Do you have any tips for helping siblings work together to find senior care for a parent?

September 14, 2017

Dear Benchmark,

I am the Operations Manager for a large home health agency in the Northeast. As a skilled care provider, we work with seniors who are returning home after an illness, injury or surgery.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of the older adults we work with ended up hospitalized because they really weren’t safe living alone at home to start with. We see everything from seniors who were in the hospital for a severe case of dehydration to an admission that is the result of poor nutrition, mistakes with medications, and falls around their home or yard.

Once we have helped the client recover, our social workers often struggle to help convey our concern that a parent isn’t safe at home to their adult children.

And then there are the times when adult children don’t agree with one another about the state of a parent’s health and independence. It is especially difficult if any of them live out of town and don’t visit very often.

Do you have any advice we can use to better communicate with adult children? And for encouraging them to work together toward a solution?

Sincerely,
Mike

Working with Adult Children When a Parent Needs More Care

Dear Mike:

Adult children often view a parent’s declining health differently. The one who lives closest typically has a more realistic idea of what is happening day-to-day, while far away siblings deny how bad the situation is. It can make for emotionally charged conversations among siblings. And, as you’ve described, health care professionals who are trying to assist them are caught in the middle.

Finding ways to navigate your way through those conversations and help families arrive at a decision that is in a parent’s best interest can be difficult. Here are a few suggestions that you and your staff find helpful:

1. Remember the Shared Goal: When emotions are running high, old sibling rivalries might rear their ugly head. It helps to bring everyone back to the real meaning of the family meeting or phone call: keeping the senior loved one as safe and healthy as possible.

2. Include the Parent: If the parent is able, include him or her in the discussions. Honoring their wishes is essential taking into consideration the loved one’s capacity to make important decisions. And adult children often behave in a more positive manner when their parent is included in the meeting.

3. Make a List of What Help is Required: Encourage the adult children who are most involved with hands-on care to make a list of what assistance their parent requires. This might be something your staff members can assist with, as well. The list can help far away loved ones gain a clearer picture of the situation.

4. Promote Open Communication: Misunderstandings among family members often happen when people aren’t communicating with one another. Help the family agree on a format for staying in touch. Maybe one sibling can call the primary caregiver for an update and then send out an email to all involved loved ones with the latest news. (But it is important not to place more burdens on the primary family caregiver by asking them to be the one keeping everyone updated.) Caregiver apps can make this process easier.

5. Be respectful: If one or more of the siblings aren’t pulling their weight, the others can become understandably frustrated and angry. It is important to remind family members not lose their temper. Taking time out or communicating by email in a respectful manner might be necessary for a while. Also, encourage faraway family members to arrange for an in-person visit. Even if it is just for a few days. This will give the primary caregiver a break while helping the out-of-town siblings see firsthand how much work it is to be a family caregiver.

6. Objective Advice: In situations where the family can’t ---or won’t--- work together, they might need outside help. You can suggest our complimentary Home Visit Program. One of our experienced associates will come to the senior’s home to discuss all of their senior care options. Or the family might need to hire the services of an elder care mediator. These professionals assist families in working through their conflict and making an informed choice for their loved one’s care.

I hope these tips help your staff members and the clients you serve, Mike!

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