Lifestyle

BOOKWORM: Seeking a hand with elder care

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

All through your childhood, your dad was Superman.

He could fix anything. He told the best jokes, kept important secrets and was pretty good in the kitchen when he had to be. So much of what you know, you learned from him.

But Dad hasn’t been the same since your mom died. He’s forgetful and unfocused and you’re concerned. You’re wondering if your siblings have noticed it, too.

Author Francine Russo says that you’re not alone in the hard choices you make when caring for elderly relatives. In her new book “They’re Your Parents, Too!”, she writes about how adult children can ask for and get help from the rest of the family in dealing with an elder’s aging.

A century ago, Russo writes, it was rare for someone to live beyond their 50s and if someone did reach “elderly” status, they had few options. There were no assisted living facilities, no all-inclusive nursing homes and few retirement communities. The best a senior citizen could hope for was to move in with a daughter or a son whose wife would assume responsibility for care until the end.

Today, there are dozens of choices, depending on remaining parental abilities. Despite the wealth of options, though, the decision seems harder to make. One sibling wants this. Another wants that. You have other ideas. Dad can’t decide and Mom steadfastly refuses everything. Thought you’ve been a grown-up for several decades, childhood issues and sibling rivalries flood back.

The thing to remember is that this is a big change for your entire family – Russo calls it a Twilight Transition – and that, with patience and understanding, you can get through this together. But there are many things to keep in mind.

Caregivers should remember to ask for help when they need it, then accept it. Remember to take some “you” time and try to give your new role some meaning, which will help avoid feeling trapped.

Noncaregivers should stop feeling guilty and do what needs to be done. Lend an ear, a hand or money. Try to see what your sibling sees and don’t argue. You’re from the same family, but that doesn’t mean you deal with everything the same way.

Using case studies and true examples, “They’re Your Parents, Too!” takes adult children step-by-step through that landmine of parental care in which more and more Boomers are finding themselves.

While I saw some cautionary information, particularly in the chapters on wills, I sometimes thought Russo’s guidance was a bit simplistic and too touchy-huggy. On the other hand, her advice about knowing yourself and your own personal issues is wise and useful at any stage of life. Overall, this book begs for introspection as well as understanding, and it can only help anyone in the parenting-a-parent role.

Whether you already care for Mom and Dad or you’ll gratefully allow a sibling to do so, you’ll need this book in days to come. “They’re Your Parents, Too!” could be the fix your family needs.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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