Tempers can run high when an aging relative falls into a crisis and different family members have varying opinions. Generally, disagreements about money—who is in charge of it and how it will be used—and housing—should our parents stay at home or move—are the two most common family arguments.

But don't despair! There are strategies to effectively communicate and provide care and support for your loved one during a stressful situation. Use the following steps to reduce family conflict and improve communication.

5 steps for care planning as a family

1. Hit the pause button

Making a decision impulsively or when you are feeling emotionally charged can backfire. When possible, stop and take some time.

You can always say, "I need a minute, a day, or a week to think things through."

However, it's essential to schedule a time to revisit the issue so all family members know that you aren't just avoiding the discussion. The follow-up can be a phone call, email, or (if possible) a family meeting. All family members must be included. Leaving someone out will only lead to resentment and additional communication and relationship problems.

2. Create a cheat sheet

Everyone in the family, including the older relative, should make a list of the symptoms or problems that they have observed. You can do this prior to your meeting or together as a family.

Remove your feelings or hypotheses about the problems and just list the facts. For example, "Mom is losing weight. Mom is falling a lot at home. Mom is not taking her medication." If you focus on symptoms and remove yourself from the equation, you are less likely to start blaming others and causing more family strife.

3. Write a mission statement

State what you want for your parent. Do not include an outcome or who is responsible. For example, "I want Mom to be safe." Not, "I want her to be safe at home, or in a senior living facility."

In this way, the family discovers that they share a common mission, which can help to defuse conflict and align everyone's objectives. Yes, there may be differences of opinion on HOW to meet that goal, but usually all family members are focused on the safety and happiness of their loved one.

When tempers flare, return to the family mission statement to realign and refocus.


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4. List the possible solutions for each symptom

Don't forget to list every solution available before deciding which one is right for your loved one.

5. Do the research and set a time to follow up

Each family member will volunteer to research a solution. Notice that I wrote volunteer. People don't want to feel like they're being told what to do. Care planning works best if each team member chooses what they'll take on.

Make sure to include the older relative in the entire process. After all, it's their life and they should be the team captain if possible! At the follow-up meeting, everyone will share what they've learned and the family can now look at which options may work best. If necessary, the family can create another cheat sheet to determine who will take on which responsibility to implement the plan.

Your cheat sheet might look something like this:

Care Plan Cheat Sheet
SymptomsSolutionsResearch
Weight lossFamily brings mealsPlan meal schedule
Order mealsSusan to compare prices
Hire in-home careJeff to research agencies
Move to residenceTodd to research options
FallsInstall equipment/make adaptationsTodd to research/install
Hire in-home careJeff to research agencies
Personal medical alert systemSusan to look up companies
Move to senior livingTodd to research options

In the end, you'll likely be faced with some family members who don't want to participate. Those who do engage must focus on the mission statement and remind themselves why they are doing this. Try not to resent those who won't help by continuing to be someone who will.