XLIX. The Age of Senility

January 28, 2011.

Scene: Me on hands and knees tugging my soapbox out of the back of our deep closet under the staircase. I stand and turn.

Me: Oh, it’s you!

Oscar Wilde: I cannot deny it.

Me: Oscar. I am so glad to see you!

Oscar Wilde: Your soapbox could use some polishing.

Me: Yes. It’s gotten rickety from overuse. But I have read and friends have told me about distressing circumstances occurring among the aging that I feel require an audience. I must compose some words on this subject. Will you be my muse?

Oscar Wilde: OK.

Oscar Wilde: You are putting words into my mouth: “Most certainly. Why, I’d be delighted!” would be more appropriate to my manner of speech than “OK.”

Me: OK.

Oscar Wilde: How is beautiful Emma? I do hope her frantic behavior has calmed.

Me: Yes, it has. Thank you for asking. Her doctor gave a new order for a different drug – Haldol: I call it the Hallelujah drug – and that immediately subdued her symptoms. Well, it zonked her. She is more relaxed now, limp, really. She eats well, but in between she sleeps comfortably.

Me (standing on my refurbished soapbox): Now, here is a link to Delia Ephron’s January 27 New York Times story about what the banks are doing to all of us, not merely the aging. I think they try to make us think we are senile. Who cannot relate to what she says in her Op-Ed column: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/28/opinion/banks-taketh-but-dont-giveth.html?_r=1&hp ?

Delia Ephron, you know, wrote Hanging Up, about how only one of three sisters is willing to care for their aging father; the other two are too busy.

The aging want to be independent, understandably, so they live alone. Many are becoming senile, or demented, and as early as in their 60s. No one may notice the emerging signs of dementia; I certainly did not; though I do now, having experienced with Emma the ensuing events effected by those early symptoms.

While some children of the aging may see these developing signs, they do not live nearby, so while they may vaguely think that their aging parent needs help or needs to enter a nursing home, these thoughts languish unattended.

A friend told me a story the other day of a local woman who went without heat over a weekend of below freezing temperatures and high winds; moreover, she had no food in her house. Heating oil delivery personnel were alerted that she needed oil but would not deliver it on a weekend. The woman should have been aware that she could phone someone – even the police, to get help. But she just piled on the blankets. I’m surprised the pipes in her home didn’t freeze and she wasn’t found frozen to death. Our house was cold and drafty that weekend even with the thermostat set at 69 degrees Fahrenheit.

Others I have heard about with dementia live alone and employ healthcare agencies. But, what happens when the healthcare personnel don’t show up? I have undergone this predicament many times with Emma – no one calls, no one shows up: I call them – from my soapbox; that’s partly how it got so rickety. They don’t like hearing from me from that stance. Emma has me to look out for her in this manner, fortunately, for I have spent countless hours chasing after these people, whom once pinned down, flail their unwieldy tongues in singsong descending pitch spinning their behavior to blame me, with the preface, “Well, now, Samantha, you know and I know and we both know, as well, as I’ve told you before, that …” – fill in anything here: “It’s your responsibility to call us every day to see if we have someone available,” whatever.

Alarmingly, as the extensive baby boomer generation comes of senile age, who will care for them? Their children’s and grandchildren’s generations (the all-about-me generations) are smaller; your family won’t and your friends will all be dead. Susan Jacoby writes about these and related impending plights in her 2011 book Never Say Die: The Myths and Marketing of the New Old Age.

More imminent, what can be done to identify the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s and to prevent these debilitating conditions? On the Charlie Rose Brain Series 2, Dr. Eric Kandel (a Nobel laureate, Professor at Columbia University and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator) said that 30 to 40 percent of people over age 80 will have some form of Alzheimer’s disease, and into the 90s, more. As the population ages, this is becoming an epidemic. Imagine (while you still possess that mental capacity). We’re living longer; most of us won’t die at 46, like Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde: Yes, but you do see that I have returned. Of course, one of the signs of dementia is seeing people who apparently are not physically present.

Me: All the more important that we channel our mental faculties now to recognize our urgent need for increased Alzheimer’s research funding.

 –Samantha Mozart

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