THE SANDWICH GENERATION
Question: "My mother, 92, is in a nursing home, bedridden and partially paralyzed. They have her on a feeding tube, which she does not want. She just wants to die. My sister (older) refuses to have the tube removed. What can I do?"
Answer: As long as your mother is mentally competent, she has the right to decide if she wants or doesn’t want artificial means to keep her alive. She has the right to decide how and when she will die. In many states, state law protects the sick and elderly. Contact a lawyer to learn about the law in your state. In some states (eg, NJ) the law calls for stiff fines if a health care provider ignores the wishes of the patient. Both the SNF staff and your sister are wrong to force the food tube if your mother doesn’t want it. Your sister should respect your mother’s wish. And more important, if your mother can communicate her wishes, then what the staff is doing is completely illegal. And your sister has no right to make a decision if your mother can do so.
In several religions, the person who keeps another person alive artificially (in this case, your sister) is committing a sin against God. If you can’t convince your sister or the nursing home, you can go to court to become your mother’s guardian. Hopefully the judge will appoint you and not your sister. Then you can make the appropriate decision. Or you can take your mother to your home, bring in hospice and let her go the way she wants to.
ALERT: Everyone, regardless of age, should sign a Living Will document, which appoints a trusted health care representative and details what medical treatment you want or don’t want to keep you alive.
Question: "My father, 78, was a well-known lawyer. Now he is very confused and believes he is still living in the past. He gets very angry and starts screaming when we try to bring him into the present."
Answer: The worst thing a child can do is to tell a parent he or she is wrong and that reality is something other than what the parent believes. Trying to bring a demented person back to reality is a fruitless task and will only end up with an emotional explosion. As the leader now in the relationship, you must accept the elder’s mental condition. The following are some tips to help you deal with this troubling situation:
1. Good things that made life happier in the past still have high value today.
2. Actively bring the past valued things into today’s scenario: Music, picture books, photos, pets, etc.
3. Life-affirming activities (dolls, puzzles, coloring books) make the confused still feel valued as a person.
4. Surprise the person with his or her favorite food and make a ‘production’ of his or her eating it.
Remember that boredom, at any age, results in brain shutdown and the snowball effect is downhill both mentally and physically. People need a reason to live -- even if it is wearing that special bright blouse or dress. And dog or cat food is cheaper and less lethal than anti-depressants.