New study sheds light on sibling dynamics for brothers and sisters who care for aging parents
The 50-50 RuleSM can help solve sibling conflict
TORONTO, FEBRUARY 15, 2010 – A new study that looks at sibling dynamics involved in caring for aging parents sheds new light on issues that often tear families apart. The study, conducted on behalf of Home Instead Senior Care®, found that conflicts can arise when care is not shared equally among brothers and sisters.
Home Instead Senior Care provides companionship and home care services for seniors in their own homes and in seniors’ care facilities, and has 29 locations across Canada.
According to the study, four factors determine if relationships among adult children have deteriorated, and whether or not the quality of care for the parents will be compromised in any way because of it. Those factors are: teamwork, consideration for each other’s ability to help out, willingness to help, and the ability to make important decisions together.
The study found that 40 per cent of family caregivers who say their relationships with siblings have deteriorated blame it on brothers and sisters not being willing to help.
“A study like this has never been done before to my knowledge,” said Scott Johnson of Home Instead Senior Care. “If you are 50, have siblings, and are assisting with the care of senior parents, this program, and in particular the public education campaign, can help.”
Here are some of the findings:
- Among siblings who care for parents, the primary caregiver is a 50-year-old sister caring for an 81-year-old mother or a 50-year-old brother caring for an 81-year-old father, and they’ve been the family caregiver for 3.3 years.
- Care is often not shared equally. In 41 per cent of families, one sibling has responsibility for providing all or most of the care for Mom or Dad, and in only 3 per cent of families do siblings split the caregiving tasks equally. In all other families, the caregiving tends to be shared based on skill sets and other criteria.
- The sibling who is the primary caregiver reports putting in nearly three times as many hours of care as do their brothers and sisters. On average, the primary family caregiver provides 14 hours of care per week, while other siblings provide five hours of care.
- Caregiving arrangements amongst siblings more often than not involve proximity to the parent, rather than careful consideration about what is in the best interests of the parent. In the survey, 25 per cent say the caregiving arrangement with siblings is based on “proximity or location” while 17 per cent say it is based on “default.”
As a result of the findings, Home Instead Senior Care has launched a public education campaign called The 50-50 RuleSM that offers strategies for overcoming sibling differences to help families provide the best care for senior parents. The name, The 50-50 Rule, refers to the average age (50) when siblings are caring for their parents, as well as the need for brothers and sisters to share the care responsibility on a 50-50 basis.
The study, which was conducted by The Boomer Project for Home Instead Senior Care, included 383 adults ages 35-64, with living siblings or stepsiblings, who said they either currently provide care for a parent or older relative, or did provide care in the past 18 months.
Johnson said, in doing the research, Home Instead Senior Care has developed more than a dozen different ‘50-50 situations,’ all of which can lead to problems with siblings. Along with the situations are solutions for how to tackle them. Those situations fall into four groups:
- Money Matters. The economic downturn has taken a toll on many families, straining finances and relationships. Do siblings agree on how to approach money matters when it comes to family caregiving situations?
- What’s Yours is Mine. Inheritances and family mementoes generate powerful emotional and financial attachments. What do you do when siblings don’t agree on family legacies?
- Communication Breakdown. This can make a bad caregiving situation worse. If you’re not talking with your siblings, Mom and Dad may be the ones who suffer.
- Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Distance can drive a wedge between a family caregiver and other family members, but geography doesn’t have to divide.
The study found that survey participants were more likely to rate themselves ‘excellent’ for various caregiving traits than they were their brothers and sisters. When it came to rating oneself as a family caregiver compared to rating siblings, 66 per cent rated themselves ‘excellent’ while only 28 per cent rated their siblings as such. In terms of communication skills, 46 per cent of respondents rated themselves ‘excellent’ versus 23 per cent for their siblings. And for the category of ‘empathy,’ 42 per cent gave themselves an ‘excellent,’ but only 24 per cent gave it to their siblings.
The 50-50 Rule public education campaign, which is being launched this month, includes a family relationship and communication guide illustrating real-life situations that feature practical advice from Dr. Ingrid Connidis, a leading authority on aging, work-life balance and family relationships.
Says Connidis: “The ideal situation is when everyone involved knows how everyone else feels. That way you can get things off your chest and avoid any surprises later.”
Connidis is a professor of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario in London, has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto, and wrote the book Family Ties and Aging. She says she has studied or seen just about every family scenario one can imagine, and that the No. 1 key to avoiding problems with siblings, where it concerns aging parents, is communication.
“Like all relationships, siblings have a history,” Connidis said. “Whatever happened in the past influences what happens in the present. Regardless of the circumstances, most siblings do feel a responsibility to care for parents that is built from love. And that’s a good place to start – optimistically and assuming the best.”
The public education campaign includes a website with information, checklists with tips for assigning care, and presentations on everything from coping with feuding families to how to plan before a crisis hits. The guide and website, located at www.solvingfamilyconflict.com, will offer a variety of tips and resources for siblings. For more information, visit the site or contact Home Instead Senior Care.
In Canada, there are 29 independently owned Home Instead Senior Care offices. There are 19 in Ontario – 10 in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as in Barrie, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury, London, Windsor, Waterloo and Kingston. Five are in B.C. – Kelowna, Port Coquitlam, Vancouver, Victoria and White Rock. There are also locations in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Halifax and Charlottetown. Services include companionship, meal preparation, medication reminders, light housekeeping, and escorts for errands and shopping. Home Instead Senior Care services are available at home or in care facilities from a few hours per week up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Founded in 1994 in Omaha by Lori and Paul Hogan, the Home Instead Senior Care® network is the world's largest provider of non-medical in-home care services for seniors, with more than 900 independently owned and operated franchises providing in excess of 40 million hours of care throughout the United States, Canada, Japan, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Finland, Austria, Italy and Puerto Rico. The Home Instead Senior Care network employs more than 65,000 CAREGiversSM worldwide who provide basic support services – activities of daily living (ADLs), personal care, medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping, errands, incidental transportation and shopping – which enable seniors to live safely and comfortably in their own homes for as long as possible. At Home Instead Senior Care, it’s relationship before task, while continuing to provide superior quality service that enhances the lives of seniors everywhere.