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.

How Much Do You Know About the Health of Your Aging Parents?

As the baby boomer population begins to reach and surpass the age of 65, their adult children find themselves more concerned with the health of their aging parents than ever before. According to an article published by U.S. News, nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population is age 65 or older, and that proportion is predicted to increase to 18 percent by 2030. As the baby boomers continue on in their retirement years, many of them will require additional care, either in their homes or at a retirement community. While some adult children act as their parent’s caregivers, many of them are navigating changes in their parent’s health from afar.

While caregiving has its challenges, so does maintaining a long-distance relationship with an aging parent. It’s not uncommon for adult children to be surprised with their parent’s condition after going a long period of time in between visits. It’s especially common for an adult child to wonder why their parent never asked for help. While navigating senior health is different for every family, there are a few common themes to keep in mind.

Senior Health: Why Your Aging Parents Aren’t Asking for Help

It’s normal for older adults to experience signs of aging like stiff joints and or muscle weakness. However, after time these aging-related symptoms can make it difficult to complete daily tasks. While it might seem obvious to ask for help, there are a number of reasons your aging parents might not be telling you the whole truth about the state of their health:

They are experiencing cognitive changes
If your parent is developing symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they might not realize that their health and safety are being compromised. In addition, it’s not uncommon for adults experiencing cognitive changes to hide their symptoms from their loved ones, especially their children.

They are in denial
We are hard-wired to be able to rationalize any situation. Even if your parent is experiencing changes in their health, they might be in denial that there’s actually a problem. For example, if your parent is having more trouble driving than normal, it’s not uncommon for them to blame others around them.
They are afraid of losing their independence
You parent might be nervous about the consequences their declining health will have on the quality of their life. They might fear losing their homes, their cars, and their overall autonomy.

Senior Health: How to Recognize Problems

If you do notice a health decline in your aging parent, or are unsure if what you’re seeing is a normal sign of aging, here is a list of warning signs to look for published by the Mayo Clinic:

• Your aging parent might be experiencing memory loss if they ask the same questions repeatedly without remembering the answer. If you notice bills going unpaid, rotting food in the refrigerator, or if your parent is forgetting their weekly routine, like going to a workout class or regular appointment, they could be displaying signs of cognitive decline.

• Losing weight without trying to could be a sign that something isn’t right at home. Weight loss could be attributed to loss of dexterity resulting in the inability to cook for themselves, loss of appetite and energy, or difficulty getting to and from the grocery store.

• A lack of energy or depressed behavior is a sign that your parent might be having a problem. If you notice your parent has stopped talking about their friends or hobbies, you might consider asking them about it or approaching their healthcare provider with your concern.

• Losing balance is common in older adults. However, if you notice excessive bruising and scraping, it could indicate that your parent has been falling and should be examined for a balance or mobility problem.

• Your aging parent might be having trouble taking care of themselves if you notice a lack of hygiene, like bathing and brushing teeth. In addition, if you notice your parent is neglecting housework or doing laundry, these could be signs of cognitive decline or other health concerns.

Senior Health: What’s Next?

Knowing how to react once you’ve noticed a decline in your parent’s health can be extremely challenging. Fortunately, the National Institute on Aging published a variety of steps you can take to ensure your parent’s wellbeing, no matter the distance.

Assess your aging parent’s needs
Most importantly, you should start with assessing your parent’s most immediate need. You might consider assessing their current situation by asking questions like, “where can my parent use the most support?” or “how can mom or dad use support while completing basic daily tasks?” Starting here can help guide your next steps.

Communicate strategically
Navigating the health concerns that can come with aging is scary for everyone involved, including your parent. It’s important to communicate in a way that will be well received. Take into account your parent’s cognitive situation and plan your conversation from there. Always remember to reassure your parent that the conversation is stemming from a place of love and concern.

Address any safety issues
When it comes to monitoring your parent’s health, their safety is definitely a priority. If your parent is still living alone, you might consider evaluating their home for fall-risks and ensure they have the proper tools, like safety bars in the restroom.

Explore your options
Once you’ve determined your parent’s needs, the next step is to explore all of your senior health options. Whether this means researching nearby assisted living or memory care communities or looking for in-home help, it’s important to do your research before making a decision.

Explore Options for Aging Parents at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know you want the best for your aging parents. That’s why we offer care and support for every stage of life, ensuring your loved ones live a high-quality life throughout their retirement years. If you’re still unsure of your parents’ health needs, you might consider taking this quiz, or reach out to one of our staff members to learn more about our communities.