Family Caregiver Meetings

How can you make life easier for yourself and the family member for whom you have responsibility?

According to experts, most individual family caregivers take on too much themselves and ask too little of other family members. You need to get help and cooperation from them so that you are not overwhelmed by trying to do everything yourself. How do you go about it? You organize family caregiver meetings! Caregiving experts suggest holding family meetings periodically as caregiving conditions change and including everyone who is or will be part of the caregiving team, even family friends and neighbors. Have the family member you are caring for attend, if possible. You may be saying to yourself something like, “I’ve asked, but they don’t help,” or “the children are too young to help,” or “they don’t live nearby so they can’t help.” There are all sorts of reasons family members don’t help, but the experts say there are almost always things other family members can do – and will do. The idea is to get them to volunteer for what they will do by giving them the chance to volunteer for what they can do. Make sure cooperation includes all who could possibly help in any way, including children. You will be surprised at how anxious most children are to prove they can take responsibility for something. Communication is the key to holding family caregiver meetings. People can’t help if they don’t know what is needed. Before the meeting, prepare an agenda of things that need to be done. Send it to family members before the meeting. If you are the primary caregiver, other family members probably have no idea of all the many varied things you do. If there are family members involved besides your immediate family, include items or activities where money might substitute for time. Family members, especially those who live some distance away, may find it easier to pay for help than to do it themselves. For example, if the person you are caring for needs to go to the doctor periodically, perhaps a family member would rather pay cab fares than take the time to provide transportation. In the context of family meetings, most family members feel pressure to agree to do something. Make sure you write down what each person agrees to, and follow up with each volunteer to confirm what he or she agreed to do. You might even have them sign their name next to the item or activity chosen. After the initial meeting, send copies of the list to all family members. That puts everyone on record and makes it easier for you to remind them of their responsibilities.

Finally, if you previously tried to get family members to help by yourself, you might try a family meeting with a family friend, counselor or member of the clergy to act as moderator.

Michael P. Sullivan, president, 50-Plus Communications Consulting,, consults and trains organizations dealing with senior adults. He is board member emeritus, Council on Aging, and was awarded the Monroe T. Gilmour Volunteer Award for community service to Charlotte’s seniors.