When my dad died in 1994, the first edition of Virginia Morris' "How to Care for Aging Parents" was two years in the future. There were few books to guide my family through a maze of doctor visits and new diagnoses that stacked up like layers on a cake.
My dad was in the hospital for weeks, and we had to figure for ourselves how to coordinate his care, untangle a hip-high pile of medical bills and paperwork, and track his medications. He recovered from that and lived two more years, though frail in ways that required monitoring. Though we didn't appreciate it at the time, his care was relatively easy because he maintained his mental faculties and could tell us what hurt and helped. My mother died with Alzheimer's.
Even a decade after I became an adult orphan, I am fascinated with books designed to help families navigate the big challenges — and Morris' book, just out in an updated third edition, does that.
It's a comprehensive guide filled with advice and resources, as well as personal stories that reveal much-appreciated moments of both humor and compassion. The book — 671 pages including resources, index and worksheets — is not intended to be read like a novel. Rather, individuals can look first at the issues they're facing at that moment: Should you move mom into your house? How do you plan to talk to your siblings?
Later, you can look at the parts you can see are just a step away. The guide can help someone who is moving through a series of crises.
The book is current, including information on helper technologies, such as the Wii for physical therapy or in-home medical-alert devices and webcam doctor consultations. It has sections on estate planning, important conversations, finances, identity theft and much more.
But the best part is the crystal-clear writing. She explains things simply and thoroughly, but also conversationally.
"You are called upon to help your parent in ways you never fathomed — sometimes against his wishes or without his understanding. At the same time, you are losing him, the parent you once knew, bit by bit, and finding in his place someone you might not know or even like. And in the midst of all this grief and aggravation, you must muster up superhuman amounts of flexibility and patience. It's a ridiculously tall order, but truly, these are the keys to your parent's day and your survival," she writes.
"Your overriding concern right now might be stroke, cancer, dementia, heart disease or some other life-threatening illness, and rightfully so. But don't lose sight of your parent's seemingly more mundane complaints, such as blurry eyesight, incontinence and restless nights," she continues.
Those, she emphasizes, can be more bothersome on a daily basis than the specific disease. They can also complicate care. Poor hearing can appear to be dementia. So can inadequate sleep. And the so-called little things can make the big issues worse or create other problems.
In a book filled with important guidelines, tips and heartfelt advice, one is particularly important: Don't assume complaints are just part of getting old. "Certainly, these ailments are common in old age," writes Morris, "but that doesn't mean they are untreatable or unworthy of attention. In fact, many are preventable or treatable and a few are curable. And life with almost any disability can be made more manageable."
As for financial and legal information, she has broken down the complex and covered a number of scenarios to explain information that caregivers must have.
If you go ...
What: A discussion with Virginia Morris and book signing
When: Thursday, Feb. 27, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
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