Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Synopsis: Caring for Aging Parents

Yesterday the Virtual Book Tour with Barbara Friesen about her book, The Ultimate Caregiver's Success Guide, was very well received. And we had a lively exchange of comments, questions and answers throughout the day.

Our thanks to all of you who participated! What follows is a summary of readers' comments and Barbara's thoughtful responses. Most of the questions were about the changes that parents were going through and how to deal with them. And many had concerns about how to come to terms with their own feelings.

One in particular:

My elderly mother's memory is failing. Additionally, she has begun to lose weight. She cares for herself in her own home and does not want anyone to come in to help her. We (daughters) want to respect her choices, but are beginning to be worried re: her safety (e.g. possible stove fire, forgetting to eat due to lack of appetite, etc.). She feels we are overly concerned. Any thoughts on this? Thanks.

Barbara says:

First let me say I don't think you're overly concerned. In fact, your Mom is lucky to have daughters who are concerned.

Your Mom's situation is very common. She doesn't want to give up her independence and, as a woman of her generation, her home and taking care of it is her identity. However, it sounds like she needs some help.

Because she is losing weight, I suggest she starts by getting a full medical check-up. (Be sure they check for a urinary tract infection - a common cause of increased forgetfulness.) To get her to accept help, you can also do a list of the pros and cons of her living alone at home. Then help her see that in order to stay in her own home, that she needs to address the cons (such as not eating properly, safety, etc) (You might also want to check out a CD I did called "Is It Simple Forgetfulness or the Real Thing" at

Cynthia writes:

I live in California and my mom is in her 80's and in Florida. How do I deal with the bad feelings when something comes up and I can't leave my kids and job to go help take care of it.

Barbara's response:

This is a difficult question to answer without more background on your Mom and what kinds of things you’re talking about. However, some things to think about…

Do things come up when she’s feeling neglected (eg: you haven’t called in a few days)? If that’s the case, you might want to set up regularly scheduled calls and include the kids on at least some of them. Encourage them (any you!) to tell her about all the things they’re doing so she can get a better idea of how busy everyone is.

Do things come up because of lack of planning on her part (eg: no one to take her to a doctor’s appointment she knew was on the calendar)? If so, “teach” her how to be more organized, for example, to make transportation arrangements when she makes the doctor’s appointment.

My elderly mother's memory is failing. Additionally, she has begun to lose weight. She cares for herself in her own home and does not want anyone to come in to help her. We (daughters) want to respect her choices, but are beginning to be worried re: her safety (e.g. possible stove fire, forgetting to eat due to lack of appetite, etc.). She feels we are overly concerned. Any thoughts on this? Thanks.

Another reader wonders:

My Mother died last year and my Father now comes over all the time. She used to be the one to connect with my kids. We love being with him and it's so different - he's so emotionally available. What do you make of this?

Barbara's reaction:

How lovely that your father visits all the time and that he’s so connected to you and your kids. That’s not always the case. Too often when the mother dies, the father becomes withdrawn because, like many men of his generation, the mother was the “family” person. His ‘new’ connection may be because he’s lonely. Or maybe he’s now getting to be the person he always was but his ‘role’ in the family didn’t allow him to be. Whatever the reason, what a wonderful gift you now have!

Her words resonate for Sandy when Barbara talks about her difficult relationship with her mom:

I was surprised when you said that you didn't get along with your mom and then you were able to take care of her for so long. I have what may be a similar situation. I know you can't tell me how you did it, but is there one thing that stands out about the changes you made?

Barbara's heartfelt reply:

I am sorry you may have a similar situation. I think there are a lot of daughters who do! It was hard but I knew if I focused on the anger, I would not be able to help my mother the way I wanted to - or my insides would explode!

So I had a number of long conversations with myself and made the conscious decision to stop trying to get answers (or maybe even an apology) and focus on who she now was and how I could help her.

Because of my work, I knew that she made decisions based on the experiences of her life - some of which she may have been aware of, but a lot she probably wasn't. Therefore, whatever caused my feelings toward her, they probably would never be resolved with her. Also, once I realized that, because of her dementia, she would never be able to explain some of her actions or decisions as I was growing up, there was no point in dwelling on it. It may not have been the best way (and since my Mother's death in June, I have gotten help to deal with the anger) but that's what worked for me.

That is also why I wrote "The Ultimate Caregiver's Success Guide" - so that family members could help their loved one in an unemotional, yet very effective way. As a result they can make good decisions and provide care regardless of past history.

Another woman is grateful:

Barbara, thank you for writing this book – it's so necessary today, as you said, with so many of us caring for our elderly parents over a span of years. My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimers. She mostly lives in her own world and recently has shown signs of not knowing who we are. Whereas I used to see her 3-4 times a week, I now see her maybe twice. I feel guilty not spending as much time, but as soon as I leave she forgets I was there. And unfortunately my stay leaves me feeling sad and empty.

And Barbara identifies with her:

I know just how you feel! I used to go through the same thing with my mother. I don't know which is worse . . . the sadness or the guilt. The important thing to remember - in fact, perhaps the only thing to remember, is that it is not the quantity of time you spend with your mother-in-law but rather the quality of time. In addition, as the dementia progresses, what they respond to best is the sense of tough. So, while you're there, hold her hand, stroke her arm. She will remember that more than anything you say or how long you were there.

I also urge you to be gentle with yourself. Your visits - no matter how often or how long - are an act of love.

By the way, there are 2 newsletters on my website that may help. One is Heart to Heart (March 09) and the other is Why Bother Visiting Mom. You can find them both at

Paola reflects:

When my parents were older and failing I was busy with family and work. Now that I'm getting up there and my kids don't have that much time for me, I finally realize how my parents must have felt. It's too bad that we often come to awareness when it's too late.

Barbara's reply can be a lesson to all of us about our parents and other family relationships as well:

Ironic, isn't it? And kinda sad! You might want to mention the irony to your kids and see if they're willing to schedule something with you on a regular basis. It would be a shame for them to come to this realization when it's too late, too!

A very common concern for sandwiched boomers:

You mention taking care of the caregiver and I read that in a lot of articles. But I hardly ever manage that. Do you have any ideas about how to make that happen?

We can also learn another important lesson from Barbara's answer here:

I know what you mean! I was never too good at carving out time for myself either! It's not easy - especially for women who are taught that they are supposed to take care of everyone else before they take care of themselves. Unfortunately, after we take care of everyone else, there's not much time left for us!

One way to do it is to think of the saying "pay yourself first". In other words, schedule time for yourself before scheduling anyone else. (Yes, actually pen it into your calendar!) BTW - it's easier to stick to it if you schedule an activity such as going to the gym or a yoga class or meeting up with a friend for a walk. That way it's harder to back out. But even if you just take an hour every day to read a book , be sure to tell your family that this time is YOURS and you're not to be interrupted. And just keep telling yourself . . . "I'm worth it!"

The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide is information-rich and guaranteed to address your most difficult questions, roadblocks and communication breakdowns that are so typical for eldercare providers. Filled with over 200 pages of step-by-step solutions, it makes the process easy to understand and more importantly, easy to be successful.

So there you have it! Once again, our thanks to Barbara for a spirited exchange of ideas. You can click on the title of this post to learn more about Barbara, her book and the important work she does.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara, I really like what you said about not trying to parent our parents. It's so easy to fall into this trap - to think that we know so much more than they do and can make better decisions. Even though my parents are not as sharp as they used to be, they do still have wisdom and experience that I have not yet amassed. Thank you for bringing this up. I will try to remember it when I start trying to take over, be officious and usurp all the control - as I have certainly done before.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Barbara - Well said, Paula!

11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother and I can't agree on the best course of action to take with my dad who is 88. Dad has been having so many problems, the doctors say they can do a dramatic procedure which will hurt his quality of life but give him more years. I think quality of life is more important and don't want the procedure done but my brother wants them to do it. How can we settle this?

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara replied:

I have often said that sibling issues are more difficult to resolve than the parent issues!

I suggest you and your brother sit down and very calmly and analytically look at the impact of each of the approaches. For example - as your Dad's quality of life decreases, what will that mean for him? Will it mean more pain? Will it mean mobility difficulty - and to what extent? What kind of care will he require in the long term and how will that be accommodated?

Conversely, if he doesn't have the procedure, what will that mean for him? Will the above issues still come into play but just in a more condensed time frame? The point of the conversation isn't to puch either position but rather to calmly analyze what each course of action will mean for your father. Ideally, when the two lists are made, the decision will become clear.

By the way, has your father ever given any indication about what's important to him? Have either of you sat down with him and asked what he wants and then really listened? And not just to his current situation but also to any comments he may have made in the past about his family and how he may have felt about what they went through? He may be reluctant to pick either solution for himself but very often those casual comments about other people speaks volumes.

My thoughts are with you whichever way you all decide to go.

11:45 PM  

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