Planning can help the chronically ill manage the demands of festive season
FOR most people, the Christmas and New Year holiday period is about escaping from the routine pressures of every day life. However, for people with chronic illnesses there is no escape from their condition, regardless of how far they travel or how determined they are to leave their mobile phones at home.
For these people, the holiday period is about juggling the demands of the festive season to manage their condition to ensure they remain as healthy as possible and can participate in celebrations with family and friends. This requires planning, forethought and often additional assistance and support.
It’s not always easy, and is sometimes the last thing people want to think about when in holiday mode.
Many people with chronic illnesses successfully self-manage their conditions. Looking after themselves becomes part of their everyday life and they know exactly what they need to do to prevent problems occurring.
However, this can be harder when out of their normal routines, when travelling or if their regular doctors and health services are not available. The usual health challenges of the Christmas period — eating too much and overindulging in alcohol — can cause particular problems. Travelling — particularly overseas — can also create difficulties in accessing travel insurance, medicines and health care.
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) encourages people with chronic conditions to be prepared for self-management to be more of a challenge during holidays than during the year, and to work out their support or assistance.
There are a number of small things that can be done, like checking on the availability of doctors, allied health or others who provide invaluable support during this time. If people are not able to access their usual health care provider they should find alternatives who will be available. Many people also find that family and friends can provide additional back-up over this period.
Support groups of consumers with similar conditions can be extremely valuable for sharing practical advice with people experienced in dealing with the same health problems. While many support groups may not be actively meeting over the Christmas period, it is a good opportunity to spend time in locating a suitable local support group to contact in the new year. Some places to start looking are the member organisations on the CHF website at www.chf.org.au and on the website of local councils.
It is also important not to feel isolated in dealing with illness and disability, especially at this time of year. While many people with chronic illnesses feel like they are battling on their own to get the care they need, there is often more support available than consumers realise. Recent government programs have put funding into specific services to help people with (or at risk of) chronic illnesses and these can be useful in getting organised for the Christmas holiday period. For example: Funding is available via Medicare for a health check for people aged between 45 and 49 who are at risk of a chronic condition.
People 75 and older (55 and older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) can receive Medicare rebates for a comprehensive health assessment by a GP. This assessment can help people identify self-management strategies and take preventive action to stop chronic conditions from developing or becoming worse.
Rebates are also available for GPs to assist consumers in managing their conditions through working with them to develop care plans and consulting with other health care providers. GPs can also refer people for a Home Medicines Review by a pharmacist. In some cases, consumers can receive Medicare funding for treatment by a psychologist, physiotherapist or other allied health where this is related to their chronic illnesses.
However, some GPs may not be aware of these rebates or may not offer these services to their patients, so it’s worth asking about them. Often consumers need to put in some efforts to find a GP who can best provide them with the care they need. This can be frustrating, but like any other service it pays to shop around.
While many consumers are reluctant to question doctors about their advice and treatment suggestions, CHF encourages everyone to be pro-active in seeking out the assistance they need to maximise their health and well-being, particularly during challenging times such as the holiday period.
With a couple of weeks to go until Christmas, there is still time for people to put a plan into place to manage their condition effectively over the holiday season. No matter what happens at this time of the year, CHF believes that it is important for everyone to focus on getting the right support and assistance to make 2008 as healthy as possible. Mitch Messer is chairman of the Consumers’ Health Forum of Australia