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How to Age Well with Chronic Conditions

According to a 2015 report by the Ohio Department of Health, Ohioans have a higher rate of chronic diseases compared to the rest of the country. And, over 20% of Ohioans are living with more than one chronic illness, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, COPD, CHF, arthritis or asthma.

Thanks to medical advances, it is indeed possible to live with a chronic disease but is it possible to live well? It requires daily maintenance, a strict diet and countless pills or medications to manage. Not to mention, the side effects of some medications can be just as bad as the disease itself.

As a nurse for over 20 years and the President of the 117-year-old Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio, I know that it is possible to live well with a chronic illness. That is, if you are prepared.

First, patients have to own what’s in their control: weight loss, eating well and other recommendations from their doctor. Beyond what they can’t manage, skilled nursing care at home not only helps people manage their symptoms through wound care, activities of daily living and chronic disease management, the nurses also teach the patient and their caregivers how to recognize warning signs and other symptoms to help avoid an unnecessary trip to the hospital.

Skilled nursing has never been intended as the permanent solution to helping people manage chronic illness. From a home health care provider’s perspective, we aim to educate patients and families and involve them in the care planning process with the end goal being that the patient can live safely and independently in their own home.

Ideally, once skilled nursing is no longer deemed necessary, patients can then get what’s called private-duty care. This refers to the help of a home health aide who can help with things like cooking, cleaning, bathing and other tasks that enable a person to function day-to-day. Private-duty could include some skilled nursing interventions, depending on the patient’s need.

Private-duty is usually – as the name implies – private pay, meaning Medicare or private insurance usually doesn’t cover it. These costs typically come directly from a person’s personal savings. There are some exceptions. Medicaid may provide home- and community-based services if there is a documented need for an in-home caregiver. However, those funds are constantly in flux and the reality is that for many people, private-duty visits are paid for out of pocket.

And, this is where there are many problems that we, the aging population, need to prepare for.

Center for Community Solutions President, John Corlett has described retirement as a three-legged stool: one leg is pensions, one is Social Security and one is savings. And, slowly, some of those “legs” are being chipped away as the aging population booms.

But, understanding the issues and planning for the future is half the battle. Just as you plan for retirement, you plan for health care.

As a nurse who has had the privilege of caring for thousands of patients in their homes, I can’t recommend enough investing in long term care insurance while you’re younger. This will pay off in the end, allowing you access to private duty home health care that you otherwise would be paying for entirely out of pocket.

Home health care is a large part of how to live well with a chronic illness and will continue to play a large part as a potential alternative to expensive institutional care. And, while Skilled Nursing Facilities are essential to housing the aging population and providing extensive skilled medical services, many will choose to age in place.


Lisa_KristosikLisa Kristosik is the President of Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio. Since 1902, VNA of Ohio has been helping Northeast Ohioans age well in the comfort of their own homes, wherever they call home.


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