As we age: Anything to support one another

Having a sick, elderly parent can mean big changes

Since I have been writing about eldercare, and communicating with friends about the experiences I have had, there has been an outpouring of responses.

While my own family challenges have been public, because I have chosen to share them, most families deal with such challenges quietly on their own.

Their stories are often humbling.

The most common theme that tends to surface when dealing with stories of eldercare seems to be that of uncertainty. So many families are unprepared, financially and emotionally, when a crisis hits, and the ability to adapt to such crises is often complicated by many factors: their own stage of life; proximity to ailing family; employment flexibility; or even their own personal health.

Having a child is life-changing; having a suddenly ill parent may be no less life-changing.

And while there are many who will suggest preparing ahead of time for possible eldercare issues, it is virtually impossible to predict what might happen.  There’s a big difference between a stroke, a broken hip or a significant decline in mental ability.  The range of issues that arise includes not only family interactions, but navigating the very complex worlds of the medical system and the government care system.

In fact, the majority of the heartbreaking stories others share, seem to centre on the frustration of dealing with bureaucracies during times of high anxiety.

While an individual’s circumstances may change very quickly, the response of bureaucracies tends to be very slow.

Families struggle mightily with the next step once the initial emergency treatment has been completed and an ailing parent is released back to family care.

There is an informal acceptance by government planners that the majority of eldercare will fall on the shoulders of family members, not professionally trained, government paid workers.

As taxpayers not in a crisis, this makes perfect sense.

As family members in crisis and looking for support, it’s the last thing you want to hear.

As the size of the elderly generation continues to rise, the off-loading of care, from the government to the family is bound to continue. It will be justified by the values of being able to stay in one’s own home, cared for by loving relatives.

There is much merit in such a justification and it’s hard to argue that being hospitalized or institutionalized feels better to a patient than being in one’s own home.

But even with the support of community care workers, who might drop in for an hour or so a day, the obligation of family to provide care must fill in the other 23 hours.

Providing professional in-home care on a full-time basis is simply not affordable for most people. Considering that three full-time people must be hired for around-the-clock care, it’s clear that’s an option for very few.

Thus, for the majority of us, it falls on our shoulders or it requires some form of institutional care, which is also often in short supply or very expensive.

I must confess that while some stories others have shared have been difficult to comprehend, I have also been impressed with the commitment many have shown to their family members.

While what happens to a loved one, and what happens afterwards tends to be uncertain, the one thing that does seem to be certain is that families will do whatever they can to support each other.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (