Care and Assistance at Home
As the demographics of the country change, family dynamics are changing as are the activities of daily life. Families are reuniting as adult children move back home out of necessity. Increasingly, failing health and financial considerations are the most common factors driving this shift. People are living longer and this creates both opportunities and challenges for families as they adapt to provide care.
My Grandmother was retired for nearly thirty years and the slow, inexorable march of Parkinson's slowly robbed her of her faculties and mobility. Grandma died at home and that's how I'd like to go, if possible. I shudder to think about how life might have been for her were it not for my Mother. Before my Grandmother passed, the house was stocked and equipped with the following assistive and mobility devices:
Handrails in the hallway, bathroom, and shower
Shower chair with wheels
Rollator- a walker with a chair built in
Transfer shower chair with commode
Stationary commode chair
Patient Lift- for getting out of bed
A Slide board
Behind all of this were diapers, smoothies and shakes, and an assortment of medications, supplements and toys to help counter the effects of arthritis in her hands. Go bags were always at the ready, either for a trip to the hospital or an evacuation. Grandma's needs were well addressed in the family's emergency plan and I was constantly identifying ways to ensure her comfort and safety in case of SHTF.
My feelings about nursing homes aren't generally positive; however, they provide a vital service and allow many vulnerable individuals a place to live who can't live on their own or who don't have family to care for them. For some, the other option is homelessness. Assisted living facilities are a different animal and I'll talk about them in an upcoming blog post. About 1.4 million elderly people live in nursing homes where they receive both medical treatment and assistance with the activities of daily living, ADL, such as getting dressed, bathing and eating and so on. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Irma in 2017 revealed that nursing home residents can be even more vulnerable in a disaster. There's a whole universe of reasons as to why this happens. I'm going to oversimplify it and call it poor planning and move on.
Many elderly people don't want or need to be placed in a nursing home and are able to manage at home with assistance. This is where home health aides come into play. Home health care is a booming industry and provides health care services in the home for injury or illness. This in-home care often allows the elderly to remain at home rather than be admitted to a hospital or other skilled nursing facility. As an EMT, my life often intersected with the lives of many of our patients. Some of them were not long for the world while I was merely passing through that space, nevertheless, I benefitted enormously from the experience of meeting them and providing care.
My Grandmother's father was ninety-three when he passed, the same age as my Grandmother. I was a young child when he passed and I can vividly recall him lying in bed, moaning and writhing in pain. He had massive pressure wounds on his hips and buttocks and as a young child, I was terrified at the sight of him. I had no frame of reference for the very natural process of a life coming to an end. Instead, I formed a mental association with elderly people, pain and death. I was well into my forties before I was able to move past that fear. Working as an EMT enhanced my skills as a prepper in ways I've not yet fully realized. Moreover, I have become a far more compassionate human being.
As you build your community, in the absence of family and established caregivers, you will need to know whom among your neighbors needs assistance with ADL. What are they able to do for themselves and what do they need assistance with? What medications are they taking and what are the side-effects? What are the dangers of them going off their meds? What care can you reasonably expect to provide for them in a crisis or a SHTF scenario? It's not uncommon for the elderly to hide injuries from falls or overcompensate to conceal the extent of their confusion. In times past, the elderly were cared for by the community in the absence of family. In some places, this is still the norm. While infirmity is inevitable, isolation and loneliness aren't.
To the extent that you can involve older family members in the discussions about your emergency plans and their care, do so. If they're physically able to assist with the care plan, even better! It helps to ease their fears and allows them to feel not quite so helpless. Strange, new surroundings and unfamiliar people are anxiety-inducing in the best of times. Planning ahead reveals more options which acts as a confidence booster and gives you the clarity to make higher level decisions on the back end.
Providing care for the elderly or another human being for that matter, is stressful, costly and can easily become overwhelming. However, what we get from the relationship and the experience are immeasurable. Some of the preps put in place for Grandma were never needed. Others, faded into the background of her daily life and were invaluable. Our family and friends are gifts to us. What matters most is how we love and cherish them because all too soon, we will surely lose them.