Monday, June 7, 2010

Aging, Not So Gracefully

My husband's family is struggling with the options for care of their Mom. She is the last surviving parent for most of us. For many years she was the caretaker of her mother and then her husband. Now she needs care, and the options and decisions are very difficult. Somehow we were not prepared for this; so we struggle. We didn't talk before her health deteriorated. Now we find it impossible to talk without hurt feelings and misunderstandings. There is no clear agreement on what is best for Mom and how we can all work together to give her the best quality of life for her remaining years.

Our nation is aging. People are living longer. Medicine has become so sophisticated that our life span is prolonged. But we don't have systems in place for handling care of our elderly. Ideally each family should take care of its own. What happens when families are far apart geographically? What happens when the elder requires more attention and care then the primary caretaker can give? Who can guide a family through the many and often bewildering options? Who can help a family face the future of their loved one?

Gail Sheehy has just written a book, Passages in Caretaking, Turning Chaos into Confidence. She does a good job in talking about the stages a caretaker goes through. (Check it out.) But when talking about resources, she speaks from a New Yorker's point of view where there are many programs and specialists which are not readily available in small towns, suburbs or small cities yet. The field of geriatrics for doctors, nurses, social workers and aides is growing fast but it is irregular from state to state and region to region.

For the moment our situation is about to change. Mom will be moving to a nursing home. My husband and I don't think this is the best move for her. But we acknowledge that it may be the only move possible as her primary caretaker is overwhelmed and exhausted. I hope that this is the right decision. I hope Mom settles in easily. I hope she is not as disappointed in us and our decision as I am.

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