Chronic diseases are no strangers to the senior population. In the United States, an estimated 80 percent of older Americans experience one chronic illness; and 77 percent suffer from at least two chronic conditions. Four chronic heavyweight diseases dominate the lives of seniors, and ultimately cause two thirds of deaths annually: stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Seniors who endure the effects of a chronic condition share many similarities with other older adults. Paying for adequate healthcare is a burden most older adults face. Navigating the complex maze of healthcare protocols is another shared circumstance. The loss of physical or cognitive abilities and independence are frustrating, depressing and even bewildering to seniors.
Family caregivers can make a significant, positive difference in the lives of the elderly individuals they love, even when the loved ones suffer from one or several chronic diseases.
Understand the Illness
Elderly patients who learn about their diseases are more effective at managing their conditions. Family caregivers, too, benefit from understanding the symptoms directly related to various diseases and knowing how to help a parent cope.
Doctors who spend time offering information about the particular diseases affecting the senior increase the likelihood that the senior patient will adhere to prescribed treatments, save time and develop an overall sense of well-being in the individual. As a result, it is critical to the senior’s overall health to have clarity about their medical condition.
Older parents and their families can begin to recognize the nuances of symptoms by asking questions to the physician. Videos and fact sheets from the medical team can help the parent and family eliminate uncertainty and get a solid grasp on the emergence of this lifechanging event, the chronic illness.
Encourage Good Nutrition
Seniors with chronic conditions tend to place the least emphasis on eating healthy. Poor nutrition only worsens an existing problem. Unplanned weight loss is a common result of inadequate food intakes. An aging parent who has trouble chewing or swallowing may lose interest in eating. Even medication side effects negatively affect appetite and digestion.
As a family caregiver, an important step in determining if nutrition is adequate is to request an assessment from a registered dietician. The dietician will be able to pinpoint issues related to nutrition, like muscle loss. You should also request a nutrition care plan to help your parent begin to eat a proper diet.
Plus, some chronic conditions require special diets, which inevitably limit the foods a senior may have a preference for eating. In such instances, ask the dietician for adaptations to the recommended food plan, so that a parent can once again resume consuming foods they enjoy.
Develop an Exercise Routine
Many chronic conditions in the elderly, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease, can be managed with regular exercise. The benefits of a consistent exercise regimen are numerous, from a boost in the immune system to better cardiovascular function to strong bones. Muscle strength, psychological health and improvements in overall daily life are the results of exercise, as well.
Family caregivers should consult the senior’s physician about appropriate exercises that will safely treat the chronic disease. Exercises should also be done to prevent the development of additional chronic conditions. If a parent lacks the ability to fully exercise due to the chronic disease itself, minimum exercise should be done to avoid living a sedentary lifestyle and to achieve the health benefits associated with physical activity.
Prevent Falls and Injuries
Emergency room visits due to falls in seniors with chronic illnesses happen every 17 seconds. Hip traumas and lacerations are common fall-related injuries. Certain chronic diseases can increase the risk of falls in seniors. As soon as an elderly parent is diagnosed with a chronic condition, a fall risk evaluation should be the next step. Shuffling, holding onto walls and even poor vision are signals that a fall may be likely.
Assess your parent’s living quarters for danger. Glass tabletops and coffee tables with pointy edges are examples of furniture that should be removed. Install light fixtures in the hallway to prevent falls at night. Overall, experts recommend intervening proactively to prevent a lethal injury.
Recruit Help from Family and Friends
Taking care of a parent with a chronic condition is oftentimes taxing. Establishing a support system of friends, relatives and the wider community eases the burden of performing caregiving tasks alone. Examples of easy ways a family caregiver may seek help from outside the home is to consider grocery delivery or ridesharing. Respite services are also available to help an aging parent with transportation, such as trips to the post office or to physical therapy appointments.
Hire Respite Care
Family caregivers often need and deserve occasional breaks, especially when they shoulder the responsibilities of caregiving for a parent with a chronic illness.
Respite care may be sought from professional home care agencies. Caregivers employed by the agencies are available to offer undivided attention to your loved one for a predetermined length of time, from a few hours over the weekend to a few days a week. When you have the opportunity to relax and destress, you are able to return to your caregiving duties with a fresh outlook and improved focus—which in turn help you better provide for your parent.
Suffering from a chronic disease can be devastating. However, with proper care and skilled attention, an aging parent can live a life of independence and dignity. Caregivers, such as those on staff at Assisting Hands Home Care, provide an invaluable in-home resource for seniors and their families.
Assisting Hands Home Care offers numerous in-home care services to support the elderly populations. Examples of care involve live-in care services, with two alternating members of the care team providing care for your loved one each week, and overnight care, with a caregiver stays awake all night, ready to provide assistance in the middle of the night and respond to emergencies.