An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Dinner, Dementia, & Divorce

Our home teacher threw a dinner party Saturday night for the families he home teaches. George and I enjoyed getting together with ward members with whom we are not well-acquainted—thanks to our sporadic church attendance.  It was an especially good night for Gerald and Joanne who live several blocks away. He suffers dementia, but enjoyed being with people willing to overlook his confusion and talk to him about events he can remember. Joanne seemed to enjoy this rare evening out. As Gerald’s caregiver, her life is totally restricted. She cannot leave him alone and has given up her book group and Daughters of Utah Pioneers meetings.

Gerald and Joanne’s situation is hardly unusual in this age of life-prolonging medication. Gerald really needs to be in a care center, but nursing home costs are prohibitive for families who failed to purchase long-term care insurance when they were young and healthy. Medicare pays for only 90 days of nursing home care. Medicaid eligibility occurs only after a couple has exhausted their own resources—leaving the healthy spouse with only the house, Social Security, and possibly pension income.

It looks like Joanne’s only options are: a) to continue care giving at home until she exhausts herself and possibly dies first, b) to impoverish herself by paying for Gerald’s residence in a care center until their savings are exhausted, or c) to divorce him and let him go on Medicaid.

These are scary old-age prospects for couples. Since dementia runs on my side of the family and not George’s, I have told George and the kids (quite nobly, I think) that it’s all right for him to divorce me when I need nursing home care. “No problem,” our daughter Lolly said. “You won’t know it anyway.”

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