We have all seen Life Alert and other medical alert commercials instantly solving elder care issues. The reality is not quite so simple. When it becomes clear that an older family member needs caregiving, adult children may feel overwhelmed. While medical alert systems are helpful for emergencies and urgent medical care, there are many other everyday tasks to consider, like collecting and sorting mail, grocery shopping, and maintaining financial records. In an ideal situation, family members recognize that a relative needs assistance and work together to share caregiving tasks. Sometimes, if some family members have young children or live far away, the bulk of responsibilities may fall onto one or two people. If you are the primary caregiver or want to support a relative who is, below are some tips on how your family can work together to support an older parent or relative and avoid damaging sibling relationships.
Communication and Caregiving
Communication can feel exhausting in the midst of caregiving, but it is necessary in order to keep everyone on the same page in addition to curbing misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Adult siblings may have different ideas about how much care a parent or relative needs and who should be providing it. Each sibling and relative will have their own perspective on what their own caregiving responsibilities should be. Information sharing is important, but always knowing who knows what can be a challenge. Below are some ideas to help keep everyone in the loop:
- Virtual Family Meetings. More and more people have become comfortable meeting virtually. When essential caregiving decisions are being made, such as considering a medical alert system for your loved one or finding the best medical specialist for a diagnosis, it is important for everyone to be at the virtual table. Depending on schedules and communication styles, you may find it beneficial to meet once a month to hear each other’s voices and interact in real-time.
- Checklists. In many families, one or two siblings step up to the role as the primary caregiver. Meanwhile, others step back and the family doesn’t discuss caregiving roles. Misunderstandings can arise when family members make assumptions about caregiving duties rather than directly talking about them. Clarifying responsibilities with spelled-out tasks and assignments reduces confusion and friction. If you need help getting started, there are lots of checklists for caregiving available online.
- Apps. Caregiving apps are a great way to stay organized and keep family members up-to-date with ease. Electronic Caregiver and Anelto Inc. developed the app “Remote Care 24/7” to help monitor the wellbeing of your loved one. Available on Google Play and the Apple Store, it works in tandem with the Pro Health and Premier systems and gives real-time notifications to authorized family members. It is a convenient way to keep track of allergies, prescriptions and medical conditions. It also keeps useful information, such as directives, easily accessible. Other apps, such as CaringBridge can be used to organize tasks such as delivering groceries or paying bills and easily share updates with everyone who has access to your site.
Play to each other’s strengths when coordinating care
While it may have caused fights in childhood, every sibling has different interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Take advantage of your differences by dividing and conquering different tasks. If you have a sibling who loves talking on the phone, have that become one of their caregiving responsibilities. By talking to a parent every day or every other day, that person helps with socializing. They also help find out if there are any issues or needs for the rest of the family to be aware of. If there is a sibling obsessed with the latest technology, put them to work learning the ins and outs of the best medical systems for seniors. Almost everyone has the ability to take on one or two essential tasks when coordinating care. By letting family members take on responsibilities that suit them, everyone has a role that reduces resentment and guilt.
Compassion for others–and yourself when coordinating care
Coordinating care is full of daunting challenges. Beyond the everyday tasks, there is a lot of emotional processing going on behind the scene. When thinking about caregiving responsibilities, take some time to reflect on what your limits are. Be realistic about how much you can do and what you are willing to do. Look at your schedule and how you can give or take breaks from being a primary caregiver. Caregiver burnout is common and it is important to take steps to prevent it. Remember that over time, responsibilities will be revised to reflect changes in the situation. Your care recipient’s needs and each family member’s abilities will change over time too.
Working as a team
Caregiving can be daunting. But working to care for a loved one with siblings and family can cement bonds in a way nothing else can. Calm conversations about the kind of care needed and what might be needed in the future, can help avoid a lot of confusion and stress. There are a lot of challenges that come with caregiving. With support, tools, and communication, you can meet those challenges successfully together.