Why you might want to talk

Family dynamics can be complex. Sometimes we may make assumptions about each other and what our different roles should be. Different opinions can cause tensions when organising care or making plans with or for an older relative. However, it’s helpful to talk about how you can share caregiving responsibilities or get extra support if you need it.

There can be many reasons why this is a difficult conversation. Lack of time, living far away or just not wanting to face the situation can stop you talking. Other issues might include:

  • old conflicts between family members coming back up
  • having a family of your own to worry about
  • expectations related to your family’s cultural background
  • resistance to what seems like a role reversal
  • not wanting the responsibility
  • the difficulty of being involved in personal care for a parent or close relative
  • feeling sad about the changes in your relative’s needs.

On the plus side, if you have these discussions you can:

  • know that you are making the right choices with or for your relative
  • understand what they want
  • share the responsibility
  • avoid future conflict by planning ahead, for example, by setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney.

People say to me, 'you should be talking to your sister. She should be more involved'. But she's not that approachable.

When to talk

If you start talking early - and talk often – these conversations can become a normal part of family discussion. It’s also a good idea to involve other family members early before a pattern develops. You can always change the caregiving arrangements later if necessary.

How to start the conversation

If you’d like your family to be more involved, because you’re providing the majority of care or think your relative needs more help, ask your family directly for help.

  • Don’t assume they don’t want to help.
  • Be specific about what you want.
  • Listen, as well as talk.
  • Divide up the tasks – for example, if someone can’t help with care, ask them to do some research instead.
  • Don’t expect total equality of caregiving and separate your relative’s issues from yours.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. For example, you could send other family members information about their medication, hospital appointments and care plans. Keeping your family updated could help them be more involved but remember that it’s your relative’s choice about who you share their information with, so ask them first.

You need to be honest about what you can do and what you are prepared to do. It may be that paid for care is the best option. Don’t feel guilty – you’re only human and there are limits to what you can do. Getting paid for care may help with the practical parts of caring for someone, and let you focus on other areas like emotional support.

If another relative is making decisions you don’t agree with, you could bring this up sensitively with them and offer to help. They may be under pressure. You could also suggest involving a third party, such as a GP or social worker.

I should have organised it with my brother. We did have a bit of a family argument when we should have had conversations over it.

Look at your options

It's a good idea to look into what support might be available for your friend or relative, as well as for yourself if you're a carer. You could consider:

Getting a care assessment

A good place to start is to get a care needs assessment for your relative. You can contact their local council to request one with their permission, or they can request one themselves. This can give you an objective basis for any decision-making.

You may also be able to get your own carer’s assessment to look at your needs as a carer.

Checking on benefits entitlement

If your friend or relative agrees, you could check if they're able to get any benefits. You could also check for yourself if you are a carer.

As a first step, look at:

If you need advice, call the Independent Age Helpline to arrange to speak to an adviser.

Other support available

If your relative has a long-term condition they may be able to get support from charities and organisations that deal with their condition.

Other options to consider include:

  • home care agencies
  • live-in carers
  • day care
  • short-term residential care
  • respite care

Some of these services might be provided by the council after having a care assessment, and they may charge for them. You or your relative may also be able to get these services privately. See our Paying for care section for more information.

It might also help you and your fellow carers to talk to your relative about getting a Lasting Power of Attorney in place while they still have mental capacity.

If your family don't agree

Sometimes if there are disputes within the family, bringing in an outsider can help. This could be a GP, solicitor, financial adviser, clergy member or a social worker.

Next steps

If you are a carer and need more support, contact the Carers Trust to find out about local services.

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