OUR POSITION: There are avenues to turn to for help, but caregivers still find themselves in difficult and challenging situations in deciding best course for their loved ones.
Wayne Juhlin, a 94-year-old Venice man, loaded his gun and, when his wife looked away, he shot and killed her. He then turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger. It did not go off.
He ended up calling 911 and telling the operator “I’ve had a death in the family.”
Juhlin, you see, had lost the wife long ago. She was still alive, but Alzheimer’s had robbed her of the person he knew.
His situation is not unique.
The following day, an elderly couple was found dead in Sarasota. The police investigation, still incomplete, says it appears to be a murder/suicide.
Cheryl Green, who lives in Port Charlotte, can relate. Her husband of 54 years passed away in July, but not before his failing health all but bankrupted the couple and had his wife considering the same tragic route Juhlin took.
In an email to the Sun, Green admitted “if I had known what our future was for that last year, and if I had the courage, I would have killed us both.”
Her husband’s illness, diagnosed as Lewy Body dementia, began in his mid-50s and forced him to quit work. The couple sold their home in Seattle and moved here, living off Social Security. For nine years Green served as caregiver — saying the final two years were the hardest as her husband suffered from hallucinations and their savings and finances dried up.
Green, who is 73, said she could hardly sleep. Often, during the night, her husband would leave the house. Once she found him passed out in the back yard. He did not know who she was.
She could find no rehabilitation home that had room or would take his case, she said. One that she found in Lake Placid, a three-hour drive there and back, treated him until Medicare ran out. She had to pay $260 a day if he stayed there.
In the end, he was accepted at a hospice center in Orlando, where he died.
Green said she can recount other similar stories including her daughter-in-law paying $50,000 to find a family home for her mother.
The options for families struggling with dementia and other diseases are so rare and so expensive it too often seems suicide is an alternative.
There are respite centers and support groups for overwhelmed caregivers. For information on such help centers people can call the Aging and Disability Resource Center, 866-413-5337. There you can get information on services available to families or others needing assistance with someone over the age of 60.
There is also the Area Agency for Aging for Southwest Florida, 239-652-6900. It offers help to place the disabled in public and private long-care support programs.
Anyone who feels there is no solution to their problems. Anyone who feels they’re ready to give up. Anyone who feels they want to end it all. You need to reach out for help.
Meanwhile, as a state, nation, culture we must do a better job of offering options for people suffering through the final years of their life.