Monday, May 23, 2011

A May Update and a Sad Commentary on Aging

In case anybody is wondering, my cracked kneecap has healed, more or less, and my enforced confinement ended with the month of March. It was a rather depressing time, but somehow, since I had little to do anyway, it didn't matter that much. Anyway, I'm basically O.K. and back to my routine, slight as it is. My doctor said everyone living in a senior facility needs at least three regular obligations to keep life interesting. I have them: my Thursday morning volunteer duties at the Washington Street information desk at the Chicago Cultural Center, my regular Sunday brunch with three fellow residents, and my monthly editorial meeting and the editing process for The Clarion, our resident newsletter. I'm afraid I'm no longer able to take long walks (I haven't been for quite some time), but I'm not entirely a hermit. Of course there are numerous activities here at The Clare, but not all of them interest me. I'd like to add a regular blogging schedule, but so far, I don't seem to have much to write about. Perhaps I'll try harder.

So here goes: last week, the Chicago Tribune published an article entitled, "This Old Soldier Won't Just Fade Away: Pushing 90, vet battles to stay in apartment where he and his wife have lived for years." The story affected me, because I've done a lot of thinking about the plights of old people, many of whom may not be as fortunate as I am.

The veteran in question and his wife have lived in a tiny apartment in a Near North high-rise building for a decade, and now the management wants them out by May 31. The issue apparently is not financial; one stated issue is bedbugs, which the vet claims came from extermination efforts next door. However, the real reason seems to be doubts that the couple, childless, can continue to live in a building that doesn't offer social services or help of any kind. The man's wife is described as having "cognitive impairment" and was found roaming the building halls alone and confused after her husband was briefly hospitalized after a winter fall.

I suspect that situations like this are not rare. According to the couple's lawyer, the old soldier feels disrespected, and doesn't want to move. The management has switched from forced eviction to an offer of a month-to-month lease continuation, allowing their lawyer to find the couple more suitable living quarters, but they don't want to move. With military pride, the vet defends his years of military service and points with pride at the mementos hanging on the walls.

It's impossible not to have synpathy for this man and others like him. What is the answer for old people without relatives to watch over them? Where do individual rights end? Aging is inevitable, and cognitive impairment is more common than we like to believe. So what should happen to old people like this? That's a very big problem our society must face, and those of us with the foresight and the resources to avoid such a situation should consider ourselves lucky. One of the problems of aging seems to be resistance to change, and change is inevitable, in more ways than one.