10 ways to get siblings to help with the care of a parent

Family caregiver meeting

Today, June 20, is the longest day and for families in the throes of Alzheimer’s, it probably won’t seem any different than most days. Every day that you spend caring for a loved one whose needs are demanding is the “longest day.” In order to reduce the burden on yourself, it’s imperative that you carve out some “me time” each day. You’ve heard it before, but it is worth repeating: You need to take care of yourself, because if you get sick who will take care of your loved one?

Sharing the care

If you’re caring for a parent, have you had a conversation with your siblings about sharing the responsibility? Family dynamics and unresolved issues can make it harder to get everyone to pitch in. And of course, location makes a huge difference. An adult child who lives nearby the parent needing help, typically bears the brunt of the responsibility. In fact, a study done by the National Health and Aging Trends (2011-2017) found that three quarters of older adults reported receiving help from only one child.

In order to avoid resentment, divvy up the tasks.

Here’s how

  1. Have a family meeting. If there already is conflict and disagreement among siblings, find a professional to facilitate the meeting in a neutral place, such as a library meeting room, a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue, etc. If the parent being cared for wants to be included and is cognitively aware, include them.
  2. Introduce the purpose of the meeting and have an agenda. Begin with facts such a “Mom or Dad needs full-time care.” Or, “it’s time to move Mom or Dad to a memory care because she/he needs more care than I can provide.” Or, “Mom or Dad is still able to stay at home, but needs assistance. How can each of us help?”
  3. To clarify the situation, maybe include a doctor or nurse explain the medical issues and forecast what the future will look like.
  4. Next, discuss the care plan. Who can provide hands-on care at home? What kind of financial contribution can everyone provide? If the parent can remain at home, split up the day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, rides to the doctor, picking up medications, providing companionship, housecleaning, yard-care, etc.
  5. Acknowledge everyone’s feelings. Individuals will be at different places in their own lives. One sibling may be a new parent. Another may have lost their job. Or a sibling may live thousands of miles away. Or a sibling may be angry at a parent and not want to be involved at all. In these cases, ask gently if there is anything they can do to lighten the load for the others.
  6. If your parents have planned for retirement and were proactive about estate planning, your task will be easier than if they haven’t. Have them help you find the appropriate papers and resources as soon as possible while they are capable. Get the names and contact information for their legal professionals and make sure someone has been designated as power of attorney and durable medical power of attorney. If your parents have not done due diligence in sorting out their affairs and they are still able to, you need to stress the importance of doing so immediately. This is extremely important in the care of a parent. A sibling who is not involved in the hands-on care should be assigned this task.
  7. We’ve all become zoom experts in the past year and a half. Schedule monthly caregiver meetings so everyone stays informed about your parent’s needs. If a new care plan is needed, discuss the details.
  8. Make sure there is a point person for emergencies. Connect the family on “WhatsApp.”
  9. Take advantage of local resource such as Meals on Wheels and adult day programs.
  10. If siblings are unwilling to cooperate or if the situation escalates into an unmanageable situation, seek help. Call your local Area Agency on Aging. For more information, call the Family Caregiver Alliance, 800-445-8106 or visit http://www.caregiver.org and click on Family Care Navigator.

Express appreciation for any help your family is able to provide. Accept your siblings for who they are and understand that not everyone will agree with everyone’s opinion. Sharing the care for parents can either drive a wedge between siblings or bring them closer. Hopefully you’ll be able to communicate like adults and understand each other’s needs during the trying and stressful period that requires parenting our parents.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.