By Annette Hinkle
The author of “How to Care for Aging Parents” discusses the emotional, legal, financial, medical and logistical issues in caring for the elderly this Friday, September 14 at the Unitarian Universalist meetinghouse in Bridgehampton.
You have dedicated your career to writing about health care and related social issues, but what specifically led you to write “How to Care for Aging Parents?”
“I was a health writer and I moved to Sag Harbor … and there was no where to be a health writer. I was pitching ideas to an editor who had an aging parent — this was in 1991 — and she started asking me questions since I did medical writing. She said you should write a book on this.”
So it wasn’t based on the personal experience of caring for your own parents?
“It wasn’t personal — and it helped me to come at it without a lot of baggage. I did have to stop work during the first edition to care for my dad and he died at that time. I also cared for my mom for over 10 years — she died last year. So I have lived it and breathed it, but mostly the book was written through interviews.”
Having written the book, would you say you were prepared when it came time to care for your parents?
“Somehow, even when you’re the expert, you just try to get through it. It’s difficult no matter how much expertise you have … and sometimes you don’t listen to your own advice.”
What piece of your own advice did you not follow?
“I didn’t follow my advice to reign it in, not do everything and set boundaries around this job. You need to take breaks and get others involved.”
The book came out in the mid-1990s — you’re now working on the third edition. What’s changed in elder care since the book was first published?
“Everything changes, but in terms of major changes, I’d say it’s technology. When I first wrote this book, nobody had the Internet. I remember saying to the editor, ‘Maybe we should put some sort of box in about that Internet thing.’ She said, ‘No one will use that.’”
“Now we have all these resources. I think the Internet has so many plusses for people. They can talk to their parents on Skype, do research, inform siblings. But there is so much junk out there. The pharmaceutical companies and insurance industry create websites that look factual and caring, but are trying to sell a product. There are free ‘elder care advisers’ but they’re trying to put your parent in a particular facility because they get huge kickbacks. I don’t think people realize how much on the Internet is garbage.”
What’s the single most important thing adult children can do in advance of their parents needing care?
“Plan ahead. It’s not something people want to think about, but even being a little bit prepared saves a huge amount of work and hassle later. You have to think about everything — housing, medical care, finances, legal issues. People think their insurance and Medicare will pay for it all, but they don’t realize most nursing home, assisted living and at-home care is out of pocket.”
With 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, those of us with aging parents will soon need care ourselves. What’s in store for us?
“I have a ‘What’s Next?’ chapter. It’s terrifying in terms of the cost of Social Security and Medicare, I can’t imagine how we’ll deal with that. But I think boomers have changed a lot in their path and they will change this as well. The menu of options for aging has grown and will grow bigger. I see it happening. People are planning ahead, getting houses near friends or building houses that can take four couples. I think our generation is going to be adamant, forceful and creative about how we age.”
“Also communities need to start planning for the elderly. Sag Harbor could be set up as a place where we could grow old — and we should be able to. I’ve seen villages where there are a wide assortment of services and people take care of each other. There are places doing all sorts of innovative things. You can volunteer hours when you’re younger, and get credit for help when you’re older. Vendors offer discounts. There are communities where the whole emphasis is on taking care of each other.”
Virginia Morris speaks on elder care issues on Friday, September 14 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the meetinghouse of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, 977 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike.