Minding Our Elders: Overwhelmed caregiver accounts for insufficient family updates

Dear Carol: I have four siblings scattered around the country and one brother has stayed in the same community as our parents. This brother helped Dad with Mom’s care until she died, and he’s now taking care of Dad. My brother is great except that he doesn’t keep the rest of us updated as much as we’d like. He says that at times he’s overwhelmed with work and taking care of Dad, so his communication falls by the wayside. I understand that what he’s doing isn’t easy, but we really need him to put a higher priority on communicating with us about Dad’s health. Maybe we could help more if we knew more. — VW.

Dear VW: Your need to be kept up to date when it comes to your dad’s health is understandable, but so is your brother’s situation. I have no doubt that he is overwhelmed. He has his day job as well as the responsibility of taking your dad to medical appointments, managing the considerable paperwork that comes with caregiving, lining up other care, if that is needed, and spending quality time with him. Your brother may feel that since you are family, you’ll understand when he feels like he can’t email or make one more phone call.

It seems that there’s a major disconnect here between you and your brother, and some of that could be because he may not have asked for help. Talk with everyone, insisting that you all need to do more to help him. Assuming that they agree to do at least something, you could then ask your brother if there’s legal work, financial management, research or something else that one of you could take on. Tell him, too, that you are going to try to work with everyone to develop a visiting schedule to give him relief and learn more about what he needs. You may not all be able to pitch in, but surely some of you can help, at least on occasion. You each may have to give up some vacation, but remember that he’s taken on a second job to help the family.

For regular updates, there are apps that help caregiving families stay up to date. They can be used by the caregiver to assign tasks to others and to record information as needed so that updating the family doesn’t have to be a major time and emotional drain for the caregiver. Two such apps are Senior Care Manager and Caregiving Village. With these and similar apps, the family can be given access so that as your brother updates the records for his own use, everyone can stay informed.

Whatever happens, don’t forget to regularly communicate your appreciation to your brother. Providing care for a family member can have many rewards, but it can be physically and emotionally exhausting as well. Again, you each should visit as often as possible to see your dad as well as to give your brother a break. Doing so will benefit you all.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com