Chronic health conditions are, unfortunately, often a part of the aging process. Ninety-two percent of people over age 65 live with at least one chronic health condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, or cancer. Seventy-seven percent live with two or more such conditions. Chronic health conditions can create challenges that affect every aspect of a person’s life. However, learning to manage those conditions enables people to stay healthy, active, and engaged in their communities. The Administration on Aging (AoA) currently provides Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund grants to a National Resource Center and 22 states to deliver evidence-based chronic disease self-management programs. These programs empower thousands of older Americans to successfully manage their chronic conditions so they can maintain their independence and dignity.
Research has shown that when older adults learn how to successfully manage chronic conditions, they experience better overall health. They also experience less depression and fewer lifestyle limitations. The best known evidence-based self-management program is Stanford University’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program. The program is a six-week community-based intervention, typically held in senior centers, churches, health clinics, and libraries. The two-and-a-half -hour workshops are led by trained group leaders who are successfully managing their own chronic health conditions. Program participants learn skills to help them handle the difficulties of life with a chronic condition. Topics include: problem-solving and decision-making skills; symptom-management techniques; nutrition and exercise; medication use; coping with emotions; and communicating with physicians.
Because social connectedness is an important component of well-being, the workshops are highly interactive and foster peer support. Participants share their progress in learning new skills and work together to find solutions to common problems. This, in turn, builds confidence and reduces social isolation.
Feedback from workshop participants reflects the way these programs are changing lives. Participants use works like "realistic," "practical," and, most importantly, "fun!" One woman said, "I learned more from [this program] in six weeks than I have in 23 years of going to different doctors." And it’s not just the program participants who benefit. The workshop leaders experience high rates of satisfaction, too. As one leader put it, "I am really proud to be helping veterans learn how to better manage their diseases. It is refreshing to be the person that brings attention to the struggles veterans face."
We couldn’t agree more. AoA is proud of the work it has done to encourage healthy aging through chronic disease self-management. I would like to thank our aging-services network and their partners for continuing to promote these and other evidence-based programs and practices that contribute to healthy aging. Your commitment to raising awareness about chronic disease self-management is helping a generation of older Americans take charge of their health.