Siblings Facing Eldercare: Divide and ConquerPosted on September 17, 2013 by ECR Louisville in Alzheimers Care, Caregiver Education, Home Care Non-Medical, Home Health Care (Medical), Respite Care
As a home care agency we don’t provide care for our elderly clients in a vacuum. We get to know the family and offer support and guidance for them as well. Being involved with the family means seeing and understanding the issues they are facing and dealing with. We are constantly seeing new issues arising as a result of our aging population. Many adult children are enduring stress and frustration trying to work with their siblings to do what is best for Mom or Dad.
Sadly, the difficulties seem to rise with the number of siblings involved. There are many “Only Childs” out there, wishing they had siblings to help with Mom or Dad’s care and all the decision making. However, those locked in mortal combat with their siblings might say those “only children” don’t realize how good they actually have it. A 2001 study published in The Conflict Resolution Quarterly showed that about 40% of adult children caring for an elderly parent described “serious conflict” with a sibling over issues related to care. That study is about 11 years old now and I am willing to bet that present day percentages would be even higher. However, one thing that I feel probably HAS stayed consistent is what that study uncovered was the biggest gripe: The feeling that one sibling was shouldering all the care and stress that went with it. This is the biggest complaint I hear and from what I have personally seen, many times it’s true. Even if there are several siblings, many times we see one doing 95% of the care. Most of the time it is the sibling who is geographically closest that does not only the hands on care but also most of the decision making, etc. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There have also been times when I have seen four or five siblings’ work beautifully together, even with the majority living out of town. So it CAN be done!
I think many times the male siblings are not comfortable seeing their Mom or Dad declining or acting in a manner that embarrasses them, as with Alzheimer’s. It is not that they don’t care. They just don’t know what to do or how to act. I don’t think they realize there are countless other ways to help! Each sibling needs to think about what their strong suit is or what talents they bring to the table. Then, be creative as to how you can use those talents to contribute to some aspect of the care. First there needs to be an initial meeting with all the siblings and their spouses present. If everyone can’t be in the same room, have the meeting via conference call. Before the first meeting, have each sibling write down how they will contribute to an aspect of care whether directly or in a supporting role. For example, if a sibling lives far away, he or she could contribute monetarily towards respite care to give the main care giver much needed breaks. Does anyone have a background in law or finance? They can help the other siblings navigate through complex Medicaid or Medicare issues, important financial decisions, end of life decisions, etc. A sibling can offer to do all the research concerning all the different options of care and their cost and report back. Out of town siblings can create a rotating schedule for visits. These are huge things to take off the main care giver’s plate! You just need to think outside the box!
Once everyone has their role defined, it is each person’s responsibility to keep everyone else informed via email. That means everyone. Having side communications or gripe sessions is a recipe for disaster. Don’t be tempted! Also, decide at the first meeting how often communication is going to occur and stick with it. The main care giver should not fire off a one sentence email only when a crisis occurs. Regular emails are a must. There is a payoff! Regular updates serve as a dated document that can be referred back to time and again. When you need to know the date of Mom’s last seizure but you’re too tired and frazzled to remember, you will be so glad to have that dated email you sent your siblings when it happened.