Family meetings help caregivers do the right thing

Posted Aug. 26, 2013, at 11:16 a.m.

Senior Beat

Carol Higgins Taylor

Eastern Area Agency on Aging

There is nothing quite like a big family. Glean from that statement what you will, but if your family is like most, they are simultaneously very well-loved and exasperatingly challenging. Nonetheless, family meetings may be a necessity if you are the caregiver for an aging parent.

“Every family member should stay informed about any caregiving issues,” said Dottie VanHorn, LSW, family caregiver resource specialist at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. “It’s easier to deal with a crisis or with on-going issues if everyone is in the loop. Family meetings are a way to do that.”

VanHorn offers some tips for holding successful meetings:

• Agree on who may attend. Some families limit the meeting to parents and adult children only. Other families will include aunts, uncles, family friends, in-laws and ex-laws. A good practice is to include everyone who will be a part of making the decisions.

• Choose a meeting time and location that works for everyone. For working family members, weekends may be best.

• Hold the meeting on neutral ground instead of a family member’s home, if possible, such as a conference room at a hospital, senior center or school. This prevents one person being responsible for holding the meeting and avoids the possibility of the home court advantage feeling.

• Do not, under any circumstances, even if a family member pushes all of your buttons, use the meeting time as a power play. Sentences that begin, “If they really loved Mom, they’d …” never end well.

• Have a time limit for the meeting and an agenda and then stick to it. This helps to prevent people from going off on tangents and wasting everyone’s time.

• Send important information in advance to all who will be attending.

• Have child care available so that small children will not be a distraction. While it’s lovely to see them, this is not a family reunion. There is serious business to discuss.

• Have a moderator and someone assigned to take minutes for the meeting. Or use a tape recorder. Write down issues that aren’t on the agenda, with the agreement that they’ll be discussed at a later meeting.

• And finally, let every person speak. Listen respectfully and actively, don’t just bide your time waiting for your turn to talk.

“It’s also important to remember that equitable contributions are not always equal,” said VanHorn. “For example, one family member may spend more time doing day to day care. Another may accept a larger part of the financial responsibility. Yet another may do shopping, take the person to appointments or provide respite. Let go of family rivalries or unresolved conflicts with the person you’re caring for. And if you need professional help, get it.”

Although getting family meetings off the ground may be a challenge, the result of having everyone aware of the needs of their loved one is worth it, added VanHorn.

“Family meetings are the perfect way for family members to make a contribution toward caregiving without any one person bearing an undue burden. Sometimes families end up with closer relationships due to coming together and working toward a common goal for a loved one,” she said.

Remember, Eastern Area Agency on Aging’s family caregiver program is here to help you while you care for your loved one. We have family caregiver specialists who can provide caregivers with referrals, resources, support and education on caregiving. For those caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, Partners in Caring respite may help. EAAA also has fee-for-service case management service called Senior Care Coordination. As always we offer support groups, and training on how to be the best caregiver that you can be. At the end of the day, caregiving is a family affair.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For more information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or go to eaaa.org.

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