Eldercare Choices Revive Sibling Fights

The Associated Press
Saturday, January 13, 2007; 11:49 PM

CHICAGO -- The tension rose as Richard Aylward and his two sisters sorted their mother's possessions into four piles: to keep, to donate, to throw out and to move with her into an assisted living facility.

He was annoyed that his sisters wanted to reminisce about every photo and book. He wanted to hurry up and finish the job.

"Because I was the one who had to do the moving, cleaning, selling, closing, etc., I knew I had to play the heavy," he said.

Eventually, his oldest sister _ fed up with her brother's pressuring _ walked out.

Big sisters, little brothers, black sheep, dad's favorite _ all the old roles, battles and rivalries resurface when a parent's health is failing and decisions must be made.

With about 20 million Americans providing care for a parent or in-law, such family dramas _ often with financial questions lurking unsaid _ are playing out across the country, said Bonnie Lawrence, spokeswoman for the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Eighty percent of long-term care is provided by families, not institutions, Lawrence said. Even families that don't provide care, though, are choosing a nursing home or making medical decisions about a dying parent.

But getting stuck in an old squabble can sabotage wise decisions, said researchers who study family dynamics.

To help, some states offer free consulting to families making decisions about elders, and a new school of professional mediation has sprung up to help baby boomers stop fighting with their siblings and refocus on what's best for Mom or Dad.

Such services still are rare, though, leaving most families to cope on their own.


Old family dynamics come back like a boomerang during anxiety-producing conversations about aging or ailing parents, said Brian Carpenter of Washington University in St. Louis who has studied sibling issues.

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