By Tippy Irwin, Executive Director
Two scenarios are playing out among two different families here in our county that give me pause for thought.
An elderly couple with no children had been living in their own home. He was the primary caregiver for his wife who is suffering from mid-stage dementia. The husband had a stroke and became hospitalized. Fortunately this couple had signed Advanced Health Care Directives and the friends named as their agents flew in from Colorado to ensure that the wife was taken care of. They set up 24 hour care in the home to take care of the wife in the absence of her husband. Sadly, a second stroke followed the first and the husband, now seriously debilitated, in a wheelchair and unable to talk, has been sent to a facility, initially for rehab, but probably without the possibility of returning home to live independently. The wife has been placed in the facility alongside her husband. She is devastated, angry and confused, unable to fully comprehend what has happened or why she has been suddenly uprooted from the only home she has known and loved for the past 40 years or so. The wife has gone into a rapid decline, refusing to eat, refusing to get out of bed. The only consolation her husband can give her is to reach out and hold her hand. The staff at the facility have done everything in their power to bring her comfort and to encourage her to get up, to eat, to participate in life. This poor unfortunate client is suffering from what is known in the industry as “transfer trauma.” Unless some serious headway can be made in reaching our client, there is the strong possibility that we will lose her. It did not have to be this way. With a little forethought and some careful planning for one’s twilight years, perhaps the tragic coda to their lives could, at least in part, have been avoided.
The second scenario involves another elderly couple living independently at home. Like the couple above, they have no children. They are both in a reasonably good state of health; however the husband is concerned that if something should happen to him, his wife, who does not drive a car and has other limitations, will not be able to cope. They are making arrangements to move into an assisted living facility, where, in his words, “my wife will make new friends.” The plan is to surround themselves with a network of support if either one of them should pass away. An expensive option? Indeed it is and certainly not everybody is able to afford such a choice. But the point I want to emphasize is that this couple has discussed what the future might bring and how they might best plan for such events.
I tell these stories in the hope that readers will take heed and give some consideration to their own life needs. Most of us will ultimately come face to face with our declining years. Better to do so in a manner we choose for ourselves. Consider your options while you can speak them through with either your spouse, a close family member or perhaps a close friend, and while you still have the ability to choose. Plan to make the move (if that is what you are to do) while you can still adapt to your new environment (together if you have a spouse) or at best while you can still reach out and make new friends. If you plan to stay in your own home, begin the process of exploring what your options are in home care and what kind of network of support you will need. Again I urge you to discuss these options with family members or the individual you have named as your agent to make health care decisions for you in the event you lose the ability to make your own decisions.
As I plan my retirement in less than a year from now, leaving this job that has been my passion for the past fifteen years, I have used the opportunity to explore my own future options with the intention of making some decisions about how I want to play out my final years. Though I am anticipating I will have a long and healthy retirement, I want to be sure that I am in the driver’s seat to make my own decisions about how my future will look. I have included both my adult children in my discussions and invited them to journey with me on this exciting new adventure.