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SHERIDAN, Wyo. — Doris Sanders is keeping her Father's Day plans secret from her father, Herman Sanders.

That might be extra hard considering that she and her husband, Jack Wilke, have been living with Sanders in Sheridan for the last several weeks while his wife, Elaine, 87, recovers from a broken leg at Sheridan Manor.

"I've got a few plans," said Doris Sanders, 60.

This isn't the first time that Doris Sanders and her husband have lived with her parents.

She, along with her brother, Bud Sanders of Sheridan, and sister, Nancy Hower, and her husband, Herb, of Arlington, Wash., live with Herman and Elaine Sanders for weeks to months at a time to help them with their everyday lives.

Other brothers, Alan and Roger Sanders, also live in Sheridan and help their parents daily but don't live with them. Roger Sanders' wife, Stacy Page, also helps.

The siblings started rotating staying with their parents about 18 months ago when Herman Sanders, 91, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

They say they realized their parents would need help getting to and from doctor visits, getting groceries, making meals and other day-to-day chores and activities because their dad could no longer drive.

"It just started happening," Doris Sanders said of the siblings living with their parents.

For Herman Sanders, having his own children willing to help take care of him, after raising them and taking care of them, has been a godsend.

"My prayers go to God for the family I have."

For many in America, caring for their elderly parents in some capacity is a fact of life. Whether it be actually living with them or helping them daily, caring for someone who cared for you for so long can be difficult.

Amanda Stinger, director of Family Care Giver Services at the Sheridan Senior Citizens Center, said role reversals for children and their parents can be awkward at first and can cause significant stress.

"People know their (parents), but they're not the same person (when they're older). It takes time to adjust and figure out who they are now," Stinger said.

Roger Sanders said it hasn't been a strict role reversal for him because his parents still have independence and don't have to rely on their children to help them 24 hours a day.

Doris and Roger Sanders said having their spouses help them in caring for their parents has been a big help.

"It would be very difficult for one person to do," Doris Sanders said.

The siblings said they don't see an end to living with their parents unless one or both of them requires full-time medical assistance.

"We have the next year already planned out," Doris Sanders said in reference to who will be staying at what times.

Doris Sanders and her husband live in Denver. He is retired, and she is self-employed. When they come to stay with her parents, Doris Sanders said their lives "are put on hold."

In the summer, the couple bring an RV and park it at Herman and Elaine Sanders' home. At other times, the couple have a bedroom to themselves at the house. The only tricky part is getting enough time to use the bathroom in the morning.

Overall, though, it's been an enjoyable experience for them.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves," Wilke said. "It's not a chore; it's a part of life, a necessity."

While living with their parents, Doris Sanders and her other siblings enjoy having lunch with them nearly every day at the Sheridan Senior Citizens Center as well as going to exercise classes with them at the Senior Center.

They also go to church as often as they can and enjoy breakfast and dinner together every day. Now that Elaine Sanders has been in Sheridan Manor, Doris Sanders, Wilke and Herman Sanders visit her every afternoon.

"There's not many dull moments," Herman Sanders said.

For those who encounter excessive stress caring for parents, Stinger suggests taking time off by finding someone else to care for them temporarily or by engaging them in senior-themed programs.

She also suggests having a room in a home that is only for the person taking care of the parent. Eating right and exercising help ward off depression that can sometimes come from caring for a parent.

For the Sanders family, caring for their parents isn't seen as a chore.

"I think it's fun," Doris Sanders said. She said since she's started living with her parents, and especially now that her father is home alone while her mother is in the nursing home, he has shared more stories of his life.

"They can't tell when I'm lying," Herman Sanders said with a chuckle.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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