As adult children, we may not think of ourselves as “family caregivers”. The word caregiver may make us think of large needs like helping a loved one dress or bath. The reality is that millions of Americans are providing some kind of assistance big and small to their aging parents. It is the little things that can really add up. Be it running to the grocery store, making sure medications are stocked up and taken properly, or just regularly checking in, the responsibility is often too heavy for just one person. Siblings and even in-laws are leaning on each other to take shifts and divide up the needs of aging parents.
One of the first questions that comes up is, “Who will do what and when?” Denise is a great example. Between work and personal commitments, her life can feel like a Rubik’s Cube every week trying to make it all work out. Her brother John is working night shifts at the hospital and really doesn’t have the availability. Her other brother Robert travels a lot for business trips and being a principal, Denise can’t get away during the school day. They have to take it one week and a time and call to coordinate the responsibilities between them. If you can relate to Denise’s story, here are 5 tips for coordinating eldercare among siblings while keeping the peace.
Get It Together
Organizing the legal and financial documentation can be the most daunting, but they are really a crucial place to start. Sit down with your aging loved one and have a discussion about who they would like to speak for them in the event they were suddenly unable to for whatever reason. An unexpected stroke or fall can really dramatically change needs overnight and having a durable power of attorney set up long before it is needed will really help with crisis management. Some families choose to have a financial power of attorney and a separate healthcare power of attorney. While having a conversation about important legal documents, discuss end-of-life wishes and consider documenting them in a POLST form (Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment). When giving the power to a family member to advocate and make decisions, it is crucial that wishes and values are communicated to those responsible. It is impossible to respect wishes that you don’t know about so don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions before hard answers have to be given.
When sharing responsibilities of caring between siblings and other loved ones, technology can really be a tool of the caregiver to manage the chaos. Consider using an app or shared calendar that will display who is responsible for what and when. Having a central electronic place to look for upcoming doctor appointments or needs can really cut down on confusion, calls, and miscommunication. Utilizing other apps may be helpful such as those that track medications and dosages.
Agree to Disagree
It is inevitable that siblings are going to disagree about all kinds of decisions from the type of care given to how it is provided to what is needed and the list goes on. It is important that the family use the wishes and values of their loved one as a continual focal point in making decisions. Articulating the common goal that all siblings can agree on will help unite family in the moments where they don’t agree. Consider making a simple mantra or mission statement to return to such as, “Our goal is to support mom and dad with the safe environment and everyday support they need to live a quality life.”
Be Cognizant of the Elephant in the Room
When siblings share planning and care responsibilities as parents age, it is not uncommon for old family dynamics to return. The black sheep, the favorite, and a cast of other characters show up to the table when planning mom and dad’s future. Every family will have their own rules and boundaries of how to relate to one another. The important thing is not let those dynamics that we all deal with break down the conversation or the quality of care an aging loved one is receiving. Stay on task during planning sessions. Trying to resolve on-going relational tensions amidst other agenda items will be too cumbersome to navigate.
Know When to Ask For Help
One of the best gifts siblings can give each other is a plan B. Looking for home care services to act as backup care can give such peace of mind to family caregivers. In the event of scheduling conflicts, needed vacation or sick time, or rapid change of care needs, help can be a phone call away. As Certified Nursing Assistants, professional caregivers are able to step in and help with a myriad of activities such as grocery shopping and meal preparation, running errands, dressing, toileting, transportation to appointments, etc. Vetting your home care company and having a plan in advance can really reduce stress and relive the pressure to make it all work out no matter the cost.
Published on December 13, 2013.