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UCLA researchers offer tips on managing chronic conditions

December 5, 2012

For many seniors, managing a chronic condition is an important part of healthy aging. Whether it's diabetes, osteoarthritis or Parkinson's disease, there are a wide array of health issues that, if treated correctly, do not have to disrupt independent living too greatly. However, the right approach has to be taken and researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) believe they have found an effective approach.

The research team focused on what physicians can do to encourage their patients to take steps to better manage their diseases. For instance, they suggest doctors meet with their patients and devise specific plans on how to control their condition. Steps such as determining a time to take medication and going over what to do when their prescription runs out can go a long way.

It may seem simple, but researchers say that patients with chronic health issues are often discouraged from managing their disease, whether it's due to too much technical information or not enough emphasis on the short-term impact of the condition.

"Helping patients get their chronic diseases under control sometimes requires changing medications but mostly comes down to helping patients understand why treatment is important and how they can follow it in their busy lives," said co-author Dr. Martin Shapiro. "There is a lot of exciting research on how we can help people change to achieve their goals in other fields, and we believe translating those ideas to health care is an important next step in medical research."

The UCLA researchers devised several other strategies that can help seniors manage chronic conditions. They believe that doctors should encourage their patients to break goals into smaller tasks that are easier to accomplish, such as taking medication each day or exercising a few times a week rather than more long-term visions such as weight loss.

Chronic conditions impact a large portion of the senior population, and in many cases older adults are dealing with more than one disease at a time. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that over the last decade or so, the number of people managing multiple chronic conditions between 45 and 64 increased considerably. For instance, the number of people with both diabetes and high blood pressure went from 8 percent to 15 percent from 2000 to 2010.