Shannon Ingram's Place

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Location: So CA

Musings of a woman who left her corporate career to become a caregiver for elderly parents, wrote a book and found her way back to corporate - with love, instead of fear, leading the way.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Big Boomer Battle

Boomers today are facing a monumental sociological and psychological battle that promises to be more difficult than women's lib, rock 'n roll, free love, anti-war, birth control, dual incomes, recession and menopause. Welcome to the battle of caring for aging parents.

This new, still mostly silent war is being waged by millions of people every day. It's the challenge of dealing with elderly parents who want their lives to continue as they always have when in fact they can't handle it any more. The adversaries are well-meaning individuals who don't want to give up driving when they can't keep up with the speed limit, can no longer see the traffic lights and stop signs and become extremely agitated when they can't remember where their car is parked in the supermarket parking lot. They are demanding people who don't want to move out of a large home they love and have lived in for years but can no longer navigate, or conversely, who want to move to a smaller place that offers assistance and engagement activities, but their children want them to stay where they are. They are proud people with great dignity who have earned the respect of generations. They are the parents who raised all the Boomers, brave people who lived through the Great Depression, Prohibition, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, McCarthyism, and who fought the battles highlighted above, either with or against their children.

Brace yourselves, fellow Boomers. The battleground is already before us and the outcome promises not to be as sweet as Woodstock.

Have you heard that your parents will probably live longer than their parents did? You may be experiencing this extended longevity now, as I did for the past 10 years. I'd like to recommend staying in denial the way I did, until the crisis comes; but that's not very prudent. Instead, I'm inviting you to take some advice from those of us at the top of the Boomer chain who chose denial and then suffered serious and unpleasant consequences. Think about your parents' elder years now and craft a plan to deal with hazards that may confront you.

If you can't bear talking with Mom or Dad about their old age, then please chart a course through those years for yourself, through months of possible frailty and the inevitable final days. And while you do that, remember that you are not alone. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, there are more than 19 million American adults serving as caregivers to their parents.

Siblings often name one of themselves a primary caregiver; but ironically when that caregiver makes a tough decision, the other siblings fight it. Make sure everyone in your immediate family is on the same page. Figure out what you will do when the crisis hits, whatever it might be - Alzheimer's, stroke, Parkinson's, blindness from macular degeneration, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, cancer, congestive heart failure (CHF), depression. Know what you're up against with a disease, as well as with the system.

Learn about Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and other kinds of insurance and benefits. Use the Eldercare Locater at or 800-677-1116 where you can find all kinds of local resources such as support groups and area offices on aging.

Maybe you'll be lucky because your parents have long term care insurance. Be sure you know what they have in their financial portfolio. Understand end-of-life options such as hospice and palliative care. Seek legal help to set up a trust if necessary, and to protect yourself and your family if something goes horribly wrong. If nothing happens and your parents are healthy to the end of their lives, consider yourself among the lucky few who got through the war unscathed.

Remember the tragic incident at the Farmer's Market in Santa Monica, California in 2003 when an 86 year-old man drove his mid-sized Buick through the crowd, killing nine people and injuring countless others? He said he couldn't stop the car. He'd had other minor accidents, but no one succeeded in taking his keys away from him.

How may Boomers and their families are suffering now because Mom had one too many minor car accidents or Dad totaled his car, along with an innocent bystander? That's the kind of horrendous thought that fuels denial when it should fuel courage and preparedness. It's not a right to drive; it's a privilege. When our mental and physical reflexes slow down, we need to stop operating a potentially deadly motor vehicle.

Get Mom or Dad to come clean and share with you their desires about how they want to be treated when and if they make it to the status of "frail elderly." Challenge their vision if necessary, or better yet, counter it with options. For instance, if they want to stay where they are living, ask if they would consider moving should it appear that lack of engagement with the outside world is hurting them or their safety is at risk. If they want to sell their home in order to downsize but you or others in your family don't want to lose a home that holds many wonderful memories, let them do so. The money from the sale will help to fund their care. When your parents die, you'll probably have to sell their home anyway, unless you can afford to keep it which is unlikely if you had to leverage its value in order to pay for outside caregivers. If you think it's best to bring a parent or two to live with you, make sure you consider the stress that will put upon your entire family. You need to be prepared to deal with taboo topics such as incontinence, medication management, hostile behaviors and who is in control.

Ultimately, you must make the right decision for your parents if they are no longer capable of making effective decisions themselves. It's not fun to be in that decision-making capacity. It's not even palatable. You must remember that you have highest and best interests in your heart and mind, that you are doing the right thing.

Consider all of your senior care options now in order to launch your plan when you need it. At least you will have a baseline, a defensive battle plan to pull out of your files if that dreadful time comes. It's likely it will come, and soon.

Perhaps more importantly, this current battle gives Boomers cause to think about what we want when we become the frail elders. How do we want our children, government and society to deal with us? Boomers have always been a powerful generation because of our size and scope. Let's use that power and the lessons we are learning from caring for our parents today to propel us to make important decisions about how we want to be treated when we reach our 70's, 80's, 90's, 100's. Let's foster sweeping decisions about health care and quality of life for seniors right now, before we find ourselves engaged in an apocalyptic battle with our own children and grandchildren.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You Call the Shots

Sometimes I feel as if someone or something is shooting at me, not just paint pellets, water balloons or caustic remarks, but deadly energy. I'm not talking shotgun bullets, but it's as if I'm being hit hard with bad news, judgments, negative assessments, pain.

You know this - it's "the hits just keep on coming" - but they aren't popular songs. These hits are disappointments. A bad health diagnosis. Your portfolio plummeting. Loss of a job you love. A daughter engaged to someone you despise. Your mother in the hospital and needing round-the-clock care when discharged. Rear-ending someone who never should have stopped in the first place. Flashing lights behind you when you're on an important phone call but you don't have blue tooth. The vet telling you he can't do anything to save your beloved old dog. A friend telling you she doesn't need your help with a project after all. Doing your best with a presentation at work but somehow screwing up and letting people down. Submitting what you know is a great proposal to a client, and having it rejected.

When I reach a point where everything in life seems to be coming up dreadful, moldy fungus, I take a deep breath (or two or three) and remember that I am the one who must CHOOSE to seek out and smell the roses instead of succumbing to human nature negativity. No matter how benign and silly it sounds, the choice about how to respond to any situation is always mine, and mine alone. Everything else - what others say, do and what happened in the past that can't be changed - it's all secondary, no matter how much it scolds or hurts in the moment. I hold the keys to the outcome, as it affects MY life.

In times of crisis, you - or I - call the shots. For example, what someone else does to me is has no power compared to what I do in response. For example, I can grieve the loss of my dog. That loss can paralyze me. Or I can choose to get up in the morning and make something good happen even simply by going to work.

My dear friend, David Neenan, says, "A breakdown is an opportunity to see the truth." Guess what? John 8:32 says, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set you free." David's message is the same as the message in The Bible. To that, I say WOO HOO! We may think the truth is harsh...but sometimes harshness is the propelling motion we need to set us free. We call the shots.

If you're in a breakdown, feel its POWER. You are in a place where you can choose how to respond! You are the one who can call the shots.

Why not call a touchdown?!