Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aging parents and a major gap in the care of our senior population

The whole issue of aging parents is - I am realizing - a scary and confusing and frustrating (even sometimes angering) thing.  I've mentioned a couple of times recently about "all the everything" which has been going on.  Bottom line is, my adoptive mother has been unwell and in and out of the hospital and a skilled nursing facility. I don't really want to go into detail (this is now the third or fourth time since last October) because we still do not have a bottom-line answer.  First it's this thing - which seems to explain everything - but then it's not that thing, it's this other thing - which also seems to explain a lot. But no one can say, definitively, what is wrong other than, "You're getting older, Mrs. G.  Some things aren't going to work like they used to."  In my opinion, that's a lame, cop-out excuse and further (again, my opinion) doctors aren't in it for the Care of Person anymore, they're in it for the money.

Give her medications to take care of one thing, but that medication gives her debilitating side effects to a point where she - reasonably - has to stop taking them or they decide to give her another medication to counteract the side effects of the first medication.  And every week something changes and now she's on another pill and it's next to impossible to keep it all straight.  It's no wonder she is having difficulty managing her medications.  I certainly couldn't do any better.

Give her a walker to help stabilize her movements and lessen her risk of falling - which is all fine, well, and good - but now it's very difficult to maneuver around her apartment even though it's supposedly handicap accessible.  The bathtub certainly isn't handicap accessible, and though it does have one support rail, that rail is not at the right height to accommodate her.  She has a shower chair but no anti-skid mat in the bottom of the tub because "they" consider it a fall-risk so she has to wear anti-skid shower shoes to take a shower in her own home.

She has trouble standing long enough to wash out a few cups or make a small meal.  So she falls back on frozen meals which, nutritionally, aren't cutting it for her. She needs to have fresh meals more often.  I feel extraordinarily guilty that I am not able to make her a casserole or two every week and bring them to her, but extra time is difficult for me to find and if I were to make time it would be cutting into her sleep time after my kids go to bed.  I am trying to find more hours in my day and every day I fail; they're not to be found.  So, unless I give up sleep altogether, or quit my job and dump my family into abject poverty (which is what would happen)...there really aren't any other options.

Another thing.  Mom is in a particular place in her life where there is a clear gap in how we (the United States of America) care for our aging population. If you have $3500/month or more then by all means, find a lovely retirement home or assisted living facility and spend the rest of your days surrounded by the good things in life. But, if you're a single senior, a widow, with no military claim for either yourself or your deceased spouse (because discounts may apply), on a fixed income provided by Social Security, you're relegated to living in HUD housing surrounded by folks who might otherwise not have a place to live and who are of sometimes questionable morals, sanity, and personal hygiene.

According to the State, you're not bad off enough to require 24/7 nursing care which would allow you to stay in a nursing facility.  They would make sure you got 3 meals a day, a comfortable bed, and medication management, as well as on-site nursing in case anything were to happen.  But you're not rich enough to afford assisted living, which is really what you need.  So you live alone.  And you struggle.  And you're scared all the time that you're going to fall or that you're going to get sick or that you're not going to be able to get to the doctor for your multiple appointments because you can no longer drive.  And you struggle to do your own laundry which, for any person of good health might take 1/4 of the time it takes you to do the same thing.  But you really don't want to bother anyone so instead of doing it yourself - thereby overcoming your own fears of falling, etc., and fears of further pain from doing too much - you just don't do it at all.  And now you're living in a situation you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.  Sickness takes over - and depression - and you wind up back in the hospital again.

It's an awful cycle.

So what do we - the caregivers - do?  We feel guilty a lot.  We wish we could do more.  We wish that we had the extra (enough of this "we" crap)...  I wish I had enough money to buy a bigger house so that I could move her in with me. I wish I had the space.  I wish I could spend more time fixing extra nutritious meals for her so she wouldn't have to eat the frozen meals. I wish I didn't feel so flipping selfish all the time.  I wish I didn't wish for more time to myself. I wish I didn't have to talk to her every day and feel terrible that nothing I say or do is ever enough, or right. I'm always wrong. And this is an awful cycle, too.

If I thought, just for a minute, that I could be successful in filling this gap in care for our aging seniors I would drop everything and do it.  I would find a way for those who cannot afford assisted living to still live in comfort and without fear, with needed care at-the-ready for things like help with activities of daily living (showering, cooking, cleaning), medication management, etc.  But at a FRACTION of the cost. Without volunteers, without funding, without donations I don't see that happening.  I don't see anyone really being willing to care for seniors in the way they care for children or even animals.  I don't see a construction company donating time, materials, and labor and funds to build such a facility.  Or people who have already worked their 40 hours spending another 4-8 hours a day volunteering their time to help the elderly.

Would we rather they just be homeless, or worse, die for lack of care?  Just a little bit of extra assistance is all some of these folks need but there isn't anywhere that will take them because they don't have enough money.

One more thing.  I've done my research.  Yes, I've tried that.  And that, too. There are occasionally places that might fit this bill, but not right here. Not where I need it to be. And if I were to find one of those places it would not be nearby and then I would never see her.  There's that wonky time issue again.

I guess I don't know what else to say.


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