The current prospects and hopes for a healthy and active ageing have been weakened by the incidence of chronic diseases reaching epidemic proportions. ’Never too early - Tackling chronic disease to extend healthy life years,’ a recently-launched report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, makes a case for preventing and tackling such diseases from childhood to ageing.
Given today’s dominant EU paradigm -with an emphasis put on healthy ageing, including the European Union’s Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing- this report’s objective is to draw further attention on prolonging people’s healthy lives by looking at what can be done to increase, maintain and transfer their health capital and resilience well into the end of their years. A list of key messages to support any ongoing or planned European health policy and advocacy work should consider the following facts - extracted from the report ’Never too early - Tackling chronic disease to extend healthy life years.
Chronic diseases threaten to overwhelm Europe’s healthcare system. Between 70% and 80% of Europe’s healthcare costs are spent on chronic care, amounting to €700bn. Chronic diseases account for over 86% of deaths in the EU.
Chronic diseases are largely preventable. Much of the disease burden is preventable, delayed or diminished, through a combination of primary prevention measures, screening and early intervention.
Prevention, compared to treatment is much more cost-effective. Preventing chronic diseases from a life-course approach should be based on fundamental blocks of a healthy lifestyle: a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco as well as an excessive alcohol intake.
Primary prevention can be aided by early diagnosis and intervention. While primary prevention focuses on healthy living, secondary prevention (early screening and diagnosis) and tertiary prevention (early intervention to slow the progress of diseases identified) also play important roles in reducing the burden of chronic disease.
Starting as early as possible is beneficial. Healthy living practices -begin in babyhood and perhaps even earlier, during pregnancy- can help delay or even halt the onset of disease.
Care of chronic conditions differs from acute care. To ensure appropriate care for chronic disease patients, communities and healthcare systems should direct more resources to wellness, prevention and disease management programmes for chronic patients.
Healthcare should be integrated and people/patient-centred to the greatest extent possible. Integration of medical services and other services such as mental health; in-home sanitary care; instruction in self-monitoring; and self-care methods are crucial, especially for co-morbid patients.
Healthcare should be organised around a variety of health and non-health actors. Pharmacists, nurses, community workers, home care workers and others can all play a part. They are often in a better position than doctors and hospitals to provide time-intensive coaching and personal attention to patients.
Employers and health insurers have major contributions to make in fighting chronic disease. Health and wellness programmes are increasingly being offered by employers as a way to ensure that older workers are able to remain on the job longer and in better health. Health insurers are also increasingly sponsoring health and wellness programmes as incentives to encourage healthy lifestyles and practices.
Mental healthcare must be included in chronic disease prevention and treatment. No doubt here, isolation and loneliness due to chronic disease aggravates people’s condition.
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