‘Caring for Mom and Dad’ — a Documentary Hits Home

'Caring for Mom and Dad' PBS DocumentaryWatching the new PBS documentary Caring for Mom and Dad was like looking in a mirror. The gut-wrenching heartaches, stress, fatigue, fears — but most of all, the love — these families experience reflect my own caregiving journey.

The film (check local listings or watch online at pbs.org/caringformomanddad) is narrated by actress Meryl Streep and highlights several adult children’s experiences as they work and care for parents who are dealing with strokes, dementia and other health challenges as they age.

It effectively illustrates the potentially rewarding but rocky road that all family caregivers travel. It is a must-see for everyone because we all will be touched by caregiving in some way at some point in our lives — as a caregiver, as a care recipient or as someone striving to support a caregiver.

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Perhaps the most emotional moment of the film for me was when a caregiving daughter, Alisa Matlovsky, shares her angst as her mother frequently asks her to come visit, have dinner and spend the night. She can’t always say yes. She has work and her children pulling her in other directions. “I want to be a good daughter,” she says with tears in her eyes. I know that feeling all too well.

The documentary also touches on the challenges of maintaining a job while caring for a loved one — and the financial sacrifices, as well. As caregiver and former New York Times reporter Jane Gross bluntly put it, “There are many scenarios in which by the time this is over, Mom and Dad are broke and so are you.” Professionals over age 50 who leave the workplace to care for a parent stand to lose an average of more than $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. The film highlights several employees and employers who have benefited from workplace options that support family caregivers.

But along with these burdens, there are also the moments of intense joy that are part of the caregiving experience. The film subtly communicates that those moments are what keep most of us going. A daughter caring for her mother with dementia expressed this exquisitely: “It’s those treasured times that outweigh those challenging moments. There is a rainbow where that storm and that peace collide. It produces such a beautiful thing.”

As a family caregiver, I found the documentary very validating. It also gave me hope that more people will wake up to the reality of an aging society. People are living longer, and boomers are aging rapidly — or as Meryl Streep put it, “Soon the old will outnumber the young, and most will live longer than ever before.” By 2050, the number of people with dementia will triple, and a recent AARP study indicates that the ratio of potential family caregivers to each care recipient will plunge from the current 7-to-1 to just 3-to-1. How will family caregivers juggle life, work and caregiving at that rate?

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The film’s call to action is clear: We must have more options for affordable services to supplement the unpaid work of family caregivers who shoulder the vast majority of the care. Just as important, the critical caregiver supports — such as the geriatric care managers, medical advocates, family caregiver intervention programs and flexible workplace policies shown in the film — are vital to helping us navigate family conflicts and continue to work as we care for our loved ones.

I urge you to check listings to find out when the documentary will be aired on your PBS station, or watch the film online at pbs.org/caringformomanddad.

Amy Goyer is AARP’s family, caregiving and multigenerational issues expert; she spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she is caring for her dad, who lives with her. She is the author of AARP’s Juggling Work and Caregiving. Follow Amy on Twitter @amygoyer and on Facebook.

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