Medicare and the rest of the government regulations that impact elderly care in this country didn’t give my father dementia, but they certainly played a major role in deciding how the end of his life played out. My Demented Mom posted a good blog entry about how U.S. senators are finally investigating the misuse of antipsychotics in the elderly that are in institutionalized care. It’s about time. I’ve written about the subject multiple times, about how Dad resembled a zombie and how indifferent the ER staff were about possible drug interactions. Sadly, most who have dealt with dementia in their families have these stories to tell.
I’m still reading this book I’ve written about before, a collection of end-of-life essays. I just finished one that really struck home hard, about a sweet lady named Margaret who had a stroke and went through rehab as approved by Medicare. Unfortunately, she just couldn’t make progress during the short rehabilitation period, though she did try. But after her rehab allotment time was up, Medicare forbid any further treatments, because she was not a good candidate for improvement. So she never was able to return home, and instead declined rapidly in the nursing home, despite her loving family trying to visit her as much as they could. (Like my family, they didn’t have the funds to hire 24-7 care for her at home.) What had once been a delightful, talented woman who loved to paint became the typical defeated nursing home patient, parked in a wheelchair with head drooping, alive in physical form only.
And one could argue that bureaucratic rules led to her early demise. Government regulations stole her dignity, and ultimately, her life.
I feel the same way about my father. He also had rehab a couple of times, for the allotted days that were covered by Medicare. But if he had been approved for a longer period of time, maybe he could have gained enough physical strength back to return home, where Mom could have set up home care. Instead, time was up, Dad couldn’t navigate stairs, and away he was whisked to a facility over an hour’s drive from my mom.
Now, I’m the practical sort and I know that programs have to have funding limits. I’m not a fan of tax increases. And yes, families shouldn’t be given false hope by their loved ones undergoing treatments that are futile. I don’t have the solutions, but at least the conversation is beginning.
But the elderly deserve to be treated better at the end of their lives. So many of them fought for freedom, worked hard to support their families, sacrificed in ways we will never know … we can’t continue to discard them like a broken-down car, a heap of junk pushed off to the side of the road that we try to avert our eyes from as we hurry on with our busy lives.