Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Aging, Caring For Aged

In a way, each of the stories in the PBS special "Caring for Your Parents" is monumental, with five families in the Providence area attempting to care for the elderly.

Some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to provide care so elderly parents can stay at home at long as possible. Others juggle jobs and family to try to provide that care themselves. Some have sent parents to a nursing home or assisted care facility when it was clear there wouldn't be enough assistance at home. Still others are still trying to convince their aging parents that care is actually needed.

These situations, filmmaker Michael Kirk states early in "Caring for Your Parents," are not unusual.

"These are real stories that in one form or another will happen to each of us," a narrator says in the 90-minute film, which has its premiere Wednesday.

The issue of caring for elderly parents is "not just a large issue," says Dr. John B. Murphy, who specializes in geriatrics and family medicine in Rhode Island. "It's a huge issue. It's a tidal wave coming at us."

And instead of flooding viewers with statistics — an estimated 75 million Americans just moving into older age themselves will have the responsibility of caring for parents in the next decade, for example — the film hits its point by concentrating on a handful of families who take on care for their parents as a way of giving back.

One is an elderly couple trying to continue living at home, an option their daughter is willing to help them accomplish as long as they are able.

Immediately, though, the elderly father has to deal with the blow of not being allowed to renew his driver's license.

"They're from a generation that wanted to be able to take care of themselves and not be a burden to their children," the daughter says. "Now they have to learn that they have to rely back on us and not be afraid to ask."

Another woman in rural Rhode Island drives every day to see her 91-year-old mother, who has been in a nursing home since suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Working with her one-on-one, she shares her mother's goal of getting back home.

A third household has the wealth to allow a 90-year-old woman to stay at home, paying seven aides for round-the-clock care at a cost of $250,000 annually.

Her daughter checks in on her three times a day and manages what amounts to "a one-person nursing home."

Still, the daughter finds her time in her mother's waning years to be rewarding.

"There have been a lot of pluses," Priscilla Given says. "This is not all gloom and doom. It's managing a decline, yes. But it's not all filled with sadness. It's filled with a lot of highlights of joy."

Things are much more hectic in a working-class three-family home in Pawtucket, where a woman cares for her 83-year-old mother, raises a family and holds down a full-time job.

She realizes she's the glue that holds together the family of Portuguese descent, but also that it may catch up to her in stress and ill health if she keeps going at her current pace.

Finally, a son in Central Falls, R.I., devotes so much time to his elderly parents, who are in separate nursing homes, that he neglects his wife, who previously had to care for the two at home.

Eventually, the strain leads to a separation.

The stories point out a key factor of caring for elderly parents — it's largely done by women.

"More important than money, the data show that the single most important variable to never spending any time in a nursing home is having a daughter," says Murphy.

The film is immediately followed by a panel discussion held at AARP's Life@50 Nation Event & Expo last fall in Boston featuring Jane Bryant Quinn, Gail Sheehy, Dr. Cora Christian and elder-care expert Dr. Bill Thomas, where the consensus is that the best time to start the conversation on elder-care plans is way before a crisis requires it.

CARING FOR YOUR PARENTS had its premiere Wednesday 27h March 2008 at 9 p.m. on PBS, locally on CPTV, Channel 24. "A Conversation About Caring" follows at 10:30 p.m.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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