After compiling information in each factor of your parent’s life, review and discuss the results with a trusted friend, other family members, clergy members, and/or professionals in the geriatric field. Once you have come to some conclusions amongst yourselves, plan a time to discuss your concerns, in a non-threatening way, with your parent. You may want to include select individuals who participated in the independence assessment − someone your parent respects − to bolster your influence and aid in communication.
These discussions are not to be taken lightly as they decide whether or not your parent continues living in his/her present home, what changes need to be made to increase safety and comfort in your parent’s daily life, and what level of care and outside assistance he/she may need.
Dealing with Resistance
Parents may not want to talk about these topics, and some resistance is normal. They may respond with reassuring statements like they’re handling everything fine. Or you may be told to mind your own business. Here are some guidelines for handling resistance:
- Respect your parent’s feelings when he/she insists on avoiding the subject. Try again at another time using a different approach.
- Recognize your parent’s right to make their own decisions (as long as their mental abilities do not suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementia), even if you don’t agree with all their choices.
- If your parent’s health or safety is at risk, you must push the issue.
- Other crisis situations may also demand immediate action and a more direct, insistent approach from you, such as a rapidly depleting bank account due to health care expenses, the need for critical legal documents, the need for modifications at home, etc.
- Act firmly, but compassionately, if you decide you must intervene. “Mom, we can’t put this off any longer.”
- Involve others whom your parent respects. Including a favorite niece or family friend in a meeting to discuss everyone’s concerns can be an effective means of developing a mutually acceptable plan.
- Research community resources that help the elderly and ill remain independent, such as home health care or transportation, ahead of time so that when it becomes clear that your parents need assistance, you’ll be ready to share options with them.
Working with Siblings
You and your siblings will have to make many decisions and handle many tasks together at this stage in your parents' lives. Acting out past childhood struggles make the job more difficult, especially if you don't realize that's what you're doing. Now more than ever, you need your siblings' support and cooperation. If you're not in agreement, siblings can greatly increase the stress of a very difficult situation. Some potential obstacles include:
- You or your siblings are in denial. Maybe your brother still needs a parent and refuses to see how old your mother is getting. On the other hand, perhaps you're afraid of losing your dad and can't help but overreact.
- You or your sibling distrusts the other. Maybe your sister doesn't believe the objective reality you're relating because she thinks you've always been a complainer and overly dramatic. Then again, perhaps you think she has a hidden agenda.
- Your parents are hiding or exaggerating their symptoms, or perhaps they're telling you and your sibling different things.
If you and your siblings don't agree:
- Don't panic if your siblings don't view your parents' situation the same way. Their observations and conclusions will most likely catch up to yours.
- Objectively question your own perceptions in case your siblings have a better understanding of the situation than you think.
- Consider that you and your siblings may be receiving different information from your parents. Compare notes and combine information to arrive at the truth.
- Research what is "normal" aging versus what is cause for concern.
- Consider having a geriatrician conduct a professional assessment to settle stubborn sibling disagreements.
Asking for Help
Siblings usually accept different caregiving roles and responsibilities, which helps to minimize conflict. Occasionally, however, brothers or sisters won’t voluntarily participate in caregiving on their own. Because of family dynamics or a complicated history, convincing them to help can be a trial in itself. To aid in a smoother confrontation, consider these suggestions:
- Acknowledge that your siblings did not have the same relationship with your parents that you had. Therefore, they won’t feel exactly the same way that you do.
- Do not over-simplify or talk condescendingly to your siblings.
- Resist feeling angry or resentful about their lack of concern or participation thus far. Anger, blame, and criticism won’t accomplish anything constructive.
- Ask directly. Don’t “hint” by complaining about how busy and overworked you’ve been.
- Identify what you really need or want, and then think of something concrete to satisfy the need/want.
- Ask for specific things, such as running regular errands, making particular purchases, or taking care of certain chores.
- Be realistic. If your brother can’t stand your mother, then asking him to handle home maintenance or contribute money will get better results than asking him to spend more time with her.
- Show some compassion as your siblings face your parents’ aging and mortality, and they’ll likely return the favor. Even the best of us act childishly at times during a crisis or emotionally-charged experience.
More information on the topic of "siblings and caregiving" is readily available. Check out these resources:
- Francine Russo’s book, They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging without Driving Each Other Crazy
- Caring.com’s articles and blogs (just of few listed here; search "siblings" or "family disagreements" on caring.com website)
- Johnson & Johnson’s article, “Asking for Help from Family and Friends after Surgery”
- FCA’s article, “Caregiving and Sibling Relationships: Challenges and Opportunities”