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Communicating and Caring for an Elderly Relative: Avoiding Conflict

Communicating and Caring for an Elderly Relative: Avoiding Conflict

By: June Duncan

Caring for a family member can be stressful, particularly if the care subject suffers from a progressive illness. There’s the day-to-day stress of caring for an ailing loved one, and the fatigue that comes with being vigilant and responsive to an array of daily needs, which are often unpredictable. As if that wasn’t hard enough to cope with, family members may have different ideas about a loved one’s condition and how best to care for them. Care decisions and financial matters may also become points of contention. Consequent disagreements can make it difficult to communicate at a time when it’s essential to maintain a constructive dialogue. Worse, a breakdown in communication can lead to angry exchanges and hurt feelings.

If your loved one has a disease like Alzheimer’s, they’ll gradually worsen; there’s no means of preventing or reversing their condition. It’s important to have an approach planned out, one that family members can contribute to, agree with, and help the primary caregiver carry out.

Talk it out

There are lots of things to work out, from how care tasks will be divided and money managed. Once a primary caregiver’s been identified, the next step is to establish a care support group, including other family members and friends among whom responsibilities can be divided. Allow individuals to volunteer for a specific role rather than assigning jobs or insisting that they should help in a given area. This will help prevent arguments and aggravating old disagreements and resentments. Consider setting up an online schedule, or calendar, that everyone can access so that there’s no confusion or ambiguity about caregiving duties. Those who’ve agreed to help can sign up for individual jobs, from picking up medication to helping with laundry, and ask for assistance from others.

Open communication

Now that everyone’s on the same team, it’s important that you all stay in contact and be honest with each other. No one should make decisions about a loved one’s care without consulting the other members of the support team. That way, group decisions can be made on an informed basis with everyone having the same information, and potential conflicts can be avoided. Talk about how everything’s going. If there are concerns or suggestions, discuss them as a group. This is also a forum for discussing what to do when your family member’s condition gets worse.

Self care can be a troublesome matter for caregivers, who often wind up feeling as if they’ve been cast adrift and left isolated. If other family members aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, the primary caregiver may feel betrayed. If you, as primary caregiver, need time away or are struggling with self care, make sure your support team knows before it gets out of hand.

Seek outside help

Coping with Alzheimer’s disease and its effects is always difficult. There’s lots of assistance to be had from Alzheimer’s support groups, which can help you and everyone associated with your situation understand what’s going on and how to be prepared. Reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association for support groups in your area. This is also a good way to find help for a family member struggling with dementia who has had trouble with substance abuse. A therapist, doctor or spiritual leader may also prove helpful.

Communicating and caring

Emotions often run high among relatives of an individual with Alzheimer’s or other progressive disease. Some people harbor false hopes that their relative will recover, while others may need to vent frustration or angry feelings, though they don’t mean to offend anyone. Keeping the lines of communication open is essential for preventing a bitter conflict that can ruin relationships and only make it more difficult to provide effective care.


To learn about caring for an aging parent when you live far away, read June’s other guest post.


June Duncan is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is also the author of The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers (coming soon).