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The best medicine Medicare can allow

Out of My Head

Posted: April 21, 2008 1:28 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2008 5:03 a.m.
 
My mother used to say, "Whoever called old age the 'Golden Years' must have been color-blind."

Having recently spent time visiting elderly relatives in some rather sad and sterile skilled nursing facilities, I've been giving serious thought to how I'll be living out my Golden Years, should I make it that far.

While my sons have assured me that I "will never go to one of those depressing places" (hopefully they're planning to surprise me with a special wing on their homes, replete with expert caregivers, a sushi chef, hair colorist, and hunky masseur who's into making old ladies smile), I know things can change.

Life often turns out differently from what we expect.

Among scenarios that could create late-stage family residence deal breakers: My sons could marry women who don't particularly want me under their roof. Yes, my beloved progeny may fall head over heels for gals who prefer their live-ins to be nannies rather than grannies. (It happens in the best of families, and even with good daughters-in-law.)

Most likely, however, as millions of other adult children discover, my sons could realize that their mom's myriad age-related needs and problems are more than they can handle while holding down careers and households. (It's tough work being a family caregiver!)

Therefore, if I make it to the winter of my life, I might very well wind up spending all four seasons in "Codgers R Us" - a place where strangers will change my diapers, urge me to eat my strained peas, and prop me up in a wheelchair each afternoon so I can stare outside and watch the world go on without me.

I have a bulletin for anyone falling under the classification of "Aging Baby Boomer." For the 78 million of us facing old age, an Institute of Medicine study has some worrisome news.

This nation's health-care work force is seriously unprepared for us. Projecting ahead, there's not going to be enough trained, direct-care workers (i.e., nurse's aides, home health aides and personal care aides), or geriatric specialty trained physicians and nurses to care for us. Further, there's a high turnover rate among medical workers in geriatric settings, and that's bad for the patients and continuity of care.

As much as I'd like to believe such issues will be resolved before my "peers" and I start wearing Depends, I have serious doubts - in three years boomers start turning 65.

Regardless of these problems, there's something geriatric facilities can do to soften the blow of getting old, especially when you're away from home.

It's centered about not forcing us to "go gently into that good (and long) night."

As my g-g-g-generation was very much a passionate new breed of feel-good thinkers, doers and dreamers, we want similar surroundings as old-timers, especially when our wide, wide world has shrunk to four drab walls and a commode.

For starters, if you want to stimulate our synapses, make our main daily therapy a Golden Oldies sing-along.

There's a lot we can't remember, but we'll never forget the musical scores of our lives.

It's always been like our oxygen, man.

Sure, our teeth sit soaking in a plastic cup and we don't recall our room number. But we haven't lost the words to our favorite songs, the places we were when they topped the charts, or the intense emotions they easily evoked.

Wake us up to the Beatles' "Good Day Sunshine."

Give us water exercise timed to the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Let us go on tune-induced head-trips.

Let us return to when we were on the top of our game; when our bodies were young and agile, our minds clear, and the future was infinitely groovy.

Despite our uninteresting, Pine Sol-scented milieu, you can color our world by making it "Yesterday" - again.

So what if we're legally blind and can no longer drive? Pop in the Beach Boys' "I Get Around" and suddenly we're cruising along Pacific Coast Highway with the 'Stang's top down, chewing a wad of Fleer bubble gum, listening to Boss Radio 93/KHJ, and digging the universe.

•••

Treating us like babies is absolutely forbidden, no matter how dependent we are. Yet, appealing to our inner child, grant us occasional games of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." Here's the twist, though: Being as we're politically aware seniors, make those bulls-eyes real photographs of all the government scoundrels, polluters, cheats, and other assorted villains and idiots (past and present), who've screwed things up on this planet.

Can you dig it? Nailing that donkey was never so empowering! (And I guarantee you: a hearty, repeated stabbing of that ass will surely lower one's blood pressure.)

Since we're conscious (and consenting) adults, you can help stir our hormones in another feel-good manner. (You'll probably be giving us less tranquilizers and mood elevators if you do.)

Come Saturday nights: Fire up the hi-fi, bring out the Patchouli incense and Sangria, help us slip on some fancy clothes, some Jade East on the gents and Tabu on the ladies - then dim the lights.

Give us a little love fest, something we'll look forward to week after week.

As Marvin Gaye seductively sings "Let's Get It On," or Elvis woos the crowd with "Surrender," allow us to feel our hearts again.

Whether it's a romantic glance, a little kiss, or two canes touching tenderly at the tips, leave us alone - and let us be men and women.

Should folks want to "make out," what's it to ya?

It's not like anyone's going to get pregnant or tell our parents.

•••

Keep youthful photographs of us at our bedsides. When you look into our faces, don't merely see gray-haired people in need of assistance.

Visualize those vibrant human beings pictured on our nightstands, then treat us with the same respect you would any active, prime-age adult.

Give us computers and Internet access. Help us stay in touch with the rest of the globe. Even if our feet can no longer carry us, our fingers, eyes and imaginations can.

And for goodness sakes, don't bug us about the Web sites we visit. If arthritic paws wish to key in some steamy images intermittently, or salivate over decades-old images of fellow seniors George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, it's none of your business. (But do wipe our screens and bifocals as needed.)

•••

Once an "experimental" generation of youth, we now want you to "experiment" on us in our Golden Years.

Rather than letting us die slow, boring deaths, give us dynamic pathways to think and feel pleasure; challenge our minds through debate and spirited conversation; take us on outings to concerts, museums, amusement parks, and ice cream shops; overdose us on comedy; encourage us to share our memories and veteran insights.

Help us boomers live out our winters as we once relished the summers of our life: with passion, enthusiasm and wonder.

Start doing that, all you nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, and I may have to rethink that "wing" offer I've got going.

But please don't tell my sons. (Mama still loves a nice surprise, after all.)

Diana Sevanian is a writer and Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own opinions and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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