How can I deal with a dysfunctional family?

Asked by

I am the main care taker for my 77 year-old father-in-law. He has severe copd/emphysema and is an alcoholic. My husband and I moved in with him last year to care for him. During this time, we have had many horrible situations involving my husband's sisters, who were both living with their father.
During this trying time, the drinking has continued. My father-in-law is a very difficult man. Constantly, my husband and I are batteling with him. To even get him to change his clothes every week, takes three days. Before, he would leave on smelly, urine stained pants for weeks.
I have begun to notice a major decline in his thinking. He can barely walk, without holding on to furniture or a wall. He shuffles. He has tremors and shakes and his face turns bright red. He eats very little and has lost a lot of weight. The smell of urine and alcohol is so overpowering that I cannot even stay in the same room with him any longer.
I have talked to my husband about this, until I am ready to scream. I have talked to his sister. No one wants to do anything about this. I have suggested calling his doctor ( s ), getting an aid in to help with bathing and grooming, looking into the future,as far as a rest home or assisted living. I know he will probably get to the point of complete dependance, and I have made it very clear that I am unable to provide that type of care ( adult diapers, bathing, etc., ).
I am at a loss. I have thought about calling social services to look into this.
Any suggestions would be welcomed. I am trying to prepare for a bad situation getting worse. Thanks
Getting him to quit drinking is impossible at this point. Even though I do not care for the man, I would like to make his days comfortable. He will not agree for Hospice.

Answers 1 to 10 of 16
You just described my father in law. I am sorry because there is no correct answer. We had to put my father in law in a NH. He passed away 3 years ago, my husband has guilt that our kids never knew him. But, why traumatize them he too was a mean alcoholic. I feel for your family, alanon has helped my husband with the difficult decisions alcohol forced us to make.
It sounds to me like you have a very good head on your shoulders and you are asking the right questions. I don't think there are perfect answers, but I think you have some excellent ideas. Talk to his doctors. Maybe they can't talk to you (unless you have a hippa release) but they can listen. Arrange for some in-home help, for example with the bathing and grooming. Start now to look into long term care places, because you are probably right that he will decline beyond your ability to care for him at home. You may also want to start looking at where you will live when he leaves. Unless FIL has money to pay for in-home care and eventually long-term-care placement, start the process of applying for financial aid.

And an excellent place to start all of your good ideas rolling is to contact social services.

It is a difficult situation, for sure. But you yourself are clearly not dysfunctional, and I believe you can handle arranging for the necessary services. Best of luck to you!
I agree jeanne...make an appt to talk with social services about your concerns. Sometimes only the recourse is to have outside intervention. Family therapy might help with your siblings but if they refuse, why not get someone for you to help you cope - it can be a big relief.
The thing that jumps pout to me is that you will need to prepare to live somewhere else, in the event your FIL goes to a nursing home. It would be great if his doctor would talk to you, but realistically, I wouldn't count on it. Through a local AlAnon, you might find resources that will help.
Maybe is there some way one of you can bargain with FIL: "We are worried about your weight loss. We promise we won't let the doctor force you to give up your beer/wine/drink of choice. But let's find out what's causing that, so you are strong enough to go do (some activity he likes)."
Oddly enough, sometimes the best position from which to help someone like him is when you have nothing to lose. If helping him will cost you a home, that may make your husband (and his sisters) less willing to rock the boat. It sounds like you have two choices in front of you: watch things deteriorate, or rock the boat (and watch them deteriorate eventually, just not the way they are now). My heart goes out to you.
One last trick: when we were REALLY desperate to get my Dad to change his clothes, I used to "accidentally" spill something on his lap, so he HAD to change: Iced tea, room temp soup -- nothing to hurt him, but he did get changed. And -- what a surprise! -- I had the right clothes in a pile so I didn't have to make any choices, just fly in and grab 'em. You'll only get away with it a few times, but your sisters and husband could take turns with you. ;-)
Top Answer
My dad had a saying when he was alive. You can't expect a cat to bark or a dog to fly, because it's not in their nature. Your family paid full price for their dysfunctions. In most cases, they were abused into the dysfunctional person. If a person wants to overcome their dysfunction, you can help by modeling functional behaviors, better behaviors. But if a drunk doesn't want to stop drinking, you can't stop him any more than you can stop a rager from raging or a hoarder from hoarding if they don't want to stop. What you can do is drive yourself crazy trying to control behaviors that are not yours to control. Good Luck making peace with the act of allowing your family members to be who they are while finding out how you want to live your life. God Bless You.
dgrey63, I feel for you in this abusive situation with a husband who will not stand up to his dad in behalf of his wife. I wrote you a very long answer earlier and something went wrong when I hit submit.

For one thing, you are not going to be able to fix or change your FIL or your husband, plus know that you did not cause them to be how they are. Your husband reminds me a lot of my wife in dealing with her mother years ago for whom I had to make some boundaries with some consequences that took some time to get her attention and resolve the problems with her mommy dearest mother. Second, if you can, I would recommend getting into some therapy for yourself to deal with this dysfunction. All I can recommend is set some consequences for your situation and follow through. Maybe that will get your husband's attention and wake him up out of what sounds to me is a codependent relationship with his dad. Third, I would add find some way to chose a healthier path for your self regaurdless of what they do or do not do. If either decides to get on a healthier path also good and if not that is ok as well.

I wish you well for you are in a fight it sounds like for your very survival.
It sounds to me as though your FIL is beyond assisted living. I would start now as suggested by others to place him in a long term nursing home. Put his name on a wait list for the facility you want him in. Check with social services since, I am assuming the state will pay. If he owns a home, the home will probably have to to be sold to pay back the state unless he has a trust set up with an attorney. Does anyone have Power of Attorney regarding his assets/health? If not, and he can not pay out of pocket for long term care, then the state (social services) should cover it. I do not believe social services will cover in home care at least not for long term. I would tell your husband that insist on help, if he won't get on board, then hire some one to come in and help you and present him with the bill. That should wake him up and stick to your guns on it. I had to stick to my guns on other issues with my husband to wake him up, and when he realized I was not going to back down he came on board. If your FIL's other children are not willing to help with the duties required to care for their father or not willing to help with the financial obligations for his care, as in home care, then make it clear to your FIL and his children that you will not do it and can not do it without help and he will have to be placed in a long term care home at the expense of the state. Also, start looking for another place to live. Do you work? If not, you may need to get a job to help support yourself and to further state your position with your husband. I don't want to sound harsh, but sometimes we need to stand up for ourselves when others are so willing to take advantage of our kindness. God Bless you and I wish you success!!
I understand your situation, and what you are feeling is not wrong or bad. Your father-in-law needs medical help, and perhaps your husband will be open to the suggestion that a doctor may be able to help him with the incontinence issues through medication. I have found that approaching things as a medical issue instead of a personal issue seems to make my siblings less angry and defensive even though I am impacted personally. Take a written list of the issues to your father-in-law's doctor, and include the ones you are sharing with us. If he decides that a different type of care is needed then you are not the "bad" one suggesting it. If you cannot use the doctor suggestion, than go to YOUR doctor and ask him for help with social services. Your health will be impacted soon if something does not change. Because we are not living in your situation, our suggestions may not work. If that is the case, please write us and tell us so we can help. Take care and don't forget we are here for you. Rebecca
I would follow up on the hospice idea. He must be terminal in some way if you bring up hospice as a rejected possibility. You may get all kinds of help if he's terminal. It depends on which hospice you use. Medicare loves hospice since they don't have to pay for expensive treatments.
my parents both drank, but i was fortunate, since i was rescued & became a ward of the state. i'm not sure how they coped, but i know mom died in a manor retirement place. i dodged ever having 2 ever deal w/ them again after surviving severe childhood abuse. i'd never want 2 provide bathing/diapers either. i'd never want 2 do all the risky lifting some elders need. i can do light work, but not all the heavy stuff. a familyless friend is aging, & there's no way he'll accept help, & i'm stuck. i'm glad he's a non-drinker, & a former smoker. he still hacks up that ugly mucus from his chest, but he won't eat right, & doesn't drink enough water. he eats mainly greasy fried chicken tv dinners, & thinks anything he won't eat is junk. what a hopeless situation this is!!! it's a no-win situation; an endless cycle. all i can do is stand silently by & watch him slowly die. as bad as i want 2 save him from his own fate, i can lead a horse 2 water, but can't make him drink.

Share your answer

Please enter your Answer

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support