Remember when you were kids and you used to fight over who got to watch their favorite TV show or who had to do the dishes? Some of those sibling dynamics don’t change as we age, but the stakes do get higher. When it comes to caring for an aging parent, each adult child has a distinct idea about how to best handle the situation.
Imagine this scenario:
Mark, Robert and Susan were all raised by their loving parents here in Arlington Heights. Mark is the youngest, living nearby in Mr. Prospect. Robert and Susan live on the east coast. The eldest, Sue, comes in town for the holidays and notices a dramatic change in mom’s health. She insists that they begin to look for a caregiver and tour assisted living facilities. Mom doesn’t want to leave her house and Mark agrees. He completely rejects the idea of moving mom from her house, and furthermore, does not think they should spend the money on a caregiver. Meanwhile, Robert is the one footing all the bills for mom and feels he should have the final decision in the matter. Sound familiar?
So, who does get the final say in the situation? Is it the oldest, the one who pays the bills, or the one who lives closest? Do all siblings get an equal chance to weigh in? It is definitely a tricky situation, but don’t think you are alone. In home care, we typically see loving families who are geographically spread across the country. When a family member only sees their aging parent a once or twice per year, changes become more noticeable. Mom might seem much more forgetful than last time you visited or may have trouble with balance and walking around.
Below are some tips we’ve seen families use to best navigate caring for their aging parents:
Hold a Family Meeting
Make it formal and hold an official family meeting on a specific day and time. Ask for input on the agenda and focus on finding resolutions and action plans rather than simply expressing concerns.
Involve a Third Party Mediator
A geriatric care manager, social worker, counselor, or other trusted third party can be a great resource to make sure that everyone has a voice in the conversation (including mom). These professionals are experienced in dealing with complex family dynamics and can help direct the conversation in a productive way.
Dividing responsibilities equally may be a challenge; however, try to make expectations clear for each sibling (near and far). Let the family members who live far from mom and dad feel included by suggesting responsibilities such as paying bills online or calling to make doctors’ appointments. There’s a lot you can do with just a computer and the phone!
Plan, Plan, (and then plan some more)
Straighten out financial and legal matters well ahead of time. Think about consulting the following professionals:
- Elder Law Attorney -An elder law attorney can help legally divide the responsibilities among family members. One sibling may hold financial power of attorney while another holds medical power of attorney. Elder law attorneys can also help you understand estate planning, Medicare benefits and apply for other resources such as Veteran’s Benefits.
- Financial Planner-nowadays, as people are living longer with chronic diseases, the costs of care can become unmanageable over time. Have you saved enough for the next 5 years, 10 years, or even the next 35 years? What are the costs involved with homecare or an Assisted Living Facility? A financial planner will help make sure you are covered for the long haul, rather than just running on emergency mode.
- Funeral Director– Pre-plan end-of-life arrangements. This may seems like a difficult topic of conversation, but by planning, you have the opportunity to understand your loved one’s wishes. Taking care of matters ahead of time can relieve a lot of stress on families during a stressful period.
- Gather information without the pressure to make an immediate decision.
Most of the resources listed above will allow you to have an introductory meeting free of charge. Take time to learn about their services and the costs before the time comes when you have to urgently make a decision. Tour assisted living facilities in your area and interview home care agencies and caregivers. That way, you understand your options and can make an informed discussion during that family meeting time with your siblings.
Chances are, after taking time to consult with professionals in the aging field, you and your siblings will be able to implement the plan of care with your mom or dad’s best interests at heart.