Caring for Aging Parents is a Roller Coaster Ride

I recently heard a lyric sung by Ronan Keating, which perfectly describes the emotions evoked when caring for aging parents: “Life is a rollercoaster/Just gotta ride it.” Not a Six Flags aficionado? Me neither. We don’t get to choose. Mom will break her hip at a time when we’re already stressed to the max.

The past eleven years caring for my 93 year-old dad have been like an extended stay amusement park and I still have a series of barrel rolls and corkscrew turns to go. I’m starting to think feline genes run in my family. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not complaining about Dad repeatedly pulling through after I’d given him up for dead, but this ride on Space Mountain is shortening my own life.

If you have a parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you know that Sherlock Holmes skills are a must. My dad can’t tell me what’s wrong when he stops eating, if he’s in any pain or why he doesn’t want to get out of bed. Behavioral observations yield only educated guesses.

Last week I was sure my dad was about to transcend to the pearly gates. My dad’s doctors, hospice team and experienced facility staff were convinced he had pneumonia and was aspirating food. He looked terrible and refused all sustenance, save three glasses of orange juice per day. When my dad started behaving like a fickle feline, turning his nose up at chocolate ice cream, his favorite treat, I knew something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

My husband and I were on death watch, visiting Dad several times per day, scouring the answering machine for messages the moment we walked in the door, and emailing “Dad updates” to my brothers and sisters. We were so confident of our psychic powers that my brother contacted the pastor at the church where we’d buried my mom’s ashes to alert him to the fact that she would soon have company. We double-checked Dad’s cremation plans.  I googled “How long can a person live without food?”

As it turns out, our crystal balls had malfunctioned in unison. Five days after Dad was down for the count, he had a sudden reversal of fortunes. His health returned to baseline and his mood resumed its wild swings between perky and cantankerous. If Dad were still verbally adept, he would have scolded up with Mark Twain’s retort: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

This is the second time Dad had played rope-a-dope with a virus, and like Ali, ultimately won the fight. These recurring resurrections throw me for a loop and evoke starkly conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I’m pleased that my dad is still with me so that I can continue to shower him with my love. Yet, I also wonder what’s in store for Dad. Will his resilient body persist and allow his dementia to progress to the point where he forgets how to swallow? I hope not.

All I know for certain is that I’d better get used to thrill rides. That’s the reality of elder care. I just hope I haven’t inadvertently stumbled into Ohio’s Cedar Point, home of 17 roller coaster rides. I don’t think my stomach could take it.



Lorie Eber, JD is a Gerontologist and Certified Personal Trainer, who teaches Gerontology at Coastline Community College. She is also a writer and a Keynote Speaker on Healthy Living, Healthy Aging and Elder Care issues. Lorie’s Dad is 93 years-old and suffers from vascular dementia. Visit her website: Read her eBook:

$20 Billion Industry

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disintegrated microtubules

An August weekend copy of the Europe The Wall Street Journal carried an article entitled: “Research Points to ‘Silent Phase’ of Alzheimer’s.” The first paragraph stated that a new “explosion” of research has been bolstering “an emerging view” that Alzheimer’s disease can begin to ravage “the brain years or even decades before” enough symptoms appear to diagnose the disease.

These findings, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, are apparently influencing how scientists are thinking about the disease “…and the pharmaceutical industry’s quest for effective drugs against the disease.”

The article continued: “The findings are prompting companies like Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb Col to increase their focus on patients with mild memory symptoms.”

The next paragraph contained a sentence, which was the one for why I share this information with you: “Some analysts estimate the market for a drug that could slow or reverse Alzheimer’s could be as large as $20 billion a year.“

I hold the personal belief that the Alzheimer’s Association (not the Alzheimer’s Foundation or other organizations that have been formed to fight Alzheimer’s) is using marketing to make mucho buckos.  Their aggressive marketing has succeeded in making people believe that Alzheimer’s is the only form of dementia out there.  Dementia is no longer the umbrella term for loss of memory and every day functions.  Alzheimer’s is.

Certainly there should be a concern with regard to Alzheimer’s disease.  But it really is not the only form of dementia out there.  Below are a few other causes of dementia and this list by no means cover all the causes:

  • Vascular dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Alcohol related dementia – Korsakoff’s syndrome
  • AIDS related dementia
  • Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD)
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

An article that speaks about findings that “may indicate” that the “ravages” of Alzheimer’s “may occur before symptoms do” seems to reflect more the rather aggressive means by which the Alzheimer’s Association is trying to corner the market than anything that could potentially alter the onset of Alzheimer’s.  But the Association does have the public’s attention and apparently the pharmaceutical Industry’s attention as well.  One could endlessly produce pills that might counter what might be the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.  Whether these pills are successful or not seem, if one were to read the article as written [granted, for the Wall Street Journal], secondary to the fact that this endeavor could potentially be a $20 billion industry.


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