In my country, I’m afraid to grow old. When I turned 50 earlier this year, I defined my new age as the “winter of my life.” Old age does not run in my family–my dad died when he was 32, my mom, 68–and I figure if I see 70, I’ll be lucky.
My mother was on Medicare when she suffered her stroke. The brain bleed event rendered her physically disabled, but almost worse, mentally impaired. She lacked cognition. Judgment. Short-term memory, and what one doctor considered “remarkable,” extensive long-term memory damage as well. As such, Mom required 24-hour acute nursing supervision the rest of her life.
When she ran out of Medicare dollars, my mother automatically qualified for Medicaid. You know, the “social program” many politicians and a large segment of society consider a “drain” on our country’s economy. Before my mother was discharged from the hospital three weeks after her stroke, the staff social worker told me that transferring Mom to a swanky assisted living facility was not an option because she lacked private insurance.
Moving my mother in with me wasn’t an option, either. My family and I were renters, without the funds or ability to make our home ADA compliant. We also couldn’t provide my mother with the requisite around-the-clock supervision she needed. There was only one nursing home with an available bed, and after my sister and I toured that facility, I recorded my observations in my memoir:
Right beyond the lobby, we were assaulted with every stereotype associated with nursing homes: Residents moaning from their beds or roaming the halls like zombies without a nurse or aide in sight. A stainless steel food cart filled with trays and dirty dishes from breakfast a few hours earlier. A resident languishing in the hallway, slumped over in a wheelchair in a soiled gown, snoring. And the urine. God, it was so thick, I couldn’t smell anything else. I shuddered to think of the bed sores that must have been brewing under all those Depends.
While our country is quick to cast aside the aged and the infirm, as well as their caregivers, other countries are doing it better. An article I read this morning demonstrates this. In “The Nursing Home is the Last Resort: ‘Lessons from Abroad’ on Caring for an Aging population, I learned families in Norway receive money to help caregivers bring their aging parents home with them, and nursing homes seem to be the last resort. And in the Netherlands, the government provides funds for the elderly to assess their needs and enable them to live independently as long as possible.
I eventually came up with a short-term solution before I found a suitable long-term care facility, where my mother lived the rest of her life. However, it would have been such a relief to have had a better alternative. Because Mom’s sudden stroke debilitated her instantly, I was shell-shocked, mentally and emotionally, and I had no idea what I was doing. I’m sure I’m not the only caregiver who has felt this way.
What are your experiences in this particular caregiving journey? How did you cope?