Being part of the baby-boom generation has always been a source of comfort for me. We make up a huge bulk of the population. No matter what I was going through, I knew that many were experiencing the same things. Whether I was a new mother, or a mother of teens, it was easy to find books and articles on child rearing. I could turn on a talk show or read how others were managing. All of the events in my life had been rehashed from Vietnam to menopause.
Then one day something happened in my life that left me floundering for answers. My mother went to the hospital for a routine medical procedure and suffered a stroke. Although it was thought that the stroke was slight, the original diagnosis was wrong; it was massive. I was thrown into a world that was foreign to me. For the first time, the other boomers were not talking about something that was affecting my life. I didn't know what to do. I needed answers and I needed feedback from people that had walked the same path. I looked through libraries and bookstores. I was very disappointed. I was going to have to walk this path alone.
The first important piece of information I learned, I pass along to anyone that will listen. Your medical insurance (no matter how good or how expensive) will only cover 100 consecutive days in a nursing home. After that, you are on your own. I have been quoted prices of $5,000 to $9,000 per MONTH for long-term nursing care. When you are dealing with Alzheimer's, dementia, or massive strokes, 100 days is not a significant amount of time. I find that very few people are aware of this. Who takes the time to read their insurance policy? Not me. But I have taken the time now to look at mine and guess what? It is plainly written in the contract. Although long-term care insurance can be purchased, it is expensive and separate from traditional health insurance.
Once my mother was placed in a nursing home, I learned that there are kind and caring facilities and some that are not. The biggest problem with nursing homes is that they are understaffed. This is an issue that should be addressed on a systemic level. How long can nursing homes continue to cut down on staff, due to financial constraints, and still give good healthcare? We should all be doing some investigating on this one. This problem is not going to go away. Although it is primarily our parents that are in need of nursing homes now; our turn is next. As the boomers are aging, society is bracing for the largest population that has ever needed nursing home care. Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer; although not necessarily healthier. I found that long-term nursing care has an exorbitant price tag; both financially and emotionally.
Another significant lesson I learned makes me want to grab people by the shirt and yell, "Wake up Boomers, and smell the café latte....GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER!" I am shocked that so many people I talk to do not have a basic will. Many more don't have living wills. Lack of understanding is a key issue. One person actually told me that she would not have a living will drawn up because doctors would let her die before her time so they could take her organs. The woman was in her 80's. I don't think doctors were following her around waiting to get her organs. Just for the record, a living will gives someone you trust the authority to disconnect life support if you are unable to communicate and are brain dead or terminal. There is a section of the living will where you can stipulate whether you want to be an organ donor or not. A living will is a must to me. I don't want to be kept alive on life support after my brain has ceased to function. I would like to make the decisions easier for my kids if ever the event should present itself. It would alleviate their guilt because they would know that it was not only what I wanted, but I legally put it in writing. To me, doing nothing is the equivalent of saying that you don't care. If you really don't care if you are on life support for ten minutes or ten years, then you should do nothing. Death is not a pleasant subject to talk about but how could you possibly carry out someone's wishes if they don't tell you what they are? It is a reality that we will all die. Communication is imperative. Few people wake up in the morning and think that a stroke will touch their life. Unfortunately, life can throw some curveballs into your daily routine.
Talk to your kids and talk to your parents! Research by the National Hospice Foundation (www.hospiceinfo.org) shows that Americans would rather talk to their children about sex and drugs than talk to their terminally ill parents about the end of life issues. Talking about organ donations, life support, and even funeral arrangement issues should be high on your priorities. We never know from day to day what will happen. Getting your affairs in order is one small way to insure that your personal wishes are carried out.
Kathleen (Kathy) Bosworth resides in Connecticut with her husband of 31 years. She is the mother of two grown children and the grandmother of three. Kathleen became the primary caregiver for her mother after a routine medical test caused a massive stroke. Frustrated in her search for answers about strokes, she wrote a book about her experiences. Your Mother Has Suffered a Slight Stroke was recently published by Publish America.
Kathleen left her job at the Post Office two years ago to devote more time to traveling and writing. She has recently been speaking to groups of baby-boomers and seniors about the importance of putting your affairs in order. She is a mentor for high school students in South Dakota that have an interest in writing. Reading has always been her passion and you can always find her with a book in hand, or very close by. She is also a book reviewer for Denise's Pieces Book Reviews.
Copyright (c) 2003 Kathleen Bosworth - Reprinted by permission of Kathleen Bosworth