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

10 answers | Last updated: Aug 09, 2016
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 Answers

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.

Community Answers

Vjimw answered...

I think there has to be a balance for siblings who have a difficult time seeing parents age and them helping. It is very difficult to believe that because I can manage a hospital, post-surgery and alzheimer's that I am expected to do it on my own.

Granted, there are problaby ways the silbings who cannot manage the medical aspect can help and that is not discussed in this article.  For example, helping manage bills and insurance is something that can be done from the sidelines.

Also, if a sibling is not helping, they are probably going to be very reticent to go into family therapy.  There probably needs to be a way to help ease siblings into helping, otherwise they probably will feel very defensive being "brought" to family therapy by the caregiver(s).

Adjunct prof.rosellfernandez answered...

Convince someone to love and care for their mother? They are not going to change their ways. You as the front man/woman have already inadvertantly caused resentment. It is a touchy subject. They are not going to go to therapy, because they have their own reasons justifiable or not.

To convince a siblings especially under 45 years of age to show compassion is moot. My five children didn't want to be bothered. My one sister, my mom's dear daughter, came a few times. Mommy so wanted her to be the one. But it was not to be. In the end..I made a choice when mom left to go dancing with the angels I told no one. I figured they will find out some day. And find out they did, because I spoke about her departure in church and the father-in-law of my youngest daughter then told his son.

My oldest son who is turning 40 this year and was the apple of my mom's eye did show up. I asked him to tell his darling siblings to cough up some funds for the funeral. They did. Because now that she is gone that is all they have. The memories that their beautiful, generous grandmother showed nothing but love and they have some serious personal issues. My CONSCIENCE is quite clear. Since I was the head honcho in the family it created resentment.

However I didn't have time for that nonsense. My mommy was first. Especially after losing her sight, and not being able to defend herself. Cads. I call them all to myself. Including my sister. So now in the end they made their choices and I made mine. I have no regrets. I enjoyed mommy and in the end it was just she and I. For my family who thought they were punishing me by not helping? they have to live with it. If my sister had helped me, my mom could have lived another 4 to 6 years we both have to live with that but from different perspectives.

To everyone their own. My law school buddy chose to inform her siblings all 9 of them who did not care for their mother. I choose to leave people in their own misery. It is not my job to implant the emotion of compassion into any one's heart cells.

Turn to the community and outside friends. I did. Everyone in Elizabeth NJ knew Mrs.Cavallo, and everywhere I went, and I do mean everywhere, pharmacy, restaurant, Dunkin Donuts , Walgreen's I was always greeted with How is your mom? That then made my children and sister's lack of compassion quite tolerable.

Hope you understand. You can only control your own emotions.

Croroc answered...

Adjunct prof is absolutely right. I am taking care of my father, 3 daughters are within 200 miles. Only one has stepped up to take him for a weekend, ONCE. I was saddened, hurt, resentful, angry and wanted them to DO SOMETHING. I had to let it go, caregiving is emotionally, physically exhausting. To save my sanity and health, I figure my sibs and their issues are not mine. My father gets a quality of life that he deserves, and if he wants more contact with the sibs, he no longer mentions it. He told me that all they do is make excuses to not see him. He too, has made his peace with it. When he passes, my sibs will have to wallow in their grief and guilt, and I will be able to say, I enjoyed precious moments and time with a great man.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I understand where everyone of these people are coming from in their responses. As a care-giver for my 88 year old Mother I have had the most difficult 2 plus years of my life. Much of that comes from family conflict that arose when my sister and I had to get legal help to get my Mother's assets back from a younger sister. We had no choice because Mom fell into that five year look-back law. We tried just appealing to our sister to do the right thing, to no avail.

During the early stages of my Mom's illness the medical staff determined that my sister was not to be trusted with my Mom because of some verbal abuse that had been going on for a very long time. My Mother was much too fragile to deal with this sister. Needless to say, that sister blamed everyone but herself.

Our mother had three girls but the younger one was her favorite. She had told me years ago that this sister would be getting everything she had when she died. This was crazy to me because they had such a terrible attitude toward each other when they were together. They would talk so bad about each other when the other one was not around and yet, have to call each other even if they had a hangnail. In my opinion, I think they had a very sick relationship. Our Mom would give this sibling anything she wanted and the price didn't matter. This sister knew how to play our Mother to accomplish this.

My older sister and my Mom didn't have a relationship. The younger sister would pit my Mom and my older sister against each other and the older one always came out the one who lost. My relationship with my Mother was better dealt with at a distance, which was the only way I could make it work. I saw what was happening, tried to talk to my Mom about it and I became the enemy.

Who are the ones who have stepped up to the plate to care for our Mother? That's right, my older sister and myself. My husband and I had to relocate to be available to my Mom.

Now here we are with a very sick Mom and the sister who always got everything, always took everything she could from our Mother, always treated our Mother with total disrespect, always called our Mother when she needed help with anything (even in the middle of the night) and did everything she could to sabotage our Mother's relationship with the other two of us and she is the one who won't come to visit because ... "of the terrible things Mother has done to her this last three years."

It isn't always that the siblings can't handle the aging of their parents. Sometimes they are just too self-centered to see the damage they have done to others. To take the responsibility for their actions. To ask for forgiveness where they should and except forgiveness where it is offered. They enjoy the attention they get from the "poor me" mentality and don't want to give that up. Sometimes it's because they have carried hate around for so long their heart hardens and they become the hate.

I agree with the gal who said she told no one when her Mother passed away. I will handle this the same way. If my sister does not care enough to want to do the right thing for our Mother while she is living, why should I believe she will care when our Mother passes away. Either way, whether I tell her or not, she will find a way to get attention from my Mother's death. How sad is that?

According to the three Social Workers I have talked to, there will be many who will read this and think I have just described your family situation. What have we become that this is how we treat our parents? What have we become that this is so common the Social Workers can finish your sentences because they have seen so much of this?

Please, if you have aging parents help to take care of them. They need you, they have loved you in the only way they knew how, they sacrificed for you even when you didn't see it and God commands you to love them. Also, you might want to think about what it will be like when you get old. How you treat your parents now is the example you set for how your children will treat you when you need them.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I have had to tell myself that I as her son, I am her only child. This way I am not frustrated with the lack of effort by my sisters. I have moved myself and high school daughter to my mother's house. I have spent too much energy expecting a weekend off, only to be stood up at the last minute. They would prefer her to be shuttered away to a nursing home. I am much happier pretending there will never be any help and it is all on me.

Tatan answered...

i agree totally. No matter how difficult and depressing it can be to see a parent age and loose their memory, it is very SELFISH to think "I can't handle seeing mom or dad in that state". What about the actual person who is going through it? Think about how that person feels. Many many times, elderly folks do not really want to tell their children how much pain it causes when their own children don't take the time to visit. My 83 year old mom, still wants to live on her own and my sister and I take turns in helping her out but there are many nights that I cry on the way back home after leaving my mom because I understand how important and how much it means to her to remain independent. We make sure her home is safe, clean, etc but I know that eventually she will need to give up her home. She no longer drives and that was difficult for her. SOME DAY, we too will be too old and fragile and will depend on the help of others. I agree with the person who said most children under the age of 45 don't show as much compasion as those older who have realized they are getting closer to that age in where they will need to make changes in their life too!

A fellow caregiver answered...

I'm the adult siblings...two married with no unemployed and living with her daughter's family...can't take a minute from their precious day to celebrate our parents... I've got five kids my wife and I work full time...we still find time for family. We've invited and invited were lucky ti get a no response... We've put up with drop in visits for our parents regardless of the stress and burden their unresponsiveness puts in us... now we have a milestone birthday for a parent...after my mother in law just passed. One would think they would see life isn't forever...but email crashed is there a gathering...when they were asked months ago for a best date to celebrate...and I've got to get my wife From the airport that day..

Seriously. This was the last time they can live with themselves....who was there for them. Who put them first always and now they are too selfish. Shame on them...

I'll have to deal with the disappointment in my parents eyes because they couldn't be bothered for a few hours out of their day..

If I never see any of them again I'm ok with that...unfortunately I'm sure when the time comes they will all have time then to show how much they are greeving to make themselves feel better.

One day they will be old and lonely and having no children and no relationship with mine...THEY will be Truly alone and will finally reap what they have sown

I have no sympathy for them..I can't make them care...I can only pity them

A fellow caregiver answered...

one thing that i see is that you don't get a view of behavior... until the care is needed. even if you meet as a group beforehand, agree to some ground rules, etc. it is meaningless until the actual care period starts. do those people actually follow through with what they said they would do ? to those siblings that have "2", you are very fortunate and thank and encourage each other often. the issue is when there is '1' caregiver. whether you feel they "chose" it or not makes no difference. is the parent better off staying in their home ? most likely the answer to that is 'yes'. sending around emails about your view of mom's situation isn't helpful. being there and participating is. this is the catch. if you stay away, for whatever reason, not only will you not help out in a meaningful way, you yourself will not get the incredible feeling of what it is like to selflessly help someone in need. is it tough at times ? of course. but if you venture in, when there is a need, your view may change. action breeds more action.

i think both parents and children may have a distorted view of things. you don't know people and their behavior until events unfold. so like for me, i am still stunned that a sibling , very capable, single, summers off, would refuse to do any and all home maintenance at my mother's house. the 1st act was to pile all the snow on the top of her favorite bush by the driveway.

in my case, my father passed away in 2007. i am one of 5. i waited for others to do anything, alter their daily routine, my mom does not do email / social media etc. my siblings "participate" in my mom's care by emails. they rarely visit. when they do, they don't take her to lunch or shopping. it is a quick stop on the way somewhere else.

Saidie answered...

I found this thread because i do not visit my mum. It is left to my sister which i feels resentful towards me. I just dont want to go, i dont enjoy spoon feeding her and constantly repeating myself thee is no pleasure in it. My mum didn't look after my kids i used a nursery, she baby sat the odd time but did not really like my kids or me i feel guilty that i dont feel guilty about not visiting. I appreciate how difficult all you cares must feel but you have chosen to do it. We are only responsible for we do we should not judge others for what they choose.