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As Parents Age
A Psychological and Practical Guide
by Joseph A. Ilardo, PhD, LCSW

From Chapter 2: Coming to Terms with Your Parents' Aging


Feelings that are predictable and within normal limits usually can be dealt with by using common sense. For example, it is always important to acknowledge and accept feelings, whether you approve of the feelings or not. Anger at a parent who was inattentive to you is perfectly understandable. Even when the cause of the anger is less clear, it is important to accept it as valid, for only then can you begin to explore its origins and come to grips with it.

Talk them out.
The best way to deal with any feeling, especially one with which you are uncomfortable, is to admit it to yourself. Avoid denying the feeling or judging yourself harshly for feeling the way you do. Try talking out the feeling with a spouse, family member, friend, or mental health professional. Often, that is all that is needed to put the feeling in its proper place as you set about the task of living your life normally. If for any reason more help is needed, look into a support group for caregivers. (See the Selected Resources appendix for information on locating such a group.)

Gather information.
If you experience uncertainty or apprehension about what will happen next in the course of a parent's decline, it makes sense to gather information. Your parent's physician is a good source of guidance. So are professional associations. For example, the Alzheimer's Association offers information for those who must deal with or care for victims of the disorder. Many informative books are available on a variety of illnesses and their effects. Often, knowing what is likely to happen is extremely reassuring. (See the Selected Resources appendix for guidance on locating sources of information.)

Arrange for assistance.
Sometimes guilty feelings can be alleviated by arranging for practical assistance for an aging parent. . . .


If you determine that your reactions are outside normal limits, it is advisable to take immediate and aggressive steps to get them under control. If you do not, they are very likely to have adverse effects on you, your elderly parent, your spouse and children, your family of origin, or your career. Below are several specific suggestions of where to go to get help.

Talk with your own or your parent's physician.
He or she will likely understand your reactions, having seen many people in your situation over the years. Sometimes, the doctor will prescribe a simple anxiolytic (antianxiety) medication or a mild anti-depressant. Other times, he or she will make a referral to a trusted therapist. The most psychologically sensitive physicians will typically do both.

See an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) counselor on the job.
Many employers provide crisis assessment services for employees. Turning to your EAP representative will give you a chance to verbalize your distress while simultaneously gaining the insights and judgment of an experienced mental health professional.

Seek out your minister, rabbi, or parish priest.
As training of clergy improves, many are able to provide short-term counseling.
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