Your Aging Parent and You

By Josie Brown

Your Aging Parent and YouWhen Dee* was growing up, she saw her mother as the center of their family’s universe.

“Dad was your typical absentee father,” says the forty-two year-old divorced realtor. “Every important family decision was either initiated by Mom, or had to have her blessing. She was such a dynamo! If she wanted something for us, it happened in large part because she willed it into being.”

Recently, though, Dee’s mother was diagnosed with mylodisplasia—a condition in which the bone marrow can no longer create blood cells—and both their worlds were turned upside down. But the disease itself, coupled with the lifesaving chemotherapy and blood transfusions, often left her mother weak and disoriented.

When living alone was no longer an option, Dee offered her spare bedroom.

“My siblings live on the other side of the country, so it was natural that I become the primary caregiver. She has several doctors’ appointments a week. So sure, it’s drastically altered my earnings, not to mention my personal life.”

Aging Parents, Aging Children How to Stay Sane and SurviveIn their book Aging Parents, Aging Children: How to Stay Sane and Survive, elder care practitioners Marcella Bakur Weiner, Ph.D, and Miriam K. Aronson, Ed.D point out that relationships between parents and children are in a constant state of evolution. “In addition to normal aging, diseases do develop, sometimes gradually and sometimes suddenly, sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle. But change is what we can count on.”

In an age when medical advances are extending human life, a role reversal between parent and child is bound to take place, say Aronson and Wiener. “The best we can do is to look at that older person and see what they’re all about—who they were and still are—or are not.”

Consider these steps to help you prepare for this inevitable change in your parent’s life—and your own:

Talk it through—now.
Aging may not be an easy topic of conversation for older adults who are currently leading active lives. Then again, should your parent suddenly become incapacitated, you don’t want to be the last to know the necessary vital information that can help you maintain her wellbeing. An honest and forthright conversation should cover these topics:

  • Ask your parent to write down the names of pharmaceuticals currently prescribed, and to keep you updated on any changes in prescriptions or dosages.
  • Know all the names, locations and telephone numbers of your parent’s doctors. Ask to go along to her next check-up, so that you can meet the doctor face-to-face. This will allow you an opportunity to ask any questions about her health issues or medications. Most importantly know that your parent has a signed an advanced care directive in the event that she become incapacitated.
  • Know the name of her attorney, ask her for a copy of her will for safekeeping, and know the name of its designated executor. If she currently has no will, ask her to prepare one with an attorney as soon as possible, along with a living trust, which may eliminate probate and reduce estate taxes.
  • Trade copies of keys to each other’s homes and cars.
  • Ask her to note your name, telephone number and address as next-of-kin in her address book, and to post this beside her telephone. Also, this information should be programmed into her cell phone, under both “Daughter” and  “ICE” (In Case of Emergency).
  • Develop relationships with her closest friends. They will be the first to notice any changes in her behavior that indicate a medical problem.

If long-term care issues arise, expect an emotional rollercoaster ride—for you, and for your parent.
The realization that she is losing her mental faculties or her mobility can have a devastating effect on your parent’s emotional psyche, and on yours. Even a move as close as across town may help.