Embracing The Care Of Parents

Loving Your Parents When They Can No Longer Love You (Paperback) by Terry Hargrave
If you're a married baby boomer who is the caregiver of an elderly parent, your marriage is probably being put to the test. There is no way to completely prepare for the demanding job of giving care, so most couples are surprised at the changes.

That is what Rochester couple Marcia and Paul Chiappone found out when Marcia Chiappone's 81-year-old ailing mother moved in. Tune in Tuesday for The Early Show's report.

The real danger to the marriage is when the spouse of the caregiver, usually the husband, feels displaced or No. 2 in the caregiver's life, says Terry Hargrave, a family therapist and author of the book, "Loving Your Parents: When They Can No Longer Love You."

Hargrave says, "Two things are particularly complicating care giving in this generation. The first is that so many more of us are ending up in a care-giving role because there are many more older people."

With the help of advanced medical technology, the average U.S. life span has increased by about 30 years in the past century, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Today, the fastest-growing age category is 85 and older. Therefore, boomers will be the first generation tapped on a large scale to care for this oldest generation.

"The second thing that is taking the current care-giving generation by surprise is the duration," says Hargrave. "The same medical science that has increased the lifespan is also able to keep us alive with diseases and problems that would have resulted in death 30 years ago. In other words, terminal conditions have now become chronic. The result is that an elder may need care for years and years instead of months or a few years as in the past."

Women are usually the caregivers in a family and if you're married, this creates added stress to the marriage. So Hargrave notes it is important for the marriage to be a resource.

He explains, "Care giving will become more and more common, and it will be necessary for the couple to support one another in this job, just like any other job, like raising children or working. Right now, men have traditionally not been much of a resource in care giving and have largely left the job to women."

If there are still children in the house, consider that there will be additional tension. Hargrave says, "Typically, the more relationships in the house the more stress will be caused because of the time crunch. But there is also always potential with more people in the house to actually provide more caregiving resource so the burden does not fall on just one person."

Tuesday, he offers tips on ways to keep a marriage strong while care giving.