Aging gracefully is not always easy if you’re ill or incapacitated in some way. It’s hard to keep a smile on your face when your body doesn’t function well or you can’t remember your grandchild’s name.
Since I have been helping to take care of my aging mother, I have begun to question this business of “growing old” and living to the age of Methuselah. Among many variables, medical science has done much to increase the expectancy of human life. Most people will live well into there eighties and life expectancy is increasing all the time. That’s all well and good… unless you are ill or incapacitated in some way.
For instance… what good does it do to have a body that functions but have a mind that can’t remember one thing from the other. The older you get…. the greater the chances you will have some form of dementia… especially if you live into your eighties.
Alzheimer’s, the severest form of dementia, is increasing every year. Between 2010 and 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s will increase from an estimated 5.5 million up to 14 million, as the Baby Boomers enter the age of highest risk.
When our elderly get sick, we rush them to the Dr. and load them up with medication that will extend their life well beyond the body’s natural ability to survive. Sometimes I think the only real winner here is the drug companies. One elderly lady in our local rest home put it this way, “Medical science has keep us alive until go into a rest home where… we just rot away.”
Laws often bind doctors, hospitals and nursing homes into keeping a patient alive even under the most adverse conditions… often beyond patient and family wishes. When is enough… enough?
My mom is 88 years old and, up until this past year she has had very good health and a pretty good mind despite the fact she sometimes loses her purse. Early last spring she contacted the flu and not only lost her physical health… but lost her ability to think clearly. She is now confused most of the time. She went from being independent to needing almost around the clock care in a matter of a few days.
Just as she was beginning to improve, she contacted a bacterium that has taken a toll on her body again. We’ve loaded her up with all sorts of vitamins, antibiotics and the like… and for what? She’s weak, miserable and confused…. and we are undertaking around the clock care again. She will never recuperate to the point she was, even a month ago.
I know… I can just hear it now. “God is in charge… and he will take her when he’s ready.” But, perhaps He’s saying, “Hey, butt out and quit cramming all that stuff down her and let me do my job.” We just need to listen.
What’s the alternative for her and for us? Home health care? Rest home? Do we continue family care? When can she say, “Enough is enough?” When can we say, “Enough is enough,” without legal consequences?
Upon some investigation, we found that an individual does have a right to say, “I’m done!” and stop all medical intervention. There’s a little legal document that’s called, Advance Health Care Directive. This document is separate from a Living Will or can be a part of a Living Will. It’s a directive that you can detail as to what medical care you wish to have withheld… in the event that you become incapacitated.
It covers everything from withholding artificially supplied nutrition and hydration to food and water. It can include withholding surgery procedures, CPR, antibiotics, dialysis, respirators, chemotherapy, radiation, medication and all other life prolonging procedures.
It’s the best way to make your medical and health care wishes known to your family and doctors.
Each state has it’s own requirements, and restrictions. You need to follow the guidelines provided by your state.
In looking into my mom’s trust, we discovered that she had stated and signed such a directive in 1995… we just became aware of it. It will make it easier for us to make decisions on her behalf.
We want what’s best for our mom. And, now comes the big question… when is “Enough… Enough?
P.S. Baby boomers are now the caretakers of this older generation. Except for medical procedures, home health care in not covered by Medicare… so companionship, household duties, dressing, feeding and companionship are the responsibility of the family… unless you can afford to put your loved one in a care facility.