Imagine the day everyone you grew up with is dead or dying. The world you live in, you no longer understand. Everything is so complex now, you can no longer do banking and shopping like you used to. Not only is your physical health a barrier, but the systems and procedures for theses every day tasks have changed so much from what your used to. Now you need support to do basic things like shopping, banking, paying bills and the like. When you were young and able you could go to the bank and the lovely helpful staff would do everything for you, now you have to learn to use machines. Shopping was easier, as the lovely staff there would serve you and help load your trolley to go home. Now you are the check out person, but without the physical strength to do so. Now you struggle to lift the smallest of items on the counter.
You rely on expensive taxi’s or your mobility scooter to get around. Taxi’s are an expense you cant afford on your pension and you save this for unavoidable transport from medical specialists or treatments. If you take the scooter you cant go too far if its wet, and even weather permitting you can only go as far as the battery life permits. You occasionally ask family if they can take you to appointments but you feel a burden as you know they need to take time off work. Because you are avoiding medical appoints you cant get to, and you don’t want to burden family, your health is now really deteriorating.
Now you are barely able to leave the house. You’re so weak you cant prepare your own meals and have trouble getting to the toilet. You try and hide this when you get visitors, but close family start to notice your loosing weight, your clothes are dirty and the house is not as clean as it once was. It becomes evident that you cant live on your own any more. You might come to this conclusion through conversations with your children and grandchildren, or as the result of a hospital admission. The end result is you are now no longer able to live alone, and its probably not your choice.
One of your well meaning kids has taken you in. You may be relieved. You and your friends have talked about all the terrible things you have seen on tv about abuse that happens in aged care. You are petrified of aged care. So off you go to live with your kid. You may or may not have been a great parent, but as parents we all wish we did things better. You are no different, you wish you knew then, what you know now. You wish you could have given your kids more. But now your moving in with them. You cant take all your worldly possessions, just what you can fit in your room. Your kid already has their own house full of worldly possessions, and their offspring, there’s not enough room.
Now you quickly find out how different your child has grown from you. They eat different kinds of food. All the food you like is no longer considered healthy and your kid takes anything delicious out of your reach. Your kid thinks everything is germy and is forever disinfecting everything. You realise this kid would never survive the wars you lived through. Your tired but they insist on you showering regularly and changing your clothes. The nagging never ends. You need help showering but don’t want your kid to have to clean you and see you naked. So your kid gets some services in to shower you. Next thing you know your kid has you booked into something every day. Shower day, physio, doctors appointments and the list goes on. Every day is something.
You notice this kid is getting tired and grumpy. They no longer dress up nice or do their hair nice. They used to be so good looking, now they have let themselves go. They keep loosing their job. It just so happens to coincide with every time they have taken time off work for one of your medical appointments of if they had to stay home to look after you. You start to attribute this change in your child to yourself. Eventually your kid has to sell their home and down size, they no longer work full time and their marriage is on the rocks. Your kid no longer gets visitors and their own children have moved out. Could this be your doing, you ask yourself? You offer to go to an aged care facility. But turns out there are no places, and your kid cant afford to send you to respite. Your heart breaks for your kid. You feel like such as burden. You feel solely responsible for destroying their lives, but you are powerless to fix anything.
Unfortunately the above experience is not an isolated story. Here are some comments from real life elderly people, who live with their family or heavily rely on their family as carers:
Why am I still here? Why wont God take me?Female aged 82 years
Why cant I just have euthanasia and stop being a burden to my family?Male aged 86 years
I would be better dead. I am ready to go. There is nothing left here for me.Male aged 90 years
This is the heart breaking reality of getting older. We will all have to face this reality one day. But why does it have to be this way? This could easily be resolved with better carer support. Imagine if in the vignette above the carer received some financial support, free education about how to care for the aged parent and regular free respite. Has the taxes this elderly person paid throughout life time not already funded this. Changes such as this would make such a difference in the life of the aged person but also of their carer. This would no doubt save the tax payer overall in hospital and aged care costs.The carer would still be able to maintain employment and retain their own identity, and provide love and care for their family member. The aged person would also maintain their own identity and independence.
What can we do? We can raise awareness. We can share blogs like this. We can petition to local government and beyond. The more people talk about it and think about it, the more likely change will come to fruition.