Thursday, November 1, 2007

A Fear Greater than Death

Last weekend my father-in-law decided to get out in the delightfully sunny fall air and rake up some leaves in the yard. A few minutes later, he was flat on his back, unconscious, with an ambulance on the way.

At the hospital, the ER physician asked my dad-in-law, “What the hell were you doing raking the leaves at age 93?”

Both the physician and my husband’s family used this as an opportunity to encourage my in-laws to proceed with their long-discussed – and postponed – move into a retirement center.

My in-laws are no different than most older persons: according to several recent studies, leaving home and losing independence are the biggest fears most seniors have. According to “Aging in Place in America,” commissioned by Clarity and The EAR Foundation (as reported in last week’s Senior only 3% of seniors feared death, compared with 26% of seniors who most feared losing their independence.

From our perspective, and, to be perfectly honest from my father-in-law’s perspective, too, moving out of a home environment into a retirement center is an opportunity to increase companionship, social stimulation and activities, as well as a chance to let someone else do the leaf-raking. It’s my mother-in-law that fears losing her things that have such meaning and sentimental value, the things she’s surrounded herself with throughout her adulthood.

Interestingly the study found that the children of seniors worry most about their parents being mistreated in nursing homes (82%); 89% worry about their parents being sad. Certainly that reflects the media attention that abuse or mistreatment in nursing homes receives; it also reflects our fears as boomers that we won’t personally be able to balance everything – our work, our kids and our parents. If we can’t have confidence in the care they’ll receive in a nursing home – or any other senior care setting – we’ll continue to worry about them and continue to feel the “Sandwich” squeeze.

It’s time to start a new perspective on aging options, whether retirement community, assisted living or skilled nursing. It’s time to think of these as options to ADD to our live, and to the lives of our parents, rather than options for TAKING AWAY: independence, freedoms and decent and honorable treatment.

It’s time, as members of an already too-stressed generation of people caring for parents (and grandparents), children (and grand-children) to see the advantages of getting help in providing care and services to our parents.

It’s time, from the professional perspective, to put into place methods and systems for family members to consider these options worry-free, and guilt-free.

Maybe it's even time for my father-in-law to put down his rake - but only if that's what he really wants to do (one can rake leaves even in a retirement community, dad)!

It’s up to us, as the baby boomer generation with the most challenges and stresses related to this issue our nation has ever experienced, to start making the difference.


  1. I always tell caregivers that they are not stopping their role as caregiver, when an elder goes into assisted living or a nursing home. They are just getting help.

    I am fortunate to live in an area where most facilities are very good, though not perfect. They are always looking for ways to improve. I think continued pressure from boomers and some movement in Congress will help.

    Meanwhile, we "kids" need to keep an eye on the facility by dropping in at odd times and making friends with the staff. But we should also be able to give up the guilt and let people help us. I hope your parents-in-law find a great place and make lots of new friends. It will be good for everyone.
    Carol Bradley Bursack
    Minding Our Elders

  2. My name is Kathy, and I am the primary caregiver for my 79 year old Dad who has Alzheimer's disease and lives with me in North Carolina.

    I am writing a daily blog on my Alzheimer's caregiver website that shows the lighter side of caring for someone with dementia.

    Please pass this link along to anyone you feel would enjoy it.