If a child or spouse has a chronic illness, working together can benefit the whole family. Here’s what you should know about tips for managing chronic illness in your family.
A chronic health problem is a disease or condition lasting three months or longer, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Chronic health problems can result from birth defects or injuries or may be the result of diseases that will eventually get better — or others that are life-threatening. In addition to being physical, certain mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and depression, can be chronic.
The National Health Council points out about 40 million Americans are limited in some way by a chronic health condition and, increasingly, people are living with not just one chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, or depression, but two or more. So the odds are a member of your family has, or will have, at least one chronic health problem at some point.
How a family approach benefits everyone
If you have a family member with a chronic illness, especially someone who is part of your household, one thing is certain: Everyone in your family is affected in some ways. Chronic illness can place financial and emotional strains on family members over time.
However, taking a family approach to manage the chronic health problem of a family member can not only produce long-term benefits to the person who is ill, but also help other members of the family cope and even improve their own health, according to Lynn Martire, PhD, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State.
Martire suggests working on what she calls family intervention approaches that can help everyone. For example, If a family member has type 2 diabetes or heart disease, making sure family meals are nutritious, low in sugar, and heart healthy — and going for walks or engaging in other recommended exercise with the family member who has the chronic health problem -— can end up improving the health of others in the family, too.
Tips for managing chronic illness in your family
"For some family groups, setting goals together for making lifestyle changes, such as healthier eating habits and regular exercise, helps patients to stay on track and may benefit family members as well,” said Martire, co-author of a report on the subject published in American Psychologist.
Additional helpful strategies for families:
- Family members can work together to monitor an ill family member’s symptoms and any improvements.
- Keep all adults in the family informed of medical appointments and make sure the person with the chronic health problem keeps all appointments.
- Help the person with a health condition stick to medication regimens to make sure his or her chronic illness is managed correctly.
- Work on improving communication about health issues and identify obstacles keeping a family member with a chronic condition from not doing a better job of self-management (such as not sticking to a prescribed diet).
Managing chronic illness in your family saves money
Having the family onboard to help manage chronic illness in the family is an approach with positive implications for healthcare costs, as well as potential health benefits for the person with the medical condition.
"The vast majority of healthcare spending is for treatment of chronic health problems in children and adults,” Martire pointed out. “Self-management of chronic illness can reduce these healthcare costs, and close family members such as a parent or the spouse play an important role in helping patients to manage their illness.”
March 27, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN