Getting help from siblings to care for your parents is a common caregiver challenge. Our friends at The Dollar Stretcher share these helpful tips, advice, and personal stories from caregivers in their community.
– Question –
Caregiving for Elderly Parents
My parents are in their late 80s. They still live at home, and I’m their main caregiver. I don’t mind, but it’s taking a toll on both my finances and my marriage.
I’ve asked my brother and sister to help out, but they always have a reason not to help. Has anyone had success getting siblings to help care for their elderly parents?
– Answers –
Can They Help Financially?
Bring up the financial matter to your siblings. Maybe if your siblings can’t help with the physical care of your mom, they may be willing to help with the cost of caring for her. By the same token, be prepared to have a negative answer from them.
— Maria (via Facebook)
Get Professional Help
Lots of folks don’t know that there are social workers in most counties (salaries from tax dollars) who can bring an experienced assessment to this reader’s situation and help with communicating with siblings. There may also be other respite resources available.
— Dawn (via Facebook)
Set Up a Sibling Meeting
The writer did not say whether all the siblings live close to the parents. My two siblings and I had to depend on the one who lived near our parents for day-to-day help, but the two who lived away would give short respites from time to time. Fortunately, our parents had enough money, so that was not an issue.
If possible have a sibling meeting and bring the issue out into the open. Try to divide responsibilities. Even someone who is not nearby can help manage finances and pay bills, thanks to online banking.
Also consider that one or more siblings may have health problems that limit their ability to help day-to-day, even if they live nearby. If so, brainstorm other ways they can help, so that the work is as evenly divided as possible.
We were lucky to work fairly well together to manage our parents’ needs and estate, and even after their deaths, we were able to amicably find a way to divide property that our parents had not earmarked for a specific child. We took turns choosing items, going once from eldest to youngest and once from youngest to eldest. If there had been a third time, the middle child would have been first.
Consider also that despite the hard work involved in assisting elderly relatives, there is great joy as well in knowing that one made their final years as pleasant as possible.
Do all the siblings live in the same city or close by? Would it be possible for the parents to stay a couple weeks or a month at a time with each child? If the siblings cannot give of themselves, would it be possible for them to make a monetary donation, so the main caregiver can get some relief each week? A major problem could be the parents just don’t want to leave their home to “visit” at all.
Be Specific About the Help That’s Needed
It may partially depend upon why your siblings don’t want to help. Are they afraid they will be asked to give personal care and are freaked out at the thought of things like bathing their parent? Would it help if you are specific on what type of help is needed? For instance, you might ask that they come and clean the house thoroughly once every two weeks and give your folks a phone call just to chat about twice a week. How about if you email them a list of things needed from the grocery store for them to get and bring once a week? If they really won’t help, you might suggest that it’s going to cost a lot of money to hire someone to come in and do their share.
Often the decline in a senior’s health is gradual and difficult to draw the line regarding when to call in helpers from outside the family. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it is a definite clue as to where to start drawing boundaries that are healthy for all. Finding resources for seniors can be quite a puzzle, but there is a lot out there and the rewards can be great. Maybe you could ask one of the siblings to help with the research.
— Constance in Portland, OR
Tell Siblings Exactly What You Need
Getting siblings to help can be difficult if they already see you as the caregiver and know you’ll take up any slack. I have two suggestions. First, be very specific in what you want them to do. Asking for help without saying exactly what kind of help is too easy to brush off. Instead, say you want one of them to drive your parent to a doctor’s appointment or to do the weekly shopping or to come over for four hours a week to give you a break. Next, if they’re not willing or able to give you the time you need, then ask for money to pay for that service and then hire someone to do it for you. However, doctor appointments do require a family member.
Find In-Home Care
If your parents are that aged, they are entitled to in-home care either through their insurance and/or Medicare. There are many places that will send help. You need to look for them and take the entire burden off of you. Sadly, in my experience, there is usually one child who does the work. There are ways for you to get certified, so you can at least be paid for the time you spend helping, which will then allow you to have more time off and/or improve your finances.
Is Your Father a Veteran?
I had the same problem. Does your father qualify for veterans’ assistance? I was able to get help with home and yard care for my father through our Department of Veterans. It saved a lot of grief for me and my parents.
I used to work for Social Services in our state. I don’t know what state you live in but you could check with your county, regional social services, state office, or online to see if they have a caregiver program in your area to assist with what is known as respite care, homemaker services, or in-home health services.
Also, consider a life alert program. For a set amount every month, a person living alone or two people with medical problems can have a service where at the push of a button, the system dials up the service in the event of an emergency.
Our state also provides in-home services either through an agency for qualified service providers or family members who have been able to obtain the status of a qualified service provider. It’s possible to sometimes tap into state or federal dollars for caring for or providing for parents.
Sometimes adult children ignore their parents because they can’t face the fact that their parents are aging and the fact that this puts them at the next step, where the “kids” are getting older as well.
I have found that it is very difficult to manipulate people to share responsibility for parents or family members.
Get Rid of Guilt and Seek Objective Input
We cared for my mom in our home for five years. One sister is irresponsible and the other is too far away. When we could not care for her anymore, mom went to assisted living. I kept my sisters apprised of her decline all along. The only one who balked was the irresponsible one. I told her that if she felt I was doing a poor job, she could take mom into her home. She did not offer. The distant one did, but Mom didn’t want to move out of state. So the choice belonged to mom.
When we went away, mom stayed at an assisted living facility that offered respite care. She grew to like the place and that made her transition easier. If your siblings will not care for your parent when you go away, they can pay for assisted living.
We found as mom’s care became more demanding, we just took it on. We did this even though her doctor and a friend who worked with older people both told us straight up it was time for her to move. Another stroke that occurred months later convinced us. Don’t let guilt rule you. Even if it comes from your parent or siblings, get objective input. The best piece of counsel I got was from a lady at the Department of Aging in our state. She suggested that we “always think six months out” and plan ahead.
Draw Limits on What You Can Do
You cannot make your siblings do anything they do not want to do, but it may be helpful to list what is needed and ask them to take over a task(s). Don’t worry if it is not done to your standards. Done is done.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). They have tools that will tell you what level of care your parents need and may have resources available for in-home care. Is there a local Faith In Action program? Many states are realizing it is more cost effective to have care in the home than nursing home care.
Please make sure each of your parents have a Power of Attorney (POA), a health care directive, a will, and funeral planning done in writing and notarized as needed.
As someone who is a caretaker for elderly parents, I know the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll it can take on you. You need to take care of your health and personal life and draw limits on what you can do. As I know from experience, it’s very difficult, but it needs to be done.
Seek Help from Extended Family
It may help to send around a monthly sign-up calendar with “jobs” that need to be done to help your elderly parents. Most people don’t realize all that needs to be done and perhaps your siblings could make time to help out. You might be amazed at how much grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or others are willing to help out if they see a specific duty. My college-age child found he was able to help grandma during one semester on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning since he didn’t have classes until Thursday afternoon. Grandma even reimbursed him for gas since it was a one-hour drive. Another high-school aged grandson took his scanner and spent a few evenings pouring over photo albums. He had a great time, heard a lot of fun stories, and was able to share the digital pictures with extended family. Everyone who helped grandma over the years now treasures the memories. Teenagers and young adults were a little reluctant at first to help because they feared a medical emergency. We assured them that they could call 911 or a near-by neighbor for smaller problems. Anyone who helped out for one visit found they were eager to help again.
— Rae Ann
Recommended for you:
— Overcome 3 Excuses from Relatives Who Avoid Caregiving
— 3 Ways to Deal with Family in Denial About Seniors Needing Help
— Stop Arguing with Siblings about Mom’s Care, Try Elder Mediation
Guest contributor: The Dollar Stretcher has been providing time and money saving information to readers since 1996. For more articles on Baby Boomers, caregiving, and retirement, check out this TDS article on In-Home Care as well as the TDS Baby Boomer library. And sign up for the TDS “After 50 Finances” TDS newsletter too!
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