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Family Caregiver 101: Providing Care For Your Parent As They Become Elderly

Caring for an elderly parent has many challenges and complications. When siblings need to work together for the best outcome, it can become 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 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 the siblings and their aging parents.

Things to Consider About a Family Caregiver’s Duties

Plan as you wish to go on. Caregiving with siblings can be complicated because there are limited models for this situation. Childhood feelings and roles might start to arise, and disagreements over care for your parents play a role. Proximity to parents, time, and financial means also play a big role in how each sibling may be able to contribute. The best thing to do is to be prepared.

If you and your siblings are caring for an elderly parent, you might consider the following tips:

Understand your family dynamics. Maybe your brother is a bit of a hothead, or you tend to disappear during difficult situations. Now is the time to understand your dynamics and own them. Take time to identify your family dynamics and discuss what changes need to be made. Instead of playing the blame game, it’s always a good idea to suggest changes that 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 that the primary caregiver knows when to ask for help and for the other siblings to consistently check in to see what is needed.

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:

  • Take turns setting an agenda
  • Assign roles, like note-taker or timekeeper
  • 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.

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 her thoughts on things to remember while sharing caregiving responsibilities with siblings.

Not Supporting the Main Family Caregiver. In most caregiving situations, families choose a sibling as the primary caregiver. Usually, this family caregiver provides in-home support, shopping assistance, and help with everyday tasks. While this can work well for some families, 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. It is common for the primary family caregiver to report that they feel 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 consider the caregiver’s duties until their parents absolutely need it. When decisions have to be agreed upon quickly, it can cause tension because there is no time to stop and think about long-term planning or reflect on the different options.

Assuming 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, physical and cognitive, can be painful and requires mourning. We mourn in different ways, suggests Russo and the best way to cope with that difference is to accept it instead of judging.

Know Your Limits as a Family Caregiver

As you and your family members consider care options for your parents, it’s important to assess your abilities and limitations. You might consider reflecting on these statements published by the National Institute on Aging before committing to specific caregiving responsibilities.

  • Are you already over-committed? 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 cause conflict and tension within family dynamics.
  • Can you afford it? Family caregiving is a tremendous time commitment. If you work full-time, be sure you 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, have your support systems in place. You may need to schedule respite care once a week or consistent appointments with a therapist or counselor.

At Maplewood Senior Living, we offer additional resources on our website. The Caregiver Questions tip sheet has a list of questions that each sibling should answer. That will help to determine who is capable of what. Our tip sheet Overcoming Guilt as a Caregiver is useful especially if one of your parents is aging faster than the other and you need to make some difficult decisions.

Caregiver Support

Even if you are not the primary family caregiver, there are many ways to show your support for your siblings and your aging parents. Remember, caregiving cannot 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. How will expenses be managed? Could one of you be the financial caregiver? Siblings can show their support by buying groceries, managing respite care, and, if needed, sharing the cost of home health and nursing aides. (Tip Sheet: Financial Caregiving: What You Should Know) 
  • 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. Contact Us to learn more about our offerings or see one of our communities.

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