How can I have a say in my married father's care?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I have a say in my father's care when he is still married? I am adult daughter - my father has Parkinson's and cancer - he is living at home but deteriorating - his wife does not always make decisions I agree with, and she has control of finances, though he has 1-2 accounts in his own name. They have had serious marital problems in the past - she loses her patience and they have terrible fights - but they were together at the time of his cancer diagnosis and hospital stay (2+ months long). He is on her insurance (she works, he does not), but he has medicare as well - I have no financial resources to take him in myself, but I care deeply about what happens to him. So looking to the future, is there any way to maintain some control over his care, or do I just have to go along with what his wife decides?

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

Adult children would like to have a say in a parent's care when the parent is seriously ill. However, when the parent has a spouse, the child's opinion will have to be secondary. This does not mean that you should not participate in your father's care or contribute your opinion in the decision-making process.

Apart from the legal status of the spouse, consider the nature of marriage. When you father dies, you will grieve but your life will go on pretty much as it is now. A wife's life changes dramatically when her husband dies. Her status changes from married to widow, her full time companion is gone from daily life, her friends change from other couples to single women, meals change when there is only one person, and many, many other things. So it is right that the spouse should have the primary say in how her husband's care is provided.

But care giving is not an 'all or nothing' situation. The wife needs support, especially since she is still working. She needs assistance that the adult child is uniquely situated to provide. You can give emotional support to your dad, you can share memories with him of times before he was ill, when you were a child, of past family vacations. You remember what little things used to please him that might please him now. You can visit and bring sunshine.

Be very careful to remain an advocate and not become an adversary. If you disagree with a decision, keep it to yourself. If the spouse sees you an part of the problem, you will have less access to your father, and be less a part in making vital decisions. On the other hand, if the wife views you as part of her support system, she will be more likely to consider your opinions.

Ultimately your goal is for your father to have the best care and the highest quality of life. Be part of the team to make that happen.