Caring for an aging parent is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and often painful experiences life throws our way. Providing a safe, healthy environment for an elderly family member is just as taxing as doing the same for a child.
What makes this process even harder is when the parent is resistant to help or simply won’t accept that they are no longer in a position to take care of themselves. Poor decisions, an inability to recognize when driving has become hazardous and, worst of all, when they will listen to anyone’s advice but that of their children, complicates the care process and causes serious damage to the parent/child relationship.
It’s hard to watch parents age and knowing you’re headed the same direction only solidifies the reality of it all. It’s harder still when they resist every attempt to maintain their health and sometimes doctors undermine your efforts by telling them they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to.
I understand that people need to make their own choices, but some shrink in a hospital cannot possibly know an individual’s mental status by talking to them once for three minutes and asking a half dozen pointless questions. “Do you know where you are? Do you know what day it is? Can you draw this box? Write your name.” “Draw this box,” are they kidding?
How about we ask them what their checking account number is, or the name of their insurance company? How about asking when they last paid their phone bill? These are vital questions to someone who is supposedly “competent” and yet this is not what is included in a psychiatric evaluation for a senior’s ability to make his or her own decisions.
Then there are those who are intent on taking advantage of the elderly person’s desire to feel “needed” and useful. These individuals worm their way into the lives of the elderly, showering them with compliments and creating a rift between the senior and his or her family. These unscrupulous people are trying to get money and property away from the senior and alienate children and others who are trying to protect their interests.
Laws addressing the rights of seniors, as well as those regarding patient rights, seem to take no account to dementia and speak only to protecting them from family members bent on securing money or locking them away in a nursing home. What about those of us who are trying to protect our parents and provide a safe, secure life for them in their own home as long as possible? Where is our protection and support? There is none.
Preserving a person’s dignity is difficult enough without being able to handle even the most basic decisions absent a mile of legal documents in place only to provide more money for lawyers. Power of attorney documents are meaningless unless the person is thoroughly incapacitated and no one will help without signing over deeds and financial statements.
Believe it or not, sometimes money has nothing to do with it! There are actually situations when families are trying to preserve an aging parent’s lifestyle, dignity and financial security. Someone should be out there advocating for us, not making it harder. Unless you’re loaded with money, there is just no support for people dealing with this kind of problem.
So what is to be done? Good question. I am all for protecting the rights of the elderly and maintaining their ability to make decisions, but there are many degrees of incompetence between fully cognoscente and Alzheimer’s dementia and that should be taken into account.
My mother lost all of her reasoning ability as Alzheimer’s set in and it nearly bankrupted my family to get her under a guardianship so we could keep her safe and well-cared for. But when a senior has some competence but not all, that needs to be addressed and the family should be able to have some advocacy for protecting the interest of that individual without so many roadblocks.
Legislation should be put into place for the varying degrees of dementia and stop relying on the ‘one size fits all’ psychiatric evaluations that prove nothing more than the person can read a calendar.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.