Getting Along When Caring for a Parent With RA

These strategies will help you handle being a caregiver with your siblings.

Stacey Feintuch
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Does your family happily look after a loved one with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

If the answer is yes, great!

But if the answer is no, like it is for many, don’t panic. It’s common for caregiving families to have trouble getting along. One of the biggest sources of strife? Often, the sibling who lives closest to Mom or Dad or has the most free time winds up being the primary caretaker. But after a while, the primary caretaker can start to resent the brothers and sisters who want to help but live farther away, work longer hours or are just too busy. Other common causes of tension include disagreements about how to proceed after a medical test or how to handle finances.

What’s the root of all this? It’s about an unequal division of labor. According to a study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, only 1 in 10 caregivers said other family members shared the responsibilities equally or without conflict.

How to make nice
Luckily, you and your siblings can find common ground and keep the attention where it belongs—on giving Mom or Dad the best care possible—by following these tips:

Decide how to deal with big issues. If possible, ask your parent who should be making decisions regarding healthcare or financial issues about their RA care. Otherwise, think about whom your parent would choose to be in charge of these issues. Will the primary caregiver make all the decisions, or will another person share in the decision making?

Hold family meetings regularly. This can be done by phone, in person or with a video chat program like Skype. Focus the discussion on the parent, not on one another: If you take Mom to the rheumatologist, tell your siblings how the appointment went. Calmly discuss issues that need to be completed like bills or chores. Even a sibling who lives across the country can help with tasks, such as paying bills online or scheduling rheumatologist appointments.

Realize that everyone’s life changes. Regularly discuss the distribution of caregiving tasks since what your parent with RA needs this week may change the next. Remember that people’s lives aren’t the same all the time—not yours, your parent’s or your sibling’s. You or a sibling may have lots of free time now, for example, but that may not be the case down the road.  

Turn to a professional. Find a family mediator or counselor to help you work through these tough times. Sometimes an outside party is the best way to address issues fairly and objectively. It will also ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

See situations from multiple vantage points. Parents tell their kids about different issues, so pool information with one another. Remember that each sibling has a different point of view on Mom and Dad (it’s affected by birth order, parent/child relationship and other factors).

Whatever happens, try to maintain a healthy relationship with your siblings—they’ll probably be around after your parents are gone. Work together today to ensure a strong bond in the future.

April 2013