December 28th, 2010 at 3:11 am
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Caregivers May Wonder about Quality of Life for Elders

by Carol Bursack

As a person who was the primary caregiver for multiple elders, many of whom lived for years with debilitating medical problems, I join the ranks of those who have wondered about the price we pay for being “saved” from diseases, only to live for years in a much diminished state. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I loved my elders, and wouldn’t willingly have given up a moment that I spent with them.

I think it’s wonderful that people can be rushed to an emergency room and have procedures done to save their lives after a stroke or other medical emergency. Antibiotics that can knock out infections have saved millions of elderly people from premature deaths. Certainly, medical advances have helped millions more with diabetes live longer and healthier. The list goes on.

However, the idea that as a population we are living to be older and in a healthier state was questioned in a story by Sari Roan, of the Los Angeles Times, in Life expectancy has grown, but we’re spending more time sick. Her story intrigued me because I’ve experienced this with so many loved ones.

Of necessity, doctors will keep doing their best to save people from death. That’s what they are trained to do, and that is what, in most cases, we want them to do. However, there are times when some of us must wonder, “When is the cure worse than the disease?”

The problem, of course, is that there is so much we don’t know about medical outcomes. Generally, we can’t see far enough into the future to be precise about outcomes, so we often go full blast into keeping people alive as long as possible. Once the person’s life is stable, we then figure out what to do for them.

In Roan’s article, she quotes a paper from the Journal of Gerontology, which suggests, “that the goal of a long life marked by mostly healthy years may not be possible for most of humanity.”

Roans article also states, “…according to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago.”

Again, there is not one of my loved ones who has faced an emergency where I wouldn’t have said, “Please do everything you can to save him/her,” until the time came where that person was obviously dying no matter what we did. When that time came, I wanted the person to have comfort throughout the death process, and hospice care helped us all through.

I have my own health preferences written down in a legal health directive and have discussed with my family what my wishes would be under any conditions I can envision. I am grateful my elders did the same for me. I believe a continuing dialogue with loved ones, while they are healthy, is necessary to help our families make the right decisions.

Yet, even with my elders’ wishes in writing, I have wondered, at times, if we made the right decisions when we were given choices. Did we make our elders suffer unnecessarily? While I don’t let those thoughts haunt me, they do enter in when I read articles like Roans.

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