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.
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
"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
"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."
Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Huntington's
disease -- they also lead families into the caregiving dilemma. Figuring out
what's best for a loved one is not an easy decision, says Kelly. Families face
a spectrum of possible care arrangements.