Outsourcing Our Elders

So my Grandma is 101 years old. She’s also remarkably healthy. She only recently was moved from a retirement community with some assistive supports (daily visits, meals on wheels) to a more comprehensive assisted living arrangement. Recently she had some health issues, went to the hospital, and is now in a nursing home for a short time before she’ll return to the assisted living community.

My parents, who live closest, have been the most involved in her care. So there’s this big mess going on…Grandma is most comfortable at Assisted living, doesn’t need what the Nursing Home is providing, but because the Nursing Home gets paid for a certain number of days, they’re keeping her there, where she’s miserable, confused, and uncomfortable. Doctors aren’t being helpful, and there’s nothing to do about it. The system is not working in her interests at this point. She can’t just be checked out of the nursing home and brought to Assisted living because Assisted living won’t take her back without a sign-off from the nursing home. Lame.

My mom shared this all last weekend at a family reunion, and my cousin shared that he’s going through the same thing with his mom right now.

I don’t mean to critique the system, beyond saying that, in general, it sucks. I’ve worked in group homes for people with disabilities, and I understand the flaws in assisted living institutions. They’re way better than they used to be, thank God, but they still kind of suck.

For any number of reasons, it’s not possible for Grandma to live with family. If she could, then she’d be checked out of the nursing home immediately. The reasons aren’t related to her health, though, they’re related to our AVAILABILITY. Looking at a bigger picture…we’ve created a world where taking direct care of our elders is not considered a realistic possibility. Though my Grandma doesn’t need extensive medical attention at this point, no one in my family is capable, for all sorts of reasons, of taking her in. We have jobs and school and other stuff that prohibits direct care of Grandma. At some point, our culture made a decision that it was more important to be ‘productive’ than to take care of our parents. We’re playing out those cultural rhythms.

I’m not suggesting a return to some fake utopian time where everything was perfect and the next generation took a personal, costly responsibility for their parents. I’m also not critiquing my family for their handling of the situation (I’m probably the closest to being available to take direct care, so any indictment falls on me).

I’m wondering what a Christ-like way of navigating these circumstances looks like.

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~ by Joe Paparone on August 5, 2010.

One Response to “Outsourcing Our Elders”

  1. Joe, great thoughts on this subject matter – Going through some of the same-related questions and frustrations working with my aging mother. The system is broken if you ask me, has been apparently a long time. It really creates a lot of restless moments in my mind thinking of what to do and how to do – All within the framework of “honor your father and mother…”

    No easy answers coming at this point – More questions, more fears, more frustrations. Thanks for sharing…

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