Seniors and Family Caregivers Learn to Gain Control over Chronic Disease

Family caregivers face many challenges trying to meet the needs of the senior loved one for whom they care.

When family caregivers take on the role of person in charge of care for their seniors, they are often thrust into it. Sometimes the need is precipitated by a sudden event so there is little or no time for preparation.

Family caregivers take on their roles without training to teach them the whats, whens, hows of providing care, nor who to contact for necessary resources to successfully complete the daily tasks.

Most have not had any experience testing blood sugar, giving injections, or giving out more multiple medications throughout the day. Most of us do not understand how to cook meals following a diet for diabetes, kidney problems or heart disease.

No, there probably wasn’t somebody there to hand the new family caregiver a user’s manual with all the information needed to complete the new tasks that are part of caregiving. There isn’t one.

Or is there?

Did you know that there is a course designed to help older adults manage their chronic disease conditions better, improve their quality of life and decrease healthcare costs?

There is!

Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP)

This course was designed in collaboration with the US Administration on Aging, the National Council on Aging and coordinated through the Center for Healthy Aging. They use a program developed by Stanford University.

The program has been used worldwide to help seniors (and their caregivers) be healthier. The goal of the program is to provide seniors with education and hands on activities to manage their health and chronic diseases and thereby lower healthcare expenses but also improve the overall quality of their lives.

Family caregivers may find this is just the type of resource needed to help them step up for senior loved ones.

The course is a workshop led by two trained individuals who may or may not be health professionals but who have chronic diseases that they manage daily. They have walked the talk. It is designed to be held weekly for six consecutive weeks. Each session is two and a half hours long.

Scheduled topics include handling frustrations/pain/fatigue, communicating effectively with medical professionals, healthy eating and nutrition, medication management, physical activity and gaining confidence in symptom management.

The course is intended to be held with a small group so that the sessions can be interactive, allowing seniors and family caregivers to learn as much as possible sharing experiences with others and learning by example.

Results Achieved by Program Participants

Over the course of three years, 1,000 participants were followed after having attended the workshop. These people had heart disease, lung disease, stroke or arthritis.

Course participants showed great improvement in their physical activity, pain control, symptom management, self-reported overall health, communication with their health professionals, decrease in fatigue, disability and cognition.

This group was less likely to be hospitalized, spent fewer days in the hospital, and had decreased outpatient visits. This correlated to a healthcare cost savings of 1:4.

The benefits were seen extending three years following their workshop attendance.

Why Focus on Chronic Disease Management?

Many seniors might feel once they have been diagnosed with a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes it is too late. They will take the medication the doctor gives them to help them manage their disease — hopefully correctly, but that is not assured.

It has been my experience that oftentimes seniors have no interest in changing their lifestyle habits, such as what they eat, their activity level or smoking. They feel they have lived this way all their lives, so why change now? They can’t always see that the effort it takes to make a health change may be less than they realize and will actually lead to positive results.

The fact is, if they do make changes in some lifestyle areas they can positively influence how they feel, how active they can be and how much enjoyment they get out of their lives. Participating in the life around them is more difficult when they feel sore, tired, or ill most of the time.

Not controlling chronic disease can lead to a loss of independence and even the ability to age in place in their own home.

Did you realize that 91% of older adults have at least one chronic disease? Or that 73% of seniors have at least two chronic diseases to manage? Not being in charge of chronic diseases could create more problems physically and mentally when more than one is not well managed.

Uncontrolled chronic diseases come with a hefty price tag for healthcare too. In 2011, the cost of chronic disease care was $3 trillion!

Taking advantage of learning opportunities, whether in a workshop such as the one described, a class in your local health center or online can improve your senior loved one’s well-being, quality of life and financial burden.

If you would like to participate in a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program through the National Council on Aging, you can use this locator from NCOA to find a group in your area.

Here’s a video that illustrates what this workshop is all about with people who have attended.

If you don’t see a class near you, there is a state coordinator who can help you get the information you seek.

Changing behaviors that have become habits over a lifetime does not happen quickly.

Senior loved ones need the support of family caregivers and knowledge, commitment and motivation to make positive health changes.

Leave a Comment