Associated Press

Medical tourism – Alzheimer’s style

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More Alzheimer’s patients finding care far from home | Nation & World | The Seattle Times.  This article looks at the direction in which Alzheimer’s care may be shifting.  There are currently 44 million Alzheimer’s patients globally with 135 million projected by 2050.  Even now, Western spouses and family members are faced with an insufficient supply of qualified nurses and facilities, while other countries provide cheaper – and to some minds, better – care for those suffering from an illness for which very few effective treatments have been developed, and that is always fatal.

An enlargeable relief map of Thailand
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The treatment center that is the major focus of this Associated Press article is located in Thailand – the Baan Kamlangchay center.  Additional elder care options in other countries are mentioned, such as the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Spain, Greece, and Ukraine.  Cost is the driving force of those who are “exporting” (not my word) the elderly to these foreign countries.  One gentleman from Switzerland brought his 65-year old wife to Baan Kamlangchay because the monthly cost for her Alzheimer’s care ($3,800) is a third of what he would pay in his own country and he states that the staffing ratios are far better, and the activities more engaging.  In the Philippines, care is offered to Americans for $1,500 to $3,500 a month, compared to the average of $6,900 for a private room in a skilled nursing facility in the United States, according to the American Elder Care Research Organization.

Cost shouldn’t be the only consideration, however, when moving a loved one into Alzheimer’s or dementia care – and that applies to every country in which that care is available.  What are the training requirements for those who will be providing this disease-specific care for your loved one?  What type of governmental or social service oversight is in place to protect and advocate for the rights of those patients who can not advocate for themselves?  The latter question becomes extremely relevant when the patients’ families are not around to observe care on an ongoing basis.  In the previous paragraph I mentioned the man who brought his 65-year old wife from Switzerland to Thailand for care.  He is now faced with the very difficult decision of perhaps leaving his wife of 41 years in the facility, and returning to Switzerland to carry on the rest of his life.

That’s a decision unbearable in its emotional implications.

What are your thoughts?  Are you willing to become an expatriate should this medical need present itself in your life?

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Baby Boomers – what is your Mt. Everest moment?

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Associated Press News story  – Japanese climber, 80, becomes oldest atop Everest.

The above article chronicles a “competition” between two gentlemen in their 80’s who endeavored to become the oldest person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.   I’m happy to say that 80-year old Yuichiro Miura reached the summit successfully on May 23rd, 2013 and became the oldest person to do so.  Following on his heels is an 81-year old Nepalese man, Min Bahadur Sherchan, who will make his attempt some time next week, most likely making Mr. Miura’s 15 minutes of fame just a bit of has-been news as the Nepalese man takes his place as the oldest to successfully reach the summit.  Not many of us – alright, none of us – will reach the summit of Mt. Everest or even care to do so…

and that’s okay.

The last rays of sunlight on Mount Everest on ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all have Everest moments, don’t we?  Yuichiro Miura’s goal to summit Everest is not our goal.  Mr. Miura stated his reason/goal to climb Everest: “It is to challenge my own ultimate limit.”  We all have our personalized goals that involve reaching our own ultimate limit.  I’ve had many of those moments in my 60 years of life – some of them exercise related, but more importantly, most of them were personal growth related.  The most recent exercise goal has been the successful completion of two one-hour Pure Barre exercise classes…with three more to go in order to fully utilize the gift package that my daughter Erin gave me in honor of my 60 years.  We’re doing this together, and please know that my 37 year old daughter is in far better shape than I am  …  and that’s okay.  I am no expert on this type of exercise, and believe me, within minutes of completing each session, I’m in excruciating pain.  But that’s okay because those exercise sessions didn’t kill me nor did they disable me; they simply made me realize that I was up to the challenge of doing more than I thought I was able.

Isn’t that the key?  Maybe your Everest goal is finally having the courage to talk to someone about matters that concern you; or your Everest goal is changing jobs – or changing relationships; or perhaps your Everest summit is completing your high school or college education?  Whatever your goal – whatever your Everest – when you reach that goal you are no less newsworthy than Mr. Miura or Mr. Sherchan.  Quite frankly, what these octogenarians are doing is fabulous and I respect and honor their accomplishments – but I don’t admire their accomplishments any more than those of which you and I are the proudest.  Mr. Miura stated that a successful climb would raise the bar for what is possible and that he had a strong determination that now is the time.

Now is always the time – because it’s the only time we have.

I’ll complete the remainder of the exercise gift package that my daughter gave me.  Who knows, maybe I’ll buy some more sessions to continue on that journey – maybe I won’t.  What I do know, however, is that I will always set goals, and I will always do my best to reach them.

When you do your best – you’ve done the best you can.

I hope you’ll feel proud enough of your Mt. Everest moments to share them with all of us.  I, for one, can hardly wait to hear about them.

There’s an App for that!

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A recent article by Jim Fitzgerald of the Associated Press focuses on a few electronic methods that might relieve some of the struggles experienced by caregivers who try to balance their frantic personal lives with the oftentimes emergent needs of their loved ones.  For the purposes of my article, I am only looking at the type of monitoring put in place by a family member to check on an elderly person’s well being; primarily a family member with Alzheimer’s or other dementia.

Beleaguered caregivers getting help from Apps is an eyeopening look at how Smartphone Apps, and other electronic devices, can provide some sort of relief to lessen the caregiver’s load.  Many of those who are long-distance caregivers, such as I was for my father several years ago, might benefit from being able to monitor their family member’s safety and well-being from a distance.

But does such monitoring invade the loved one’s privacy?  Of course it does; but I guess one could say that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of such monitoring.  Or do they?  What comes to my mind is the elderly person’s gradual loss of independence – an aspect of life that many of us would equate to being a requirement for our own quality of life.  But I digress.

At best, I think electronic monitoring serves as a stop-gap or interim measure of caregiving before hands-on care is put into place.  The Pillbox App keeps a very tentative watch on whether or not a loved one – say a parent – has taken his medication properly.  If the parent does not have compromised executive function, it’s certainly easy to “fake it” so that the daughter can feel as though all is well ten miles away.  In reality, however, medication mismanagement might be taking place, carried out by the parent.

Elderly People - sign on Warwick Road, Olton
(Photo credit: ell brown)

The Alzheimer’s Association Comfort Zone program requires that a loved one wear a GPS device at all times so that family members can monitor their comings and goings throughout the day.  The system is of no benefit if the person doesn’t wear the pager; and if the person has dementia, there’s a strong likelihood of that happening.  I’m being the devil’s advocate here, simply pointing out that the system is only as good as the cooperation required to use it.  HOWEVER, and this is a demonstrative HOWEVER, it appears to be a very worthwhile system that provides numerous benefits.  Other than taking away ones right to privacy, it definitely serves as a safety net for when mom, dad, spouse, or other loved one, are heading into trouble.

I’m skeptical of Comfort Zone but I’m also its fan.  I’ve linked the Comfort Zone website above so that the reader can determine if such a system is worthwhile in his or her situation.  My skepticism comes about because I wish more attention and financing would be spent on a cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementia so that these current monitoring methods become a thing of the past.  A world without Alzheimer’s sounds just as desirous as a world without cancer, or MS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, to name a few.  More disease control financing = more cures.

One final word: I’ve already experienced two family members with Alzheimer’s and all the caregiving migraine headaches associated with those experiences.  So please know that I’m a proponent of worthwhile practices that ease the caregiver’s burden.  Unfortunately, there is absolutely no fail safe method out there that will give caregivers true peace of mind.  Even placement in a long-term care facility is not a 100% guarantee that mom, dad, sis, or gramps will receive the best care possible.  I’m sorry to burst your bubble – but it’s true.

The world as we know it – the good, the bad, the ugly.

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In a recent NY Times post, Catherine Rampell writes about how the economy is affecting Baby Boomers; more specifically that it’s not just a matter of postponing retirement, it’s the need to hold down more than one job to meet the daily – and future – essentials of their lives.  Ms. Rampell is quick to point out, however, “(I)n the current listless economy, every generation has a claim to have been most injured.”  Certainly that seems to be the case as I have heard that Generation X and the Millennials have complained that Baby Boomers are to blame for the state of the economy – present and future.

English: Crowd gathering on Wall Street after ...
Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the stock market crash of October 1929. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of this I am certain – each generation before us, and every generation after us, will contribute positively and negatively to the world as we know it.  I have to believe that every generation has pointed their fingers at generations other than theirs, and talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly that permeates their times.  Let’s look at those generations as posted on CNN, American Generations Through the Years: (figures and personalities provided by the Pew Research Center and CNN)

G.I./Greatest Generation: Pre-1928; Kate Hepburn and George H. W. Bush

Silent Generation: 1925 – 1945; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tina Turner

Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964; Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan

Generation X: 1965-1980; Jay-Z and Tiger Woods

Millennials: Post 1980; Christina Aguilera and Mark Zuckerberg

We’re all struggling in some way, and we’ll continue to struggle as we mimic the overall consensus felt through all generations.  There are carefree times, and then there are all the rest of our days, and we get through them, because we must.  We’re better for it, but it doesn’t feel like that while we’re going through it.  I have to look to Brendan Marrocco, a twenty-six year old Iraq war veteran who lost all his limbs because of a roadside bomb in 2009.  In an Associated Press story, in the Seattle Times, Brendan said he could get by without his legs, but he didn’t like living without arms.  “Not having arms takes so much away from you.  Even your personality  …  You talk with your hands.  You do everything with your hands, and when you don’t have that, you’re kind of lost for a while.”

The end of January 2013, six weeks after getting a double arm transplant, Brendan said the following at a coming-out press conference about how he’s made it thus far:

Just not to give up hope.  You know, life always gets better, and you’re still alive.  And be stubborn.  There’s a lot of people who will say you can’t do something.  Just be stubborn and do it anyway.

Sobering words, and ones that force us to reassess our current situations.  I’m not trying to minimize what you might be going through, nor of what’s going on in my life.  It’s just that I personally can’t help but focus on Brendan’s plight and then consciously turn my eyes away from my me-ness, and towards other-people-ness.  Is Brendan worse off as a Millennial who lost so much but gained a huge dose of intestinal fortitude, defined as strength of character; perseverance?  If it were me, I would be wallowing in a very deep pit of self-pity.  That doesn’t seem to be Brendan’s current location.