Friday, January 20, 2012

Our Disposable Elderly

Dinner Time Parking at Adult Care by ol slambert

Whatever happened to multi-generational living in homes? Why did we give up the responsibility of personal care of the now-elderly folks in our families... those same folks who hand-fed us and changed our diapers, wiped our tears and put band-aids on scraped knees when we were mere helpless infants and children?

I guess my real question is, why did I? Were the subtle messages broadcast over the years about the elderly being disposable so strong in my psyche? The message that we never needed to plan ahead for elder care because someone else would care for them... (usually with money provided by our tax system, and the gained profits for BigPharma meds and "medi-care")?

That we needn't ever get our hands dirty changing their adult diapers if they became incontinent? That message rode right along on the message about throwing things "away"... "away" being simply some "other place" where we didn't have to look at the mountains of our unwanted things, or dirty, smelly garbage, or the unpleasant drooling mouth of a stroke victim who still needs to be fed.

Until about a hundred years ago, it was accepted that families would care for the elderly in their own homes, however unpleasant it might get to be, or however cantankerous they might be. It was also accepted that as the younger generations married, they might still live at home too, and raise their families in the same home with their parents, and maybe even grandparents. I am coming to believe the interactions and responsibilities of multi-generations living together were healthy for everyone, on many levels we don't see or even acknowledge today.

By the time I was in my 30's, nursing homes were accepted as the norm, and my father's mother was put in one. I never saw much of her after my parents divorced when I was 5, so I wasn't close to her. I wasn't even living in the same part of the country later on, and I don't know why she was put in a nursing home. I flew down and visited once; she was ambulatory (with a walker) and had all her mental and physical faculties. My retrospectoscope tells me now that she was angry about being thrown away, though. 

For 40 years since then, I have thought that nursing homes need to have a nursery or day school school attached, and an animal care facility... so that our elderly are not deprived of those daily interactions. I also believe they need a wheelchair-accessible garden so they can continue to grow flowers... or tomatoes. Now I am questioning if that's enough, and I'm thinking not.

I lamented (although I admit, not too loudly at the time) that I was unable to care for my Mother after her stroke and my sister sent her to me. My excuses were that ➀ I had no physical space unless she slept with me in my double bed (not happening!) and ➁ I didn't have the physical strength to lift her, whether for a bath or just to use the toilet (or get her up from the floor when she fell, which was often). The alternative was Assisted Living, so there she went... kicking and screaming the whole time... and indifferent to me when I visited. I believe she died of loneliness and a broken heart, not disease.

Now I wonder... had always known and believed that sooner or later I would have the responsibility to care for an aging parent, would I have planned accordingly, enough so that I could have done things differently? 

At this moment I am going through my step-mother's rapidly failing physical and mental health, and her desire (when lucid) to forsake all medication and end it all. Would I do differently? No, I'd do whatever it took to never be thrown adrift into a nursing home, if I was able to take such action. Most of us are never able, by the time we are candidates for nursing homes.

My step-mother probably had a huge say in my father's mother being put in a nursing home, rather than have Grandmother live with them. Is that action now a retribution? I doubt it, but who understands The Fates? My step-mother's home (for 30+ years) houses her oldest son and wife, 1st grandson, and now a great-grandson (whose mother abandoned him at birth).

My step-mother has lived in this multi-family household for many years, yet now she's mentally confused and in failing health after imagining herself as being discarded in recent years where meals, household responsibilities etc, are concerned. So I have to consider that just living with multi-generational family is not enough... it might also require good communications and interactions, as well as real food for good physical health. To be sure, that whole family has eaten the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) for many years, and no one in the household is in optimum or even acceptable health, not even the 12 year old chubby great-grandson.

But my point is: What have we lost, that thing deep and essential within ourselves, the pure need to connect to another... by treating our elderly as unloved, and unwanted trash to be thrown away?


  1. I've begun to feel we do that on the other side of life to. I come from an family of dedicated teachers, so I know the value we place on education. I just can't believe tossing 30 nine year old kids in a room with a stranger creates functioning adults. So much of the gang culture, crime, and drugs would not happen to a kid surrounded by all age groups. (especially grandparents) We have really only been living this way for the last 100 years. It is hard to see what damage this has caused because we can't see any other way to do it.

    1. Dennis, Thanks. I hadn't thought much specifically about kids and education in the post above, but I think you have a valid point. We know our education system is broken, just no clear way to fix it within the System.

  2. I totally sympathize but I beg to differ in that in my opinion obtaining custodial care for the elderly is not throwing them away nor disposing of them.

    Both my husband's parents and my parents are gone now and when I expressed my guilt feelings to my husband that we could not have done more for them, he assured me repeatedly that I had done all I could. Mom had dementia. I stayed with her for 5 hours the 1st day she was in a nursing home and she didn't remember it after I left. She wrote notes to me saying "Dad says you visit him. Why don't you visit me too?" I felt terrible. Of course I visited them both at the same time and for hours every day. The nursing home was 15 minutes away from my home. We had a landline phone installed in their room and we were at their beck and call. We had kept them in their own home past the time it was safe to do so because they wouldn't move to live closer to us. Mom was caught in the middle of the night trying to make macaroni and cheese in a dry pan on an unlit gas stove though the gas was turned on.

    We needed a facility that had people awake 24 hours a day in shifts. We just couldn't stay awake 24 hours a day and I have my son, his wife and now my granddaughter living with me. My son and his wife both work full time. I cared for my husband with the help of hospice until he passed away. I know mom was distressed because of not knowing where she was and because she misunderstood what was going on but that was happening when she was still in her own home. I'm sure she felt abandoned. But it was the disease.

    The nursing home used up a large portion of the estate which we would otherwise have saved but everything that was done was done in an effort to let them feel that they had as much contol of their lives as possible for as long as possible and to keep them as contented as the situations allowed.

    1. I totally agree that custodial care is appropriate for many in our older generations. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. I am more concerned about the attitude so many have about the elderly in general being of no value and treated as such, instead of integrating them in a multi-generational household.

      I give you a big hand of applause for having your son and now a granddaughter living with you, and for keeping your husband at home with the help of hospice.

  3. Right now my husband (the best man in the world) and I are living with my elderly, blind, father who just turned 90. We have only been married for 3.5 years and both of us had houses (neither of which are sold so we still own them), so this wasn't something we did to just have some place to live.

    He had lived on his own since my mom passed in 2004, using "landmarks" by feel to get around. He was even going downstairs to do laundry and use his "HAM Radio" equipment, but as time passed he was getting where he might miss a landmark, stand too long and end up hurt just out of exhaustion trying to find his way around.

    So, long story short, we are here and have been for almost a year now. Thanks to my parent's good planning, they had long-term-care insurance that will pay a small amount to have someone come into the home so we have someone coming during part of the work day so he's never on his own more than a couple hours at a time.

    For us, it felt right to try to help him be able to stay in his own home as long as possible. I know that isn't always an option for people to do, and we thought (and prayed) about what we should do "long and hard". It's one of those things that worked out for us and bless my husband...he often takes care of much of the "dirty work" including bathing, etc. (His choice and I'm very grateful for that.)

    So, thought I share our story. It isn't always easy and sometimes we have to do an "attitude check", but I'm glad we're here.

  4. Thanks for posting your story! In spite of occasional rough spots, it sounds like a win-win situation for all 3 of you, but especially for your father who is surrounded by people who love him.

  5. You harken back to a hundred years ago when elderly parents lived w/their extended family, but you forget just what that would have meant in your own life... married, a dozen kids, no career, living in a religiously constrained homogeneous small town your whole life & an average life expectancy of 50 years.

    In your own post you note that you weren't even living in the same part of the country when one of your G'mothers was placed in a nursing home. Was work at the root of that? Our highly mobile, competitive (especially now!) jobs culture requires careerists to abandon a balanced, wholesome family life.

    And no elderly person I've ever talked to who was looking a retirement home in the face wanted to move halfway across the country to a new location just to be cared for by children they don't even necessarily like anymore. Then there are those of us who left our families for a very good reason... modernity has given us that option, to create a healthier, saner life than could have been possible in our birth families.

    I was fortunate, both of my parents died fairly quickly w/out an extended period of ill health. Neither of them were particularly pleasant, my father would have been flat impossible to find a day time attendant, being foul-mouthed & verbally abusive.

    My partner, a massage therapist, recently gave a massage to a woman in her 60's who is caring for BOTH of her 90+ YO parents who are both paralyzed at home. Her children have jobs in other states. She is divorced. She is exhausted. That's what it looks like these days w/out nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

  6. Yes, you certainly reflect current lifestyles, and parents that may have been (or will be) noxious. My favorite great aunt worked herself to death caring for her ailing husband.

    One of my points wasn't that we should take care of them if we are able, but what have we lost as the whole idea of "family" had changed over centuries, so that we now generally see the elderly as of no value? (and how has Life changed us so that when we are elderly, so many of us have become rotten bastards?)

  7. My father was a rotten bastard his whole life. He didn't change so much as I did.

    I know you're in a stinker of a mood right now (for good reason), but in a real sense the elderly are of little value in terms of skills to be learned applicable to modern life. Construction techniques & codes, animal husbandry, technology, safe food preparation, gov't regulations... even farming w/horses has progressed w/new agricultural technology. You should hike yourself over to the Horse Progress Days in Clare, Michigan to see some of the new equipment that's coming out.

    As much as I love the old stories, there honestly isn't a whole lot of applicable knowledge there. Unless I want to listen [again] to the whole history of the family feud in this valley, the murders spoken of as if they happened yesterday rather than 50 years ago.

    What we've lost isn't "family", it's time. The time it takes to sit & listen to each other tell stories. Not just the elders. I suspect we're loosing our own stories in the process of not listening, not telling them.

    1. You may be right.... there is much I probably could have learned from my great-grandparents, long dead before I was born. My grandfather, although a County Ag Agent, was caught in the crossfire of "new technology", and even moreso my parents' generation.

      I do think you are spot on about losing the ability to tell and listen to our own stories... "time", as you put it.

    2. Funny I should come upon this right now. I am 60 and going through my second time in 2 yrs of a family member telling me I need to leave because they found a girlfriend/boyfriend. I am on disability,but not enough to live one, but certainally not at the point where I need diapers etc . All I need is a space with enough room for me, my quilting stuff, and my dog. I am quiet, don't bother anyone and keep to myself. I guess just my presence is enough to bother first my daughter and next my brothers new girlfriend.


I'd love to hear what you think about my posts! We all learn together.