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How to Deal with Family Conflict Caused by Alzheimer’s

Senior man with Alzheimer's. Stressed caregiver in background is not speaking to him.
Only when families work together as a team can their loved ones with Alzheimer’s receive the best love and care possible.

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Shortly after her father passed away, Valerie’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“When it became apparent that there was something wrong with my mother, my brother told me, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m done with her.’

I don’t know what happened between them, but he was true to his word. He was really scarce with his visits. I guess since I am her caregiver, I’m out too. He has no contact with me. I am really alone in this endeavor to take care of Mom. Alzheimer’s has broken up my family.”

Sadly, an ill loved one is the number one trigger for family conflict, according to a study conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care® network. Coping with the reality of a loved one’s Alzheimer’s not only has its emotional difficulties, but logistical ones as well, especially in terms of decision-making and bearing the responsibility of caregiving. Despite these challenges, the following tips may help you unite your family around your loved one with Alzheimer’s when that person needs family support the most.

  • Communicate Regularly. Don’t allow weeks to turn into months and years of not communicating with family members you feel should take a vested interest in your parents’ condition and care. If you’ve fallen out of touch with a member of your family, reach out through a phone call, email, card or letter.
  • Empathize. Difficult situations affect everyone differently, so try to understand your sibling’s point of view before getting angry or upset. Approaching the issue this way will help you suggest an appropriate solution. Maybe your brother can’t emotionally deal with Mom “losing her mind.” If that’s the case, maybe he can help you by contributing financially to her care instead. Empathy was one main factor that helped keep the Hamilton sisters united. The stress of their mother’s illness affected every person in the family differently, but as you’ll learn from their family’s story, they persevered through the challenges to provide the loving care they felt their mother deserved.
  • 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, “a burden shared is a burden halved.”
  • Make Decisions Together. Even if you serve as the primary caregiver of your parents, involve your sibling(s) when you need to make a major care decision. Maybe you feel Dad’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to a point where he needs additional assistance, and you’re looking into hiring a professional in-home caregiver for him. Talk through the pros, cons, financial considerations and possible alternatives with your siblings before you make a decision. Taking their thoughts and opinions into account will help to eliminate any hard feelings, grudges or resentments.
  • 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 may still see you as. Stepping back and realizing how unresolved issues from long ago influence your present relationships may put a helpful new perspective on your current situation.
  • 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 with Alzheimer’s receive the best love and care possible. Remember that regardless of your past 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.

For additional support managing family relationships and resolving family conflict, explore the resources in our 50-50 Rule® program.

The more you know, the better your loved one's care will be. Free online training and expert tips at HelpforAlzheimersFamilies.com

Last revised: February 6, 2012

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Posted by Pam

    Thank you for the suggestions, however, everyone's situation is different. My sibling tries to help with Mom, but he is in poor health also. He doesn't understand how much Mom's mental capabilities have deteriorated. He came to "help" out and I actually spent the whole time taken care of him...serving his meals, assisting in his bathing and clipping his toenails that he couldn't reach himself. Plus, I work fulltime outside the home in order to support myself while more and more responsibility is being piled upon me. My grown children live out of town and are raising families of their own, so I am accepting the fact that Mom and I are in this alone. Finances are limited so hiring help would be a financial burden for me. I am coming to the conclusion that long term care is an option that is closer in our future than we wanted. Now, I have to figure out how to pay for it.

    Reply

  2. February 13, 2014 at 7:02 am | Posted by Glenda

    I have let go, of my brother and sister. I brother has a granddaughter her can't be away from. The joy of his life. My sister has not talked to my mom in 4 years, she said my family feels that we lived by her for 30 + years and now it is your turn. So I know it is me and I tell her I am going to love you through tis to the end. So no one to blame. My family is all I have and we that live all feel the same. When I first got marred my husband his dad had had a stroke. They had a family meeting and it was up to my husband to put him in a home. I felt like they through him out like an old pair of shoes. I thank God for trials he gives to me everyday, to help me be a better person. I pray for use all. I love to read every ones store. Bless you all

    Reply

  3. February 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Posted by Viswanathan

    There are or there will be goodhearted people who always are prepared to come to help. I am an Indian and will be here till may and would like to help without obligations for those who require help. For me help will come automatically

    Reply

  4. November 30, 2013 at 12:25 am | Posted by Lisa Roberson

    Anna, I agree with you. My mom's sister has always had jealousy issues and I have to guess that it is because she never had any children, and my mom and I are very close. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's just recently and she has been upset that the doctors have told her that she cannot drive. My aunt, mom's sister, is very angry with me for listening to the doctors and taking mom's car keys. I am power of attorney, but my aunt has went behind my back and talked my mama into changing the address on her bank accounts back to my mom's address. I am taking care of all of mom's bills and also my name is on all her accounts. However, I spent two days straightening out the mess she made. She is manipulative and has tried her best to make mama believe that I only want mom's money. I am extremely hurt and I am trying very hard to convince my mom to move close to me. She is currently living beside of my aunt so my aunt is over at her house multiple times during the day. My aunt has always been an extremely negative person and has never had anything good to say about me or my mom. She definitely has some mental issues but has always refused to get help. I have threatened legal action against her if she continues to manipulate and coerce my mom into doing something that my mom has no idea she is doing. Does anyone have any advice for me? Should I continue letting my mom live in her home beside of this "mental case," or should I move her away even though my mom wants to stay at her home? She is in between stages of Alzheimer's 1 and 2. Thanks so much. Lisa

    Reply

    • February 12, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Posted by Joy johnson

      Guardian/conservatorship is the only way to protect your mom's assets and person. Talk to an elder care lawyer. We had a similar situation with our mom only the abuser was someone who wanted to marry our mother. Mom's brother saw mom's disease for what it was but her sister was (and still is) in denial. Thankfully, she and her husband did not legally fight the process but it was still very difficult. Good luck, stay strong, find people who believe you and believe IN you, leave the rest behind and stay the course. You will be in my prayers.

      Reply

  5. May 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Posted by Lisa Stephens

    Being a caregiver as an employee I have learned so much on the job. You have to find ways that work for each person to accomplish the task that needs to be done.There are many pleasant moments through out the day that show his/her personalities of who the person is all about. My concern is to get the tasks done that are pertainent to their health needs. It takes time in learning what works and what doesnt. If you are truly caring, loving, and patient it will come. Enjoyed all the comments posted and have seen loving families struggle so much in trying to do the right thing. Caregivers must take care of themselves. There are programs here to relieve caregivers for some me time...probably not enough nation wide though.

    Reply

  6. February 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Posted by Anna

    I somewhat disagree with this article. If the brother checked out because the mother had alzheimers, alzheimers did not break the family up and tear them apart. It was something else going on with the brother. He had other issues that evidently were bothering him prior to the disease. I think the alzheimers was a great excuse to leave the family. But the reason and thought process was already there. Some people are just not real great people. Every family has them and when problems arise, their true colors show.

    Reply

    • February 13, 2014 at 9:56 am | Posted by diane draveski

      I agree too. The caregiver has enough stress. Life is not perfect for them either. If the family member chooses to be a jerk I say cut them loose. We as caregivers cannot coddle people who are selfish. We have enough to do.

      Reply

  7. February 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Posted by Faye Coley

    My husband is in the Veterans Hospital in the community care unit.He has alzheimers and Parkinson's.I use to try and go every day,ut it got so stressful seeing him ike this,I now go 2 o3 times a week,and it seems to help both of us cope better.He still knows me,but time hs no meaning to him,so he does not realize how many times I comeI realize I have to take care of myself,in order to be here for him.I love him very much,and I stress this to him all the time,and he tells me how much he loves me.I miss him so much,and I will until the day I leave this world.

    Reply

  8. February 18, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Posted by Kim

    I am happy to say the disease has brought my family closer than ever. While I write this, I am sitting by my Dad's bedside watching him lose his battle with this terrible enemy. My sister, mom and I have the same goal which is for my dad to be whole again and not the shell the disease has turned him in to. We keep this in mind as we make decisions and base most of them on what we know he would have wanted. My sister and I both support our Mom on her wishes. Alzheimers is hard enough without the added stress of family conflict.

    Reply

  9. February 11, 2013 at 8:50 am | Posted by jaime delcastillo

    excellent artcle.My wifes family is just going through that.When my father-in-law died they brought my mother-in-law to live in this country.At the begining my brother-in-law andnhis daughters were very "loving"about the mom,so mushy.But after the time passed by and they realized the true nature of this deseased they all turned their backs starting by the oldest son ,my brother-in-law,he has totally abandined her.I had tried to reason with him about this and his predomonat answer is "I can't have her in my home".WEll,the moral here is Alzheimer and caring for a loved one is not by words it is a matter of actions,is not doing it for someone that is going to be nice to you ,it takes true love in action.So my mom in law has ended up here in our home and we are still learning and is not easy but we are getting there.

    Reply

  10. February 5, 2013 at 10:15 am | Posted by Nancy Clark

    Excellent article. The care of ill or aging parents can be so difficult, even when families completely agree about care and help. There can be divisions created simply by one individual being able to be there more often than another...guilt builds up...and often the parent will say things about one family member not being there...saying it to them and everyone else. This can cause deep feelings of guilt and frustration and anger, not just in the parent but in the one who is not there as much as they would like to be. These things need to be talked about too.

    Reply

  11. February 4, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Posted by debbie

    Being empathetic , listening , everyone brings thier own points of view to the table be respectful , of eachothers feeligns .& recognize it is really not about yourselves anymore it is about the one with teh diease & how best to pulltogether for thier sake .

    Reply

  12. February 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Posted by debbie cox

    need moore informatio.

    Reply

  13. February 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Posted by Verna Evans

    My husband has alzheimer's and the doctor had me put him in a facility. He would walk all night and barely slept. That has worked well and I go see him daily. He knows me and seems to be happy. He continues to lose weight though he is eating well which is what I understand happens with ALZ patients. I wish they could find a cure for Alzheimer's. He is such a good man and I would love to have him at home with me but I couldn't handle the walking all night and care that he needed. I go see him daily and he is happy to see me and seems content with his situation.

    Reply

  14. February 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Posted by pam.cook

    This was very helpful. Thanks..

    Reply

  15. January 11, 2013 at 9:30 am | Posted by Wendy Meek

    Thank you for the excellent article. What I was most pleased to see is the mention of accessing the services of a mediator in situations of conflict. I am the Elder Mediation Service Coordinator for this program. There is no charge and anyone in the community can access our services. In situations of conflict, the emotions of participants can be highly charged and decisions about the older adult may not be made in the best interests of the older adult. Mediation assits the participants by allowing them to communicate effectively and address their opions in a respectful and safe way and to reach an agreement which is acceptable to all participants.

    Reply

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