Nov. 5, 2001 - Vivian Ames knows too well how life can turn upside down. She was single, in her 30s, living and working in San Francisco. Her folks were in San Diego, hundreds of miles away. She was their only child; they were "older" when she was born.
And as they aged -- as their health deteriorated -- she found herself making tougher and tougher decisions.
When it comes to aging, Bebe Shaw didn't hit the genetic lottery. Her mother died from congestive heart failure, her father of a heart condition. The younger of her two brothers had a heart attack at age 52, and her younger sister is on the verge of congestive heart failure. Shaw, 69, has high cholesterol -- a serious risk factor for heart disease.
With such a checkered health history, she's not taking any chances. "I am an advocate of exercise and diet," says Shaw, who works as a paralegal in Ocala,...
First, there were the subtle signs that her mother had Alzheimer's disease -- the growing forgetfulness. "She'd put a coffee cup in the oven," Vivian remembers. "Or she'd go off driving, then not know how to get back." Vivian's father carried the burden of care, doing the cooking, grocery shopping, driving, managing things on the home front.
Then her father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Not too long after, she got an SOS phone call from him: "I can't take care of her anymore."
"My father resisted putting her in adult day care," she tells WebMD. "But after we tried it, he realized how much easier it made our lives. She was this high-energy person, almost destructive at that point, where we had to spend so much time watching her. That's the main thing, it gives you a break."
Within months, he passed away. Vivian knew what she had to do.
"I had a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco," she says. "She took over my bedroom, I took over the sofa bed."
Making Difficult Decisions
It's a scenario playing out all over America. Busy adults with their own careers and families are grappling with a parent's deteriorating health. And very likely, that parent lives hundreds of miles away.
"This is what's facing the baby boom generation," says Kathy Kelly, executive director of the National Caregiver Alliance, an association that focuses on helping families dealing with brain disorders like Alzheimer's disease and stroke. "As women generally live longer than men, the single surviving parent is often mother."