Even in the closest families, aging parents and changes of a new life season can create discord. For some families struggling years before a parent needs help, dysfunction escalates issues and even affects the senior’s care.

Defining dysfunction — The weight of caring for an aging loved one can bring challenging family dynamics. Some deal with power struggles around health decisions and finances, and others deal with dishonesty or fractured relationships.

When family issues affect a senior’s care — A spouse may not be ready to relinquish everyday duties or may not feel their partner requires the level of care the rest of the family does. Perhaps siblings will communicate only with their parent and not each other, putting Mom in a high-pressure place when she needs to be focused on her own well-being. These tensions can affect the day-to-day lives of seniors and their care teams, here are a few tips to combat them:

Set rules and stick to them — Providing compassionate care for seniors is like following a sheet of music; we want everyone singing in unison. It’s important to narrow down and map out the family’s top two or three goals – not 10 or 20 – and share them with the client and their family. You won’t be able to accommodate everyone’s opinion, and sometimes family members will try to undermine what’s happening. Stand your ground; prioritize and stick to the agreed-upon plan.

Find a spot for everyone — Bringing in help can shake up a family’s roles, and that’s often unsettling for adult children and seniors alike. We recommend finding a “job” for everyone, whether that’s playing a favorite game or music with a parent, bringing out old photographs or discussing cherished memories. When everyone feels like a part of the team, they’re more likely to cooperate and support the care plan.

Recognize when people are doing their best — A common issue is the fight to have each child contribute equally in time, finances and support.

Whether someone truly cannot or just doesn’t want to be hands-on, encourage the family members to recognize that people can only give what they can. How else could they contribute? Twice-monthly phone calls? Increased financial support? Showing that you care is pivotal, but recognizing when others are doing the same can turn a strained situation.

What do you do when nothing works? Occasionally, we make the difficult decision to stop working with families, but this is only after we’ve taken all of the earlier steps, and dysfunction remains. Whether the dysfunction disrupted our staff, or our team was no longer aligning with their significant emotional needs, we are committed to providing quality care and that is our top priority.

If we can’t meet everyone’s goals, we step back and figure out what else we can do for a family. Often, dysfunction is a result of a new and unfamiliar situation.

By Tim and Gina Murray

Aging Matters

Tim and Gina Murray are the co-founders of Aware Senior Care, providing award-winning in-home care services for families and their loved ones.