Holding Family Meetings About Senior Care

Meetings can be very useful when a family is faced with a tough decision, like whether to move a parent to assisted living. They provide a chance for relatives to come together, pool their knowledge, and discuss various options and strategies.

It can be tough even to make the decision to hold such a meeting. The most important family members may not all live close together, so location is a challenge. People’s schedules are packed and some may be reluctant to add one more thing to the calendar. Sometimes it’s assumed that other relatives don’t want to get together. However, it never hurts to ask. Due to the serious nature of the decision, people may be more inclined to be cooperative. And if their lives are heavily affected by caring for mom or dad, they will be interested in solutions that will improve the situation.

It is important to include the affected senior, even if it means overcoming challenges presented by physical or mental disability or resistance to facing the need for care. There are several reasons why you may feel this is inappropriate, but making sure your loved one is included in the process is vital to making any solution work. They deserve the respect of knowing that they have say in decisions affecting their life, and you can’t find a solution for them unless you have their own opinion on what their needs are. You may be surprised to learn how they see the issue. This does not mean that the solution mom or dad would choose on their own is necessarily the best one and that they have final say, but you do need to take into account their concerns.

Consider including any paid caregivers or others who provide household services. The cleaning lady who comes in on Fridays may have noticed something you haven’t. Also consider bringing in the senior’s friends and neighbors. A social worker or for families where religion is important, a spiritual advisor, may also be helpful.

Try to plan the meeting at a time when it’s easier for far-flung family to travel, perhaps during the holidays. When planning the agenda, make sure everyone will get a chance to speak so that they can make their case for what is important to them, and be sure to devote significant time to what the senior has to say themselves. Have everyone in the group review the agenda in advance. Also choose people to take on different tasks: someone who can be a neutral facilitator, someone to take notes, someone to keep time. Plan to hold the meeting in a place that will comfortable and have food and beverages available. Try to choose somewhere that allows a layout where everyone can make eye contact with one another.

Tension exists in any family, even those where the members are close and get along well. It’s a normal part of life. Bringing everyone together at once will cause these problems to rise to the surface. Keep conflict to a minimum by focusing everyone on finding solutions for the future, not on rehashing past grief. Remind everyone that there will be no perfect solution and there will have to be compromise in some form. You won’t be able to fix everything then and there. The point is to gather perspectives and come up with practical answers.

When you’ve finished the meeting, send the notes to people who were interested but unable to attend, and follow up on whatever course of action was agreed upon. Even if you decide that assisted living is not the right choice now, in time your parent is very likely to need help. Make plans to have them visit facilities you are considering and prepare for an eventual move. It never hurts to have alternate solutions available for when they might be needed. The one thing you can always count on is change.