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Alzheimer’s and Family Strife: Tips for Dealing with Critical Relatives When You’re the Primary Caregiver

Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can create a  tremendous amount of stress in families, although sometimes the diagnosis  brings family members closer as they work toward the common goal of caring for the patient.

In families where there is generally good will, conflicts  can typically be worked through for the common good. Advice given by the Mayo  Clinic (  includes strategies such as sharing responsibilities among family members,  meeting regularly to discuss care issues, being honest in discussions, not being critical of each other, and, if needed, joining a support group for  Alzheimer’s caregivers or even seeking family counseling.

However, in families where people didn’t get along well before the diagnosis, it can create nightmares, especially for the primary caregiver.  The situation can be even worse when the primary caregiver is not a direct family  member, such as, for example, when the patient has remarried and the caregiving spouse is not a blood relative of the children.

The situation can become worse still if some of the family members live out of town and only see the loved one for short, infrequent visits. They just don’t have the opportunity to witness the severity and frequency of demented behaviors you have to deal with every day.

You may find you’re being criticized unfairly for the care you’re providing even though you’re doing a heroic job and making major sacrifices in your personal life to do so. Although you may never convey the full extent of the patient’s impairment or the burden the caretaking is placing on you, there are some things you can do to try to reduce friction within the family:

1)  Educate  Others about the Patient’s Condition: It can help if you make very detailed lists of the patient’s dementia behaviors and share them with other family members. Remember, they’ve never seen the patient do many things you see on a daily or even hourly basis, so put down even the smallest details. Update these lists frequently and share them with everyone on a regular basis.  

2) Have Other Family Members Care for the Patient for Awhile: The best way to let other family members get a better understanding of the loved one’s condition is to have them take care of the patient for awhile. Ideally, this would be for a week or two while you go on vacation, not just for an afternoon while you’re at a movie or go shopping. Almost anyone can deal with a demented patient for a few hours. Let them take care of the person for a couple of weeks and you may find you’re being criticized less and appreciated more. 

3) Be Patient and Understand Where They’re Coming from: Most of all, however, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand why they lack knowledge of the situation. If you can stay calm you’ll have a better chance of decreasing stressful interactions.




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3 Responses to “Alzheimer’s and Family Strife: Tips for Dealing with Critical Relatives When You’re the Primary Caregiver”

  1. John H. from Tampa, Florida says:

    I can understand these situations all too well. I’m the main person taking care of my mother, who lives with me. I have two sisters and a brother – all out of town – in Boston and San Francisco. They only visit once or twice a year and every single time they come they criticize me to no end. And your right. They don’t understand how bad mom really is. She always acts better when they’re here. Sometimes I get so frustrated I could just scream at them. I’d like to send mom to stay with each of them for a month or two. I think that’s the only way they’ll ever understand. I joined a caregivers group last month and that has been of some help to me. At least now I can share with some other people who understand.

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  2. Melia Johnson from Kansas City says:

    This is in response to John. I was in the same situation while my mother was still alive. My brothers never did understand how demented mom was – not even when she could hardly put sentences together anymore. They just said she was getting old and forgetful. It caused a lot of trouble in our family. I always wished there would have been something I could have did to make them understand.

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  3. Sherry from Kansas City says:

    You got that right gal. My sister criticized me all the time. While she was off on all kinds of fancy vacations with her friends and I was at home taking care of dad. Nothing I did was good enough for her. I think your ideas for managing this type of situation are good ones but I’m not really sure they would have worked, she was so selfish and everything.

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