If we are lucky enough, we will all get old some day. We can hope to stay healthy and self sufficient, but that doesn’t always work out that way for every one. Aging is a natural process, and we can do lots of things to stay happy and healthy as long as possible, but old age catches up with everyone eventually. Aging is also something no one really likes to talk about, something we don’t want to think about happening to us or our loved ones. But we should talk about it, a lot. Life changes and illnesses happen, it’s better to be prepared just in case, than to be blindsided by events and end up scrambling for answers.
Until recently, we have been very lucky as far as our parents health in general. My dad had a triple bypass two weeks before we got married, but he is in great shape otherwise. My mom is in good health other than an autoimmune thyroid condition. My husband’s mom is fairly active and doing ok. His dad on the other hand has been having health problems for the past 20 years. He had his first stroke close to 20 years ago, and he also has a-fib. He was put on coumadin after the first stroke, and about four years ago had a severe brain bleed the day before my brother in law’s wedding. He seemed to slow down even more than he had before after that, but he was still self sufficient, doing his every day stuff by himself. He wouldn’t have won any sprint races, but he was still mobile and with it. So we haven’t had too much to worry about as far as our parents go up until more recently.
Now most of us really don’t want to think about getting old and all the things that need to be thought out and decided before you get there. If you have kids, hopefully they like you enough to make sure you are taken care of if you can no longer fend for yourself. A few generations back, people tended to live in multi-generational households, and no one really thought about other options for aging parents. These days, life has sped up and gotten so busy, no one seems to have time for each other. Some families are spread out across the globe and barely ever see each other. And if you have been married for a long time, like my in laws have been married over fifty years, one spouse may end up taking care of the other. But what happens when you reach a point where you can no longer care for your spouse without help? That’s the question we are facing currently with my husband’s father. The doctors have labelled him with dementia, Parkinson’s, damage from his stroke and brain bleed, but the essence of it is, he no longer walks, he cannot eat solid food, and most of the time, he is lost in his own mind.
So what do you do when your loved one needs 24/7 care and you can no longer physically provide that for them and the options are few and ridiculously expensive? My father in law has been at three different care facilities since he had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his right kidney this January. The first care facility almost killed him because no one noticed that he couldn’t eat or drink by himself, and he got so dehydrated that he almost died. The second care facility was nice, but he fell and injured himself three times while there, and they essentially sent him home stating that there was no more they could do for him. My mother in law tried for two days to take care of him by herself, but it was just too much physically and mentally for her. She had to puree his food, thicken his drinks, and try to get him between his wheelchair, the bathroom and bed. He was sick by the second day and ended up back in the hospital with a urinary tract infection coupled with MRSA. After that he is now in the third care facility, and for the near future, staying there. It is closer to my mother in law’s house, and she prefers to spend as much time as possible there, looking after him. After all, she has been doing that for over 50 years.
So for now, he seems safe where he is, and now my mother in law is faced with getting rid of their big house. Since she will be living alone, she doesn’t need the space or the lawn mowing and snow blowing. We are hoping to get her into a nice smaller town home, but we shall see. The sheer number of details that she is expected to keep straight these days will make anyone’s head spin. She is lucky to have three grown sons who love and care about her enough to be there whenever she needs them. We also have to consider the fact that she has never lived by herself. Ever. She lived at home and took care of her parents, (she is the youngest of eight), then got married and has lived with her husband for over 50 years. Living on her own in a new place is not going to be easy for her.
Getting old can be pretty crappy sometimes. So many changes can happen, and change tends to be more difficult as you get older. Hopefully you are surrounded by a loving family who will support you, but not everyone is that lucky. Keep in mind that getting old is not always fun, and try to treat the elderly with as much compassion as you hope you will get when you arrive at that age. Do you have aging family members? How are you handling the changes that you are all going through? We’d love to hear from you!
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Dawn and Kate