6 Things That Caregiver Siblings Should Consider When Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s

Sherry Christiansen
By Sherry ChristiansenMarch 15, 2019

As a caregiver, having siblings help care for a parent or senior loved one can be an enormous source of support, but can also create conflict at times. While caregiving, emotions can run high, causing discord between caregiver siblings and families.

Fortunately, there are ways to resolve this friction. Read our list of six things for caregiver siblings to consider while caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

6 Things for Caregiver Siblings to Consider When Caring for a Loved One

There are six simple guidelines that can help caregiver siblings when caring for a parent or senior loved one with Alzheimer’s.

1. Consider conflicting ideas about a parent’s needs.

It’s very common for caregiver siblings to have different ideas about the needs of their loved one. Some siblings get overly enthusiastic about jumping in to take over all the decisions when the parents are still able to be independent. Others hesitate to jump in, giving the parent too much control in matters that a person with Alzheimer’s is not able to handle. This is oftentimes due to not being able to accept the impact of the debilitating disease.

Solution: If there are no urgent matters at hand that must be handled right away, the solution to this issue may be to step back to allow each sibling some time to adjust (once each person has aired his or her opinion about how care should be handled). Keep in mind that parents may be telling each sibling something different about how they are doing, therefore the lines of communication must always be kept open between siblings. Caregiver siblings could also go to a caregiver group meeting for support or consult with a medical professional about the abilities and needs of their loved one.

2. Consider emotions around caregiving.

Many caregivers are caught off guard by the wide range of emotions that come with caregiving. Many of the feelings that arise are compounded by feelings from childhood. Caregiver siblings will react differently as they watch their parent become gradually more dependent.

Solution: Try to practice compassion, for yourself and your siblings. Imagine the fear, pain and need for support that your sibling has that is parallel to your own. Understanding each other’s point of view can go a long way in helping to settle family disputes.

3. Consider family roles.

The role that each sibling played in the family can considerably impact how caregiver siblings interact when caring for a loved one. When thrown into these situations, it’s common to regress and begin taking on old family roles again. Now is the time to challenge these roles.

Solution: It’s important to be open to face the family dynamics and evenly and fairly distribute the work that will be required during the duration of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Try to reevaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each sibling in an unbiased manner. It may be helpful to get an outsider’s input to help break through old barriers that tend to keep people stuck in the same beliefs and judgments.

4. Consider your emotional needs.

It’s common for caregiver siblings to begin making decisions and fighting old battles, like:

  • Feeling critical of how other siblings are managing things
  • Feeling you are the only one who truly understands the needs of the parent with Alzheimer’s
  • Getting into an argument with a sibling over an insignificant issue
  • Using language that includes “always” or “never” statements, such as “you always take the easy way out” or “you never help with the hardest tasks”

Solution: Keep in mind that no matter what you do as a caregiver, you will never be able to make your parent happy all the time.  Siblings need to avoid blaming themselves and each other for the outcome, but rather, focus on the job that they are doing — most are doing the best they can. Supporting each other, particularly when things are not going so well, is perhaps the most powerful way that siblings can positively impact the caregiving experience.

5. Distribute caregiving tasks.

Distributing tasks between caregiver siblings may start out by simply deciding which family member works the least hours or which sibling is closest to a parent. Initially, many people don’t even realize what they are up against in the long run, when it comes to the many caregiving tasks required to care for a loved one with the disease.

Solution: Do your homework and make a list of all the things that need to be done, including cooking, managing the finances, housework, laundry, medical appointments and more. Next, call a family meeting and discuss who will do what. Finally, decide if there will be compensation, how respite care will be managed and who will fill in to care when the primary caregiver takes time off. Meetings should be called for on a regular basis, as caregiving needs change.

6. Keep these common traps in mind.

There are several common traps that caregiver siblings fall into, like the oldest sibling taking on the most responsibility, for example. Oftentimes, that sibling then becomes resentful, setting family members up for more friction.

Solution: Aim to let all caregiver siblings have input on important matters, such as finances, when to hire outside help or when to move a parent into memory care or senior living. The hands-on care should either be equally divided between all siblings as much as possible. If one or more siblings find they are uncomfortable with direct care — such as bathing and dressing their parent — there are always other chores (such as cooking, shopping and transporting a loved one to medical appointments and more) that can be done to give the primary caregiver some much needed time off.

As caregiver siblings, dealing with family dynamics while caring for a parent or senior loved one with Alzheimer’s can be challenging. The complexities that impact relationships between siblings may seem insurmountable, but when caregivers take the time to step back and try to understand their own emotions, it’s possible to tap into a great source of support and find some inner peace along the way.

Do you have caregiver siblings? What is your experience like caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Sherry Christiansen

Sherry Christiansen

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