The decline of an aging loved one will frequently create a need for family members to provide support and help design a plan of care. The coming together of family can be a positive experience, but the increased contact during a time of stress or crisis can also be fraught with conflict, evoke disagreements and bring up past hurts and underlying resentments.
As care managers, we often help counsel family members as they try to manage these issues. We understand that they may be experiencing sadness and grief surrounding the decline of their aging loved one, and that this not only complicates family relationships, but compounds the challenges that may already exist within the group. After all, when we are in pain and feeling vulnerable, we are usually not our best selves. Family members may also find themselves stretched in terms of time and other resources, which causes additional stress.
The Mayo Clinic’s website contains a helpful article entitled Alzheimer’s: Dealing with Family Conflict which contains practical recommendations for families to keep in mind:https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alzheimers/AZ00027
In addition, I have outlined some helpful suggestions to consider in order to minimize or prevent family disharmony when faced with this challenging and emotionally-laden situation:
- Be polite and considerate. It may sound simple and trite, but the truth is that we are often more polite to strangers than we are to our own loved ones, especially when under stress. Keeping this in mind and making an effort to treat each other with care and respect can go a long way toward smoothing interactions between family members. Of course, it’s important to balance this advice with the need to speak up respectfully when necessary.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Email is often the simplest method to keep the whole group up to date, raise relevant issues and solicit suggestions for solutions. Everyone should be kept in the loop if possible, although levels of involvement will usually vary among family members. We are happy to provide regular updates to everyone in the family as well.
- Walk a mile in their moccasins.It is easy to forget this old adage when it comes to our own family members. But it is especially helpful during challenging times to fully consider someone else’s experience and act in accordance with a sympathetic stance. For example, maybe you are frustrated that a sibling doesn’t spend as much time with your aging parent. Take time to consider the reasons before assuming that the sibling is selfish or uncaring. Does he have a difficult history with this parent? Maybe his personal life or financial situation does not allow for the extra time and resources that would be involved. Look at the person’s situation, ask questions when appropriate, and keep in mind everyone’s limitations, just as you would like them to consider yours. This concept also applies to the aging loved one, who can use extra consideration given the state of health or advanced age.
- Be realistic. Don’t expect family dynamics to change, or think that you can alter longstanding family roles. Sometimes, a realistic acceptance of the status quo will help prevent conflict among family members and lessen frustration levels.
- Allow the aging family member some areas of control. If the aging loved one is able to do so, give her the opportunity to make choices, large or small, about her daily life. Keep in mind the loss of autonomy and dignity that she might be experiencing, and do your best to treat her with respect, even if the family needs to override some (or even most) of her decisions.
- Remember that we are here to help. The Care Managers at Growing Options have the advantage of relative objectivity (so to speak). With our experience and expertise, we can be a helpful resource for providing perspective and answering questions about family challenges. We can also discuss sensitive matters with family members in order to help sort through differences of opinion and find creative solutions.