Caring for elderly parents: How siblings can work as a team

In our last blog we profiled the dilemma of the adult daughter who was expected to do everything for her aging Mom, while her brothers claimed mom seemed perfectly fine when they dropped in or phoned. Add mom’s own assertion that she’s ‘just fine,’ and our adult daughter begins to doubt her own sanity!

We concluded our last blog with the optimistic suggestion of getting siblings onside to participate, share the load and the expenses. Great idea, but how can this be achieved? Here are six tips:

1. Obtain an independent assessment of mom’s needs. We’ve suggested this before – an independent third party assessment, from the family doctor, social services or an eldercare consultant – will define in clear terms exactly that the situation is for care, housing and support for the short and longer term. Putting it in black and white makes it real to all of you and absolves the daughter from ‘owning’ the issue.

2. Recognize the time-honoured Five Stages of Grief – anger, denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These apply not just to grief over a death, but for any unwelcome life event. And guess what – all of you, not just mom, are experiencing some or all of these feelings. Life will never be the same for your family; things have irrevocably changed – it’s natural to grieve. Brothers may be stuck in denial, due to their guilt of not visiting often enough; mom may be in bargaining – ‘if I just do this, that’ll make it OK’; a sister may be in anger over what is suddenly expected of her to meet mom’s needs.

3. Research the market value of the care, housing and support needs outlined in the third party assessment. Add them up – wow! Cost out each service and set up a reasonable budget. If mom's finances are tight, assign a sibling to investigate subsidies, grants, tax allowances. Enlist the support of mom’s financial professional to partner in making these plans affordable for the long term. Put the Powers of Attorney for Property and Care into place.

4. Sort the tasks into ‘project deliverables’ that play to the knowledge and strengths of your siblings. Arranging and managing care – the sister who lives in town; supervising banking, bills and doing taxes – the brother-in-law who’s a CA; organizing transportation and grocery delivery – the sister-in-law who’s always on the computer. Use e-mail, Facebook or a dedicated website to share information and prevent gaps and oversights. Assume the responsibility and take it seriously.

5. Make and test these plans privately, not in front of mom. Your plans going forward must be net of all discussion and unanimous or mom will instantly find and wedge open any weak spots, especially if she is on denial about needing support.

6. Play to existing family dynamics. If Joe Junior is the eldest and assumed a fatherly role most of his life, have him deliver the plans. If Susie is mom’s confidante and might weaken in her resolve against mom’s objections, help her to be strong and keep reinforcing the plans. Everyone – stay on message and help each other.

In our next blog we’ll share some tales of when things went wrong – and got back on track!


Related articles:

Caring for your elderly parents—and yourself too

Emotionally needy parents

The real costs of aging at home

No time to relax? Try this.

Caring for elderly parents: How to get your siblings to help

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