This month’s columnist, Larry Bogatz, writes about what it’s like being old in Carbondale. He’s luckier than most, he tells us, because he has means that translate into options. Still, the choices can be heart-wrenching. After reading his story, imagine yourself in a similar situation (unless you are already there). Will you or your loved ones be lucky enough to have choices?
– Ron Kokish, Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative
When we moved to Carbondale in 2016 to be near my wife Sheryl’s best friend and Sheryl’s sister, we were hoping for support that even our close Los Angeles friends couldn’t provide. Although initially misdiagnosed, Sheryl’s disease was eventually correctly identified as early-onset Alzheimer’s. Despite not being the news we wanted to hear, it did help us know more about what we were facing. Curative treatment doesn’t exist. What we were about to confront were profound loss and the indescribable sadness it comes with. No amount of support would save us from that.
Sheryl has been residing in a local nursing home for nearly two years. She no longer recognizes me or anyone else. Additionally, because of my own current health issues, I’m no longer able to physically participate in most of the outdoor activities I love and for which our area is famous. Hopefully that will improve with an upcoming surgery, but how much, how soon and for how long?
I have a housemate who occupies the second floor of my home. It’s a friendly relationship. We typically see one another at some point during the day to decide on dinner, which she prepares. After that, we usually watch television for a while to end the evening. I have many friends, but pretty much live alone. This is not what I planned. It’s how things turned out.
At 83, I don’t make long-term plans, but I’m fortunate to have options. I can stay where I am. I inhabit a big, lovely home in a friendly neighborhood and have a great view of Sopris. I’m not too far from shopping and services and, when able, can drive or walk to them. At some point, I may need caregivers. I could move to a smaller home which has a main-floor bedroom and is closer to the town’s core. However, the thought of moving is daunting at my age, especially knowing that it would likely be for a limited time and that I’d probably still need caregivers. A more logical choice would be to move to one of the local retirement communities, but I have important relationships with two dogs who also get a vote, and they are not ready for me to move without them. I could also relocate to Las Vegas to live with my son or in one of its many retirement communities.
As I said, I’m fortunate to have options, but with choices come responsibilities and gnawing doubts. I’m not the only person who will be affected by the choices I make. My son has a home, a wife, four children, two dogs, a cat, a business and friends in Las Vegas. They are a wonderful family: kind, sensitive, fun and practical. My well-being is very important to them, but what would it be like to have day-to-day responsibility for me? How much care will I eventually need? Will I live long enough to eventually stop recognizing them while still needing them? There is the obvious issue of cost, largely a function of how much longer I live. There are so many unknowns, only some of which I have a measure of control over (at least I think I do).
I love living in the Colorado mountains and don’t for a minute regret having made the move. I know that it’s unrealistic to make inflexible plans, but I want my limited future to be as good as possible. How do I best accomplish that? Carbondale is not an easy place in which to be old: transportation is limited; there’s no senior center; where sidewalks exist, they often need lighting and/or repair; it’s an expensive town and appropriate, affordable housing is hard to find; although medical services are adequate, especially for a town this size, specialized cares is often lacking. Some services for older adults do exist. Valley Meals and More offers wonderful services, from which I already benefit, but they depend on grant funding, which may or may not continue. Senior Matters and The Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative are working with AARP to implement best practices in Carbondale. Our town’s elected and appointed leadership have been supportive of these efforts, but most of what the Town is working toward is years rather than months in the future. Unfortunately, Garfield County’s services for the older population are minimal compared with neighboring Eagle and Pitkin counties. For many, there is reason to be optimistic. But me, I’m working against the clock. Here’s hoping the “Spirit of Life” is on my side.
Mature Content is a monthly feature from the Carbondale AARP Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI)