Self-help book review: Helping Your Aging Parent: A Step-by-Step Guide (Revised)
By William J. Grote
185 pages, 2022, Boomer Books
Reviewed by Sheri McGregor
In this comprehensive book that helps adult children help their aging parents, William Grote begins by sharing the challenge in knowing when it’s time to take charge. He describes the changes he and his sister first saw in their mom—yet disregarded. Things like excess food rotting in the refrigerator, missed bill payments, and decreasing social pursuits are common but easily dismissed.
Eventually, his mother’s vulnerability to financial scams and paranoia became too apparent to ignore. Like when she signed a big contract with a “nice” door-to-door salesman for earthquake retrofitting to her modest home’s foundation. To her relief, Grote managed to cancel the agreement, but then she demanded a high fence be built to block her windows from peeping neighbors. She also claimed her son-in-law was sneaking in to move her things around and that her bank was stealing from her account. Clues aren’t always so obvious. Like many adult children, Grote was initially reluctant to step in. His experience helps readers deal with those feelings, recognize when the need to help an independent parent is real, and then act—for their parent’s well-being as well as their own.
Grote willingly shares the foibles of his experiences as he and his sister stumbled through healthcare, housing, legal, nursing home, and hospice care systems for his mom. He also talks openly about the emotional hurdles he faced and that are typical for families navigating these late life stages. These include disagreements between family members over crucial decisions for their parent’s needs, overcoming old communication patterns, forgiving, healing, and moving beyond old arguments and past tensions. Facing such difficulties head-on allows for healthy outcomes now and long after the parent dies.
Sprinkled throughout Helping Your Aging Parent are info-boxes and checklists for legal and financial planning, doctor visits, and how to talk to parents and others about what’s happening, what’s needed, and what’s next. Included worksheets invite reader input and analysis of their own situation. Developing a clear assessment of pertinent circumstances helps adult children make the best decisions given the facts. At first, Grote and his sister didn’t recognize their mother’s diminishing stamina as a sign of heart failure. And like many older people do, she blamed her lack of energy on what she thought was a normal part of aging. Grote believes if he’d have known what was going on earlier, he could have helped his mom get appropriate medical care and enjoy a better quality of life. The included personal questionnaires help to identify issues. Checklists assist in advocating for a parent, always with a respectful tone that honors Mom or Dad, while persisting in obtaining their needed care.
I appreciated the book’s thoughtful organization, which no doubt benefited from Grote’s vast experience in publishing how-to and helping guides. Eight chapters take the reader from first thoughts about the possibility of helping to decisions around the end-of-life, including a memorial or other send-off to honor the parent and say “goodbye.” Grote’s conversational tone and humorous anecdotes (tempered by the heavy subject matter) make the book an easy start-to-finish read. The thorough table of contents and a complete subject listing put specific topics at readers’ fingertips as needed.
The book updates Grote’s 2002 edition by adding new information and resources as well as the perspective of hindsight. Helping Your Aging Parent is a good choice for adult children whether they’re just contemplating their future responsibilities, or they have already stepped into the role of caregiver, helper, and trusted ally. I’m recommending this guide to my own adult children—but not quite yet!