Age of entitlements

No doubt about it: You deserve the best. You made it through the Depression, perhaps fought in World War II. You worked hard all your life. Raised a healthy family and never asked for a handout. You paid your dues — and your taxes.

Certainly, you’ve lived long enough to demand what you want. You’re entitled to a comfortable retirement, right?

Well, that’s the way an octogenarian at a retirement home felt when she demanded that the landscape director stifle the noisy birds who were waking her — even if he had to destroy all their nests.

The way she sees it, and maybe you do, too, society owes you. All 9 million of you Americans who are 80 or older.

You’re part of what’s called the Entitled Generation, curmudgeon or not. You were around when the government created such programs as Social Security, Medicare and Medi-Cal. Your deductions helped fund them and you think it’s high time the government paid you back and society started showing you some respect.

So you snap your fingers, ring your bedside bell, push to the front of the early-bird buffet line and stuff your pockets with tomorrow’s lunch.

Watching all this are your aging kids, born into the baby-boomer generation, who have always demanded the best. And by 2025, they’ll be among the 15 million Americans collecting Social Security checks and thinking they’re entitled to a happy retirement, too.

Talk about great expectations. It’s a thin line between realistic and unrealistic demands. And it depends who’s drawing that line.

Fortunately, specialists in the booming elder-care industry acknowledge that they’re here to spoil you. And though some of your demands might be extreme, they do their best to honor them.

“We all want to have our needs and wants met. Some people are better at articulating them than others,” says Laura Hansen, chief executive officer of Age Concerns, a San Diego care-management agency. “Our job is to increase their quality of life.”

Elder-care specialists understand that you’re used to being in control. That you have to fight to maintain some independence while everyone seems to be telling you when and what to eat and whether you can drive your own car anymore.

Even when people are being pains in the neck, the geriatric professionals need to look beneath the behavior, says Hansen. “We need to see the real cause of that behavior.” Often, she says, older people feel out of control.

Not surprisingly, caregivers say, some of the more outlandish requests concern pets.

A resident at one retirement community decided that it was OK for her dog to do his business on the grass, because he was little and didn’t eat much.

And when a man moved into an upscale retirement community at the beach with his diabetic dog, he expected the nurse to give it daily insulin shots.

“People have a right to feel they deserve certain services for what they’re paying,” says Steve Barlam of LivHOME, a home-care agency that caters to the well-heeled in the Los Angeles area.

He thinks of The Entitled as the ones who step over the line. They’re the ones with unrealistic expectations, the ones who want everything done yesterday.

And the older people aren’t the only ones who feel they’re entitled, he says. Their sons and daughters also want someone to make Mom and Dad happy, even though they might not have been happy for the last 30 years.

For elder-care specialists, keeping clients and their families happy is a delicate balancing act. They need to weigh what the clients want against what they need and what the staff is willing to provide, according to Barlam and Bunni Dybnis, also of LivHOME.

They talk about the clients — and their families — who expect everything for nothing. About Hollywood types used to getting free gowns for the Academy Awards and free lunches in upscale restaurants that hope the stars will attract paying customers.

The home-care team talks about the wealthy and once powerful who think that even in old age, the pleasure of their company should be payment enough.

When her mother’s cat got pregnant, the daughter of a resident at one retirement community expected the staff to find good homes for the kittens.

“Emptiness causes narcissism,” Dybnis says. She believes many of the aging politicians, generals, CEOs and sports stars who believe they are entitled are driven by fear.

Some folks are just downright spoiled. “People have told them they deserve it and they believe it,” Dybnis says.

Says Barbara Printz of the upscale Pacific Regent: “I believe they’re paying enough so that if they want it now, they should get it now — or within a reasonable period of time.”

When one resident said she’d been promised a daily ride to the local bagel shop, the retirement home complied. Someone drove her there every morning until she died, about seven years later.

When a resident, who was a retired general, insisted on barking orders, the facility encouraged him to serve as a greeter in the entry hall.

“It made him feel like he was in charge, and he was happy,” Printz says.

Dixie King, director at Arbors Assisted Living, says, “Ninety-nine percent of what the residents request is basic, reasonable stuff.”

The goal, she says, is to find a happy medium. “If you do too much for them, you take away from their independence. They stop doing for themselves.”

To ensure that residents feel special, ManorCare Health Services of San Diego offers a Hearts Desire program.

For a resident who used to raise horses, ManorCare hired a carriage and driver and took the woman and her friends for a ride.

The facility also treated a resident and her son to dinner at the ocean-front Marine Room in La Jolla, where she used to celebrate special occasions with her late husband.

But igniting that sparkle isn’t always easy.

The daughter of one retirement-community resident requested that her mother get a full body massage every evening. The younger woman even offered to bring her own massage table.

A resident at another facility that welcomed pets demanded that management build a separate elevator for the critters so she wouldn’t have to share one with them.

Then there was the octogenarian who refused to be saddled with the bus driver’s schedule. So, after the driver dropped her and the other residents at a local shopping center, she would hitchhike home, rather than wait for the bus to return. Despite admonitions from the staff and pleas from her family, the woman continued to hitch rides for six years.

And yet another skilled-nursing facility has a legendary entitlement story. It’s about a woman who insisted on room service, because the other residents in the dining room were too old. She was 101.