The Norton Slideshow Maker with Visual Sociology Exercises

Can Chronic Conditions Be Solved?

John Grady, Wheaton College (MA)


Leading causes of death in 1904 and 2004.

Many of the diseases that killed people in 1904 were experienced as acute episodes that were brought on by infections or traumatic events of one kind or another. You were treated and, if you had access to good health care and were lucky, you got better. If you couldn't get to a good doctor and didn't get any breaks, you didn't get better and often died in a relatively short period. The famous mid-twentieth century sociologist Talcott Parsons defined patients in this world primarily as people who were temporarily occupying a sick role that excused them from carrying out the normal obligations of their everyday lives.

Today, however, many people suffer from diseases that may take a long time to develop and may affect them for decades. We refer to these diseases as “chronic” because, in a real sense, they are never over. Modern medicine has developed lots of ways to extend life for people with chronic diseases with varied treatments, including diets, drugs, prosthetics, and other therapies.

The Center for Disease Control reports that:

Chronic Diseases are the Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the U.S.

Seven out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases. Heart disease, cancer, and stroke account for more than 50 percent of all deaths each year. 1

In 2005 133 million Americans - almost one out of every two adults—had at least one chronic illness. 2

Obesity has become a major health concern. One in every three adults is obese 3 and almost one in five youth between the ages of six and 19 is obese (BMI ≥ 95th percentile of the CDC growth chart). 4

About one-fourth of people with chronic conditions have one or more daily activity limitations. 5

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability, with nearly 19 million Americans reporting activity limitations. 6

Diabetes continues to be the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-extremity amputations, and blindness among adults, aged 20 to 74.

However we measure it, the population that is chronically ill, and/or disabled, is an extremely large and permanent part of our social world. American society should become more committed to addressing their needs and empowering them to participate productively in their homes and in the public sphere. Such efforts require legislation (like the Americans with Disabilities Act), changes in public attitudes (that include accepting their differences,) and new technological innovations to give them more mobility and capability.

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After you view the slideshow, answer the following questions:

Do you know anyone who has had any experience with new technologies for the disabled or chronically ill? What difference do you think they make in the lives of those who use them and in the lives of their loved ones?

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After you view the slideshow and reflect on it, create your own, related slideshow. To focus your approach, read the paragraph below. Your instructor may ask you to e-mail a link to your slideshow, or you can print it out and hand it in.

Identify people that you know who have to live their lives with a chronic disease or disability. Find out how their illness affects their lives and how it has changed the way they go about their daily routine. Do they use devices like those above? What are they and how do they work? What was involved in first getting used to them? How have others adjusted to their reliance on these devices? Has their chronic illness and what they have to do to cope with it changed how they look at themselves, others, and life in general?  Collaborate with the person you are interviewing to photograph how their life has changed due to their illness. Shoot photographs that document these changes.