Ninety-two percent of US seniors have at least one chronic health condition according to the National Council On Aging. Most have two chronic conditions or more. But this doesn't mean that life isn't good: About 40% of American seniors in an NIH report reported their personal health as "very good" or "excellent."

Effective management of chronic conditions helps explain how both of these statistics can be true. With lifestyle choices, prescription drugs and other therapies it's possible to boost memory, build stamina and otherwise combat symptoms of long-term health issues.

What Are Chronic Conditions?

The National Center for Health Statistics defines chronic conditions as diseases or other health issues that last three months or longer. Some examples described below:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis

Causes of chronic conditions include genetics, communicable diseases, exposure to environmental toxins, and lifestyle decisions such as smoking tobacco.

Generally a chronic condition cannot be prevented with a vaccine, nor cured with prescription drugs alone. One exception is cervical cancer caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) which can now be prevented with a vaccine. Another exception is hepatitis C, which is now curable  with drug therapy in about 90 percent of cases. And an increasing percentage of cancers can be overcome with combinations of drugs and other treatments such as ultraviolet light treatment (lasers) and surgery. Overall though, having a chronic disease involves managing symptoms rather than getting a cure.

The opposite of a chronic health condition is an acute condition. Acute health issues can be healed with short-term treatment. Examples are a broken arm, an ear infection that heals with penicillin, and a week-long bout with flu.

Preventing or Overcoming Chronic Conditions

Many chronic senior health issues are preventable with lifestyle choices. Cardiovascular diseases are classic examples because usually they result from factors that are controllable at the individual or societal level, such as amount of physical exercise and the cleanliness of air.

Some chronic conditions can be stopped, reversed or even cured with lifestyle changes. Recovery is most likely if damage isn't extensive. Some examples:

  • In a small percentage of cases in the US, dementia results from malnourishment. Improving diet or the ability to digest foods could eliminate dementia symptoms.
  • Coronary artery disease usually results from lack of exercise and/or smoking tobacco. Exercise can help remove plaque from artery walls. Quitting smoking can stop the corrosion of blood vessels, and within months they may heal.
  • Osteoporosis can be reversed when it's detected early. With exercise and vitamins (and possibly prescription drugs) a person can rebuild bone density and dramatically reduce the chance of bone fractures.

Cataracts

Cataracts are clouded lenses. Cataract surgery is very common and has excellent success rates for restoring vision. To help ensure a smooth recovery, caregivers help patients follow post-surgery instructions. Examples of doctor’s recommendations for after cataract surgery include:

  1. Use prescribed eye drops to prevent infection
  2. Sleep with an eye mask for several weeks
  3. Avoid the application of skincare products and makeup near the eyes until healing is complete
  4. Avoiding heavy lifting
  5. Shielding eyes from the Sun and computer screen radiation helps prevent new cataracts from forming.

Preventing cataracts, osteoporosis and other common senior health problems is the focus of our page Healthy Aging.