Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Typically, disagreements arise due to various reasons. If you conflict with another family member when caring for an elderly relative, take a step back and get some perspective.

It should not surprise anyone that sensitive family emotions can be one of the most challenging areas of caregiving for an elder, given the enormous physical, financial, and emotional demands. This does not mean that family disputes are inevitable. If well-managed, the experience of caring for an older family member has the probability of bringing families and relatives closer as you help this person through this final stage of life. Below are some practical guides on avoiding conflicts with family members and working through them when they occur.

How To Avoid Family Blow Ups

Commonly, disagreements arise due to roles and rivalries dating back to childhood, disputes over an elderly’s condition and capabilities, conflicts over financial matters and other practical issues, and the burden of care. Below are the steps that can help you identify and avoid some of the common land mines, so you can remain the focus where it belongs (on your family member’s care).

1. Hold Regular Family Meetings. 

As soon as a loved one starts to have health issues, initiate regular family meetings with your family members and those who will be part of her care. The goal is to make decisions and share information as a group. The meetings can provide a forum for resolving disagreements and also be a source of support. Schedule a regular time for family meetings that are convenient for everyone involved and do so before a crisis occurs. And if possible, reserve a little time at the end of the conference call or meeting to chat and catch up.

2. Divide The Labor. 

Rather than insist that all caregiving tasks be divided equally, consider a division of labor that considers each family member’s interests, availability, and skills. Your sibling may find it difficult to get away during the day to take your family member to his doctor’s appointments. Still, perhaps she can handle his finances or take the lead in finding an appropriate long-term care situation.

3. Practice Open Communication. 

Most families have taboo subjects that everyone steers clear of. Sometimes, the topic is sensitive, like a drinking problem or a family tragedy. Still, family members often avoid speaking up because they are afraid of hurting feelings or because that openness has never been part of the family culture. If you feel you are carrying too much of the burden, consider discussing it with siblings and other family members. They may not realize that you are feeling overwhelmed or know how much you are doing.

4. Offer Help Even If You Live Far Away. 

If you are a family member living far from your family and other relatives who oversee most of the care, be sure to provide and offer your support. Check-in as often as possible to see how things are going and provide whatever assistance you can. You can also ask how the caregiver is doing and be a ready-sounding board for concerns and frustrations. Be patient if the caregiver needs to air out her issues.

5. Seek Mediation (especially when you hit trouble spots). 

A mediator or counselor can help you and your family resolve disagreements or manage challenging caregiving dilemmas. Even if your family does not have specific disputes, you may want to see a counselor occasionally because these experts can help you tap into resources and options you may not be aware of. A lot of problems facing caregivers have no easy answers.


Be Part of the Solution

If you conflict with another family member when caring for an elderly relative, get some perspective by taking a step back. Ask yourself if you are acting out an old family role or resentment when considering your role in the conflict. It might also help you to see a therapist for insight and support.

If it helps, read Eleanor’s guidebook for caregivers entitled “One Caregiver’s Journey.” This personal memoir of Eleanor Gaccetta will make you laugh or tug at your heart as she conveys her experiences about providing 24/7 care to her mother for 9 ½ years until her mom’s death at the age of 102. Her book is an easy read, honestly written, and provides suggestions and information that all caregivers can utilize.   Lastly, ensure you take care of yourself by getting regular sleep, eating nutritious meals, and exercising. If you are the primary caregiver, you must have frequent breaks to avoid burnout. The above steps will not make the conflict disappear. But chances are they will help you resolve and manage in a more honest, clear-headed way.

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