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Self-care is a process of taking care of oneself with behaviors that promote health and active management of illness when it occurs. Both types of self-care (when healthy, when ill) are needed, as described further below. Everyone engages in some form of self-care daily with food choices, exercise, sleep, and dental care. Self-care is not new, although it has received increasing attention in recent years. Socrates has been credited with founding the self-care movement in ancient Greece, but care of oneself and loved ones has been the norm since human beings appeared on earth. Self-care remains a primary form of healthcare worldwide.
Routine self-care is important for generally healthy people but self-care becomes essential when illness occurs. Chronic illness (e.g., heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure) requires behaviors that control the illness, decrease symptoms, and improve survival such as medication adherence and symptom monitoring. An acute illness like an infection (e.g., COVID) requires the same types of self-care behaviors required of people with a chronic illness, but the medication adherence and symptom monitoring behaviors associated with an acute illness are typically short lived. Routine health maintenance self-care behaviors that everyone engages in (e.g., adequate sleep) are still required of those dealing with acute or chronic illness.Kecklund, G (2016). “health consequences of shift work and insufficient sleep”. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.i5210.
Although healthcare providers are assumed to manage chronic illness, the time spent with a provider is minor in comparison with the time spent in self-care. It has been estimated that of the 8760 hours in a year, patients spend only about 0.001% or 10 hours of their time with a healthcare provider. Benefits of routine self-care in generally healthy populations include prevention of illness and comparatively better quality of life. In people with chronic illness, self-care is associated with fewer symptoms, fewer hospitalizations, better quality of life, and longer survival compared to individuals in whom self-care is poor. Self-care is seen as a partial solution to the global rise in health care costs that is placed on governments worldwide.
A lack of self-care in terms of personal health, hygiene and living conditions is referred to as self-neglect. The use of caregivers and Personal Care Assistants may be needed. There is a growing body of knowledge related to these home care workers.