How do I deal with caregiver anger from my brother?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My brother has been living with my mom since my dad died five years ago. She is legally blind, with advanced Parkinson's and back pain. He has done a wonderful job of taking care of her. He stopped working, but has returned to graduate school. I live about ten miles away, and have a full time job 40 miles away. I come home each weekend to help out as best I can, but he treats me with intense hostility. I'm afraid of him. He'll blow up at me, or just refuse to talk to me. He is very sweet to our mother, but I'm really hurt by his behavior. I buy him presents because I know he can't afford them on his own, but he just hates me. I can't talk to him...I'm too afraid to. My mom says he's depressed, but she doesn't say anything else to him because he'll get angry at her. Before Dad died, we were very close...I considered him my best friend. Even back then, he would have flares of anger, but I've always been very protective of him and would back him up in fights. He hasn't really talked to me for about a year and a half now. I love him dearly, but like I said, he terrifies me because he seems to hate me so much. It just seems like one day he decided he didn't care about me anymore, and that I'm the worst person in the world. I just don't know what to do...because I spend all of my free time with them, my social life is compromised. Neither of us are dating, as far as I would upset my mother if I didn't come home each weekend and at least pretend to get along with him. I feel like all I can do is try to be patient and work within the system he's established, but I just want to know if there isn't something else I could be doing. I feel like I'm grieving the loss of my brother as well as my dad.

Expert Answer

Mikol Davis, PhD has worked in community hospitals with geriatric patients suffering from dementia, depression, and other psychiatric problems. He has a doctorate in Psychology from the University of San Francisco and has been in private practice in Marin County, California. Davis co-founded with his wife, Carolyn Rosenblatt.

Thank you so much for describing how your brother's anger is affecting both you and your mother for whom he is her caregiver. The resentment from your brother is not uncommon. He has taken over the 24/7 responsibilities for your mother's daily needs and most likely resents your having an outside life. My experience as a psychologist with over thirty-five years of experience treating families and caregivers, has often revealed the long term resentments we often carry as adults. Dr. Mom's diagnosis that your brother is depressed is likely right on target. Often when people are depressed their symptoms are increased irritability, anger, and often quick to rage at others. My first suggestion is that you hire a caregiver from an agency to give your brother some time either during the week or weekend. Your brother is likely burned out or close to it. Secondly, you need to get some emotional support to learn how to stand up for yourself and stop being intimidated. Give yourself permission to take a weekend off from your family responsibility to do something nice for yourself. Right now it sounds like mom has two loving kids who are stressed being around each other because they have many unmet personal needs that are critically affecting the quality of their lives. Thirdly, I suggest that you find a neutral family friend, clergy, or professional mediator that can assist you and your brother begin to look at how the stresses between you is directly reducing mom's present quality of life. My wife Carolyn Rosenblatt is a nurse-lawyer who recently wrote a book that directly deals with the most difficult emotional subject of How to handle family conflicts about elders. Please check her book out: The Boomers Guide to Aging Parents, The Complete Guide. I hope this helps you begin the needed peace and family healing.

Dr. Mikol Davis