何毓琦的个人博客分享 http://blog.sciencenet.cn/u/何毓琦 哈佛(1961-2001) 清华(2001-date)

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The Vicissitude of Extreme Old Age (II) 精选

已有 2294 次阅读 2019-9-29 20:18 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察

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Decline vs. Change in Mental Functions and Attitudes


I have written previously about mental exercises and declines in old age http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1565-1199620.html , http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1565-1151731.html . These are normal and inevitable passages in life if one lives long enough. However, recent happenings among our friends and acquaintances alerted me to another more difficult mental problem which I alluded to in my first “vicissitude” article above. A person may still be mentally competent in the sense s/he retains more or less the normal mental functions of an adult but her/his mental attitude, temperament, and mood changes to become more demanding, unreasonable, and stubborn. In a couple if both are still alive, such mental changes place a great burden on the spouse. S/he literally becomes a slave to her/his partner 24/7/365 every minutes of the day in order to satisfy his/her demands and wants. Unlike a person suffering mental DECLINE, whether dementia or Alzheimer disease, the person does not just becoming passive and regress gradually to a vegetable state. S/he simply becomes less agreeable and more demanding for service. For example, S/he will stubbornly refuse to hire professional help or go to live in an assisted living or nursing home (yes, they can afford the cost) but only insist his/her spouse carry out all kinds of duties/tasks. This is because s/he understandibly needs the assurance of love and support from love ones and realizes full well hired help or professional care facilities will not obey his/her unreasonable demands but her/her close relatives, such as spouse or children will. It is his/her test for unconditional love and support. But I don’t think the person realizes what a cruel burden s/he has created for his/her spouse or children when such demand for demonstration of love is asked for everyday and every minute. In this sense, I was extremely lucky. My mother, who sacrifice her entire life for me, and lived to 92 only insisted in her last years that I telephone her once a day regardless where I was in the world – a not unreasonable  task I gladly compiled. And so far my wife can testify that I have not changed my loving and obedient nature nor she to me. But stories (“complaints”) we hear/learn from friends and acquaintances are far more difficult and we are helpless except to provide a sympathetic ear and empathetic outlet.

I really don’t know what the solution and/or remedy except “death” to such situation – a real tragedy - is! 




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