Family Caregivers: How to Make Decisions for Aging Parents

An adult caregiver providing love and support for an aging parent.

Acting as a family caregiver for elderly parents comes with its own challenges and complications. However, when multiple family members are involved, caregiving can become even more complex. Many older adults are beginning to consider acting as their parent’s caregiver for a number of reasons. As older adults continue to live longer, many of them experience chronic diseases and illnesses, which can motivate their children to step in as caregivers. While keeping caregiving in the family can present some challenges, it can also be a great gift to both the siblings and their aging parents.

Common Mistakes of Family Caregivers

Whether you’ve just started caring for your elderly parents or are a seasoned caregiver, there’s always room to grow. While mistakes are inevitable, journalist and author, Francine Russo offers some mistakes to look out for while sharing caregiving responsibilities with siblings.

Forgetting to support the main family caregiver
In most caregiving situations, families will often choose one sibling to act as the main caregiver. Oftentimes this family caregiver provides in-home support if needed, shopping assistance, and help with everyday tasks. This works really well for some families, but it’s not uncommon for the other siblings to unintentionally adopt the mindset that they are “off the hook.”

Never checking-in
Caregiving can be extremely challenging and isolating. Oftentimes the main family caregiver will report that he/she feels both physically and emotionally overwhelmed. However, siblings can take small actions to help combat these feelings, such as calling their parents more often, offering a day of respite care, or even ordering groceries online.

Planning only for the short-term
Most families don’t think about a caregiver’s duties until their parents absolutely need it. This can cause some tension because decisions have to be made quickly and oftentimes don’t leave room for reflecting and long-term planning.

Thinking that everyone mourns the same way
Even if your parents are still living, it’s not uncommon to mourn the loss of their younger years. Watching them suffer from illness, both physical and cognitive, can be painful and requires mourning. We all mourn in different ways, suggests Russo, and the best way to cope with that difference is to accept it.

Things to Consider About a Family Caregiver’s Duties

Caregiving with siblings is especially complicated because there are limited models for this type of situation. Childhood feelings and roles might start to arise, and disagreements over care for your parents might also come to the surface. But, the best thing to do is to be prepared. If you and your siblings are caring for an elderly parents, you might consider the following tips:

• Understand your family dynamics. Maybe your brother is a bit of a hot-head, or perhaps you tend to disappear during difficult situations. Now is the time to understand your dynamics and own them. It’s important to take time to identify our family dynamics and together discuss what changes need to be made. But remember, instead of playing the blame game, it’s always a good idea to suggest changes that only you have control over.

• Reinforce caregiving as a shared responsibility. There might be one sibling who does the majority of the caregiving, however, this does not mean other siblings do not share the responsibility. It’s important for both the main caregiver to know when to ask for help and for the other siblings to consistently offer the other caregivers support.

• Hold family meetings. When it comes to shared caregiving, communication is non-negotiable. You might consider holding consistent family meetings. You might have to improvise for those who aren’t local, but Skype and other video chat tools make great in-person alternatives. If you’ve never hosted a family meeting, here are a few tips to consider:
o Take turns setting an agenda
o Assign roles, like note-taker or timekeeper
o Share all information after the meeting ends through an email

• Understand and plan for differing opinions. There will be times you and your siblings disagree on care-related decisions. That’s completely normal and to be expected. However, it never hurts to plan for these moments. You might create a plan of action with your siblings that all of you promise to honor when a conflict arises.

Consider Your Limits as a Family Caregiver

As you and your family members consider care options for your parents, it’s important to first assess your own abilities and limitations. You might consider reflecting on these statements published by the National Institute on Aging before committing to certain caregiving responsibilities.

• Are you already overcommitted? We all have a wide variety of responsibilities at work and at home that make our lives busy. Taking on more than you can handle can ultimately cause conflict and tension within family dynamics.

• Can you afford it? Family caregiving is a tremendous time commitment. If you work full-time it’s important to think about how this change will affect your finances.

• Are you emotionally prepared? Caregiving can be an emotional experience. If you plan to take on caregiving full-time, make sure you have your support systems in place. This might mean planning for respite care once a week or consistent appointments with a therapist or counselor.

Caregivers Support

Even if you are not the main family caregiver, there are many ways to show your support both for your siblings and your aging parents. Remember, caregiving can’t be done without a group of supporters. Here are some ways you can give caregivers support even from a distance:

• Provide emotional support by calling both the caregiver and the aging parents on a consistent basis.

• If the time comes to find a nursing facility for your parents, you can show your support by researching local facilities, scheduling tours, and gathering information.

• Caregiving can be expensive. It’s important to discuss how finances will be managed. Siblings can show their support by buying groceries, managing respite care, and if needed, sharing the cost of home health and nursing aides.

• Help with basic daily tasks can go a long way. You might consider hiring a laundry service, cleaning help, or grocery deliveries.

Finding Support at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how difficult it can be to watch your parents age. Our high-quality services and programs can help siblings navigate the caregiving responsibilities that come with aging parents. If you’d like to hear more about our offerings or see our facilities, please contact us.

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