senior woman considering her options for senior living

What to Do When Family Members Disagree About How to Care for a Relative

Caring for elderly parents can be difficult under the best of circumstances. While the best plan is to figure out things about beforehand so you know everyone’s wishes about long-term care, draw up a will and even designate powers of attorney for both health care and finances. But that’s not how it always works out. 

If your family is discussing a loved one’s senior health care options and can’t see eye to eye on the best course of action, we have some suggestions. This blog post will discuss some common problems that arise while caring for parents and offer solutions to help ensure they receive the personal care they need. 

When an emergency strikes.

If there’s a need for immediate care, typically the person who lives the closest becomes the primary caregiver. If out-of-town siblings/relatives only visit or call occasionally, they might not see the same symptoms or be in denial about what’s going on, making planning difficult. When a care emergency happens, families have three options:

  • Keep Mom or Dad in their home — This can happen when one parent passes away, leaving one at home who may also be in declining health. If your relative has talked about wanting to stay in their home, no matter what their health is, this can make it hard for the family to decide what’s best. Keeping Mom or Dad in their home may sound like a cost-effective solution. But if their house requires changes to make it safer and more accessible — ramps, lifts, or walk-in tubs — or if they require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) — bathing, dressing, eating — it could get expensive. Especially if the rest of the family lives out of town or are busy caring for their own families. 
  • Move Mom or Dad in with a relative — For some people, taking on the role of full- or part-time caregiver can be rewarding, but it can also be an extremely difficult task. If one sibling feels it’s their duty and responsibility to care for their aging parent or parents, and the other siblings either can’t or don’t want to assist with caregiving, it can create a lot of tension.
  • Move Mom or Dad to a senior care community — It’s common for a family member to believe their parents would be better off in an assisted living or skilled nursing community. They want their loved one to have access to the needed services from trained professionals, or they may not have the emotional and financial ability or time to help with parents’ care.

When your family disagrees.

Making decisions about the long-term care of a relative can create a lot of stress and worry. And your family members may react to stress in many different ways. To help everyone feel involved and to lighten the burden on the primary caregiver, it may work best to assign responsibilities based on individual preferences and abilities. To get everyone on the same page, here are some suggestions: 

  • Hold a family meeting — A family gathering gives the hands-on caregiver the opportunity to clarify the parents’ needs and explain all they do. It also gives everyone a chance to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions, and brainstorm how they can pitch in. This will relieve the primary caregiver of being responsible for every little thing, and help maximize each other’s strengths to create a care plan that divvies up responsibilities more evenly. It’s also a good time to set a schedule to regularly check in with each other and update the whole family as needed. 

Of course, there may be times when a simple heart-to-heart meeting won’t accomplish everything that needs to be done. It’s also possible for resentment and mistrust to develop. If that happens, you may want to consider:

  • Geriatric care manager — If your family is unable or unwilling to agree on a care plan, hiring a geriatric care manager (GCM) can be a good option. A GCM is often a social worker or nurse who specializes in assessing a senior’s needs and coordinating the care and resources necessary to help them maintain a high quality of life. While a GCM doesn’t actually provide hands-on care, they use their expertise to create an appropriate care plan to coordinate family members or hire senior care services. A GCM isn’t emotionally involved in the situation and can provide objective guidance and information for caregiving families. 
  • Counseling — If the family is willing to work on their relationships for the sake of their loved ones, family counseling is a good route. As an objective party, a family therapist can guide the conversation, keep it civil, and help families work through the challenges associated with caring for elderly parents. Sessions can help everyone involved better understand each other’s frustrations and concerns, develop a fresh perspective, and learn more productive ways of communicating with each other. 
  • Elder care mediation — If the relationships in your family are beyond the point of cooperation and repair, you may need an elder care mediator. They specialize in resolving conflicts and facilitating negotiations between disputing parties. A mediator doesn’t tell the parties what to do or decide the solutions for them. Rather, they’ll help you see things from a different point of view and reach your own negotiated agreements. 

When your relative doesn’t want care.

Sometimes the family member who needs help may see it as an invasion of privacy, a loss of independence or a waste of money. Your parents may resist having strangers come into their home or not want to consider moving into a senior living community. If that’s the case, here are a few suggestions that can help:

  • Listen — Acknowledge your loved one’s fears and reasons for not wanting assistance. Express your understanding of those feelings. If possible, get your family member involved in choosing the in-home aide or senior living community. Having input will help your loved one feel more comfortable with the decision.
  • Go slow — Gradually introduce the new assistance into your loved one’s life. Start by having an in-home care aide come for a couple of hours each week, adding hours as your Mom or Dad builds a relationship with them. Or you can have your relative try a short-term senior living community. Involving your family member’s primary care physician may be useful. You can also explain that knowing someone else is with your family member when you’re not there allows you to not worry. 
  • Remember — As long as your loved one doesn’t have dementia or other memory loss, they have the right to make their own decisions. You can’t bully a family member into doing things he or she isn’t ready or willing to do. 

Getting started.

When making choices about caring for parents, one of the most important things that family members can do is remember you’re on the same team and want what’s best for your Mom and Dad. If you’re starting your search and are looking for more information, you can find an Eagle Senior Living community near you using our community locator. Or you can call us at 734-418-9027. We’ve helped hundreds of families just like yours find solutions that work for everyone.