Sharing the care: Tips for siblings caring for aging relatives

By Valerie
June 22, 2012


I have a wonderful brother.

Mind you, he wasn’t always wonderful. In fact, I didn’t put him in the “wonderful” category until he was married and had a few kids under his belt. Up until that time and depending on the circumstances, he was either in the “awful,” “overprotective” or “suspiciously being kind for no reason” category.

Like any sibling relationship, we had our share of blissful happiness coupled with outright intense fighting and rivalry moments. Whether it was our age difference (two years apart) or our dispositions (fighter versus conflict-avoider), my brother and I couldn’t walk past each other without it ending in an all-out war.

We fought over everything; from the car to who did more chores that day, right down to who got the last piece of chicken.

The old saying “some things never change” is true.

How quickly my brother and I reverted to our childish ways when our Dad had a massive stroke and we were faced with making important decisions with our other siblings about his future care.

The added factor of living on Vancouver Island while the rest of my family was in Ontario didn’t necessarily allow for an equal “share the care.”

Although my brother and I were beyond fisticuffs, the emotional ordeal of taking our Dad off life support and dealing with his estate brought conflict among all the siblings and at times, put our Mom in a very awkward position.

According to recent research done by Home Instead Senior Care, only three per cent of Canadian siblings equally shared the care of aging parents. In fact, 41 per cent of respondents said that one sibling did the majority or all of the care for aging loved ones.

Just over a quarter of respondents indicated that their siblings and themselves worked well together in sharing the caregiving responsibilities. Resentment, increased stress, and caregiver burnout were all stated as negative outcomes faced by the sibling who was the primary caregiver.

How can brothers and sisters avoid old rivalry, competition and reverting back to childhood patterns when faced with making future care plans for Mom and Dad?

This series, Sharing the Care, will focus on common challenges siblings face when dealing with difficult eldercare decisions and provide tips for avoiding sibling conflict and strategies for holding family meetings.

We’ll also hear from some of community’s best experts on real-life situations illustrating tricky scenarios including money matters, inheritance and keepsakes, and hometown versus long distance caregivers.

If you have a real-life scenario involving caring for aging parents and sibling conflict, please e-mail a short description of the situation (200 words or fewer) to or fax to 1-866-737-0273 and we’ll do our best to provide a response within the series.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC