It’s a question clients are embarrassed to ask, but the worry is so common. Recently, after leading a productive meeting with the caregiving support team for a client with advanced dementia, I was glad a family member was brave enough to ask me what she was really thinking.
“I don’t mean to sound morbid, but how long do you think my mom will live? I only ask because I’m concerned about her money running out. She’s already lived for years with 24 hour home care and she’s pretty physically healthy…”
I smiled with a compassionate, “I wish I could give you the answer you’re looking for” smile.
I told her that family members ask this question often. There’s no need to feel embarrassed. This question is common nowadays because older adults can outlive their savings and that worry makes the older adult and family try to evaluate a timeline.
Since we don’t know when death will happen, it’s a good idea to conserve assets and also prepare to consider making some difficult decisions.
I illustrated my statement about getting ready to make some difficult decisions with proposing she might want to consider this: How aggressively do we want to treat Mom’s next health set back?
If Mom were septic again, with a urinary tract infection or pneumonia for example, would the family choose to treat it with antibiotics? Or would the family choose to NOT to treat it at all?
When someone has so little quality of life, is it okay to consider not doing everything we can medically, to keep a loved one alive? This does not mean you don’t love your parent or you don’t care about their welfare. It means you’re being a critical thinker.
There will be many ethical debates as the longevity crisis visits many of our families. The problem is only exacerbated when we lack the resources to care for them.
Guilt and resentment creep in because, although unspoken, the thing we don’t say is: I’m wondering how long mom will live because I’m exhausted and not much sure how much longer I can manage her care.
Caregiving is never easy. Here’s my best advice to anyone in this situation:
- Fill out an advance health care directive: it’s important to know your parent’s wishes about their expectations for continued care.
- Really listen to your parent’s wishes and release guilt: often times parent’s don’t want or expect the level of care you’re seeking.
- Make peace with the fact that it’s okay to do less interventions: just because medical science offers it, doesn’t mean it’s the best or a necessary option.
- Get the knowledge you need to be informed and empowered when decisions need to be made: Don’t be shy to have conversations with healthcare professionals and/or elder care consultants when you need to.
- Get the support you need: Try to keep self-care a priority and don’t be afraid to ask for help!