Rows with brothers and sisters, and arguments with partners and parents can cause enormous stress when you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. But family rows and even family feuds are far more common than you might think. Here’s a few tips to help you cope.
Why family rows happen
If someone you love has dementia, the diagnosis can send shock waves through the whole family, leaving everyone feeling upset and worried. But people cope with the news in different ways. Some panic and fear the worst, while others decide it’s better to keep calm and carry on as if nothing much has happened. Sadly, both of these approaches are likely to cause conflict.
The dementia journey is complex and inconsistent; it’s rarely a slow, steady decline. The person you care for may seem perfectly fine one minute, then very confused the next. This unpredictability can be the source of many family rows often because one person thinks there isn’t much to worry about, whilst the other thinks the opposite. Everyone has their own view or opinion about what to do and how to behave and, inevitably, relationships start to become strained.
How you might feel:
- Resentful: why did I get dumped with this?
- Angry: why won’t they listen when I tell them how bad things are?
- Embarrassed: Why are we all fighting when we should be pulling together?
My family don’t understand
Caring for a person with dementia is hard enough without having to deal with other people in your family who either don’t seem to understand what you’re going through physically and emotionally on a daily basis, or even worse, don’t seem to care. Sometimes you might think it would be easier if they all just went away and left you to it.
Why the arguments keep happening:
1 – The person you’re caring for is vulnerable
This is why rows about money are increasingly common as the dementia journey progresses. Watching someone you love growing more confused and forgetful makes everyone worry about them being exploited and want to protect them. However, you may all have different ideas about what will help, and when it comes to issues of mental capacity and Lasting Power of Attorney, tempers can flare. Sadly, not all family members have their loved one’s best interests at heart. A tiny few may try to exploit their vulnerability which can be a source of many a bitter family feud.
2 – Your family is in denial
Some family members cope with a dementia diagnosis by pretending it didn’t really happen, or by telling themselves it isn’t that bad really… Whilst it’s good to stay positive, if you’re the one dealing with the day to day reality of the condition, it isn’t helpful to have someone minimise your experience, or – even worse – tell you to stop moaning.
3 – They make things worse
If other family members don’t know very much about dementia, they might say or do things that make your life even more difficult. For example, constantly correcting the person you care about when they get the day or date wrong. Or ‘reminding’ them that their mother/father died 20 years ago so won’t be joining them for dinner. This is particularly difficult if they become defensive when you try to explain why this approach isn’t helpful.
4 – You’re all stressed
Some of the biggest family rows can start with a seemingly trivial issue, such as who’s turn it is to buy the milk or why you didn’t phone the GP/social worker/at 8am when you said you would. Before you know it, you’re bickering and yelling at each other – because you’re all really stressed.
What might help:
Accept that it’s complicated
Even the happiest family can find themselves tested by dementia. So try not to feel embarrassed or ashamed if family members are behaving in a way that isn’t helpful or that you find hurtful. The dementia journey is complex and the whole family is affected. The challenges you’re experiencing are all fairly normal.
Ask yourself 2 questions
What would the person I’m caring for want? A family that’s muddling together and doing their best, or one that’s falling apart because everyone thinks they know best?
Would I rather be right, or would I rather be happy? Your opinion isn’t the only one and it might not always be the best one. Whenever possible, try to see the bigger picture and be prepared to compromise, or even back down.
Work with what you’ve got
Sometimes arguments mainly arise from misunderstandings or lack of communication, so try to keep things simple. For example, regular face to face meetings, or skype calls could work better than sending each other long emails or texts that could be misinterpreted.
Remember: It doesn’t matter if you aren’t able to agree on everything, providing you’re more or less going in the same direction.