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Being Care-Full Requires Parental Supervision


Almost daily, May Lagman is reminded of the years when her children were young. Only now she is caring for her 80-year-old mother.

"In many ways caring for my mother is similar to caring for a small child who needs constant attention," she says. Besides tending to physical requirements, such as bathing her and providing food, Lagman must also deal with her need for attention.

"Every time my husband and I dress up for a party or other function, my mother wants to go with us, and I feel guilty about not being able to take her," she says. "Before I leave, she says that she'll miss me and will go to the window to watch us leave."

As individuals over 65 make up the fastest growing segment of the population, Lagman's story isn't unusual. At least 7 million Americans are involved in caring for a parent. Seventy-five percent to 80% of the care provided for aging adults comes from the family.

When aging parents live at home with adult children, it can add richness to family life, says licensed clinical social worker Lynne Conger of Community Counseling Services at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, which provides a variety of services to seniors and their families. "A multigenerational household has a lot to offer everyone in the family."

Having an aging parent living in the home is not without its problems, however. "Care-giving is much more stressful than many people realize," says Joyce Bryan, director of the Orange Caregiver Resource Center in Fullerton. One major reason for the stress is the lack of affordable in-home assistance, she says.

Adult children who care for their parents face myriad challenges, including finding day care and finding time for themselves.

However, for many in-home care is the only acceptable solution.

"Having parents in the home keeps them out of institutions, which is important to many families," says medical social worker Teresa Rutherford, who works at V.I.P. Adult Day Health Care Center in Santa Ana. "After an initial period of adjustment, many families find that running a multigenerational household works very well."

Four Orange County families share what it's like when an adult child and parent live together.

May Lagman, 54, has a husband, grown children, grandchildren and a full-time job as a dietary supervisor in an El Toro skilled nursing facility for older adults. Although Lagman's work enables her to understand the changes that occur during the later years, she admits to the challenges of living with her mother, Victoria Crisanto, 80, who moved into her Orange home in 1987.

Lagman says her mother loves to socialize. "She really likes to be around people, so she'll get all dressed up and want to go out," says Lagman.

Crisanto used to stay at home alone all day. "When I got home from work exhausted, she'd be all dressed up and ready to go out," says Lagman. "I'd often take her out just because I felt so badly about her being at home all day."

Now Crisanto goes to the Santa Ana V.I.P. Center every weekday. "Sending her to the center has been wonderful," says Lagman. "My mother loves it because it gives her a place where she can talk to other people her age and get involved in age-appropriate activities. It's also very convenient because they pick her up and drop her off."

For Lagman there has never been any question of caring for her mother. "In the Filipino culture you take care of your parents; it's normal. It never occurred to me to put her in a home. Maybe later if she needs constant care I might consider it, but I'm not sure how I would do that."

Close family ties are very important to all of the Lagman's, including May's daughter, Jessica Barajas, 28, who is married with children ages 2 and 11 months. Until recently Barajas lived with her mother and grandmother and is grateful for the opportunity her children have had to get to know their great-grandmother.

"Family is important, and I try to show my children that," she says. "My grandmother and 2-year-old daughter will sit on the couch together and talk; it's really cute. I think that's when my grandmother is at her best."

At Christmas when Albert Dale flew from Oklahoma to visit his daughter, Peggy Compton, in Santa Ana, he had no idea he'd end up staying. A few days after arriving, Dale, 81, collapsed and was hospitalized with heart trouble. Recuperating in his daughter's home, he has settled in.

Though Compton, 58, has had to make some lifestyle adjustments, she says she's been delighted to have him.

"We've had some close conversation that we wouldn't have had otherwise," she says. "He likes to talk about his childhood, and I enjoy listening. My mother passed away last May, and the thought of losing another parent so soon is unbearable. I really cherish this time together."

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