Monday, August 07, 2006

Losing the mind and the familiar

I read an article in today's Boston Globe that suggests that by keeping the elderly that suffer from dementia in their homes and out of nursing homes for as long as possible, people just plain live longer. According to Alice Dembner, in "Right move, right time:"
". . .Several studies have found that institutionalized dementia patients are twice or three times as likely to die following placement as those who stay home."

Is this shocking news? I have always hated nursing homes. Patients are lined up in the corridors during the day, drugged out and droopy. I feel now like they are crying from the inside to be liberated, but are too weak to do so. I hated going to the homes in girl scouts, and then with the French club, where we badly sang French carols. Some joke nursing homes are where old people go to die, but obviously it's no joke. Look at Grandpa Simpson. I watched a rerun of The Simpson's recently. It was "Million Dollar Abe," where Grandpa tries to redeem himself after he loses Springfield's bid to get a professional football team in town. He decides to die by euthanasia rather than disappoint his family and town again. He initially comments, "'Euthanasia?!? No way! I wanna die with dignity! Like slipping in the shower, and then they find me two weeks later swollen up so bad they don't know if I'm man or sofa.'" He waits for a sign to not go through with it, which doesn't come. As the doctor hooks him up to the machine to die he is offered music and imagery to see him through. "'I wanna hear the Glenn Miller Orchestra and I wanna see cops beating up hippies!" The police interrupt his death and he goes on to redemption, in a Grandpa sort of way.

People never really die on the cartoons (except the wife of Ned Flanders) anyway, but I was really taken aback by the episode. I hate to think of my parents dying. My grandmother is 90 now, and I see her becoming slower, and slower. She reminds me of a turtle at times. What really has surprised me is her compassion as she grows older. She is no longer as cynical and bitter as I remember her. It's bittersweet to me. I wish I had known her when she was happier. I'm embarrassed to admit that I cried my eyes out while watching The Notebook. I don't like formulaic authors but I was touched by the film. Granted, standing by your partner as they begin to lose track of who they are, and who you are would be heartbreaking. Iris was a much better film, which showed a similar experience. I would be a caregiver if I had to, but I hope I never see my parents or L become this way. I can only hope that deep in the mind there is a place that is right, and the struggle we see on the outside is not a pain that is felt within.

1 comment:

CBK said...

My recently deceased grandfather went through severe memory loss over the last few years. I can't imagine what it was like for my grandmother to deal with it, but seeing her at the funeral, it didn't lessen her loss when he passed. Watching her say her goodbyes at his open casket was one of the saddest things I have ever seen.

I saw that Simpsons episode. It was a strange one.