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What to Do When Families Disagree on Long-Term Care for Aging Parents

Family discussing caring for elderly parents

Caring for an elderly parent: When family members disagree

How to avoid and resolve family conflict over caring for aging parents

When it comes to discussions about caring for parents as they age and the variety of senior health care options, emotions can run high. Factor in differing opinions among family members, and it’s easy to see why arguments are common. Each sibling may have their own ideas on caring for elderly parents, and they often clash with the opinions of other siblings. Discussions about where parents should live, how their finances should be handled, who should be providing care, and what is truly the best choice can leave families in conflict. And this conflict can take a toll on parents. Families who find themselves in disagreements are less likely to visit their elderly family members, leaving them feeling isolated and afraid of being a burden.

It’s helpful to remember you’re working toward a common goal — the health, safety and comfort of your parents. This common goal can serve as a destination as you work together to navigate the hurdles and obstacles on the journey to making the best decision for your parents. If you find yourself in this position, the following strategies may be helpful.

Plan ahead

One way to avoid family conflict over caring for elderly parents and providing for their long-term  care is to have a discussion with your parents about their wishes before they need care. This is also a good time to put in place orders for things like medical and financial power of attorney, advance directives, wills, and care roles for each family member.

By planning for the future and involving parents in the decision-making process, you’ll increase the likelihood that your parents’ wishes will be fulfilled. You’ll also minimize family conflict, as everyone will have a voice and proper time to plan. This conversation can be similar to a family meeting as described below. However, in this situation, your parents will be the ones making most of the decisions, with guidance or input from family members and professionals such as a financial planner or an attorney.

As you go about this process, keep in mind that life doesn’t always follow our plans, and circumstances may lead to a situation in which your parents may no longer be able to voice their wishes. If that happens, you’ll already have valuable information about your parents’ wishes, and will know who has the authority to make financial and medical decisions.

Hold a family meeting

When you find yourself disagreeing with family members, the last thing you may want to do is put yourself in a room with them. However, holding a family meeting can go a long way toward communicating clearly and helping everyone feel they’ve been heard. Even if your family isn’t in conflict, having an organized forum in which everyone has the opportunity to present their ideas and work toward creating a plan can often head off disagreements down the line.

Often, the responsibility of checking in on and caring for parents as they age falls on the sibling who lives closest. Caregiving requires significant personal sacrifice of time and energy that can affect the caregiver’s job and other personal responsibilities. In the long term, this can lead to feelings of resentment if out-of-town siblings aren’t aware of the caregiving sibling’s struggles, or don’t understand the level of work required to provide personal care to a loved one. This lack of communication can lead both parties to have narrow perspectives that may not reflect reality.

By holding a family meeting and promoting open discussion, everyone can voice their issues and concerns; this can result in a more even perspective and help the family evenly distribute workload. In a time when your parents need you the most, it’s important to be there for them, but that can only be done if siblings can agree on responsibilities and be honest about what they’re able to contribute.

Here are some tips for a successful family meeting:

  • Choose a time and place to meet that will work for everyone. Make sure each participant will be able to give their full attention to the discussion for the full length of the meeting. If some family members have limited time, consider breaking up the discussion into agenda items that can be accomplished in the time allotted and schedule future discussions to address other items. If it’s not possible for all members to attend in person, consider using video conferencing technology like Skype or Zoom.
  • Send out an agenda. While it may seem overly formal for a family meeting, preparing an agenda and sending it to each participant in advance gives everyone the opportunity to prepare and even suggest other points to discuss. An agenda can also help keep the discussion on track.
  • Do your research. Make sure you’ve considered all available options for senior health care and researched how they may fit your parents’ situation. Consider consulting your parents’ physicians regarding their needs and care.
  • Listen to your parents. If at all possible, your parents should be asked for their input. While your parents may be having a hard time understanding their situation or making decisions, it’s still important to them to have a sense of control over their lives. They should have the opportunity to communicate their wishes and discuss their feelings.
  • Listen openly to each person’s ideas and perspective. Remember that you all have a common goal: to make the best decisions for the parents you love. Assume positive intent and avoid taking an accusatory tone that will only incite anger. Treat each person with respect and give due consideration to their ideas and input. Be realistic about each person’s skills, abilities, and other responsibilities that may affect their ability to take on a specific role.

Family meetings only work when there is honest and direct discussion. That being said, Rome wasn’t built in a day. One family meeting may not be enough to work out every detail, so be prepared to hold multiple meetings.

Hire a geriatric care manager

Bringing in an unbiased third party can also be a great way to resolve disagreements. Geriatric care managers (GCMs) can provide information and insight that can help you come to an agreement about what’s best. GCMs are usually nurses or social workers with membership in the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA), a certification that requires a specialized degree. A GCM has the knowledge to answer your questions and perform a number of duties.A GCM can also act as a liaison between senior care facilities, health care providers and family members, and can assess and monitor your parents’ condition to coordinate their care and provide a plan for their long-term needs. GCMs usually have a vast knowledge of continuing care options, and will work with you and your family to determine the best fit or any modifications that may be needed if your parents will remain in their own home. While they’re not hands-on nurses, GCMs will assess and manage medication and medical needs with your parents’ physicians, and determine if they need to receive specialized medical care. GCMs will also assist with enrollment in benefits, and can direct you toward other possible sources of financial assistance if needed.

Consider counseling

Almost every family will have some disagreements; if those disagreements aren’t addressed, they can turn into serious issues. Since communication is such an important part of coordinating personal care for your parents, an impartial third party can be a helpful resource for settling disputes and maintaining healthy family relationships during this stressful time. A counselor can help you and your family members develop more understanding toward each other and learn methods of communication that won’t harm your relationships.

Ultimately, you all share a love for your parents and a desire to see them live long, happy lives. Remembering that you’re all on the same team and working together can go a long way toward finding ways to attain your common goal.

Galleria Woods offers a full continuum of senior living options from independent living and assisted living to short-term rehab and skilled nursing. To learn how we can help you and your parents put a plan in place, simply call us at 205-390-6600. We’ll be happy to answer all your questions and give you a personal tour of our community.