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WELLNESS SPOTLIGHT: What is Sibling Denial?

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Many family caregivers with siblings have experienced some version of denial from their siblings in regard to their parents. For some, the denial is the subconscious need to ignore a parent’s declining health. Others want to pretend that caring for an ailing parent isn’t a big deal or that there isn’t a way to help. Whatever the reason is, denial is rampant.
One form of denial depends on distance. If siblings live far away, they put the care-giving responsibility on the sibling that lives closest. It’s harder for long-distance family to give hands-on care, but there are still ways to help, like bookkeeping or helping with costs.

Even with updates and warnings, a distant sibling doesn’t always get the full picture. A visit can spark long-term memories for the parent who will often perk up when the long-distance adult child visits. This makes it look like the caregiver is exaggerating.

The primary caregiver then has to try to prove the parent’s challenges, which can be frustrating and cause family resentments.  It is important for out-of-town siblings to fully understand the perspective of the primary caregivers and be sensitive to issues they face daily.

A family meeting can help everyone better understand the situation and is a good way to involve everyone. Siblings who are too far to meet can be included via Skype or phone. The meeting shouldn’t be kept secret from the parent and could even include them. The main caregiver should plan a meeting agenda, including discussions about emotions, responsibilities and money. If the siblings think a neutral party should be included to keep the situation calm, they could ask a family friend or a social worker.

After this first meeting, more meetings should be scheduled so siblings will have a chance to share their progress and discuss changes. If all siblings are there for each other and do their part, the process of caring for an ailing parent can be more manageable.

Marie E. Littrell is the Administrator of Park View Meadows, assisted living by Americare, in Murfreesboro. She can be reached at 615.907.5800 or murf@americareusa.net.

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