“Please be advised that as your parents get older there are no resources to help you to care for them. If you have no money at all, the government will try to help but the process is cumbersome and the wait can be long. If you have a lot of money, the care is there but the quality and availability is not guaranteed. Finally, if you fall somewhere in the middle, you are on your own, so plan accordingly.” This is the public service announcement I think should be broadcast nationwide because people need to know the truth. One of the most disturbing things I learned caring for my mother during her battle with lung cancer  was how little support exists to help families. I didn’t realize this fact until I was in it, and I was reminded of the potentially deadly consequences again last week.
The dearth of eldercare led to tragic results last week in Peekskill, NY when a middle-aged bus driver was arrested for the death of his elderly father. According to the article in The New York Times , Theodore Pressman worked as a bus driver while struggling to care for his elderly parents both of whom suffered from dementia. His eldercare strategy involved dropping his parents off at either a coffee shop near their house or a deli near his job and picking them up a few hours later. The police were called a couple of times and warned the son to stop dropping his parents off, but social services were never called. Sadly, one day the son ended up leaving his parents locked in the car. While the mother was able to get out, the father died from the heat. Mr. Pressman is being charged.
Obviously dropping your parents with dementia at the deli isn’t a good way to provide care. However, given my personal experience, I could imagine how lost and desperate he might have been. Maybe he really was doing the best he could due to the lack of care that was affordable and readily available to him. According to the article, all indications were that he loved and doted on his parents, but he also had to get to work. While I don’t condone his approach, I’m compassionate enough to see how it could happen if you didn’t have the financial resources or the support of other caregivers.
This sad story brings me back to a question I find myself asking often: what are we going to do as the population ages? How many more caregivers like Theodore Pressman will fall through the crater-sized cracks in the eldercare system with heartbreaking results for those in their care?
Over the years when I’ve brought up the challenges facing parents trying to find child care, more than a few people have commented, “Well, if you can’t care for your kids don’t have them.” Okay, let’s assume for a minute that argument has merit (which I don’t think it does) and explains why child care should be the problem of individual parents rather than the broader community. How does that argument hold for eldercare? “Well, if you can’t care for your parents don’t have them?” We don’t have any choice in having parents. We all have them. And increasingly the responsibility to care for an ever-increasing number of aging adults is going to fall to all of us. Where are we going to turn for support and help so that we don’t find ourselves making the same misguided, perhaps desperate choices as Theodore Pressman?
Are we as a country and as individuals prepared for the reality of eldercare? Do we truly understand how little support is out there, and are we planning accordingly? What do you think?