Question: Dear Luise: I am close to a couple that seem like parents to me. They married late after having full lives with other partners, and have had a great time for the last ten years. They’ve traveled extensively and never seemed to tire of it. Money wasn’t a problem, so they took all manner of trips and cruises to points unknown to most of us. Since their work days were over and their children grown, it was a decade of “footloose and fancy-free”. Now, however, the party is over and the man is seriously, terminally ill. The woman is overwhelmed and totally unable to cope on a long-term basis. My greatest concern is that they are not willing to see their situation clearly. He won’t have outside help and she thinks he’s right. At this point, he may well outlive her. How do you get people to consider senior care resources? Why did you and your husband go to a senior retirement community when you were both well? How could I have helped them plan ahead? Thanks so much. Beverly
Answer: Dear Beverly: You are asking the quintessential question and no one has an answer. Perhaps it’s as simple as some of us are ants and some of us are grasshoppers. Denial of end-of-life issues is rampant in our youth-oriented culture and many think they can dance until a dawn that will never come. It will.
Long before I met my husband, he and his life-long sweetheart designed and built a house that had wheelchair access. They were both healthy and active at the time. There was a private apartment with a private entrance for a caregiver. He explained that it was their experience with his aging parents that prompted them to look ahead. After she passed on and we married, we decided that a senior community would be more supportive but they didn’t exist when they built that house. They were way ahead of their time.
Our decision to enter a senior retirement community was based on our combined experiences. I had my father living with me at the end of his life. I’m also a nurse. A community can give you protection from caregivers who don’t live up to their name. They can be lazy and even abusive, as well as dishonest. Therefore, you need someone who is your advocate…a person who is free to and willing to monitor the overall situation indefinitely if you go that route. It can also foster isolation, since your exposure to others can become seriously limited.
There are Elder Wisdom Circles on the web if people are open-minded. That’s the crux of the problem you describe…many aren’t. Many couples and singles don’t want to consider going to “that kind of a place”, when they don’t have a clue what it could offer. They aren’t all wonderful, but there are wonderful ones out there. Sooner or later it becomes too late, as you have described. The need for elder planning is the need to look ahead, and anticipate, letting all pretense of endless longevity and wellness go. Only then can seniors give themselves the best possible solutions in advance. Blessings, Luise