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Family Attitudes Towards Providing Elder Care

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

D) Family Attitudes Towards Providing Care

Family members will likely have a variety of emotions, attitudes and thoughts concerning whether it is better to provide care themselves, or hire it out. Common feelings include a compassionate desire to help, a sense of obligation to provide care, and feelings of guilt associated with thoughts of hiring outside professionals to provide care.

mother and daughterOut of these feelings and attitudes, come a variety of decisions regarding care. Some families decide up front that that it isn’t feasible for them to provide care. They may live too far away from the elder, for example, and judge it too traumatic for either the elder or themselves to move. They may have existing obligations to family and/or career that would be disturbed by the need to take on the responsibility for care. They may simply not have the skills necessary to provide the care that is required.

More commonly, families desire to provide care themselves, motivated by a combination of genuine desire to help, compassion, and guilt and obligation feelings. It is important that family members try to sort through these competing feelings prior to making care decisions so that when care is ultimately offered to the elder, the foundation of that care will be solid. The situation to avoid is one where a family lets their desire to provide care (and thus be "good children" in the eyes of their elder) to override the elder's actual care needs which they may not be capable of actually fulfilling. Should this happen, care will not be provided in an optimal manner and the elder will suffer as a result.

Many families who try providing care themselves find that it does not work out well in the long run. The level of care and amount of assistance elders require may come as a shock to family care givers who were previously not so involved in the elder's life. Family members may also learn that they simply don't have the skills or patience required to provide proper assistance, and that by trying to do so anyway, that they are damaging their relationship with the elder.

It is important for a family to examine whether it is truly in the elder’s best interests for the family to provide care, or if it would be better to hire professional caregivers to provide assistance. While family provided care does work for some families, others conclude that the elder and the family members are better off with some variety of professional care assistance.

The Final Decision

Elders' varying needs determine the types of care they require. Elders and family members need to determine the care options available to them, including figuring out the types of care required to keep the elder safe, the types of care available in the community, the cost of available care options, the resources available to help pay for care, and how much responsibility for care family members can really handle. The answers to these questions form the basis for a realistic appraisal of the various practical care options. An optimal care solution will address elders' present day care needs and provide a workable path towards meeting future needs.