How to Talk to Siblings About Aging Parents: 13 Tips


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

If you have a sibling with whom you have a good relationship, managing aging parents can be stressful but much more effortless. If you don’t have the best relationship with siblings, then managing care for aging parents will be more challenging. When you have several siblings, it’s not unusual for there to be one or two that you feel more connected with. It’s also not uncommon for one or more siblings to be more involved and helpful in caring for aging parents.

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Whatever your situation and the nature of your relationships, we have some tips on how to talk with your siblings about care options and how to plan a fair workload. As caring for your parents becomes more time-consuming, having help from one or more siblings is invaluable. How you handle communication with them will ensure a smoother transition to increasing care needs. 

How to Talk to Siblings About Your Aging Parents’ Care Options

Talking about care options can be a point of conflict among even the closest siblings. Not everyone agrees about how and when your aging parents should be cared for. Unfortunately, in some cases, siblings disagree when there is money involved, or they feel that their parents aren’t ready for more care. When discussing care options, we have some tips on reaching a consensus on the best option.

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1. Prepare ahead of time

Being prepared means having discussions about care before your aging parents need it. A caring for aging parents checklist involves healthcare information, advance directives, financial information, medications, and discussions about possible senior care options. Share this information with siblings so that you are all beginning on the same page.

Preparation will ensure that talks with your siblings will go more smoothly. If you’re the health care power of attorney, you have the legal authority to make decsions on your parent’s behalf. But you should still include your siblings in all care discussions.  

2. Include your parents

Including your parents in these conversations might seem obvious, but siblings often get so lost in the details about the best course of action, they forget to have these discussions with parents. You may disagree with what your parents want, but they should be included to have any chance of reaching a mutual decision.

The exception to this would be cognitive impairment, which can make it more challenging to have a productive discussion with your parents. If a parent has dementia, you and your siblings might need to make plans without their involvement. 

3. Listen 

You may have vastly different opinions about your parent’s care options and what you think is best. That doesn’t mean that your siblings’ opinions don’t matter. Keep an open mind, and listen to their concerns. Listening to someone else is the most productive way to reach an agreement. When your siblings feel heard. they feel respected. 

4. Do your homework

Care options are so varied and complicated these days, it can make everyone feel overwhelmed and anxious.

If you have taken the time to explore the options, from home care to assisted living to home health, it will keep everyone focused. Your siblings may have ideas about care options that aren’t correct or are misguided. Try to be prepared with information about what insurance covers, what private pay is, and the cost of all possibilities.

5. Try to stay calm

If you have a challenging relationship with one or more of your siblings, try and stay calm. Old emotional conflicts can come back during these discussions, so do your best to avoid falling into old habits.

Getting agitated or angry will likely be counterproductive in discussing care options. If things get heated, you can always regroup and come back another day to discuss.

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How to Talk to Siblings About Planning a Fair Workload in Caring for Your Aging Parents

Planning a fair workload in caring for your aging parents can be tricky since some siblings may be legitimately more available than others. Also, some siblings have never helped with aging parents. It’s great when siblings work well together and divide tasks evenly, but sometimes siblings fight over aging parents, and you’ll need some finesse in getting them to help.

6. Identify the workload

Your siblings may have little idea what your parents need if they haven’t been involved. Put together a document that outlines in detail what is being done by whom and what your parents need help with. By spelling everything out, you can more fairly assign tasks amongst yourselves.

The workload will never be entirely fair, but you can take the pressure off of the primary caregiver who might even be a spouse and not a sibling. One of your goals could be to alleviate the responsibilities of your mom or dad who is the primary caregiver. 

7. Consider siblings’ strengths

When you play to people’s strengths, they are more likely to help. Perhaps one of your siblings is a good organizer but not as comfortable with hands-on tasks. Try and ask for help in the areas you think your siblings excel at. When people feel out of their element, they are less likely to agree to help in those areas. 

8. Ask your siblings what they are willing to do

When talking with your siblings about planning a fair workload, ask what they are willing to do. Even if it’s small, accept the help. Some help is better than none, and your siblings might step in later to provide more. Keeping the request open-ended allows them to feel included. If they ask what they can do, great. Let them know the tasks you need help with. 

How to Talk to Siblings for More Help With Your Aging Parents

Talking with your siblings about more help with your aging parents might involve care coordination, finances, arranging for in-home care or senior living. Regardless of the topics for discussion, you will want to plan your time wisely and carefully to have success. Finances can be a point of contention when talking with siblings. Sadly, some adult children may be more interested in protecting their inheritance than using funds to pay for care. 

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9. Plan the meeting in person or virtually

Meeting face to face can be more productive than a phone call. Plan a time where the two of you or all of the siblings have ample time to discuss issues. Face to face is more personal and allows everyone the space to talk without being interrupted as much. If you have called the meeting, have an agenda so that things run smoothly and you don’t forget anything.

10. Be honest about your stress level

If you’re stressed about the level of care you’re providing to your parents, say so. Be honest about the time it’s taking and the impact it has on your life. Be careful not to blame anyone for not helping. Assume that your siblings didn’t know you needed help. Go into the discussion with a calm and confident demeanor. 

11. Acknowledge your siblings’ constraints

Everyone is busy, and your siblings have constraints you may not know about. Acknowledge that they may not have the time to provide more help than they currently are. Try not to get into a battle about whose time is more valuable or who has more stress in their lives. 

12. Suggest a professional

Suggesting a professional can be a great way to do two things: get an accurate assessment of care needs, and help resolve sibling issues around workload and responsibilities. The two professionals you may want to consider hiring are geriatric care managers and mediators.

Geriatric care manager: A geriatric care manager is a nurse, social worker, or another licensed professional who can consult with and report to the family on care needs or provide ongoing care management.

A geriatric care manager often has relationships with care providers and knows local resources. A professional, objective assessment can give the family an accurate and detailed picture of how your parents are doing and what additional help they need.

Mediator: A mediator is a credentialed professional who helps families resolve conflicts and reach a consensus on decisions. A mediator is most often used in situations where people are unable to decide amongst themselves.

In the case of talking with siblings about needing more help for aging parents, a mediator will help everyone involved reach a mutually satisfying compromise. A mediator can be especially helpful if there are disagreements over finances. Families sometimes go to court over these issues, and resolving disputes without taking that step is preferable. 

13. Know when to give up

At some point, you may need to let go of any expectations that your siblings will provide more help with your aging parents. Rather than compromise your relationship with your siblings, you may need to accept that you won’t be getting that added help.

Walking away from continued efforts doesn’t mean that you can’t revisit conversations later. If you have the legal authority to make decisions on care for your aging parents without sibling involvement, then you may want to go ahead and make care plans. 

How to Talk with Siblings About Aging Parents

When parents age, all family relationships start to change and shift. As parents become more dependant, your relationship with your siblings will also change, and conversations about care options can be emotional. Try to be mindful of the fact that everyone is going to struggle to find the right path towards helping your aging parents. With a compassionate and respectful perspective, you and your siblings will get through this journey together.  


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