How do I make sure Dad gets the breaks he needs while taking care of Mom who has Alzheimer's?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 04, 2016
Little asked...

My mother is showing signs of Moderate Alzheimer's. My father is the primary caregiver. I have seen him loose patience and become mean with my mother. I have offered to give him a break when ever he needs one but he rarely asks. How can I make sure he is getting the down time he needs to be a better caregiver. Also where can I pick up information for my dad to read on how to handle disagreements with an Alzheimer's patient, his wife??

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Gosh it must be so difficult for you to watch your mom progress with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and to be concerned about your dad at the same time. It's difficult enough to have an AD parent in your life without the added worry about the caregiver parent. You are not alone. This is one of the most frequently asked questions. The difficulty arises when we, as the child regardless of our age, can see what would benefit our parent who is the primary caregiver but the parent does not seem to be listening to us.

Perhaps you could try encouraging him to not argue so much with your mom as this causes her to be more aware of the losses she is undergoing. Help him to realize it is the disease that makes her disagreeable and not her intention to be that way. The best thing a caregiver can do is to support the affected spouse with as much agreement as possible. This helps the patient to have more positive self-esteem in the face of feeling confused and confounded in a world that is daily becoming less familiar. Your dad may find appeasing her to be counter-intuitive but do assure him that agreeing with her, no matter how nonsensical it may seem, will go a long way to creating a more positive environment. Positive interactions breed a calmer healthier caregiver and relationship!

I would also suggest, to give your dad a break, try telling him you will be there to visit mom on a given day and time. If possible do not ask him if he needs a break - just be there. Perhaps say, " I have some time on Tuesdays and Fridays and I'd like to use it to visit with mom". This makes it about you and does not hint at him wearing out. The most perfect scenario would be for you to set up these times that work well for you and make it an ongoing visiting time so that dad knows in advance that he will have scheduled free time. It is a sort of win-win-win situation.

This site,, has a great list online titled "8 Red Flags That an Alzheimer Caregiver Needs a Break". Perhaps read it yourself, print it out, and leave it in plain view for dad to read.

Do take care of yourself as well as your mom and dad.

Community Answers

Little answered...

Joanne - thank you for your response I did find it helpful. I had an ad pop up in the middle of the things you recommended I read so I could not read what they were? Could you resend any recommended reading again as well as where I could find it. Thank you so much. Kathleen

Emily m. answered...

Hi Kathleen!

I've fixed the formatting for Joanne's, so you should be able to read the rest of her excellent answer now!

Best, Emily | Community Manager

Little answered...

Thank you so much this was very helpful. I do have one question when I hear my dad getting short and mean with my mom does anyone have a method to intervene without him feeling attacked and turning on me? I feel like such a baby I've never stood up to my dad but now I am feeling like I need to buck up?! I'm also worried that some of his meanness happens while I'm not around and I know it is happening more because he is stressed............

Yarnspinner answered...

I have a similar issue, thouh sadly no answers. My mother is caregiver for my father who has Parkinsons and not (yet) Alzheimers (though he has family history). She is so mean to him and no amount of giving her a break seems to help. All i seem to be able to do is let go and it is killing me. I live across the country so i cant be there easily. Meanwhile my brother who eggs mom on is nearby and between the two of them, they are conspiring to have him committed to an Alzheimers unit even though his memory is better than moms. Also, every time i visit, people at their assisted living center tell me what a saint she is. And now, because shes starting to show some Alzheimers, shes getting testy and argumentative. On my last visit, she told me not to come back. When i make and send things to dad, she gives or thriws them away. I think she has Munchausens or something. Its also sad because my father was hard to love for so many years but hes so slow now from the Parkinsons that hes finally mellow and loveable, but my mom is determined to block my enjoyment of him. I worry too that she'll wake up one day when hes gone and realize what she did and it will be too late.