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Chronic Illness Often a Taboo Subject: Survey

Just a third of U.S. adults feel comfortable discussing it

THURSDAY, Oct. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Along with taboo topics such as politics and religion, many Americans are reluctant to discuss managing a chronic illness with family or friends, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 adults.

The survey, released Oct. 11, found that 82 percent of respondents said they knew someone with a chronic illness, but only 34 percent were likely to suggest ways for this person to better manage their care. That's about the same number who said they'd debate politics (37 percent) or religion (33 percent) with a loved one or friend.

Respondents were more likely to discourage friends or loved ones from buying the wrong house (65 percent), loan them a large amount of money (56 percent), advise them against taking a job they didn't think was right for the person (48 percent), and tell them their spouse was unfaithful (41 percent).

The survey was released by Evercare, a provider of health plans for people who have chronic illnesses, are older, or have disabilities.

The reasons why many Americans are reluctant to offer advice to chronically-ill friends or family include: They think the person has the situation under control (66 percent); they are not a health care professional (31 percent); they don't want to seem like a nag (31 percent) or rude (29 percent); they don't believe the person would listen to them (27 percent); or they didn't think the matter was that important (15 percent).

Other findings:

  • Twenty percent of respondents said their spouse was the easiest person to give advice to about health, followed by a child (20 percent), mother (13 percent), and father (5 percent).
  • Most respondents said they'd prefer to receive advice about managing a chronic illness from a health care professional (67 percent), followed by a spouse (10 percent) or parent (7 percent). Men were twice as likely as women (14 percent versus 7 percent) to have their spouse give them such advice.
  • Men have an easier time offering health advice to their spouse (28 percent) than women (19 percent). Women have an easier time offering health advice to their children (24 percent) than men (16 percent).
  • Thirty-four percent of respondents said the person closest to them with a chronic illness is a parent (34 percent), followed by another relative (16 percent), spouse (14 percent), friend (11 percent), sibling (8 percent), and child (6 percent).

Evercare offered tips on how to help family or friends with a chronic illness:

  • Talk to them in order to get an understanding of their goals. Get the conversation started by discussing events or activities they used to enjoy or future events they want to be part of, such as a family reunion. Once you understand their goals, you can help them achieve them along with health care providers, doctors or community service agencies.
  • Appoint an "ambassador" -- someone your friend or loved one feels comfortable talking with and respects enough to heed his or her advice. This person can help your friend or family member manage their condition.
  • Increase your comfort levels by educating yourself about the person's chronic illness. This will make you feel more comfortable speaking with them about the condition and reinforcing the advice the patient has received from their doctors.

By 2020, about 157 million Americans will be afflicted by chronic illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about coping with chronic illness.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Evercare, news release, Oct. 11, 2007

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