How to Care for Aging Parents: An Interview with Virginia Morris
July 11, 2014 | Found In: Caregiver Tips
There are certain books that become emblematic of specific life stages, and as such are passed from friend to family member to neighbor, referenced in conversations and housed in the libraries of all those experiencing that life event. Just as Murkoff and Mazel’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting has been the ultimate guide for expecting parents, Virginia Morris’s How to Care for Aging Parents: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues has been the go-to resource for adults caring for their aging parents for almost two decades. Originally published in 1996, the book has won the Books for a Better Life Award and has been lauded as “an indispensable book” by the AARP, ”a compassionate guide of encyclopedic proportion” by The Washington Post and “the bible of eldercare” by ABC World News. The praise from the countless families that book has helped in navigating the elder care landscape is equally glowing. Combining personal experience in caring for her own parents with expertise in healthcare, Morris addresses all facets of caregiving including the legal, financial, medical, emotional and logistical issues as well as preventing burnout and promoting healthy aging. Morris has been featured on national media including Oprah, TODAY, NPR and Good Morning America.
We were thrilled to have the chance to ask Ms. Morris some questions about her book and role as a preeminent resource for families everywhere coming to terms with caring for aging parents.
Q. Your book, How to Care for Aging Parents: A One-Stop Resource for all Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues is now in its third edition and has been a best-seller since its initial release. What spurred you to write the book and did you have a sense that it would be so well-received?
I started this work in 1991 when there were very few resources for caregivers and, if you can imagine it, no Internet. So this was a response to an obvious need. And because most caregivers don’t have the time to read a full book, I wrote it so that they could easily find the parts that applied to them — How do I stop him from driving? How do I handle siblings? How do I find a decent nursing home? etc., etc.
I had no idea it would be so well received. The joy for me has been and continues to be the comments I get from individual people rather than the number of readers or the publicity,. It’s an amazing feeling to know that you helped someone you never met. That is my reward and it is what pushes me to keep at this.
Q. The new edition includes several new chapters, including one on fraud and one on “aging in place” technologies. Why did you choose to include these?
Fraud and exploitation are enormous issues for the elderly and their families. This population is extremely vulnerable. Even smart, capable parents who seem impenetrable are at risk. Elderly people are targets because they often have money saved away (which they might part with), they are often alone and lonely (and willing to let strangers into their lives), they have fears that make them vulnerable (such as being put in a nursing home, running out of money or being abandoned), and they may have poor judgment about financial matters. Not only are they the targets of large-scale scams (phishing, sweepstakes, investments, and the like), but they are exploited by repairmen, “new friends,” caregivers — and yes, very often, their own families. Some people set out to scam the elderly, but often a person just slips into the role. A caregiver might convince herself, or himself, that any gifts and bonuses and checks, or perhaps a revision of a will, are deserved. Suddenly siblings discover that Mom has given everything away and has no money to pay for her own care. It’s heartbreaking. Caregivers and their parents need to know about these scams and protect themselves.
“Aging in place” technologies are a growing market. They run the gamut from electronic pill dispensers and medical alert buttons, to GPS trackers (for someone with dementia), to health monitors, motion detectors and fall sensors. The options are growing every day. But honestly, some of the most useful “technologies” that allow someone to remain at home are the simplest ones — double handrails, grab bars, even lighting, lever handles, clear pathways, night lights, and the like.
Q. You are hailed as the preeminent expert on caregiving in “sandwich generation” circles; what do you think has contributed to your work becoming the go-to resource for this demographic among the sea of other books and guides?
Well, thank you for the kind words. First of all, I work very hard to be sure my work is accurate. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and the Internet, while helpful, has set off an avalanche of bad advice. I also try to keep it “real,” if you’ll pardon the expression. I don’t want to just tell you that this or that device or organization exists; I want to tell you what real life caregivers actually find useful. I don’t want to just say what you should or shouldn’t do, because sometimes you have to break the rules to survive. There are trade-offs. That’s the reality.
Most important, I try to be reassuring. Caregiving — whether it’s 24/7 or occasional, whether from near or far — is hard work. Very hard. The worry alone can flatten a person. We feel helpless. We feel guilty that we’re not doing enough, and sometimes resentful that we have to do so much. Parents and siblings trigger a cascade of old hurts and frustrations. And then we have more guilt. It’s complicated. My primary goal in this book is to take the pressure off caregivers. I try to give people clear, honest information, but also to let them know that they are doing a good job, that they are not alone, and that they must take care of themselves.
Q. What was the most difficult part of writing How to Care for Aging Parents? What was the most rewarding? On how much of your own personal experience did you draw?
Interesting question. The most difficult part was organizing all of this information so that people could easily find what they need. I did not want frazzled caregivers digging around in frustration for an answer. It had to be simple and clear.
As for my personal experience…. I started the first edition in 1991 when both my parents were alive. I lost my dad while finishing the first edition and then cared for my mom while writing the second and most of the third. She died when I was writing this last edition. Yes, normally the experience comes first and the book second, but I was glad I did it somewhat in reverse because my work wasn’t colored by my personal experience and emotions.
For more information on Virginia and her work visit careforagingparents.com.
You can download excerpts from the book and a convenient caregiver organizer from Virgina’s website here.
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