April 12, 2010
In many instances, the responsibility for caring for a senior relative tends to fall on one person who becomes the Primary Family Caregiver, usually the spouse, the grown daughter of the senior, or the family member that lives the closest to the person needing assistance. However, this situation often occurs because families do little pre-planning for this care.
In fact, in a recent Home Instead Senior Care survey, more than half of families who plan to care for a senior in the next five years have made absolutely no plans for it, with a majority of families not even discussing it with their family members or the senior(s) themselves. It is usually not until an emergency arises that families realize they are unprepared…and then they are straddled with a caregiving crisis—having to make quick decisions in the heat of the moment.
Proper planning will help ease the crisis of family caregiving now or when it arises in the future. In addition, proper planning can help diminish the stress of placing all caregiving responsibilities on the shoulders of just one person.
By asking and involving as many family members as possible, including the senior himself/herself, early on so that everyone's thoughts are heard, good plans can be made and agreed upon together as a family. If you are the organizer and don't have siblings, consider including extended family members and friends into the mix.
During this meeting, roles should be discussed. Perhaps one adult child is responsible for going to the doctor with the senior each month to get a sense of the senior's health/well-being, while another family member makes sure the checkbooks are balanced and bills are paid. Perhaps the sibling that lives across the country volunteers to fly in her parent(s) for a two-week visit during the summer so that the other siblings can get a break, and she also meets with the family when she comes home for the holidays. Whatever the arrangement that suits your family, it is important to split the responsibilities to help minimize caregiver burnout, but to also take into account the senior's wishes and needs first.
The 50-50 Rule® program offers tips on how to initiate open discussions between adult siblings in an effort to help them improve communication skills, develop teamwork, make decisions together and divide the workload when caring for aging parents.
Talking in advance to older family members about potential circumstances that might require someone to help them out, can be helpful preparation. Then, in the event that this help is needed, it won't be seen as such a foreign idea to them.
Often, seniors can be resistant to the idea of care because they fear they will lose control of their lives or they are afraid of becoming a burden to their family. Instead, the senior needs to be reassured, early on, that if care is eventually needed from a family member or a professional resource, this care is for their benefit and will help them maintain their independence at home for as long as possible.
Family members should meet periodically to discuss their roles in the senior's care. Families should also avail themselves of outside, professional resources, such as professional caregivers and other senior services, should the time come when the level of care needed is too much for the family to supply alone. Families may also benefit from seeking outside help to assist in resolving family disputes over care, medical decisions, finances, etc. that may arise. Researching planning for care resources now can help you avoid major issues later and prepare families and their aging relatives for whatever lies ahead.
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