Parent Care: Family Challenge

For millions of people who care for aging relatives, everyday life can be a struggle emotionally, financially and physically. This is especially true for adults who find themselves the caregivers of their parents — the subject of “Caring for Your Parents,” a two-hour documentary set to air on some PBS stations on Wednesday night.

“When it really got intense, I think that was when I felt like saying, ‘Hey ... I wasn’t meant to do this. How come I caught the rotten tomato?” says Priscilla, 65, of her struggles to provide for her 91-year-old mother, Happy. “But then I got over it, which was the only choice I had.”

In the first 90 minutes of the program, filmmaker Michael Kirk explores the experiences of five Rhode Island families who must overcome serious obstacles to care for their sick and aging parents. (Producers identify family members by first name only, withholding last names to protect their privacy.)

Besides Priscilla, there is Lorraine, who agonizes about putting her mother in a nursing home; Ricardo, who separates from his wife when the challenges of caring for his sick parents become too much for her; Thelma, whose own health deteriorates under the stress of juggling a job, three kids and her bedridden mother; and Joyce, who struggles with her sisters to make plans for their increasingly dependent parents.

The film offers a touching look at how meeting parents’ needs can strain family relationships though the simple humanity of caregiving can also bring people closer together. When it comes to the how-to of being a caregiver, however, the program does not offer many concrete answers. If anything, it shows that every family must approach the problem differently, depending on finances and the relationships of the various members.

Following the documentary is a 30-minute panel discussion by doctors and other experts on caring for elderly parents. Again, there aren’t many answers here beyond the experts’ recommendation that adult children open lines of communication early to determine their parents’ financial situation and long-term health-care wishes before medical emergencies make discussions difficult or impossible.

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