Sharing Caregiver Responsibilities

It is a difficult decision but the move to assisted living can be a relief all around. No more upkeep on an aging house. No more late-night phone calls. Everybody is thankful that Mom and Dad are safe and comfortable. Especially relieved is the sibling who lives close by, often the primary caregiver.

Problem solved? Not necessarily.

With busy lives and families of their own, those at a distance generally see less of their parents than nearby siblings who are on call to repair leaky faucets and chauffeur parents to medical appointments. Knowing that a sibling is keeping tabs on Mom and Dad brings a measure of peace of mind to children living farther away. However, even in a family where the family dynamics are positive, care burdens can revive childhood grudges and simmering resentments. The decision about a move to assisted living is an opportunity to rethink and rebalance relationships and responsibilities.

Good reasons or good excuses?

Caring for aging parents is emotionally, psychologically, and physically stressful, particularly for those who, whether by choice or necessity, take on more of the responsibility.  Most caregivers report that parental caregiving exacts a significant cost on family life and productivity at work. They can experience all the symptoms of burnout: sleeping problems, diminished immunity, and social withdrawal. Guilt—of not doing enough while neglecting other family responsibilities—compounds the stress levels. Research conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association found that four out of five caregivers want more support, especially from their families. Conversely, the two main reasons family members do not provide more support is that they live at a distance and know that another family member has taken on the responsibility.

How do you know it’s time?

It’s only natural for older adults to resist a move from home. Adult children also can be in denial, ironically just when their parents may be devolving into a more childlike state. It can also be difficult for adult children to see a parent change with age.

Documenting and sharing instances of self-neglect with siblings is a good way to kick off the discussion regarding a move:

  • mail piling up, and bills not paid on time;
  • indications of self-medication or prescribed medications not taken according to directions;
  • spoiled food because meal preparation is sporadic;
  • neglected personal hygiene;
  • a messier and less organized home environment;
  • getting around—either on foot or by car—is difficult;
  • limited or non-existent social interactions;
  • evidence of depression and heightened anxieties.

“It’s time for us to talk…”

Fairness is subjective. It’s only natural for siblings who do not witness day-to-day care to underestimate what it takes. And it’s only human to resent carrying more of the burden. After all, family members at a distance can fail to recognize these signs of burnout and may not understand the necessity of a change in the way things are.

The mere suggestion of a move to assisted living can raise tension levels. Especially when adult siblings often fall back on the same patterns of behaviors they exhibited during their growing years, respectful communications can deteriorate quickly. (Think cringe-worthy spats across Thanksgiving dinner tables.) Even when family strife is unlikely, it’s wise to include a dispassionate and skilled third party—medical or elder care professional, close family friend, or clergy—to bring siblings together, make sure all voices are heard, define the issues, and guide the discussions toward solutions.

Starting the caregiver discussion

Siblings are encouraged to brainstorm an inventory of what will be needed. Not every task will require a constant physical presence. Ask questions such as:

  • How might any financial burden be shared?
  • Who can help with moving day?
  • Who would be willing to make a regular “how’re you doing” phone call?
  • What will the visit schedule for out-of-towners be?
  • Who will serve as the main point of communication with assisted living personnel?
  • Who will manage the email chain that keeps the whole family informed?

Teamwork rather than recriminations

A shared acknowledgment that the move will be healthier all ‘round is key to successful outcomes. Relieved of the logistics of day to day living, elderly parents can enjoy an activity-rich environment. Professional caregivers are readily available. Diets are well-balanced, and menus are varied. All in all, assisted living residents can experience a measure of independence of their earlier years. Moreover, family members do not have to be on call twenty-four hours a day or weighing one sibling’s contributions against another’s. Even adult children resisting the move can come to see the advantages.

Your Linden House Partners

The professional team at Linden House Assisted Living at Branchlands can help with an honest and clear assessment of the parent’s needs and abilities. A clear explanation of the move-in process and what needs to be done will be provided.

Linden House can develop a person-centered plan of care with input from family members so that everyone knows what to expect. Family members will have opportunities to join their parents for meals and activities and enjoy life at Linden House.

Caregiving takes a village

Ideally, when working as a team, all siblings experience a liberation of sorts. Whether close by or at a distance, they have the leisure to refocus from leaky faucets and electric bills to building (or repairing) relationships and enjoying time together. As in every other stage of life, a secure and gratifying old age for parents takes a village.