When it comes to caring for an elderly parent, reaching consensus among family members about caregiving decisions – especially when they don’t live in the same town –dealing with infrequent family visitors can be a major challenge. We have suggested some steps to getting family members on the same page about caregiving decisions will help you find ways to communicate with each other openly, preventing anxiety, guilt, grief, anger or frustration from wreaking havoc on your relationships and giving family members’ peace of mind when returning home from visits.
The best way to start is to get everyone together for a family meeting. Each family member has a different relationship with your loved one, as well as different life experiences, so it’s no surprise that each of you has a different perspective on how to handle caregiving decisions. In order to maintain peace and avoid conflict down the line, you need to be able discuss your loved ones elder care openly as a team. Note: If your family is already in conflict, you might need help from a professional facilitator. Even if you all have to pitch in to pay for someone, a facilitator’s support will be well worth the investment!
If you’re organizing a family meeting about aging parents and elder care on your own, here are some suggestions for making it a productive one:
Identify a facilitator. If you haven’t hired professional assistance, one of you has to be in charge of organizing the agenda and keeping the discussion on track.
Draft an agenda. Each of you should identify the three most important things you’d like to discuss at the meeting. Chances are you’ll find some overlap. Organize the agenda around these issues.
Make sure everyone attends. If all of you can’t get together in one place, it’s worth setting up a conference call.
Ask everyone to do some homework on caring for an elderly parent. You’ll accomplish more if everyone volunteers to compile and bring important information to the meeting.
For example, someone should gather your mom’s medical information: medical conditions that require care, prognosis for recovery, medications, and any other information about her health. Someone else should tackle all of her financial and insurance information, and another person could research the range of housing options and medical care available to meet her needs. If possible, share the results of your assignments ahead of time.
Chances are most of you have participated in meetings, so you’re aware of the following basic procedures. And while it might feel a little strange to be somewhat formal with each other, a few ground rules do help.
Stick to the agreed-upon agenda.
No interrupting. Wait until someone is finished talking before you speak.
Make sure what you have to say reflects what you think, not what you think others think.
Stay focused on your loved ones caregiving decisions and what’s best for her. That means leaving behind any unsettled scores.
If you’re not clear on a point your sibling has made, ask for clarification. Don’t assume.
Create action steps as you complete each item on the agenda. Identify any other information you need before making a decision.
If all or most of you are online, share email addresses so that in the future you can exchange information on websites, send pertinent attachments, and communicate quickly with each other and the staff in charge of your loved one’s care.
Wrap up the meeting with everyone clearly understanding what caregiving decisions you’ve made as a group and who will be responsible for any next steps. Create a list of these duties and share it before the meeting breaks up.
If your family works together as a team, it will be much better for your loved on and easier for all of you.
The bottom line: Getting family members to agree on aging parents and elder care is one of the biggest challenges facing families trying to decide on what’s best for their parents or other elder family members. Especially more so for those who do not get to see their loved ones often other than an occasional or emergency visit.