How to Support The Primary Caregiver

The last two months I’ve focused on how to have a conversation with siblings about care giving. This month the focus is on choosing the sibling who’s best for the job and how brothers and sisters can help when they may not live nearby, or have the means or the time to take an active role in their parents care.

Today, family members can be spread across the U.S. and even the world. This makes it difficult when aging parents need help. It often means care giving duties fall to the sibling who lives closest, the sibling who had the “care taker role” in the family growing up or, the sibling who is perceived to have the best relationship with their parents.

This might be the best solution or it might not be. Often when responsibility falls to someone by default there is resentment. Other siblings, who might be willing to take on the job, may be uncertain about whether they should offer to help for fear of offending the primary caregiver. As I’ve mentioned in past newsletters these types of situations can result in faulty assumptions being made.

Consciously decide who is right for the job. It’s best if siblings can sit down together and determine what the needs of their parents are. Then they can decide which sibling is best suited for the task and, is ready, willing and able to do it. This approach reduces the chance the designated caregiver will feel resentful and other siblings have a better understanding of their parents’ needs and how they can be supportive.

Supporting the primary caregiver usually boils down to time or money.

Take on tasks that can be done from a distance. This could be calling insurance companies to determine benefits, searching the web for resources or managing the finances of parents. The one task that I recommend not be divided among family members is medical care. Older adults often have many medical needs that can also be complicated; for good continuity of care, one family member should be in charge of this aspect of their parents’ care.

Provide respite care. A caregiver can only do their job if they take care of themselves. Siblings can give the primary caregiver a break by coming to stay with parents so that the sibling can have a complete break from care giving. Several of my clients take vacation time a couple of times a year to fly home and relieve their sibling. Another option is to pay for someone from an in-home care agency to come in and give the primary caregiver a break.

Make up for lost wages. Care giving often takes a financial toll on the caregiver. It’s common for them to use up their vacation time and sick leave for things such as taking parents to appointments or dealing with emergencies. At times the caregiver may need to reduce their work hours or quit work altogether. Siblings, or even parents, may have the financial means to offset some or all of any lost wages of the caregiver.

I hope these suggestions will help siblings who don’t live near their parents feel they can contribute to their care in some way and, help the primary caregiver to feel they have the support of their siblings.

Would you like to talk about your specific situation?

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