Agreeing on Family Members' Roles in Helping an Older Adult



Agreeing on Roles


The first step in defining the roles of different family members is to make a list of all the tasks the older adult requires help with. These tasks may include:

  • Grocery shopping and meal preparation

  • Personal care such as bathing, dressing, and feeding

  • Housekeeping such as cleaning and doing laundry

  • Transportation

  • Medication reminders and help at medical appointments

  • Money management


With this list of tasks, try to bring together all family members and the older adult for a meeting. This sort of family meeting can be held in-person or virtually over the phone or via video call. Family meetings should ideally have an agenda and ground rules for communication. For example, ground rules could spell out how members will take turns speaking and forbid any interrupting. It is also best if at least one member takes notes during the discussion so there is a record of any decisions and plans made. Holding these meetings regularly can foster better communication and allow for adjustments as the older adult’s needs change.


For family discussions, it can be helpful to just start small. Starting small could entail choosing a more comfortable topic to start with, not forcing a decision right away, or keeping the conversation brief.


Setting roles and expectations can begin with a discussion of who the older adult would prefer to take on each necessary task. If the older adult does not have a preference, family members can discuss who seems right for each task. It is important to consider the following when assigning tasks:

  • The personality of each person

  • Who currently helps with each task

  • The skills and experience of each person

  • The time each person has available to help

  • How far away each person lives

  • If certain tasks could be shared or alternated among different people

  • If paid help could take on unwanted tasks


As roles are assigned, it can be helpful to write a clear description of what each person will be doing. Additionally, keeping a shared calendar, group chat, or notes can make sure everyone stays informed.