Thursday, June 21, 2007

What to Do With the Elderly?

Justin had an experience this week that really got me to thinking. He got a part-time job with a company that does in-home assistance for the elderly or handicapped. Most of their employees are trained healthcare workers, but they also need some people to just go help out with regular things like housework, grocery shopping, or even just to sit as a companion with someone. So Justin took the job with the understanding that those are the kind of calls he would get. Last night, he got his first call to assist an elderly couple with their evening routine. The husband had Parkinson’s disease, which makes him basically immobile and entirely unable to do anything for himself. So this job turned out to be way more intensive than Justin felt he was qualified or trained for. However, my wonderful husband with his courage and his servant’s heart jumped right in there and did what needed to be done. I’m very proud of him for that, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that it really got me thinking about the elderly and the difficulty of making decisions for their care. When Justin got home and was telling me about how difficult his time there was and just how difficult this couple’s life is overall, my first thought was “They need to be in a home.” That just stopped me in my tracks, though, because who am I to make that kind of judgment? I can't even fathom how hard it must be to watch yourself and your spouse growing older and losing the ability to take care of yourselves, and what a difficult decision it would be to give up your independence and leave the home you’ve lived in together for so long. But yet what’s the answer to getting the care you need while still maintaining your dignity and your independence and your privacy and all the other things I can’t even think of right now? I honestly don’t know. I do have a few thoughts on the issue even though I can't draw any conclusions, and maybe one of you will be able to add in some better ideas and thoughts too.

First of all, one of my favorite books ever is called Leota’s Garden, a fiction novel by Christian author Francine Rivers. It addresses this issue in a heart-wrenching way and will really make you think about stuff. I highly recommend it, and anything else she wrote for that matter.

Secondly, just this Sunday in Bible study we looked at some Scriptures that I think are applicable here. We’re going through the book of 1 Timothy, and this is what it says in verses 4 and 8 of chapter 5:

“If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God… If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
To me, that’s pretty clear about who God wants to take care of the elderly… their own family. (This verse is talking about widows, but I think the principle can be applied to aging parents in need even if they’re both alive.) I think it’s neat that in verse 4 it basically says “After all your parents and grandparents have done for you, you OWE them!” And if you think about it, it’s true. They spent years feeding you and bathing you and changing your diapers, so you don’t need to be too proud or selfish to do that for them in their old age if they need it. Better you than some stranger in a nursing home. However, that is REALLY easy for me to say now, but I know it would be REALLY hard if I actually have to do it someday. Not only just emotionally and physically and mentally would it be difficult to care for an aging parent, but financially too.

And this brings me to my third thought on the issue. I think that decisions on how to care for me when I’m old will never be easy, but I think they’ll be a lot easier if I can provide the finances to do what is necessary. That’s why we’re saving for retirement now. We’re young and feel like getting old is a really long time away. But ask your parents and grandparents if they ever thought they’d get old and see what they say… So no matter how old you are or how healthy you are, please PLEASE start saving for your future. You never know what will happen to you and what will come up, and wouldn’t you rather be prepared for any eventuality? And it's never too late to start saving, so even if retirement is uncomfortably close for you, saving now will still help you down the road.

Last semester, Justin and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and it revolutionized our way of thinking about this kind of stuff. If you haven’t been through this course, please look on Dave’s website and see if there are any near you. No matter what your situation or how much you make, you can ALWAYS save if you’re willing to make some sacrifices. Eat out less, make that pair of shoes last one more month, buy off-brands, and start investing that money instead of blowing it! I don’t know much about investing because Justin is our financial dude. But please, if you have any questions about what we do or what Dave recommends (Yes, we’re on a first name basis with Dave Ramsey!) or how to make your specific situation work, ask him! He may not know, but we’ll find out for you. Because this is IMPORTANT. You can’t trust Social Security to come through for you. Sheesh, my PARENTS can’t even trust Social Security to come through for them, much less anybody in my generation. We have got to be wise enough to plan for that and have what it takes to provide for ourselves. Get health insurance. Get life insurance. Get long term care insurance when you reach 60. Make out a living will so that the doctors will know your wishes on how you should be cared for and your sweet spouse doesn’t have to try to make that decision on whether or not to pull the plug.

I don’t want this to sound morbid – it’s just reality. Our bodies were not meant to last forever. We were meant to live on this earth a while and then move on to the next where we get a new body and a new name and there will be no more death or pain or sorrow! In the meantime, let’s be wise about how we live in this world. Taking care of the elderly is a difficult and sensitive issue, so let’s do what we can to make it easier on those we love when our time comes.


Jackie said...

My mother-in-law(Judy) has shown amazing grace in taking care of Joey's grandparents and that task becomes more difficult everyday. A funny anecdote - Papa doesn't remember anything after 5 minutes, so at a dr. visit for his wife to get a steroid shot in her back, he kept asking Judy what was going on. She tried to make her answers shorter and brief each time. When she finally said, "She's getting a shot in the back" he was quick to ask, "She's been shot in the back!?!" You can imagine how much explaining had to be done to calm him down..... and again after 5 minutes.
I hear you about the elderly care, and grateful I am not an only child. My parents have also modeled saving for us. That quarter-life crisis hit me hard, but I am sure a midlife crisis would be worse if we weren't already preparing smartly.

Jessica said...

Matt's mom, Sandy, has been going through some medical concerns the last couple of years and has begun talking about her elderly years. She's told me all about their savings and how what their different accounts are earning.

She's also instructed that she wants to move into one of those retirement villages or apartments. Not necessarily a nursing home, but a place with organized activities for the residents and quick medical care as needed.

I had always assumed that once my boys moved out I'd start preparing for our parents to move in as necessary. I'd always thought that since Matt and I were the oldest, it was ultimately our responsibility to make sure the parents are cared for. I like hearing you talk about siblings helping!

You know, sometimes it's hard to diaper, feed, and generally care for my kids, but I do it without much thought because I love them. I think the same should be true for caring for your parents when they need it. You just buck up and do what has to be done because you love them and want them to be comfortable and happy.