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How to Handle Sibling Disagreement Over Elderly Parent Care

Caring for elderly parents can bring up a lot of confusing feelings for adult children.

On our best days, we find joy in taking care of the parents that took care of us for so many years. Then, there are days, more than we’d like, when caring for our parents is stressful and frustrating. To add to the complicated feelings, siblings often clash about how to best care for their parents.

Siblings can argue about a range of issues regarding the care of their parents. Arguments run the gamut of safety issues, how to address medical needs, finances, and who is responsible for different aspects of caregiving.

How do you get everyone on the same page and preserve family relationships?

Here are some suggestions that can help adult children navigate the tricky waters of caretaking for elderly parents.

Improve Communication

Conflict in human relationships is inevitable. We want different things at different times. That’s okay. In fact, it’s completely normal. How skillfully we communicate our different needs and wants determines the quality of our relationships. Here are a few tips to improve communication when it comes to how to care for your aging parents.

  • Use “I” Statements One of the best ways to diffuse conflict is to use “I” statements.

Instead of saying, “You leave me with all the responsibility, and it’s not fair,” try saying it a different way. “I feel overwhelmed with so many responsibilities. Can you help with (fill in the blank)?”

When you use “I” statements, the other person will feel less defensive and will be more able to hear what you have to say.

  • Recognize intent vs. impact When we say or do something that another person finds hurtful, we’re sometimes surprised. We didn’t intend to be hurtful, so we think we’re off the hook if they feel hurt. While we can’t control how others receive what we say, we can control how we respond to their reaction.

We could argue our point—and go around and around without getting anywhere. Or, we could simply acknowledge the impact of our actions and say those two magic words, “I’m sorry.” Apologizing goes a long way towards improving communication and relationships.

  • Be curious For more relationship magic, remind yourself to be curious the next time a conflict arises. Here’s an example of how that might work:

Your sibling, who does the majority of the caretaking, clears some stuff from your parent’s home and donates it all to charity. You wanted some of the things that were cleared out. You accuse your sibling of not caring about your feelings and being a control freak.

If you remember to be curious in this situation, you’d might start the conversation by saying, “I was surprised that you got rid of so much of mom’s stuff. What prompted you to make that call?” When you start with curiosity, you’ll get a better understanding of the situation. Maybe you’ll find out that some things were tripping hazards for your mother. Maybe your sibling was stressed and didn’t have time to consult you. Once you hear your sibling out, you can say how you feel. Then you can have a discussion about what to do going forward.

When One Sibling Does More

Caregiving responsibilities are almost never split evenly among adult children. In fact, there is usually one sibling that does most of the heavy lifting. Many reasons factor into this, from geography and work schedules to the quality of the parent-child relationship.

When one child does the lion’s share, ALL of the adult children can end up with negative feelings. The caretaking child might feel resentful, overburdened, and angry that they are shouldering so much of the care. Adult children who don’t do as much caretaking sometimes feel shut out of the decision-making, not to mention guilty for not doing more.

If you are the main caretaker, chances are good your siblings don’t fully understand how many different things you do for your parent. If you’re feeling resentful, ask for help. Lay out for your siblings all the different areas where your parent needs care. Which areas do you want help in? Some examples are:

  • managing medication
  • go to medical appointments
  • arranging in-home services
  • grocery shopping
  • managing finances
  • household chores like laundry and cleaning
  • researching next steps in care—more services, assisted living, nursing care
  • researching eligibility for benefits—medical insurance, veteran benefits, state programs, etc.

Sometimes people want to help, but they don’t know what needs to be done. Be specific and try to group tasks by categories. If your sibling can take full control of one or two areas, that frees up your mental energy to focus on the other areas.

Conversely, if you are not the main caregiver, but you want to be more involved, make your availability known. Do a little research so you’re informed about elder care. Instead of saying, “Let me know if I can do anything,” offer to take over specific tasks.

Disagreeing About the Level of Care a Parent Needs

Siblings often disagree about how much care their aged parents need. One sibling may want their parent to maintain their sense of independence, while others believe their parents need some help. It can be hard to tell who’s right. And let’s face it, it’s hard to be objective when it comes to our own parents.

Thankfully, you don’t have to fight this battle alone. If your parent will allow you to, make an appointment with their primary care physician. (Because of HIPPA privacy laws, your parent’s physician can speak to you about their care only if your parent gives written permission.)

Your parent’s doctor can help assess what level of care is needed. They’ll ask questions regarding your parent’s level of functioning in several different areas such as:

  • dressing
  • remembering to take medicine
  • eating regularly and able to fix meals
  • bathroom safety
  • issues with incontinence

Your parent’s physician may also recommend an in-home screening by a nurse or care provider. These professionals will look at how your parent moves around their home and manages household tasks. They may recommend services such as housekeeping and laundry, grocery shopping, physical or occupational therapy, food preparation, or personal care such as bathing and dressing.

Having an outside opinion can take the onus of decision-making off of adult children and help end sibling disagreements about care.

End of Life and Palliative Care

One of the hardest conversations for families to have centers around end of life issues. Understandably, most people do not like to think about their own death or that of their loved ones.

Having this difficult conversation earlier than later, though, makes it far less emotionally charged. Encourage your loved ones to prepare their advance directive if they haven’t already. According to AARP,

Every adult should have an advance directive in which you explain the type of health care you do or do not want when you can’t make your own decisions. You should also appoint someone who can speak for you to make sure your wishes are carried out.”

Advance directives vary by state and are binding legal documents. Most include:

  • a “living will” which outlines your medical wishes under different circumstances and
  • the appointment of a health care proxy, who will carry out your wishes if you are unable to do so yourself

Hashing this out ahead of time can reduce family friction later on. The last thing children want to be doing when their parents are gravely ill is fighting with their siblings.

Finding your way through the maze of elder care is challenging for any family. No one gets through it all without emotions flaring. If you’re lucky, and you can remember that you all have your parent’s best interests at heart, you and your siblings can support each other throughout the journey.

Have a senior move in your future? Let our senior move managers make your life easier!

For more information on managing elder care check out the following resources:

https://www.caregiver.org/caregiving-issues-and-strategies

https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx

https://www.ncoa.org/

https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/

 

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How to Keep Your Brain Happy, Healthy, and Strong as You Age

Use it or lose it.

We hear that phrase a lot when it comes to keeping our bodies healthy and strong. Use it or lose it is just as true for keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Learn Something New

People used to think that our brains stopped growing once we hit maturity. Science has discovered, though, that our brain changes throughout our entire lives.

Every time we learn something new, we activate or “fire” the neurons in our brain to communicate with one another. As neurons communicate, they create neural pathways that make sense of the learning experience and hold onto it. The neurons are now “wired” together. They are there when we revisit the experience, either to practice a skill or to build upon it.

The more you fire and wire your neurons, by challenging yourself to learn something new, the more networks you create and the stronger they become. That all translates into healthier brain function.

There are endless opportunities to learn something new that can both be enjoyable and help maintain cognitive health. Many of them can be found online or through phone apps.

  • Learn an instrument Think it’s too late to learn a new instrument? Think again! You can learn to play an instrument at any age. The only things you need are some decent instruction and the time and discipline to practice. You can find free beginning piano lessons or guitar lessons all over the internet. If your become more advanced most free programs have a paid option to match your skill level.
  • Learn to code You probably didn’t grow up with computers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to match wits with the younger generation. There are a ton of online sources for learning how to code for free.
  • Take an online course Many top universities offer free courses  Other good sources for academic courses include the Great Courses and Coursera.
  • Use your hands You don’t have to go the academic route to keep your brain sharp. Skills such as woodworking, knitting, and mechanics use different parts of brain. Vary your learning experiences and you can keep all areas of your brain in fighting shape.
  • Learn a new language Apps such as Babble make learning a new language fun and convenient. In bursts of ten or fifteen minutes, the apps give you daily practice that builds on previous lessons. Local libraries sometimes have access to free language-learning apps.

Keep Your Body Fit to Keep Your Brain Fit

We know exercise and staying active provide a ton of health benefits. Staying active helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, and promote a sense of well-being. What you may not realize is that physical exercise is also good for your brain.

Studies have shown that exercise can have a protective effect on cognitive functioning. Physical exercise can impact the structure of your brain, increasing gray matter and preventing damage to it. Exercise increases bloodflow to the brain which helps prevent age-related cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia.

If you’ve been sedentary for a period of time, it’s important to speak with your doctor before increasing your level of activity. Reaping the benefits of physical exercise doesn’t have to mean trips to the gym, or hours on a stationary bike. Do something you enjoy. Take a walk in your neighborhood. Take a bike ride, play tennis, toss a ball around. Check with your local senior center to find out about local fitness classes and online classes for seniors.

Stay Connected Socially

Late adulthood can be a lonely time. We no longer have the structured interactions that happen at our jobs. If we have children, they are busy working and raising their own children. It all adds up to a lot of time alone.

Being alone can be enjoyable, but being alone too much of the time can lead to loneliness. In fact, an AARP Foundation survey found that one in three older Americans reported being lonely. Loneliness is a risk factor for many mental and physical heath conditions, so it’s a good idea to put your relationships front and center.

Staying connected with others can keep cognitive functions sharp and possibly reduce the risk of dementia.  Here are some ideas for staying connected:

  • Schedule a weekly phone call or video chat with important people in your life.
  • Volunteer for something you care about. You can help out at park clean-ups, teach English as a second language, or mentor a young person.
  • Take advantage of social media to correspond with others with similar interests.

Eat Right and Get Enough Sleep

What happens in one part of your body effects your whole body. If you want to maintain a strong healthy brain, you need to take care of the basics. With regards to nutrition, follow the 80/20 rule—aim to make 80% of what you eat nutritious food that will fuel your whole body. Save room for dessert and enjoy the indulgences up to 20% of your diet.

When we sleep, our brain consolidates knowledge from the day and flushes out toxins. Lack of sleep robs our brain of the opportunity to build neural pathways and to create memories. Sleep is essential to concentration, and learning. Be sure to catch enough zzz’s to keep your brain, happy, healthy, and strong.

 

Check out our services at Smooth Transitions.

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Rightsizing – One size does not fit all

What is rightsizing?

An out dated term for this is downsizing or upsizing. By definition, rightsizing is the conscious choice to create a positive and sustainable lifestyle that brings, peace, contentment and happiness to your life. For every individual, this looks and feels different; from the retiree that is moving to a smaller, more-manageable space to the young family that is adding to their family. Rightsizing is a dynamic process that should be a constant part of life at all ages. It is a proactive approach that allows for better use of space to better serve your lifestyle.

How to begin?

Begin with an analysis of your current situation and home. Think about the space that you use, and the function of each room. Then ask yourself what you desire, thinking about your needs at this moment in time, and looking to the future. Your space and the items within it should serve your current lifestyle, age, family composition, and activity preference. Once you have analyzed this, it is time to create a plan, complete with specific goals and timeframes. Work to dedicate a specific amount of time per day or week to rightsizing. As you work through each room in your home, you are asking these questions: ‘Do I need this item?’ ‘When was the last time I used it?’ and ‘Do I love it?’ The same questions can apply to furniture or entire spaces in your home. Asking these questions can make for some tough and taxing decisions. In particular, it can be hard to answer these questions about a gift, or a family heirloom. However, if it is not something that you use, or love; it should be passed onto someone that will use it, and love it.

Where to turn for help?

As previously mentioned, going through a household full of memories can be quite exhausting and overwhelming. Do not hesitate to reach out to family or friends for help. The process can be expedited with an extra set of hands. Do be cautious, that if a family member is helping, this can lead to a lot of extra time in reminiscing and recalling old memories. There are professionals that can help through this process, as an objective third party. Please visit the National Association of Senior Move Managers for a list of move managers in your area! (www.nasmm.org)

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View our presentation about how to get organized and right-size

View our presentation about how to get organized and right-size. Right-sizing is the conscious choice to create a positive & sustainable lifestyle that brings peace, contentment, and happiness to your life!