Presented by: Yusra Hussain, MD
Medical Director, Stanford Aging Adult Services
Stanford University Medical Center
- Chronic conditions are not a normal part of aging
- Early detection and acknowledgment of a condition is a critical first step
- While a doctor is an important resource, it is up to the patient to manage a chronic disease
- Many chronic disorders are reversible or controlled through behavior modification
The good news is that Americans are living longer. But with prolonged life expectancy come concerns about quality of life, including the demands of living with long-term, or chronic, conditions.
Chronic diseases are prolonged or recurrent illnesses that are rarely cured completely. While not all chronic diseases are life-threatening, they can make a substantial impact on a person’s physical and mental well-being, and can create financial concerns for both the individual and the health care system. Chronic conditions range from the inconvenient, such as psoriasis or allergies, to the serious, such as arthritis or diabetes, to the life-threatening, such as coronary artery disease. They can be caused by infection, environmental conditions, genetic predisposition or lifestyle habits like smoking or overeating.
“Although people tend to develop chronic conditions as they age, growing old does not have to mean becoming disabled,” said Yusra Hussain, MD, medical director of Stanford Hospital’s Adult Aging Services and a clinical instructor of geriatrics, who gave a presentation on September 18, sponsored by Stanford Health Library, on living with chronic conditions. “The key is to learn how to identify the symptoms of chronic conditions early on and to find ways to take control.”
Almost 75 percent of people age 65 and over have at least one chronic illness. These conditions can lead to accidents, such as falls, as well as progressive disability that slowly erodes independence and confidence. Patients who recognize—and address—chronic problems early learn how to manage their symptoms and maintain their independence, said Hussain, and 80 to 90 percent of these people can improve their quality of life. Many conditions are reversible or at least controlled through behavior modification, such as changes in diet and exercise.
“In my practice I see the full spectrum of chronic diseases,” she added, “but many of my patients live full, healthy, active lives despite the disease. It depends on how well we can control and manage it.”
One of the biggest obstacles to early detection is that many patients show no symptoms or mistake a symptom as a normal aspect of another condition. For example, someone with asthma might assume an increased shortness of breath means his or her condition is getting worse, when instead it could be a sign of congestive heart failure.
“Changes in your lifestyle routine should always trigger you to assess your health,” said Hussain. “Often people adjust their lifestyle to accommodate symptoms without even realizing it. Or they ignore symptoms because they don’t want to acknowledge something may be wrong. Ignoring it will not make it go away.”
The most important step for early detection is to see your doctor regularly and discuss any changes in routine, mood or behavior, so he or she can determine the appropriate screening tests or diagnostic workups.
“Detection is the job of the physician,” said Husain. “But the responsibility is in the hands of the patient. You’ve got to work with your doctor as partners.”
About the Speaker
Yusra Hussain, MD, is a clinical instructor of geriatrics and the medical director of Stanford Hospital’s Aging Adult Services, a program designed to meet the unique demands of older adults by providing specialized care and access to resources. The program’s extensive network offers consultations and assessments, assistance with appointments, physician referrals, advocacy, coordination of services, access to community resources, and educational workshops.
For More Information:
Stanford Aging Adult Services
Stanford Chronic Disease Self-Management Program
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality