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Avoid sibling struggles over elder care

I remember getting the call when my elderly aunt fell, went to the hospital. The social worker suggested (insisted) she go into a nursing home. My aunt had no kids and my sister, brother and I were the closest family members she had. The call began a series of discussions among my siblings about how to handle big decisions about her care, her finances and who takes time off to supervise. 

My brother is single. Does that mean he should be the one to do all the time-consuming tasks?

As parents age, siblings often are forced to make decisions as a team and decide which adult child will take the lead. That can get tricky when sibling rivalry exists. 

Attorney Mark Grand suggest parents do as much prep work as possible as they begin to age. The basics, he says, are to assign a power of attorney and health care surrogate. "You have a better chance that things will go well." His biggest piece of advice: "I don’t recommend putting kids to act together as power of attorney if you already know they can’t get along."

Below is my Miami Herald column with suggestions from experts.


The Miami Herald

Caring for elders a challenge for families

By Cindy Krischer Goodman

Kirk Lyttle / MCT
The phone call came when Robin D’Angelo was at work. Her father had fallen and was headed to the hospital in an ambulance — again. “I had to drop everything and rush to the scene.” D’Angelo felt her temper rising. She recently had argued with her brothers who live hundreds of miles away over whether to spend money to hire a full-time caregiver. “I feel like it’s all on me. I think the money would be well spent.”

For siblings, taking care of an aging parent can be fraught with decisions and dissention. As parents grow dependent on their adult children, arguments can erupt over whose work schedule is most flexible, whether mom or dad should move to a nursing home or who has control over financial decisions. The desire to cling to old familial roles or continue a festering rivalry can surface at the precise time when siblings most need cohesiveness.

“Even if siblings didn’t get along before, it’s possible to bond over the care of a parent,” says Rona Bartelstone, senior vice president of care management at SeniorBridge, a provider of elder care at home. “Focus on the common goal. It is all about your parent.”

Parent care promises to be an increasingly big concern for adult children. About 43 million Americans look after someone 50 or older, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Compared with five years ago, a smaller percentage — 41 percent vs. 46 percent — are hiring professional help. And more — 70 percent vs. 59 percent — are reaching out to unpaid help such as family and friends. Care giving is projected to cost those who look after their parents an estimated $3 trillion in lost wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits, according to The MetLife Mature Market Institute.

Avoiding sibling struggles over parent care requires the ability to disagree without judgment, show each other mutual respect and communicate early and often. Experts say it’s possible to work together even if not everyone can participate in the same way and it’s possible to achieve consensus even in the most dysfunctional family. Warns Bartelstone: “There is no magic formula because every family is unique.”

Read more including some great tips.