As featured in North Hawaii News November, 2017
Supportive family members often step in to help when an older adult needs family planning and coordination. Care recipients inevitably find themselves exposed through physical care, financial matters and oftentimes legal issues. Considering how personal these life aspects are to each of us, how would it go over if a well-intentioned loved one came into your life right now and started questioning when you last had a bowel movement, how much money you have in investments, or whether your home is the right place for you? Although these questions are often necessary, it can be difficult for someone to give full disclosure of their life without any discomfort or conflicts of interest.
Without sensitivity and preparation, this situation can quickly lead to a relationship breakdown. Adult children, siblings, spouses and other family relations are often forced to juggle changing needs as they arise, and find themselves having conflicting opinions about the best approach in a variety of life areas. Carefully considering how and why these decisions get made will lay the foundation for a more effective experience.
I have teamed up with the West Hawaii Mediation Center to discuss the importance of positive communication in care partnering. We will offer helpful suggestions, such as structured conversations and family agreements, that can assist with this process.
Here is an example of family members effectively working together: Mom’s memory problems were making it unsafe for her to live alone. Her three children lived in three different states and each considered bringing her to live with them. Since mom felt most comfortable where she was, they all came home to seek out a living situation that would keep her close to home, as well as safe. They worked together to get her settled in a home with experienced care. They communicated via group email or text with her caregiver and amongst themselves to make decisions as a collaborative group. Educating themselves on memory loss helped them communicate with mom by letting her live in her own reality, and only sharing necessary details — seeing that too much information caused anxiety for mom.
Suppose one of the children had insisted that mom was fine living alone or that she would have been better off living with them. These types of conversations are often based on individual interpretation rather than well-supported understanding. This is why there is power in writing intentions down. It provides family members with a reference point on which to base decisions.
As varied as each care situation is within each family structure, there are some common disputes that could be avoided thanks to pre-planned conversations and mediation sessions.