Main Photo: Rick Rayburn takes care of his wife Marianne, who has dementia.
As impossible as it seems to me that our generation, the baby boomers, are now the old people, I see it confirmed in myself and in my circle of friends and family, where hip- and other joint replacements, serious illnesses, dementia for some of us, and now and then a death are our subjects of conversation over lunch or dinner. The question of who will take care of us when we are no longer independent looms large in our minds.
Left: Ken Tekeya taking care of his wife Charlotte. Watch a video of them. Right: Rick Rayburn leads his wife, Marianne, to the kitchen so they can prepare dinner together. She does simple tasks like stirring the soup.
I often watch videos of people with dementia and their caretakers, and most of the time I feel that the burden spouses or other family caretakers take on is just too much to ask, that is, if you are in my position and know that you will eventually no longer respond to your spouse as a rational person does to a special person in his or her life. I see videos of husbands spending an hour (at least) every day to dress and groom their wives, the women having no interest in the process and are minimally or not at all cooperative. One of the husbands even attempted a bit of blush on his wife’s cheeks and ended with putting on her string of pearls. The love of these men–and many women in the reverse situation–is laudable and beautiful. However, imagining myself as the wife with the blush and pearls and Peter as the exhausted husband always makes me feel “I’d rather be dead.”
However, even cynical me has to smile and wipe a tear or two when I see videos that depict a trend I have been hearing more about, namely intergenerational caretaking: schools with projects where young people, from kindergarten through university age, help take care of the elderly in their communities. Somehow this does not seem as sad to me as a lone family member taking care of someone with dementia whom he or she has loved all their lives and who no longer recognizes him or her as such.
Mac Davis, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, volunteers at The Intergenerational School, working on biography projects with students like Arlando Davidson-Bey (left) and Nia Perry-Richardson. Photo: Joseph Shapiro/NPR
Here is a link to a video site that shows a number of videos of the young taking care of the old–and I want to believe it works both ways, in some respects.
What do you think?