Take steps to reduce caregiver confrontation

When an aging parent begins to fail, adult children often must step in to make arrangements for care. The opportunities for family conflict are enormous. Old rivalries between siblings are re-ignited. Disagreements about financial and practical matters flare up. Resentments boil over and before you know it, the adult children are hurling insults at one another in the assisted living or nursing home.

I wish I could say this was uncommon, but ombudsmen regularly receive calls from home administrators asking for help in dealing with difficult family dynamics. Nothing upsets residents and caregivers more than hearing families arguing and carrying on in the home.

If you are the person who will step forward to help a failing older relative, I’d like to share some strategies for reducing family upset and anger. These strategies can work but they do require a personal commitment to behaving in as civil and business-like a manner as possible, no matter what the other family members do.

The number one strategy is to let the rest of the family know what is going on. Even if you are the legal decision-maker for your elderly relative, it is not wise to keep other family members uninformed. You can count on somebody putting the worst possible construction on your motives if you keep quiet, so rather than give them that chance, just keep them in the loop.

Second, you will probably receive a lot of unsolicited advice from other family members, some of which will be unrealistic, impractical or even self-serving. Don’t waste time taking offense. Listen politely and if there is a good idea in there, acknowledge it. Take the time to explain how you know what kind of care your elderly relative wanted and how payment for the care is being handled. If you obtained a professional’s recommendation about the type of care you are planning for your relative, be sure they know that.

Your family members may be much more willing to defer to your plans if you explain how you arrived at them, especially if you can show you are honoring your relative’s wishes. If you are lucky, your relative will have those wishes written down in an advance directive that you can share with the family.

Third, be restrained in your communications so that you at least sound neutral, even if you don’t feel that way. You may be very annoyed that your younger brother just disappeared when mom got sick, but keep your annoyance out of your communications. If you want him to do something, just ask him directly in a neutral way. Many people disappear because they don’t know what to do. Explain what you need them to do, or better yet, give them a choice of things they can help with, and you may be surprised at their willingness to step up. Thank family members when they respond.

Fourth, understand that the Ombudsman’s role is to protect the rights of older Alaskans, including their right to live in peace at the end of their lives, free from fear and unnecessary upset. If you and other family members disrupt the peace of a home by fighting, don’t look to us to take your side. We are on the side of the seniors.

Visit http://www.akoltco.org to find out more about how the Ombudsman protects the rights of seniors. The public can also submit complaints online via the website.

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