Dealing with progressive and chronic illness

Image: Dealing with progressive and chronic illness

In this edition of Caregiver Tip Tuesday we look at dealing with progressive and chronic illness.

As we age there are a whole host of progressive and chronic illnesses that may impact our independence & functioning significantly. Some of these illnesses are troubling for the person and caregivers/family alike as they come to terms with the diagnosis and need for care. Cognitive illnesses, such as different kinds of dementias and physically degenerative ones, are heartbreaking to witness as family members must come to terms with declining health and changing personality of their loved one. In many instances, caregivers are forced to look at the idea of providing care or moving their loved one to a residence that can provide such care.

Coping with a new diagnosis takes time – even for those who suspect it in advance of it being confirmed. Allow time to accept and deal with the implications of what is to come. Undoubtedly, there will be a range of emotions involved for everyone. For some, sharing the diagnosis and what you are going through with others becomes a helpful way of coping and understanding so you can begin working towards dealing with the adjustments that will need to be made. Take the time to educate yourself about the illness and options for treatment. Keep in mind that diseases progress differently in everyone and at different rates. Take each day as it comes and recognize there will be good and bad days – make the most of the good days and support each other on the bad ones.

It’s important to ensure that legal issues are taken care of before the person declines and cannot manage their affairs. With a diagnosis of a chronic, progressive or life-threatening disease – ensure the person’s Will is up-to-date and witnessed. Additionally, make sure that there are proper powers of attorney for both property and health. Caregivers should ensure that they know the location of all original documents. If these documents do not exist, begin a discussion on what the person’s wishes are and gain an understanding of what they would feel comfortable with you authorizing in the event that they become incapable. Then contact a lawyer to arrange that a proper document be completed. If the person becomes incapable, ensure the necessary people are aware i.e. the bank, investment advisors, etc. If more care is required, begin with encouraging support in the home. It’s best if the home environment can be made safe and care comes in, rather than quickly jumping to the idea of institutional care. Often it’s easier to accept a need for relocation if all efforts have been made to keep someone in their home with supports. If you reach a point where relocation is the most suitable option, ensure you investigate alternatives carefully and keep in mind what your loved one needs and wants in a new setting. Ask many questions about the place and ensure that their needs can be met now and in the future.

Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker, the author of the annual Ontario publication the "Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living & Long-Term Care®" and administrator of the affiliated national website She is a seasoned lecturer and former educator at U of T School of Continuing Studies, sharing her knowledge with professionals, seniors and their families, by giving workshops and lectures at various venues on 'Senior Living Options' and related topics. Esther can be contacted at