Learn About Family Dynamics and Assumptions About Helping Older Adults



Each family shares information and makes decisions in their own way. Family interactions can be shaped by past experiences, expectations, roles, beliefs and culture.


These family patterns or dynamics can be positive, helping people work together to support older family members. However, some family dynamics can cause stress or conflict.


Often, people make assumptions about who will help older family members. If some people feel left out, or feel that others aren't doing their fair share, it can cause negative family dynamics.


Helpers may include the older adult's:

  • Adult children

  • Daughters-in-law and sons-in-law

  • Spouse or partner

  • Grandchildren

  • Stepchildren

  • Siblings

  • Neighbors

  • Friends


Common assumptions about helping older family members include:

  • Women will help more than men, especially with hands-on care.

  • The oldest (or youngest) sibling will be the main helper.

  • The main helper is the older adult's "favorite."

  • People who live closer will help the older adult more.

  • Larger families mean that more people will be helping out.

  • Biological children will help more than stepchildren.

  • People who don't have young children will help more.

  • People who work fewer hours or do what's seen as "easier" work will help more.

  • People who are nurses, social workers or do other "caring" jobs will help more.


Recognizing and checking in about assumptions can improve family dynamics.

Family dynamics are also shaped by family members':

  • Values and priorities

  • Personalities

  • Communication styles

  • Old rivalries or bad feelings

  • Experiences of trauma, emotional or physical abuse

  • Access to financial and other resources

  • Attitudes towards outside help or advice