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Chronic Disease and College

Posted Nov 07 2011 12:00am
My guest blogger today is Marina Salsbury
About Marina:

Marina Salsbury planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise.
Living with a chronic disease requires time, energy, and commitment to maintain health at the highest level possible. Add to this the difficulties of adjusting to college with its heavy study load, often hectic schedule of courses and online work , and social demands, all while dealing with the upheaval of late adolescence and early adulthood. This is the challenge faced by an increasing number of college students.

Recent research indicates seven percent of college students in the United States deal with chronic diseases. Among these are so-called invisible conditions such as diabetes, depression, asthma, arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Almost any chronic illness can afflict college students. Some struggle with conditions present from birth, such as brittle bone disease and muscular dystrophy. State-supported colleges have special dormitories and services available for students with severe conditions. However, students who must deal with less visible health problems can get left out of the loop. Even though their diseases aren't apparent to most people, the trek across a large campus can be exhausting for students with chronic fatigue or heart conditions. These students must be proactive in pursuing the services and accommodations that will make it possible for them to succeed.

For those living with chronic illness, any or all of the following can present serious obstacles
ñ  Obtaining appropriate transportation and/or parking permits close to classes;
ñ  Scheduling treatments, medications, and regular meals;
Dealing with sudden exacerbation of illness;ñ  Obtaining prescriptions and regular check-ups;ñ  Managing symptoms;ñ  Getting needed accommodations;ñ  Finding personal care attendants if needed;ñ  Following a fitness plan for optimal health.
A larger issue is how appropriate care and guidance can be delivered to college students dealing with chronic conditions. The usual clinical settings on campuses are geared toward acute care of illness or trauma, rather than the ongoing education and support required for managing conditions that aren't going to abate.

Students with these types of problems need adequate support and special services to improve their health and their chances of success in the competitive environment of a college campus. While the college office of disability services can provide some help, the individual must take charge of managing the condition. The following steps may be of help
Check with your primary care physician and specialists before leaving for campus. Ask about vaccinations that may help in maintaining health. Obtain a one- to three-month supply of medications and other items needed to monitor and control your disease. Find out where to obtain refills and whom to consult for urgent care. Prepare a list of medications used and any allergies, plus details about your condition and phone numbers for specialists and your primary care physician. Keep copies of this list in your wallet and in your dorm room.

Visit the campus office of disability services and discuss needs with the people there. If no office of disability services exists at your school, contact the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation near your home and ask for help to obtain accommodations for your condition. Services may include having a note-taker, receiving extended test time, obtaining a private room, and other supports.
Check your insurance. It is now possible to remain on your parents' insurance policy until age 26, but make certain this is arranged or you have other adequate coverage. Make sure you're covered if you attend a school in another state.

Visit the campus health center early, before illness strikes, and explain your situation to personnel there. If satisfactory care is not available on campus, find a nearby source of care you can use when needed.

Develop a support network. Inform those close to you about your condition and that you may need assistance at some point. Don't dwell on the subject or ask for help you don't need, but keep a circle of peers, professors, and counselors informed about the situation.
Maintain your treatment routine. No matter how hectic the schedule at school gets, stay on top of your medication, treatment, meals, and exercise as recommended by your physicians.
Get plenty of rest. Anyone sleep-deprived is more vulnerable to illness. You're in charge of maintaining a schedule that will help you stay as healthy as possible.
Living with a chronic condition is no picnic at any age. For college students, it is possible to maintain control of chronic health problems while also participating fully in campus life, but it requires a sensible program of medication, treatments, and physical fitness.
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