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Advice for Families Taking Care of Aging Parents at Home

By: Clare Absher RN, BSN

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Getting and keeping the entire family involved in this caregiving commitment, no matter how difficult, should be your top priority. Learn from the experiences of real families to better prepare you for the caregiving challenges that lie ahead.

Don't play the martyr.

I've overheard one sister say, "It's easier for me to do the shopping than wait for my sister to get around to it." Her sister's response was, "She always says she's already taken care of everything when I offer to help."

Do embrace flexibility.

Give the entire family opportunities to share in caregiving, even when it may require some flexibility. In one family I recall a very controlling brother who cared for his parents in his home and refused his sister's help on her day off from work because he felt this caused a disruption in the routine.

Don't assume that you are the only competent person in the family.

It's likely that other family members are equally competent to manage your parent's care. An example is when one sister says "She buys food that Dad is not supposed to have in his diet." And the other sister remarks, "Every time I try to help, she complains that I don't do anything right." Allow others to take on duties and show great patience with their mistakes while learning.

Do recognize that there are usually underlying reasons for the "all talk" person.

He or she may feel guilty about not helping or even feel less competent. Try to give him or her the benefit of the doubt with comments like "I know you wish you could visit more often, but Dad sure does light up whenever he gets a chance to see you."

Don't allow criticism from the "all talk" person to offend you.

Instead invite him or her to put such ideas into action. For instance I overheard one brother telling another "I really like your idea about organizing Mom's medications into pill boxes... would you mind getting that set up for Mom?"

Do encourage frequent praise of your family members regarding their caregiving efforts.

Never gang up on a family member, which will likely cause alienation. Referring to the example above, the same brother tactfully commented, "I'm glad we can count on you to manage the medication boxes for Mom because you are the most organized one around here."

Don't overlap family member's visits if possible.

Schedule in advance each family member's visit in order to maximize the time for a regular caregiver to be off duty.

Do alternate residences of siblings (if feasible).

This is something to think about when parents can no longer remain at home. I have often seen brothers and sisters take turns having their parents stay with them for intervals of 1-2 months up to 6 months at a time and it seems to work very successfully.

Don't enable either of your parents to depend solely on you.

Be careful of being manipulted into a situation where you are regarded as the only one who can properly take care of mom and dad. This can happen shamelessly and be mistaken for a compliment initially, with disastrous results later.

Don't play the hostess role for out-of-town family members.

Don't allow a visit from an out-of-town family member that obliges you to prepare meals and entertain them. If you cannot use this time for your own well-deserved respite, than at the very least make certain that this visiting family member is not treated as company but instead as another helping hand.

Do consider hiring an Elder Law Attorney and possibly a Financial Advisor

Hiring a professional to manage the legal and financial aspects of your parent's affairs will relieve you and your family of added responsibilities.

Do consider hiring a Geriatric Care Manager

A neutral professional can help to overse your parent's care and delegate caregiving responsibilities.

Do keep in mind the reason behind your caregiving efforts.

Love for your aging parents. Accommodating their needs and desires in order to bring about their happiness is a very selfless act that is all too often overlooked.