A recent article on “life before death” dementia and late-life illness struck a cord with me and my family. While I’ve always been fearful of death, the reality is that death isn’t just a one-time end. Even if you’re “lucky” to reach 100, for everyone, that means many years of degraded mental and physical health. It must be terrible to go through, but it’s equally as terrible for everyone else around you trying to help you progress slowly towards death.
My Grandmother, 83, has a gambling problem. In the last 10, mostly 5 years, she has gambled away her entire life savings of more than $300,000. Everyone knew she had a problem, but no one legally could intervene to help. Now, she’s broke, and at age 83, approaching the age of severe medical problems, even after leading a relatively healthy life (more thanks to good genetics than being healthy.) My mother and her sister’s had already been in uncomfortable discussions around what to do with her — as her social security did not provide enough money to pay for her two bedroom apartment in her Las Vegas retirement community, but she refused to move into a smaller space.
A few days ago, my grandmother fell down. She broke a bone in her neck, which was operable. On the scene of the fall, the paramedic asked her how old she was — she said 64. The doctor’s brought her to a rehab facility after she stopped being combative and arguing with them, and after one day there she told my mother via phone she had been there for weeks. The doctor diagnosed her with mild dementia. Now the question is not how she can afford the 2 bedroom apartment and a $2000 tax bill, but how to afford many years ahead of assisted living.
Meanwhile, her daughters — my mother, and her two sisters — are not in strong enough financial places to step in and help. My parents are concerned about their retirement savings as the stock market has not recovered, and they continue to spend like it is magically going to. I tell my mom over and over to not make the same mistakes her mother did, but she cannot see spending money on clothes and cleaning help as the same as her mother’s gambling away all her savings. In the end, the money will be gone, I tell her, so it’s the same. She ignores me.
For now, they need to figure out what to do with their mother as she gets increasingly senile. She’s always been a bit crazy, so adding real dementia to that crazy could get very bad, very fast. My mother is considering trying to get her to move out to New Jersey to be closer and find a lower cost place to stay, but all is up in the air right now. I don’t think my mother can really handle her mother at the moment, as my dad is in the later stages of terminal cancer and his cancer will likely get worse in the next few years or even months.
Overall, this is a very depressing situation, but so goes life.