Sunday, August 15, 2010

Aging is Non-Discriminitory--- We Are All Approaching 80--- If We Are Lucky

Amazingly our somewhere around 92 year old neighbor, "Elle," has Alzheimer's dementia, and she is quite seriously on her own. It is not so very surprising that she is alone in life, no spouse, no relatives, no friends, it happens. What is shocking is that in the state she is clearly in, in the State of California, there is no help for her! Here are the facts: she is a veteran of WWII. She has lived in this building of 18 units for the past 40 years. she was fired from her job of many years as resident manager for some bizarre behavior (a result of beginnings of Alzheimer's) three years ago. She and I had been previously friendly, but after I was hired by the old old landlord to do the job she had held, she became verbally abusive whenever she saw me. Once when the smoke alarms in the building went off, house filled with smoke everywhere, I called the Fire Department, warned everyone, and when I knocked on her door she was scathing in her criticism of the responsibility I had taken, calling what turned out to be her pyrotechnics "just a small kitchen fire." I tried to remain friendly and helpful for a while, but decided it was best all around if I steered clear.
Another neighbor helped her out with several things for a few years. He was her only friend here, although everyone was courteous and friendly. One day about a year ago, in the middle of the night she banged on the door of the young couple living in the unit below her to complain of "loud music and noise." They assured me the next morning they had not been making noise, which I knew to be true. Elle had engaged in a struggle over their door, which had been opened slightly to her by the young man. He got it closed, and she banged so hard on it with something in her hands that she actually broke part of the moulding on the door. Soon after the couple moved out.
Once I heard a loud noise from the second floor where she lives, so I knocked on her door to see if she was OK, thinking she may have fallen. She yelled at me as if I had flung at her the worst insult imaginable.
Meanwhile, her helping neighbor had reported to the property owner that he had grown wary of Elle, her behavior was growing increasingly bizarre, he was no longer in a position to be of help to her. The landlord asked me to call social services to see what help could be offered to a lady of such advanced age, a veteran of WWII, on Medicare and Medi-Cal. Shockingly, Adult Protective Services could offer nothing beyond, "call the police to 52/50 her. The landlord must evict her." Not one to give up easily, I began a campaign of information gathering, to little avail.
A few weeks ago I ignored it this time when again I heard quite a loud noise somewhere in the building. One of the other neighbors, a young man knocked on my door to tell me Elle had fallen on the top of the carpeted stairs, that she had hit her head, he and another neighbor were attending to her. I called 911, asked them to send an ambulance. She spent a couple of days in the hospital. Meanwhile, I got on the phone to APS again, believing for all the world that this crises would galvanize them to action. I was told that unless she makes the decision to get help for herself, no one may step in to help her, not even if she is in a state of dementia rendering her a danger to herself and others. Help could not be given to her unless she herself sought it, even though Alzheimer's is a medical condition, causing deterioration of the brain. The property owner was given no other choice by Adult Protective Services than to evict, the prospect of which is loathsome to him, understandably enough.
I was told a few days ago by a first floor neighbor, that one night several months ago she had been awakened in the middle of the night by Elle banging hard on the door of two other very nice neighbors, yelling at them to "turn off that music!" Clutching hard at her sheets, the downstairs neighbor had grabbed her phone in panic, ready to call 911. People are not used to calling the cops on a 92 year old lady. Soon after the neighbors of the early AM door-banging moved out. The landlord and I never even knew the reason why, at the time.

A friend of Elle's visiting her for the first time in years called the paramedics to come pick her up in an ambulance. She had some kind of "shortness of breath." Back on the phone to report this to APS, I met with what seemed to me cold callousness, or ineptitude, no help, once again.

Elle back again the next day from the hospital, I returned around midnight two nights ago to the stink of chemicals and several messages telling me the police had been called, Elle had been hauled off again to Summit Hospital. She had been pouring bleach and Raid all over her apartment and the stairs because "the snakes were now everywhere, had been biting" her all over her body. I was told she had been threatening to murder the neighbor who had previously cared for her. She had become paranoid that he was stealing her money, taking her prescriptions.
The police took her again, without her keys.

I am the keeper of the keys, and I am "out of town." At least for a few more days.We all need some breathing room here, and she needs proper assessment.

She needs proper help. This is beyond the call of duty or the capabilities of the landlord, or anyone living in this building. We are not doctors, nurses, social workers, the police or a hospital. We are not her friends or relatives. Most importantly we do not have power of attorney.
My advice to everyone of any age, especially those more or less on their own, is to make a living will, and set up a good friend or pay someone to have power of attorney, just in case. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. Alzheimer's, or any dementia can spiral out of control at what can seem like a moments notice. We are not a society practicing the control of population at one end or the other. We do not limit the birth rate, we keep people alive long after in earlier times they would have been dead. Since 1960 the world population has doubled. This trend continues exponentially. The state of California is in a fiscal mess beyond reckoning. Californians have voted in a state constitution by which laws cannot be changed or made except by vote of the people, who are largely short-sited, want only not to be taxed. 2/3rds majority legislative vote and Proposition 13 limiting property taxes have nearly broken the system. In the seventies it was decided in an election by the people of California, that they did not wish to have extended care coverage as part of Medicare, which could have been paid for by individuals who wanted it, seven or eight bucks a month. Elle has Medicare and Medical, a nursing home will be paid for, if only the professionals will take some responsibility. in part their hands are tied by legislation enacted at the behest of both liberals and civil-libertarians of the sixties, horrified at the state of our mental health institutions, the cause taken up by Reagan Republicans, who for financial reasons tore down the entire system. The baby was thrown out with the bath-water.
So, whats it gonna be my fellow humans who are aging, going inexorably toward what lies ahead for half of us if we are lucky enough to make it to eighty, namely Alzheimer's or other Dementia? Do we want a safety net for Elle? Do we want a safety net for ourselves? Do we want to be put in the position of caring ineffectually for neighbors and friends, doing work that is beyond our capacity? Do we want to see buildings burn, neighbors threatened with or actually murdered, poison dumped in the hallways where we live? Do we really want to see our oldest and most frail turned out into the street, or having to face an eviction judge in their (our) eighties? Nineties? More than 100s?
After Elle was once more sent to the hospital for starvation and sitting all day in the sun on the front stairs in her underwear (she had locked herself out of her apartment and no one at home had an extra key to let her in; I was not home. The landlord could not be reached), I received a call from APS. They wanted to be sure her door would be open, they wanted to dump her off yet again.
I spelled it out for them what could happen to this most vulnerable lady, if they brought her back again. I left no rock of detail in place, exposing in the harshest terms what I felt they would be responsible for, should further harm come to Elle, due to their negligence.
It seems this time they heard me; possibly even they felt they could not turn a blind eye to Elle's predicament. She has not been back in several weeks. The landlord informed me the other day that Elle will not return, she is now being cared for in a nursing home.


Pia N said...

It is unbelievably, that it has to come to that.

Chandra Garsson said...

Yes, it is unbelievable, shameful, tragic, Pia. You are in Denmark, I cannot concieve that in such a civilized country that this could happen. For you, this must be unimaginable.
It has been several months since I wrote this at my website, originally. Elle is being cared for. She will not be back. It should never have taken such a fight to get help for her.
Thanks for reading, and commenting.

Chandra Garsson said...

Two days after I posted this, the "skilled nursing facility" where this neighbor has been housed for the past couple of months informed the landlord that she will be dumped back here again next week! More postings on this in the future.

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