I am seventy-eight, but though forgetful, I’m reasonably functional and can still drive. I have a friend who is ninety-two, another who is only seventy, and one who is seventy-seven. All live either with a working daughter or alone.
None of them drive anymore and the seventy-seven year old seemed to be sinking into severe dementia the last couple of years. She lives an hour away from me and I have been knee deep in grandchildren with school out, and when I finally grab some time to call her to see if I can take her to lunch, she says she is too tired or feeling badly. But, I saw her today and she was as sharp as a whip. She has a care-giver now and had played bridge yesterday and was very excited about playing in a tournament tomorrow. She explained all the challenges to the brain from playing bridge to me. She didn’t need to just get out, she needed something that challenged her and gave her a sense of accomplishment.
At sixty-five the seventy year old was mistakenly diagnosed as having inoperable lung cancer and told she might have only five years to live. She is a talented artist. But, she lives alone and the last few years she has gone from depressed to the point of being suicidal to having frequent panics about her health that involve trips to the ER. Her only daughter is a very successful career woman and is often out of the country.
The ninety-two year old broke her hip two years ago and sits home alone out in the country about twenty-five minutes away from both town and me, because all her children work. She struggles with depression, but has no interests or talents to keep her mentally stimulated. She reads some, but her eyesight is failing and makes it difficult.
I have spent the last four or five years either visiting with them or taking them in pairs out to lunch, shopping, to museums or to women’s study groups. But as each has become more unsteady, using canes or walkers, I have needed to take them each separately because of fear of one of them falling. My life includes a husband who still works and has health issues, and eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, some of whom have handicaps, so I try to spend quality time with them. I have a blog with posts that I hope to turn into a book. At seventy-five I started doing some very small gigs as a stand-up comic. I lead worship services once a month and several times a year give presentations to women’s groups I’m in. What I am seeing is that when I am busy elsewhere, often there’s no one to help these women get out of the house, and they go down hill rapidly both mentally and physically.
Sadly, since my husband and I have a chance to travel abroad this fall, and there are a lot of preparations and planning involved, lately I have less and less time for my friends. I feel both guilty and resentful. The women were there for me in earlier stages of my life and I want to be there for them. But often I have to neglect home, husband and my writing trying to be there for them.
Our small church women’s group has one member dying with ALS, another with early onset dementia, several are shut in’s with debilitating physical issues, two women are newly widowed, another woman’s husband has Alzheimer’s and a couple of women are nursing their husbands back to health after major surgeries. There are more women needing help than there are helpers.
I was all for women’s freedom to have careers and get equal pay for their work. I don’t think all women are designed to be mothers anymore than all men are designed to be plumbers. But now even women who have no desire to have a career need to work because the economy has adjusted to two paycheck families. There are simply no family caregivers anymore.
Sadly my three friends didn’t see a need to become computer and internet savvy and now it’s probably too late for them to feel brave enough to try. I think this is the easiest way for the women coming along right behind us to prepare for a day when they may be home-bound.
Even the buses created to take the elderly to doctors, grocery stores and Senior Centers are challenging. Some have backs that let down for wheel chairs, but are not really easy for someone on a walker or using a cane. In rural areas the fees can be an obstacle, particularly for taking people to a more urban area for medical care. The timing for people going different places often leaves sick or crippled people waiting literally hours to get home.
Our medical miracles are keeping us alive, but our options and quality of life are diminishing. This is the challenge the fifty year olds of today will soon be facing.