Sandra Tsing Loh at The Atlantic, shares her thoughts on caring for her elderly father:
RECENTLY, A COLLEAGUE at my radio station asked me, in the most cursory way, as we were waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, how I was. To my surprise, in a motion as automatic as the reflex of a mussel being poked, my body bent double and I heard myself screaming: “I WAAAAAAAANT MY FATHERRRRRR TO DIEEEEE!!!”
[...] Gross undertook the care of her mother in as professional a way as possible. She was on call for emergencies and planned three steps ahead by consulting personally with each medical specialist. Like the typical U.S. family caregiver for an elder (who is, statistics suggest, a woman of about 50), Gross worked full-time, but (atypically) she was unencumbered by spouse or children. She had the help, too, of her child-free brother, a calm, clear-headed sort given to greeting his sister with a quiet, reassuring “The eagle has landed.” What could go wrong?
Plenty. As Gross herself flatly describes it, in her introduction:
In the space of three years … my mother’s ferocious independence gave way to utter reliance on her two adult children. Garden-variety aches and pains became major health problems; halfhearted attention no longer sufficed, and managing her needs from afar became impossible … We were flattened by the enormous demands on our time, energy, and bank accounts; the disruption to our professional and personal lives; the fear that our time in this parallel universe would never end and the guilt for wishing that it would … We knew nothing about Medicaid spend-downs, in-hospital versus out-of-hospital “do not resuscitate” orders, Hoyer lifts, motorized wheelchairs, or assistive devices for people who can neither speak nor type. We knew nothing about “pre-need consultants,” who handle advance payment for the funerals of people who aren’t dead yet, or “feeders,” whose job it is to spoon pureed food into the mouths of men and women who can no longer hold a utensil.
However ghoulish, it is a world we will all soon get to know well, argues Gross: owing to medical advancements, cancer deaths now peak at age 65 and kill off just 20 percent of older Americans, while deaths due to organ failure peak at about 75 and kill off just another 25 percent, so the norm for seniors is becoming a long, drawn-out death after 85, requiring ever-increasing assistance for such simple daily activities as eating, bathing, and moving.
This is currently the case for approximately 40 percent of Americans older than 85, the country’s fastest-growing demographic, which is projected to more than double by 2035, from about 5 million to 11.5 million. And at that point, here comes the next wave—77 million of the youngest Baby Boomers will be turning 70.
[...] What I propose instead is seeking comfort in what I like to call, borrowing in part from Kafka’s German, Elderschadenfreude. On the one hand, sure, here we stand around the office coffeemaker in middle age, mixing flax into our Greek yogurt and sharing more and more tales about our elderly parents, tales that are dull (“Mom slipped in the shower—at first she said it was nothing”), slow-moving (“And then I took her to the foot doctor, but then, right there in the parking lot, she insisted she had to go to the bathroom—but the door is on the north side while we were on the south—”), and in the end, well, depressingly predictable (we already know which colleges our wards are getting into—NONE). On the other hand, I believe it is by enduring this very suffering and tedium that one can eventually tease out a certain dark, autumnal, delightfully-bitter-as-Fernet-Branca enjoyment, best described by some dense and complicated noun-ending German word.
Elderschadenfreude is the subtle frisson of the horror tale that always begins so simply (“Mom slipped in the shower—at first she said it was nothing”) but makes listeners raise eyebrows, nod knowingly, begin microwaving popcorn. It is the secret pleasure of hearing about aging parents that are even more impossible than yours. Prepare to enjoy.
Read the whole thing…
This article has a humorous voice to it – and it is funny — but maybe only to caregivers. You either sympathize or you don’t. The author describes how they’re paying $6,500 / month for their father’s nurse. That’s a huge sum! It got me to thinking that as age advances, dementia in its many forms takes over the minds of many as well which, in combination with a physical body wearing down, brings its own set of problems and care. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 women, and 1 in 10 men, who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime. [source]
Can you imagine what the world will be like in 2035 with all of these millions of people able to live until they reach their 80s and 90s (but for many, only with assisted care), with hundreds of thousands suffering from some kind of dementia on top of everything else? I know many people who say, “Just shoot me.” Or “I’d shoot myself.” But the reality is: that’s probably not going to be an option for you.
It might be worth considering and voting for where we’d like our healthcare system to be when our parents (or when WE) become the people who aren’t ready to die yet but will need daily care to live. We should consider whether or not wealthy people should pay more for Medicare / Social Security. We should question the fairness of the system. The affluent, as a group, take in more benefits from the system than they ever put into it, because they live longer. [source] We might also want to consider the continuation or expansion of stem cell research with regard to Alzheimer’s / dementia. Just throwing those thoughts out there for the fundamentalist, “small-government” teaparty and glibertarian voters.
Because the alternative, small-government crowd, is that you all plan to go out like Ayn Rand, talking and voting one way while, in the end, you’ll anonymously sponge off a government system you claim to hate because it makes people “weak” and “lazy.” And that’s IF there’s a government system at all when it’s your turn. In the meantime, if you’re a working or middle class Republican voter, keep worrying about low state and federal tax rates for the wealthy and watch while your government cuts its state and federal services and programs to the bone. Because those are programs and services for the elderly as well as everyone else who needs help.
And here’s your consolation (or maybe it’s mine?): the only way that these choices you’re making today won’t catch up to you in the future, in a very personal way, will be because you won the lottery (and you now have no financial worries) or because you died early (you never got old). Now take a guess if either option, statistically, is likely to happen to you.