When aging parents have a rapid decline in ability or health, the caregiving burden usually falls heavily on one of their children. It could be the female, the oldest sibling, or the sibling who has no kids. Say, for example, you are caring for an aging parent in Carlisle, MA and your sister and brother live in Maryland. Without a family plan or discussion, the entire burden can easily fall on one person.

When only one sibling is thrust into caregiving, her sudden role reversal (parenting the parent) and constant vigilance can lead down a slippery slope from anxiety to depression and burnout. On the way down, bills may accidentally go unpaid, long-term care planning or house cleaning chores may fall through the cracks.

4 Communication Musts for Siblings Caring for an Aging Parent

1.  Abandon Your Expectations

Even though we each have a picture of how an ideal family would work together, this is a time to let go of expectations while remaining persistent. In real life, most families have an uneven dynamic.  One sibling wields more control, another might lack confidence or tend to get defensive, and a third could have trouble managing finances.

2.   Be Clear About What You Need

Think about all the caregiving responsibilities…home maintenance, legal and financial planning, doctor’s appointments and medical monitoring, personal hygiene, helping your parent in and out of a wheelchair, transportation and companionship, shopping and cleaning. Which ones do you most need help with, and which sibling can help with which aspects of care?

3.   Discover How Siblings are Willing to Pitch In

Maybe you didn’t get the caregiving help you ideally wanted. Your sister may refuse to help with bathing and personal care, but be happy to go clean your parents’ house twice a month. You can arrange for an in-home care agency to help with personal hygiene and mobility issues or free up your Saturday afternoons. A sibling who lives farther away might take over most of the legal or financial arrangements.

4.    Old Dynamics Die Hard

If the youngest brother always felt “left out of the conversation” as a kid, be prepared for these same sibling dynamics to come back with a vengeance. It’s a good idea to acknowledge them no matter how trivial they seem to you, and to put the person in need ahead of your own gripes or sibling rivalries.

Caring for an Aging Parent is time-consuming, physically tiring, and sometimes emotionally draining. Too often, resentment and family discord are by-products of caregiving. But these relationships don’t have to sour; with a little TLC, they can actually strengthen.

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