Bart Astor, author of The Baby Boomer's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents (Feb 27 - Mar 2)
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Please welcome Bart Astor, author of The Baby Boomer's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents. Bart will be chatting until March 2nd.
Thank you. I'm pleased to be here and look forward to having a discussion about the book, about eldercare, and anything else someone wishes to bring up.
Hi Bart, thanks so much for being available. I do have some questions for you but wondered, first, what prompted you to write this. I mean, there are so many other books out there that deal with caring for your parents. Why did you write yours?
In 1994, my mother-in-law died after seven years of physical and mental deterioration. In those seven years we gradually took over all her legal and business affairs. It was depressing and frightening to have to make all the decisions for her and deal with the uncertainties. We felt totally alone. At the time there weren't very many books to help us.
We stumbled through, making many mistakes that I think hurt her and the rest of our family. I wrote the original book so others wouldn't have to feel so alone and wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.
Ten years later when my father's health deteriorated we faced similar circumstances. But we had learned from our experience with my mother-in-law and from the research I did for the book. As a result we felt more confident and always included my father in decision-making. He died peacefully, and we felt relieved, knowing we had all done everything we could to make his life a little easier.
As a result, I thought I would update the first book and underscore the lessons we learned that made it easier for us the second time around.
Can you give us some examples of the kinds of "mistakes" you think you made?
Where do I begin? Seriously, though, one of the big ones was that we kept moving my mother-in-law. In seven years she lived in a townhouse, retirement community, small apartment, full-care nursing home, and then a second full-care nursing home. It's a wonder that she could even remember where the bathroom was. It was too many moves, particularly for an 84 year old. And consider that in the previous 40+ years she had not moved even once! A second mistake was that we didn't always include her in decisions. We tried to, but it was frustrating for us and so we got impatient. That segues well into the next mistake, namely that we didn't really take care of our selves well enough during the ordeal. In addition to just the time commitment, there's also the frustration, sadness, and emotional angst we all go through as we watch our loved ones fail.
When my father got sick years later, we were so much better prepared. We always included him in conversations and waited for him to make the key decisions. We had discussions about his wishes and knew what to expect. We were also much better organized than with my mother-in-law. So the time commitment was less burdensome. Also, we shared the care with others more which made it easier on all of us.
My parents are in pretty good shape and are still young. But I know eventually that will change. Can you give me any advice about things I can do now?
No one likes dealing with the concerns of aging parents so too often conversations and actions are put off until the last moment. I would suggest that now would be the opportune time to begin the discussions, when they're young and healthy. In my book I call it having the "tough talk." Essentially it means learning everything you would need to know if something catastrophic happened to one or both of them. So obviously you'd want to know as much as you can about the business of their lives so that bills and mortgages continue to be paid, and that income sources remain. You'd also want to know their wishes about being taken care of in the event they are unable to do so themselves or cannot make decisions about their care. You have to know whether they have a living will, health care proxy, or even a regular will. You'd want to know their wishes if tragedy strikes and you have to make funeral arrangements. There are so many things you'd want to know and in my book I enumerate them. It's not an easy conversation to have and no one looks forward to it. But the sooner you begin to ask, the sooner you or some other trusted source, will find out the answers. It doesn't have to be you. It could be their lawyer, accountant, friend, whomever. The key is that someone needs to know and you need to know who that someone is.
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