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How to Meet the Challenge of Aging in the Family


A recent bestselling book highlights the importance of planning for the needs of aging parents and other family members.

When many of us think of our parents reaching a certain age and unable to manage, we wonder how we will cope. But Parenting your Parents by Bart J. Mindszenthy and Michael Gordon, M. D. provides a roadmap and shows us we are not alone. According to the authors, we can learn to understand the rewards and challenges, and to plan now rather than wait to be blindsided by events.

The authors have identified an urgent concern. According to Statistics Canada (2002), more than four million Canadians provide informal care to older adults with long-term health problems today.

Parenting your Parents examines the experiences of 19 families facing the challenge of helping and supporting their aging parents.

Each story is sensitively and realistically described by Bart Mindszenthy of Mindszenthy & Roberts Corp., a Toronto-based firm specializing in organizational change and crises communication. These personal stories offer a unique blend of information, insight, compassion, and advocacy.

Practical guidelines are provided by Dr. Michael Gordon, one of Canada’s leading geriatricians.

Here are some of the problems explored:

What to do when sibling rivalry and mutual distrust interferes with parents getting the help they need.
How to deal with parents who resort to excessive drinking or overuse medications.
How to weigh priorities and to plan recovery options, following surgery.
How to defuse the situation when parents encourage a sense of guilt in their children.

What these personal stories show is that there are no short cuts and no magical answers; nothing is clear and certain. Moreover, the personal costs of caring can be hefty: tangible negative costs for social lives, out-of-pocket expenses, and even sleep patterns, and personal health problems.

As the authors point out, “It’s all about finding coping mechanisms that allow us to do the best we can, to make our parents lives as comfortable and meaningful as possible, while still managing to have a life of our own.”

One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the Personal Parenting Planner. This tool is designed to help you prepare in advance for caregiving in the future. The planner consists of five sections. Each section contains specific information, as follows:

1. Parents’ Advisors and Friends: Contact details of family physicians, health-related specialists, clergy, lawyer, relatives, friends, immediate neighbours, as well as information related to banking and wills.

2. Parents’ Health Care Plans and Income Sources: Records of health coverage, life insurance particulars, and income sources including social insurance numbers, pension information, etc.

3. Parent Profiles: Inventory of parents’ present health, outlook and behavior, including list of medications.

4. Readiness Checkup: Inventories to help assess your readiness to respond to an emergency.

5. Action Plan: Comprehensive checklist dealing with: a) what you need to do or plan for right now; and b) what you will need to do in the near future.

In addition, Parenting Your Parents contains an extensive Canada-wide resource directory.

But, above all, this book really shines as a series of stories about the strength of the human spirit. Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is the final chapter in which Mindszenthy recounts his own struggle. He describes his efforts to support his fiercely determined 86-year-old mother, whose mind is faltering, and his blind 96-year-old father, who is worried about his wife’s health. A gritty and moving love story.

Parenting Your Parents by Bart J. Mindszenthy and Michael Gordon, M. D. Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2005. 391 pp.