How can I persuade my siblings to visit my mother, who has Alzheimer's, more often?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Our mother has Alzheimer's. Two of my siblings (there are five of us left) consider our mother already dead and refuse to have any contact with her. Do you have any suggestions on how to persuade them to come and see her?

Expert Answer

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

You are clearly approaching this situation from a place of concern for your mother, yourself, and your siblings, and that's important. Still, I wonder why you feel a need to persuade your siblings to see your mother. On it's face, the answer may be obvious, but it's important to avoid moralizing and imposing our values on others. If you can do so, you'll gain a deeper understanding of what is going on for you and other members of your family.

Do you feel that your siblings are missing out on some special connection they might have with your mom? Does she ask for them, and/or become distressed by their failure to visit? Do you want them to visit your mother because that is the right thing to do? Do you want them to come because it's important to you to share your experience and benefit from their support? None of these reasons are right or wrong, but if you are clear about your own motivations, it will be easier for you to have an honest discussion with your siblings, if you haven't already done so.

Meanwhile, have you taken the time to understand the choices your siblings have made? It's probably tempting to dismiss them as selfish, but what do you think is actually going on for them? Maybe they are frightened by your mother's condition, or perhaps they want to remember her in her pre- Alzheimer's state. If you can have a good conversation with your siblings, it might not get you what you want, but hopefully it will give you information that allows for mutual respect and understanding.

It might be a good idea to have this conversation facilitated by a professional like a member of the clergy or a family therapist. There also may be a social worker at the facility where your mother is staying who specializes in helping families with issues like yours.