“How to Care for Aging Parents”- Highlights from Introduction

Several years ago, local support group member Cheri recommended the book “How to Care for Aging Parents” by Virginia Morris.  It was required reading in a class she took.  Cheri described it as a “thick book (over 650 pages) with lots of information regardless of who the ill person may be — parent, sibling, or spouse.”  According to amazon.com, the book “covers all the emotional, legal, financial, medical, and logistical issues in caring for the elderly.”

Local support group member Denise is reading parts of the book and will share some highlights along the way.  Here’s her description of the introduction to this book, which addresses how caregiving has changed over the last couple of generations.



“How to Care for Aging Parents”
Book’s authors:  Virginia Morris and Robert Butler

Denise’s highlights from the book’s Introduction

In the introduction of this comprehensive, well organized manual, Ms. Morris points out that often, in taking on the job of caregiving a family member, we make a couple mistakes in our thinking.

We feel it is our filial duty.  People have been doing it forever.  So, why do I feel overwhelmed and exhausted?  Why can I not handle this as well as my mother or grandmother did?  Thinking that is the first mistake.

Things have changed a lot in the past few decades.  Years ago aged parents were never really aged.  People didn’t grow old; they grew up and they died.  Only 100 years ago, that was around age 51.  Within our children’s lifetime, the average life span is expected to extend routinely to 85.  Thousands will surpass 100.

People are living healthier lives.  Doctors have better diagnostic tools.  New treatments keep people living longer.  But the human body still wears out.  It slows down.  It becomes susceptible to a host of ailments and diseases doctors continue to treat to the bitter end.

Caring for aging parents used to mean sharing meals, helping with chores, and then, for a few weeks, seeing him through sickness and death.  As a result of medical intervention extending life, caring for an aging parent now involves catheters, oxygen, and multiple medications.  The average caregiver in America devotes 20+ hours per week for nearly five years.

The situation for women, the traditional caregivers, is most remarkable. There was a time when women were home and had kids in their twenties.  Those kids were grown and gone before parents typically became ill.  Now women are working and having children later.  They have been deemed, “the sandwich generation” by the media; caring for both children and aging parents simultaneously.  And they’ve taken those jobs all over the country, sometimes managing a parent’s caregiving from hours away, even by plane.

Whether male or female, you should not consider caring for a truly ill or aged parent singlehandedly; particularly with growing children and a full time job!  The results can be divorce, debt, job loss, depression, insomnia, illness and death.

Society and business are stepping in to fill caregiving needs.  There are more assisted living facilities, more gadgets to maintain independence, more agencies to support caregivers, more adult day care, more support groups, and more information available, especially via the internet.  But the baby boomers just turned 65 so more is needed: respite, job support, financial assistance, and better housing options, to name a few.

The second mistake caregivers often make is defining ‘elderly’ as 55+ when life expectancy is 85+.  It causes a mindset that the presence of ailments means one is useless, fragile, unproductive, and no longer able to participate in society.  In reality, the flip side of all those medical treatments, means our aging population will be productive members of society well past 55.

If caregivers prematurely age our parents by expecting them to be incapable or cautioning them not to step out, get involved, try new things, we create helplessness and further decline by encouraging a sedentary lifestyle.

The upshot is:  encourage aging parents to remain active and as involved in life as they are capable of for as long as they are able but when they need care, don’t expect to do it alone.  The first chapter discusses beginning a conversation with your parents in preparation for the day when they are unable to make decisions.  It outlines what information and documents you should have to make those decisions for them, and what questions you should ask to make decisions according to their wishes.