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Soaring Through a Family Meeting

By Jean Wise

(Page 1 of 3)

Bess’ Alzheimer’s disease has progressed to late stage. She lives with her husband, Don, in a small town. They have four adult children, three of whom live several hours away and one who lives across the country, who are anxious and unsure of what to do as their mother continues to decline. It is time for a family meeting, but where do they start?

A family meeting to discuss how to best handle a loved one’s declining health has the potential to build bridges or create divisions among family members. A guide, SOAR, offers points for family members to discuss and items to facilitate decisions. This valuable and easy tool provides structure for conducting the family meeting. SOAR is an acronym for Synchronize, Organize, Analyze, and Recognize.

S = Synchronize

The first step in holding an effective meeting is to get all family members involved, meaning that everyone must be present. Getting people together can be tough and as difficult as it may be to balance everyone’s schedules, this is a vital first step. Having a clear purpose, a convenient time and location, and an attitude of teamwork motivates people to attend.

Since distance can be an obstacle, explore creative options. For example, if Bess’ out of town daughter cannot meet with the family in person, she can still participate via a phone or internet conference.

Whether or not the loved one participates depends on his or her current medical condition. The loved one has the right to make their own medical decisions unless incompetency or dementia interferes. As Bess’ mental capacity prohibits her participation, Don hires a caregiver for the meeting.

Bess’ family meets at a friend’s house where the out-of-state daughter can be contacted by an internet conference website. Their meeting begins by reviewing Bess’ current mental and physical status. This summary gets the entire family “on the same page.”Next, they decide what topics to address. Limiting topics and taking the time to get consensus may make it necessary to hold several family meetings.

Ideas for topics include: personal care, finance/bills, transportation, cleaning, groceries/food, legal issues, doctors’ appointments, community resources, safety, emotional support and housing. Discussing everyone’s expectation creates an atmosphere of honesty and a willingness to listen to each other. Though this discussion may produce awkward and uncomfortable feelings for some family members, it helps to acknowledge and accept their feelings.

Written communication is vital, so notes should be taken and sent to everyone.


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