My grandmother has Alzheimer's.
It simply breaks my heart to see the person I so love vanish, step by step. But much worse is watching how she struggles as she loses grip. She's perfectly aware of the fact that she's losing herself, her life, her memories. And she suffers immensely when we visit and she can no longer tell who we are, although she knows that she knows us and that we are dear to her.
My grandmother moved to Cape Town two days after I was born. A widow since the age of 42, she lived with us until I turned 12 and we moved to Brussels, at which point she stayed in Spain. She was a mother to me and we shared millions of beautiful, wonderful, hilarious, touching, deep, insightful moments together. She is one of my favorite people on this planet and I wish I could take as good care of her as she did of me for all those years.
My grandmother is from Castilla, a hard land with hard, robust, strong people who worked the arid land from dawn till dusk. Her body is in such good shape, I can see it lasting for many years to come.
But not her mind. The relentless advance of Alzheimer's is erasing her mind, one day at a time. She no longer has anything near what I would call a "quality of life", and it's about to get a whole lot worse, as the illness claims larger and larger chunks of her. Inevitably, she will be reduced to a Q-sign vegetable, unless another illness claims her before.
So I'm wondering: Is it fair to make her live through the ordeal? For what?
Now let's look at the issue from a financial perspective. Let's say my grandmother's mind is completely gone in 5 years, but her body lives another 20. Is it fair (not to mention sustainable) to keep all these "eternal" bodies going when there is no hope of their minds ever coming back? In a world of increasing pressure on access to medical care (and broke governments!), are we seriously saying we'd rather reduce the amount of much-needed care given to a young mother, aspiring student, jobless family bread winner, etc so as to keep my gran's body going?
As much as I love her, and because I love her, I'm advocating for adults to be asked to sign a living will routinely, which in my view should include our stance on assisted suicide, organ donation and wishes on what to do with us if we become irreversibly senile. Of course, this until our advances in neural medicine catch up and solve the problem first.
It's a really tough topic, I know. Any takers?
Category: Funding longer lives: Long-term care
Location: Barcelona, Spain