It can be difficult for one person to take on the full job of caregiving for a parent or spouse when he or she needs more extensive care. When a caregiver tries to shoulder too much on their own, burnout can occur, and when families divide the care, a lack of communication and differences in opinion can lead to rifts. So what is a caregiver to do?
Read our tips on how to improve your senior loved one’s care through weekly family meetings.
It can be a struggle for families to keep everyone on the same page in coordinating a senior loved one’s care. The stakes are high enough that a lack of communication could mean overlooking something important about a loved one’s care needs or health status.
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Chief Editor of Best Company, McCall Robison, faced this problem early on in her grandmother’s care. “Our family didn’t communicate very well about her health status and without our knowledge, she was forgetting to take her medicine quite often and she experienced a couple of falls,” she shared.
To make matters worse, the lack of communication and differences of opinion around her care caused a rift in the family which her grandmother felt.
“We hadn’t taken the time to meet together and get on the same page about her care and that caused a lot of issues for our family and also my grandmother specifically. She sensed the tension in the family.”
Caring for a loved one in declining health is hard enough without throwing family issues into the matter.
Fortunately, the solution may be surprisingly simple: make weekly family meetings the norm.
Weekly family meetings offer a number of benefits, including:
When a lot of people are contributing to a senior loved one’s care, a lack of communication could mean that people double up on work unnecessarily, or worse, that something important gets dropped because everyone assumes someone else is taking care of it.
To avoid that, taking time to check in during a family meeting about everything that needs to get done and making sure everyone’s clear on who’s in charge of what is a good way to ensure all responsibilities are covered.
This is one of the benefits Robison mentioned about having weekly family meetings. “The communication has made us more aware of her health status and her care and nothing important goes undiscussed.”
If different people are taking different shifts, then you could miss serious signs of health issues that need to be addressed, like your loved one starting to eat less or not sleeping well. However, when you speak regularly with everyone and exchange notes on what you’ve observed throughout the week, those important pieces of information won’t go unnoticed.
Author Rick Lauber’s family took it a step further and had daily phone calls to discuss their parents’ care. He says, “The nightly phone calls were very helpful for each primary caregiver to… better cope [and] receive support.”
Caregiver stress is a serious issue and many family caregivers bear it without feeling comfortable asking for help — at great detriment to their overall health and wellbeing. When you talk to other family members every week, it becomes easier to be honest with how you’re feeling and what you need. More importantly, it becomes easier for your family members to notice when you become overwhelmed and might need a break, even if you’re not ready to ask for it yourself.
If one person’s always in charge of a particular task, like giving your loved one their morning meds or paying bills, there’s a risk of losing access to necessary knowledge if that person becomes unavailable.
Checking in weekly gives you a chance to stay on top of all the different pieces of care you need to be aware of, and create a plan for making sure you all know how to step in if someone needs to step away from providing care for a while.
For many families, making decisions about a senior’s care or figuring out the right division of caregiver duties becomes contentious. One person may resent feeling like they’re doing more work than the others, while another could be angry they don’t get a bigger say because they live too far away. As Robison’s story makes clear, family conflicts can be just as detrimental to your loved one’s health as they are to the relationships between family members.
But when you talk weekly, resentments don’t get the chance to build up in quite the same way and bringing your loved one into those conversations can pay off as well. Says Robison of her grandmother, “simply having regular meetings with our family and knowing she wasn’t being forgotten and that she was a priority was what she needed to help her quality of life.”
For a family to meet weekly about a senior loved one’s care, you’ll need to get on the same page about how the meetings will work:
Start by figuring out a specific time that everyone is available. While there will be weeks when you need to move your meeting time based on someone’s schedule, having a set time everyone can put on their calendars will make it easier for you all to plan on being there.
If everyone involved in your loved one’s care is local, then figure out the most convenient place for you to get together and meet. There’s a good chance this will be the home your loved one is staying in, but don’t assume that without discussing it with everyone involved first.
If you all live in different places, then figure out the channel you’ll use to connect. That could be a Google Hangout or Skype call. Technology makes it easier than ever to chat with multiple people in different locations, so geography is no excuse here.
Once you’ve all got the meetings on your calendar, make sure you stick with it. Don’t let your busy schedules interfere with the plan. If someone has to miss one week, don’t let that become an excuse to drop off from continuing to talk in future weeks.
Your loved one’s care is too important to put at risk and the relationships between family caregivers are too valuable to sacrifice to resentment.
Take the simple step of instituting weekly family meetings to improve your senior loved one’s care and keep your family on good terms as you care for them.
Have you held family meetings to improve a loved one’s care? What was your experience like? We’d like to hear your stories and tips in the comments below.