by Melodie Davis
for release October 13, 2000
Which Way in Caring for Our Elders?
Recently an Another Way reader called me, very distressed, about the lack of good care options for an aging relative who could no longer care for himself. He also has mental disabilities. She had placed him temporarily in a nursing home-and discovered he had not been bathed nor had his clothes been changed for days. The facility did not have enough staff to take care of the patients.
Many of us don't dread dying so much as we fear being a burden, or being abandoned at the end of life in a place where there either isn't enough help or people don't care. Good care facilities are in very short supply in many communities; the issues regarding care for the elderly are enormous. Persons shouldn't be moved to a health care or assisted living facility too soon. The elderly frequently thrive much better in their own home setting for as long as possible.
But when do they cross the line where that is no longer possible? You worry about their safety and the safety of their home. You consider whether they should move in with you. Sometimes that is impossible as well. One woman, who struggled with whether to ask her elderly sister to live with her, finally decided to build an apartment on her house. She was wanting to expand part of her house anyway. It turned out to be a good solution for them.
The problems in housing the elderly can be complex. It is very difficult to get into good retirement or nursing home facilities. There are limits on how many government-paid patients a facility can handle, versus those who can pay for their own care. A social worker at a retirement community pointed out that while we think that a facility should take care of persons regardless of their ability to pay, if it has too many government-paid patients (because the costs are never all covered) then the facility literally can't make ends meet. Sometimes financial advisors encourage patients or clients to "spend down" or give away their savings so that they will be eligible for government aid. Then the persons find that they can't get into a facility because they need government aid and the facility has its quota of those patients.
People who care for a loved one in their home admit that guilt, frustration, anger and exhaustion are frequent companions. But there are rewards (stories from www.CaregiverZone.com ):
* Martha Curcurato sleeps an average of five hours a night before she goes through her day caring for her 85-year-old mother who suffers from dementia and Parkinson's-like symptoms. "I always have the feeling I am not doing enough for Mom," she says as she experiences a roller coaster of emotions, from anger, to frustration, to guilt. She is sustained by her faith and a sense of humor.
* Lauren shared an incident from dealing with her mother who has AlzheimerÆs. They had gone to church, and when they went up front to receive communion, her mother came back after the communion and sat with a different family. While some family members were very embarrassed, Lauren said, "You have to learn to laugh at the funny stuff. I just said she's sick of this family and wants to try out a new one."
While no one can give the perfect solution or quarterback any one else's family (in fact, there are no perfect solutions, there are only "less bad" options), caring for our elders is one of the critical needs in our society. Sometimes a nursing home is the only option, and there are many excellent ones with devoted staff. If you don't care for someone in your home, you probably know someone who does. Can you offer relief care? If you know someone in a nursing home, can you visit frequently?
I was almost finished with this column when an expensive promotional package arrived talking about the need for great Senior Care. For senior dogs. Now, while I have become a pet lover, we sometimes pay more attention to our dogs than to the elderly around us.
Someone has said the mark of a good society is how we care for our young. I would say another mark is how we care for our elderly.
For a free booklet, "Wondering What is Best for An Aging Parent," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 730 words; end material = 105 words
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