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Brother or sister: who knows best?


Question: I am the youngest and only daughter of my 87 year old mother. I have been the primary care giver for five years now. I have four older brothers who all have medical degrees. I do not, yet I believe I am quite medically competent. After five years, I have had enough of my brothers second guessing and diagnosing her over the phone. Her medical care is never good enough and I am continually jumping through hoops to satisfy their needs. It is hard enough to care for my mother let alone meet all their expectations and requirements. When I complain, I am put off because I am not medically trained. Yet, I am the only one close to the situation. How do I resolve this? I am pulling my hair out.

Dr. Amy: It sounds like you and your brothers are stepping on each other’s toes as each of you goes about trying to do what’s best for your mom. I am sure your brothers mean well, and yet they may not understand how difficult it is for you when so many are second guessing the doctor.

I encourage you to organize a family meeting to clearly establish who makes what decisions, who gets consulted when, and how you will stay in touch. The goal is for you all to feel that mom is getting the best care, that you have confidence she is being well cared for day to day, and that you all get regular updates.

You may have a better outcome if you have a facilitator chair the meeting. Sometimes, feelings run high and this can make it difficult to stick to the agenda and avoid getting sidetracked. If you are a member of a faith community, the leader could help you. So too can a geriatric care manager.

So, how to get started with your brothers? It’s important not to get their backs up. At the same time, it’s also important that they understand how you feel and you understand how they feel. You might try writing them an email. That way you can take the time you need to express yourself just the way you want to. I think people find it easier to listen when you start with a positive. You might begin by reflecting on the ways in which, for you and your mom, it is wonderful to have brothers/sons who are doctors. Next you might state what you imagine their needs and desires are with respect to your mom— and their relationship with you. After that you could broach the topic of how you are feeling and how you think a family meeting would help. Then ask if they would be willing to participate. It’s important to be clear that this is not about blaming or shaming. It’s about putting in place a sensible, effective, and harmonious team structure, so that everyone’s needs are met as much as possible. Good luck! 


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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm | Posted by Linda

    I too am a caregiver for my mother and before that my mother-in-law. Everyone has so much to say in the care of the elderly and more to say after they are gone. It would be nice if they would do more and say less. The caregiver needs support not fault finders.


  2. July 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Posted by Karen

    I am an in-home caregiver and I retired RN. I had a patient once that I was 24/7 live in and she had Alzheimer's. I had become quite familiar with this disease having tended to 4 previous patients until their passings. I work closely with a wonderful neurologist and have spent a lot of time documenting my patients and the differences the disease has on each. My patient had a daughter who was in charge of her affairs and she was a school teacher. She wouldn't read up on the disease and felt that with repetition her mother would retain things. She would give me flash cards, etc. to use. I quietly did what I knew was best for her mother and kept her updated on her medical care, etc. My time off came each summer when her daughter would come and stay and I would go to my home down in florida for 4 weeks. All it took for her daughter to realize that I knew what I was doing and that caring for her mother was way over her head was be gone 4 weeks the first year I was there. She actually called to have me come back early, which I didn't do. We negotiated time off after that and she had to hire qualified care, by my standards, to come in. I would suggest the lady with the 4 brothers do the same thing. Kindly listen to their concerns and then let them know it's time for her to have a break and let them each take turns with their mother. I have always contended that a doctor knows a lot out of a book, but without extended "hands on" care they don't have a clue sometimes what it takes to care for someone really. To try to do things over the phone, etc is unfair to the sister and she needs to give them a dose of their own medicine...I wish her well and know first hand how hard it is to be micro-managed by people who think they know more and what's best. I love the work I do and am always committed to my patient's best interest first, and I believe no one knows better than the person who is there day after day...and sometimes others have to learn to respect the fact that they don't know everything. My philosophy is HANDS ON first and then you can have a seat at the opinion table.


  3. July 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Posted by wanda white

    As someone who has a caregiver, I would tell my sons to back off. As the daughter is there continually caring for the mother, the brothers, in my opinion, have no clue of the daily emotional and physical involvement needed here. As a daughter, I understand the emotional bond between mother and daughter. Remember women feel with their hearts, men feel with their heads. You go daughter, you know whats best!


  4. July 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Posted by susan

    I'm also a care giver my mam has dementia. I also work full time in a care home. There is four of us but its left to me I take mam out on my days off . One sister comes once a week other sister doe not look near also I have a brother he hardly comes. My oldest sister looks after her money now


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