Multiple Chronic Diseases in Seniors: Impacts and Tips to Avert Them

Multiple chronic conditions are increasingly becoming a top health challenge for our senior loved ones. As the population ages and we live longer, we are more likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease, if not multiple diseases.

Because the treatment for all chronic diseases in the US (perhaps not as quickly globally) has improved so much in the past 20 years, we are managing these diseases better and living with them.

We have advances in medications, surgical procedures, genetic testing and technology that is giving us back hope to maintain our quality of life in the face of chronic disease.

But how do we handle multiple chronic diseases that can interact and join together to fight against us?

Multiple Chronic Conditions: An Update

There was a recent report that provided us some sobering statistics that we thought you might also find interesting.

A chronic disease refers to a medical diagnosis that lasts for more than three months. Common chronic diseases include arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, diabetes and AIDS.

This study included these plus hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, hepatitis, and/or failing kidneys.

  • 24.3% US adults had 1 chronic condition
  • 13.8% US adults had 2 conditions
  • 11.7% US adults had 3 or more conditions
  • Of US adults with at least 1 chronic condition, more than half (approximately 60 million) had multiple chronic conditions
  • Half (49.8%, 117 million) of US adults had at least 1 of 10 selected chronic conditions.
  • Women were more likely than men to have exactly 2 conditions or 3 or more conditions.
  • The percentage of adults with multiple chronic conditions (both 2 and ≥3) increased with age.
  • 6 out of 10 deaths worldwide are due to chronic diseases.

The adults studied were those living in the community not in institutions or long term care, congregate living facilities. When taking those people into consideration, the numbers grow higher.

Addressing Multiple Chronic Conditions

Healthcare agencies in the US have been focusing their program initiatives, funding and research to address multiple chronic diseases.

Armed with even more data about the widespread prevalence and growing numbers of people diagnosed with multiple chronic diseases, the goals will be to strengthen the public healthcare system, find ways to improve self-care for people with these chronic diseases and helping the healthcare professionals with tools and training to make a more meaningful impact on managing their patients chronic diseases.

A Newly Defined Chronic Disease

Recently the AACE/ACE Consensus Conference of Obesity: Building an Evidence Base for Comprehensive Action met and presented their key findings about the epidemic of obesity in our nation.

They have built a framework for action that includes clinical research, better understanding of reimbursement, prevention and self-management, nutrition education, and public awareness emphasizing health literacy. They recognize obesity as another chronic disease and we should all think of it as such in order to create treatment plans and action steps to improve health.

They state that obesity is “the most under-reimbursed major disease in the US.”

What Can Caregivers Do?

It is likely we are not going to be able to fully prevent every potential chronic disease in the seniors we love. However, we can help them make healthy lifestyle choices every day to help reduce the possibility of a diagnosis or to delay a diagnosis as long as possible.

We know that making positive choices about our health takes effort and knowledge. It also takes fighting temptation especially regarding the food we eat. It also takes motivation to get up and keep moving instead of succumbing to a sedentary pattern.

According to the World Health Organization, which is fighting the chronic disease battle on a global scale, it is possible to reduce the number of people suffering with chronic diseases. It states that countries that have begun to make an impact have “done so by implementing comprehensive, integrated approaches that encompass both prevention and control, cut across common underlying risks and bring together different chronic diseases under one unifying strategy.”

The WHO feels we have the appropriate scientific knowledge to prevent and control chronic diseases now – and the solutions are cost-effective and inexpensive to implement.

They suggest:

  • Smoking cessation efforts including a tax on tobacco products to fund support services aimed at education,
  • Diet improvement – eating an unhealthy diet increases the risk for development of numerous chronic diseases. Reducing the foods you eat that are high in fats and sugars is fundamental to healthier eating. Reduce your senior’s intake of salt including that found in processed, prepared foods. Read the food labels to pick the food lower in sodium.
  • Becoming more physically active! Since over one billion people in the world are obese or overweight, getting physically active to control your weight will help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Find an activity your senior enjoys and make sure that access is available in order to participate whether that includes transportation, a buddy or a pair of new sneakers.

Managing Chronic Disease Diagnoses

Once you have reduced your risk factors, it is important to manage any current diagnoses your senior may have. Managing a chronic disease can best be done through knowledge.

Learning about what your treatment plan includes not just medication but self-management approaches. Are they taking their blood pressure, blood sugar, daily weights, exercising enough, getting enough fluids, getting social and interacting with others, stimulating their brain, getting all recommended prevention tests or immunizations and washing their hands often?

If the risk factors were eliminated, at least 80% of all premature heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes would be prevented. Over 40% of cancer would be prevented.

More and more people are dying too early and suffering too long from chronic disease. We know what to do to prevent most of it and so we must act now.

Talk to your healthcare team if you need specific directions. It may not be the easy way but it is the healthy way!

1 thought on “Multiple Chronic Diseases in Seniors: Impacts and Tips to Avert Them”

  1. This is extremely helpful.

    Incidentally, anyone who is reading this from the South Florida area in need of rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing services, or home health care should visit to get more information about their service lines. They have a lot of experience with chronic conditions such as arthritis, and have had excellent results as far as exceeding national recovery norms and getting patients well enough to live independently.

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