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Minimize family confusion, disagreements, and frustration


The stresses of caregiving can lead to confusion, disagreement, and frustration among the caregiving group (usually the spouse and family members). This article briefly explains why these issues can arise, and then offers some ways to solve or minimize them.

Family conflict in caregiving

The stresses of caregiving can lead to confusion, disagreement, and frustration among the caregiving group (usually the spouse and family members). Even the strongest families can be thrown into confusion and frustration by the combination of distress over their loved one’s decline, a dramatic change in their roles, and the disruption to everyone’s lives. 

There are various ways to minimize confusion, disagreements, and frustration. Three effective steps are to create a caregiving plan, review and implement a Caregiver’s Bill of Rights, and bring in a mediator.

Create a caregiving plan

A caregiving plan can greatly reduce the level of confusion and frustration by providing a schedule and a system of organization for the caregiving. The plan is best created at the beginning of the caregiving period, before problems have a chance to set in.

The basic steps in putting together a caregiving plan are

  1. Talk to the person being cared for. Ask them what kind and level of care they want now and what they expect to need in the future. Take notes of their answers. If they have a living will or a letter of last instruction, it is good to have this on hand so that what’s written in the caregiving plan lines up with previous arrangements. It is equally important for caregivers to remember that they don’t have to be the ones who provide all of the care. 
  2. Gather the team. Make a list of everyone who can and wants to help, and find a time to get together. The core team will usually include family members, health care professionals, and close friends of the person being cared for. Some resources often overlooked are extended family members, friends of the caregivers, community volunteers, and casual acquaintances such as fellow churchgoers or gym members. Even if these team members may not give intimate personal care, they can significantly lighten the caregiving load by providing meals, picking up prescriptions, giving rides, taking care of pets, or staying in the home for short stretches while the person is napping and the main caregiver is taking a break. When putting together the team, the assumption should be that most people want to help and will be happy to take on specific tasks, however minor.
  3. Assess and list the areas of need. These can include physical health, home safety, financial and legal help, recreation, and everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and dressing. Assign one person to coordinate and report on each care area.
  4. Create the plan. Do this with all the main people involved present whether virtually or in person. The plan should include, at minimum, a caregiving schedule, a list of assigned tasks, medication information, and everybody’s contact information.
  5. Make copies of the plan and put it into action. Agree on a system and schedule of communication for the different levels of team members to keep in touch to an appropriate degree. An app such as Maia can be very helpful for creating a care circle for team members to communicate, and for giving caregivers a space to log care notes during their shift, so that the next caregiver knows when and what the person ate and drank, what medication they took, any changes in their behavior or condition, etc.

Review and implement a Caregiver’s Bill of Rights

Many of the conflicts that arise during caregiving come from the people involved—including the person being cared for—having different ideas about how much everyone “should” be doing. Some people feel that it is an adult child’s or spouse’s duty to give over their lives and even sacrifice their mental and physical health for their aging or ailing loved one. Others have a strong urge to protect their own lives and well-being. 

Meanwhile, family members who have a better relationship with the person being cared for may have more of a genuine desire to give care than those who have a distant or strained relationship. These two sets of people may or may not understand each other’s feelings.

By supporting caregivers’ right to self-care and the idea of setting boundaries and limits, a Caregiver’s Bill of Rights can give family members perspective and relief from an unhealthy sense of obligation. It can also provide them with a baseline for how much and what type of caregiving to provide. This in turn can make it easier to make decisions about when to bring in outside help, whether to consider moving the person to a care home, and so on. 

Bring in a mediator

For some families, the stresses of caregiving make long standing patterns of conflict and poor communication worse. There can be serious disagreements about everything from how the person with financial power of attorney is spending the person’s money to why one sibling is doing much more work than the others. 

With so many important questions to be answered and decisions to be made, bringing in an outside mediator for a family meeting about caregiving can be well worth the investment. During mediation, the people involved meet in a private setting to work out their disagreements with guidance from a neutral mediator. The mediator does not judge or take sides, but listens to all sides and helps the family find a solution that everyone can agree on. Eldercare mediation has a high rate of success, with 80% of cases being successfully resolved and 85% of those involved following through with the agreed-upon solution.1

One effective type of mediator is a geriatric care manager who is certified in eldercare mediation. They will usually be either a nurse or social worker who is very experienced working with aging adults and their families, and who has also taken mediation training. Other mediators may be elder law attorneys or conflict-resolution specialists. Many trained elder mediators will belong to the Academy of Professional Family Mediators (APFM) or other professional mediation associations. 

Related information

Anticipate impacts on your personal life

Avoid feeling alone, isolated, or incapable 

Balance care responsibilities

Create a care plan

Deal with caregiver burnout

Deal with caregiver depression

Find trusted sources of help

Get help and support

Join a caregiver community

Manage resistance to care

Provide care while ensuring dignity

Take care of yourself emotionally

Take care of yourself physically

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