Affecting Seniors’ Quality Of Life

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - March 01, 2006
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We have just had the pleasure of a visit from my husband’s father, Doug, and his wife, Louise. They made the long trip from Georgia, where it was snowing when they left, and arrived at a paradise of overcast skies and chilly-for-Hawaii temperatures. They ended up wearing sweatsuits and sweaters and socks, but it sure beat the snow back home.

One of the things my husband and I couldn’t help but notice was how very different they were this time around. Both are around 80 years old. Louise’s eyesight is failing and her hearing is not as good as it used to be. She uses a walker; Doug walks unaided, but takes very tiny steps.

They depend on each other, as they have for so many years. But things are rapidly changing. They take many pills and spend a good part of the day - hours, sometimes - organizing their doses for the day and week. Since Louise can’t see the colors, she depends on her sense of touch and on Doug’s description in order to sort them out. It is a precarious system, but it still works for them.

For now.

Back at home in Georgia, Doug still drives, but he used to depend on Louise to navigate. With her fading eyesight that’s becoming less of an option. They tell me that public transportation is “almost nonexistent” where they live, so they need their car to get to their doctors’ offices and the food markets.

This morning I read that here in Honolulu the company that operates TheBus is proposing to cut back the number of bus stops in certain communities, but is considering keeping them where the bulk of senior citizens live.

Considering? I hope so.

I look at Doug and Louise and wonder: If they had to walk an extra couple of blocks to catch a bus - would they? I think they would try, but it would take an awful lot out of them, especially if it were snowing, pouring rain or terribly hot. Maybe too much. Eventually they would end up just staying home.

I hope local bus officials listen carefully to the concerns of the citizens before making their decisions. Whatever they do will affect the quality of life for so many people.

Doug and Louise value their independence. They’ve handled every situation through the years because they are competent and intelligent partners. But it is obvious to all who love them that the coping systems they have worked out through the years are beginning to fray. They are approaching and may already have reached the point in life where they can no longer do it all themselves.

When Doug and Louise finally must depend on others, they and so many others like them will be looking to us - family and government. Private and public sectors will have to form partnerships, if they haven’t already, to take care of people. They are old, and we should treasure them.

They will need caregivers and special housing. They will require transportation and medication. An increasing number will need hospice care at the end.

Most of all, they will have to know that they are not alone.

No one likes to think about the inevitable final years. We think it won’t happen to us, which is why matters such as affordable housing, affordable health care and medicine and affordable, readily available assisted living facilities are far down our list of priorities.

During one of their pill-sorting ordeals, Doug looked at me and said, “Don’t ever get old.” He was joking, of course, and I chuckled. But this is no joke. Our parents are already there. We will be, too, and sooner than we think.

Are we ready?

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