Live fully with a chronic condition

  • Sarah Luke, 73, of Kennesaw, Ga., who was diagnosed with diabetes six years ago, walks on a treadmill as part of a new exercise program. AP

For the Monitor
Saturday, December 03, 2016

Living with a chronic health condition can be much like keeping pace with technology. It can change our routine, our lifestyle, and the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Regardless of the chronic condition you may be living with, we can all be challenged with symptoms such as fatigue, pain, sleep issues, stress and anxiety, and shortness of breath just to name a few. Often, we may believe all these symptoms are caused by our condition – but in some cases, it may be our symptoms that are making the others worse in a cycle that is difficult to break. We may be experiencing pain that could cause us to have a difficult time sleeping. Our pain and sleep challenges could make our fatigue worse, because we are not getting a good night’s rest. When we feel tired, we may not have the motivation or energy to perform our daily activities. Walking to the mailbox can feel like running a marathon and the lack of desire to do anything can put us at risk for difficult to manage emotions like depression.

While this might sound like a vicious cycle we cannot control, there are things we can do to take control – tracking our symptoms, learning to recognize patterns, and working with our physician to find techniques that work for us are some of the first steps we can take. Finding a way to break the cycle at our first symptom is vital so that we can continue to do what is important to us.

It can be all too easy to believe that our chronic condition controls us; truth of the matter is, yes it becomes a part of our reality but we can do things in our every day life to control and manage our condition – it may just require changing the way we have always done certain things.

Often there are barriers that we may or may not be aware of that can keep us from recognizing our symptoms. It is helpful to review why we may not be following the instructions from our physician visits.

Did they prescribe medications that are too expensive?

Do we disagree with the plan?

Do we not believe that we have a chronic illness?

All of these questions can help you learn more about yourself and provide a great list of things to have an open and honest discussion about with your doctor.

In order to be a good self-manager, there are actions we can take to help maintain our disease and minimize the impact that symptoms have on our daily lives. Trying different activities or strategies to interrupt the symptom cycle are one step we can take to gain control. Using our mind, breathing techniques, physical activity, healthy eating, working with health care professionals, sleep, taking medications as prescribed, and learning how to set achievable health-related goals are some of the tools that can help us improve self-management.

Talk with your physician or home health nurse to learn more about managing your symptoms.

For more information, Better Choices, Better Health is a free six-week program offered by the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association that helps older adults gain the confidence needed to effectively self-manage their chronic health condition and improve their activity levels. Learn how to set achievable goals, work with others such as your healthcare team, find support and solutions, make daily tasks easier, and relax and manage stress. The next program is being held Tuesdays, Jan. 10 to Feb. 14 from 1 to 3:30 p.m.at White Rock Senior Living Community, 6 Bow Center Road in Bow. Underwriting is provided by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Concord.

(Keliane Totten is vice president of community engagement and a community health educator with the Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association.)