Tapping into the expertise of senior caregiving experts from Home Instead Senior Care of Massachusetts (www.homeinstead.com/ma), here are some hands-on, realistic advice for families to help avoid common pitfalls that often arise when caring for elderly parents.
Come to a common and early understanding of what caring for Mom and Dad “looks like.”
The best time for siblings to start talking about what their aging Mom or Dad might need for help at home is before a caregiving need or crisis hits. But for most families -- even ones who get along -- it often takes a big change in health, a death of one parent, or some other major moment to broach this important subject. Whenever the care conversation happens, however, one of the first things to get out on the table is what each sibling’s expectations are of what “caring for Mom and Dad” means.
· One sibling may think it means daily, overnight or frequent visits -- while another thinks fewer and daytime visits are plenty.
· Two may think bringing in outside services is the right solution while others worry about the cost or their parent’s comfort level with hired caregivers.
· Some may want Mom or Dad to be in an assisted living or nursing home setting while others want the priority to be care at home for as long as possible.
The sooner and more direct these expectations are shared and discussed; the more likely siblings are to find compromises that will work for them and their parents. Further as the health and needs of the senior parent changes, expectations need to be revisited and revised.
Caregiving must come from the heart but care management should come from the head.
It’s a given that shared caregiving for parents will be filled with many emotions ranging from love to guilt to frustration … but as much as possible, adult siblings should try to approach the management and organization of a parent’s care (at least behind the scenes) like a business.
· Making decisions and sharing concerns, creating realistic care schedules, deciding on the types of support or services needed, and working with professional caregiving providers requires organization, a formalized structure and strong communications between siblings.
· Don’t be afraid to call sibling meetings to review what needs to be done and how; use technologies like free conference calls, video conferencing and emails to document, agree to and stick with steps and decisions made.
· Assign each person a key role and responsibility to play in the care picture that fits their talents and style.
· To streamline care and decision making some siblings even decide to choose one brother or sister to serve as the caregiving manager while the others support them in their efforts.
Try to use differences in means, talents & locations to your advantage.
As all families know, siblings can be dramatically different from one another and likely have been all their lives. One may be very detail oriented while another is a free spirit. A brother or sister could have strong financial means, while another is just getting by. Some have heavy nuclear family or work commitments that make them less available, and there can also be geographic differences that increase the complexity of care. If there was ever a time to talk openly and realistically about what each sibling can do, it’s when figuring out how to care for an aging parent together.
· Perhaps the less financially strong sibling is great at home repairs so is more able to give their time and talents fixing things around the home.
· An out-of-town sibling that’s great at managing healthcare paperwork or balancing the books can offer this help remotely.
· A son that is local and very organized could manage sibling meetings.
· A daughter that’s home with her children can take the grandkids over for visits during weekdays while a sibling with grown or no children could perhaps cover a school night or weekend visit more easily.
Instead of getting on each others’ case about what a particular sibling can't do, look at your differences in schedules, means and talents as an opportunity to cover the full spectrum of things Mom and Dad will need.
Don’t let sibling dynamics drown out your parents' wishes.
Most siblings go into caring for their parents together with the best intentions to respect their parent’s wishes and to work together, but funny things can happen despite the best intentions.
· When things get heated or disconnects arise, step back as a group and refocus on your collective caregiving goals.
· Remember that -- barring any major physical or memory issues -- your parents still want to feel valued and as independent as possible. Siblings as individuals and as a group need to try and respect this.
Take time out so you don’t burn out.
Not every family has a sibling network that they can rely on to care for aging parents. If you are lucky enough to have this – on any level -- make sure you remember to support each other in taking breaks to relieve the rigors of caregiving. Also be sure to identify and line up a support network beyond your siblings which can include neighbors, friends, professional caregivers, medical professionals and local resources like senior centers.
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About Home Instead Senior Care of Massachusetts
Home Instead Senior Care is a network of 17 locally owned offices in Massachusetts dedicated to providing high quality, trusted home care to help seniors remain in their homes as they grow older. For those who have chosen to age at home, HISC can be the difference between counting the years and living them. Services are also available to seniors living in facilities. To learn more about Home Instead Senior Care of Massachusetts, please visit http://www.hearthside-homeinstead.com.