A timely book for children with parents – for everyone really

Just when you think that the death and dying subject has been done to death, along comes a book that is very timely considering the imposed separation that is the experience of many families with elderly frail loved ones shuttered away in nursing homes.

At a recent Die-alogue Cafe meeting held online, this book was on the agenda with the book review by Margaret Studley prompting some lively discussion.

We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad: A Practical Guide to Parenting Our Aging Parents, by Jean Kittson (see credits at the end of the review).

Writes Margaret:

Here is another book that I think should be in every home where one has an elderly parent or friend for whom they will have responsibility, or is likely to have at some time.  Whilst primarily focused on those with ageing parents, I think it is an excellent book for those like me to improve the plans I have in place, or may not have in place, and to ensure that my children can find any information and documents they may need when they need it.

Written as a result of personal experience it is a very practical guide and Jean covers an amazing range of issues.  She writes well and with much humour, about all matters concerning the elderly as they age, including –

  • Advance Care Directives (a very good guide)
  • Looking for the signs of change
  • Dealing with illness and frailty
  • Family dynamics
  • Medical,  financial and legal requirements     
  • Complexity of dealing with Government Departments   
  • End of life care issues – Retirement villages -questions to ask
  • Need for residential or home care and what problems can be  encountered  
  • Later issues – nursing homes, palliative care, euthanasia, funerals, grief.

Included are some cautionary tales.

One chapter lists 10 tips for dealing with government agencies.  She stresses the bureaucratic nightmares that can result from these and says it is essential that anyone looking after the interests of others should carry a notebook at all times (editors emphasis) and keep a diary that records every single meeting, email, telephone conversation, time, date, name of person to whom they speak with, reference number of the call – whilst trying to remain polite at all times! Practice can help master these skills, so best we start on lesser important issues now.

Jean lists documents that you will need, and suggests you get multiple certified copies.  These are listed in the book.  At the end she also lists the websites for age related organisations, departments and so on. There are several pages of questions that should be asked if considering residential care – of course these will be prompts since each situation will throw up different issues, but the principles apply regardless.

From personal experience I quickly noted her suggestion that no matter where the aged person is living there should be a medical information sheet behind their front or bedroom door to provide information for paramedics or anyone having to deal with an emergency on their behalf.  Such a document should contain information about medical conditions, medications etc. and also information as to where spectacles, teeth, hearing aids may be found if applicable.   In any case it is important to mention if the person has any hearing problem, otherwise they may be assessed as senile and given low priority in treatment.

This book is very well put together and at the end of every chapter she lists the key points for quick reference.  For added enjoyment there are some fun drawings by Patrick Cook.

Also included there is a template of good questions to ask our elderly loved ones about their preferences whilst they can still tell us.  Of interest also was the fact that 70% of everyone at the end of their lives will not be making their own decisions.  This is a sobering thought and increasingly relevant at this time.

I can absolutely recommend this book.  Price range is $24 to $35 depending on the retailer.

Jean Kittson, author, comedienne, radio personality, Patron of Palliative Care Nurses of Australia, Ambassador for Muscular Disease Foundation, the Australian Gynaecological Cancer Foundation, the Raise Foundation and Amb. for the Ovarian Cancer Foundation.

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