I saw an article in USA Today one morning with the headline, “Aging Parents Present Challenges for Children.” I was shocked to read it and to realize that when they spoke about aging parents, they were talking about sixty-nine-year-old me! The target audience for the story was my children!
I was attracted to the article because in my heart of hearts, I still think I am a member of the sandwich generation. In reality, my mom died in 2002 and my dad in 2010. So, it is long ago that I lost my sandwich’s top layer of bread though I am only now starting to feel openly exposed.
Thanks to this news article, I am stunningly aware of the transition!
It is with vivid memory of being my dad’s caregiver and dawning understanding of my one-day care receiver status that I write this story.
Let’s start here: While being a caregiver to an aging parent is ultimately rewarding, actually living through the process is hell. It is baffling, unrelenting, physically exhausting, and emotionally overwhelming. As much as I loved my dad, miss my dad, and would do it again for my dad, I stand by this sentiment.
But here’s the deal. When I say that, I am talking about end-stage caregiving when the loved one’s life is reduced to myriad doctor appointments, multiple ER visits, physical pain, and mental confusion. There are a lot of stages before then, which are happier, healthier stages. We are wise to recognize and take advantage of them.
Dr. Mark Frankel is founder and CEO of TakingCare Inc., a healthcare information company for Canadian families with eldercare challenges. He lists these five stages and even gives a “soundtrack” or “theme song” for each:
- Independence – My Way
- Interdependence – We Are Family
- Supportive Living – Home Sweet Home!
- Complex Care/Crisis Management – Help!
- Dependence – Missing You
Thankfully, I am in Stage 1, and it behooves me to stay in this stage. So, I turn to a couple of websites for guidance.
NPR is first with an interesting article called, “Eating to Break 100: Longevity Diet Tips from the Blue Zones.” The “Blue Zones” of the world are the five regions researchers have identified that have the highest concentration of centenarians. The five places are: Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. The six key elements for longevity are these:
- These people exercise
- They have a social circle that includes a commitment to their families
- They take time to de-stress
- When it comes to eating, they stop when they are 80% full
- Their diets are mainly plant based
- And they drink alcohol moderately and regularly, 1-2 glasses per day
A second article is from the Mayo Clinic. It is called, “Aging: What to Expect.” In it, they mention each body system and tell what’s happening to it. But more important, they tell me what I can do to promote good health in these areas. Here are the sections:
- Your cardiovascular system
- Your bones, joints, and muscles
- Your digestive system
- Your bladder and urinary tract
- Your memory and thinking skills
- Your eyes and ears
- Your teeth
- Your skin
- Your weight
- Your sexuality
After reading these two articles, my ears perk up at the thoughts of drinking cocktails and having sex while I am less thrilled with doing all the healthy things that are also mentioned.
But then, there is a horrifying article from AgingCare.com. It addresses Stages 3-5 by offering an entire alphabet of caregiving topics. For example:
- A is for Activities of Daily Living, Adult Diapers, Aging in Place, etc.
- B is for Bathing, Bed Sores, Broken Hips, etc.
- C is for Care Plan, Cognitive Decline, Continuing Care Community, etc.
- D is for Dementia, DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), Durable Power of Attorney, etc.
- E is for Edema, Elder Law, End of Life Signs, etc.
Could there be a more graphic reminder of why I should do everything I can to remain in Stage 1?
I recognize that unlike the USA Today article in my opening paragraph, I have not quite decided upon an audience for this story. Is it for caregivers or for care-receivers? That’s because this question still boggles my mind: Which one am I?
As I ponder this, I am reminded of an experience fifty-plus years ago when my brother was teaching me how to drive. He regularly admonished me, “Pick a lane and stay in it!” Applying it here, it seems that I am no longer a caregiver to my aging parents, but I will not go gentle into that other lane.
My game plan for now is to tenaciously straddle the line.
I am stunned to be so openly aware of this transition!
If you like this story, you will like other things I have written. Please try my blog and/or my new book, Love, Loss, and Moving On. And if you are in the mood to shop, don’t forget to visit me on Etsy. Thank you!