I’ve received a lot of e-mails from area New Jersey and Pennsylvania caregivers asking about how to best care for mom and dad within the context of a large family.

Oftentimes, when it’s time to make a major decision about your loved ones care, your brothers and sisters are either flying in or driving in from out of town to meet you. But instead of experiencing a joyful reunion with your siblings, you find that the stress of your elderly loved one’s current health condition becomes overwhelming. Mom or Dad may have just suffered a stroke or fallen. And now decisions have to be made with reference to bringing them back to their marital home, moving them in with you, or transferring them to an assisted living or nursing community.

Maggie Auer has been a social worker for over 25 years. She has often dealt with families who find themselves thrust into the long-term care system for the care of their loved ones. Based on the breadth of her experience, she talked about siblings slipping back into old patterns of behavior from childhood. You may have been perceived as the good child or bad child. For instance, if you were labeled the “bad child,” you may want to prove to your parents that you are now a “good child” and capable of making any/all important decisions related to their care. Or, if your brothers and sisters labeled you as the “good child” growing up, then your siblings may feel that you should take the bulk of caregiving responsibilities going forward.

Whatever the case may be – the bottom line is that you have to find a way to work together to ensure that your parents receive the best possible care. Below are some practical strategies to ensure that all of you are on the same page:

  • Family Meeting.
    Have a family meeting. Make sure all issues are laid out on the table and discussed. Each sibling deserves the opportunity to not only speak at these meetings, but contribute ideas and solutions on how to meet the end goal (e.g., to ensure that your elderly loved ones receive the best possible care).
  • Oftentimes, it is helpful to have an outside professional, such as a licensed geriatric social worker or geriatric care manager, facilitate these meetings to help you and your family sort through the care issues.
  • Consult a Social Worker
    Log on to the National Association of Social Workers’ web site at www.socialworkers.org to find a social worker in your area.
  • Consult a Geriatric Care Manager
    Log on to the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at www.caremanager.org to locate a geriatric care manager in your area.
  • Consult an Elder Law Attorney
    In addition, having a consultation with an elder law attorney – who is not only an expert in the area of elder law, but also compassionate and aware of the specific issues that accompany the aging process – could assist you and your family in coming up with strategies on how to finance the care.  Log on to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorney’s website at www.naela.com to identify an elder law attorney in your area.
  • Formulate a caregiving schedule.
    If (from a logistical perspective), the caregiving responsibilities fall on one person within the family, then carve out specific times, tasks, responsibilities with which your siblings can assist. Be as specific as possible! Don’t assume that your siblings will be able to read your mind with reference to how much support you will need!

Remember, strength comes in numbers. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with having to communicate with each of your siblings, use that to your advantage. Every one of you can have a part in ensuring that your Mom and Dad receive the highest quality of care.

* Originally published on July 25, 2007

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About Janie

Janie is the Director of Care Coordination for Rothkoff Law Group, and elder law firm. Janie brings a variety of experiences to the team as a graduate of the Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research with her Masters in Social Service. Janie has focused her efforts on empowering and advocating for her elderly clients with the Senior Services Department of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey, and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Janie obtained a business degree from St. Joseph’s University. When not in the office, Janie helps to organize and host events for the Filipino-American Association of South Jersey. In addition, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling to Europe and Asia, and at the Jersey Shore.

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