What to Do When Alzheimer's Threatens to Tear Your Family Apart

Huffington Post

Having a family member with Alzheimer's disease is a stressful situation. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "Dealing with Alzheimer's can bring out many strong emotions. As the disease progresses caregiving issues can often ignite or magnify [existing] family conflicts."

Carole Larkin (personal interview), a certified dementia consultant in Dallas, estimates that 30% of her clients have conflict among family members. She says you can double that for blended families.

According to Larkin the most common types of conflict are:

1. Disagreement among the spouse and the children on what needs to be done (especially likely when the primary caregiver is male).

2. Disagreement among the children on what needs to be done.

3. Disagreement among children of blended families about what needs to be done and who should pay for it.

Conflict is especially likely in families where people didn't get along previously, when the primary caregiver is not a direct family member (such as in a second marriage), and when some of the family members live out of town and only see the loved one for short, infrequent visits.

The conflict typically affects the primary caregiver more than other family members. It can be endlessly frustrating to have others make caregiving suggestions that are unreasonable because they're based on a lack of knowledge and understanding of the person's condition and abilities.

For example if a parent living alone is no longer able to do laundry, a child might recommend using a laundry service. What the child might not know, however, is that the parent wouldn't even be capable of opening the door and giving the laundry to the service person when he or she arrives for the pickup.

The Mayo Clinic has the following advice for families where there is significant strife: 1) Share responsibility, 2) Meet face-to-face regularly, 3) Ask someone to mediate if needed, 4) Be honest and don't criticize, 5) Join a support group, and/or seek family counseling.

Has anyone else used these or other strategies for dealing with family conflict when a loved one has Alzheimer's? If so, how did it work out?

Note: Carole Larkin, MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS, is a certified dementia consultant and owner of Third Age Services in Dallas. She advises families about options they can consider for the best care of their loved one with dementia.

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of 'Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy' and co-author (with Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of 'Finding Joy in Alzheimer's: New Hope for Caregivers.' Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's Caregivers.

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