Caring for Aging Parents

It’s a struggle many Americans will soon face — caring for their aging parents. Jane Gross joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to discuss her new book on caregiving: A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves. Gross was a reporter for The New York Times for 28 years and started the blog “The New Old Age” at the Times. Check out an excerpt from her book below:

All of my conversations served as a fitting reminder that we stand at an unprecedented demographic crossroads. Never before have there been so many Americans over the age of eighty-five. Never before have there been so many Americans in late middle age, the huge baby boom cohort, responsible for their parents’ health and well-being. Most often, neither the aged parents nor the adult children are prepared for this long, often tortured, time in life, or for these role reversals, which are unanticipated, unwelcome, and unfamiliar. How do we become our parents’ parents without robbing them of their dignity? How do they let us? How do we collaborate with our siblings, leaving behind any baggage we may have with them, or manage on our own if we are only children?

The task is to get through it with grace, mindfulness, and good sense: to do the very best we can for our parents without sacrificing the lives we’ve built for ourselves—our families, our jobs, and our own financial future, which is the last thing they’d want us to do. But how do we know when it’s still appropriate to aggressively pursue medical care, try to fix everything that’s broken, and restore our parents to a measure of health, vitality, and dignity? How do we know when, logistically and financially, we must break a solemn promise not to “put them away” (and how do we forgive ourselves for doing it, if we must)? How do we know when the time for heroics has passed? Our parents may have escaped earlier threats to their health—strokes, cardiac events, cancer—and lived longer than any generation before them, but eventually some things are just going to wear out. Their death certificates will say they died of heart failure or diabetic complications or respiratory failure, because the government has decreed that “old age” is not an acceptable cause of death. I beg to differ. At a certain point, the wheels simply fall off the bicycle.

So here we are, not just with a herculean job but with a front-row seat for this long, slow dying. We want to do all we realistically can to ease the suffering, smooth the passing, of our loved ones. But we also have the opportunity to watch what happens to our parents, listen to what they have to say to us, and use that information to look squarely at our own mortality and prepare as best we can for the end of our own lives. In fact, we have the opportunity to become better people, wiser and stronger, not simply older and grayer. We can make something of this crisis, or we can endure the experience until it’s over and then escape back into the daily buzz of our lives until suddenly it’s our turn.

Excerpted from A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross. Copyright © 2011 by Jane Gross. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Jane Gross will be speaking at the Chicago History Museum on Tuesday, June 21 at 7:00 pm: The Conversation: Talking Life Issues with Those We Love. For more information, call (773) 248-8700 or click here.

Are you concerned about taking care of your aging parents? Post your comments below or sound off on our discussion board!

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2 responses to “Caring for Aging Parents”

  1. Diana says:

    I look forward to possibly reading your book. At present caring for Mom, Dad passed 6 years ago. All you say is very true. However, many so-called Independent Living and nursing homes care little for the elderly and more about making money. There is little supervision of staff. I have worked for a couple of them here, Cape Cod, and was appauled at lack of care. Watched one woman with a broken nose go untreated for days, when I quit and complained to the State, they ignored my red flag. I am staying with my Mom now and fear he innevitable placement in a home. She is 85. I told her I am willing to stay and care for her, but it’s impossible to work and watch over her. At some point they do need round the clock care. She is not there yet, but doesn’t like it when I work, falls more often. I have a home alarm, and she wears an alert bracelet. It is a torturous time, and no one understands who has not gone through it themselves. Luckily we have a good relationship and she trusts me.

  2. Jim Durham says:

    I wanted Ms. Gross to be aware of a new unique service launched last week which allows families to monitor the care of their parents. I hope you will check out