ARTICLES / General /
Soaring Through a Family Meeting /
By Jean Wise
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
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
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.