By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Iam at that age. I am looking and thinking more elderly. As one of my old pastors used to say about his hair, “What hasn’t turned grey has turned loose!”
More hurts. More visits to the doctor. More tests. More dental procedures. More waiting and lectures about dos’ and don’t dos of eating and exercising.
It is becoming an everyday occurrence to hear of a friend who has been hospitalized or who has passed away. I remember being amused at going to my elder relatives houses, where the conversations of our grandparents would start with the most current aches and pains that they had, routinely ending up with sharing all of those friends and loved ones who were either dead or in various stages of dying. Later in my life, it would be my parents turn to lead the hospital and funeral list. And, now it is my turn.
It is a gut-wrenching process in many ways – watching the ones you love age. Partly because you are emotionally attached to them; partly because you come to realize that you are looking at your future.
Aging forces you to think about things like retirement, third party care, and final arrangements. You want to work those things out for yourself, before you are not able to and must rely on someone else to do it for or to you. If you have a spouse or children, you think about how you will continue to take care of them when you are slowly losing the ability to take care of even yourself. Time marches on regardless of your attention to planning. Ready or not, here it comes.
I am much like my parents in that I have always wanted to make sure that I don’t become a burden to my loved ones as I get older. As they knew, I don’t have complete control over when or how I might become that burden, thus planning starts when some would say it might be premature. After all, golden years and end of life planning is usually not fun or exciting. Most of us would much rather be doing most anything else.
The Tribe has provided a Legal Assistance Office to help us navigate some of the legal hurdles associated with this type of planning. Included in their work are helping people create living wills and wills, which will give loved one’s peace of mind and direction when the time comes. Losing a loved one is traumatic enough without having to bear the burden and expense of final arrangements. We shouldn’t leave additional heartbreak and tension behind by not planning properly. Your loved ones should be focused on mourning, remembering, and recovering. End of life preparation is something we should do before we are not in a position to do so.
And, then there is the care of the elderly. From assisted living facilities, nursing homes, home care and all other options for elder care, come unique challenges. We know the tragic stories of assisted living and nursing home mismanagement and abuse from all over the country. According to the most recent U.S. Census, “Slightly over 5 percent of the 65+ population occupy nursing homes, congregate care, assisted living, and board-and-care homes. Six percent of U.S. born seniors live with relatives, while 25 percent of foreign-born seniors live with relatives. Nearly 29 percent of the 46 million community-dwelling older adults live alone.”
It makes sense that the largest population of the elderly are loners. Having children does not guarantee that people will be taken care of by them. Children make lives for themselves and many times they are unprepared mentally and physically to take on an aging family member. Combine that with the elderly desire to remain independent and not be a burden, and you will find why there are so many trying to live out their days alone. But, it is a costly trade off. Being alone for the aged may be a scary, depressing, and dangerous thing. Minds do not function as a young mind would. Bodies are not as strong and fit as young bodies are. A routine walk from the bed to the bathroom might result in a broken bone, a bruise and battered body, or a life-threatening situation. And the older we get, the higher the possibility of accident. Poor memories make the common chore of taking life-sustaining medications a challenging and daunting task.
Professional elder care has its own challenges. It is a very specialized field and people must be trained in it. And the need far outstrips the number of qualified, willing caregivers. Caregiving takes much more than education. It takes a special person to provide proper care to elders, many of whom have special medical and physical needs. Some have limited movement. Some have dementia or Alzheimer’s. Some have wounds to be dressed and some have special feeding needs. And a caregiver must attempt to provide quality of life to all. There are many who take on this responsibility and put their hearts into it. I lack the words for the respect and admiration I have for those who do this work. If anyone could claim that they are “overworked and underpaid”, it would certainly be the ethical professional caregiver. I am equally impressed by individual family members and families who share the care of their elders.
Unfortunately, not everyone is an ethical caregiver. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that between one and two million Americans over the age of 65 have been abused (through exploitation, injury, mistreatment, or neglect) by a loved one or caregiver.
“In 1996, approximately 450,000 adults over the age of 60 were abused and/or neglected in domestic settings. In 2000, states were asked to report the number of elder abuse reports received. Based on those figures, the total number of reports was 472,818. In 2008, the Long Term Care Ombudsman state programs investigated nearly 21,000 complaints of abuse, exploitation, and gross negligence among nursing home residents.”
This site listed “abuse” to mean any of the following: physical, emotional or psychological, sexual, neglect, abandonment, and financial/material exploitation. And the documented cases range from professional caregiver to family member to house guests to fellow residents in care facilities as the perpetrators of the abuse.
We have all heard the old saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Unless you leave this life earlier, you are going to be an elder, and you may be one for a good while. While we still can, shouldn’t we be making life better for everyone who will be or already are in their Golden Years? As you can see, there is much to be done. From your personal preparation to making sure others are taken care of, we need to be about the business of elder care. Hurry up! We aren’t getting any younger, you know.