Dealing with Family Conflict

Conflicts are common as family members struggle to deal with the situations that arise when a loved-one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.  According to Mayo Clinic staff, families should work through conflicts together so that they can move on to more important things – caring for loved-ones and enjoying the time together as much as possible.

Share responsibility.  Choices include hands-on care, respite care, household chores, errands, sorting the mail, handling financial issues, and tending to legal matters.  Assigning others some of the tasks is one way to reduce caregiver stress.  Caregivers shouldn’t worry about being inadequate or selfish if they ask for help.  Most of your friends and family want to help, but do not know how.  If a friend enjoys cooking, ask him to help with meal preparation.  A family member who likes to drive might be able to drive your loved-one to the doctor or to the park.

Meet regularly.  Plan face-to-face family meetings or conference calls to discuss each person’s responsibilities and make changes as needed.  A person, who is stressed, might refuse a request to help.  That does not mean he or she would not say yes at another time.  Consider asking a counselor, spiritual leader, case manager or family attorney to moderate.  If tensions are high, consider using a resource like Elder Peace Partners (512) 454-6542 or Austin Dispute Resolution Center at (512) 371-0033

Be honest.  Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia poses special challenges. Ask for help if you are overwhelmed by your caregiving duties. The physical and emotional demands that are placed upon caregivers impacts their general health and risk for chronic disease, health-related physiological changes, healthcare utilization and even death. If you can’t get enough help from family and friends, there are agencies who can provide care in your home or watch your loved-one at respite centers in your area. Call Alzheimer’s Texas for information on support groups and caregiver education classes at (512) 241-0420 x10.

Do not criticize.  There is more than one ‘way’ to provide care.  Be respectful of each caregiver’s abilities and values.  Be especially supportive of family members who are responsible for daily, hands-on care.  Keep in mind the desires and wishes of the person with Alzheimer’s.

Books, such as Jim Comer’s When Roles Reverse, and articles about caregiving often mention the “Family Meeting” as a way to facilitate cooperative care, but how does one go about having such a meeting?  The Family Caregiver Alliance has some suggestions:

Who Should Attend? 

It is important to include everyone who is part of the caregiving team, including family, friends, neighbors, paid caregivers, or social worker involved in caregiving.  Consider holding the first meeting to share with each other thoughts and feelings that would be painful for the ill person to hear, and hold a second meeting with the diagnosed person present.

How Should We Begin? 

“Communication is the key to working successfully with a group of people.”  Technology can help:  a conference call, the use of a speakerphone, Skype, a video, an audio recording, and the use of email or text can speed things along and keep everyone up to date with how things are going.

Prepare an Agenda

It will be difficult to cover every issue in one meeting, so plan on additional meetings especially when first starting.  You might include:

  • The latest report from the physician.
  • Sharing feelings about death, dying, sadness, confusion, anger, and guilt.
  • What does the person who is ill want and need?
  • Daily caregiving needs. Where should the sick person live?  Do they need to be in an assisted living facility or nursing home?  How much time does each family member have to visit?
  • Financial concerns. How much will this cost?  How much work can family members afford to miss?  What financial help is available from outside the family?
  • Who will make major decisions? Who will have power of attorney, medical power of attorney, etc.?
  • What sort of support does the primary caregiver need? Help with meals, shopping, laundry, cleaning, and doctor’s appointments.  Need for occasional respite is sometimes necessary.

The Meeting

Find a space that is comfortable and as convenient as possible, and has few   distractions.  Everyone should have a chance to be heard.  Feelings need to be expressed and acknowledged.  “Until the depth of the issues concerning the ill family member is explored, it is important to not try to solve the problems.”  Recording the problems in a    journal that is shared can be useful.  “Even when disagreeing, try to find a part of what is said that you can agree on.”

Potential Challenges

Family history: how each person relates to the others, what role each person plays, how each person feels about the one who is sick, and how each person deals with sickness.  There are secrets, past rivalries, unequal burdens, and differing interests.  “The task is not to ‘fix’ the family, but to have everyone on the same team in caring for someone who is ill.”

Win / Win Situations

Sometimes, it is important to accept approximations of a good solution.  Respecting each person’s individuality and the situation they are in, helps to create acceptance and allows for creative solutions.  By being open to alternatives, you may get part of what you want or need.  Use a centralized calendar or to keep responsibilities straight and everyone on the same page.


Annis, Cynthia. “Dealing with Family Conflict”.  Alzheimer’s Texas.

Family Caregiver Alliance. Holding a Family Meeting.

The Mayo Clinic. Alzheimer’s: Dealing with Family Conflict.

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