Why have a family meeting? Too often a family meeting is delayed until the older adult has a health or housing relocation crisis. They are frequently held informally through discussion during the holidays or at special family events. However, when family meetings are held because of a crisis or during informal activities, discussion can be fragmented and often not everyone involved is consulted.
It is common for family members to have misconceived or pre-existing ideas regarding the physical and mental capabilities of the older adult. Family members also may be confused about exactly what their caregiving role is going to be. This is why having a family meeting is so important; and why doing so before a crisis situation can help avoid the heightened emotions brought on by stressful circumstances.
Ideally, in a situation of aging parents and adult children, the parents should openly discuss their caregiving expectations with their children. The adult children need to define their limitations as to how much caregiving they are willing to do. All immediate family members should be present in a non-crisis situation.
A good way to bring up the topic of caregiving is to get all close family members and friends, age 18 and older, together to fill out their Power of Attorney for Health Care forms, appoint health care representatives and discuss care preferences. The forms, which are free, can help stimulate discussion about the older adults’ care and housing preferences. They can be found at http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/advdirectives.
Is a family meeting always needed? Some families who frequently communicate by telephone or face-to-face and understand the need to “share” caregiving functions may not need a family meeting. However, this scenario is rare. A family meeting can still be a nice way to check on whether or not everyone feels they are being treated fairly or kept in the communication loop.
How do you hold a “family meeting?” The meeting should be kept as small as possible, only attended by those individuals who will have direct decision-making or care involvement. If the older adult is mentally competent, he or she needs to be involved in all decisions about his or her own care and attend all family meetings.
A basic agenda should be developed to keep the meeting on track. Before the meeting everyone should be able to give their input on the topics for discussion and no one’s ideas should be discounted. The outline can change and develop with future meetings and as care needs change. For ideas on important topics to include and discuss see the Family Caregiver Support Network’s handout entitled “Family Planning is Important”. This handout may be obtained by calling (414) 220-8600.