Managing Multiple Health Problems

More than half of all older Americans have “multimorbidity,” a medical term that means having multiple chronic health problems like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. It can be challenging for healthcare professionals, older adults and their friends and family to manage multiple health problems.  There are many more factors to think about.  For example, treating one health problem may make another health problem worse.  And having multiple health problems often requires taking more than one medication, which can result in unwanted drug interactions and side effects.

To help healthcare providers and patients better manage multiple health problems, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) recently asked leading experts in the field to develop “guiding principles” for the care of older adults with multiple medical conditions.

The principles don’t specify what kind of care clinicians should provide a given patient. Instead, they outline steps to care that is tailored to each patient’s unique needs. You can read more about these principles and living with multiple health problems here.

Here is a very short summary of ways patients and their caregivers can work with healthcare providers to enhance care when dealing with multiple health problems:

Get informed - Learn as much as you can about your healthcare problems and treatment options. Ask your healthcare providers for information and advice, and get family and friends to help you with research.

Make sure your healthcare professionals understand what’s most important to you - For many older adults, for example, remaining as independent as possible is a top priority. Find out how different treatment options will affect your priorities.

Ask bout “trade-offs” – Ask your healthcare provider how the benefits of different care options compare with their risks.

Call if there are problems – Because there isn’t a lot of research examining how older adults with multimorbidity respond to different treatments, clinicians may not be able to predict exactly how a treatment will affect you. So let your healthcare provider know if you’re having unwanted side effects or aren’t getting the desired results from a certain treatment.

Ask for something simpler if you need to – The more complicated treatments are, the more likely patients are to stop following them. Ask for a simpler treatment plan if necessary.

Make sure your care plan does three things - Your healthcare providers should:

  • Make sure that treatments that are most important to you get the highest priority.
  • Maximize the benefits of your treatment.
  • Minimize risks by, for example, using non-drug medications when possible to lower risks of drug-drug side effects.

 

 

Getting Your Flu Shot

With autumn just around the corner, now’s the ideal time to get your flu shot.  Influenza season can start as early as October, and it takes your body about two weeks to respond to the vaccine by creating the flu-fighting antibodies you need to fight off the virus. That’s why healthcare professionals recommend getting the shot as soon as it becomes available in your community— usually early September. I’m planning to get my shot when I see my healthcare provider this month.

If you’re 65 or older, it’s particularly important to get vaccinated. Older adults run an increased risk of potentially serious complications of the flu, such as pneumonia. Some people, however, should talk with their healthcare provider before getting a flu shot, especially if you’ve experienced any of the following:

  • severe allergic reaction to chicken eggs
  • have had a serious reaction to the flu shot in the past
  • have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome

And if you have a fever, hold off until it’s gone before getting your shot .

Though some vaccines protect you for years, the flu shot is only effective for one year.  Why? The flu virus is constantly changing, so the vaccine that worked against last year’s virus won’t take care of this year’s. Don’t skip a year!

Good news: Medicare covers annual flu shots, and there’s no copay. You can get the flu vaccine from your healthcare professional, or at senior centers, urgent care clinics, and health departments.   Many retail pharmacies also offer the flu shot for a small fee.  As of late August, the vaccine was available in many communities throughout the U.S. To find where you can get a shot near you, visit the frequently updated Flu Vaccine Locator on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

And for more information about the flu and other essential immunizations for older people, take a look at these tipsheets: “Flu Prevention and Treatment Tips” and “Essential Vaccination Information for Older Adults.”