The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving is dedicated to providing family caregivers with the support, training and resources they need to ensure quality care for their aging loved ones. Yet, most caregivers continue to enter the caregiving process with little or no knowledge of what comprehensive geriatric care entails. Many are subsequently completely overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caregiving.
“There are only four kinds of people in the world—those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who need caregivers.” – former First Lady Rosalynn Carter
Caring for an aging parent or loved one not only can place a huge burden on individual caregivers, but also can be detrimental to family dynamics when siblings and other family members feel as if the distribution of care is less than equal. According to research conducted by AARP, one family member assumes the majority of caregiving responsibilities. But, there are ways to ensure that each family member assumes his or her fair share.
Every family member can contribute
It’s important to understand that not every family member has the skills or the resources to assume the same responsibilities as his or her siblings when it comes to caring for an aging parent. Often, it is a female sibling residing closest to the parent(s) who provides the majority of the care. However, there are contributions that every family member can make to help lessen the burden on the primary caregiver; and, these should be explicited discussed in a family meeting. (See below.)
Some family members may not be in a position to provide physical care for an aging parent or loved one due to proximity or work/family obligations. However, they can help in other ways, by providing transportation, managing the financial affairs or providing financial assistance. They can also schedule their own visits to the aging parents so that the primary caretaking sibling can use that time to get away and take a respite break, whether for an afternoon or a longer period of time. Although most experts insist that families appoint one sibling as the go-to individual to make medical and financial decisions for the parent, they also agree that the entire family needs to be involved.
Most families will probably never completely agree about how their parents’ care should be managed. However, each sibling has the right and a responsibility to participate in developing a care plan. Most experts suggest that family members use regular family meetings to keep each sibling informed and participating. During the family meeting, family members should discuss such aspects of care as medications, health conditions, the ability of the parent to manage self-care and whether or not the existing plan is working. Family members can use the family meeting to express concerns, offer assistance and share frustrations.
It may be helpful to engage the services of a geriatric care manager to conduct these family meeetings. Having a geriatrics professional assess the care needs of the parent and suggest strategies for sharing the responsibilities can improve the outcome of these meetings, resulting in better care for the parent, more equitable distribution of the responsibilties and reduced stress for the primary caregiver.