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Discrimination in the Care for the Elderly
Life is not long. Young people tend to look at the future and assume many long years of active life ahead. However, it might come as a shock to someone turning 40 to realize that half of his adult life is over and the next 30 years are years of vulnerability as a senior.
Everyone, young and old, should take a hard look at their years of vulnerability and prepare for it wisely, with intelligence, NOW. A large amount of emphasis has been expended on financial wellbeing at retirement and many have heeded the advice to plan well. It is in the field of healthcare that many have not assumed responsibility leaving the design and provisions for future healthcare to the medical community, the health insurance industry, and politicians.
My Unfortunate Experience
A beloved elderly relative lost a husband, lost her home, and moved into assisted living. She settled in her new home and got familiar with issues like medical insurance, health care, and loss of a car. She was lonely and was given anti depressants. The next thing her primary care doctor told us was to consider Hospice Care. We were shocked at the advice since barely a month ago before this conversation with the doctor, our relative could still drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
At the assisted living home several months later, she contacted a stomach virus which made her stop eating. She was given another anti depressant to stimulate appetite. She ended up eventually being sent to the hospital and then to a skilled nursing facility. I prefer not to list the horrors we faced at the facility which resulted in her almost dehydrating to death.
We decided to raise the level that we have intervened so far because no one, absolutely no one among the medical community we were in constant consultation, was interested in making her better.
We urged, no, we forced the doctors to give her a feeding tube, actually a gastric tube through a hole in the stomach.
We asked the doctors to remove the anti-depressants and appetite stimulants because she was already being fed artificially. Why did we have to make this request? Can't they see?
With the gastric tube feeding, she gained weight. After a few days of not taking the pills, she was back to her normal self. It was quite surprising to realize that the anti depressant and appetite stimulants were causing her depression and paranoia.
She became conversant. We brought her to a restaurant with extended family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The doctors and we became optimistic. We decided that she should be allowed to eat on her own so gastric tube feeding can stop. The transition to normal eating took months and it was a success. Successful to the point that we moved her to a Board and Care Home.
After a few months in the Board and Care Home, she contacted a urinary tract infection and stopped eating. The Board and Care Home personnel brought her to the hospital.
At the hospital the supposedly well educated doctors suddenly did not know how she can be fed and how she can be given her medications because she was not cooperating. Immediately at the hospital, the attending doctor asked us to consider Hospice Care and did not give a thought to how she will be fed if she was not eating. Essentially, they wanted us to consider Hospice Care so she can starve to death.
I wondered how doctors treat babies and toddlers in hospitals? Do these babies and toddlers willingly give their arms to accommodate an IV? Do they eat willingly the food the hospital gave them? Why was treating uncooperative seniors so difficult for these well educated physicians? Why do medical protocols dealing with seniors all lead to hopeless, end of life decisions? Why do these doctors consider ending a life rather than prolonging life when it comes to the elderly?
We were called everyday by the hospital and by hospice care personnel. We finally met both hospice care person and medical doctor. Again, we had to force the doctor to consider gastric tube feeding. He had to be forced because all he wanted to do was for us to accept Hospice Care and let her starve to death.
The Medical Community is Not On Your Side
The medical community, the health insurance industry, and politicians in spite of all the rhetoric have discriminated against the interest of seniors.
The medical community has set aside the Hippocratic Oath for seniors. I have seen this in almost all the interaction with the medical personnel in my relative's treatment. Being encouraged to consider hospice care, I heard statements that seniors do not or cannot appreciate life as younger, healthier people can. Seniors do not have a good quality of life because they are usually alone, senile, lying in their beds, staring, talking to themselves, and paranoid. What were they asking us to do?
Psychiatric Help for Seniors
I have not seen much effort given to treating the mental problems, emotional problems and depression among the elderly. The only concession to treating the loneliness that plagued our elderly relative was an anti-depressant which did not work, and the doctor did not even realize that the medicine have caused a more serious paranoia in the patient.
Advanced Directives and Living Wills
On entering the hospital,it behooves everyone of us to make sure and confirm our legal rights to Full Code which means that the hospital will do everything it can to save our life. We must have a signed advanced directive or living will although, even with these, physicians can unilaterally decide to withhold lifesaving measures under the guise of compassion and expediency. Be aware that a Do Not Resussitate/Do Not Intubate codes can mysteriously appear in a hospital chart without consent.
There are lots of literature on how Hospice provides care and comfort to those who are deemed to have only 6 months or less to live. Dementia in seniors is considered an end of life disease but who can say that a senior's dementia has condemned him to a life of 6 months or less. The hospice care person we interviewed told us of near-death symptoms that they are aware of and have the expertise to address. Among these near-death symptoms were some that our relative experienced several months ago. The doctors and nurses did not address the symptoms and our relative recovered. If our dear relative had been in hospice then, that would have been recognized as a symptom of dying and these supposed experts would make decisions accordingly.
The Right To Age
Is the life of an elderly person any different from a baby's, healthy or not? Babies depend on others because their bodies, their brains, their emotions have not developed for them to be independent. A baby, healthy or not, deserves time and money for them to live and grow.
The elderly eventually becomes dependent on others to live. To another person's eyes and feelings the elderly, whose life with all the aches and pains brought on by the years and whose mind wracked with dementia or alzheimer's, may seem to be not worthy enough to waste precious time and money. I believe that the elderly has the right to live, with senility, with arthritis, and with alzheimer's . It is a life albeit older!
Seniors and Young Adults Must Be Vigilant
So much impatience with the elderly threatens their right to life.
Young adults must be aware of how the government, insurance companies, and politicians design health care. Get interested and involved. What you learn now can help you care for your parents. What you learn, and if you do get actively involved in designing health care, will benefit you in a few short years.