Elizabeth Pettiford, elder care expert and registered nurse with many years of geriatric experience with the elderly, has written a wonderful family story of the issues and horrors of growing old from the viewpoint of the elder person going through this life changing experience that we are all headed for. “Family in the Attic” is published by PublishingWorks, Inc. and is available at Publishing Works and Amazon.com.
In a previous article, Elder care book review – Family in The Attic by Elizabeth R. Pettiford, I highly recommend this book for not only it’s ability to hold the reader’s interest in a warmth of character family story of twists and surprises, but as a guide for those who have aging parents and may soon face many issues of parents not being able to live on their own. The book should really be required reading for any caregivers of the elderly for it’s aspect of giving the feelings of fear and bewilderment of the elderly from their viewpoint.
Here is my interview with Elizabeth Pettiford.
Examiner: Is there a personal experience of the main character, Clara in your life? In other words, was there one person who was your inspiration for writing the book?
Author: Clara the main character’s personality is a combination of a few different people I have had the opportunity to know and admire while working in my nursing career. These people became my teachers, and were developed because of a strong theme older people inevitable must be faced with at some point which is, CHANGE and LOSS. I witnessed first hand many people who struggled with changes, and losses they had to make in their life. I found similar characteristics in how they dealt with their struggles. I changed the names, but the responses to the situations were remarkably comparable.
Examiner: What advice would you give to those who have aging parents when they see the need to address issues such as stopping their parent’s driving a car or living by themselves or any other loss of independence?
Author: For those people who have aging parents it’s very difficult to watch their decline. Waiting until a crisis has hit and then trying to fix it when time is of the essence and emotions are running high will only add to the frustration. I recommend planning ahead. It’s the biggest proactive ingredient that will keep the stress down so that everyone can stay focused and on course. If you’ve been planning ahead the situation will be less traumatic, if your pre-made plan is ready to swing into action it will help take the fear of the impending, and evitable course life has to take. It will also help to find comfortable and pleasurable ways to keep the line of communication open between family members and your loved one. Be creative and try to think out of the box. Keep in mind that involving a loved one in the decision making process gives them autonomy which is important for their self esteem.
Fear of the unknown is what can cause a loved one to shut down and not want to talk about planning for their future. That’s another good reason to plan ahead and to keep the line of communication open. Find ways to make talking about it fun. FAMILY in THE ATTIC is a good way to introduce easy fun reading to a loved one. It has a gentle message that leaves the reader with food for thought.
Examiner: The book made me realize that not only do children become involved in their own family’s lives and tend to become more distant from their parents as time goes by, but that the elder parent also becomes focused on their personal issues of aging and also become more distant from their children.
What are your feelings about how families lose that connection from when they were a core family, living together as everyone ages and lose the interaction they once had?
Author: Children of aging parents as well as older persons themselves tend to get caught up in their own day to day routines. Focusing on themselves is typical with today’s hectic schedules, and life styles. I suggest setting aside a routine call or visit that everyone can agree to. This gives their aging parents something to look forward to. Likewise, I suggest older people stay in touch with their children. I personally love tradition, so celebrating birthdays and holidays can keep families together. Celebrating for no apparent reason is a good idea as well. When my parents were alive we all gathered at their home for every event it seemed. I miss those days, but I sure have warm memories of them that I will never forget.
Examiner: What more can be done to make families re-connect after children become adults with their own families?
Author: Every family it seems has at least one if not more people in the family who likes to organize and take charge of things. Elect whoever that person is to assist their aging parent by having each person in the family take on a certain responsibility. It can be as simple as writing a letter to them routinely if they live too far away for a regular visit. Older people especially love to receive mail. A lot of people from our parent’s generation don’t have computers so they can’t e-mail. Another family member may be the one who handles the financial matters, while someone else handles the medical aspect. Yet another person could organize family get-togethers. Include their aging parent in the process. This keeps the family connected with the common theme being keeping in touch their aging parent or loved one.
Examiner: Do you feel that the different generations (i.e. The Great Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Y, or current generations) have changed how they care and support their elderly?
Author: Yes, I think today’s standards of how we care for or aging parents have changed significantly from past generations. The biggest change is that past generations didn’t have as many nursing homes as we have today. In the old days when an aging parent got ill, usually the person went to live with a son or daughter. I remember when my grandmother wasn’t able to live alone; she came to live with us. I only remember one nursing home in our entire town. Another reason grandparents went to live with sons or daughters is that they didn’t have the money to send a loved one to a nursing home. Today, once a loved one is no longer able to live alone safely, even with in- home care from an outside agency, the first thought is assisted living or nursing home. The options are slim when everyone is working leaving no one available to care for mom or dad. I encourage people to begin to think out of the box, and try to come up with alternative ideas to solve the dilemma. In- law apartments for example are gaining more interest. In the story Clara, Mary and Florence come up a great plan to keep from going into a nursing home.
Examiner: You often begin new days or events by the characters selecting a new tea cup with a different saying printed on it. What made you think of this interesting tool?
Author: One of my dearest friends is 80 this year. She and I were chatting one day over a cup of tea one day. She shared with me that she loves to choose a cup or mug depending on her mood at the time. I loved it, and decided to include it in the story. In my own personal life I enjoy choosing a mug that coincides with my mood, just for fun.
Examiner: One thing that happens to Clara is that her doctor’s office calls her to verbally tell her something about her prescriptions. What do you think doctors need to do to improve the understanding of the elderly person about their care, for example, providing caregiver who deliver or insure that the elder, especially who may live alone are clearly understanding and remember their care.
Author: I read an article that states that study shows aging people who have a family member or friend to accompany them to their doctors appointments are less likely to make a mistake in how medication should be taken. I can’t stress enough the importance of accompanying a loved one to doctor’s visits. I would take it a step further and go into the examining room with them. If it’s done routinely I have found older people eventually look forward to your coming with them. When my mother was alive I always accompanied her to her doctor’s visits. I did the same thing for my residents, with their permission of course.
Giving medication orders to elderly people over the phone is poor medical care. Medication changes should be in writing, and must be clearly understood by the person taking the medicine before they leave their doctors office. If there is any question that a person doesn’t understand a family member should be notified by the doctor or the office nurse.
I got the idea of using that particular scheme in the story from a personal experience. A doctor’s office mistakenly left a message on my cell phone with changes in an elderly person medication. I couldn’t help wonder how many mistakes have been made like the one just mentioned. It’s a very serious and scary problem.
Examiner:. What suggestions can you offer from your experiences to the children of aging parents who feel that they can not live with their parents due to arguing or past hurtful events and yet find themselves with a new role as being the only person(s) who are now responsible for the care of their elderly parent?
Author: It’s important the children of aging parents don’t beat themselves up over past events. Not everyone can live under the same roof, personalities are different. As long as they love and respect each other, alternate plans are a good option. At the same time making sure that their parents are well taking care of is important.
I have often found that relationships are improved over time when the stress of not having to care for a parent in their own home is taken out of the picture. It actually gives them the time and freedom to spend quality, meaningful time together. It’s also important for children of aging parents to remember that the outer appearance of their parent has changed over time, but the soul of that person is longing for love and affection.
Examiner: What has been your most valuable learning experience about dealing with issues of the elderly or what do you feel is the most needed cause in the support and care for the elderly?
Author: Seniors as I have said earlier have been my teachers. I have learned much from them. Through them I have learned to look at the aging process as yet another phase of life, and I have learned to enjoy it! Growing old reminds me of a quote from my brother James who says, “I love growing old because I’m not afraid of it.” I have found that the happiest seniors are the ones who have stepped up to the plate and make the best of every day of their life. My book FAMILY in THE ATTIC is all about thinking out of the box, living life to its fullest. I feel the biggest most important thing for an elder is to stay active!
Examiner: What major issue did you face in dealing with your own parents aging that affected your cause for elder care?
Author: Actually what triggered me to write the book was more from all my years of working in geriatrics. I loved the people I cared for, and learned valuable life long lessons from them. I saw how they thrived when they had socialization in their lives, and were not in isolative situations.
Examiner: Will “FAMILY in THE ATTIC” have a continuing next book?
Author: Yes, I have already begun writing the sequel. If my readers enjoyed the characters, they will have a chance to spend time with them again. The mystery between Clara and Dave come to and ending and we get to see how Clara, Mary and Florence are handling shared living. Darcy encounters a blow to her ego by getting tangled in another web, but someone comes to her rescue just in time. Death hovers, and hearts are united and warmed.
Examiner: How did writing this book affect or reward your personal life?
Author: I am thrilled to have completed a novel; it has strengthened my self esteem. I’m grateful beyond words to God, and to the people who have helped me all along the way, especially my husband Ron.