Allocating Family Responsibilities

National Institute on Aging

Be sure to talk with other family members and decide who will be responsible for which tasks. Think about your schedules and how to adapt them to give respite to a primary caregiver or to coordinate holiday and vacation times. One family found that it worked to have the long-distance caregiver come to town while the primary caregiver was on a family vacation. And remember, if you aren’t the primary caregiver, offering appreciation, reassurance, and positive feedback is also a contribution.

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Know Your Strengths/Set Your Limits

If you decide to work as a family team, it makes sense to agree in advance how your skills can complement one another. Ideally, each of you will be able to take on tasks best suited to each person’s skills or interests. For example, who is available to help Mom get to the grocery store each week? Who can help Dad organize his move to an assisted living facility? After making these kinds of decisions, remember that over time responsibilities may need to be revised to reflect changes in the situation or your parent’s needs. Be realistic about how much you can do and what you are willing to do.

When thinking about your strengths, consider what you are particularly good at and how that skill might help in the current situation:

  • Are you best on the phone, finding information, keeping people up-to-date on changing conditions, and offering cheer?
  • Are you good at supervising and leading others?
  • Are you comfortable speaking with medical staff and interpreting what they say to others?
  • Is your strongest suit doing the numbers—paying bills, keeping track of bank statements, and reviewing insurance policies and reimbursement reports?

When reflecting on your limits, consider:

  • How often, both mentally and financially, can you afford to travel?
  • Are you emotionally prepared to take on what may feel like a reversal of roles between you and your parent—and to respect your parent’s autonomy?
  • Can you be both calm and assertive when communicating from a distance?
  • How will your decision to take on care responsibilities affect the rest of your family and your work?

©2007 National Institute of Aging

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