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Medical advances help people live longer, which raises questions about the quality of that longer life.
By RICHARD AMRHINE
My parents help illustrate the alternatives. My dad, who was blessed with a big heart, but not the strongest one, died of a heart attack 16 years ago as he slept. He was 70, and alert and active until he died. People have told me that even though he died somewhat young by today's standards, they'd choose to go that way rather than linger in a diminished capacity.
My mom is a 23-year breast cancer survivor who now, at age 84, has been told she's probably suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She is at the point where her memory is just good enough, some of the time, that she is aware of the decline in her cognitive ability. She knows that she has trouble remembering, and it frustrates her.
She has wanted to stay in Baltimore because that's where her friends are, rejecting the notion of moving to either Virginia or New Jersey, where her children are.
She settled on a large, well-known facility in Baltimore several years ago and moved into an independent-living apartment.
After a few years, her ability to keep track of her medications was in doubt, and we couldn't be sure, despite the retirement home's procedures, that she was eating properly everyday.
She moved to an assisted-living apartment where a higher level of care is provided. It was a necessary move, but also a troubling disruption for her at the time, requiring yet another downsizing of her cherished belongings.
After a recent hospital stay, she was transferred to the facility's nursing-care wing, at least temporarily, where residents are monitored and cared for still more closely.
For now, she remains in better shape than many of the other residents, but she must fear that the lack of awareness of so many of the residents around her could be in her future as well.
While my sister and I enjoy some confidence in the care she is receiving, we wonder why society hasn't taken a more proactive approach in dealing with aging Americans.
According to the U.S. Census, about 35 million Americans are currently age 65 or older. That figure is projected to rise to 80 million by 2040. That's an increase from 12.5 percent of the population today to 20.5 percent in 2040.