Dementia’s Impact on the Family
Recently, I watched a video on the Internet that gave “helpful” advice to families who are going through sibling conflict. Watching a video about how to get my “dreaded” sibling to be my new best ally should have really been a life changing moment for me, both professionally and personally. But it wasn’t.
As a licensed therapist, certified coach, geriatric care manager and a certified Florida Supreme Court family mediator, I’m here to tell you that it’s not that easy to get family members on the same page when caring for a loved one.
Over the years, I have found that when you have family members (adult siblings) who have no intention or desire to be a part of the family caregiver process – bringing everyone together rarely becomes a kumbaya moment.
Please don’t get me wrong. It can be done, and I have helped many families successfully work together. But know that it will take a lot of work and dedication from all parties.
Flashback: a few years ago when I was working at Mount Sinai running a support group, which just so happened to be filled with children/caregivers of dementia sufferers on this particular day, the topic of siblings who don’t help came up.
You’d think we would all relate because we all have a common understanding and empathy for one another. And in a way we did, but much differently than you might think.
That day, as siblings, we were all fed up. Tired of caring for our parents alone, tired of listening to excuses why they couldn’t show, tired of going through this without our siblings’ support.
At that meeting we unofficially formed “The Deadbeat Siblings Club.” There was a lot of hate and resentment that we all needed to get out in order for us to heal.
Letting Go of Resentment
One of the most important lessons I learned over my many years as a professional is “Holding on to resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.
In my case and many of my clients’, it often takes time to figure out why we are so resentful. For me, my epiphany moment was when I realized that it wasn’t that my sister wasn’t helping out with Mom – our mother – I was resentful that at this time in our lives, she wasn’t helping me!
I had thought that all of the years of sibling rivalry were in the past because we were adults – emotional equals. In my case and some of my clients, the rivalry was subtle and lying dormant. Caring for my mother gave my sibling new ammunition to use against me.
What causes sibling rivalry?
There are many factors that contribute to sibling rivalry: parents paying more attention to one child than another, competition vs. cooperation, unhealthy conflict resolution, and family dynamics, to name a few.
Another factor is stressful situations for either the parents or child. Stress can lead to shortened fuses and frustration that sometimes, we don’t have the tools to cope with.
Sometimes, the different stages of dementia that our loved ones go through aren’t easy for others to be around. What we have to accept as the “new” mom is difficult and let’s face it, some family members can barely deal with the “old” mom.
As I say in “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide”Book, “not everyone is capable of being a caregiver” and without support, our jobs become lonely, isolating and hard. In many families, sibling rivalry doesn’t end in childhood. Old wounds continue to fester and carry into adulthood, especially in times of stress.
Nothing is more stressful than the challenging behaviors that come with the different stages of dementia. Wandering, repetitiveness, bathing wars, and incontinence take their toll on caregivers and all their relationships.
Mindfulness During Dementia Care
One of the tools that I practice with my clients is mindful communication. As caregivers, we should keep in mind that communication is a two way street. Sometimes it’s not what we say, but how we say it, that can make all the difference in the world.
The reality is that you may never have the kumbaya moments with your siblings that you always wanted, but by understanding some of the dynamics behind sibling rivalry, you may be able to forge a new relationship as caregivers for your loved ones. As caregivers, we need all the support we can get.
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Photo courtesy of Britt Reints