6 tips on how family members can share caregiving duties

Family caregiving can have its challenges. It can be hard to juggle the responsibilities of caring for others while working and caring for yourself. But there are rewards too. According to a report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, 51% of caretakers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose or meaning.1

One way to feel less alone and less stressed is by sharing the caregiving duties with relatives. The key is to do it in a way that boosts teamwork.

Read on to learn 6 ways you can work with the other family caregivers on your team, whether you’re the primary caregiver or the one pitching in from time to time.

1. Focus on their biggest needs

When siblings and other relatives talk about caregiving for their parents or other loved ones, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind, explains Susan J. Ryan, a family caregiving coach based in Naples, Florida. She suggests starting with these questions:

  • What is best for our loved ones?
  • What are the most important things our loved ones need right now?
  • What will our loved ones need in the future?
  • What are the safest and wisest options?
  • What are the things we can do ourselves?
  • When will we need outside help?

Needs can change, so revisit these questions regularly, suggests Ryan. And revisit them specifically if there has been a significant event, such as a new diagnosis. 

2. Acknowledge your differences

“Each family member has their own relationship with the loved one or loved ones,” says Ryan. “They also have their own personalities. They have things they’re comfortable with and things they’re not comfortable with.” For example, one member of your family may not feel comfortable being the hands-on caregiver but is okay being the point person for all medical needs.

Accepting these differences, rather than judging them, makes it easier to work together toward a common foundation, explains Ryan, who has been a caregiver for 40 years. In cases where a family member (or someone outside the family) has been named power of attorney, some of those responsibilities may already be clearly divided.

3. Write down the caregiving plan

It’s important to have a group conversation. But it’s equally important to create a written document, advises Kimberly Whiter, Ed.D., CEO of Elder Care Solutions, a caregiving education company based in Roanoke, Virginia. These family care agreements, as Whiter calls them, should include:

  • The current situation and your loved one’s needs
  • Your loved one’s medical information (doctor’s name and contact information, pharmacy name, list of medications, advance directive details, where important forms are kept)
  • What each family member is both able and willing to contribute
  • Next steps for expected or unexpected changes

Clarifying and writing down what everyone is going to do helps set shared expectations and prevent misunderstandings, explains Whiter. This is particularly helpful for the sibling or relative who becomes the primary caregiver.  

“For that primary caretaker, it instills this idea that they don’t have to do absolutely everything by themselves,” Whiter says. It’s also okay to make changes to the family agreement. “It just means ‘let’s adjust the plan.’ Not ‘we’re going to abandon it,’” says Whiter.

One way to do that is to have regular check-ins, suggests Ryan. That way, as care needs change, everyone can work together toward a solution and avoid resentment.

4. Play to the strengths of each family member

Caregiving can address many different aspects of your loved ones’ lives, including physical, emotional and financial needs. One way to identify responsibilities is to think of each sibling’s or relative’s strengths and limitations.2

Someone who lives out of town and can’t travel often may be able to help their loved ones by sorting out insurance claims. A family member who has young children may be able to deliver meals on weekends. When out-of-town relatives do visit, they might provide respite care for the ones who live nearby, especially the primary caregiver.

5. Look for outside help

Sometimes no one in the family feels comfortable helping their loved one bathe or is able to provide company all day. For those gaps in care, consider someone outside the immediate family circle. That may be hired help you pay for, an in-law or volunteers who can sit with an elderly relative or run errands. You could even look into day programs that offer socialization and activities for older adults.

One way to find hired or volunteer help is to contact a local agency where you live, Whiter suggests. All states have local and regional area agencies on aging, which can be public agencies or private nonprofits, to provide services for older adults. Find them by going to the Eldercare Locator tool run by the U.S. Administration on Aging.3

Other ways to locate hired help include going through an agency or staffing center — or simply asking on community apps or online forums, at a house of worship or at local senior centers.4  (Just be sure the caregiver has been vetted and has no history of abuse.) To calculate the cost of hired home help in your area, go to AARP’s long-term care cost calculator.5

6. Connect beyond your caregiving roles

Caregiving can be intense and ever-present, Whiter says. “It can easily turn into a situation where all interactions with family members and loved ones revolve around care,” she says.

To counter that effect, she suggests taking time to connect about other areas of your lives. For example, spend some time reminiscing about childhood or swapping suggestions for binge-worthy TV shows. Connecting with all members of the family in this way may make it easier to feel like you’re on a caregiving team.

As you make decisions about family caregiving, focus on love and lead from your heart, Whiter advises. Then keep in mind the shared goal. You all want to make the best decisions possible, so that your loved one is cared for in the best way.

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