THE SANDWICH GENERATION
Question: "My mother, 73, has had recurrent bouts of skin cancer. The surgeries are very slow to heal, and the treatments are exhausting. During the treatments she had limited strength to do the things she’s always enjoyed. Now she refuses to go to the doctor even for checkups. How can we convince her to go to the doctor?"
Answer: As long as she feels okay, she doesn’t have to go to a doctor. I think too many elders go to doctors just so they have something to do. If skin cancer reoccurs, she can decide not to have it treated. She is still very young, but....
Everyone has the legal and ethical right to accept medical treatment – or to refuse treatment. This is and should be your mother’s decision. While it’s hard to visualize a life without a parent, you need to accept her decision. Help her do the activities she’s always enjoyed, spend more time with her, and boost her emotionally as she struggles with her own feelings.
A dear friend of mine had a very strange bone cancer and after various treatments decided she, at age 70, had had enough. This was her decision, and her son, a doctor himself, accepted it and made her last days as comfortable as possible.
Question: "My father, 79, lives in an assisted living residence because he has emotional/mental problems (not dementia). My mother died six months ago, and my father says he has nothing to live for. He has stopped eating. The residence doctor recommends a feeding tube. We’re torn."
Answer: While the first situation is clear cut, this seems to present ethical as well as emotional issues.
The key question is: Is forcing him to have a feeding tube a violation of his right to determine his own life’s outcome? While this is very difficult to answer, we are guaranteed to be able to “pursue happiness.” So, in my opinion, forcing a feeding tube would be violation of his Constitutional rights.
If medication fails to level off his mental condition and he still wants to die, you should respect his wishes, even though he is still quite young.
Bring him home and bring in hospice. Hospice helps people deal with their own decisions and will help you deal better with your own emotions.
Question: "My mother, 90, is very frail physically, but is mentally sharp. I’m having a hard time seeing her struggle with every day life and chores. I feel guilty I can’t help her more or make her better."