Managing family conflicts when a parent is diagnosed with dementia

It is inevitable that as a parent gets older they become more and more reliant on their children for support, and even more so if that parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s. This extra burden often brings with it stress and conflict among the families managing their welfare. Discord happens for a number of reasons, so we’ve suggested a few ways to help you manage it:

Disagreeing on care options

Often family members disagree on the best care for their parent with dementia, or harbour feelings of guilt at the prospect of sending them away to be looked after in a care facility by someone else. It may even be that some family members are still in denial about their parent’s condition, or be unable to accept the diagnosis, and therefore disagree about the right level of care needed.

Tip: Seek advice

People with dementia require specialised, around-the-clock care. Family members should seek to educate themselves on dementia and Alzheimer’s care requirements and members struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis should attend doctor’s visits so that they can ask questions if they need to. It is a challenging time, which is why it so important to join a support group. Livewell Villages hosts dementia support groups every month; find out more here: https://livewell.care/support-groups/. If you cannot attend the physical support groups, we encourage you to join our Dementia Support Group on Facebook.

 

Feelings of injustice

Very often the bulk of the responsibility for looking after the parent ends up falling mostly on one child. Often there are siblings that live too far away and then appear to be let somewhat ‘off the hook’, even if this is not the case. This can lead to feelings of injustice and cause resentment between the sibling that takes on the bigger portion of responsibility.

Tip: Hold a family meeting

Bring everybody together (preferably face to face or through a video call) and open a frank discussion about all your parent’s needs. Clearly establish, and have everyone agree, each sibling’s roles and obligations in each matter. Lastly, try to make big decisions together – that way no one can feel left out or take on too much responsibility.

 

Childhood rivalries return

Unfortunately, when siblings do not get along or are under a lot of pressure, some of their childhood rivalry returns and causes a regression in the relationship. Siblings with unresolved issues with one another often still see the younger version of each other, instead of who they have become. This only further exacerbates the issues already on the table.

Tip: Be the ‘bigger person’

Tensions and emotions might be at an all-time high, however try to encourage your siblings to treat the situation with great care and dignity, setting the example yourself. Avoid being sucked into family feuds or taking sides and pick your battles very carefully.

 

The subject of the inheritance

It is probably one of the most contentious subjects among siblings as their parents go into their golden years, and is often left completely unmentioned until absolutely necessary for that very reason. Often the main caregiver feels they deserve a bigger portion of the estate, while the other siblings might feel they might be spending too much of the inheritance on care.

Tip: Use a mediator

Sometimes it is necessary to get a neutral third party to bridge the differences between siblings and iron over any troublesome inheritance disputes. This helps to keep things from getting heated and makes everyone feel that fairness is at play. We can recommend mediators to assist with estate planning in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.  


If you can manage to work through all these issues as a family and come out stronger, you are even better prepared for ensuring your loved one with dementia receives the best care possible. Remember that it is not easy for anyone, and everyone deals with it differently. However, if you are actively trying to make things work and making use of family support groups, then you and your family are headed in the right direction towards reconciliation.

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Arrive as family, live with dignity and purpose.

Since 2011, the Livewell Group has been at the forefront of dementia and Alzheimer’s care in South Africa. We are motivated by a personal and heartfelt concern for the dignity and care of our elders and our efforts continue to be encouraged by the strong market need for specialised individual care.

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