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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Aging parents

When it rains, it pours. My mom is in hospital with dehydration, anemia, and abnormal electrolytes because she didn't eat or drink much last week -- perhaps because of the onset of stomach ulcers. She also has chronic diabetes and intermittent brain ischemia. My dad, her primary care provider, appears to have acquired a persistent atrial fibrillation that medicine and his pacemaker cannot overcome. It robs him of energy and increases his risk of another stroke, aside from his ongoing thyroid cancer. My mother-in-law's oral cancer has returned; no further treatment is proposed, although she isn't in imminent danger.

Aging is not for wimps, nor is caring for aging parents. I'm not complaining; it's a joy and blessing that of my wife's parents and mine, three are still with us. Many people my age cannot say that. On the other hand, there's no escaping geriatric challenges.

The logistics are difficult for me because I have no surviving siblings and my parents live 500+ miles away. (They're not interested in relocating here. I have proposed that repeatedly.) Fortunately I have cousins and extended family near them who do much of the heavy lifting. I am forever indebted to them. My mother-in-law's situation is less difficult because my sister-in-law lives nearby. Even so, the questions "what happens next?", "what will do we if...?", "have arrangements been made for...?", and "what should we do now?" are asked often on both sides of the family.

Those of us in our 50s, more or less, become familiar with geriatric medical conditions, schedules for taking drugs, doctors who have conflicting diagnoses and proposals for treatment, insurance plans, assisted living and nursing homes, Medicare and possibly Medicaid, the legal aspects of healthcare (powers of attorney, advance directives, etc), and on and on. It's complex. And like raising children, there isn't much preparation for this; one just finds oneself in the situation and dives in as best one can.

Meanwhile, we know that in all likelihood, our train will arrive at the same destination -- and that our own children in their 20s are quietly watching to see how this works.