'Granny dumping' is now a growing phenomenon

ROGER SIMON

March 29, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

It is called granny dumping.

It is the growing phenomenon of ill and elderly parents being abandoned by their children.

According to a spokesman for the American Association of Retired Persons, it was "unheard of 15 years ago, but now anecdotal evidence tells us it has become somewhat of a trend."

The New York Times last week cited a survey by the American College of Emergency Physicians indicating that "up to 70,000 elderly patients were abandoned last year by family members who were unable or unwilling to care for them any longer."

The most common reason, the physicians said, "was due to depletion of emotional, not financial, resources."

*

I can see my mother on the hospital bed. She is curled up and does not look at me. It does not matter. She would not recognize me.

She does not know who or where she is. She has Alzheimer's disease. She is dying. It has not been quick or painless. It is not like a TV movie. There have been no timeouts for commercials.

I stand by her bed and wonder if, whatever world she is in, she remembers what I am remembering: How she held my hand and took me to the first grade. How she fed me soup when I was sick. How she sang to me.

Did I tell her, before she slipped away from reality, that I loved her? Did I? I cannot remember. Perhaps I forgot.

I look away from the bed. I look away. This cannot be my mother. Not my mother.

And so I look away.

*

John Kingery, 82, was dumped at a dog track in Idaho last week. He was found sitting in a wheelchair, holding a bag of diapers and clutching a teddy bear.

Kingery suffers from Alzheimer's and was unable to tell authorities who he is. The labels in his new clothing had been cut away so that his identity could not be traced. Only when his picture was broadcast on national TV, was he identified.

Ten hours before he was found at the track, his daughter had checked him out of his nursing home in Portland. She has refused to talk to police about it.

The number of people with Alzheimer's is expected to increase from 4 million today to 12 million by 2020.

It can be an expensive way to go.

*

The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population is people over the age of 85.

The people who must take care of them are now being called the "sandwich generation," baby boomers who are caring for their own children and their elderly parents, too.

For some it is too much.

In 1988, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a letter from a married man living with his wife, their 2-year-old, a teen-ager and two infirm parents in their 80s.

"Can I keep going like this?" the man asked. "Is this what being an adult is all about? Will I break and be unable to care for my parents, my children or myself? Sometimes I just feel like taking off for another country, disappearing for good, becoming a missing person to get out of all this complicated and tense stuff."

*

My mother always told her children she would never be a burden. "So don't you worry," she said. "Don't worry."

We are not worried, we told her. Don't be silly.

But she knew Medicare does not pay for long-term custodial care in nursing homes or in your own home.

She knew even before she got there the terror of being old and ill in America.

*

We all imagine that we will grow old with dignity. Perhaps we will just grow old.

Is life hard? Life is hard.

But is there help if you are caring for your parents and feel you are at the end of your rope?

There is help. Pick up a phone. Call 1-800-272-3900.

That is the Alzheimer's Association. Even if the person in your care does not have Alzheimer's, the association will help you. The call is free.

Will it make your life easy? It will not. But will you be able to face yourself and your own old age with a clearer conscience? You will.

Do not dump your mom or your pop or anyone else. Instead, tell them that you love them. It is a simple thing. But easily forgotten.

We all grow old.

And we are all in this together.

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