Holding a Family Meeting

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Family meetingThe Family Caregiver Alliance recommends when taking care of an elderly loved one, that family members need to work cooperatively. Here are some tips for holding a productive family meeting where everyone feels heard.

When taking care of an elderly parent or another relative, family members need to work cooperatively. The more people participating in care, the less alone a caregiver feels in his/her role. Books and articles about caregiving often mention the family meeting as a way to facilitate this process. But how does one go about having such a meeting?

Who Should Attend?

Each family is different. In some families, only a husband/wife and their children are considered “family.” In other families, aunts, uncles, cousins, current and ex-in laws, and close friends may be included in the definition of family. When planning a family meeting, it is important to include everyone who is or will be part of the caregiving team, and this may include a family friend, neighbor, or paid caregiver.

It is also sometimes helpful to engage the help of an outside facilitator, such as a social worker or minister, to help the family communicate about difficult subjects during the meeting. (This is discussed in more detail below.)

A decision must also be made about whether or not to include the ill family member in the meeting. Family members usually do not want to be excluded from family events, and their preferences for care must be considered. However, if someone has dementia or another condition where he/she might misunderstand the purpose of the meeting, it might be appropriate to hold at least the first meeting without him/her present. Also, other family members may need to share with each other thoughts or feelings that would be painful for the ill person to hear. Consider holding one meeting to focus on those matters, and holding a second meeting with the ill person present.