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How to Avoid Disagreements on the Best Care for Aging Parents

- Friday, April 05, 2013

In most sibling relationships there have no doubt been disagreements over the years. So it will be no surprise when there are different ideas on the best way to help aging parents suffering from Alzheimer's or other dementia.

According to a study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, 7 in 10 caregivers said other family members had pitched in from time to time. But only 1 in 10 reported that the responsibility was shared equally or without conflict.

Experts say that when faced with important caregiving decisions, siblings often slip back into old family roles causing heated discussions and arguments.

However, the experience of caring for a parent with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia can actually foster a closeness between brothers and sisters. Here's how:

1. Call a family meeting before a crisis occurs. If your parent's health deteriorates rapidly, there will be tough issues that you don't want to deal with under pressure. Look for signs of decline: Unpaid bills; missed appointments; a dirty or cluttered home; disheveled appearance. These are all red flags that it's time to get together. Plan to meet at least once a week so everyone is up-to-date on what's happening and what's needed.

2. Have an open mind. Leave childhood labels and emotional baggage at the door: You may be the oldest, but that doesn't mean you know more than the youngest who may live down the street from the parents. If at any point the conversation gets heated, table the discussion for 30 minutes and begin again.

3. Define each person's role but keep it fluid. Usually whoever lives closest to an aging parent, or has fewer work and family obligations, will take on the most caregiving duties. But there are many other jobs to do. Who's going to pay bills? Go grocery shopping and clean the bathroom? Schedule doctor appointments, social activities and other important visits?

4. Consider hiring a mediator. How to pay for care is often a trigger for tension. These arguments must be resolved since they affect so many other decisions: Where the person will live, whether a particular medical intervention is needed and whether a housekeeper is affordable. You'll need to sift through information on Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance policies to figure out what services are covered and by whom. If conversations quickly become confrontations, a therapist, social worker, clergyman or attorney with experience dealing with these issues can keep ideas flowing and focused on goals.

5. Show your gratitude. Be a sounding board for the primary caregiver and each other and check in regularly to show your support and appreciation. Offer whatever assistance you can. Visit often to relieve the primary caregiver.

For information on Alzheimer’s care, contact Spring Arbor.