This Thanksgiving, seniors have much to be thankful for

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Over the river and through the woods. If only it were that easy to get to Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.

Most of us will be flying or driving, of course, and the fact that we can go anywhere at all is wonderful in and of itself. Most Americans — sadly not all, but most — have chosen to get vaccinated this year, and are now getting booster shots. 

Read: Dr. Fauci says: ‘Enjoy the holiday’ by following these Thanksgiving safety guidelines

This alone is a reason to be thankful. A deadly virus that has claimed 771,000 Americans — nearly 781,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — turned last Thanksgiving into a lonely, depressing affair for many; that won’t be the case this year.

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So let’s give thanks for this. Let’s give thanks for other things, too. 

Our families. One good thing about growing older is that as we leave the rat race behind, we develop a better appreciation for those who truly make a difference in our lives. A spouse. Children. Grandchildren. Is there anything better than a hug from a grandchild? My mom just turned 85. She says her favorite part of the day is the nightly call we make to tuck her in. But she also has caring neighbors, and they look in on one another. It is these little strands of community that make all the difference. Let’s be thankful for this. I recognize that some seniors aren’t as lucky. But it’s never too late to reach out to someone else, to check in and ask “how are you?”

Pets. Studies show a strong correlation between having a pet and mental and physical health. According to PetsfortheElderly.org, the bond between people and their pets “can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include: decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreased feelings of loneliness and increased opportunities for socialization.” Sounds good to me. 

Medical advancements. Aside from the miracle of finding an effective vaccine for COVID-19 in less than a year—truly amazing—consider breakthroughs, to give but one example, in the war on cancer. According to Prevention.com, “a new technology that screens a blood sample for DNA fragments from more than 50 types of cancer is generating great excitement.” Detecting cancer early is one key to beating it, and this test, called “Galleri Test,” offers great promise. Let’s be thankful for this. 

Most seniors have access to health insurance. Expansion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) during the pandemic has allowed millions of Americans to gain coverage. It’s far from perfect, but it represents an effort to make sure that Americans who need help get it. Let’s be thankful for this. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, however, 12 states have chosen not to expand Medicaid. 

Hearing aids. Medicare doesn’t cover so-called “above the neck” issues like vision care, dental care. But one big currently uncovered, may soon be: Hearing aids. The $1.75 trillion social safety net bill passed last week by the House of Representatives would give new hearing benefits for Medicare beneficiaries, including coverage for a new hearing aid every five years.

Drug prices. The $1.75 trillion social safety net bill also caps the cost of insulin at $35 a month, and caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year. These are big deals for seniors struggling with prescription costs. But the overall social safety net bill faces hurdles in the Senate. Fingers crossed here. 

Social Security. I’ve mentioned before that this vaunted federal program—launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 86 years ago—has financial problems that need to be addressed. Thanks to a birthrate that’s at a four-decade low and a decline in immigrants, there aren’t enough workers paying into the system to support the wave of baby boomers that are retiring and taking benefits. But the remedies are well known, such as lifting the cap on earnings that are subject to Social Security taxes each year. I think the politicians will eventually get around to doing this. Meantime, let’s be thankful for Social Security itself, which for millions of seniors, is the only thing standing between them and true financial trouble. 

Clarity. Often during our working lives, we run from home to car to office and back again (or these days from Zoom to Zoom), as we focus on our careers, and the financial burdens of saving for retirement and our children’s college tuition. There comes a time, however (and hopefully) when other things melt away and we can scale back and spend more time simply taking care of ourselves: Pursuing long-delayed hobbies. Traveling. Reading. Whatever it is, that’s the beginning of what could be one of the most enjoyable and fruitful stages of our life. 

We spend too much time dwelling on our problems, our insecurities, what we may not have. This is human nature. But let’s also focus on what we can be thankful for. I suspect that for most of us, there is far more to be grateful for than we realize. 

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