Caring for a loved one with a chronic condition – particularly someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia – is among the top triggers for family conflict.
Discord among siblings can have devastating effects on family relations as well as cause unneeded strain on caregivers. In a study of women caring for parents living with dementia, siblings were cited as the most important source of interpersonal stress, noted Family Caregiver Alliance.
Coping with the reality of a loved one’s dementia diagnosis has emotional and logistical difficulties, especially in terms of decision-making and bearing the responsibility of caregiving. Ultimately, the goal is to unite your family to best support your loved one.
6 Tips to Help Families Work Together in Dementia Care
1. Communicate Regularly
The dementia-related behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease change often, so it’s important to communicate with family, especially if you are the primary caregiver and your children, siblings or other family members don’t live nearby. Understanding the disease can help facilitate productive conversations. Caregivers need support and you can’t get that if you’ve fallen out of touch. Reach out through a phone call, email, card, letter or even social media.
Difficult situations affect everyone differently, so try to understand your family’s point of view before getting angry or upset. Approaching the issue this way will help you suggest an appropriate solution that keeps the well-being of your loved one living with dementia at the forefront of decisions being made. Maybe your brother can’t emotionally deal with Mom “losing her memory.” If that’s the case, maybe he can help by contributing financially to her care instead.
3. Ask for Help
If you feel over-burdened by the responsibility of caregiving, inform the rest of your family (without complaining or blaming others). Your sibling(s) may assume you’re doing just fine handling everything on your own unless you tell them what challenges you’re facing and specific ways they can help.
As the maxim goes, “many hands make light work.” The demands of caregiving can often affect the physical and emotional well-being of caregivers. Dementia caregivers are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and poorer quality of life than caregivers of people with other conditions, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Ask for help when you need it and be specific in your asks so others know exactly how to best support you.
4. Make Decisions Together
Even if you serve as the primary caregiver, involve family when a major care decision needs to be made. Maybe you feel Dad’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to a point where he needs additional assistance to keep him safe at home, and you’re looking into hiring a professional in-home caregiver.
Talk through the pros, cons, financial considerations and possible alternatives before making a decision. Taking their thoughts and opinions into account will help to eliminate any hard feelings, grudges or resentments. Consider using some communication tips from the 40-70 Rule: An Action Plan for Successful Aging.
5. Leave Childhood Rivalries Behind
Easier said than done, of course, but try to approach the issue as the adult you are now, not as the younger person your siblings and other family members may still see you as.
According to Caring.com, family feuds often revolve around the following areas:
- Roles and rivalries dating back to childhood
- Disagreements over a loved one’s capabilities
- Lack of consensus over financial matters
- The burden of care that may fall to one family member
The stress of caring for a family member living with Alzheimer’s disease can exacerbate family disputes. Stepping back and realizing how unresolved issues from long ago influence your present relationships may put a helpful new perspective on your current situation.
6. Enlist the Help of a Mediator
Sometimes family issues become too complicated or emotionally charged to solve on your own. A third-party resource, particularly a professional such as a counselor, mediator or even a doctor or geriatric care manager, can provide an impartial voice of reason.
Only when families work together as a team can their loved ones receive the best love and care possible. Regardless of your history or current situation, all relationships are a work in progress. Envisioning how efforts to make amends will ultimately benefit everyone and can help steer you and your family members on a path toward reconciliation.