Our aging parents

Aug. 1, 2003
It is a day that we do not care to think about, but one that visits most all of us. Our parents are the towers of strength and encouragement, the ones that we call when we need some good advice.

By Donna "Hannah" Gerber

It is a day that we do not care to think about, but one that visits most all of us. Our parents are the towers of strength and encouragement, the ones that we call when we need some good advice. They were the ones whose cheers could be heard above all the rest at our softball games, on the front row during our recitals, and the most saddened when we did not win. They read through countless hours of "See Spot Run," bought our first car, stood proudly at our graduation, and sorrowfully at our departure from home.

Suddenly, the roles are reversed. We are the ones to have to read to them, run their errands, and make sure they have nutritious meals. Life goes full circle. You end up right back where you started.

There are so many emotional and financial adjustments that must be made on both sides. Our parents have the emotional task of admitting that they now need help and simply cannot do it on their own any more. They are now about to embark on new terrain — the children making decisions for them. They will be taking control of their finances, where they will live, and be subjected to all of the rules of this new environment. This is a huge step to take for grown people who are used to being self-sufficient and making their own rules. Their destiny is now lying in the hands of their children.

Usually, during this time, the folks will need to downsize. The large home they have lived in is just too much to keep up with and all of the extra space is no longer needed. Many times, the kids have already moved away and there is no one close by to watch after them. Their lives as they have known them have now been turned upside down. One must now face the grueling task of putting the house on the market and going through 30 years worth of family heirlooms — all of which are quality items, of course. Some will be kept, others thrown away, and what is left will probably be sold at a weekend yard sale. Once the move has been made and the folks are attempting to adapt to their new environment, finances will be dealt with. The large decrease in income must be supplemented in order for a comfortable lifestyle to be maintained.

One assumes that our government has paved the way for us after all these years of paying income tax and social security. Surely they've tucked this away for a time such as this; we sent it to them for safe keeping with our name on it. Alas, we do start receiving our nest egg but find out the monthly payments are barely enough to cover the medication expenses, much less provide enough income to cover other monthly expenses such as food, utilities, house payments and maintenance, and insurance. It can be very frustrating dealing with the red tape involved with government-funded agencies over the phone, especially for an elderly person. Countless hours placed on hold, attempting to answer questions about income and medications to which you have only limited knowledge, and repeatedly telling various individuals the purpose of your call only to be referred to yet another person who needs to hear the story again. The good news is that there are programs out there that can help — in fact, over 1,100 of them nationwide.

The Internet has simplified the search by offering online access to various programs that are available for the elderly and to which one can check their eligibility for them. All programs can be easily accessed through one online eligibility service called the National Council on Aging located at www.ncoa.org. The service checks the availability of elderly assistance programs in your area, qualification requirements, and eligibility of the person requesting help. There are a few things you will need before you get started. You will be asked to supply the following information: City, state, and zip code; date and place of birth; type of residence (house, apartment, mobile home); length of time at current residence; employment history (military, government, civil service); names of prescription medications; current income; and estimate of current monthly expenses.

Once this information has been obtained and submitted, it only takes a couple of minutes for the assistance programs to be displayed. It is easy to understand and has helpful information such as the location and phone number, what the program offers, and what you will need to bring with you for your appointment. Government-funded programs are available to assist the elderly with food (preparation and purchases), household chores, weatherization of homes, utility discounts, supplemental insurance (Medicare), tax credits, legal services, low-income housing assistance, and discounted prescriptions.

One of the best ways to help our aging parents is to guide them through the adjustment process in the gentlest way possible. The process is painful and somewhat burdensome for all involved and requires a great deal of sacrifice and adjustment in order to achieve a satisfactory result. The National Council on Aging makes it easier for the transformation to take place. Life changes, and so we must accept and adapt to challenges and roads on which we have never traveled; and do so with optimism for an ever changing relationship with our aging parents.

Donna "Hannah" Gerber, RDH, has practiced dental hygiene in Texas for 15 years.She is the owner of a dental employment web-site named Dental Image Services at www.dentalimageservices.com.Gerber is currently pursuing a bachelor's in accounting at the University of Houston in Clear Lake City, Texas.She is composing a book of breast cancer survivors and establishing a foundation calledthe "Heart of David Foundation," where proceeds from the publication will be distributed to those in need of financial assistance for treatment of the disease.