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It's a Matter of Respect

    You'll notice that throughout YourAgingParent.com, some underlying themes are repeated. When you, the caregiver, are facing a particular issue or concern it can be helpful to keep these reference points in mind.

    Consider how your idea, plan or solution corresponds -- or doesn't correspond -- with these areas:

    --Love and respect: No matter how old you and your parent are, the lifetime bond between you is like no other. Now as an adult it's probably easier for you to realize that this relationship is seldom ideal and never perfect, but it remains a tremendously important factor. As the adult child of an aging parent, you're now being given the opportunity -- the challenge -- to "honor" your mother and father in a new, a different and a more demanding way.

    --Self-determination: It's still your parent's life, not yours. You're there to assist, not take over. As long as your parent is competent, he or she should be included in decisions and those choices should be respected.

    --Normalization: A basic goal for you is to help your parent continue to lead the same lifestyle he or she has been leading and wants to keep leading (provided, of course, that lifestyle is not undermining his or her health or safety). The challenge is to begin with the minimum amount of help or change that's necessary, and then, as needed, gradually increase it.

    --Communication: Planning early and talking often -- even about difficult subjects -- will help you and your parent avoid having to work things out in the middle of a crisis.

    --Support: There are a number of support systems for both you and your aging parent. In addition to family, friends, neighbors and members of the parish, there are both professional and peer-group systems of support that can be extremely helpful.

    --Ongoing process: The aging process never stops and each step along the way can bring new challenges for both you and your parent. As your parent's health deteriorates, your traditional roles as adult and child -- the one who has always provided the help and the one who needed that help -- may continue to fluctuate or reverse. These changes are new for both of you and can seem overwhelming. Remember that neither of you has to be an expert at this. Both of you can learn, together.

    --Solutions: Most often there are no quick fixes to your parent's increasing needs. There are no simple answers. Keep in mind that even the best solution is only temporary. As your parent's situation changes, and it will, even the best answer will have to be reviewed and reworked.

Emotions run high

    Throughout YourAgingParent.com you will also be encouraged to consider the emotions you're feeling -- anger, fear, worry, grief and so on -- and realize your mother or father has similar feelings but maybe for very different reasons. And your emotions may not match. Mom is grieving because so many of her friends have died and you're feeling guilty about not spending enough time with your spouse and children. Dad is afraid of his upcoming surgery and you're angry that Medicare regulations seem so complicated.

    What each of you faces is not easy. There is no way to avoid these feelings. Our goal is to help you acknowledge them and realize they're normal. To offer you some tips for coping with them.

   When we write about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs, we're writing about your needs as well as your parent's. And while this book was written primarily for you, it can also be of value to your siblings who might not be the front-line caregiver you are and don't seem to have a clue of what you're going through.

   And if both your parents are still alive, YourAgingParent.com can help your healthy parent better understand and acknowledge what is happening.

    In some areas -- such as medical, financial and legal issues -- the information here is offered strictly from a lay person's point of view. We will help you raise questions and can offer suggestions for where to turn for learning more but we are not giving medical, financial or legal advice. For that you need to consult a physician or other health-care professional, financial advisor or lawyer.

One point along the way

    Caring for an aging parent can be bewildering because it all seems so new and strange. At each stage of your own life -- as a preschooler, grade-schooler, adolescent, young adult and adult -- the relationship between you and your parent changed as you both adapted to the realities of growing up, growing older. The same is true now.

    As an adult child caring for an aging parent, you are at another point along that same continuum. And while in many ways it can be the most demanding point for each of you, it can also be the most rewarding. It can be a time to draw closer. An opportunity to say "I love you and thank God for you." A chance to say good-bye.

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