Program targets the awkward transition of a child caring for a parent HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

February 24, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

The 49-year-old accountant visits her parents' home several times a week. Because they are frail, she cooks, cleans and arranges a schedule of errands to be done, including grocery shopping and doctors' visits.

The remaining hours -- after working a full-time job -- are usually spent at home repeating similar chores for her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandchild.

She is part of what Swaran Dhawan refers to as the "sandwich" generation.

"They are usually people in their 40s or 50s -- at the peak of their profession -- who have adolescent or dependent children and a parent who is in need," says Ms. Dhawan, director of social work at Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City.

Ms. Dhawan believes that there is a need to educate the public about the problems they may face as parents age, and of the many services available to help them. Toward that end, she will conduct the first segment of a six-week program called "Aging Parents: Expectations and Realities" on Saturday.

The program will be at the Family Life Center in Wilde Lake Village Green on six consecutive Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The cost is $40 but may be waived for special circumstances.

Families, she says, often wait until a crisis occurs before taking steps. Sometimes a parent is not taking a bath, or may be getting up in the middle of the night and roaming around the house.

"It is difficult to watch a parent who has loved you deteriorate," she says. "There's a tendency to deny and to minimize the situation."

Sometimes when you are in a crisis, you want a quick, prompt response, she added.

"Prepared people can be more pro-active. When they are ready, they are in charge of the situation."

That was the case for Kay Stanford, whose mother moved to Columbia seven months ago from Pennsylvania.

The social worker and mother of two sons, ages 19 and 22, wanted her mother, Leanna Endriss, to be closer to her now that she needs some assistance with tasks such as banking, figuring her taxes and shopping. Mrs. Endriss, who lives in Harmony Hall, no longer drives, and her daughter takes her to various appointments.

Because of Mrs. Stanford's work and her family's schedule, weekday visits are few. But "we all do things for her and with her," Mrs. Stanford says. On weekends, "she does what we do."

Whatever the particular problem, Ms. Dhawan says the first session of the program will define what has brought each individual there. She plans to outline various community and state health care and support services, as well as to offer specific suggestions.

"We will alert individuals to ask clear questions about what kind of insurance their parents have, and we encourage people to be present when relatives are seeing doctors so that there is a clear understanding of the medical care that is being provided," she says.

The sessions will include a wide range of subjects, including legal and financial concerns, and changing roles and responsibilities for parents and their adult children.

Emotional turmoil can exist when an adult child loses his or her nurturer and confidante, and suddenly is immersed in a reversal of roles with a frail parent. Parents who may have been demanding or critical of their children -- and who did not cultivate a close relationship -- may want complete allegiance in their later years.

"Sometimes unresolved conflicts of earlier years can play havoc," Ms. Dhawan says. "Children can learn to set limits. If guilt prevails, no one may be feeling better."

Other sessions will address communicating and making decisions about independence.

"It's most painful to see your parent not functioning at their normal level," Ms. Dhawan says. "You have to share your observations with them about their possible inability to drive or handle their finances. During all of this, sometimes the tending child will conclude that their parent should live with him or her, which may not be the best solution."

One of the best things for communicating is to convey to the parent that they are not alone," Ms. Dhawan says. "You can provide them help with things like transportation, groceries, banking. As much as you do for them, however, it's important that they also be encouraged to do for themselves.

The program is sponsored by the Family Life Center, the Office on Aging, Taylor Manor Hospital, Howard Community College and Howard County General Hospital.

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