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More Dos and Don'ts When Caring for Mom and Dad ©

By: Clare Absher RN, BSN

Don't play the martyr; I've overheard one sister, "It's easier for me just to do the shopping then to wait for my sister to get around to it." Her sister's response was "She always says she has already taken care of everything when I offer to help."

Do allow the entire family the opportunities to share in care-giving even when it may require some flexibility. Simply put, don't disregard any offers of help. In one family I recall a very controlling brother who cared for his parents in his home and wouldn't accept his sister's offer of help on her day off from work due to feeling that this caused a disruption in the routine.

Don't subscribe to the notion that you are the only competent person in the family to manage care; Relating to the above example, "She buys food that Dad is not supposed to have on his diet." And the other sister remarks, "Every time I try to help, she just 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 usually is underlying reasons for the actions of the all talk no help guy. He may feel guilty about not helping or even feel less competent. Try to give him or her benefit of the doubt with comments like "I know you wish you could come more often but Dad sure does light up whenever he gets a chance to see you."

Don't allow any criticism by the all talk no help one to offend you. Instead invite him or her to put such ideas in to 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 all your family members regarding their care-giving efforts and never "gang up" on one which will likely cause alienation. Referring to the example above, this 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 at all feasible when parents can no longer remain at home? I have often seen brothers and sisters take turns having their folks stay with them for intervals of 1-2months up to 6 or so months at a time and it seems to work very successfully.

Don't encourage or facilitate any type of dependency of either of your parents on you and you alone. Be careful to not unknowingly be manipulated in to the situation of being the only one who can properly take care of mom and dad. This can happen unrepentantly and be mistaken for a compliment initially, with disastrous results later.

Don't allow a visit from an out-of-town family member that forces you to play the hostess role such as preparing meals and entertaining them. If you cannot use this time for your own well deserved respite then 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 to manage the legal aspects of your parent's affairs and relieve you the others of added responsibilities.

Do consider hiring a GCM (Geriatric Care Manager) if you foresee the need for a neutral professional to oversee the care of your parents and assist with helping to delegate care-giving responsibilities.

Do try to always keep in mind the reason for all of the family's care-giving efforts in the first place are because of the love for their aging parents. Accommodating their needs and desires in order to bring about their happiness is a very unselfish act that is all too often overlooked.