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SENIORS: Study sheds light on siblings who care for senior parents

Family caregivers who care for aging parents encounter caregiver stress, life-and-death medical crises, financial problems and property disputes.

Family caregivers who care for aging parents encounter caregiver stress, life-and-death medical crises, financial problems and property disputes. As a result, relationships between brothers and sisters can suffer, according to a press release from Home Instead Senior Care.

The new study of siblings who act as family caregivers, conducted for Home Instead, which provides home care services for seniors in their own homes and in seniors residences and long-term care facilities, sheds new light on sibling dynamics in these situations.

"Any family that has cared for a senior loved one knows that problems working with siblings can lead to family strife," said Paul Tjosvold, owner of the Port Coquitlam Home Instead. "Making decisions together, dividing the workload and teamwork are the keys to overcoming family conflict."

According to the study, four factors determine if relationships among adult children have deteriorated and whether the quality of care for the parents will be compromised because of it. Those factors are: teamwork, consideration for one another's ability to help, willingness to help and the ability to make important decisions together.

The study said that 40% of family caregivers who say their relationships with siblings have deteriorated blame it on brothers and sisters not being willing to help.

"If you're 50, have siblings and are assisting with the care of a senior loved one, it's time to develop a plan," Tjosvold said.

The study, conducted by The Boomer Project, included 383 adults ages 35 to 64 years with living siblings or step-siblings who were either currently providing care for a parent or older relative, or had provided care in the past 18 months. The study found that:

Among siblings who care for a parent, the primary caregiver is a 50-year-old sister caring for an 81-year-old mother or a 50-year-old brother caring for an 81-year-old father, and they've been the family caregiver for 3.3 years.

Care is often not shared equally. In 41% of families, one sibling has responsibility for providing all or most of the care for Mom or Dad, and in only 3% of families do siblings split the caregiving tasks equally.

The sibling who is the primary caregiver puts in nearly three times as many hours of care as do their brothers and sisters. On average, the primary family caregiver provides 14 hours of care per week, while other siblings provide five hours of care.

Along with the study, Home Instead Senior Care has launched the 50-50 Rule, a public education campaign that offers strategies for overcoming sibling differences to help families provide the best care for senior parents.

The 50-50 Rule refers to the average age (50) when siblings are caring for their parents, as well as the need for brothers and sisters to share the care responsibility on a 50-50 basis.

The public education campaign includes a guide of family relationships and communications illustrating real-life situations, along with practical advice from Dr. Ingrid Connidis, a leading authority on aging, family relationships and work-life balance.

The guide and a website (www.solvingfamilyconflict) offer a variety of additional tips and resources to help adult siblings work as a team to share the care of their parents. For more information, visit the site or call 604-552-3324.

Sibling caregiver hot-button topics

In family caregiving, certain situations are hot button triggers and can make the life of caregiving siblings more difficult and lead to family conflict, especially around these hot-button issues:

Illness: A senior loved one who becomes ill or faces declining health can leave a family with difficult issues. Who provides the additional care? Is there a team approach or does one sibling bear the brunt of the caregiving? Family members' differing opinions and the changing needs of a senior can worsen the situation.

Money: Money matters often complicate life for seniors and their adult children. The recent economic downturn has impacted the savings of many older adults. Families can be forced to make tough caregiving decisions when concerning their loved ones' finances.

Inheritance: The temptation of a family inheritance can influence one's decisions. If one sibling is encouraging a parent to spend the siblings' inheritance and another is coaxing that parent to save the money, trouble is sure to ensue.

Distance: Siblings who live in the same town or city as their parents may be stuck with most of the caregiver work. According to research conducted for the Home Instead Senior network, one sibling is responsible for the bulk of the care of Mom and Dad in 41 percent of families. Siblings who live far away can feel left out or, if they speak up, viewed as intruders by the primary family caregiver.

Stress: Adult caregivers who start a new job, are raising children or caring for their own spouse can become overwhelmed when elderly family members need help. Those who bear the brunt of caregiving may resent siblings who are unable or unwilling to help. In fact, 40% of caregivers who say their sibling relationships have deteriorated say their brothers and sisters are unwilling to help, according to research conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network.