When the call came that my mother's senior living facility was locking down residents in their rooms due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, my stress level shot through the roof. I could hear the despair in my mother's voice and knew I'd feel the same if someone told me I'd be trapped in a two-room apartment indefinitely. Additionally, my mother isn't tech savvy, owns no cell phone or computer and doesn't subscribe to streaming services to binge shows.
My first call, no surprise, was to my two sisters, who calmly talked through various options and Plan Bs. I'm lucky to have siblings who are on the same page, both when it came to supporting caregiving decisions around my father's Alzheimer's illness and eventual death, and now my mother, as she navigates the shoals of a continually circumscribed life, complicated by anxiety and depression.
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But what about the many families whose siblings can't reach agreement and bicker, or outright see things from a completely different page when it comes to a parent's care? And, to be fair, unless you are a conjoined twin, caring for an elderly parent is never going to be equal. One sibling might feel emotionally closer, one might live closer and another may simply “do more.” Preparation is the key to managing this challenging time in life, but these situations are often complicated by emotions, relationships, childhood resentments and birth-order perspectives.
"It's the rare person who moves themselves into the nursing home,” says Barbara Buell, a health care lawyer in Massachusetts who regularly deals with families and health care decisions. “More often, it's the children who have to make the decisions, so it's important to have open channels of communication and try to get on the same page."
According to Buell, the key factors to consider around an aging loved one are emotional, financial, health care and the knowledge of a health care proxy.