Plan­ning can help the chron­i­cally ill man­age the de­mands of fes­tive sea­son

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - PA­TIENT PER­SPEC­TIVE MITCH MESSER

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 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

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