Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Straight Talk with Dr. Cheryl Preparing to Care Getting Your Family Onboard

My coach, Monique Carradine, asked me to launch this series because, as an only child, she was very anxious about shouldering future eldercare responsibilities alone. I told her she was in the best possible situation because she wouldn’t have anyone to fight with. I was only half-teasing. Even so, it is better to have partners to share the physical, financial, and emotional load.
Many seniors have several children, but only one, or two participate in caregiving. In my experience, it’s a daughter: the oldest, the youngest, or the only one. If there are no daughters, the caregiver is often the oldest son’s wife, and everybody else sits back, breathing a sigh of relief. “She’s the oldest.” “She’s a nurse.” “They live there.” “She’s not married.” “They don’t have kids.” “ She’s got all the money.” “He’s the baby.” Sometimes the senior has specific expectations, too, but none of this gives the other siblings a pass. You’re all family. Why would want to kill one person? What would you do if the person you expect to give care doesn’t? What if Big Sister died? Why leave her alone with caregiving, increasing that risk? Everyone has challenges with money and time, but the siblings who live closest, the affluent, single, or child-free have as much right to their time, money, and their lives as the rest of you. Plan to work together NOW.
It make sense for nearby siblings to captain your care team AND have power of attorney for health care. Siblings with health care experience should participate in navigating the health system, communicating with providers, and translating health care information. The family can really benefit from the experience of people with legal, business, or organizational skills, but everybody needs to bring something to the party.
The primary caregiver will need regular breaks, and everybody needs to pitch in. Expect to make it a regular commitment. If you really can’t do a direct-care shift, expect to provide transportation, pick up groceries, or prescriptions, help with laundry, cleaning, gardening and visit care facilities. You can also offload the caregiver by picking up her dry cleaning, getting her oil changed, or helping with childcare. Whether you’re in or out of town, you can make phone calls to gather information, investigate care facilities online, and help with paperwork.
I have seen care conferences deteriorate into shouting matches, ripping open long-festering childhood scars. “You’re the favorite.” “He bought you a car.” These nasty feelings are not only disastrous for family relationships; they are also useless in providing excellent eldercare. Get over it, get through it, or put it aside, for now. Work with a family counsellor proactively, or once the caregiving season is over, after you’ve given the best eldercare you can, you and your siblings can go into family therapy, or go your separate ways. Upfront, the important word is TEAM.
In the ideal situation, the senior fund eldercare, but adult children can be proactive. If your parents are under age 60, offer to help them find professionals to review their financial plan and Investigate long-term care insurance options. My sister-in-law purchased her mom’s LTC insurance policy twenty years ago and believes that was the best decision she ever made. Siblings can pool resources to pay premiums. Go to www.EconomicCheckup.org, input the senior’s financial information and learn about other options to supplement income, or find other resources for the senior. Be very careful about reverse mortgages. I’ll do a special blog post on that.
If you have been able to get your parent onboard with proactive planning, their influence can pull the team together. Discussions can change parents’ expectations, too, but most families don’t have that kind of luck. Siblings are often on their own and it is only fair when it’s a team process and it has to be fair. Sit down now, SKYPE or FACETIME now and do the “what will be do if.”
Next week Reverse Mortgages

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