Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Elder Dilemma

Waiting. . .  the Florida Coast (Photo by DG Hudson)

North American natives call them Elders, a form of respect towards those most of us call grandparents or seniors. We have an aging population which forms a large demographic segment. That fact isn’t going away. How we deal with them tells a lot about our capacity for caring and about the fears we have for their safety. It’s an issue most of us will have to deal with, if we have parents who are unable to care for themselves any longer.

Elder care is an uncharted area for most of us, but we need to know what to do when we see the first signs of dementia, or Alzheimer’s. Seniors can be coping with an unreliable memory in addition to the loss of adequate sight or hearing. The symptoms can appear gradually and go unnoticed. The elderly will attribute their lack of balance, forgetfulness, or confusion to other causes rather than admit they have lost the ability to be independent.

We need to ensure they are treated with dignity and not shunted aside. If home care is not an option, then you will need to research care homes (as in full care), and have the senior assessed as to whether they have dementia or other age related illnesses.

Decisions will have to be made regarding power of attorney (if the parent is the only survivor and is at the onset of dementia), and applications made for registering a senior in a suitable facility. Depending on the senior’s budget, various levels of care are available. Application for subsidy assistance for low income seniors is made to the local health authority in most instances.

Warning Signs

  • Confusion
  • Losing Money or Valuables (this can include dentures or hearing aids)
  • Getting lost & driven home by police
  • Taking longer than usual on public transit, or getting injured (falling getting on or off public transit)
  • Inability to state their own address or telephone number, or other basic information

Even when asked, a senior won’t admit to any loss of the five senses or their own physical abilities, since that would mean losing some of their own independence. We, as caretakers or relatives, have to be aware of the warning signs early on to prevent the senior having an accident. Find out what you need to do so you’ll be prepared. We can help them keep their dignity.

Key Points

Recognize when home care isn’t enough. Be realistic about the senior’s needs as well as your own capabilities. Seniors must be assessed for competence in caring for themselves, and for the early warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. This is done by the family physician and the local Health Authority.

Research your options. Information regarding programs for seniors is found under Senior Care or Social Services departments. Discuss legal implications such as power of attorney with the parent.  This needs to be done before the memory loss escalates. To change power of attorney requires a notary public and the parent needs to be able to understand what he/she is doing (signing over legal responsibility to another person).

This post is written from personal experience. It can be very stressful when you don’t know what to do or who to call. A good place to start is to talk to the senior’s family physician about any concerns. 

Ask questions, it’s the only way to start getting answers. 

Any questions or comments regarding this post are welcome.

Calm and Balance - Florida seacoast  (photo by DG Hudson)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Street Cat Tale

Name’s Slick, that's me on your left. My pack chose me for my shiny black and white fur coat and the dashing white lightning streak across my nose. As I look back after fifteen years, I realize I've been one lucky cat.

Life for me started on the street as a homeless stray that no one cared about, orphaned by a speeding car. They never saw my loving, tender mother slowly making her way across the street. Mom, wake up, Mom, I called. I meowed and meowed, but she didn’t move. I was frightened. I was the last of the litter to leave, having been the last born. What was I going to do? Mom hadn’t shown me how to hunt yet, I was only ten weeks old. I knew nothing about surviving.

Feeling alone and cold, I crawled into the plastic bags that blew about the market area. They kept me warm and hid me from those who frightened me. Humans who lived in the area felt sorry for me and gave me handouts, but I soon learned to hunt small things that weren’t as fast as me. Amazing what instincts come out when you’re hungry.

I could smell the aroma of fish in the boats that docked nearby. It made my stomach growl. Some of the fishermen would give me leftover bits of their haul.  The tough cats and dogs, who scrambled for their bit of food, terrified me. When the big metal cars that humans called trains rattled by, I made sure I was far away. They were noisy, heavy-sounding and the shrieking of the wheels made my ears hurt.

Humans don’t like stray animals hanging around. I found that out when a hunter in a big truck caught me with one of his nets. I had done nothing but try to live on the street. I didn’t understand what was happening. Was this the end? I was taken to a place with many cages inside, and other animals like me, all squalling and making noises. Some of the very tiny ones were very quiet. I was frightened. Maybe being lonely hadn’t been so bad.

After they settled me in one of the cages, I was fed and given water. For the time being it appeared I had only lost my freedom, but was worse to come? Humans came in at different times and looked us over. Some animals were taken away, never to be seen again.

For a few days I lived in that cage, before a human pack of four came to look at all the cats. They were looking at the cage beside me, when I took a chance. I reached out with my paw as far as I could to get their attention. They saw me. The shelter humans asked if they wanted to hold me. Yes! Yes! As they rubbed my fur, I rubbed my nose on each of them so everyone knew they were marked as MINE. That was the turning point in my life. Those humans adopted me into their pack and took me home. My first and only home, it was a marvel for a street-born cat. I had a room to myself, the place where I was put at night. It was warm, with many soft places for a cat to sleep. It took me some time to figure out what a ‘catbox’ was - how’s a street cat to know? Oh, I’m supposed to use that, not just any corner. Soon afterwards, I became an ‘indoor’ cat after a certain (ahem...cough,cough...ack, a hairball) operation.

I became best buddies with the alpha male in my new pack, since he let me do the things a normal outdoor cat gets to do. Like climb trees, chase squirrels and pretend I was lord of my backyard domain, but only when he was outside. The softer feeling females cuddled and petted me. I thought of them as my sisters, so we played and had mock fights. Sometimes I slipped up and scratched one of my pack sisters. Thank goodness they didn’t declaw me – what’s a cat to do without claws, I ask you? There was one female human who seemed to be the mother for all the pack. That was feeding lady, the alpha female. She let me know when I was in trouble, just because her voice became very hard and loud. When that happened, I would lie quietly and try to win her favour back. I used the old passive cat routine. That ruse worked most of the time.

Later in my life, I put on a few pounds from all the good food. My favourite was salmon. I could smell it cooking from anywhere in the house. About that time, I started to feel like an old cat, achy and always hungry. After several visits to the doctor where I got stuck with those sharp things called needles, I learned I had diabetes, whatever that is. I had to be stuck once or twice a day. The alpha male had to give me that sticking, feeding lady just couldn’t. It didn’t hurt, as the needle was very small. I lost all my fat, and my appetite became more normal.

I didn't like going to that place called the vet’s. It was never fun. Howling and noises like you can't imagine came out of the back. The human who checked me out was kind and gentle. If feeding lady held me, I stayed calm, but I sure yowled while we waited, to let them know I didn’t like the place.

Now, I'm back to my usual routine.  I eat, I relax, I go on the deck, I relax, I come back in to see what's new, I curl up in my favorite chair, I nap, I eat, and relax a bit more until it's bedtime.

A cat couldn’t ask for a better life. 

A safe place to live, good food and many happy years as part of a loving pack. Cat heaven can’t be much better than this. Slick signing off.