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Monday, May 25, 2015

"Take My Hand Again" (Nancy Parker Brummett)

TITLE: Take My Hand Again: A Faith-Based Guide for Helping Aging Parents
AUTHOR: Nancy Parker Brummett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (224 pages).

In many societies around the world, one of the most pressing concerns is the aging population. As people live longer, it also means additional needs on healthcare and tax burdens. Taking care of the elderly is not simply daycare centers or medical care clinics. there are emotional, mental, and spiritual needs too. There are practical concerns. There are financial considerations. There are complexities on how to give them continued freedom in the neighborhood and how to ensure safety for themselves as well as the communities who live in. In other words, as a person ages, many ordinary errands suddenly become challenging projects. In a very personal as well as a practical guide book, author, gerontologist, and grandmother of 12 writes this book about caring for the aging in societies. As a professional, she shares in the book many aspects of the aging process. At the same time, she weaves in many personal experiences with people she meet and the family members she cares for. This makes the book both professional and also very personal. She also anchors each chapter on biblical reflection, to let Scripture guide one's thinking and caring in the aging process.

The fourteen chapters in the book deal with the physical, the emotional, the mental, the practical, as well as the spiritual aspects of growing old where familiar things and people increasingly becomes unfamiliar. There are adjustments to be made on all sides. One of the biggest is role switch where the children suddenly parent their parents. The aging parent will have to depend more on others, especially their children to care for them. The grown up children will have to be more assertive and aware of new roles in honouring and respecting their parents. What makes it more complex is that some parents have to juggle two roles at the same time: Taking care of their aged parents as well as their young children. It is something that happens more and more in graying societies all over the world. Brummett's coverage of the whole aging situation is very broad. Historically, we read about the different perspectives of aging through the years. In the 16-17th Century, most of the care were done by families. By the 20th Century, with the Great Depression and an increased dependence on government help, families are relying more on public assistance, especially those with difficult financial situations. Now, depending on each family situation, there will be combinations of private and public assistance available for all. Brummett goes much further. She has a keen eye for the emotional struggles of old people. While many of us will be interested in what practical steps to take, healthcare concerns, and specialized gerontological resources available to us, the author spends a good chunk of time dealing with emotional heartstrings. When parents start to age, family dynamics change. There can be sibling disagreements over matters financially, logistically, or even relationally. Who cares for the aging parents? Is the responsibility only on the unmarried siblings? Knowing what to do is one thing. When and whether one is willing to do it is another. Like deciding on what is the best care center to live in. Will an expensive four-month stay be justifiable when financial means are small? What if the aging parents want a nice room but the family could not afford it? What if the most affordable care home does not have the specialized nursing skills needed? Do we throw away precious belongings of parents when we do our spring cleaning? Remember that some parents do have deep emotional attachment to things familiar to them. Then there is the driving license. For many, taking away the driving license is like removing an important symbol of independence.

I appreciate the chapter on "Focusing on Friendship" as it is something a lot more humane and helpful. The older one gets, the harder it is to make new friends. Even old friendships are tested when people remember different things which may be meaningful to some but not to others. Brummett writes: "Reminding them that they have had successful, nurturing, relationships in the past can give them the courage to forge new ones." This is important when one moves to a care home. Without making new friends, one can become very lonely. Another important chapter is the caring for the aging mind. What the aged needed most is someone who can understand how they feel. Biologically, the older one gets, the weaker one is able to exercise their neural connections due to age or disease. That is why older people tend to multitask less, become more absent-minded, easily distracted, and behaving strangely abnormally as years go by. This is complicated by dementia which is a loss of mental function like memory, reasoning, thinking, and speed. Alzheimer's is "progressive brain disease" due to a reduction of brain cells. While dementia often means forgetting facts, Alzheimer's is more serious as people with such problems can even forget how to get back home after a walk in the neighbourhood. Some do not even recognize their own children! Then there is depression that hits the aged really hard. The American Psychiatric Association even lists nine depression symptoms, saying that as many as five are present in any two-week period. Physical limitations are next, with tips on health care options, medication needs, nutrition, as well as the risk of falls. The later part of the book deals with emotional and spiritual aspects, which I feel can be the hardest for three reasons.

Firstly, it is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of the aging parent. After all, we have never had the chance to experience what they are experiencing. What is meaningful to them may be different from us. We can throw away a tea cup they love but as far as they are concerned, that item is irreplaceable because of the memories attached to them. Secondly, aging parents behave like a different person altogether. With the complications of dementia, it can be frustrating that our best efforts are not reciprocated. Worse, after spending a fortune on the best care for them, they can turn around and reject them, even accusing us of not caring for them. It is also a tough challenge as many parents caring for their aged parents are busy career people and parents themselves. How do they juggle how much time to divide between their various responsibilities? After all the sacrifice, imagine how the caregiver feels that upon giving up so much, their own parents do not seem to appreciate the efforts. Thirdly, every aging situation is different. There are no one book that can speak exactly to all. We just need to learn and be prepared for emergencies and contingencies. What can be done however is to be aware that these are issues that many aged people face. Knowing even the most mundane things can be a life-saver. Simple issues like what can we do if the person refuses to eat?

There are funny moments but also very serious implications. Like the observation of one old person calling to warn her children about dangerous driving, where not only one driver was driving on the wrong side of the highway, but all were. The way to read this book is to let our care and love for our aged parents or loved ones direct our reading. For educators, it is a useful resource to learn from. For the child of aged parents, read according to the need at hand. While it is good if the whole book can be studied and applied, chances are, every aging situation will be unique. Perhaps, the most useful takeaway from this book is the title itself. "Take My Hand Again" is about a physical and loving connection with something so simple but meaningful. Holding the hand of an aged person means a lot more than a mountain of words. Holding it again and again means a lot. It demonstrates a love that will continue.

I recommend this book for a broad audience simply because we live in an increasingly graying society. We may not have aged parents but our colleagues, our fellow workers or friends do. We meet people at coffee shops, supermarkets, and other public places. Knowing the challenges of the aged in our society helps us to engage them not with complaints or impatience but with understanding and encouragement. If this book can help us to be more sympathetic to the challenges and more empathetic to the aging person, it would have worth every cent. Read it and we will never see the aged the same way again.

Rating: 5 Stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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