Having the Family Conversation

The Family Conversation: How to Talk to Your Siblings About Senior Care for a Parent

It’s a sad truth, but many families find themselves arguing about their aging parent and their care needs. Realizing your elderly parent needs support can be a complicated, stressful, and confusing time for many families. Growing concerns and questions can cause conflict when everyone is not on the same page. Should your parent be living alone? Should they still be driving a car? Do they have a health condition or cognitive impairment that needs to be addressed? Are siblings in denial about healthcare concerns or assistance that their aging parent or loved one needs? Caring for an elderly parent can be complicated, but the focus must be on the wellbeing of your loved one. If you or your siblings cannot agree about their care, it is your parent who will lose.

Here are a few tips to help you discuss these delicate issues as a family.

1. Schedule a Meeting

Scheduling a family meeting may feel formal or confrontational. But the fact is talking about care for your elderly parent or loved one is a topic that can be easily avoided. Setting a meeting is a practical step. We suggest that you meet early before your family is facing a crisis. Also, let everyone know what you are meeting about so they can gather their thoughts and concerns. Give each person ample notification and allow time to schedule travel. If meeting in person is not possible, set up a conference call or video calling like FaceTime, so everyone has a voice. The conversation should be positive and proactive. No one should be blindsided, especially your parent.

2. Include Your Parent (or Parents) in the Conversation

Families often make the mistake of not including their parent. If they are not cognitively impaired, they should take part in the decision-making process. Ask your aging loved one their opinion about where they want to live, care needs, health concerns, and assistance with daily tasks. Their response may surprise you. And this will give your family a goal or request by your parent to work toward together. You cannot jeopardize their health or safety, so the solution may need to be a compromise. But if your parent is involved, the transition will be smoother.

3. Stop Denial with Facts

Your aging loved one may be in denial that they need help. And often, siblings are in denial as well and can hinder getting your parent help. If this is the case, then you need to have examples of your parent’s declining health or compromised safety. Has your parent fallen or been hospitalized recently? Have they recently lost weight and don’t look healthy? Has their doctor voiced concern about their health? Are they withdrawn and missing family events? If you are concerned about your parent, then they probably already need assistance of some kind. Denial is quite common among families. But to truly help your parent, everyone needs to understand why there is a concern. Keep communication open and nonjudgmental and try to stick to the facts of your parent’s behaviors that are causing concern. One issue may be that you don’t speak often enough as a family, and incidences with your parent are quickly forgotten or brushed off. Try to communicate frequently as a group, so everyone is informed.

4. Be Open to Other Ideas and Suggestions

Swearing, shouting, and bringing up past issues are abusive ways to communicate and will get your family nowhere. Focus on what is important—your parent’s health, safety, and happiness. During times of stress, families tend to fall back into their traditional roles and old patterns. Rivalries and power struggles can surface in nonproductive ways. And these patterns can be complicated as they relate between siblings, with their parent, or their place in the family. The best approach is to acknowledge family dynamics but agree to set those aside, considering what is best for your parent. Traditional roles can also cause issues and strain. The oldest doesn’t have to bear all the decision-making, and it shouldn’t be assumed the daughters should handle the care. Combine your resources and work together, so no one is burnt out, overwhelmed, or resentful. Productive solutions take being open to suggestions, ideas, and offers to help. If tensions are high but your parent is safe, you have the option to let some things go in the interest of keeping the peace. When it’s cooled down, try again.

5. Work Together as a Team

If you are the primary caregiver to your loved one, share with your siblings what you need. You may feel like you are stuck with the lion’s share of care responsibility, but you can’t expect your siblings to read your mind. Ask clearly for what you need—the more specific, the better! If they cannot help, then discuss hiring assistance and how to cover those costs. If your family is sharing the responsibility of caring for your parent or loved one, it is best to make sure everyone understands their role, so efforts are not duplicated, or no one feels overwhelmed. Setting clear roles based on the strength of each sibling can empower your family to make the best use of their resources to aid your parent. If you are good with numbers, perhaps you can oversee your parent’s budget and paying their bills, or if your sister lives in another city, she can help with online research for care and setting up appointments. Try to find ways that everyone can contribute.

6. Keep Everyone Informed

We live in a digital age where everyone is attached to their cell phones and laptops. Use these resources to create email lists for all family members or set online video calls to keep everyone in the loop about how your parent is managing. After your first family discussion, you can decide on a time to meet as a family once or twice a month. Use these meetings to share concerns but try to state the facts of the situation and remove the emotion that can cause hurt feelings or defensiveness. Families will make better decisions as a unit if they are well informed.

7. Get Professionals Involved

If your family has come to an impasse or cannot seem to get on the same page, professional help may be necessary to move forward. The guidance of a social worker, geriatric care manager, family counselor, or elder law attorney can aid in guiding your family through the challenges of caregiving. Try to identify the main issue that you cannot get past to define the type of professional you need to contact. A geriatric care manager or social worker can assess your loved one’s abilities and concerns and help guide your family toward the best resources to meet their needs. A family counselor or family mediator can work with the dynamics of your family, help sort out emotions, and come up with a plan that will work for everyone. An elder law attorney can help your family navigate a wide range of legal matters affecting your elderly parent, including healthcare, long-term care planning, retirement, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and more. Keep in mind, to consult with a professional is not a failure. It is a proactive, healthy way to get to a good result for your loved one.

Every family is different. Every situation is unique. Parents deal with getting older in their own way. And most families have a set of dynamics to confront and (hopefully) overcome. There is no formula for coming to a clear solution. Approach every conversation with a member of your family with good intentions and sincerity to find a resolution to serve your parent best. Be open to compromise and quick to forgive. Find comfort in planning ahead for the health and happiness of your loved one—no matter what happens in their future.

If you and your family are concerned that your parent or loved one should no longer be living on their own, visit an Aegis Living community near you and schedule a virtual tour. Our staff has met hundreds of residents and families like yours. They understand the mix of emotions and family dynamics that often come into play during the decision-making process. Our staff can help your family navigate a smooth transition and find a place for your loved one to call home.

Additional Resources: Having the Family Conversation