Health and Economic Costs of Dealing with Chronic Illness
September 1, 2023
While the diagnosis of a chronic illness is upsetting enough, the financial ramifications of needing ongoing care often hit the hardest. Medical issues account for two-thirds of all US bankruptcies, making them the number one reason people file; forty percent of people who are diagnosed with cancer are bankrupt within four years of their diagnosis. For those who are chronically ill, healthcare is the number three line item for budgeting, while it’s number 10 for healthy individuals.
The costs of living with a chronic illness is not limited to financial burdens though; a chronic illness can also lead to even more health and interpersonal issues.
A Decline in Mental Well-Being
Health impairments can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, like depression, or cause new issues to arise, such as anxiety. Being diagnosed with an illness that’s incurable or being unsure about whether or not the symptoms will improve is going to cause an immense amount of stress in patients. People who feel ill often may also end up feeling guilty for not being able to fulfill their personal responsibilities and show up fully for their loved ones.These mental and physical chronic conditions can lead to harmful degrees of social isolation and perpetuate a cycle of declining overall health.
When considering the connection between physical and mental health, it has been shown that those who report feeling lonely suffer from higher rates of morbidity, infection, depression, and cognitive decline. Living with a chronic illness doesn’t have to equate to a lonely life though, and may even lead to more meaningful relationships, according to Caroyn Hax, an advice columnist for the Washington Post. In her response to a reader with multiple sclerosis, she stated “Although your illness will deter some potential companions, your ability to plan it into a full, rewarding and well-managed life will attract others — specifically those people who appreciate that circumstances change but character does not.”
An Inability to Work and Losing Health Benefits
Many people suffering from chronic health issues may begin to find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. Many people who deal with chronic health issues––such as Charlene Marshall who is a Pulmonary Fibrosis patient–– find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. “Whether the fatigue I feel is from managing the disease or the disease progression, daily activities become exhausting and hard to manage,” she shares. Unfortunately, many people suffering from a chronic condition may begin to be viewed as unreliable by their supervisors, leading to termination, while others may need to resign as they find it impossible to keep working.
For many, losing their job also means losing their health benefits. Those who can no longer work may become reliant on spousal coverage or public assistance, which is likely why 99 percent of Medicare and 80 percent of Medicaid spending goes toward the treatment of chronic disease. Not only does the inability to work affect individuals and their families, but lower labor force participation rates affect society as a whole and are linked to slower economic growth, a higher dependency ratio, and higher tax rates.
Straining Personal Relationships
The inability to work due to chronic illness can lead to financial strain on an individual’s entire family. Not only may family members need to help pay for care, but they may also need to take time from work to care for their loved ones who are undergoing treatment that makes them ill, need help with daily activities, or have just had a major surgery. Between new bills and extended care, the financial struggles of the chronically ill can spread easily to those who care for them most.
People who have a loved one that is suffering from a chronic health condition may also experience stress, concern, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Battling a chronic illness doesn’t always have to come with negative interpersonal effects though. Many people actually find that their relationships are strengthened through their health struggles. Marshall, for instance, shares that she is grateful for a strengthened social circle. “I’m blessed to have a network of great friends who support me despite IPF and who are always willing to listen.”
How We Can All Fight Chronic Disease
By working together, we can help build up the next generation for a healthier life through education about the prevention of many chronic diseases. Eating well, regular exercise, and avoiding substance abuse are all behaviors that may reduce the risk of becoming chronically ill. On a societal level, we can address the underlying determinants of health, including one’s environment, education, and access to healthcare. For instance, since many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis, are associated with poor diet and obesity, the FDA is currently working to make sure US eating patterns are meeting federal dietary guidelines.
If you or a loved one are struggling through a chronic illness, know that you are not alone. The CDC estimates that 6 in 10 adults living in the US have at least one chronic disease, while 4 in 10 suffer from at least two or more. Insureyouknow.org can help you keep track of medical records, doctor’s appointments, financial planning, and other important documentation regarding your health and finances. Getting organized and keeping a plan are easy ways to get more peace of mind on your life’s journey through a chronic illness.
Take These Five Simple Steps to be Healthy at Any Age
July 14, 2023
Cognition, our ability to think clearly, often declines as we get older. While some may develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, many will experience changes in learning, memory and thinking. Research proves that taking small steps toward living a healthier life helps to minimize declines in cognition, such as maintaining physical activity. Incorporating regular exercise is just one of the following five simple steps to be healthy at any age.
1. Exercise regularly.
“Exercise is also one of the best things you can do to help prevent dementia and other cognitive changes,” says Argye Hillis, M.D. at John Hopkins Medicine. “Once you’re cleared by your doctor, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.” Combining eleven studies, the Alzheimer’s Society found that regular exercise reduced the risk of developing dementia by 30 percent, and the risk of Alzheimer’s specifically was reduced by as much as 45 percent.
If exercise is something you loathe, it doesn’t take a lot of strenuous activity to improve one’s overall health dramatically. Walking for a total of 30 minutes a day helps keep the brain healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen to cells. In addition to preventing Alzheimer’s, walking can boost mood, keep bones and muscles strong, and reduce the risk of other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
When someone is ready to get serious about preventing age-related problems, resistance training is going to be the best place to start. “The average woman can lose 23 percent of her muscle mass between the ages of 30 and 70,” says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Resistance workouts in particular – can increase mass and strength well into your 90s.”
Resistance training is simply exercising your muscles using an opposing force, and the best part is that anyone can practice resistance training using no more than their body weight. Squats, push ups, and planks are all examples of resistance training that can be practiced anywhere.
2. Improve your diet.
It is undeniable that the food someone eats plays a major role in how they feel. “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs,” said Victor Lindlahr, an American nutritionist in the 1930s. “You are what you eat.” If someone wants to feel good, then there’s no way around eating better.
In 2022, the U.S. News & World Report named the Mediterranean diet the Best Overall Diet for the fifth year in a row. According to research by Harvard Medical School, the Mediterranean diet may help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. “The latest research shows that a low-glycemic diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is healthiest,” Jeffrey Benabio, M.D. at Kaiser Permanente Primary Care, tells patients.
3. Make quality sleep a priority.
Did you know that not getting enough sleep can put an individual at higher risk for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and even obesity? Recent research even shows a link between insomnia and accelerated aging of the brain. “Too many of us treat sleep as a luxury instead of a need,” says Dr. Benabio of Kaiser. “If I could encourage people to make one healthy change, it would be to sleep more.”
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night. They also point out that most sleep problems are a result of underlying medical conditions, such as acid reflux, which is why addressing any sleeping problems with one’s doctor is a good place to start.
4. Schedule regular checkups with your doctor.
Regular checkups with the doctor, dentist, and other specialists are invaluable opportunities for people to catch problems early and treat them before they become bigger problems. A 2021 study by the National Library of Medicine found that individuals who went to the doctor regularly reported improved quality of life and feelings of wellness. Plus, visiting the dentist and preventing inflammation in the mouth can help manage other inflammatory conditions like diabetes and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Keeping up on these yearly appointments and follow ups is a simple thing that can reap life-saving benefits.
5. Take Time to Connect
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with many more affected by anxiety disorders. Someone who feels lonely is more likely to get dementia or depression. This is because such individuals have higher levels of stress hormones which cause inflammation in the body and a lowered immune response. Strong friendships alleviate stress, improve emotional well-being, and are markers of physical health. Experts suggest people can grow their social connection by creating a community through their work relationships, by volunteering, and by making friendships a priority. “Strong bonds won’t happen overnight, but starting small and prioritizing friendships as an important part of your life can bring more happiness, less stress and more support,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. “You know someone is a true friend when they have your back when you’re sick, when you lose your job, when you make a mistake, when you’re going through a break-up, when you’re stressed, when you’re sad.”
Stress is inevitable, and it is proven to negatively affect one’s health. By following these five simple steps, anyone can decrease their levels of stress and increase their overall wellness. Physical activity, eating a balanced diet, good sleep, and social support can all combat the effects of stress on the body. You may be thinking that while you’re already stretched thin, fitting in these healthy practices may cause you more stress. That’s why starting small with manageable changes will help you incorporate these steps into your routine. Insureyouknow.org can help you manage regular checkups and social engagements and even keep track of medical records, diet journals, sleep data, and exercise logs. Keeping all of your information in one place makes it easy to recognize the positive impact these simple steps will have on your overall health.