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Caring for the Elderly

Let's Talk About It

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What to do with mom or dad when they cant take care of themselves any longer? It’s a tough question. Let’s talk about it, next on Breakpoint.

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Chuck  Colson

I was traveling in Texas recently when I bumped into an old friend -- a man whose opinion on financial matters I really value. We got into a fascinating conversation; let me share it with you.

My friend said, “I’m in a very good position financially. But both my parents, and my wife’s parents, are on Social Security. One night I sat down and thought about the cost to the taxpayers of the members of my own family. And then I realized that my wife and I could easily pay for those benefits ourselves. But somehow it had never occurred to us that we ought to.”

His comments really struck me. I remembered that when I was ten years old, my grandparents moved in with us. During the Depression, there were no government programs or nursing homes for the elderly. When relatives got sick, their families took care of them. But it wasn’t easy. My grandmother had terminal cancer. My mother exhausted herself caring for her day and night and never complained, even though she had so many other responsibilities, including me. But my point is that it never occurred to my parents that they were making any special sacrifice. This is just what you did for your family.

How different things are today. Now, when an elderly person becomes ill, it’s typical for relatives to strip him of all his assets, and then put him on Medicaid. Is this the right thing to do?

Is it honest to take away everything from a sick loved one, and then claim he or she has no assets? And how do our parents feel when we choose to put them in a home instead of bringing them into our home?

A bigger question is, what is our country’s philosophy now, given our current debt crisis? Do we go back to caring for our own, or do we palm everybody off on Uncle Sam?

Well, the Biblical model is quite clear: You care for your own family if you possibly can. Centuries of church history back up this view.

I know what many of you are thinking: If I take care of mom, I’d have to quit my job. And if we pay for all of her care -- prescriptions, doctor bills -- we’d lose everything we put away for our children’s education.

These are legitimate concerns. But we ought to be talking about it in the church. So far, all we’ve seen is religious believers attacking lawmakers for cutting programs for the poor and sick, bankruptcy or no bankruptcy. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to these folks to ask what the Bible says about this.

Families are responsible for sick and elderly relatives, certainly if they can well afford to help. (The Bible has a lot to say about the evil of debt, too, I might add.)

I have to admit: My own mother died in an accident before I had to make any difficult decision about her care. Although, as many of you know, I do have an autistic grandson, and I’m not about to let the state take over our job.

But most Christians will have to face this choice. Do we know what the Bible teaches? Are we prepared to follow God’s commands?

Let’s start talking about it. Go to BreakPoint.org and click on “Speak Out with Chuck.” Share your thoughts . . . and let’s be open and honest with one other, all the while recognizing that caring for the elderly and the infirm is a difficult and even traumatic issue for so many.

Further Reading and Information

Speak Out with Chuck: Caring for the Elderly
BreakPoint.org | May 24, 2011


Comments:

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Family
Hi Mr. Colson,

I completely agree with you about taking care of relatives. I work in a nursing home and it is so sad to me that few family members even visit. I feel like there was something missing from your article though. What about those without family? The Bible calls for us to take care of widows and orphans. It seems to me, though, that the world puts a time limit on how long we ought to care for them. Where is there a time limit in the Bible?
our society
our society puts money first. we are obsessed. justice and decency will not happen until JESUS comes and sets up a cash free society. then these problems and all the others will be nonexistent.
then every family has a home, auto, necessities, job. and they don't use cash to get this. a day care worker will take care of people needing care. mosy billionaires will have to be raptured. every wife with underage children will not work a public job. banks will be obsolete. i have a essay i mail out freely. the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer will be eliminated.
Suzi
I appreciate Suzi pointing out that in spite of some people's judgmentalism, these things can be complicated.

My mother had ALS. Despite my being single, working full time, and not getting a lot of help from anyone else, I managed to keep her home quite a bit longer than people thought I could.

Even so, I felt horrible when we had to acknowledge it was time for a nursing home. My mom had to comfort ME and assure me that I had done right by her.

That's an important point Suzi made: In a situation like ours, the most caring and compassionate thing I could do was make sure my wonderful mother got the care she deserved.

Make no mistake, I saw plenty of elders at my mom's nursing home who clearly had been dumped and abandoned, and it made me sick. But you can't make a broad judgment that this is the case in every instance. In the two years my mom was there, the total number of days I didn't make the drive to visit her would be in the single digits. I'm not saying that to brag, because it's nothing to brag about. It should simply be expected.

Many good people have commented here about their experiences as caregivers. It's great that they had the means and support to do what they did. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that it's possible for everyone. I've been over it a million times in my mind, trying to figure out if there was any possible way we could have done it differently. My conclusion is always the same: For us, the nursing home was an inevitability, and it was for the best.
Caring for the Elderly
Excellent article! It is precisely because the 'Church' (western culture, postmodern church at least) has abandoned these and other priority and relational Truths of Scripture regarding relationships (marriage, parenting, etc., including those within the Body of Christ) and so much conformed to the world's way of doing these things that we can so easily be deceived into thinking that the world's (read govt., education and media) systems of 'false' compassion are how we should handle all our relationships. Not only do we treat the elderly in this manner but because we don't adhere to the Scriptural priorities of God's Word on relationships beginning with Christ as Lord, then marriage, family, the Body of Christ and then out to a lost and dying world, that we so easily accept welfare, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other 'false compassion' ideologies void of full Truth, as the 'church' looks so much to the world and looks so much like the world!

Thanks to your friend for thinking about it truthfully and rightly and to you for pointing it out!

God bless in Christ!
Caring for Parents
My dad died suddenly, but my mom came to live with my wife and I and our five children. She was in the early stages of dementia and it was hard to see her deteriorate mentally and there were difficult times for us, but it was a time we wouldn't trade for the world. Our children got to know their grandmother in a way they would have never had a chance to do so otherwise. They also had a unique chance to practice unselfish, unconditional love to someone that didn't have a lot to give back to them in return. When my mother died at our home, we were waiting for the hospice team to come help us with her body. Before they arrived, my oldest daughter offered to help my wife clean up her grandmother's body as a last act of love and respect for her. That moment reinforced to us that we had not only made the right decision to take care of my mom, but that God had honored that decision in our children's lives.

Thanks for addressing this topic that needs to be addressed with the Church!
A Different Perspective
I am blessed to be able to work in an Independent and Assisted Living Community in Tampa, Florida. From the very first moment that someone calls in or walks in, I am the person who helps them understand their options.

It is my personal belief that the family should do everything in their power to physically and financially care for their loved one to the best of their ability. There are certain situations, however, where I do not feel that it is in the best interest of the elder for the family member to physically care for them.

Here are three examples:

I have helped several good, Christian people, who have a mother or a father with dementia. There are over 60 different kinds of dementia, and they each progress differently, and require distinct approaches to making the elder comfortable. Oftentimes, the adult child has tried his or her best to lovingly care for their parent, however, the parent is often angry, confused, and frustrated. It is common knowledge that when a husband or wife is caring for their spouse with dementia, the caregiver dies BEFORE their loved one the vast majority of the time. Sad, but true. When the elder with dementia is in a community with trained caregivers that are able to lovingly meet their needs, they are not nearly as confused and frustrated, leading to a better quality of life for the entire family. The family does have a responsibility to be heavily involved in the person's life, but now that their needs are being met, the time spent with their loved one is quality time that is not centered on health care.

Another scenario would be someone who is an insulin-dependent diabetic. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had families at their wits end trying to manage someone's diabetes with food at different times of the day, constantly testing blood sugar, and administering insulin. Unless the family member is a clinician, they cannot possibly be expected to care for someone with this type of need. When someone does not have their insulin regulated by a clinician on a day-to-day basis, the elder is on a constant roller coaster of emotions, erratic health, and their quality of life is terrible. It permeates every aspect of their day. We have had several people over the years that have been able to get their diabetes under control within a matter of days, whereas the family had not been able to do the same after a number of months or years. Again, the family still has an integral role.

One last example is the simple notion of medication management. More often than not, the elder and the family do not really understand all of the different medications that they are taking, how they interact with each other, and cannot keep track of when they are supposed to be taken. One of the number one reason why our elders end up in the hospital is due to incorrectly taking their prescriptions. Yes, someone may taken a horrible fall, but why? Perhaps it was because they forgot to take their afternoon medications, so they double-dosed to catch up, only to get dizzy and THEN fall. When an elder lives in a community that correctly oversees their medications, they are able to ensure that what they are prescribed is necessary and understand how they interact with each other. Again, every day we have new residents join our community that are overly medicated by their ten different doctors or cannot manage the thirteen prescriptions that they are supposed to be taking. You would think that a family member would be able to manage this process - right? Not always. Most of the time, the adult child has no clue what the pills are for, and does not have the wherewithal to question a physician about the need for certain drugs.

In ALL of these examples and the thousands of others that I did not mention, it is still the family's responsibility to financially contribute to their loved one's care, as well as continue to be an active part of his or her life while at the community.

There are several elder law attorneys out there who "specialize" in helping families restructure their assets and income in order to qualify for Medicaid. My personal belief is that this is fraud. Constructing documents such as trusts in order to avoid exorbitant estate taxes after one's death is one thing; funneling off all of your assets in order to qualify for government assistance is wrong.
Caring for the Elderly
I agree with you Chuck.

We are responsible to take care of our family (parents and children) not the government or other people.

It seems that we in this country have been indoctrinated to believe compassion means to pass legislation to force other people to take care of the elderly, poor and the needy. In most people's minds, they don't think in terms of making personal sacrifice to help the elderly, poor and the needy.

In the 90's, I used to hear many say that America needs to be more like most Asian society where the elderly are respected and cared for. What many don't recognize is that in Asian society, the family takes care of the elderly, not the government. The elderly live with family members.

I agree with you Chuck that the Biblical model is for the children and relatives to take care of the elderly, not the government.

The Church needs to set an example. Family members should take care of each other. The Church family should help take care of the eldery. The government should be the last option.

Thank you for today's commentary. I hope more Christians start talking about it and living it.
What are we "entitled" to?
A large part of the problem in discussing government programs for the elderly is that we have a constantly shifting view of what kind of programs Social Security and Medicare are. (The issue of moving your assets to qualify for Medicaid is a different matter; I have serious problems with the morality of making oneself "poor"--particularly by giving money to your children--to put a claim on taxpayer funds.)

Is Social Security a pension plan, into which we make payments while working, to draw out the benefits upon retirement or disability? Or is it a welfare program, with benefits based on need, and subject to the ability of the government to make those payments?

If it's a pension plan, the wealthy should receive their money on the same terms as the poor. But the benefits should be based on actuarial science, not politics. As it happens, the first few generations of retirees have made out like bandits, receiving back far more (in many cases multiple times) what they put in, including employer's share and interest. We can't get that money back, of course, but a major reason that SS is developing its huge liability is that we're not adjusting retirement age and benefits to reflect longer life expectancy. But any suggestion of making such changes generates screams of "but I paid for it!" Uh, no, actually you didn't, at least not at the level you're receiving...

Some might think it desirable for the government not to be in the business of running a retirement income plan, because of the tendency of politicians to spend money that someone else (especially someone in the future) will have to pay. That's an interesting argument to have, but the reality is that we have the SS system in place, and it would take a true cataclysm to eliminate/replace it. So productive discussions need to recognize the fact of its existence. And let's not forget that SS has actually made a positive difference in the lives of senior citizens. We don't need poor farms any more; not many elderly eat cat food or live on the street.

Chuck may think having his grandparents in the home was "just what you did," but my similarly-aged father remembers his grandmother's presence less fondly, and how it drove his mother's fierce determination not to have to live with any of her children. There are some families for whom it works well (I have close friends who are doing it), but others for whom the cost, emotional as well as financial, would be high, indeed intolerable. That's the reality of the sinful world we're in.

I'm not sure that there's anything wrong with a safety net. The challenge is to keep it from being a hammock.
Caring for Family
Some of us look at this from another angle. It's not that we don't take responsibility for our families. I don't expect our children to "strip us of our assets" and "expect the government to take care of us" someday. I do, however, expect some return on what we have been forced to pay in for over 50 years, and we shouldn't be made to feel guilty for doing so.
care of loved ones
I cared for my husband's Christian mother for over a year of constant physical needs at all hours until I nearly had a breakdown from exhaustion. We then found a kind woman who lovingly cared for her in exchange for her social security check. I agree that we should care for our own whenever possible. We have a mentally challenged son for whom we take no government help. In fact, we want him on no government rolls. My father fought against Hitler, and we all should remember what that dictator did for the elderly and the mentally challenged in his country. Great power in the hands of a few leads to great misery. We must stop Obama and his Obamacare!
Caring for family and others
I agree so much that the government should not shoulder the responsibility of caring for our family. I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to initiate a long term care insurance policy for my immediate family, church family and many hundreds of other folks not yet in the family of God, thus providing a way of being a good steward of what has been entrusted to us. By sacrificing a small amount now, we can provide adequate caregiver services as needed in the future.

Dave Augusta
Caring for parents
My wife and I took care of my parents in our home after they could not live in their own house. We decided to share expenses while they were alive. We both sold our house and moved in together into a somewhat bigger house. Though there are a lot more details, we used what money they had to take care of my parents. I never took a dime from them. It was the best thing that we have done. I was not expecting anything in return. We they both passed away about a year apart everything went smooth and they are both worshiping in Heaven now. I would be glad to talk to anyone about this experience.
Caring for family
I've always believed that God gave me the means by way of income to support my family. Over the years I have taken in and taken care of my disabled brother and now I take care of my Mom. I also have two kids 19 & 20 - one in college and one with a new wife and child that I help take care of. I'm a single Mom too with no help from their father because he passed away after we divorced (no government subsidies). God does provide ways and means and is far better than depending on the Government for anything. We depend on each another. Mom contributes in her ways and wisdom, my brother contributes with what he is physically able to do. My son contributes by working and repairing things. My daughter contributes by cleaning and organizing. My daughter in law cooks and cleans. I work full time and bring home the main income. It's all good. Think what it would be like if my Mom was in a home, my brother was in HUD and my son & wife had their own apartment. Just doesn't make any sense to me. We all live together and it just feels good.
Caring for our parents
I couldn't agree more. For both our parents, we were involved in taking care of them in their final years. In the case of my mom, two of my sisters who lived nearby provided physical care, and I gave money to help pay for mom's care. We kept her at home surrounded by family until her passing. The thing that is annoying, though, is that had mom lived long enough, the money I was giving to help with her care would have triggered a tax penalty from the government, because they assume I would be giving her the money to avoid an inheritance tax issue. I don't mind that the expenses weren't deductible. I don't expect them to be. But, I don't think the government should financially punish me for taking care of my mom.
Caring for our family
I have adopted two children with special needs, and I'm with you Chuck..I refuse to allow the state to raise my children. I know that they would not raise them as God would want them raised and therefore, I have already made arrangements for their care in the event of my death. It's important to care for our loved ones...it's what God would want from us...great broadcast!
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