The other day, while driving, I passed a very elderly woman being taken for a stroll in her wheelchair by her caregiver. It was obvious that the woman was well cared for physically – hair coiffed and warmly dressed and tucked in a blanket. In a residential neighborhood with no senior community within walking distance, it was clear that she either lived at home or with family. I was glad to see that she looked so well.
I wondered, however, what her elder years were really like? Was this really the best option for her and others like her? How was it impacting her family? I struggle with this all the time.
As we continue to live longer and medical science keeps us fairly ambulatory, it is not fair to expect families to assume the burden of elder care as did their predecessors. Yes, in the “olden days”, you kept your parents at home. But they didn’t live as long as they do now. Both partners didn’t have to work full time. Daughters and daughters in law didn’t work outside the home and grandkids didn’t have so many after school activities. Dads didn’t travel as much and were home most nights. Families weren’t transferred far away,across county and neighbors helped out. And guess what, the grown kids weren’t elders themselves!!! Grandma and Grandpa weren’t hooked up to oxygen tanks and Iv’s. They died much earlier and probably with more dignity too.
“Nowadays”, unlike the “olden days”, the care did not fall on just one grown child, which is most always the case now. It’s time to look at some new response models for what is happening now – a model that addresses modern issues and is compassionate for all concerned. I want seniors to have meaningful lives. But I also want their familiies to stop feeling guilty about what they can and cannot do to help them.
Experts tell us that most seniors would rather stay at home or live with family than move to a senior community or assisted living. I understand what losing their home and their independence would mean to them. But this is the 21st Century and what worked before may not work now.
Sometimes the issue is truly financial – either by circumstance or by choice. Downsizing and moving to senior communities is expensive. The senior and their family simply can’t afford outside care or the senior doesn’t want to spend the money on themselves. The senior’s home may not have the equity that was hoped for to pay for their care. The issue is very complicated and filled with emotion and complex family dynamics.
Here are some things I would like you to consider. Deciding on staying at home when a senior is clearly unable to be alone, will require some in house care – either live in, daily or weekly visits. Even when the senior lives with family, it is likely that both adults in the home work full time and someone will have to be hired to come in. Caregivers can come from an agency (which can be good) or a referral from “somebody who knows somebody.”. Let me tell you what this can mean. The caregiver may have minimal training. They may speak only minimal English. They may just bring meals or do light housekeeping, check vital signs or medications and/or perhaps help with bathing or personal care. They may take the seniors for a walk (like the lucky lady I saw) or maybe not. Conversation will often be minimal and sometimes disrespectful “baby talk”. “Shall we take our bath now, Sweetie?”?” The senior will spend most of their time in front of the TV or napping. This might alleviate the worries of the family members,knowing their loved one is “safe”, but what about the quality of life for the senior?
Travel with me now to an independent or assisted living community. They look nothing like the smelly and depressing horrors of the mid 20th century – the kind of places that terrify our seniors because they remember their own parents or grandparents being sent there to waste away and die.
Senior communities, whether independent living, assisted or memory (Dimentia and Alzheimer’s) care are homelike, clean (no smells) buzzing with energy and things to do. Except for memory care residents, all have the option of spending the day in their apartments or gathering with other residents for meals, movies, lectures, field trips, shopping trips and parties. Who would want to stay in their apartments? There are lectures, sewing groups, book groups, travel slide shows and other special events. Often,, cocktail hour with musical entertainment is offered in the lobby. Many have private dining rooms where visiting families can gather for a meal together – at a beautifully appointed formal dining room – just like home. Every resident is accounted for daily and “call buttons” are installed by the bed and in the bathrooms, should residents need unexpected help. If you don’t show up for a meal, the community director will check up on you. If you need to see a doctor, they will take you and make sure you make your appointments and checkups.
Understand, what you are agreeing to when your beloved senior says they want to stay at home or live with you. Undeniable statistics show that caring for a failing adult shortens the life of the caregiver and can seriously impair the quality of life for everyone concerned. Please be realistic. It’s not a problem to diaper a baby. Try diapering or lifting, dressing and bathing an uncooperative 200 lb adult. You can’t spank your parent for running out into the street or playing with matches. Baby locks on doors and handles won’t work for memory impaired adults who might be stronger than you.
It can be a very thankless job even when you read or hear of a caregiver (who feels guilty about feeling secretly angry and overwhelmed) tells you they are “glad” they did it. I’ve been working with seniors and their families for many years and I only personally know of one case where that was true (and then I still think the daughter sacrificed too much of her personal life).
Even with home care,it takes more than installing grab bars in the tub. A senior needs to stay connected to the world AND the family members need a break too. It’s a 24/7 very demanding,frustrating, thankless, lonely job.
Don’t be afraid to look at this problem head on and don’t let what was done in “the olden days” influence deciding what is best for you “Nowadays”.
Source by Marilyn Ellis