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.