Talking to Your Family About Senior Care

Choosing senior care is an important and often emotional decision. It affects you, the person in need of care, friends and family members. Everyone has an interest in it, and many have a part to play in the process of evaluating and choosing the right senior care solution. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring the family together with all those who will be part of the senior’s support network to discuss the situation, consider all the senior care options, make appropriate choices and plan the best course of action.

Holding a Family Meeting

The simplest thing to do is call a meeting with everyone involved in the senior care decision. This will give you the best opportunity to share information and air any thoughts or concerns family members might be having. If you plan the meeting well and everyone has a chance to participate, you will be more likely to arrive at a satisfactory solution with the least amount of difficulty or family friction.

Who Should Attend the Meeting

Naturally, you will want to include the senior needing care and all available family members, especially those who will act as caregivers or be expected to provide financial support for senior care. However, if the senior has dementia and might have trouble understanding the purpose or topic of the discussion, you may want to consider having an initial meeting without him/her and following up afterwards. This provides family members a chance to talk about sensitive thoughts or feelings that may be difficult for the senior to hear.

You might want to consider including any friends and neighbors who are close to the senior, as well as any household help, such as the housecleaner; These folks might have inside information on personal matters the family is not aware of that could factor into your senior care options, such as incontinence or psychological issues.

You may also consider inviting other people outside the family who can provide senior care consulting, such as a case manager or social worker. If your family is involved with a religious order, you may want to invite your spiritual advisor, such as a minister, priest or rabbi.

If your family is widespread or several of them live out of town, consider planning the meeting around a holiday or vacation time, such as Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, so they can make a trip of it. If some family members are unable to travel for the meeting, you can use a service to set up a conference call line and arrange for people to attend and take part by speakerphone, or Internet video conferencing.

For the best results, try to involve everyone who has an interest in the issue. Laying the groundwork and setting up lines of communication early on will go a long way toward keeping everyone happy, helpful and cooperative.

Plan the Meeting Agenda In Advance

To make sure the meeting is productive and useful, you’ll want to draw up a list of topics to discuss. Of course, there is a range of issues to consider, and you’ll want to put some thought into preparing an agenda that covers them all. Here are a few potential discussion topics to help you get started:

  • What kind of care will be needed? In-home care or senior housing? Does the loved one require Memory Care for Alzheimer’s or dementia or have any medical needs? To help you determine the level of care needed, take our Guide Me needs assessment.
  • Where will the person in need of care live? Will he/she remain in his/her home, move in with another family member, or move to a senior care facility? Does he/she have a preference that needs to be considered?
  • Will there be a primary caregiver in the family? What will be his/her responsibilities? What kind of support will they need?
  • How much does senior care cost, and how will you pay for it? See Paying for Senior Care for information on funding sources.
  • What kind of help can other members of the family or the senior’s support network provide (like transportation, meal preparation, housekeeping, companionship, etc.)? What kind of schedule needs to be worked out to provide this help on a consistent basis?
  • How is everyone feeling about the situation? What would they like to see happen? What are they concerned about? Share your thoughts, worries, hopes and fears.
  • Who will make decisions, how will they make them, and who needs to be consulted or involved?

Once you have an agenda worked out, it’s a good idea to review it beforehand with all who will be attending. Use email, social media, or the phone to let everybody know. This gives them a chance to add any items you may have overlooked, and come prepared for a thorough discussion.

Running the Meeting: Open Up, Listen Up, Follow-Up

To be most effective, the meeting should be an open forum where everyone can share freely, without criticism or argument. The best way to manage this process is to begin with the understanding that all opinions are welcome and needed. Encourage the group to be open-minded and willing to hear others’ suggestions and make it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to come to agreement. And remind participants that you are looking for answers, not blame; you want ideas and solutions, not judgments and negativity.

To keep things on track, present an agenda of topics to be covered with the goal of addressing as many as possible in the meeting. Also, have a rough schedule for the meeting, with an approximate amount of time assigned to each topic, or group of topics.

The more people you get involved with running the meeting, the more engaged everyone will be, so ask someone to follow along as timekeeper to help the group stay on schedule. Also, have someone take notes, to record the suggestions and decisions made. This person can also write down any action items and the names of the people responsible for doing them. These notes will be very helpful for follow-up in the days and weeks after the meeting.

You probably won’t be able to settle everything in one meeting, but you’ll get a very good start. People should come away feeling included, involved and informed. Everyone should know what their next steps should be, and when they are expected to complete them. If you are the one leading the process, you will be the one to keep everyone in the loop, and check back with those who have tasks to do.

Holding a family meeting enables you to share the responsibility of determining the right care for your loved one. By including everyone concerned, opening the lines of communication and keeping people informed, you will most likely find a lot of support. So reach out and get others involved — you’ll be glad you did, and so will they.