The 50-50 Rule: Overcoming Family Conflict is in the Best Interests of Aging Parents

By Lucy Novelly, CSA, Franchise Owner/CEO of Home Instead Senior Care serving Washington County and the South Hills area.

For more information about the local Home Instead Senior Care offices serving the Greater Pittsburgh area, visit or call 1-866-996-1087.

Anyone who cares for seniors whether in the hospital or home setting has seen the behind-the-scenes family conflict that can interfere with the care of an elderly patient. Siblings may not have much in common now that they’re grown, but they do share one thing: responsibility for the care of their mom or dad.

“Any family that has cared for a senior loved one knows that problems working with siblings can lead to family strife,” said Lucy Novelly, a local franchise owner of Home Instead Senior Care that serves Washington County and South Hills. “Making decisions together, dividing the workload and teamwork are the keys to overcoming family conflict.”

Coined The 50-50 RuleSM, this program offers strategies for overcoming sibling differences to help families provide the best care for elderly parents, which in turn helps the professionals who fit into the overall care dynamic. The 50-50 Rule refers to the average age (50) when siblings are caring for their parents, as well as the need for brothers and sisters to share in the plans for care 50-50.

“If you’re 50, have siblings and are assisting with the care of seniors, it’s time to develop a plan,” Novelly said. “This program can help.”

At the core of the 50-50 Rule public education program is a family relationship and communication guide of real-life situations that features practical advice from sibling relationships expert Dr. Ingrid Connidis from the University of Western Ontario. Medical professionals, administrators and others who find themselves in contact with families may benefit from understanding more about such family dynamics and may become a third party mediator in discussions regarding the overall care and health of a senior.

“Like all relationships, siblings have a history,” Connidis noted. “Whatever happened in the past influences what happens in the present. Regardless of their circumstances, most siblings do feel a responsibility to care for parents that is built from love. And that’s a good place to start – optimistically and assuming the best.”

According to the website, family feuds often revolve around the following areas and impact the health status of a senior:

  • Roles and rivalries dating back to childhood. Mature adults often find that they’re back in the sandbox when their family gets together. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving.
  • Disagreements over an elder’s condition and capabilities. It’s common for family members to have very different ideas about what’s wrong with a loved one and what should be done about it. You may be convinced that your family member is no longer capable of driving, while your brothers argue that he needs to maintain his independence.
  • Disagreements over financial matters, estate planning, family inheritance and other practical issues. How to pay for a family member’s care is often a huge cause of tension. Financial concerns can influence decisions about where the person should live, whether or not a particular medical intervention is needed, and whether he can afford a housekeeper. These conflicts are often fueled by ongoing resentment over income disparities and perceived inequities in the distribution of the family estate.
  • Burden of care. Experts say the most common source of discord among family members occurs when the burden of caring for an elder isn’t distributed equally. Home Instead Senior Care research reveals that in 43 percent of U.S. families and 41 percent of Canadian families, one sibling has the responsibility for providing most or all of the care for mom or dad. “Usually one of the adult children in the family takes on most of the caregiving tasks,” says Donna Schempp, program director at the Family Caregiver Alliance ( a national nonprofit organization that provides information and support to caregivers.

Engaging parents in caregiving issues is important, Dr. Connidis said, and so are family meetings that involve a third party if necessary. A third-party resource, particularly a professional such as a doctor or geriatric care manager, can provide an impartial voice of reason. “Talking before a crisis is best,” she said. “Talk to one another about perceptions of what happens if seniors need help, how available you would be, and the options that you and your family would consider.”

For more information about the 50-50 Rule program, visit

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