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When Siblings Don’t Help With Elderly Parents: What To Do

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Most adult children know that it is important to take care of our elderly parents and do what they can to provide the best care possible. But sometimes it seems like no one helps out and that can be more painful if you are not an only child and it’s your siblings who aren’t pitching in to help.

Family caregivers are a vital part of the healthcare team. Bringing support and assistance to a parent in need is something that we all hope our siblings will do for us when needed, but unfortunately many times this isn’t the case.

It turns out that there are many reasons (some would call them excuses) for this lack of involvement between adult siblings concerning family tasks such as taking care of the elderly or making decisions around wills and trusts.

The top reasons your siblings may not be helping you are:

  • Geographical (your siblings live too far away)
  • Emotional (they can’t cope with their parent’s decline)
  • Lifestyle (they are prioritizing their work and family)
  • Denial (they don’t accept the realities of what’s happening)
  • Financial (they just don’t have the funds to help out)

When there is an unequal distribution of assets among siblings; some children who are older adults might have more money than others so taking on caring duties could mean spending a lot of time and resources only for them to end up with less than what they started out with.

How Unhealthy Sibling Relationships Add Stress To The Caregiving Process

Looking back into your relationship with your sibling(s) and old rivalries typically provides clues as to why siblings might be struggling with working together to help their aging parents.

Long held resentments against an older brother or big sister or other sibling conflict are sometimes be difficult to let go. This can easily prevent you from having a close relationship with your family members.

Sibling relationships are multifaceted, characterized by tensions between the intimacy of such close relationships and the conflicts that arise from them

National Institutes of Health

The thought of caring for an elderly parent is daunting and stressful. Siblings are often at odds when it comes time to divvy up caregiving responsibilities, which can lead to resentment or even hostility among family members.

When a sibling is asked to help with something and they either give excuses or react nastily, the caregiver should consider how close they are to that person before reacting. This will depend entirely on who it is as well as what kind of relationship you have had in the past.

Sometimes, people feel that because they are the oldest or asked to be in charge that it’s their responsibility. Other times siblings may not want to share any of the caregiving responsibilities with one another for fear this will lead to a power struggle and resentment down the road.

You see, many of us think that asking for help from a sibling should be something simple and without any strings – yet in reality it can turn into an ugly battle. These battles are usually the result of past conflicts or other resentments our family member might have towards us.

The truth is that there’s going to be more drama in caring for an aging mother or father than most people realize. Caregiving isn’t just as simple as going grocery shopping every once in awhile, it can easily turn into a full-time job that requires a lot of emotional support.

There are many issues that will need to be managed that many caregivers don’t even realize – especially at the beginning.

Issues such as:

  • Dealing with and managing their parent’s finances
  • Making a doctor’s appointment and transporting them to and from
  • Cooking meals
  • Taking care of cleaning and managing the house and sometimes the yard
  • Helping parents with their personal care such as bathing, toileting, etc.
  • Entertaining themselves and their parents
  • Dealing with medical insurance issues
  • Making medical decisions for your parents
  • Minimizing emotional outbursts
  • Keeping their parents safe (especially true if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s)
  • And many more

But don’t despair, the good news is that caregiving can be a time of healing for siblings as well. It’s not always easy but there are ways to improve the relationship during this difficult time and make it more positive.

There may be occasions where old wounds resurface or unresolved conflicts come up, which is natural when everyone has their own thoughts about how you should proceed with care-taking responsibilities.

But don’t let these issues and power struggles get in your way of seeking some of the best ways that your family can provide home care for your elderly parents.

I would recommend that the best solution is to seek professional help through counseling, whether in person or online. This could be the quickest way to resolve your issues with your siblings so that all of you can get to the job of caring for your aging parents.

5 Top Excuses You May Hear From Your Siblings

After years of working as an Occupational Therapist in geriatrics and dealing with my own uncooperative siblings I feel that I can honestly say I have heard just about every excuse in the book as to why no help is provided.

But – having said that – here are the 5 most common excuses or reasons that I’ve heard time and time again.

1. They Live Too Far Away

Living far away from their senior loved ones is probably the most common “excuse” or “reason” that a sibling can’t or won’t help out with the caregiving duties for your elderly parents.

It’s easy for long-distance siblings to forget how much work caregiving is when they are live far away from their parents or grandparents- which may lead them into neglecting those family members who are most important to them!

Being geographically separated can cause many different opinions about caregiving. One child may think their parents are doing fine at home, while another feels they need extra help to cope with the daily tasks of living alone. Particularly if family members live in different areas or spend differing amounts of time together, this is common among aging loved ones.

2. They Can’t Cope With Seeing Your Parents In Such Poor Health

There is no doubt that it can be very difficult to watch someone you love getting older and beginning to decline.

But it’s also not fair for anyone to assume that it’s any easier on a caregiver, who’s been there every step of the way with them as they’ve had their health deteriorate and watched helplessly while things have gone from bad to worse.

3. They Are Too Busy With Work and/or Family Obligations

This is yet another very common excuse that you’ll hear from uncooperative siblings. They are overwhelmed with work and family obligations.

4. They Think You Are Overreacting

I have seen this happen several times with friends who are caring for their elderly parents and having a hard time trying to get their siblings who live in another area far away to help.

Because their siblings don’t “see” their parents on a regular basis or haven’t seen them in a long time – they can’t understand the decline and problems that the primary caregiver is facing. If the last time your brother or sister saw your elderly parent was last year, well the “visual” they have in their mind is just that.

Oh yes, they may come for a visit for a few days and spend a few hours at a time with their parents but unless they are with them 24/7 for several days, they probably won’t witness the Sundowning moments, or the outbursts that occur over seemingly nothing or even realize how much help their elderly parent truly needs.

5. They Don’t Have The Money To Help Out

And finally, the financial issues excuse. Which, I do have to say can be an actual legitimate excuse but there certainly are workarounds for this!

So, if it does turn out that a sibling is unable to travel or to help in any way because they simply don’t have the money to do so – it may be up to the other siblings or family members to help out.

At the end of the day – it’s all about helping each other. Once your elderly parents have passed away, you will still have your siblings so why not do what you can to have the best possible relationship with that person or persons as you can.

What To Do When Your Siblings Don’t Help With Caring For Your Parents?

When a sibling is asked to help with something and they either give excuses or react nastily, the caregiver should consider how close they are to that person before reacting. This will depend entirely on who it is as well as what kind of relationship you have had in the past.

Many caregivers ask themselves “how do I respond when my siblings say no?

We all know there are many different ways this could go from an ugly reaction like yelling back at them for not helping out, giving excuses instead of assisting us when needed most-to even outright ignoring our pleas altogether!

Here are some tips that may help.

  1. It won’t be a 50/50 project so don’t expect your siblings to contribute as much as you might. Be grateful for what they can give to you instead of resenting what they can’t.
  2. Discussing tasks and then asking for someone to volunteer or assigning tasks can help tremendously instead of just waiting for your siblings to offer some help.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say the words “I need your help.” These simple words can go a long way in helping out the family dynamics and provide you with the support system you need.
  4. Keep your siblings up to date daily. I did this when I was caring for my elderly mother. I gave daily updates via text, email and/or phone calls. The purpose was to keep everyone in the loop of what was happening to our mother and how she was doing. Make the information about the aging parent(s), not about YOU. This is where a regularly scheduled family meeting may come in handy.
  5. BUT – I do want to add that IF you are at your wits end and you need to express your emotions – let your siblings know that too. Hopefully, in a constructive way. This is where a counselor can help.
  6. I’m a very big believer in acknowledging our own strengths and weaknesses as well as that of others. So, if a sibling is a great organizer, use his/her skills to help with managing doctor’s appointments, finances, etc.
  7. Planning is a BIG factor in helping to avoid any sibling resentment that may come up during this caregiving process. Consulting with an elder law attorney and a geriatric care manager can help you to make all the necessary arrangements and give you and your siblings an idea of what to expect.
  8. For families that aren’t on the same page when it comes to looking after aging parents, hiring a geriatric care manager or a social worker may be a solution. They not only provide a myriad of services for your senior loved one but they can also help the family through the caregiving process.
  9. Recognize that even with all your best intentions, there may just come a time when you need to seek outside help such as an aide or home health service or perhaps even hospice.
  10. Finally, the wishes of the parents should be recognized and legalized. There are a lot of ways for seniors to plan ahead so that they can avoid any end-of-life conflicts. One way is by writing a living will, which you do well before the event takes place and specifies what your wishes would be if it happened in general terms. Another important thing is getting power of attorney or durable power of attorney designated beforehand – this should go without saying!

If there is no resolution and you simply are not able to get the help you need from your family, then I would recommend to ask your best friend, your church family and others in your social group. Generally speaking, people do want to help, they just don’t know how.

Who Is Legally Responsible For Elderly Parents?

If you are an adult child of an aging parent and are now their caregiver, it is important to know who legally has responsibility for your elderly parents. As the number of seniors around the world continues to grow, family caregivers will become an even more prevalent part of society.

Who is Legally Responsible For Elderly Parents? And how do they make decisions about what care their loved ones need as they age?

I’m familiar with these issues here in the USA but if you live elsewhere, I urge you to consult with an elder law attorney who can answer this question for you.

Today, in the USA there are 28 states that allow for filial responsibility laws that force adult kids to take care of aging seniors who can no longer provide basic needs themselves.

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

An example of what these filial responsibility laws mean would be…

If your elderly parent is in a nursing home and at some point can no longer pay to stay there, then if you live in any of these 28 states listed above, the nursing home has the legal right to come after you for the funds to pay for your elderly parent’s care.

The specific laws vary from state to state so I recommend that you contact an elderly law attorney to get the details and information in your particular state.

Some Useful Books

Here are just a few books on the topic of caregiving that may help you and your family prepare and go through the process of caring for your elderly parents.

Sibling Caregivers: How to Have a Life, Be Encouraged and Live Stress Free


A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves


When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions

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