Hiring a housekeeper to help me with physical tasks I can no longer do has completely changed my quality of life. I am no longer drowning in dust. I no longer spend hours on my back fantasizing about things I would change in my environment if only I could; we have hung pictures, fixed air drafts and water leaks, weatherized doors and windows, rearranged storage, and done dozens of other tasks that I would previously have done for myself without a thought. Since the stroke in November 2012, every task—no matter how small—usually involves some sort of work-around.
Hiring Karen, my housekeeper, has enhanced my ability to remain independent. But mostly it has helped me forge a friendship with someone who really, truly cares. I am deeply thankful.
She comes in once a week for three or four hours, and we probably spend a quarter of our time interacting with her 3-year-old daughter, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and catching up on one another’s weeks. Last week she asked if she could work an hour less for me; she has developed quite a reputation out here for providing a wide range of quality care, and one of her elderly clients lost his balance and injured himself, and needed extra help getting ready to visit the doctor.
It used to be that families provided most care for their elders. When I was very young, my great-grandmother lived with my maternal grandparents, so this arrangement seems quite normal to me. Yet as families have become geographically dispersed, it has in fact become a relatively unusual practice.
Elderly parents living with their children declined from about 70% in 1850 to about 12% in 1980. But according to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center—in part, because of the recession—multi-generational households are on the rise. Now, 18% live this way, and the total number of Americans living in such households has doubled, to 56.8 million.
I have heard many stories that the reason some families have stuck together is that multi-generational households have become dependent on the elders’ monthly Social Security checks coming in. According to a 2011 report by Generations United, 63% of respondents to a survey agreed that “Social Security plays a vital role in the financial stability of our multi-generational household.” I have even heard about at least one adult daughter here in Texas who kept the bodies of both her deceased parents buried under the floorboards of her home to ensure continuation of the monthly benefit checks.
One wonders to what degree this also influences families to demand that health care facilities do “everything possible” to keep their elders alive long beyond the point where their lives are rewarding? Modern health care, with its reliance on endless intrusive tests, CAT scans, mind-numbing medication, and imprisonment in heartless facilities, can be literal torture to old people who would just prefer for nature to take its course.
Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post about providing care to spouses, partners, or loved ones, but what happens when you are alone and you are the one requiring care? I have been extremely fortunate: my doctor, my home health care nurse, and my housekeeper could not better meet my present needs. But are most older people so fortunate?
Just because someone has met basic training and licensure requirements does not guarantee they will provide caring services. One would presume that the level of caring is greater among family members, but as the example of the above Texas daughter suggests, this is not always the case. Yet at the very least, if you rely on your children for care in your old age, this is something you have had a lifetime to influence.
Some may say that today’s Groove of the Day is a bit of a downer, but this version is so beautiful I had to share it with you. The original song, of course, is in French and sung by Jacques Brel.
Groove of the Day
Cold and Cloudy in the morning, 55° and Partly Cloudy in the afternoon