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June 27, 1986 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-06-27

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Does life in a nursing
home have to be bleak
and very expensive?

is a fact most of us are going to have to
face more squarely, Wolfe asserts,
endorsing the view of author James
Michener, that "The problem of caring
for the aged looms as the principal so-
cial problem of the balance of the cen-
tury, greater than ecological asphyxi-
ation, greater than over-population,
greater than the energy crisis."
The statistics underline this as-
sertion. During the past 20 years, the
over-65 population has grown twice as
fast as the rest of the population. In
1900, 4.1 percent of Americans were
over 65. In 1984, the percentage had
increased to 11.9. By 2030, according
to the predictions of the Census
Bureau, 21 percent — 65 million per-
sons — will be over 65, and seven per-
cent of these will be over 85.
Nationally, the Jewish commu-
nity has an even greater percentage of
aged, relative to its total population —
13.7 percent, in contrast to the na-
tional average of 11 percent. In met-
ropolitan Detroit there are an esti-
mated 10,000 to 12,000 Jews over the

age of 65. According to a University of
Michigan study commissioned by the
Jewish Welfare Federation, by the
year 2,000 the number of Jewish el-
derly over the age of 60 will be 25 per-
cent larger than today, and that one in
two of those will be 75 or older. This is
a significant statistic, since increased
life expectancy brings with it the
greater likelihood of chronic and de-
bilitating illness which make the diffi-
culties of aging more acute.
Awareness of these statistics has
led to a proliferation of gerontological
studies, increased governmental
interest (prompted perhaps by the
realization that the senior population
will soon have a powerful and articu-
late voting voice), and greater
availability of agency information and
services. But the brunt of the burden of
care still rests on the shoulders of the
family, who must do the best they can,
say the experts by being aware of the
problems, by showing sensitivity to
the needs of the elderly, by availing
themselves of the community help

available and by being as financially
prepared as possible."
Tliere are, however, some prob-
lems which money cannot solve. Cop-
ing with the aged, like aging itself,
says Miriam Sandweiss, is a great
leveller. It affects all groups of society,
poor and rich."
"What, for example, do you do if
they won't let you help them; if they
refuse to see the social worker, or the
visiting nurse, even when aid is avail-
able and affordable?"
"How do you deal with the pain of
daily visits to someone who no longer
recognizes you? How do you deal with
the guilt at not being able to care for
them in the way you know they need —
not because you don't want to, but be-
cause they won't let you?"
Guilt is the most pervasive and
ubiquitous emotional problem faced
by care-givers, particularly those of
the "sandwich generation," say Helen
Resnick and David Hoptman, coun-
selors at the Jewish Family Service. It

can assume, according to one re-
searcher, Descartian proportions — "I
exist, therefore I feel guilty." It can
arise from the feeling of failure at
being unable to provide financially for
needy parents, from feeling unequal to
the task of giving enough emotional
support, from memories of past con-
flicts or neglect, sometimes from the
wish that the parent would die.
Sometimes, says Resnick, the
guilt is mixed with resentment — a
sibling who feels he is shouldering an
unfair portion of responsibility, a
daughter-in-law whose husband
seems uninterested in his parent's
care, or a child who has accepted re-
sponsibility for a parent he has never
really liked.
"I never got on well with my
mother," says one woman whose
mother is in a local nursing home,
and I know she needs to be where she
is. I know all that, but I still feel
guilty."
Joining support groups run by

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45

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