Caregiving with Your Siblings

Pamela Cannaday by Pamela Cannaday | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/09/2018

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As you may know from experience, caregiving for elderly and infirm parents is not always simple. Having siblings around to share the responsibility may ease the burden. Very often it also makes caregiving more complex, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA). What’s more, with people living longer, adult children might be caring for their parents for a decade or more.

With declines among some populations in the U.S., there may be fewer siblings to share caregiving tasks than there once were, according to a University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) study.

Perhaps it’s not even that surprising to find that sharing caregiving duties can spark old resentments and sibling rivalries, notes the FCA. Some siblings may feel as if one of the adult children wants too much control. Conversely, they may believe that other siblings don’t assume their share of the burden. Perhaps it’s better for all caregivers to focus on providing the best care they can, but to be aware of some of the pitfalls.

The FCA notes that seeing your parents become frail and lose some of their former capabilities, and interacting with siblings, can stir up emotions. Keeping this in mind could help you be more forgiving toward your siblings, and yourself, as you move through the difficult duties of caregiving.

Tips on sharing caregiving with siblings

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you meet with your siblings to divide the tasks. You may have different strengths and weaknesses among you, so try to match each sibling (including yourself) with his or her skills. For example, if one sister or brother is good at keeping track of bills and other paperwork, perhaps that person can take on this responsibility – even if she or he lives far away.

Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist with no affiliation with eHealth [or Medicare.com], publicized his observations on sharing caregiving responsibilities with siblings on the AARP website. He referred both to his own experience and to clinical observations. He offered tips about caregiving with siblings that might help you share this responsibility with your brothers and sisters:

  • Remember how important this very adult responsibility is to your family. The outcome is likely to impact your family far into the future. You are responsible for your parent’s health, comfort, and happiness, as they once were responsible for yours.
  • Remain wary of reverting back into childhood roles. It’s easy for some very mature adults to revert back into their place they believed they held in the family when they were kids.
  • Avoid overburdening sisters. According to the Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health, women have a greater risk of developing symptoms of stress when they provide caregiving, but very often, women are expected to assume more responsibility for caregivingtasks than men in the family.
  • It’s probably impossible to divide up tasks equally. In most cases, says Dr. Jacobs, one sibling has to take responsibility. At the same time, it’s a good idea to get all siblingsto contribute and delegate as much as possible.

(Note: Dr. Jacobs and any other person cited in this article did not endorse this article or Medicare.com.  Our comments about them are based entirely on their publicly available statements.)

How to get help or support for caregiving with your siblings

The National Institute on Aging emphasizes how important it is to take care of yourself even as you’re caring for an aging loved one. There may be support groups in your community; ask your town’s Council on Aging or senior center. There are online support websites as well. The Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration for Community Living has links to websites with information and resources.

As you learn more about caregiving, you might wonder if your parent’s current Medicare plan option is working for his or her current situation. You can rely on me for assistance in this matter:

  • I’d be happy to call or email you if you click on one of the links below.
  • If you and your siblingswould like to do some research on your own, you can click the button that says “Compare Plans Now.”

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