Son Now Shoulders Challenge of Parenting His Parents

Article excerpt

Byline: Jane Oppermann

Sooner or later, many of us will step into the painful and difficult part of our lives when we must become a parent to our parent. Crossing over that threshold isn't something we will do with a sense of ease or comfort.

It's particularly tough when we're pushed into that role because of Alzheimer's disease.

Caring for one parent or family member with Alzheimer's is intense, hard work, placing huge pressures on any family. But when both parents are diagnosed with the disease, it calls for special skills and expert guidance.

Both of Gene Breslow's parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the space of two years. Breslow and his family were able to find support through the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Chicagoland. He credits the organization for helping him become a wise and loving parent to his parents and to help his family make agonizing decisions so familiar to every Alzheimer care-giver.

Today, Breslow leads support groups for the Alzheimer's Association. He is committed to the process because he knows well those heart-wrenching decisions. And he knows that families don't have to make them alone.

"I started going to a support group for care-givers of Alzheimer's patients early on, and that's important," explained the 58-year-old Long Grove resident. "You can't be in denial about what's happening in a support group because, unfortunately, the disease doesn't wait for you to come to terms with all this; Alzheimer's doesn't wait until you're ready to take action."

Tapping into others' experiences is particularly important for family members in the early stages of the disease because care-givers and the family member with Alzheimer's might be able to share in the difficult, life-changing decisions that must be made.

The Breslow family first confronted the disease 11 years ago when Gene's mother, Gertrude, struggled with simple, familiar tasks. Last January, Gene's father died, after bravely battling the disease for nine years. The progression of the disease in Gertrude has been slower and she remains in a nursing home.

Dealing with two parents with Alzheimer's has been extremely difficult for this close family, but then, perhaps his parents wouldn't have had it any differently.

Just nine months apart in age, Gertrude and Oscar Breslow met when they were 14 years old and married seven years later. Together, they launched a successful business, raised two sons and lived full and exuberant lives for most of the 59 years they were married.

When Gertrude began having difficulty with her memory, the couple thought it was simply because she was getting older. But when simple tasks like tallying her golf score, making a meal or turning on the radio became frustrating for the Northbrook resident, her family knew it wasn't simply age.

Two years later, Oscar was diagnosed with the disease after successfully coming through open heart surgery. That, said Breslow, was especially difficult for him to accept, since he and his father had worked side by side in the family business for 20 years. Breslow said it was often painful for him to watch his beloved mentor deteriorate before his eyes.

"I remember when we first put him in a nursing home, I'd be visiting him and would mention that I had to go to the office. …