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Using Family Meetings to Resolve Eldercare Issues

By Jessica Thomas September 13, 2020 Aging

Coping with a parent’s aging process can be challenging and filled with questions. For example, is it better for the parent to age in place with caregivers visiting the home on a regular basis? Or is it better to find an assisted living facility or a nursing home for the loved one?

These eldercare questions may be even more fraught with family politics when disagreements erupt among siblings.

Even siblings who happily get along with each other may disagree sharply on the issue of care for their parents. These disputes happen on a variety of issues, with some of the most common sources of disagreements outlined below. In addition, you’ll learn ways to resolve these disputes successfully.

Family Politics: A Complicated Issue

Many people find the most common disagreement is about the level of eldercare that a parent may need. For instance, one adult child might think that mom is doing great at home by herself, but another sibling may feel she needs some extra help. It’s natural for everyone to have different perceptions of what’s going on.

Geography Plays a Part

Our society is mobile, and this means that families are often scattered in different geographic areas. Although most adult children live within 20 miles of their parents, some siblings may live out of state.

Adult children who live out of state have to rely on phone interactions more than in-person visits. Over the phone, a child may not see some of the struggles that his/her parent is experiencing. Because of this, he/she may be reluctant to engage in conversations about the need for assisted living or nursing home care.

On the other hand, adult children that are geographically closer to their parents might be more aware of their parents’ changing needs. Simply put, geography, or proximity to parents, can strongly influence opinions about care. Lastly, it’s not uncommon for parents to share with each of their children different information about how their doing.

Not All Children Contribute Equally to a Parent’s Care

For a variety of reasons, including the geographic factor mentioned above, not all siblings may contribute equally to a parent’s care. This can set the stage for resentment and family fighting.

Often, the child who lives physically closest to the parent will bear the majority of the burden for caring for their parent, frequently while raising their own families and working outside the home.

Adults in these situations are said to be a part of the sandwich generation. They provide caregiving, financial, and emotional support to both their children and aging parents. This is sadly a recipe for physical and emotional exhaustion that the other siblings may not understand.

Also, it is not always the physically closest child who takes on the majority of care responsibilities. Some children may be emotionally closer to their parents than other siblings. These children may also step up to take on the most significant burden of care, potentially fueling frustration and resentment among siblings.

These resentments can be heightened even more if the siblings had complicated childhoods or did not get along with each other before needing to tackle the issue of appropriate eldercare.

Many adult children report that facing these complicated issues feels like stepping straight back into childhood. Some children state that they feel as if they have emotionally regressed as they face these issues.

Challenges Are Not Just on the Part of Siblings

Siblings often experience a wide range of challenges as they are navigating the eldercare process. But this is not the only issue that needs to be successfully navigated. Parents, themselves, can also present a challenge.

Aging is not easy. It can be accompanied by a wide range of physical and cognitive challenges. Often, it is not easy for older adults to acknowledge that they are experiencing these difficulties, and that tasks that were previously easy are becoming increasingly unmanageable. Parents may also feel emotionally connected to homes that they may have lived in for decades.

For these and other reasons, parents may be very resistant to discussing elder care options. As a result, family politics and tension can dramatically escalate. This can be even more fraught if there is a history of emotional or physical abuse in the family.

Even families without that type of history may notice that their parents’ personality changes as they deal with physical and/or cognitive decline.

Finances Are an Additional Challenge

As if the challenges highlighted above are not daunting enough, one additional factor must be considered: finances. Eldercare is expensive. Not all parents have the funds in place to make all options feasible.

The conflict over finances may be even more marked if there are dramatic differences in the financial well-being of siblings. For example, some siblings may have more financial resources and may want to pay for these services out-of-pocket. However, other siblings may not have the resources to do this.

One report found that unpaid family caregivers spend $12,000 – $12,700 of their own personal income on their aging parents. The majority of out-of-pocket costs go towards their parents’ household expenses, medical needs, legal fees, or paid help.

As a result, many of them have to cut back on their own wants and needs, such as:

  • Vacations
  • Going out to eat
  • Personal doctors’ visits
  • Groceries
  • And more

Successfully Resolving These Disputes

All of these challenges can seem overwhelming for many siblings as they begin navigating the question of eldercare. However, just because these challenges are difficult does not mean that there are not ways to address them successfully. Here are four recommendations for this process:

#1 Start Early

Before your parents need eldercare, sit down with them in a calm setting, and discuss their financial situation. What do they have in savings? What types of long-term care insurance do they have in place? During this conversation, it may also be beneficial to discuss what sibling(s) is going to be the point person on financial issues.

#2 Involve Your Parents in Conversations About Eldercare

You must get your parents’ opinions and listen to why they may be reluctant to leave their own homes. Sometimes it may help for visits to be arranged to potential living environments so that parents can see the facilities and options that are being considered.

#3 Listen to Your Siblings

It is important to recognize that everyone’s point and perspective is valid and important. You will all have different ideas about what your parents need, so it may take some time for everyone to get on the same page.

Understand that your siblings might not be ready to accept that your parents need as much help as they do. In some situations, people even tend to be overly anxious even when their parents are okay. The best thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open and separate your parents’ needs from your own.

#4 Consider Family Meetings with Experts

If the first three points still do not resolve all of the family politics and challenges, it is vital to embrace family meetings. These family meetings should be done in a controlled manner and in a non-crisis way.

Generally, experts suggest that there should be at least two family meetings. The first should only involve siblings and very close family members, but it should not involve the parent. Without the parent there, siblings may be more willing to be transparent about their concerns.

Don’t hesitate to bring in professionals, such as therapists, social workers, physicians, or geriatric care managers. These objective parties can tell you what’s really going on and what your parents need.

During the second meeting, the parent should be included. Even with ground rules established, it is crucial to recognize that family meetings may not always go smoothly. It may be necessary to bring in a neutral mediator to help you navigate complex family politics.

In Conclusion

Aging is complicated, and it often requires families to think about eldercare options for their loved ones. These conversations often trigger disagreements and complex family politics, but despite the complexities of the situation, there are steps that people can and should take to navigate these issues. Using the tips above, you’ll be equipped to successfully resolve conflicts and get your parents the help they need.

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The Author

Jessica Thomas is a Public Health Professional, Health & Wellness Writer, and Entrepreneur. She has a B.S. in Health Administration with a focus on Aging Studies and an M.D. in Public Health. Before starting her business, Jessica worked for over 3 years as a Program Coordinator and Performance Improvement Leader in a hospital setting. Her roles focused on various senior initiatives such as fall reduction, preventing delirium, and addressing barriers in the healthcare system. Today, Jessica enjoys learning and educating others on aging in place, how tech solutions can help seniors, and health and wellness topics.

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