A couple of weeks ago, I heard about a new book titled Elder Rage: Take My Father...Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents, written by Jacqueline Marcell. I thought it might be a discussion about how many elderly people are upset with the care they're receiving in nursing homes and hospitals. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although it's a true story, the book reads more like a riveting novel.
To tell the story, Marcell calls upon her long career as an executive in the television industry to draw amusing comparisons to show business. Thank goodness for her well-developed sense of humor, which she uses to summarize her challenging circumstances. The book is filled with laughter and tears.
I recently had the pleasure of talking with the author. She's articulate, bright and obviously has gone through an incredible adventure in her efforts to care for her parents. As a TV executive she was very successful, but she had to interrupt her career to devote time to the plight of her father.
Throughout our conversation, the love and affection she has for her parents came across. Without her sacrifices, caring and intellect, her dad would not be alive today. Even though the lessons she learned along the way were both dramatic and traumatic, there's a promise of hope. And she found a way to keep her sense of humor through it all.
Marcell describes her year from hell in 1998, when she was laid off from her job, her cat died, she had to undergo back surgery and her relationship with her boyfriend went to pieces. As if all of that weren't enough, she then had to take care of two failing parents. Her mother had suffered a heart attack 11 years earlier, and her father took care of her all those years. But as time passed, her father just couldn't handle the job anymore. And he would not allow a caregiver in the house under any circumstances.
According to Marcell, her father had become a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In fact, one time while she was visiting him, he tried to choke her. Although dominating and headstrong all his life, he had never been so irrational. At age 83, he was a totally different type of person, and his daughter tried everything to help him. She saw all kinds of physicians and therapists in an effort to get some answers with no success.
It wasn't until she came into contact with the Alzheimer's Association that she found some help. The father was experiencing the early stages of vascular dementia, possibly with secondary Alzheimer's disease. All the signs were there: memory loss, mood swings, inconsistent behavior, volatility.
She finally found help from a geriatric psychiatrist, who treated his brain chemistry for dementia, aggression and depression. Once her father's brain chemistry was stabilized, Marcell used behavior modification--tough love--on her father. Her tireless care turned around lifelong negative behavior patterns and helped her parents turn around their lives.
Elder Rage is a fine book filled with plenty of practical advice for anyone with elderly parents. Marcell's story gives us the insights that are so necessary--and so often lacking--for anyone facing such tough decisions. It's important to know where to turn when we need counsel.
Marcell's been there, and we can all learn a lot from her experience.
Blood is thicker than water,
Charles S. Lauer