'Familes on the Brink:' Caring for Elderly, Ailing Parents

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'They're Your Parents Too'

Francine Russo, author of "They're Your Parents Too," said that she didn't pitch in much with caring for her elderly mother, leaving her sister to carry the load and the emotional exhaustion.

"It was until my mother's funeral that I saw my father and my sister clinging to each other, holding each other up and sobbing and I finally got it. It was an ordeal they had been through without any kind of support from me."

Russo said shame motivated her to write the book on her discoveries about siblings and parent care. She offered some advice from her book.

If you are the caregiver, ask for help. Be as specific as possible.

"I think really we have learned we really have to be specific. 'This is a need Mom has today' or 'Dad has today. Who's going to take care of it?' And we have to ask for help. At first we thought nobody else is here so I'll just take care of everything and you can't do that for long," said Dilworth.

If Not Main Caregiver, Offer Support to Sibling Who Is

If you aren't the main caregiver, offer support to the sibling who is. Call and ask how they are doing, what they need. Let them vent their frustrations to you.

"We have a sister in Mississippi who has a tremendous sense of humor -- she really does -- and sometimes I have found that it is good if I'm really having a tough emotional day. I'll call [sister] Laura [Hamilton] because she has a great sense of humor and she kind of just puts it all in perspective," Dilworth said.

Ann Muennich, a sister who lives in Cincinnati, came to Atlanta to visit her father and bring her mom back home with her. "It bothers me a lot," she said of living far away from her parents and not being able to help her siblings.

"You have a lot of guilt because you're not here, but I do my best to get down here. My sister Laura lives in Mississippi. She will come one month and I try and come the other month," Muennich said.

Do not assume what your siblings are able to do. Each will respond differently.

Dilworth said she and her siblings had found what their individual specialties were. "J.P. is investigating some mail-order drugs that are going to help hopefully save us hundreds of dollars a month. I try to handle all of Dad's appointments. Amy handles the financial section," she said.

Russo said that caring for elderly, ill parents was a major family responsibility. "It's more than a responsibility, it's an overwhelming ordeal. ... Watching a parent fade and die day by day," she said.

To learn more about Fracine Russo's book click here.

Click here for full coverage from our eldercare series, "Families on the Brink: What to do about Mom and Dad?"

Click here to return to the "World News" page.

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