Alzheimer's: Dealing with family conflict

Alzheimer's disease can cause stress for families. Work through conflicts together so that you can focus on what's important.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When a family member is diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, the effect on your entire family can be overwhelming. The diagnosis can trigger a range of emotions — including anger, fear, frustration and sadness. There also are many decisions to make about treatment, care, living arrangements, finances and end-of-life care. As a result, family conflicts are common.

Your family also has its own history of relationships, roles and challenges that can affect how individuals react to a diagnosis and how members see their roles in providing care and support.

Consider strategies that promote cooperation to lessen some family conflicts.

Share responsibility

Make a list of current and anticipated roles and responsibilities. It's unlikely that you'll divide caregiving evenly, but a thorough list will help you consider roles that match each family member's preferences, resources, abilities and emotional capacity.

Some might provide hands-on care or make arrangements for the family member to move in with them. Others might be responsible for respite care, household chores or errands. Your family might designate someone to handle financial or legal issues. One person might research care facilities.

Meet regularly

Hold family meetings to discuss care and other relevant issues. By meeting regularly, such as monthly, you can address a few concerns at a time, avoid burnout with long meetings and be more prepared for any changes in care. These can be done in person or via phone or video conference.

Invite everyone who's part of the caregiving team, including family friends and other close contacts. When appropriate, such as with concerns about in-home care, include the family member with dementia. If you can't resolve disagreements, consider inviting a social worker or clergy member to help facilitate a meeting.

Create an agenda and share it before you meet. Make it clear that the goal of a meeting is to evaluate care and needs, identify problems, and consider solutions. Be open to compromise and possibilities you hadn't considered.

End family meetings with a clear understanding of what has been agreed upon, what each person has agreed to do and what needs to be addressed in the future. You might create a summary of a meeting or an audio recording for family members who can't attend.

Communicate honestly

Talk about your feelings in an open, constructive manner during family meetings and informal conversations. If you're angry or stressed, say so.

Express your feelings without blaming or shaming anyone else by using "I" statements. For example, you might say, "I'm feeling overwhelmed with juggling my own schedule and dad's appointments," rather than, "You don't understand what it's like to manage dad's schedule."

Listen to other family members feelings too.

Don't criticize

There are many "right" ways to provide care. Respect each caregiver's abilities, style and values. Be especially supportive of family members responsible for daily, hands-on care.

Consider counseling

Even with effective communication and cooperation among family caregivers, you may need help resolving conflicts or coping with stress. You might join a support group for dementia caregivers, seek family counseling or ask for advice from your medical care team.

Working through conflicts can help you move on to more important things — caring for your family member and enjoying your time together.

Oct. 06, 2018 See more In-depth