Selected Radio Commentaries
by Peter Wotton
Alzheimer's / Hospice
Public health became Peter Wotton's second career. Following a career in advertising in New York and Connecticut, Peter received an MA in public health from Yale University and worked in public health administration in Connecticut and Oregon. In his Elderberry Wine commentaries, Peter frequently provided his listeners with information about health issues and resources in the community. In commentary #528, "Alzheimer's" Peter talked about the resources in the community for families dealing with Alzheimer's and related diseases. Commentary #716 "Hospice" is one of Peter's last Elderberry Wines. It was broadcast shortly before his own death.
# 528 -- September 21, 1992
For over twenty years my wife Jean has been assisting people who are terminally ill or afflicted with Alzheimer's or a related disease to remain in their homes instead of going into a nursing home. More recently, I have been assisting Jean as a member of the caregiving team.
This is a field that's bound to expand in future years as the percentage of elderly people in our society continues to increase. This kind of work also attracts people who want a flexible schedule. If you're on a caregiving team you don't exactly get to pick all your hours, but if something important comes up, someone else on the team can usually fill in.
It's rewarding to know you're helping people to stay in their homes, and that you're able to give then the individualized care they want or need. Another reward is the experience of working with and providing loving care for these people -- and for their families -- during periods of dramatic transition.
This week I'll talk mostly about the resources in this area for families dealing with Alzheimer's and related diseases, and next week I'll talk about hospice care. People afflicted with Alzheimer's or a related disease are dealing with the loss of cognition, the loss of coherent speech, and the loss of the ability to do simple tasks. The reaction of these people may vary from smiling and compliant acceptance to fierce denial and resistance. Either way, we can learn from them.
Because family members have difficulty dealing with changes brought about by dementia, it's particularly stressful for them to provide full-time care. Respite at the least is necessary.
That's why it may be important to bring in a professional caregiver for most or all of the hands-on care, with family members providing support and back-up. There are a growing number of organized resources for Alzheimer's and related diseases. The Eugene Clinic offers an assessment service which can distinguish between these diseases and transient conditions brought about by nutritional or other deficiencies. The clinic also has an excellent library on the subject. Many nursing homes have special units for patients with dementia, and one, Southtowne Living Center, is entirely specialized for this purpose.
Another excellent resource is the Cascade Coast chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which has offices at 1238 Lincoln Street in Eugene. They serve Coos, Curry, Douglas, and Lane counties, and their phone number is 345-8392. I've spoken to this group several times, and I'm much impressed with the spirit and commitment of its members, most of whom are relatives of patients with these diseases.
If there is someone in your family or among your friends who might need some of these services, be sure to check out all available resources. Sadly, because of the trauma brought about by Alzheimer's and related diseases, many families wait too long before seeking help.
This is Peter Wotton, with Elderberry Wine, KLCC and KLCO's weekly salute to the older people in our community. And the message for this week is: Don't turn away!
# 716 -- September 1996
When I first arrived in Eugene in 1979, I was full of enthusiasm for the concept of hospice. I came here from the New Haven area, where there was an exciting new free-standing hospice program. Friends in the Unitarian Church here steered me to a series of meetings in the basement of what was then the Eugene Hospital and Clinic. An organization known as Hospice of Lane had been formed to explore the idea. Impatient to begin educating the public, some of us started Friends of Hospice of Lane, with the basic purpose of garnering public support for the idea.
Churches and synagogues are always a good place to start with new ideas of this sort, so we scheduled talks at a number of local religious social concerns committees. We also spoke before service clubs, such as the Kiwanis and Elks, where outside speakers are always in demand. Eventually, both Sacred Heart General Hospital and McKenzie Willamette Hospital created hospice programs. Both are now Medicare-accredited, operating through each hospital's home health department.
The idea of hospice is to create a setting in which terminally ill patients can be allowed to die with dignity, free from pain, and without the sense of failure that so often characterizes death in a medical setting. We train our doctors and other medical personnel to save lives, and it should not surprise us that they take this charge seriously. The problem is that there comes a time when saving a life is not the issue, and both caregivers and family members have a hard time adjusting to the task of making the patient's last days or even months comfortable. When there's nothing more we can do, we feel frustrated.
Hospice care takes place almost entirely in the patient's home. A stable caregiving situation is a basic requirement, but beyond that, the hospice program will provide home health nurses and aides, a social worker, chaplaincy services, and free medications. The emphasis is on comfort and freedom from pain, and the entire family is considered as partners in caregiving, rather than, as often happens in other medical settings, a competing or interfering element. The patient's wishes are always paramount.
Ironically, I was well into my involvement with the hospice program when I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1980. And now, after sixteen years of fending off the cancer, I find myself signing up for hospice services. We chose the Sacred Heart program over the Benton County Hospice program because, although we live in Alpine now, I still have a house in Eugene, and if and when things get really rough, we'll move there, where I also have a lot of friends to provide extra support. As an inveterate networker, I shouldn't be surprised that out of three hospice care providers assigned to my case, two turned out to be friends of mine. A nurse visits me every week, a social worker when needed, and several times a week a home health aide comes to give me a bed bath. And the care turns out to be every bit as good as I claimed it would be, back in 1979 and 1980.
This is Peter Wotton with Elderberry Wine, KLCC's weekly salute to the older people in our community. And my message for this week is: Hospice: A gentle way to die.
"Elderberry Wine" is copyrighted by KLCC-FM. Permission to rebroadcast or publish the commentaries must be obtained from KLCC-FM.