Primary Care for Seniors with Chronic Conditions

You may think of your primary care provider as the person you see when you have seasonal allergies or a cough that won’t go away. But they do much more than routine exams. If you have a chronic condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes, a good relationship with a primary care doctor is important.

The Value of Primary Care

A primary care provider is like the captain of your healthcare team. They’re often your first point of contact for any concerns you might have. When you have an established relationship with a primary care provider, they get to know you and can make personalized recommendations for your well-being. If any issues arise that would be better treated by a specialist, they can make that referral and coordinate care among everyone who’s treating you.

Primary Care and Chronic Illness

One of the most important functions of a primary care provider is to help manage chronic illness. Approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic condition, which makes primary care crucial for seniors. A chronic condition is one that lasts a year or more and requires ongoing medical attention. Two of the most common chronic conditions among older adults are:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (also known as hypertension)

Primary Care Is Preventive Care

Primary care is so important that it’s our main focus at all 10 of our Philadelphia locations of Oak Street Health, which provides primary care for patients on Medicare and adults 65 and older. We emphasize preventive care—that means preventing illness before it begins, or managing it so that it doesn’t get worse. To do this, our primary care doctors and other providers spend a lot of time getting to know each patient. That way, we can come up with a care plan that includes recommendations specific to your situation.

Preparing a Care Plan with Your Primary Care Doctor

There are some things you’ll talk about with your primary care doctor in order to create a care plan. Those include:

  • Preventive services. Screening tests and vaccines can help keep you from getting sick or developing an additional chronic condition.
  • Tests. In order to diagnose a chronic condition or monitor how well you’re managing it, there may be testing at a primary care facility or at home.
  • Medicines and other treatments. How well are you following your treatment plan? Do you always take your medicines as prescribed? Talk to your healthcare provider about any issues you’re having with your treatments.
  • Your mental health. Having a chronic condition may leave you feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. These feelings can make your condition worse. Tell your healthcare provider how you feel so that you can get the help you need.

[My doctor] jokes with me, but she gets serious when I'm not doing what I’m supposed to do about my diabetes. She’s patient, she listens, she turns, sometimes, a bad feeling into a good feeling.

Barbara Jones

Understanding Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that happens when your blood sugar levels are too high. With it, your body has trouble turning food into energy. There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: Your body does not make any insulin, and you must take it every day to live. This is usually diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood.?
  • Type 2 diabetes: Your body does not use insulin well. This is the most common type of diabetes. You’re more at risk if you’re age 45 or older, are overweight, are physically active less than three times a week, or have a family history of diabetes.
The information provided above will be used by Oak Street Health to contact you to schedule an appointment. Learn more about how Oak Street Health uses your information.

Why Diabetes Matters

One in four people who have diabetes don’t know they have it. This is dangerous because when diabetes is not managed, it can lead to:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye problems
  • Dental disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Skin conditions
  • Pain in the legs and feet

Medicare covers two diabetes screenings per year for those at risk of developing it. Talk to your primary care provider about getting a glucose lab test if you’re at risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes Treatment

Fortunately, diabetes can be controlled with the proper care. The top two ways to manage diabetes are through exercise and good nutrition.

Most people should aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week. If you have mobility issues, your doctor can work with you to find activities that will be practical.

Eating healthy, balanced meals is helpful for everyone, not just those with diabetes. If you do have diabetes, Medicare covers medical nutritional therapy services so you can learn what foods best fuel your body. You’ll get an individualized plan and lots of follow-up to help you stay on track.

Fortunately, diabetes can be controlled with the proper care. The top two ways to manage diabetes are through exercise and good nutrition.

Why High Blood Pressure Matters

Another common chronic condition is high blood pressure (also called hypertension). It generally has no symptoms, so the only way to know your blood pressure is high is to get it checked. Nearly one-third of American adults have hypertension, which usually lasts for a lifetime once it develops. If high blood pressure is not controlled, it can lead to:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Blindness
  • Leg amputation

Medicare covers one visit per year with a primary care doctor to help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, including checking your blood pressure.

The information provided above will be used by Oak Street Health to contact you to schedule an appointment. Learn more about how Oak Street Health uses your information.

High Blood Pressure Treatment

Like diabetes, high blood pressure is best managed through exercise and a healthy diet. Here are some ways you can lower your blood pressure:

  • Exercise regularly, about 30 minutes a day
  • Eat a diet low in salt and high in potassium
  • Quit smoking, if you currently do
  • Find ways to reduce your stress

Medications can also help control high blood pressure. Talk to your primary care doctor about whether this is a good option for you.

Staying Healthy with Age

If you don’t currently have a primary care provider, don’t wait to get one! For seniors wanting the best quality of life possible, primary care is a must. Whether you have a chronic condition or want to prevent one from developing in the future, a Medicare doctor from Oak Street Health can help you take charge of your health.