Peruvian Cure for a Prickly World War II Vet: La Comunidad

One of the surprises of bringing my 86-year-old father to Peru was seeing how much he ultimately thrived on having lots of human contact. To be blunt, his being doted on by sweet-tempered Peruvian women helped transform him from a vain, self-absorbed, prickly old man into a calm person who was actually kind of nice to be around. (Getting him on antidepressants—which I suspect he had needed for years–also helped.) Being part of la comunidad (the Spanish word for “community”) was an integral part of his emotional care.

Never a physically demonstrative person, my father had lived a rather solitary life in the United States. Widowed at age seventy-seven, he lived alone in a four-bedroom house in northern Florida and resisted having me, Jorge and Sam come live with him when we proposed the idea. His interactions with other people were limited to weekly church services, monthly Masonic meetings and brief transactions with grocery clerks, bank tellers, doctors and nurses. This wasn’t really that big a change from the way he had lived when my mom was alive. For decades my mother had been the center of his emotional life; when she died of lung cancer in 2004, he bought a toy poodle and lavished his affections (and Krispy Kreme donuts) on that. He had no close friends to speak of, just people he had known up north long ago and with whom he exchanged annual Christmas cards.

Moving my father to live with us in Peru put us in a different, more humane, paradigm.

In contrast with the United States—which prizes, above all, independence and individualism—Peru is a country of collectivism. Continue Reading

Eldercare Is Easier in a Nonlitigious Society

This quote, by 17th-century French satirist Jean de la Bruyere, might be said to sum up the attitude of many Peruvians toward civil lawsuits.

I knew when we brought my father to Lima in 2011 that it would be cheaper to give him personalized care there. What I didn’t anticipate is how much easier it would be work with doctors, nurses, health aides and hospitals—in contrast with the bureaucracy and complications of the U.S.

After thinking it over, I’ve come to realize what, exactly, made these interactions easier: Peruvian culture is not very litigious. Unlike in the United States, people don’t generally sue others and institutions over civil matters. And when it comes to medical issues, people rarely take doctors or hospitals to court, even when things go very wrong. For instance, the whole seven years I lived in Lima, Continue Reading

Lesson #1: Hoarding as a Sign of Dementia

hoarding-ketchup-packets

It started around the time my mother died, in 2004 or 2005. My elderly father began eating out more–Boston Market, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Chinese food–and he’d bring home the condiments packets and store them in a drawer in the kitchen.

Ketchup packets. Mustard packets. Soy sauce. Duck sauce.

Soon they filled several drawers. I’d find them crammed in the fridge, in the cutlery drawer.

It became a joke with me and my husband when we’d come over to see my father — the neverending packets. We’d go to get a drink from the fridge, and they’d spill out of the top cubby where you’re supposed to keep eggs.

“Hey, Dad,” I joked, “Don’t you think you have enough ketchup packets?”

“Oh, Barb, there’s no sense throwing out good food,” he’d say, peevishly.

This went on for years. I just thought it was a product of his being a child of the Great Depression.

It must have in 2008 or so when I noticed that he wasn’t just hoarding ketchups. Continue Reading

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