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How Senior Caregiving Affects Family Relationships - Aging Wisely

happy family with senior relativeWhile celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we reflected on how relationships with our parents change over time.  Senior caregiving in particular affects the relationship between parent and child in a number of ways.  Here we share some information about changing relationships in senior caregiving and tips for making the most of your time with elderly parents. 

Working with many caregiving families over the years, we recognize certain patterns that emerge as the younger family member takes on caregiving tasks and begins to handle various life issues for their older loved one. 

Sometimes people refer to this dynamic as a “role reversal” (or “parenting my parent”), in other words the adult child becomes like the parent to the elder.  We feel this is an oversimplification of the dynamics.  First, it is impossible to have a “role reversal” because of the past history and roles which your family has had throughout life.  Because of this, the changes that take place in caregiving are much more complex than a simple role reversal.  The elder parent is likely experiencing a great number of losses and many emotions of needing more help from adult children.  When you are raising a child, you’re there to support him/her in order to grow in to a healthy, independent adult.  It is a different feeling to recognize that a parent is becoming more dependent on you.  Your parent is an adult and this terminology seems to undermine that fact.

However, when people mention this “role reversal” they are simply looking for a way to express the role changes that do occur when an older person needs more assistance from the adult child.  The parent may now be calling the adult child for advice and relying on various forms of help.  No doubt, there is the very real feeling that things are changing and the nature of the relationship is much different than it once was.  Working closely with many different families handling senior caregiving, we have seen different strategies for dealing with these changes–some more successful than others.  To make the most of your time with older loved ones, consider some of these success strategies for preparing for and dealing with these relationship changes.

Here are some tips for maintaining quality family relationships as a senior caregiver:

  • Figure out ways to incorporate non-task time in your visits with elder parents.  Especially if you are a long-distance caregiver, your visits may be rushed and filled with tasks that need to be handled.  This is a common regret we hear about from caregivers, who know that time with Mom or Dad may be limited.
  • In order to accomplish the above and maintain a relationship not solely based on caregiving tasks, consider hiring outside help to assist.  If Mom or Dad has someone to help with one or more areas, it relieves some of your stress and creates room for more quality time.  It can be a big relief for Mom or Dad, too.  It is not always easy relying on your adult child for so many things.  Particularly if you’re feeling stressed about it, your parent might feel they’re overburdening you.
  • Have an outlet to talk through your feelings.  A support group, counselor or geriatric care manager can be a valuable resource as you move through different stages of caregiving.  Friends and family members may be supportive, but ultimately it is nice to have a specific place to vent your feelings, get advice and perspective.  Caregiving can also bring up a lot of old resentments and highlight difficult dynamics that already exist.
  • Devise a plan for dealing with your biggest stressors.  It may seem like some of the challenges that come with senior caregiving have no solutions, but many times there are ways to address/reduce them.  Think about what worries you most or causes you the most frustration.  Talk to others about ways they have addressed these concerns.  Consider getting a geriatric care management assessment or care consultation to pinpoint solutions.
  • Don’t forget sibling dynamics.  If you have siblings or other relatives involved, they can be a great support but also an added source of stress.  Even siblings who get along very well may have different perspectives on caregiving or grow resentful of seemingly unbalanced roles.  Consider planning family conferences at regular intervals.  You might have a care manager involved with some or all of these, to organize the meetings and give input.  An outside, “neutral” opinion from an expert can help head off disputes.  Professional input and legal planning may be especially important if there are sibling disagreements or other family challenges prior to caregiving.  Make the professionals you work with aware of these concerns.

Need help?  Give us a call at 727-447-5845 or click below to request a phone consultation about your concerns.  Aging Wisely provides solutions when you need them to help you manage the challenges of senior caregiving. 

*Image courtesy of photostock /

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