End-of-life planning can cause tension among family members. Three ways to avoid conflict.

People are forced to make many difficult decisions when it comes to end-of-life issues and planning. Sometimes an emergency requires family members to step in and make those tough choices for a loved one. With so many different perspectives and emotions involved, conflicts can occur within families, hindering the decision-making process.

Dr. Lael Duncan, medical director of consulting services for the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California

Dr. Lael Duncan, medical director of consulting services for the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California, says end-of-life decisions can strain family relationships. She offers these tips for avoiding and managing family conflict:

1. Start end-of-life planning early
Families often avoid conversations about end-of-life care until an emergency forces them to start planning. “We end up trying to make these decisions under a greater degree of emotional strain or emotional distress,” Duncan says. This high level of stress can create an environment that fosters conflict among family members.

Duncan suggests families and caregivers discuss end-of-life care issues while the parent is still healthy enough to express her desires. Take the time to create a solid plan, like an advance care directive, so the whole family will be on the same page. Also, keep in mind that plans can change over time. Revisit the plan when there are changes in family structure, a move or medical condition.

2. Prioritize your parent’s needs
Family members often get caught up in how they will be directly impacted by their parent’s condition or illness. It is normal to have fears and concerns when a parent is ill or facing end of life. This emotional strain can make thinking clearly about decisions very challenging. The key is to focus on your loved one’s wishes and focusing on overall goals of the care being delivered.

Duncan says this type of strain and the conflict it may cause can be avoided, or at least minimized, if all family members prioritize their parent’s wants and needs above their own. This can be accomplished by having a detailed discussion with the parent about what type of care plan matches her values. Duncan says each sibling should consider what they can do to help their parents receive care that is consistent with their values and maintains a quality of life they desire. Getting accurate information from health care professionals may help increase the family’s understanding of what the future may hold for the loved one—which can help individuals embrace the overall plan.

3. Take advantage of end-of-life counseling services
Sometimes the tension can be too much for a family to handle on its own. Duncan recommends engaging trained professionals who have “the skills and the knowledge that will support them through these conversations.” Some staff members at assisted living communities, as well as social workers, palliative care doctors, or nurse practitioners, may have the skills to guide loved ones through tough conversations.

Overall, communicating and keeping your loved one’s wishes in mind are the best ways to avoid conflict with family members while making these emotional decisions. An assisted living community is another option for ensuring your loved one gets the end-of-life care she needs. Contact Elder Care Alliance to learn more.