When life begins, a person is born completely dependent on others for his or her well-being. As we age, the relationship between child and parent becomes more balanced. And as life goes on, we become aware that our elders also have needs, and our roles slowly reverse. Being a caregiver to a parent can be both emotionally and physically trying. Yet as Thanksgiving Day nears, we also reflect on how grateful we are to have our loved ones in our lives. Serving as a caregiver for a family member can also be incredibly rewarding, and for many, it is the ultimate expression of gratitude.
November celebrates "National Family Caregivers Month," a time to recognize the enduring efforts of families, partners, friends and neighbors to sustain and improve the quality of life for others. The AARP Public Policy Institute estimates that the nation’s 65 million unpaid caregivers not only comprise the foundation of the nation’s long-term care system, but also critically impact the U.S. economy with a contribution valued at about $350 billion.
Being a caregiver is a tough role to fill. It can feel like you’re "on call" around the clock - without any of the financial benefits that most health care professionals receive. As a result, caregivers have higher stress levels than average Americans, especially if they’re caring for someone afflicted by a particularly difficult condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease - both of which are more likely to affect those in the African-American community.
It’s easy to put your own health on the backburner when you’re continuously fixated on the well-being of another. But it’s important to make your health a top priority. Thankfully, there are groups across the country dedicated to helping caregivers cope with their admirable but arduous roles. The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests incorporating exercise into your daily routine, scheduling regular check-ups with your doctors and participating in pleasant, nurturing activities.
This November, do what you can to ensure that your loved ones are receiving the care they need. Make sure those who are eligible are taking advantage of Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, which ends December 7. Medicare plans change from year to year, so examining seniors’ options for the upcoming year is important in guaranteeing they select the plan best suited to meet their unique health needs. Medicare counselors are available to help answer questions about Medicare Part D coverage. Give them a call at 1-800-MEDICARE, or visit www.medicare.gov for more information.
Patients not eligible for Medicare can turn to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a nationwide effort sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies that has helped connect nearly 7 million uninsured and financially-struggling Americans to programs that provide prescription medicines for free or at low cost. For more information call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit www.pparx.org.
Larry Lucas is a retired vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).