Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting Old Is Depressing

I am still happily in my early thirties and know I have a lot of life to live. But as I watch the older folks around me go through difficult times it makes me sad. I know that some of the problems people experience with old age could be avoided if they lead a healthier lifestyle when they were younger. But you can also lead a very healthy life and still end up with Alzheimer's, Osteoporosis, etc. It's just not fair!

My neighbor Steve is a very nice man. He is in his late 80's if not into his 90's. Him and his wife have lived in their house for the better part of their adult life. They live alone and have a home health care nurse stop by for a few hours every day and their adult children visit in the evenings. Steve's wife had a stroke and has trouble getting around and speaking. I'm not sure what is wrong with Steve but we have seen an ambulance take him away several times. He walks very slowly and has slurred speech but seems to get by okay.

Steve is the kind of guy that worked his entire life and is not dealing well with retirement. There have been a a few times where my husband or I witnessed Steve picking up something too heavy for him or saw him trying to shovel his walkway and ran over to stop him and offer our assistance. He drives his boat-sized Buick around the corner to the drug store or from the driveway in front of his house to the back of his house at least once a day. I worry every time he gets in the car because he drives very slowly and I'm guessing he's not supposed to drive very far, if at all. He walks to his mailbox several times a day. I'm not sure what else he's looking for between the newspaper and the mail delivery but obviously he is bored. I think that Steve and his wife should be in an assisted living facility. He needs to be somewhere where they can provide constant supervision but where he can still live relatively independently. A day full of structured activities would add some excitement to his life.

I'm sure his children have discussed putting Steve and his wife in a facility. I'm sure the doctors have recommended it but Steve has refused. We have been through the same thing with my grandmother for several years. My grandmother has diabetes and cataracts and a number of other conditions related to these two diseases. We have had to cut vacations short to rush her to the hospital. She has blacked out while walking to a public restroom. She has fallen when walking around the house. But no matter what happens my uncle always rationalizes why she doesn't need to be in a home despite the protests from my mother, her older brother and all of us grand kids.

Truth be told, my grandmother is a very nasty woman. She has years of pent up anger and frustration from the hard childhood that she went through and then the struggles of raising three children on her own. She is quite racist and while she doesn't usually say mean things to peoples faces, her behavior makes it clear how she feels. My grandmother is what we call an equal opportunity racist. She hates white people, Asian people, African people, black people who are too dark and of course, black people who are too light. She is one of 14 children with the skin tones ranging from "could pass for white" to "Black African in the sun all day black". She has no problem spewing her venom at members of her own family in addition to complete strangers no matter how much they are trying to help her. I think this is why my relatives have given up. It's easier to let her do what she wants rather than argue with her. At this point, my mother thinks that its too late to get my grandmother into a home because she's in her late 80's and probably won't live for too much longer so why add the stress of moving.

My grandmother has lost more than half of her siblings. I can't imagine watching all of my friends and family die and then waiting for my turn. You would think that going through all this would make her value the time that she has left but of course that's not the case. Her youngest sister died this past weekend. Immediately after telling me the news my grandmother started complaining about how her next youngest sister was going to try to steal the spotlight at the funeral by singing at the church. She did this at one of her brother's funerals last year and my grandmother still complains about how she thinks she's better than everyone else because she's light-skinned and how everyone gives her so much attention that she doesn't deserve. Sigh. All I can do is listen to these rants because as much as I don't enjoy talking to my grandmother on the phone, I know there will come a time when she is not here and I should try to keep in touch with her so I don't have any regrets when she passes away.

Here in upstate New York we have a large elderly community. A month doesn't go by without a car accident caused by an elderly person going the wrong way on the highway or blowing a traffic signal and killing themselves and other innocent people. I know that there are a lot of older people who are in great shape who can still get around and work without assistance but they are the exception for sure. I cringe at the thought of a Big Brother type of government that takes away driver's licenses when you reach a certain age or forces assisted living but I don't think there would be anything wrong with making people retest every 5 years once they get to be a certain age. I think that emphasizing that people set up an account for "elderly living" in addition to life insurance to cover assisted living, home nursing care and all the other things that we might need in the last 10-30 years of our lives.

I hope to be one of the healthy old people that I see running at the park, working at Walmart and tending to their meticulously well kept lawns. But I know that even if I'm not, that I will make sure that my husband and I have planned for the worst so that our families and neighbors don't have to worry about taking care of us.

1 comment:

  1. Your grandma could be related to some of my relatives. I recognized the upstaging @ the funeral speech.