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A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents--and Ourselves

by Jane Gross

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1129190,997 (4.15)9
In telling the warmhearted story of caring for her own aged and ailing mother, "New York Times" journalist Gross offers indispensable advice on virtually every aspect of elder care.
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Eye-opening in many ways, this book is somewhat repetitive if read straight through because of many of the chapters' being written originally as a blog, but extremely informative and unsentimental. The scariest passage for me was this: "It's heresy, I know, to tell friends, colleagues, blog readers, and the like that a parent over eighty-five is not likely to die quickly, easily, or without full-time assistance with the activities of daily living. The data confirming this fact, however, are compelling and uncontested by the experts. Deny that data and make avoiding a nursing home your goal, and the odds are you will subject your parent to excessive, pointless, and damaging relocations. That was the case with my mother." ( )
  baystateRA | Jan 31, 2015 |
This book is an invaluable guide for those who find that they have become caretakers for a relative or friend who can no longer care for themselves. The knowledge and the insights are both professional and personal. Ms. Gross is the founder of the New York Times' "New Old Age" blog, and -- before it became personally relevant to her -- knew a whole lot more about aging in the U.S. than most of us do. But it is the personal that dominates. After her 85 year old mother suddenly needed help (lots of help) she found that there was a great deal she didn't know, and a host of unpleasant things she had to learn.

Having had a similar experience, I only wish that I had read this book sooner, rather than midway through the process of arranging someone else's new and diminished life. In my case the person who needed help wasn't a parent, it was a dear friend with ovarian cancer and a traumatic brain injury and no contact with her family. But the many of the problems are the same, though the emotional impact is doubtless far less. Many other reviewers have listed Ms. Gross most important pieces of advice, but the one I most wish I had known early on is -- FIND A DOCTOR WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE. My fellow caregiver and I spent a massive amount of time trying to deal with miscommunication between doctors, trying to make sure that our friend was getting all the care she needed, and trying to be sure that her basic needs were attended to. As so many have said, most of the individuals we dealt with were reasonable, professional, caring people. But the system that is supposed to link them together doesn't work. This means that you, the caregiver, must do so. If you can't, as we could not indefinitely, finding a skilled and responsible care manager can be a godsend. But it's not cheap.

A final note: as one goes though the caregiving experience, and as one reads this book, it becomes increasingly clear that there are very good odds that one (really!) will become the care-givee oneself, or that one's spouse will do so, or that both will! This has made me think about some very hard-edged choices that I may have to make in the not-too-distant future. Best not to be taken by surprise. In this sense, as well as in others, this book is a godsend. ( )
  annbury | Nov 20, 2013 |
I wish I had read this book sooner. Jane Gross details her and her brother’s experiences with her aging mother. Their story is both sweet and bitter. Gross describes the tender moments and does not avoid the unpleasant ones. Somehow, she manages to do that while letting through the humor that her family shared during those years. Gross also manages to put in lots of details about things as varied as the intricacies of spending down money to become eligible for Medicaid, the legal issues of parents in another state, and the flaws in how our medical system treats disease. Gross is Jewish and notes that the Bible does not describe the long slow path to death that most elderly now experience. Much of what she writes was familiar to me such as the chapter on therapeutic fibs—the little lies we end up telling our parents to get through awkward situations. That might mean telling your parent that a drug helps enhance appetite rather than that it is an antidepressant because the parent is of an age that does not acknowledge the existence of depression. After all, they lived through the real Depression. I have lived, and am living, through much of what she describes with my father and now my mother. I really wish I had known in advance about more of what she relates in her book. I recommend this book to anyone who has aging parents, especially ones still in good health. That will change at some point and the farther in advance you can prepare for that change, the better. ( )
  wbc3 | Oct 3, 2013 |
The book is part memoir, part informational and describes the author’s experiences as she and her brother help navigate their increasingly ailing, aging mother through a healthcare maze that frustrates patient, family and healthcare professionals alike.

I found the informational aspects of the book really helpful, useful and very detailed. Gross also includes an appendix at the back of the book that lists geriatric organizations and agencies. She initially approaches her mother’s situation with attempts at the professional efficiency that has allowed her to become the successful journalist that she is, only to become frustrated as she finds that she has neither the needed information (which itself is not clear-cut or straightforward) nor the understanding of the intricacies of a system that often functions in shades of gray. Her story was also at times interesting and heartbreaking. Her mother had been a tough and independent person throughout her life and becomes understandably angry and resentful when confronted with the necessity of relying on others. Gross discusses her own feelings and frustrations as she becomes her mother’s primary caregiver, advocate and navigator of the system and in taking on these roles, loses her own independent lifestyle as well. She does have a tendency, sadly typical of my generation (baby boomer), to make the story “all about her” and often resorts to a self-pity that becomes tiresome. Mother and daughter forge through the process together and in doing so, build a strong relationship (the “bittersweet” aspect of the title). In the end, I found that this was a very useful, informative and illuminating book that gave me a better understanding of this confusing, frustrating yet critical system. ( )
1 vote plt | Mar 28, 2012 |
Excerpted [with some paraphrasing] from the book's section on a geriatrician’s presentation to healthcare policymakers:

“How many of you expect to die?”
[All members of the audience eventually raised their hands.]
“Would you prefer to be old when it happens?”
All hands flew up in unison.
Who would choose cancer as the way to go?
Just a few.
“What about chronic heart failure or emphysema?”
A few more.
“So all the rest of you are up for frailty and dementia?”


This outstanding book -- part memoir, part instruction manual, part expose on eldercare and financing -- is a sort of documentary about that third route. Cancer deaths come relatively early (age mid-60s) and with a rapid decline for 20% of Americans, and organ failures follow a decade later, via lengthier up-and-down declines, for another 25%. But it’s frailty and dementia -- “a drawn-out and humiliating series of losses for the parent and an exhausting and potentially bankrupting ordeal for the family” -- that lead to 40% of deaths.

The topic may be heavy but the treatment is extremely readable, accessible (suspenseful and fascinating, even), and packed with useful information. New York Times writer Jane Gross uses her mother’s decline as a springboard to present statistics and discuss issues, for example:
• elder housing (“assisted living is a social, rather than a medical, model of long-term care”);
• elder care (home care, nursing homes, physicians, hospitalizations);
• private savings and public financing (“assume that whatever it is you need, Medicare won’t pay for it”);
• family relationships and responsibilities
• end of life.

Gross gathers dozens of resources into a useful appendix, and the blog she launched (The New Old Age at the NYT) remains active although with new contributors. Her mother’s 2001 decline prompted this book, but Gross incorporated up-to-date research when she wrote it in 2010. It was published when my 92-year-old mother was a couple of years into her decline into frailty, and I read it in a cycle of putting it aside and then invariably being fascinated to find recognition and comfort when I picked it up again; I finished it a month before she died.

Of the many books now about caregiving and elder care, I recommend this single volume. It’s one to read for your parents’ aging and then again for your own.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.) ( )
1 vote DetailMuse | Dec 1, 2011 |
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In telling the warmhearted story of caring for her own aged and ailing mother, "New York Times" journalist Gross offers indispensable advice on virtually every aspect of elder care.

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