Self-management of chronic diseases empowers people to make important health decisions, which fosters independence among adults.

Self-management of chronic diseases empowers people to make important health decisions, which fosters independence among adults.

Chronic conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, diabetes and depression are increasingly prevalent in older Americans, with over 90 percent of adults over age 65 having at least one chronic condition, and over 70 percent having at least two. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a systems approach to improve the quality of life for all Americans, and self-management of chronic diseases is a key pillar of this national prevention strategy. This process focuses on empowering people to make important health decisions and fostering engagement and independence among adults with chronic diseases.

In a recent article in the Health Education and Behavior journal, “National Study of Chronic Disease Self-Management: Age Comparison of Outcome Findings,” Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, measured the health improvements of middle-aged and older adults following participation in a chronic disease self-management program. The program covered topics such as techniques to deal with frustration, fatigue, pain and isolation as well as appropriate exercise for maintaining and improving strength, flexibility and endurance. The appropriate use of medications, effective communication with family, friends and health professionals, and nutrition were also presented.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

The results show that social function, communication with doctors and depression all improved significantly across all ages after participating in the program. Effects were also measured and compared among age cohorts, with the middle-aged cohort consisting of adults aged 50-64, and the older adult cohort consisting of adults aged 65 or older. When compared, the statistics revealed that the program had the greatest effects on the health status and overall quality of life in the middle-aged cohort.

“This study confirms that middle-age is a time when individuals who are already experiencing multiple chronic conditions can benefit from learning self-management skills.” Ory said. “It reinforces the value of a chronic disease self-management at different life stages.”

Overall, the study concluded that participation in a chronic disease self-management program showed significant improvements in most health outcomes for all. The researchers concluded that this indicated the importance of and need for continued program marketing to older adults.

“It is never too early or late to intervene for healthy aging, and a comprehensive public health approach of encouraging healthy lifestyles is necessary,” Ory said.

Additional researchers include Matthew Lee Smith, Ph.D., University of Memphis School of Public Health; SangNam Ahn, Ph.D., University of Georgia College of Public Health;

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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