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Managing Problematic Sibling Dynamics In Senior Care

February 17, 2021 | by Signal Wisconsin

If you are lucky enough to have siblings, and your parent or parents are still alive, you may eventually have to make decisions regarding care for your elderly parents. In many families, these decisions create conflict that can complicate the process of finding solutions for your aging parents. Sometimes, the tension around difficult decisions exposes other fault lines in the relationships. Some of the common causes of stress for families are:

Siblings Won’t Help with Mom or Dad

If your siblings just will not engage – in many families one sibling winds up as the primary Power of Attorney (POA), caregiver and ombudsman for all issues relating to the parents. This can leave this person feeling isolated and unsupported. If you are in this position, it is important for you to find a way to communicate your needs to your siblings before you reach a breaking point. Sometimes what you need is just their acknowledgement and appreciation for your efforts, so you don’t feel alone and unappreciated.

Other times, you may need a break. One option might be to get your siblings to pay for respite care so you can get a break from caregiving. Search for senior care in your area. Another option is regular meetings, in person or via phone (zoom) to update your siblings on what is happening. This approach keeps them involved in a way that avoids surprises. Ultimately, if you need their involvement and they just will not help, you need to look for other resources.

Siblings Estrangment

If your siblings carry resentment toward the parent, they may be unwilling to offer care or be involved in planning. If there was an abusive or stormy relationship between your sibling and your parent, they may not be able to operate from a compassionate standpoint to provide a high level of care. A family therapist might be the best solution here. In some cases, the withdrawal is because a parent has become difficult. This is common in the early stages of dementia. If the withdrawal of your siblings is due to your parents’ health status. It can be useful to work with a support group, like alz.org, in the case of dementia.  

If you and your sibling(s) have unresolved conflict, there may be obstacles to working together to deliver what the parent needs. In this case, you might need to resolve your conflict first, or at least agree to put it aside. Using a conflict resolution tool might help. A simple one is: Communicate, Actively listen, Review Options, and Create Win-Win. Sit with your sibling and try to resolve the conflict while your parents are still alive. They will thank you for it.

Who Gets To Decide?

You are all involved but you disagree about who is in charge. Again, conflict resolution is necessary because someone will need to be the POA. You can consider a sharing agreement where the role rotates every six months, or there are regular meetings to review finances, medical care, and other key decisions so that the non POA sibling stays involved. Communication and trust are key.

Reluctant Seniors

If the parent involved is especially resistant to the necessary changes you will need a strong team to help them see what they need. This will include not just family members, but health care professionals, clergy, friends, and other close associates. You may need to plan this like an intervention. Seek out resources within your community; consider even addiction resources to help craft a loving message focused on the changes you want them to accept. www.Mayoclinic.org has some great resources for addicts that can be applied to helping seniors see when they need help.

If one of the siblings in in denial about the need for change, your job can become more complicated. It will be important to help them see the specific consequences of not acting. Has mom or dad fallen? Have they been a victim of a scam? Whatever reasons you have for wanting to change things up, your siblings need to see the cold hard facts. Presentation is key. Try not to be argumentative or scolding. Ask them to consider the risks of inaction.

Financial Obstacles

When money is at risk things, people react strongly. Nothing can create family disfunction like the possibility of an inheritance being spent. What impact on your parents’ estate will your plan have? You might want to meet with an estate planning professional to be sure you understand the financial implications of decisions you make. You may face decisions that are hard but necessary, so be prepared to defend them to siblings who may not be happy about the impact on their future. If you have a sibling still living with mom or dad and you need to sell the house, be prepared for a long conversation with that sibling. Do not underestimate the amount of stress in that discussion.

There are many resources to help you. Your local area on aging, service providers such as Signal Health Group, Financial planners, your parents’ church, and doctor are all good places to start. Plan carefully and try to develop a stronger relationship with your siblings by working through this moment together. Good luck on your journey.