Much of this has occurred on our watch when the bulk of our time, energy and talents which ought to have been put to good use was frittered away while we were out dreaming about the purchases of bigger homes with faux French manor accents and gas guzzling SUV's in order to embrace all of what our generation has been conditioned to believe life had to offer.
And while many of those dreams did not pan out and not all of us uniformly embraced such dreams in the first place, the kind of thinking and long-range planning that would necessitate some dramatic changes in the area of elder care that we would like for our elders and certainly even demand for ourselves has not for the most part taken place.
As the years pass and our impending golden years come closer and closer this lack of attention and the intervening years of build-up neglect may very well bite us in the posterior in a very painful way!
Back in the late seventies I was introduced to some of the interesting developments in the area of elder resources as an intern for a editor who published a newspaper for senior citizens in Seattle. My editor was well aware of the gap in services then as a middle-aged only child of a senior mom well into her late eighties and nineties.
Just out of college myself, it was an eye opener to even be introduced to the world of elder care as like so many of those growing up in the 50's and 60's, older people were no longer always living at home with the family. Old folks homes were a part of the community in the areas where we grew up that youth in our age group seldom saw unless a family member or friend had been placed there.
Furthermore unlike the traditional Japanese immigrant family where my parents were raised, youth not the elderly, was the byword of society and the emphasis was on thinking and staying young which made it all the more easier to push gently aside or even forget all-together issues which affect all of us towards the close of our lives. Unfortunately, this behavior and mind-set does not make the challenges which go hand-in-hand with this era go away.
Is it realistic, for example, to expect a family which may not even entertained the idea of housing options for an older member of the family to find the ideal placement for their just discharged relative in assisted care in 24 hours or less?
This is exactly what happened to my brother and myself two years ago when our mother who had been going hale and strong for over 70 years, came to the point in her life's journey where she ran headlong into a full-blown health crisis.
While the home we were able to place her for the short period advised for by her physician, she was not pleased with the result. We had just received the news the recent signs of memory loss he had been investigating on her behalf could possibly be early onset Alzheimers.
The facility most nearby my brother was able to located for her in this narrow time frame specialized in caring for patients with memory losses more severe than Mom's. It appeared their afternoon activity time consisted largely of watching soap operas.
In her younger years, Mom never enjoyed this kind of programming and more often than not declared it a complete waste of time. She had not changed her opinion. When my family was able to visit her during this time period she greeted us on several occasions with a fully packed suitcase and firm request to be "let out of there right now" and go back home.
During one point she was in and out of the hospital three times in a month. Her medications were stopped then restarted. Somewhere along the line the balance was lost and her heart actually needed to be restarted. Subsequently, she made a decision with her doctor that in the future, she did not wish to be resuscitated for which my sibling had been informed.
Unfortunately, I was inadvertently left out of the loop and discovered only after the episode where mom's heart was re-started that had it happened a second time, I would have most likely learned of her choice after she died. And while mom is absolutely within her rights to make these decisions, it is a good example of the kind of emotional turmoil that can occur because one is not prepared.
How about finding yourself in a nursing care center while recuperating from a major stroke in your thirties or forties at the same time close family members just happen to be dealing with some personal and health issues of their own?
Just imagine no one is available for a short period to support you in the way family could and you have no Plan B. Unfortunately, the well-meaning but overworked staff at the center are not able to act upon your concerns with the rapidity that you desire and frustration soon becomes your best friend.
It's not a perfect world by any means, but so many of the difficulties encountered by patients, residents and families along the way did not have to happen if time, money, resources and personnel had been employed with the same enthusiasm that was dedicated to developing personal communication devices and increasingly portable packable entertainment centers.
We cannot undo the past. Indeed, the start-up time alone to effectively address many of the overflowing basket of needs has past for many of us. However, I would argue it is even of more pressing import that we and fellow members of society (who may well end up paying for our inattention) including our children and grandchildren spend at least 2 or three hours of our time each month boning up on what resources such as the Long Term Care Ombudman Program (LTCOP) discussed in my earlier blog entitled "Thinking About Accessibility & Resources For Our Elderly/Disabled Neighbors" are on hand while taking a good look at what the community might be able to do in the near future.
Readers - If you have any thoughts or experiences along these lines and would like to share them with me, I encourage you to do so by leaving your comments! We are only as strong individually as we are collectively.