Trapped By Dementia

Will your parent’s dementia drive you crazy?

By: Laurel Kennedy

An excerpt from “The Daughter Trap: Taking Care of Mom and Dad…and You (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), by Laurel Kennedy

“If you’re caring for an elderly parent, you’re living The Daughter Trap-the life we fall into when parents require our help, and everyone else expects it…. Elder care represents one of the most demanding-and rewarding-stages of life. Embrace it, and take advantage of every new breakthrough, from telemedicine to virtual villages, that will change the face of aging in years to come.”

So says Laurel Kennedy, author of “The Daughter Trap: Taking Care of Mom and Dad… and You. She knows firsthand how tough it is because she’s been there with her own parents. Here is an excerpt from her book:

“Ask any daughter of aging parents how she ended up in the daughter trap, and more often than not, you’ll discover that she doesn’t really know. There is no line of demarcation, rarely a single critical incident that marks the official beginning of “The Daughter Trap. Often, it starts with subtle changes in her parents’ mental or physical status, then a series of small, but cumulative, health events, followed by a long, slow decline.

“When the daughter trap gets sprung, women often find themselves grappling with an issue they thought was laid to rest years ago. Where once these women chose between work and children, a dilemma known as the Mommy Track, now the choice is between work and parents, a dilemma known as the Daughter Track. What makes this track a trap, is the fact that it is inevitable-not really a choice at all. There are no easy solutions or ones that fully satisfy everyone’s needs.

“When the patriarch or matriarch yields control, the family dynamic undergoes a sea change. All members of the extended family redefine their duties, reassess their obligations, and reexamine longstanding rituals and roles. Adult children realize that they are about to become orphans, abandoned [however unwillingly] by the people who have anchored their existence since conception.

“Grandchildren may be called upon to serve as chauffeurs or companions for grandparents they may not know that well or like that much. Adult siblings may try to renegotiate relationships, competing on the basis of who does the best job caring for Mom and Dad.

“Spouses may demonstrate a profound degree of empathy, or attempt to avoid the situation, knowing it foreshadows the death of their own parents. Friends and neighbors often act as proxy family members, when geography or schedules make it impossible for the caregiver to take care of business. It’s an emotional minefield for all involved, and nobody hands out flak jackets.

“The family circle, once thought to be circling the drain, re-surfaces with renewed vigor in modern form. Yet, trapped at the epicenter of it all remains the pivotal figure of the adult daughter. One of the strongest tethers ensnaring adult daughters is the misguided feminist belief in an egalitarian division of labor on the workfront and the homefront. It never happened and it never will.

“Elder care is neither a woman’s issue nor a man’s issue. It’s a human issue. It affects everyone in the family, in the community, in the country. It’s burning through resources at an alarming pace, more than $309 billion per year by some estimates.1 Various and sundry groups address elder care from a variety of perspectives: tax credits, Medicare payments, leaves of absence, medical education, respite help, inter-family cash transfers, transport vouchers. There’s an idea floated a minute and the competition for funding is intense.”

1“Role Reversal: The High Cost of Elder Care,” Daniel Arnall, ABC News, June 23, 2007.

The Daughter Trap: Taking Care of Mom and Dad…and You (St. Martin’s Press, 2010)” is available from Amazon and other vendors.

Laurel Kennedy is president of the multigenerational consulting firm Age Lessons, serves as an advocate for the elderly, and has appeared in national television and print media including MSNBC and USA Today. www.daughtertrap.com

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