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Programs Available to Help Those With Chronic Illnesses

According to the 2010 Census, there are currently 40 million Americans over the age of 65, with Illinois as one of the top nine states where they reside. Although today's generation of older adults is living longer, healthier lives, 80% of them are living with at least one chronic health condition. Chronic health conditions include diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, COPD and hypertension. The best approach to address these illnesses is to consult a health care professional and follow his/her instructions, but you can also play a large part in the management of those conditions. Many chronic health conditions have similar symptoms like pain, stress and fatigue that can be aggravating, but also can be manageable by the patient.

There are programs that have been developed to teach patients how to self-manage their chronic illness symptoms with a variety of techniques. The Chronic Disease Self-Management Program "Live Well, Be Well" is a six-week workshop series designed for anyone that wants to become better self-advocates and self-managers of their illnesses. This program was developed by Stanford University and leads program participants through several group activities and provides information on topics like stress and pain management, relaxation techniques, difficult emotions, medication management, exercise and nutrition, and effective communication with family and medical personnel. Participants also compose action plans each week, outlining the goals they want to accomplish and the steps they need to take for reaching those goals.

Similarly, the Diabetes Self-Management Program "Taking Charge of Your Diabetes" is also designed to assist patients to become better self-managers. This program is very similar to "Live Well, Be Well", but has an emphasis on diabetes, with topics like counting carbohydrates, reading labels, foot care, and high/low glucose levels. With 29.1 million Americans who are diabetic and86 million Americans age 20 and older diagnosed as pre-diabetic (2012), this is a chronic disease whose incidence continues to grow and patients can benefit from the resources and support from other diabetics.

Many of our Family Life Educators and some of our Nutrition and Wellness Educators are trained facilitators of these programs and offer them in the counties they serve. To find out if one of these programs is being offered in your area, just visit your local Extension website by going to and clicking on "offices" and then looking at the calendar of events listed for your county. You can also contact any of the Family Life Educators listed on this blog.

If you have a chronic illness, I hope that in addition to consulting a physician, you can take advantage of this evidence-based program that allows you to take control of your condition – instead of it taking control of you!