Helping a Friend or Loved One Suffering from a Chronic Illness

Published on: December 7, 2017

Helping a Friend or Loved with a Chronic Illness

If you have been around people with chronic illnesses, you probably have an idea of their daily struggles. These conditions can interfere with one’s independence and their ability to carry out physical activities. They can also lead to changes in one’s overall appearance due to their health condition. Furthermore, the adjustments to one’s lifestyle can lead to stress, anger, and anxiety.

The risk of obtaining chronic diseases increases with age, with 85% of Americans who are 65 or older having at least one chronic condition. On a global scale, chronic illnesses are responsible for 60% of deaths on an annual basis. It is therefore important to provide proper care to persons diagnosed with a chronic illness.

What is a Chronic Illness?

By definition, a chronic illness is one that persists for a long time (usually 3 months or more). Such diseases cannot be prevented by vaccines and cannot be cured by medication. This is the case in chronic illnesses such as arthritis, cancer (such as breast and colon cancer), diabetes, and obesity. Other chronic illnesses include stroke, asthma, and hypertension.

The onset of these diseases occurs as a result of lifestyle trends that can put patients at a prolonged risk over time. Risk factors such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and consumption of tobacco are the leading causes of chronic illnesses. These diseases tend to manifest themselves more severely over a period of time.

Important Facts About Chronic Illnesses

If you ever find yourself having to provide care or assistance to a loved one suffering from a chronic illness, it will help to know more about the disease and how it relates to other chronic illnesses. Here are some of the most commonly diagnosed chronic illnesses in the U.S. and their symptoms.


Arthritis (and its related conditions) affects nearly 43 million Americans. This makes it one of the least chronic illnesses in the country. It is characterized by joint pain, stiffness, weak muscles, and a lack of flexibility during motion.

Cardiovascular Disease

The leading cause of deaths in the country, cardiovascular diseases are caused by excessive tobacco use, poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity. They occur when the blood circulation system to and from the heart becomes compromised by blocked blood vessels. This condition can lead to a variety of heart complications.


Cancer is another leading chronic illness that causes patients to endure a wide variety of symptoms. Cancer is best managed when it is detected at an early stage before it spreads and affects vital organs in the body.

The two most common types of cancer (colorectal and breast cancer) also can be controlled by understanding risk factors that can lead to the disease and how to handle patients who are diagnosed.


Diabetes is also a common chronic illness, affecting up to 20% of people who are 65 or older. The inability of the body to regulate its blood sugar levels often causes diabetes patients to deal with significant lifestyle changes in order to deal with the disease.

Helping a Loved One with a Chronic Disease

Helping someone who has a chronic illness can be challenging. However, with the right understanding and strategy in mind, you can be able to provide critical care to affected persons and help them cope better with their illness. In order to provide the best help, you should keep the following in mind:

Accept the Nature of the Condition

The most important step towards providing much-needed help to a loved one is accepting the nature of the chronic illness. If the illness is characterized by pain, don’t put pressure on yourself to alleviate the pain.

Understand what the illness truly entails and design a realistic framework for providing help. This will enable you to avoid unnecessary stress and frustration.

Balance Between Being There and Giving Them Space

It is important to strike a balance between being there when your loved one needs you and giving them their space. Sometimes, being there for the person can make the situation that much more manageable. The reverse is also true.

Be Empathetic

Trying to understand what your loved one is going through can go a long way. Most people, due to a lack of understanding of chronic illnesses, tend to ignore the struggles of these patients. Being empathetic to your loved one’s situation is one of the best ways of providing support.

Support Healthy Habits

If your loved one’s condition can improve due to certain lifestyle changes, help them implement those necessary adjustments. For example, dietary changes, physical exercises and quitting smoking can be hard for your loved one to do by themselves. Be there to support their healthy habits and to encourage a productive lifestyle.

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