light weights and under supervision
- Flexibility and balance exercises, like yoga
Make sure a doctor gives the go-ahead before trying out any of the above exercises.
Thirty minutes, three times a week, should suffice to keep the body working as it should. Anything more than that certainly won’t be harmful, as long as a doctor approves of it.
5. Work on Improving Sleep
The third pillar of a healthy life, alongside diet and exercise, is sleep.
While seniors often need less sleep, chronic pain and discomfort can make it difficult to achieve a restful state. Make sure they have a comfy bed and all the pillows and blankets needed to help them get comfortable enough to feel as little pain as possible.
After that, work on mind-management. Here are some tricks that can help:
- Listen to soothing music or sleep stories
- Journal before bed or read a book
- Try meditating
- Have a bath with Epsom salts and lavender essential oils
Worrying about not falling asleep can also be a contributor to insomnia, so a soothing practice that clears the mind of worry can be an excellent tactic.
Finding a silver lining and not letting the pain and discomfort creep into daily life too much can be beneficial. Focusing on the good days and the happy times can be an excellent way of keeping negativity at bay, helping ensure a more positive outlook on the disease and life in general.
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