Improving Quality of Life for Seniors Living with Multiple Chronic Conditions

Print is pleased to feature this guest blog from Anand K. Parekh, MD, MPH, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (Science and Medicine).



Did you know that 75 million Americans, including three of four persons over 65, have multiple chronic conditions? This means the typical senior may not only have diabetes, he or she may also have arthritis, high blood pressure and perhaps even asthma.

That’s a lot to manage.

And people with multiple chronic conditions are at higher risk for hospitalizations, hospital readmissions, and adverse drug events.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has put together a plan to help in managing multiple health problems. The plan has four goals: to foster health care and public health system changes, to maximize the use of self-care management, to provide tools and information to health workers, and to facilitate research to fill knowledge gaps.

At HHS, we’ve supported significant research on health outcomes among individuals with multiple chronic conditions and have created a nationwide research network. We’ve worked with partners such as the National Quality Forum to create tools that will facilitate the development of quality measures for this population. These measures help patients and families determine whether their healthcare providers and facilities are using well-tested approaches to caring for people with multiple conditions. And finally, we’re working with the research and regulatory community to ensure that individuals with multiple chronic conditions are included in research studies.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act provides new and innovative ways to tackle this public health challenge. Millions of Americans with multiple chronic conditions are now eligible for preventive care, such as flu shots, blood pressure and cholesterol tests, mammograms, and colonoscopies – free of charge. Many are also participating in new care coordination models, such as “medical homes” and “accountable care organizations,” which promote the use of electronic health records and other mechanisms for managing patient care, so that those with multiple doctors can be confident that all their doctors have the information they need.

So, if you have multiple chronic conditions, here are four tips that may be helpful:

  1. Identify a medical quarterback. It’s critical to have a provider, usually a primary care physician, who is responsible for managing all your conditions and medications.
  2. Make healthy choices. It’s estimated that 80% of heart disease and stroke, 80% of type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancers could be eliminated if Americans would do three things: stop smoking, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise.
  3. Take advantage of community resources. There are many local resources that can support opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention. Find a trusted organization, such as a local YMCA or Area Agency on Aging, to see if they have programs that may be able to help you.
  4. Monitor your medications. People with multiple chronic conditions usually take multiple medications. Develop a reminder system to make sure that you’re taking your medications at the right time.

By taking these four steps, people with multiple chronic conditions can optimize their health status and quality of life.

The American Geriatrics Society’s guiding principles on managing the care of older adults with multiple health problems builds on our work at HHS. We are pleased to share and promote our common goal of optimizing the health and quality of life for older adults with multiple chronic conditions.

Tell us about your experiences caring for friends and family or patients with multiple health problems, or how you’ve managed your own complex health issues.