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#Team Aging – Tips on how to work as a family team on behalf of an aging relative

January 21st, 2014

In terms of caregiving, most of the articles available discuss the “caregiver”, that is, the singular person who provides the care for an aging relative, which is most typically an aging parent. In reality, there may be one person who takes on the majority of the responsibilities for the care, but there are likely other family members who are emotionally invested in the well being of this person. This is why family caregiving including the planning, organizing and implementing of care is essential.

Many of the families I work with have difficulty working as a team. Typically, there is one main caregiver who provides most of the day to day support for their parents, such as visiting weekly, doing grocery shopping and meal preparation, arranging for and accompanying his or her parents to medical appointments, supervising their financial affairs and making daily phone calls to check in on them. In these situations, it is not uncommon for that child to feel anger and resentment towards their siblings who seem to do nothing, but offer plenty of criticism.

Caregiving is not easy. This we know. So when others, especially those who are passively involved, offer (or force) opinions about the “right” way to be a caregiver, it is not surprising that family discussions morph into battles filled with accusations and anger.

Here are some tips to foster continued family harmony and stay focused on the priorities, the well-being of your aging parent.

Call a family meeting with ALL children or other involved family members and do the following:

1. Every discussion should begin with, “Mom and dad are experiencing X,Y,Z (be specific with the factual symptoms). For example, “Mom and dad are losing weight and their physician suggests that we look into how they are shopping and preparing food.”

2. Create a “cheat sheet” of all of the symptoms that EACH family member or health care professional has identified. Take this list of symptoms and make another list of all the possible ways to fully assess and understand what may be the CAUSE of these symptoms. For example:

a. Weight loss – Make a grocery list WITH mom/dad to understand how they are calculating their needs; go shopping WITH mom/dad to see how they organize their food purchases; cook WITH mom/dad to see how they are cooking.
b. Each family member will ASSIGN THEMSELVES to carry out one of the above identified tasks to fully assess the cause of the symptoms.

3. Once the causes are identified, make another list of all of the possible solutions. In the example used above, look at the possible solutions.

a. Visit mom/dad weekly and assist them in making their grocery list and go shopping with them.
b. Bring mom/dad 2 frozen meals each week.
c. Hire a private caregiver to be with mom/dad for five meals a week to ensure that they are cooking well-balanced meals and are eating regularly.
d. Phone mom/dad during supper time to find out what has been cooked and ensure that they are eating at regular intervals.

4. Once the solutions have been identified, each family member must ASSIGN THEMSELVES to at least one of the tasks. Create a Family Schedule that designates each family member to fulfill at least one of the tasks.

5. Now the family must MUTUALLY DECIDE on how you will communicate with one another regarding any updates and changes (email, phone, letters, etc.)

These tips only touch on the variety of ways families can work together. The main “take away” is that these tips focus ONLY on the parents, and not on the “feelings” of the kids. By keeping the family discussions “symptom” based, we are minimizing the emotions that drive family arguments. In addition, this approach keeps families focused on the real priority, the well-being of their aging parents.

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