6 min read
How to plan for aging parents’ care with your siblings
We’re talking about how to navigate the complex topic of caring for aging parents, whether you're long distance or nearby
The most important thing to know about planning for aging parents’ care as a family is that it’s a process. Parts of that process can feel more difficult or present challenges at different times, depending on family dynamics and changes in your loved one’s health.
In this article, we’re going to break down the planning process into a few key stages to help you orient yourself and provide a way to engage with the topic of care with your siblings and other family members.
As you begin this process, it’s important to remember that every family is different, so what works for one might not work for others. Our advice is to talk to people you know who have gone through this stage in caring for their loved ones, always taking what works for you and not feeling pressure to follow others’ advice to the letter.
Stage 1: Gather the facts
In an ideal situation, your family has ample time before an urgent care need arises to get together and talk about preferences, feelings, concerns, and practical considerations, such as finances, distance, medical decisions, timing, and availability.
But, real life isn’t usually that simple. Sometimes we talk to our siblings once a year. Sometimes our parents aren’t ready to plan ahead for their care (even though there are signs it might be time). Sometimes family dynamics make any conversation, let alone agreement, challenging.
But whatever your situation, and however quickly you may need to make care decisions, the first stage of planning for your parents’ care is gathering—both in the sense of gathering together and gathering information. It’s about getting everyone on the same page. Or as close to the same page as possible.
Identify care needs
Often, whichever sibling is closest to the parent will take the lead on sharing information, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes they might not realize that others don’t know what’s going on.
Before you get started planning, assess how and when to bring your parents into the conversation. This part of the process is entirely dependent on their circumstances and health. Some parents might want to lead the discussion, others may not be able to participate, or might need a great deal of leadership from you and your siblings. Explore tips on how to start with the conversation with your parents.
Next, strategize on the most successful way for your siblings (and others involved in caregiving or decision-making) to communicate. Go with what has worked in the past. For example, maybe you’ve seen family text-threads get out of hand, so a weekly email update or video call is more efficient.
Whatever format works for your family, start there. Reach out to your siblings to plan a first meeting, preferably with enough time so that each person can prepare their thoughts and bring information to the table. Depending on the situation, you may want to choose one sibling to talk with your parents first. Here’s our list of topics it’s helpful for each sibling to consider in advance:
How do you think your parents are doing right now, and how will those needs change over the next six months to a year?
What are your parent’s medical conditions?
List your parent’s current or emerging care needs - be as specific as possible
What type of care is currently being provided, and by whom? How much time does this take per day/week?
Is anyone currently covering any care costs?
Any other big factors to be aware of? Housing, finances, or life events among the siblings?
What are your parents feelings and wishes regarding their future?
For example, have end of life conversations happened?
Where are important legal documents in case of emergency?
Have they appointed a power of attorney?
Take time to process the conversation
These conversations can be tough, no matter the situation. Emotions run high, because it’s a heavy subject that’s not easy to discuss. Take time to process the information you’ve shared as a group. Some siblings might be able to talk through these emotions together, but others might need some “cool off” time, to sort through their feelings and come to terms with things in their own way. Even a ten minute break can help reset the tone if things start to escalate.
Sometimes it’s also helpful to acknowledge how hard it is, together. Re-center the conversation by stating your objective: to make sure that your loved one is getting the care they need. Be open to others’ opinions, listen, give everyone an opportunity to share their boundaries and availability to help, and accept that agreement might not happen right away.
When difficult topics arise, here are a few tactics to keep in mind:
Be kind in how you communicate and give each other the benefit of the doubt
Take responsibility for your own feelings and let others do the same
Respect each other’s boundaries and try to be creative in approaching solutions
Adjust your expectations; it’s ok to disagree about care, cost, and responsibilities, especially at the beginning of the process
If you are burned out, say so, and be honest about how caregiving affects you
At the end of the conversation, the goal is to be able to answer, “What’s the next concrete step we need to take?” If this doesn’t happen in one conversation, that’s ok. The next step can be, “Let’s talk again tomorrow.” If substantial disagreements persist, consider bringing in professional assistance, such as a family mediator, geriatric care manager, or an elder law attorney.
Stage 2: Create a care plan
Once you’ve had an opportunity to gather together, share information, and reach a consensus, it’s time to put your plan into action. Create a comprehensive list of care needs, note which needs are already being covered and by whom, and then, as a group, assign the remaining tasks or needs based on your siblings’ preferences, availability, and resources. One way to approach this is to group tasks or needs by type. This can help ensure that no one person is taking on too much.
Remote or long distance tasks:
Tracking medical updates, appointments, prescriptions, and contact info for doctors & specialists
Overseeing finances, accounts, and legal matters
Hiring professional assistance with in-home caregiving, companion care, housekeeping, landscaping or repairs, and transportation services
Researching housing options, if a change in residence is needed
Checking in and supporting parents by phone or video call
Personal care, including bathing, dressing, meal prep, mobility support (ex: moving from sitting to standing), toileting, and medication reminders
Help around the home, such as light housekeeping, pet care, and errands
Companionship, conversation, and in-person support throughout the day or night, depending on factors such as limited mobility and memory care needs
If there are tasks or needs that no one is able to take care of, or if the sibling who lives nearby has limitations on their time, consider the value of hiring in-home support that can be tailored to your parents’ needs and can be adjusted over time as needs shift.
Stage 3: Communicate & evaluate
After putting your care plan into motion, establish a routine for checking in with your siblings. Use email, video calls, or group messaging—whatever works for your family.
Even the most carefully thought through plans need to be updated and adjusted depending on how well they work in real time. Try to keep an open door policy with your siblings, so that everyone feels comfortable sharing their experiences with your parents’ care plan. To avoid feelings of frustration or isolation, encourage regular evaluations of each person’s role to see if any changes are needed.
Reach out to community networks like The Family Caregiver Alliance for resources if you find yourself struggling to get the information your family needs to make the best decisions. Herewith also provides free consultations by phone for families looking to hire in-home care support to take on some of the in-person caregiving responsibilities for their older loved ones.
Join us today!