Guest Blog Post written by Max Gottlieb
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to provide elderly care for parents while trying to maintain a healthy relationship with your siblings. If not done properly, sibling rivalries and resentments can pop up at a time when everybody is already stressed enough.
My mom was the first of my parents to fall ill and unfortunately for me, she lived all the way back East. I took monthly trips back home, but my siblings inevitably came to resent me because they were shouldering most of the physical responsibility. They were the ones going to doctor’s appointments, taking care of the house, and sitting with our mom through biweekly dialysis appointments.
When my dad got sick, he thankfully lived on my side of the country. But, because my sisters had taken care of our mom, they thought their caregiving days were done. They only flew out once when he was in hospice and left the rest up to me. Their anger towards me manifested itself against our dad, which was very unfortunate for both sides. This was definitely not an optimal situation. Below are a few things I learned along the way to help you avoid some common issues while caring for elderly parents.
Understand your parents’ health before it is too late
I wish we had acknowledged my mom’s waning strength before she took a fall. Her fall precipitated the beginning of the end and we were definitely not prepared. If your parent lives alone make sure to fall proof their home. I cannot stress how important it is to own some form of a medical alert. My mom, always proud, refused a medical alarm and lay on the kitchen floor for 13 hours before my sister checked on her.
A medical alert and fall proofing a home may seem silly, but they form part of the larger process of planning ahead. Nobody wants to plan for their parents’ eventual descent into old age, but planning stops the shock of “now what?” when something does happen. Planning allows sibling to formulate which roles they can fill when the time does come and hopefully, by talking about these things, no one feels unfairly taken advantage of in the next phase.
Strategically assign caregiving roles
Have frequent family meetings and divide responsibility. This one sounds pretty obvious, but beyond dividing physical responsibilities there are many different ways to divvy up the roles. Depending upon which sibling is closest, they usually have the most hands-on caregiving responsibility. If this sibling is also paying for the care then you can see how quickly tension develops. Maybe one sibling has more money, but less time. If you find a way to compromise and use individual strengths there will be far less headache down the road.
Your brother may not be able to take your dad to the doctor, but maybe he can handle the finances and help with research for additional resources. If you have a sibling out of state, they obviously won’t be there on a day to day basis, but maybe they can hire a housekeeper or pitch in more money if finances are tight. Most contention between sibling caregivers comes from feeling like one person isn’t pulling their weight. This is a very understandable reaction, but talking about each sibling’s role in frequent meetings will help. Let your sibling know if they aren’t doing their fair share, albeit in a nice way.
Beyond letting your sibling know they aren’t pulling their weight, let them know when you think they’re doing a good job. A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. Showing appreciation lets them know that you notice what they are doing. If you feel overwhelmed let them know that too. Maybe they didn’t notice you were overwhelmed and rather than simply blaming them for doing too little, letting them know you are overwhelmed will hopefully lead them to do more on their own accord. Also, rather than contribute to conflicts, try to distance yourself from the situation and see how you can help rather than fuel the fight. Caregiving requires a lot of patience and understanding.
Talk to someone outside the family
If things become too tough, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are professional care managers and mediators who can offer advice on how to resolve family arguments. An outside and emotionally distanced perspective is sometimes all it takes. Even if there isn’t a specific disagreement, care managers can be beneficial because they know of benefits you may not be aware of.
Max Gottlieb is the content editor for Senior Planning. Senior Planning helps Arizona seniors and their families navigate the process of long term care planning; providing assistance to seniors and the disabled, finding and arranging care services, as well as applying for state and federal benefits.