Very few families are prepared for the challenge of long term care for a loved one. This is because very few families plan for the contingency of needing long term care. The seniors themselves typically ignore the need for planning and the children or grandchildren are tied up in their own lives and as long as mom and dad or grandma and grandpa are doing fine on their own, little thought is made towards whether they might need help or not.
The need for care often arises suddenly and the family is caught unprepared. The aged loved one might have a fall and end up in the hospital. Or grandma may wander from home and get lost and the family realizes there is a dementia problem. Or perhaps the kids visit one day and find that their parent or parents are not feeding themselves properly or taking care of themselves in other ways. Or perhaps a visit reveals that a loved one is dealing with disability challenges. Any of a number of multiple issues dealing with aging, dependence on others or a change in health can confront members of the family unexpectedly. And even in those situations where the need for care is a gradual transition, the family is reluctant to do anything about it until something happens to trigger a decision.
Because no planning has been done, the person who ends up being the caregiver such as the spouse or the daughter is thrust into this situation without any adequate preparation. Children who are caregivers are often working and have little time to do research and find out what sort of help is available to assist them as caregivers. Perhaps the only time they have is during a lunch break at work doing searches on their computers.
Once a caregiver has been ushered into the role of giving care, there is often little time to do other than to provide care for the loved one. Shopping for food, picking up prescriptions or other items necessary for supporting a loved one become a burden. Trying to balance everything with the busy task of providing care is difficult. There is often little time left over for the personal needs of the caregiver. The caregiver is also often so consumed with his or her task at hand, that time to reflect and plan and search for better solutions for caregiving is lacking. Stress from providing care increases and thinking becomes confused. Caregivers often make poor decisions, affecting not only the care they provide but their own lives as well.
Not all families share the burden of caregiving. This burden often devolves upon one person and though other members of the family may be supportive, they are usually very happy to let that person take the full burden so that they can go on with their lives. Those professionals who provide care giving support to families have seen this same situation over and over again. The situation of an overburdened caregiver is often the norm and families working together is less common. Not only is one person usually stuck with providing the care, but family members often criticize that person and may even develop resentment towards the caregiver. A sibling caregiver will often use the parents’ funds not only for supplies and other necessities but often for the caregiver’s personal needs. Sometimes other family members feel that the caregiving sibling is unjustly taking mom’s and dad’s money. This also provides justification for allowing the caregiver to assume the full burden without family support because family members think that the caregiver sibling is being rewarded for his or her services.
A family care plan can go a long ways towards lessening the burden on a caregiver and resolving misunderstandings between family members. By working together, the family can grow closer together in providing care. Without any care plan and after the death of the loved one receiving care, feelings often bubble over, resentments intensify and families struggle to get along because of the challenges created by the need for care.
Things can even get worse. If other members of the family feel that the sibling caregiver had unfair access to the parents’ savings and income, resentments over who gets what in an inheritance can develop quickly. Even though expenditures for providing care could have been legitimate, the suspicions are there. Fights even develop over keepsakes or treasures that the caregiver had access to and may have taken without giving other members of the family the option to inherit. These items often have little intrinsic value but have great sentimental value.
Every family should attempt to sit down and counsel together and work together to provide a plan for supporting the caregiver – working towards a common goal and making sure that potential disagreements relating to inheritance are settled prior to the death of the loved one.