Dear Family Advisor

My sister indulges Mom's hallucinations; I say she's crazy to do that.

Last updated: Nov 02, 2010

Our mother has Lewy Body Syndrome, the condition that's similar to Alzheimer's but features hallucinations, even hearing voices. I try to ignore them, but my sister encourages whatever Mom thinks she sees or hears. I've told my sister countless times, "What if Mom thinks there really is a taxi on the corner and wanders into the street?" She says going along with her delusions is better than arguing with her all the time.

She treats Mom's illness like it's a game, and that infuriates me! Other aspects of her "caregiving" drive me nuts, too. But since she's with our mom all day and I help out at night, on weekends, and holidays, I feel like I have less of a say-so.

Shouldn't we try to be in agreement about caregiving decisions?

Yes, ideally, family caregiving decisions should be agreed upon. Honestly, though? That rarely happens. It's really okay if the two of you have vastly different caregiving styles. There's no one way to do this.

I wonder: Is this really about your mom, or is this a power struggle between two sisters?

I know you're concerned about your mom's safety, and rightly so. But arguing with your sister isn't going to change her mind. She's probably going to have to get a scare before she realizes how serious this can be. Meanwhile, do all you can to eliminate wandering dangers. My mom had Alzheimer's and was constantly trying to escape -- we nicknamed our house Alcatraz for awhile.

Here's one way to cut the irritation you're feeling that might surprise you: Start a gratitude list. Notice one thing every day that your sister does right and jot it down. Look for things like the way she makes you and your mom laugh, how clean and coiffed your mom is, the way she catches little things you miss, and how well she handles the doctors. Value her for who she is and what she gives. Without even trying, you'll start feeling different about her.

Start referring to what you two are doing as co-caregiving. Act as if you're already a team. Judge her less. If she doesn't see you as a threat, she might begin to realize that her approaches to certain aspects of care aren't working. It's harder for her to budge while the two of you are acting like you're in the Wild West, with guns drawn.

Maybe she embraces your mom's fantasies because it's far easier than facing the truth: that her mother is in so many ways, gone. Allow her to experience the grief and loss that comes with caregiving.

Our siblings bring out the worst in us (sometimes!) but they have much to teach us. It's a bond as strong and as easily tangled as fishing line. Remember you can't control everything. Find ways to celebrate what you have today -- your dysfunctional, chaotic, frustrating-to-no-end, and caring family. With dogged determination, this caregiving experience that seems to be tearing you apart can, ironically, bring you all closer -- if you let it.