Thursday, May 9, 2013

I can’t convince my family that my mother-in-law needs help with her Dementia!

By Bob Gregory

Dealing with in-laws can be a very touchy subject regardless of the relationship you may have.  You are family but then again, you’re not—or at least not blood kin.  Families like to believe they take care of their own, in fact it’s a tradition and honor in many cultures to care for elderly family members regardless of the cost or burden.  It is very difficult for family members to take advice from outsiders even if that outsider is a beloved member of the family through marriage.  In the case of my friend, she seems to see or at least admit what no other “family” member admits—her mother-in-law needs help!

My friend recently reached out for advice on how to help her mother-in-law who is suffering from Dementia.  She is receiving care in her own home by her husband but she feels her mother-in-law is not getting the proper attention that she needs.  Her basic needs are being met, but she is not receiving any type of therapy to help her memory and she receives no stimulation other than what is provided by the television in her room.  My friend has appealed to her husband, father-in-law and other family members but all seem to dismiss her call for action. I stated earlier that dealing with in-laws can be very touchy but it can be downright nasty if you are implying they are not “caring” for a family member.  So what do you do when you think an in-law is not receiving proper or adequate care?

Here are a few suggestions on approaching family about an in-law.

     (Photo credit: Karthick R)
  • First, you need to remember and recognize that from their point of view, you are the “in-law”.  What I mean by that is that you are the outsider and it doesn't matter the relationship you have, good or bad, this is a very sensitive area.  Be respectful in pointing out what you “observe” and how you would “approach” the situation if it were your own parent.  Do your best not to be accusatory and avoid harsh words such as abuse, mistreatment or neglect even if you feel it applies.  This type of banter will do nothing to help your in-law as the advice will quickly be viewed as an attack and nothing you offer will be accepted.
  • If your in-law has been diagnosed with Dementia, then the doctor should have made some recommendations as to treatments—drug and therapy.  Ask the family members to “educate” you on what is now being prescribed to treat patients with Dementia.  Everyone likes to be put in a position of authority and knowledge so let them educate you on what the doctor recommended and then ask how the different treatments are being applied and are working.  This will force them to recognize they are not following doctor’s orders. Now you have something to discuss without being accusatory.
  • If it has been a while since the last doctor’s visit, offer to attend to provide assistance and to be a second set of ears to understand what the doctor is detecting and recommending.  If you are successful, ask the doctor to make recommendations for therapy or proper in home care.  You can then offer to take the lead in contacting these companies and arranging the needed help.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of being willing to do the work.  Be sure and use the appointment to ask the doctor questions in front of family members about the treatment and engage the family in the discussion with your own follow up questions such as “Do you agree we need to get this treatment started?” , “Do  ou have any questions about why this treatment is necessary?” “Is this treatment something we can get started immediately?”etc.  Put them on the spot in front of the doctor, he/she may become your future ally to get your in-law help!
    The Secret Garden
    The Secret Garden (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
  • If finances are an issue and you are capable of helping, offer the help!  Elderly couples will often put finances ahead of their own or a loved one’s health.  Don’t be naive and believe that money does not play a part in poor health care.  You may offer to pay for a couple of sessions of therapy or additional help.  Generally, health insurance will pay for doctor prescribed therapy but to get the ball rolling, you may want to bring a therapist by for a visit to show your family what the therapy is all about.  Fear of the unknown can easily be a road block.
  • Finally, there are legal steps you can take if you believe there is true neglect or abuse.  This is very difficult and I strongly suggest you give careful thought before mentioning this type of intervention.  You may want to seek council before even suggesting as this can ruin individual lives and marriages!  In this writing, I’m referring to “denial” of what is going on and not abuse or neglect so follow your conscience and heart if you believe it is abuse.
The above suggestions are not “one and done” steps.  Repeat them over and over and over and hopefully you will finally get proper care for your in-law.  It’s not surprising that an “outsider” sees what family members do not—denial is a powerful emotion that clouds our better judgment. Be persistent in your appeal for proper help and you will prevail at some point.  The sooner you succeed the better quality of life your in-law, and the family, will experience.  I wish you much success and I’m very proud of you for being such an advocate for your mother-in-law!

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If you would like to contribute your thoughts and ideas, please leave them in our comment section. We want to hear them. Helping people care for themselves or their loved ones is what we care about. 

We look forward to reading yours.

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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