Some diseases come and then leave but others stay. Half of all adults in the U.S. are living with a chronic problem like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity and arthritis. Chronic diseases are like the unwanted in-laws that come and don’t leave. But you can learn to live with them and enjoy each day. Here are a few tips:
Keep a list of your medications, including the dose and a description (red round pill, white oval, etc.) in your wallet. Update it with each change and bring it with you to every medical encounter. Keep a list of key phone numbers – family, insurance, etc. – with you and on the refrigerator. Especially in this day of speed dial, many of us don’t know how to reach our family when the cell phone battery poops out.
You are in charge of your health. The physicians and nurses can provide guidance, information and assessments. But ultimately, your health depends on you, your lifestyle and your choices. Make the eating, drinking, exercise, and social changes that are best for your body and make them enjoyable.
Your chronic illnesses do not define you. They are just one part of the complex you. Beware of the dark shadows of depression and ask for help if you need it.
Be a proactive patient. Write down your questions and bring them with you to each visit. Beware the Internet, the Wild West of information, with too much wrong information. Keep a notebook of your visit notes, lab results. Ask your physician or NP for a copy of the instructions for your care. It is so hard to remember what you are supposed to do. It is doubly hard to remember clad in only a paper gown.
Streamline your care team whenever possible. Consult with specialists as needed but work with your primary care provider to assess who you really need on your ongoing care team. Be sure to ask all your questions and do not be afraid to call back for clarification and additional questions.
Medications are a mixed blessing. They help manage a condition but you need to know what you are taking and to watch out for interactions as well as missed doses. Bring all your medicines — prescribed and over the counter as well as any vitamins and supplements — to the pharmacist to review. Check out interactions among your medications at drugs.com and with your pharmacist.
Use the resources of your health plan. You can ask for a care manager or a disease management nurse to help you. If you have diabetes, enroll in a diabetes class so you have information and skills to meet the challenge. The VA (if you are eligible) and the local diabetes center have excellent classes.
Work with your health care team to have a written action plan for flare-ups so you know what to do when your blood pressure or sugar level or other condition gets out of control. Have an alternative to going to the emergency room if possible.
Keep a positive attitude. For every negative thought, treat yourself to three positive ones. That three-to-one ratio, the Losada principle of positive/negative thinking, is linked to better health. Enjoy life, every day. The present is a gift.
Nancy Rudner Lugo is a nurse coach and health advocate for HealthAction.biz. Send her your questions at [email protected]