Fear of Burdening Our Families as We Age

Conversation Relieving the Pressure

The sense of not wanting to be a burden to our families as we age is an emotion that runs deep for many. When it comes to relieving the pressure and concern of being a burden, planning and conversation are powerful tools for families. A common misconception is that documenting Advanced Directives such as a durable power of attorney, physicians orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST), or end-of-life wishes are just for the aging adult. The truth is that they have a ripple effect and impact the family surrounding an aging adult too. Making the tough decisions on behalf of someone else in an emergency can be a heavy burden, especially if you don’t know what their wishes are. According to the Conversation Project, “60% of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is extremely important, but 56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes.”


What is the Fear Based On?

If we further examine the fear of being a burden to family there are a few common themes that arise:

Financial Fears- The question of how to pay for long-term care and medical bills after retirement is a hot topic. Should we get long-term care insurance? What will Medicare cover? How much should we be saving? Currently a quarter of adult children, mainly baby boomers, provide personal and financial care to a parent.    

Long-Term Care Fears- How much should we rely on our kids to assist and when should we seek professional services? It is common to see spouses of an aging adult “over caring” by resisting help and taking on the burden on their own at the risk of their own health.  

Spatial Fears- Should we move in with our kids for a period of time? Should we move closer to our children in case we need their help? Do we need to move into a different home or ask for help keeping up the place we have?  

Emotional Fears- "I should be supporting my kids and helping them do well, not the other way around. They are already so busy with kids and careers. I don't want them to have to think about any of this."  


Starting the Conversation

It is important to recognize that eldercare really is a family affair. As much as aging adults may want to privately address their own care needs and not burden their families, it is often the adult children that are providing care or helping their loved ones get the care they need. Each family is unique with its own dynamics, backstories, and old habits. Despite all of this families must gather to understand one another and make decisions. Calling a family meeting and setting some ground rules for eldercare conversations can be a great place to start relieving the pressure.  


Tips for Conducting a Successful Family Meeting

While this may feel silly, setting ground rules for having a family meeting and eldercare conversation can form an important safety net that protects the conversation from breaking down at critical points. A few example rules that you may include are:

  • Talk for a specified amount of time and start and end on time
  • Deal in facts and truth
  • Discuss the impact of the current situation or lack of a plan on the adult children
  • Be inclusive. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard.
  • Stay focused on a prepared agenda
  • Choose a neutral safe location and minimize distractions
  • Assign a leader to focus and record the talking points. Create a written agreement to capture any decisions made.
  • Help participants identify and separate emotional investment in the situation with family priorities and reality.
  • Make a list of concerns and problems to discuss during the “solutions” portion of the meeting.
  • Don’t tackle every issue all at once. Multiple meetings may be necessary.  
  • Delegate to spread necessary tasks between family members and move away from a “do it all” mindset.
  • Make a calendar of tasks for future appointments or meetings. Use technology to share information among family members spread out.
  • Use humor whenever appropriate to lighten the tone of the conversation.
  • Be realistic about what you can offer to the situation and articulate expectations  
  • Assess the needs of an aging loved one and listen to their goals and concerns
  • Foster a sense of respect and deep listening during difficult times of change.
  • Consider hiring a Geriatric Care Manager to mediate care conferences and inform family on the options in eldercare. Having a professional at the helm guiding the care can help families discover what they didn’t know, make informed decisions, manage crisis, and focus on just being family. For more information visit http://www.soundoptions.com/geriatric-care-management or give us a call at 800.628.7649. 

Published on July 3, 2015.