I remember it so well although it didn’t resonate at the time. When I retired, my father told me I should keep working for as long as I could. It wasn’t about keeping active it was purely financial.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “It costs an enormous amount of money to get really old.”
With three of my four grandparents dying in their 60s, as many people did 60-plus years ago, it is a remarkable to have an almost 96-year-old father and a 93-year-old mother; and to say that my life partner also has a father who is 95 and a mother who is 88 makes it that much more impactful.
People can tell you on a birthday that approaching 70 is like closing in on the new 50 – but anything over 65 makes you a senior citizen, which is a polite term for ‘old.’ So if you are over 90, ‘old’ becomes ‘elderly’ and for someone closer to 100 than 90, ‘ancient’ quietly comes to mind.
While most senior citizens in today’s developed world are in good health, it is a safe bet that most people over 90 are not. Their health problems can be mental, physical, or both. While we know how modern medicine has greatly extended people’s lives, the warranties on the body and mind have expired and that is where the struggle begins: the struggle of balancing the joy of being alive for another great-grandchild’s milestone with the daily reality of living in an often sadly diminished state.
As many of you know, the experience of being in hospital emergency rooms, long-term care homes, seniors’ residences, and witnessing the ultimate challenge of elderly people trying to stay in their homes, doesn’t make one an expert, but it does bring you face to face with their day-to-day realities. It is often the case that some problems don’t have solutions. Somehow it seems more like treading water knowing that tomorrow will not be better. It is a merry-go-round of challenges that never stops.
It is disheartening when you arrive at an emergency room with a parent over 90 and you and the parent are directed to a waiting room or a corridor for a double digit number of hours of waiting. Respect for the elderly, let alone anything close to special treatment, is non-existent. No disrespect aimed at the medical profession, but sometimes you wonder if anyone cares.
It is not unusual in a hospital to have your efforts advocating for an elderly parent dismissed with, “After all your parent is 95,” which comes across in two ways. First, that there is not much to do and even if there were, a 95-year-old is not a priority in an emergency room. True or not, that is what it feels like.
And should it happen that an elderly person is admitted, it is interesting to see how visiting hours suddenly become a sanctioned and required 24/7. Family members need to be there at bedside because hospital employees can only do so much, which is not nearly enough for frightened and frail elderly people.
Recent horror stories in some Ontario long-term care homes chronicle a desperate account of abuse and hardship for the residents and their families. Seeing so many severely compromised people wallowing aimlessly in wheelchairs, and in beds in the corridors, is beyond sad. On every visit you see the same diaper-clad people, in the same places, with nowhere to go. Those who can afford the daily expense of personal caregivers are the only ones who seem to get the attention they need.
Still being at home in your 90s means needing a scheduler and a bookkeeper to manage all the people who are hired because being home alone at that age, in most cases, is not an option – and, needless to say – paying all those people who are coming and going and sleeping over can amount to many thousands of dollars a month.
When you are a healthy senior citizen you tend to think, because no one ever explicitly tells you otherwise, that medicare in Canada covers people of all ages from birth to death.
You need to live the experience of the elderly to know the medicare card does not cover the prohibitive cost of special personal care the elderly so desperately need.