By Colleen Stegman

Bruce is 83 years old and lives life to the fullest. He likes to travel and enjoys eating out with his family. He’s active in church, has a great sense of humor and feels energetic and happy most of the time.

Ken is 75 years old. Most mornings he has no energy and doesn’t want to get out of bed. He often feels isolated and hopeless, and spends much of his day worrying about his failing health. Ken is married and feels his wife nags him too much about his poor diet and lack of exercise.

Both Bruce and Ken share something in common, a chronic disease called diabetes. Yet they manage their disease and control their symptoms differently. When Bruce was diagnosed with diabetes, he decided early on to learn as much as he could about his disease and take responsibility for his health. He watches his diet, checks his blood sugar once or twice a day, he’s involved in meal planning and does much of the cooking himself. Bruce walks four or five days a week, takes all medications prescribed by his doctor, makes sure to keep his appointments for check-ups and lab work and attends a monthly diabetes support group. Bruce has been enjoying a satisfying retirement.

When Ken was diagnosed with diabetes, he was busy with his career and family. Because he had no symptoms, he was not careful to follow his doctor’s advice regarding diet and regular exercise. He skipped his doctor appointments because he was afraid of being criticized for gaining weight. He missed several doses of medication and rarely took the time to check his blood sugar. Lately Ken has been having trouble with his vision and he’s always tired. He has trouble sleeping at night due to numbness and tingling in his feet. He’s exhausted from frequent nightly trips to the bathroom. In addition, he stepped on a loose carpet tack two weeks ago and the sore on his foot is not healing, in fact, it’s getting worse. This was not the kind of retirement that Ken had envisioned for himself, feeling worn-out, unwell and depressed.

Obviously, Bruce and Ken are managing their chronic disease differently. There is no “magic pill” or treatment to cure chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, stroke or arthritis. The goal is to control the symptoms.

Chronic disease management requires more than just medication. Many people with chronic illnesses must overcome symptoms of stress, fatigue, sleeping problems and depression. They’ll live with their disease every day, for the rest of their lives. There is no cure, but with help and encouragement from family and friends along with effective communication between the patient and their doctor or nurse practitioner, those with chronic diseases can take an active role in managing their disease.

If you have one or more chronic diseases, become an expert and learn all you can about your illness. Become a partner with the rest of your health care team and make good choices that result in a better quality of life. Again, the key is to take an active role in self-management, which will help lessen your frustration so you get the most out of your life.

Colleen Stegman is a nurse practitioner in Geriatric Services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.