Friday, April 03, 2009
In Memory Lessons, he talks about his family, his childhood, his medical training and career. He writes poignantly about his father's progressive dementia and physical decline before his death. I emailed Dr. Judy Paley (Femail Doc) after I read the book to inquire if she had seen it. She replied that she had written a review on Amazon.com and copied it to me. I couldn't write a better review, so here it is. (By the way, Dr. Paley has written many reviews for Amazon and if you check this link, you may find other books of interest that she has recommended)
What Would Winakur Do?
If we're lucky, all of us aging children will have a parent or two who motors on into old age, living well for a time to remain our friend, confidante, and grandparent to our children. Lucky, of course, is a relative term, because aging parents pretty much means someday we'll be caught in the middle of a generational sandwich, trying to minister to their increasing debilities while dealing with our own professional lives and the demands of our growing children.
So how lucky are we that Dr. Jerald Winakur has written a memoir/instructional guidebook on dealing with the predicaments and the raging ambivalence of parenting our parents as they lose their independence and health. Dr. Winakur has done an incredible job of blending the professional with the personal, sharing not only medical information about the process of growing older and going to ground--losing height, losing vitality, losing balance, etc.--but how he helped usher his dad through debility and Alzheimer's disease in his role as Dr. Son.
I spent the last two years guiding my mom along life's final pathway, from independence to home care, and finally, with enormous guilt and anguish, into a nursing home where she died 8 months later. I felt isolated, angry, and incredibly grateful at the same time to have spent so much time with her in her final months. I was able to be an informed advocate for her as I too am a medical doctor, and I too played Dr. Daughter, catching incipient bedsores and infected injuries first in my day-to-day examinations. I wondered then, still do, how less medically sophisticated families negotiate these end-of-life roads with more (nursing home staff) or less (nursing home doctors in our case) competent help.
Dr. Winakur has written--perfectly--the how-to book, covering such diverse subjects as why old people fall, what happens to the brain in dementia, how guilt and second-guessing plague even the most knowledgable of caretakers, and when enough intervention might just be enough already. He has been there and done that, both as a geriatrician ministering to thousands of elderly patients through the years, and as a son, loving and caring for his two 'oldest old' patients.
If you've already gone down the caretaking path, read this book to understand what you've been through and to validate your decisions at the time. If you're going there, read it to inform your future decision-making process. Got a friend who's struggling with same? Buy one for her too.
We make great preparations for the arrival of a new baby, but people are more reluctant to prepare for changes that happen at the other end of life. Most people enjoy their senior years and contribute much to society as volunteers and mentors. I work with those who age with significant disabilities, but was interested to hear at a seminar I attended that only about 10% of the population in our province end their days in a nursing home. Adapting to inevitable changes, getting help when needed, maintaining a social network, receiving good medical care and following a healthy lifestyle are ways we can continue to live well as we age.