Grandfathers

A grandfather blowing bubbles while his smiling grandson watchesMen’s Health Month and Father’s Day were officially celebrated in June, but as wives, daughters, and partners, every day we recognize the unique social, cultural, and economic challenges affecting men’s health and particularly men of color.

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I’m excited about the growing attention to men’s health as evidenced by the number of scientific journals devoted to men’s health, as well as new investments in research involving men of color. For example, our sister agency, the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health recently awarded a grant to Hampton University – in partnership with five other historically black colleges and universities, to conduct “innovative trans-disciplinary research to effectively reduce health disparities in minority men.”1 Once understudied, there is more research emerging in the literature to inform public health practice intending to improve health outcomes among men of color. The July 2013 special issue of the American Journal of Men’s Health, for example, focuses on theoretical frameworks, interventions, and qualitative and quantitative analyses needed to better explain and address preventable health disparities among African American men.

While grandparents who serve as primary caregivers for their grandchildren are disproportionately black and Hispanic, the increase in grandparent primary caregiving across the decade has been much more pronounced among whites.

So, why write a blog about grandfathers? One child in ten in the United States lives with a grandparent. About four in ten (41%) of those children who live with a grandparent (or grandparents) are also being raised primarily by that grandparent.

Some 62% of grandparent caregivers are female, and 38% are men.3 Grandfathers can play an important nurturing role with grandchildren, and there is growing evidence that engaged grandfathers experience better mental health as they age.

I have very fond memories of my own grandfather. He was tall, dark, and handsome; strong and lean. When I was a little girl, he would meet me after school, and we’d walk home together. My grandmother gave him the responsibility for making sure I practiced my piano lessons. Invariably, he would fall asleep while I played the piano, and I would have to wake him to ask permission to go outside and play. When my grandfather was happy, he would sing “Hello Dolly” – a popular song of the late jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong.

Just before my 11th birthday, I remember my grandfather complaining that his “palate was down.” His home remedy for this condition was to place salt and pepper on the tip of the handle of a spoon and apply it to his uvula. After several weeks of doing this without any relief, my grandmother convinced him to go to the doctor.

My grandfather was diagnosed with advanced stage esophageal cancer. Surgery was attempted, but the cancer had metastasized to other parts of his body and the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. He died six months later.

As we prepare for October 1, 2013, and the six-month open enrollment period to access coverage through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, it is a good time to address men’s health and well-being. Ensuring men take advantage of health care is a family and community affair.

Let’s rally to improve men’s health across the life cycle. As we encourage young people to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace, let’s also urge them to explain the new health insurance options to their grandparents who are under the age of 65. Show them how to enroll. According to the Pew Research Center on Social & Demographic Trends, grandparent primary caregivers are relatively young—more than two-thirds (67%) are younger than 60, with 13% younger than 45. If you or your grandfather is under age 65 and not yet eligible for Medicare, and is without health insurance, now is the time to act!

If family members or friends have questions about The Health Insurance Marketplace, go to the HealthCare.gov site, now and in the coming weeks and months. Every state will have its own marketplace, easily accessible online or by phone. People who enroll by December 15, 2013.

So, what is standing between you and enrolling in the new Health Insurance Marketplace?

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