During a recent trip to New York City to visit my daughter, I saw the highly acclaimed French film “Amour,” directed by Michael Haneke.
Rightfully, this intense drama depicting an elderly married couple’s relationship in the face of the wife’s stroke and debilitating health trajectory has garnered numerous international awards and Academy Award nominations.
This is undoubtedly a great film.
But in the eyes of a career-long gerontologist, professor, and recently elected president of Southern Maine Agency on Aging’s board of directors, there are aspects of this story that were hard to love.
Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are 80-something-year-olds who live in an apartment in Paris.
They are surrounded by memorabilia from a long history in the music world.
They have one adult daughter, married to another musician, who both live in London.
For the most part Anne and Georges are isolated.
In the face of Anne’s sudden stroke followed by a rapid decline in ability to communicate and function with basic activities of daily living, Georges faces the challenges of providing care to his wife, mostly alone.
During this more-than-two-hour film a neighbor comes to the door twice with groceries, and two nurses are privately employed. One is promptly dismissed.
That’s the extent of the support this couple receives.
This is where my involvement with the Southern Maine Agency on Aging triggered protest:
Georges — why haven’t you reached out for help?
Are there no agencies on aging, or their equivalent, in Paris?
What about adult day care which would provide services to Anne and respite for you?
What about meals on wheels? Other in-home services?
Across the United States there are 629 of these agencies whose main mission is to help people like Georges and Anne.
They are called area agencies on aging and are federally mandated by the Older Americans Act.
Every American over the age of 60, no matter their level of income or where they live in the 50 states and territories, are eligible for services from the agency on aging in their geographic region.
A core service within the mission of every agency on aging is assistance for family caregivers of older adults.
From the comprehensive range of services available, I consider this one to be especially critical.
Numerous times in my teaching career at the University of Southern Maine, I’ve been approached by a colleague or an adult student with the following request: “Mike, my 85-year-old mother lives in Oregon (or Iowa, or Arizona) and is getting frail. How can I find help for her to stay at home?”
Because of this network of agencies, my response is both simple and consistent.
Call the agency on aging in her area.
In fact, the motto on the website of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging states this mission rather succinctly: “Your first stop for answers.”
One special quality of agencies on aging is their flexibility.
Each of the 629 geographical areas across the United States that have agencies — we have five here in Maine — is different.
The law allows for diversity in services based on the special needs of older people in each region. For example, agencies in rural areas may invest more resources in transportation; those in urban areas may choose to do more with crime prevention.
In addition to the core services required by law, here in the Southern Maine region we have programs, supported by paid staff and more than 1200 volunteers, which focus on such vital issues as financial management, delivering meals and a hugely popular Medicare education program
In addition, Southern Maine Agency on Aging is one of the few providers of adult day care in the state with plans for new facilities and an expansion of services in Biddeford and Falmouth.
I loved “Amour” as a film, but I didn’t love it as a prescription for the way older people need to live in the face of serious illness and frailty.
There are better ways and, fortunately, we have them.
Here in Maine, they are a simple toll-free phone call away.
E. Michael Brady teaches adult and higher education at the University of Southern Maine and is president of the board of directors of Southern Maine Agency on Aging.
– Special to the Press Herald