PV Mirror, Nov 27-Dec 3, 2010, issue # 111, pg 21

“We may not all have children, but we all have parents” (Maria Shriver).How true. Many of us have already had to face the fact that our parents are getting older and need our help. For some of you, this hasn’t been such a challenging or difficult process because your parents are healthy and doing well, enjoying their retirement and all that life has to offer. And for some of you, it’s been quite another story.

Disease is almost always the culprit. Disease robs us of our parent whether it is cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s. Many of my friends have lost at least one of their parents and some before they ever retired or reached old age. I can quickly think of 5 friends who have lost their parent all due to disease; one to breast cancer, one to heart disease, one to colon cancer, one to COPD, one to lung cancer, peritoneal (abdominal lining) cancer. The parent with breast cancer was in her 50’s. One friend lost both parents one year apart. Their illnesses consumed his life for 3 years. I personally lost my father to a long 12 year battle with early onset (began at age 64) Alzheimer’s. It’s incredible how much the person and their family go through.

Sandwich generation

The “sandwich generation” is a term used to describe the adult children who are sandwiched in between two generations of people dependent on them; their own children and their parents. What an enormous challenge! This is not the exception, but the norm. The majority of you will have to balance not only your time but your finances between caring for your children and your parents.

During my father’s Alzheimer’s, 5 of the 9 grandchildren were in elementary school when he was diagnosed and in high school or college when he died. My brothers were so busy raising their children, helping them with homework and taking them to all of their sporting events that fitting anyone or anything else in seemed impossible, yet, they did it. They met with the doctors and visited Dad often. They met with the financial advisors and accountants and helped my mom budget for his care.  Luckily, neither they nor their wives had to provide his daily care (nor did I) because my mother was healthy and in charge and financially we she was able to hire caretakers into the home.

I have a client now who is the youngest of 3 siblings. He is married with 6 children and his father has bi-polar and diabetes and still lives on his own. He is very challenged to devote time to his father, his children/family and to his work, all of which are very demanding. Although he has hired a caretaker 4 mornings a week, he still goes to his father’s home several times a week and has his father spend at least one night a week at his house. He takes him to the doctor, keeps his medications in stock, and is the one on-call in case of any emergency. His sister lives out of town and helps out by having the father for a month or two in the winter. Both his brother and sister help out financially, but do not always agree on what to do.

Marriage interrupted

I have another client whose wife was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 55. They are both 57 now with 2 young adult children ages 22 and 24. Although his children have moved out of the house, he is their only parent. They can no longer turn to their mother for anything. Luckily, at their young ages they are not the “adult children” needing to care for their mother. They have their father to do that and consequently don’t have their father as available for other things. He is now consumed by maintaining his career and the in-home staff hired to take care of his wife while he is working. The entire burden is on him. Besides the realization that his marriage is over as he knows it, his life is changed forever, potentially any hope of retirement is gone or certainly greatly affected by the financial drain since Alzheimer’s care outside of the in-patient hospital setting is not covered by insurance or medicare.

Retirement interrupted

One client’s parents are both over 85 who have had several health complications over the past year, which required hospitalizations, physical therapy, and in-home nursing care. Besides all of the time spent taking them to doctor appointments, scheduling surgeries, arguing with doctors, seeking 2nd opinions, and staying with them during hospitalizations, he also had to have them come live with him for several months at a time until they were both well enough to go back home. The only reason they can still live in their home is because their daughter lives nearby. The next thing will be to sell their house and have them live with him permanently, which they have not surrendered to yet.

Out of town solution

I have a dear friend (age 86) who lives here in Vallarta, but all of her children live in Mexico City. Some of them are still raising their children, and all of them are still working. My friend absolutely does not want to go live with them in Mexico City. She loves Vallarta and is definitely healthier here at sea level. She no longer drives and is not comfortable going places alone. She’s slightly forgetful and doesn’t like to cook and she’s terribly bored and lonely. Her daughter and I finally convinced her to hire a companion. This woman takes her grocery shopping and makes meals. She takes her to the doctor and makes sure she takes her medications every day. They go to the movies, walk to the coffee shop for frappucinos and attend various social events. My friend is doing better and is happier than she has been for the past 3 or 4 years. She has a higher quality of life, has maintained some independence, and her children can rest easier knowing that despite the distance, she is being well taken care of.

Part 2 next week will discuss the obstacles and challenges for care, the financial burden, the conversations and decisions that must be made, and things you must have in place.