Book Review

Surviving the Stress of Your Parents' Old Age

When you want advice on a healthcare topic, it’s natural to turn to a physician or other clinical professional.


But it can also be enlightening to get a “second opinion” from a layperson – someone without the credentials, but with the insight that can only come from personal experience.

That’s the perspective that Nan McAdam brings to her book, Surviving the Stress of Your Parents’ Old Age: How to Stay Organized, Loving & Sane While Caring for Them.

McAdam has plenty of real-life experience to draw from. Like many caregivers, she was thrust into the role unexpectedly, when her father suffered a heart attack in the middle of a routine family outing. McAdam points out a crucial truth in the introduction of her book: Though statistics show the world is full of caregivers – the Centers for Disease Control quotes a 2008 AARP stat that says more than 34 million people in the United States provide unpaid caregiving duties for an adult with an illness or disability – finding yourself as one of those caregivers can be a lonely and bewildering experience.

“I felt completely unprepared for this journey,” McAdam says in her book. “I didn’t have any experience in medicine, much less in geriatric care. Each day brought a need for a different set of skills I hadn’t mastered.”

McAdam devotes a large portion of her book to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In an e-mail to The Mobility Project, she said, “It’s a very personal thing to me. My father has severe dementia and my mother has Alzheimer's. One of the friends we care for also has dementia.”

That said, the questions McAdam asks and the insight she offers are not limited to side effects of those conditions. The book contains, for instance, a checklist of details that could hint that an older parent or loved one is having trouble taking care of himself or herself. It’s easy to spot trouble if, for instance, Dad stops brushing his hair or needs help getting dressed. But McAdam suggests taking notice of smaller details: Is he wearing the same clothes too many days in a row? Are towels and bed linens in the house clean? Is yardwork still being done?

The book also tackles what is perhaps the most difficult part of caregiving: Dealing with personality changes in loved ones that can make them hostile, cruel or indifferent to the heroic efforts of their caregivers. The chapter called, “Mom, You’re Making Me Crazy!” explores the challenging relationship between mother and daughter and how it evolved once McAdam’s mother became ill. An important part of that chapter is about the need for caregivers to detect burnout in their own lives and to take care of themselves with the same devotion they show their loved ones.

Other chapters of the book deal with legal and financial issues, and the challenges of finding a long-term care facility, one of the most emotionally draining tasks a caregiver can take on. In McAdam’s case, her mother entered a nursing home that provided a “job” for any resident who wanted one, and her mother’s work – creating ceramic projects that were sold in the gift shop and caring for the facility’s house plants – gave her “a reason to get up in the morning. I don’t think I have ever seen her so relaxed and happy in all of my adult life!”

It’s important to note that McAdam does not have formal medical training, “even though my mother in law swears I should have my doctor's degree by now,” as she wrote to us. This is not a book for those seeking clinical or legal advice on aging.

But it can be a companion on a journey that is both personal and being taken by millions of our peers. “Caregiving is a beautiful gift to give to someone who is in need,” McAdam told us. “It's a gift that can come with a heavy price for the caregiver.” All the more reason to have company along for the ride.

The book is available at

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at