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The Warehousing of Our Seniors

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We all know deep down inside that growing older can have a very serious downside to it. Once we've lost the ability to care for ourselves, the picture can be bleak. Money problems can greatly affect the care we can afford. When physical conditions limit the ability to participate and interact, the picture grows even darker.

In traditional Asian and Hispanic families, seniors are usually taken into the home and provided for. It can be an emotional and physical drain on family members, but it seems to work. We were in Bangkok last year visiting the flower market. There, surrounded by curtains on three sides of her bed lay a frail appearing older woman. She appeared clean and well taken care of. Just a few feet away sat a young child on a small stool, playing at a toy-like computer and having the time of his life. Nearby, the mother (daughter) tended to her sales business of various goods.

Would or could we ever see this picture in our present world? I fear not. Have we gone too far with medical interventions to extend life well beyond reason? About ten years ago, my lifelong friend, Don, was visiting us in Sarasota. He had let himself go and, as a result, now was on three-times-a-week dialysis sessions lasting eight hours a day. His body was shutting down and he was no long able to be the man we all knew for 45 years or so. On Friday, he said to me, "Michael, it's getting hard to live every day. When I have to have someone else wipe my fanny for me, then I want out of here". Sadly, three days later, Don had a massive stroke and got his wish.

What triggered all of this discussion from me? My mother, age 93½, has always been a very lively, active person. For the past 22 years, she happily lived in an independent living facility. She taught knitting and crocheting classes and was constantly immersed in speculation and gossip. Although her eyesight continued to diminish, she got along well. Eventually, after two falls (nothing serious or broken) her health began to deteriorate.

In an 18-month period, her needs increased and she soon required caregivers, eventually around the clock. She was put into hospice care which I can never say enough good. They've provided her with doctors, social workers, and volunteers. In time, though, they said she needed to be moved into a skilled nursing facility. That happened in January. With research and help from the hospice workers, she was moved on January 2nd.

I'm midway through a visit to her as I write this. I've spent the better part of four days with her and have to ask, "to what end"? Her vision is gone, hearing is barely there, and she can only take a few steps without a wheelchair. She has no chronic ills. Is this what purgatory is? She can't read or watch TV and spends much of the time waiting for meals. She has to be spoon-fed. She wrings her hands asking why she's still here and wants to pass on. Her body is not ready.

At one point earlier today, I felt like I should apply for work there; I was running around summoning nurses to deal with the patients just in my mother's room. The care in this facility is top-notch but as I wandered about, I realized that I was in a warehouse of human bodies and none of them seemed to be living the life they would choose. They existed but were they really living.

So, as we age, we must prepare ourselves for the unexpected. Submerge yourself in the best each day has to offer. Treasure your family, make close friends of your fellow Prime Timers because we're all in this together. Share together and check-up on each other and help make these years truly golden.

 

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Last modified on Tuesday, 01 August 2017 10:31

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