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Role Reversal: Caregiving for Aging Parents

When an aging parent needs caregiving, the children often need to take responsibility. But what happens when only one of many siblings steps up to the plate?

Aging in America continued...

Another factor in determining who will take on the role of caregiver to a parent is age.

"It's also likely it's going to be the oldest," Cutler tells WebMD. "While gender does play a big part, now -- with women in the workforce -- it's not necessarily the case anymore, and age and order of birth can come into play."

But there's more to who is going to care for a parent than gender and age. Instead, siblings should consider who is the best fit.

It's selective matching, explains Hollis-Sawyer, meaning that personalities, geography -- simply who lives the closest -- and finances all play a role in determining who might be able to provide the best care.

Caregiving for an Aging Parent: Taking Charge

If you are nominated -- willingly or not -- to be the caregiver for an aging parent, dealing with the situation can be a challenge. It can be especially difficult if your brothers and sisters aren't willing to recognize their sibling responsibility.

What's the key to enlisting the help of your family to ensure the best care for your parent? Read on for tips from the experts that will help you wade through not only the family issues that caring for a parent presents, but the practical ones as well:

Open the lines of communication. As a family, with all of your siblings and surviving parents, talk about how you will care for Mom or Dad before the situation turns into a crisis, suggests Cutler.

"Anticipate that these are decisions and choices that are best made before a crisis happens," says Cutler. "Sit down with everyone together, and talk about what you want to do, whether it's a financial issue or geographical issue. The key is conversation rather than crisis management."

Then, when it is time for a parent to reach out to their children for help later in life, it's clear who is responsible for what, from a financial and support perspective, without creating a family conflict.

Pick an age. Have this conversation when your parent is still of a "functional" age, whether it's your mother's late 60s or early 70s -- meaning she still has her mental and physical health on her side.

"A good guideline is to talk about long-term care with a parent when issues like a health care proxy or living will come into play," says Hollis-Sawyer. "If these are topics a person needs to think about, then how their long-term care will be handled should also be on the table."

Support comes in many shapes. If one person is elected to be the primary caregiver for a parent, the siblings should think about how they can provide indirect support, whether it's by pitching in with paperwork, finance management, or in-person help.

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