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Long term health care personal and political: A book review of “Caring for our Parents” by Howard Gleckman

Posted Jun 02 2009 2:35pm
Story telling is one of the oldest forms of communicating ideas and information. It’s an approach that Howard Gleckman, journalist and researcher, uses to good effect in his new book, “Caring for our Parents: Inspiring stories of families seeking new solutions to American’s most urgent health crisis” ( St. Martin’s Press, 2009 ).

Like most of our personal experiences, Gleckman’s starts with a phone call. “With just a few words, my family was sent plummeting into a painful, mysterious, and all-consuming world for which we were completely unprepared,” says Gleckman. “It would be, at once, the most difficult and the most rewarding thing I have done in my life.”

Gleckman tells how first his mother-in-law suffered a fatal stroke, revealing his father-in-law’s fragile health condition. Following a stress-filled, long-distance caring experience that lasted three months and spanned several attempts at caregiving solutions, he died. Shortly before he died, however, Gleckman received another phone call, this time from his mother. His father was dying. Gleckman and his wife balanced their own jobs, travel to help family members and all of the emotional drain of losing a loved one – at the same time running into endless challenges finding and paying for the services their loved ones needed.

“Caring for our Parents” is filled with stories similar to these – stories that many of us recognize only too well as we struggle to balance our own roles simultaneously raising our children, holding down a career and supporting our parents.

Running through these stories is a theme of frustration at the disjointed, challenging nature of health and long term care for Americans today. Gleckman points out that not only do most people want to stay home through the end of their lives, most Americans do, in fact, receive care at home by a family member. Not that this is easy, cheap or without personal cost: caregivers have significantly higher rates of illness and accidents than non-caregivers, often dying before the persons in their care.

Support and training for family caregivers helps, of course, but that is frequently difficult to access or to fit into an already over-crowded schedule.

Gleckman proposes a variety of creative solutions to these challenges, including neighborhoods that join together to become NORCs – naturally occurring retirement communities.

As Americans age, however, the cost of long term care will become more and more of a social issue, not just a personal one. In his recent opinion piece in USA Today , Gleckman points out that while 80% of Americans have some form of health care coverage (that’s more than 250 million of us) only 7 million Americans have long term care insurance.

“What will we do when the Baby Boomers start needing this care over the next few decades?” Gleckman asks. “As 77 million Boomers reach old age, today’s challenges will become a full-blown crisis.” ( USA Today ).

“Caring for our Parents” is a book that accurately and poignantly portrays a real need that is personal and political. Care for our aged parents - and soon, for ourselves - is something we need to take action on now if we are going to have any hope of averting this "full-blown crisis."
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