How to Support a Loved One With Chronic Illness
Living with a chronic illness is challenging. Even well-meant words like “feel better soon” can sting — your symptoms may improve, but you’ll remain sick. Receiving such a diagnosis can change lives, bring financial hardship and cause understandable trauma and depression.
If someone in your family or close friendship circle has such a disease, they need your help and kindness more than ever. Here are five tips for supporting a loved one with chronic illness.
1. Coordinate With Their Care Management Team
Having a chronic illness means attending countless doctor’s appointments — and having multiple questions for each specialist. Plus, successfully prevailing in a disability claim means presenting tons of health records and it’s easier than you think for needed paperwork to get disorganized quickly.
Your loved one will have to prove through official documentation that their care team expects their condition to significantly limit their ability to work for 12 months or more. They also need to get their questions answered. What lifestyle changes should they make to minimize symptoms and flares? What foods should they eat and avoid? How do their supplements interact with their prescribed medications?
It can be impossible for your loved one with chronic illness to remember everything during their brief appointment, especially considering their increased stress load. They may need you to remind their providers about the critical nature of records, including chart documentation and remote data monitoring to support their disability claim. Start this process as soon as possible — it can take years to win approval, but that won’t keep the added medical bills from piling up in the meantime.
2. Provide Assistance With Daily Tasks
Your loved one with chronic illness may find that their condition limits their ability to perform daily living tasks. For example, certain neurological disorders make driving inadvisable — but your friend or family member will still need to grocery shop and attend appointments. Can you help them out with rides to medical appointments or take them on errands with you once a week when you go?
If your friend has a dynamic disability, they’ll have good days and bad. They might suffer no impairment on good days but find it impossible to get out of bed on others. If a flare lays your friend up for a week, your offer to straighten up their house and help attend to any pet care needs will be more than welcome. You can also offer to include them in your weekly meal prep, stocking their freezer with healthy microwavable meals they can turn to when they’re too sick to cook.
Your loved one with chronic illness is going through a traumatic experience. Depending on their diagnosis, they may need to change their career path or future family plans. They could feel like life as they always knew it is over and they have tons of difficult emotions to process.
One way humans process their emotions is through talking with others. Be the nonjudgmental ear that your friend so desperately needs. Schedule a time to chat — perhaps even once per week — when you feel unrushed. Use your best active listening skills and avoid using platitudes or saying things like, “It could be worse.” Perhaps so, but trauma is trauma and invalidating your friend’s experience will only make them more reluctant to open up to anyone in the future.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t gently encourage your friend to find the positive in their situation. For example, you might ask if there are any at-home jobs they can do if working outside the home has become too problematic or risky. Remind them that more opportunities abound since the pandemic — even those who struggled to find telecommuting positions in the past may have more luck today.
4. Keep Your Ears Open for Opportunities
However, your loved one with chronic illness faces more roadblocks to career success than their nondisabled peers. For example, they may shun in-person work if their condition makes them uniquely vulnerable to severe health risks from infectious diseases. Doing so narrows their prospects much more than someone who can fill in employment gaps by driving for Uber or taking similar gig work.
Therefore, help your friend by passing along potential opportunities that might mesh with their new reality. For example, if you hear of an opening at a disability-friendly organization that allows remote work, spread the word.
5. Include Them in Your Plans
Chronic illness can be incredibly isolating. People with diseases that limit one or more functions like mobility or hearing might withdraw from their friends, fearing that people don’t want to accommodate their slower gait or need to have statements repeated. Too often, the people who love them interpret their reticence as disinterest and stop extending invitations.
Please support your loved one with chronic illness by including them in your plans — even if you think they’ll say no or cancel at the last minute. They’ll remember the rosy glow of your friendship even if they can’t attend your function.
Supporting a Loved One With Chronic Illness
Receiving a chronic illness diagnosis is never easy. Your loved one’s entire world may change, leaving them understandably traumatized and depressed.
Follow the above tips to support your loved one with chronic illness. They need your kindness and companionship more than ever.