Saying “No” to Family Drama while Caregiving

40 Comments

Over the years, there have been many posts in the Caregiver Forum about the questionable things family members do and how deeply these actions affect elders and their caregivers.

It seems that every family has a “difficult” member: the one who is never around but somehow knows everything; the one you can never please, no matter how hard you try; or the one who makes every conversation and situation about themselves. These people would never consider helping you in any tangible way with caregiving. Yet, like I said, they consider themselves to be experts. They know it all and have done it all.

My wife, Phyllis June, and I have a few of these people in our family. The strange thing is, it has always been these few who seem to stick together through thick and thin. One could lie, and the others will swear to it. Everything is always about them, and they do nothing to help anyone else. When something happens to them, they always add their own flare to the story so it’s much more dramatic than it would be if they told the truth.

How are caregivers supposed to handle family and friends like this? Back in the day, before I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, I just let their nonsense roll off my back. I didn’t give them a second thought until my health and my outlook changed.

When I was diagnosed, one of the things everyone told my wife and me repeatedly was that I had to stay away from stress of any kind. We immediately made some adjustments, including retiring from my career in law enforcement and EMS. Some modifications were easier than others, but the hardest part was making changes based on another person’s behavior—especially when it’s someone you are related to. Most people can and do put up with a lot, especially from their family, but our new circumstances meant that had to stop.

Ignoring our family members and their antics only worked for a couple of years. Then they did something that neither my wife nor I could put up with. I won’t go into details, but it was a deal breaker for us. We have washed our hands of these people, and we are better off for it. It is a sad thing to do, but we have accepted that they are never going to change. Now, when we see them, they look the other way, which is fine with me. I suppose they know they should leave well enough alone after the events that have transpired.

What I am trying to get at is, when you have dementia or another serious medical condition, you simply cannot put up with any nonsense. The stress that some family members bring to the table is entirely unnecessary and unacceptable. Furthermore, it is harmful.

The same applies for caregivers. You and your loved one are under an enormous amount of pressure just dealing with the emotional toll of dementia, daily hands-on care and any other serious health issues. Additional drama has no place in the caregiving equation.

I simply do not have the time or the inclination to deal with insensitive people. I would never go out of my way to be mean or hateful to anyone, but there comes a time when boundaries need to be set and respected.

The bottom line is you cannot change people. Balancing your own sanity, your loved one’s wellbeing and the duty you feel to relatives is an immense challenge. However, your number one concern is your loved one’s welfare. Because they depend on you, that means your mental and physical health is also a high priority.

You can try to sit these people down and be rational about your feelings and their treatment of you, but most will never see the light. I want to be clear: I am not promoting family break-ups or estrangement. Everyone faces familial challenges and handles them in their own way. However, since I was diagnosed, my outlook and approach have changed.

Two simple questions helped me reflect on my troubled relationships. If you are experiencing difficulties with a family member, sit back and ask yourself, “What does this person bring to my life and my loved one’s life? What have they done to make this journey easier on us?” If you are honest with yourself, the answers will speak volumes about your relationship.

If you can come to an understanding where they realize you will not tolerate such behavior, then that is a wonderful thing. Open communication and appreciation of other points of view are vital to healthy relationships. However, your family member may not entertain either of these notions. They may not even be capable of doing so. If they were, they probably would have examined their behavior and made efforts to change already.

Instead, it is up to you to make the adjustment. Change your situation for the better. If that means altering who is involved in your life and the extent of their involvement, so be it. You will be surprised how much better off you will be by eliminating unnecessary negativity.

Stress is an inevitable part of life, but stress that is brought on for no reason is unacceptable. Sometimes we just need the courage to say, “What you are doing to me is not right, and I am not taking it anymore.”

Rick Phelps became an advocate for dementia awareness after being diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in June of 2010, at the age of 57. He was forced into early retirement and created Memory People, an online dementia and memory impairment group which supports over 7,000 individuals, all touched in some way by dementia.

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40 Comments

Thank you for stating this so well. I have 2 siblings who say all the right things, but do nothing when it comes to the care giving of my 92 year old mother who is in the early stages of dementia. I used to consult them for every decision, but I've learned that I am perfectly capable of doing what is best for my mom. I'm the one in the trenches day after day. I had hoped at some point, my siblings would change, but I see now that isn't going to happen. Letting go of things that I can't fix or change is what I need to do for me. God bless everyone who is a caregiver.
Thank you for this. I have cut a sister from my life due to drama and lies. I feel terrible about having to do this but it was necessary.
But what do you do when the one who is the most difficult, the most uncooperative and causes the most drama is the one that needs to be cared for - my 83-year-old mother.