Family disagreements can stem from senior care

What to Do When Senior Caregiving Leads to Family Disagreements

In Health by Companions for Seniors

“When siblings squabble over who will care for Mom or Dad or refuse to help one another with caregiving tasks, the problem often isn’t about caregiving itself, but conflicts and power struggles that may have existed since childhood.” – Alexis Abramson, author of The Caregiver’s Survival Handbook 


“It shouldn’t have to be this hard. After all, my sister and I both love my father. Why can’t we agree on things?” –  Kelly, caregiver for an 89-year-old father with Parkinson’s disease


“Caregiving for someone you love can be emotionally charged and sometimes frustrating. When you add clashing personalities to the mix, conflicts are almost inevitable. There is no magic solution: How you respond will depend on the specifics of the situation and your own resources.” – AARP’s guide to “Common Caregiving Conflicts” 

Caregiving can be a profound and meaningful act of love, but it can also be stressful, time consuming, and difficult – especially when caring for an aging loved one leads to conflicts or disagreements among family members. 

Disagreements and arguments are all-too-common among families with an elderly loved one in need of care. Disagreements often bubble up among siblings, cousins, or even children and their elderly parents. Sometimes, these arguments are rooted in practical or logistical matters that need to be addressed. Just as often, they may be tied to feelings or a family tension that goes back years or even decades, which the stress of caregiving dredges up to the surface. For adult children and their parents, making necessary lifestyle adjustments and undergoing a role reversal can be tough, and lead to arguments and conflicts. 

There are countless reasons why disagreements may come up as a result of caregiving. There are a lot of important decisions to be made, and difficult conversations to be held. A few common sources of disagreements among families include: 

Care Arrangements and Plans

Often, family members may disagree over the best approach to caring for a senior loved one. Is the senior healthy enough to live at home, or should they move into an assisted living facility? How much technology should you integrate into their care plan? How can siblings or cousins divide up their time with the senior? 

Financial Matters

There are countless financial questions and unexpected costs that come along with helping an aging loved one, including paying for home care or assisted living services, dealing with Medicare, paying for long-term care insurance (and other forms of insurance), and paying for routine daily costs, like groceries or gas. Major family conflicts might also bubble up over inheritance, joint property, access to financial accounts, or beloved family possessions. 

Levels of Responsibility

Families often disagree over how much care a senior needs, and who it should be provided by. For instance, one family member may feel like they are forced to shoulder all of the burden of caregiving, perhaps because their siblings live further away from home. In other cases, older adults may feel like their kids are limiting their independence. Inequities and disagreements related to caregiving responsibility can simmer and lead to major conflicts over time. 

Medical Care

If there are disagreements over medical treatments or end-of-life care, who gets to have the final say, and why? What does the chain of communication look like in the event of an accident or medical emergency? 

Lifestyle Decisions and Communication

Often, minor arguments and tensions can lead to bigger disputes over time. Among kids and parents, there may be disagreements over when the senior should give up driving, for instance. Children might also get frustrated when it comes to trying to get their parents to eat more healthfully, stay physically fit, or stay up-to-date on their medications. Siblings may have different views on all of these subjects, as well, which can lead to disagreements. In some cases, one family member may feel excluded from decision making; in others, siblings may disagree on who needs to take on the main responsibility of communicating with their parent or their loved one’s healthcare team. 

How to Address – and Help Solve – These Common Caregiving Disagreements

When it comes to managing the wide variety of disputes and conflicts that may come up as a result of caregiving, there are no easy answers. Every family is unique, and every family disagreement is going to be unique as well. 

One key may be to acknowledge that disagreements may come up in advance, and take steps to manage expectations, improve communication, and nip conflicts in the bud – before the stresses of caregiving can make settling disputes feel even more difficult.

Here are a few other ideas to keep in mind: 

Bring In a Third Party

If you and your loved ones can’t reach an agreement or see eye-to-eye on your own, it may help to bring in a neutral mediator, who can address the situation with a detached perspective and help you find a practical answer. There are many resources out there who can help, depending on your unique circumstances. For instance, if you and your siblings disagree over how safe your senior loved one’s home is, it may help to bring in a professional caregiver, who can provide an assessment of the space and offer recommendations. If your dispute is over money, estate planning, or legal issues, an attorney can be an important mediator, and provide counseling where appropriate. If your loved one’s health is a point of contention, consulting with a doctor can help you choose a care strategy tailored to your loved one’s needs. 

Seek Support Where You Can

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone! Even if you’re feeling strained or unsupported by family members, there are resources out there you can turn to for assistance, depending on your needs. Many communities have local caregiver support groups, for example, where you can vent about your frustrations or seek advice from others who are in your situation. Similarly, it may help to work with a professional therapist or social worker, who can help you find solutions to manage stress and improve communication. 

Set Plans and Expectations in Writing

Often, disagreements emerge where there is ambiguity or room for dispute. Having written records and clear documentation can help cut down on both major and minor disagreements. In the big picture, having your senior loved work with an experienced attorney to set up a comprehensive estate plan can shrink the space for family arguments when it comes to matters like inheritance, property, and end of life decision making. This strategy works on the smaller scale, day-to-day level as well. For instance, if you have a clear contact list available to everyone in your caregiving network, this can help minimize arguments if someone is not sure who to call or reach out to first. Having an organized records system can make it easier to find important information quickly, and setting down care plans and goals in writing can make it easier to adjust down the line. 

Have Regular Meetings

Communication is key. One of the most important things you can do to help minimize arguments is to keep in touch, even if it may seem difficult. Hold regular family meetings via phone or in person to discuss changes to your loved one’s care needs, and talk over any potential issues to find common solutions. You can also use technology, such as a shared digital calendar or an email service, to streamline this communication, even from a distance. It may also help to get those third parties involved – including senior companions, doctors, attorneys, and so on. 

Listen and Be Empathetic

When conflicts come up between yourself and a sibling, or even your senior loved one, it’s important to remember that the only person you can control is yourself. Take steps to be an active listener, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective.  Don’t be afraid to state your needs clearly, and be responsive and empathetic when the other person does the same. 

About Companions for Seniors

If you have any questions about providing the best possible care for your aging loved one, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors today to continue the conversation. 

At Companions for Seniors, empowering elders and their caregivers is our passion, and we’re happy to talk over any thoughts or questions you might have about any aspect of the caregiving process. We’re always here to bounce ideas off of, and help you find the best course of action for yourself and your senior loved one.

Wondering if your older loved one would benefit from in-home care? Don’t hesitate to drop us a line to discuss creating a personalized care plan for your senior.

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle and improve their quality of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one age in place with ease. We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs. Don’t hesitate to contact us today using our handy online portal, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to get the conversation started.