Jean Kittson: parental guidance advised

Jean Kittson says We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad in new book

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FAMILY MATTERS: Jean Kittson with her dad Roy and mum Elaine.

FAMILY MATTERS: Jean Kittson with her dad Roy and mum Elaine.

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Why comedian Jean Kittson wants to talk about Mum and Dad.

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SHE'S moved on from the menopause. Now comedian and author Jean Kittson has moved into aged care - well, writing about it at least.

It's six years since Jean wrote her memoir You're Still Hot to Me: The Joys of Menopause. Now the 65-year-old, who doesn't shy away from tackling life's uncomfortable questions, is looking at how to support your ageing parents.

"We need to stop talking about elderly people as if they are a burden. That will be all of us in the blink of an eye," said Jean, talking to The Senior about her latest book We Need to Talk About Mum & Dad.

She started writing the book four years ago, after trying to navigate the aged care system for her parents Elaine, now 95, and Roy, 92.

"Yes, he's her toy boy," she said. "Dad has macular dystrophy, has had two hip replacements, and recently broke his leg and ended up in sub-acute care for three months. Mum has macular degeneration, has had a stroke and broken her shoulder and hip."

But like hundreds of families around Australia, Jean soon became frustrated trying to find her way around the complex aged care system, which she describes as "a mess".

"Even things like getting forms and knowing who to speak to and what the right protocols are is so confusing," she said. "I found it hard from the very beginning.

"People say, just go to myagedcare. They might as well be speaking in Klingon. For an older person to do it on their own it would be impossible. If elderly people don't have an advocate they would so easily slip through the cracks."

Jean saw the need for a clear and compassionate guide - packed with well-researched advice - to supporting ageing loved ones. And in researching the book she was "surprised by every element along the way".

From living arrangements and making wills to dealing with medical emergencies, avoiding family dramas and staying sane while trying to understand government benefits or home care packages, this book has you covered.

And it's all told with a good dollop of humour on the side.

I talked to lots of other people with ageing parents and their stories were full of sadness, loss and grief. I thought, 'How am I going to write a book that isn't going to just make people want to just jump off a cliff?'

"But then the aged care royal commission was announced. Finally so many people were given a chance to share their stories; I didn't feel I needed to give a voice to them all. I could just tell people what they needed to know to be prepared."

And this is exactly what Jean does while sharing her own experiences, and mistakes made along the way, in her distinctive style. "I don't think humour trivialises it; it helps people handle a situation."

The book, she writes, "is an attempt to reduce the levels of tension and heighten the levels of competence. Lower the levels of WTF and raise the levels of WTD (what to do)."

It also delves into palliative care, an area Jean knows plenty about through her role as patron of Palliative Care Nurses Australia. "You don't want to end up in a situation where a parent has a stroke, for example, and you don't know what their end-of-life wishes are. We need to have these conversations."

So what does Jean's own family think? "I'm a bit scared, because this is going to be out in audio book which means my mum can listen to it!

"My parents have never been able to read any of my other books. But I think they will be really proud of me. They're very open and honest, and know I'm sharing their story with love."

And will she give this book to her children? (Her daughter was eight when she told Jean and her husband - cartoonist Patrick Cook - that she planned to move them into a nursing home after they had paid for her year 12). "Yes, I actually wrote it for them!"

While she has no plans to move into care just yet, she does lay out her vision for the future: "I want to be at home, in a big bed people can share and eat chocolates. And there will be a concierge.

"But in all seriousness, I hope by then nursing homes are given more funding and providers are more accountable. And that the wait times for home care places are reduced."

  • We Need to Talk About Mum & Dad by Jean Kittson (MacMillan Australia), $34.99, is out now.

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