Elder Care – Dealing With Difficult Siblings

One of life’s biggest challenges, I think, is providing care for our elderly parents. As more and more people become care-givers for their parents we see more and more arguments erupting between siblings with different ideas about how their parents should be cared for.

Some may wish the elderly parent be placed in a nursing facility as they do not have the time to give the necessary care. This is often a choice that is not palatable for other siblings. Yes, we all have busy lives, especially if we are still raising our own children, but finding a suitable nursing home for your parent may be more time-consuming than you realize. After all, and this is not to demean the health care facilities in general, but we see stories daily about the unsatisfactory care many elderly receive at the hands of inexperienced or uncaring professionals.

Keep in mind that no matter how caring and respected a hospital or nursing facility is, they are in business. Your parent is a stranger. NO ONE will give the quality of care a family member will simply because they do not have a personal connection.

That said, however, there are some good quality nursing facilities available and if you are dealing with a parent or other elderly person with advanced dementia or Alzheimer, you may wish to consider this as an option. But, your siblings may not agree.

When Siblings Disagree on Elder Care – Find a Compromise

In my family there are five daughters. Each of us has varied ideas about how our mother should be cared for. When mom first fell ill is was fairly simple for my sister, whom she lived with, to offer the limited care she needed. She was not working and was able to take mom to doctors and outings with little difficulty. But things soon got worse for mom and then the arguments began.

I quickly recognized that mom’s appetite was failing her. She just didn’t want to eat. No wonder when many of her medications came with side effects that were unpleasant, to say the least. When I would visit mom I would take her special ‘goodies’. These were usually fruit and other things I knew she liked but did not get regularly. My sister doesn’t cook. Period. They go out to eat and would bring mom a meal from their favorite restaurants, usually fast food. Bless her, but my sister had no concept of the fact that it was perhaps the food offerings that turned mom off.

Not the time to fight. After talking to my sister and discussing this with her she was quite upset. She had no idea how to cook the foods mom needed, BUT, she was adamant about mom staying with her. So, a creative solution. I cook every night so I would make something for mom and take it to her daily. At least she got one good nutritional meal a day. Not the best solution, but a compromise.

Later as mom’s mental health declined it became clear that my sister could no longer handle her. Other sisters wanted to put her in a facility as they were out-of-town and busy with their own lives. I do not condemn them. But I could not see doing leaving our mother in the hands of strangers. It just didn’t sit right with me and I was not happy with the facilities available to us.

While this is not the best solution for many, for us it worked out. At the time I was in college and able to rearrange my schedule so that I could be home with mom a lot. My husband was also able to help out and I was able to enlist the other two sisters who lived locally to give one day a week to being with her. This allowed us to juggle her care in such a way as to allow each of us to offer what we were best at. I cooked and made sure she ate well. Another sister brought the laughter and was very good at getting mom laughing. They had great visits.

The second sister was the one she had previously lived with. She brought the news and gossip that mom loved. She also brought encouragement, over and above what we offered, and was able to keep mother’s mood positive. Difficult sometimes, but she knew what buttons to push to get mom to stop feeling sorry for herself.

By finding ways to compromise we were able to give mom home care until her passing. This was important to us. After all, she gave everything to us when we needed it; we wanted to give back to her.

These are just a couple of examples of how we five were able to reach solutions for our mother’s care. Your situation is quite different, I am sure. But the bottom lime is that someone needs to recognize the problems and seek a solution that can satisfy everyone. Often that is the eldest sibling, but not always. Communication with your siblings is the vital key. Don’t ever feel that you have to take the first solution that presents itself, and if you are certain you do not want your parent to go to a facility, then talk to your siblings and try to work something out.

If you cannot reach a solution, then work together to find the best possible facility. Be sure to verify any and all recommendations. Go for an unannounced visit when you can. Is all as you expected it to be? If not, tell your siblings of your concerns. You can always open a new discussion and make changes.

Finally and perhaps most importantly

Never criticize your siblings on how the may be caring for an elderly parent or family member. When you criticize the defenses go up. Try to find ways to encourage the sibling for the things they are doing that is helping and play down the things that do not. Be ready to offer your help. While the primary caregiver may tell you they are find, truth be known they can certainly use help. Be open to opportunities to talk to your siblings, express your concerns in a positive way, and offer suggestions or solutions that are considerate of your siblings feelings and current efforts.

When I offered to help my sister by providing fully cooked meals for mom it took a lot of the stress from her. I also provided frozen meals that could quickly be heated and served if I could not deliver something fresh for some reason.

Some times it is the little things that are overlooked when you are dealing with an elderly person. Things like what are they actually eating, setting a table and sitting with them for a meal, or taking time to talk to them.

Communication is one of the vital keys that is often abandoned in the heat of family arguments. While siblings may have the same parents and similar values, they certainly will have developed their own ideals. Your idea of care may not be the same as your sibling. Who is right and who is wrong is not the issue here. There really is no right or wrong answer. You must work together to find a solution that works for you, your family, and your elderly family member.

We lost our mother a few years ago, but working together to care for her as her health declined brought us closer and allowed us to grieve together rather that begin blaming each other for contributing to her failing condition. It was well worth the effort.

DISCLAIMER: I am not now, nor have I ever been a medical professional. I have supplied this example from my own life experience and offer it only as encouragement. Please discuss any necessary care options with the patient’s doctor.