How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Family Dynamics

How Alzheimer’s Disease Affects Family Dynamics

As seniors age, the likelihood they will need some form of care increases. When someone we love needs a little extra care, we oftentimes step into the caregiver role. Many caregivers face the risks of caregiver burnout, stress and exhaustion; however, when the person you care for is your spouse, the risks may become higher. Why is this? Many spouses who serve as caregivers take “in sickness and in health” very deeply to heart, and this can lead them to hold themselves to high standards. Many spousal caregivers feel guilty if they do not go above and beyond the typical call of care. This can lead them to rest less than other caregivers and put off taking time for themselves so they can fulfill the duty of their vows.

When someone you love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, family members may be unsure of how to react. It’s not uncommon for family members to become confused, shocked or upset, but it’s also likely some may just jump right into being supportive, sympathetic and curious about what will occur as time goes on. No matter what the reactions are, Alzheimer’s disease will make some major changes to family dynamics, and it’s important to be prepared and plan for changes that may occur over time.

According to Peggy O’Neill, Director of Sales and Marketing at Lions Gate, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Voorhees, New Jersey, Alzheimer’s disease has the ability to make families come together, but it can also cause a lot of stress. “When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, families may come together in support of their loved one, even if they had not been in contact for years. This support can help a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease feel comforted, knowing that old conflicts are being put to rest and the family is together again,” says Peggy. “When Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it also can cause more conflict. Being prepared and having a caregiving game plan can help to prevent those conflicts and give your loved one the best care possible.”

Even the strongest families can experience a shift in dynamics as a result of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While these trials can be hard – especially as roles reverse and caregiving needs increase – with planning and preparation, families can get through these changes and turn out even stronger than before.


Knowing which changes to expect and the effects of them can help you and your family to navigate the changes in dynamics better when the time comes. The following changes have been known to disrupt structure and impact families.

  • Reversal of Roles.  When someone we love is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and you or another family member will be serving as the primary caregiver, it’s important to realize that there will be a period of grief and loss. This usually occurs as a result of feeling like you are losing the person you used to know or the relationship you used to share. This can affect caregivers and family members, as well as your loved one, who sees the effect their diagnosis has on everyday life.

  • Increase in Guilt. Many caregivers and families tend to feel guilty about any number of things. They may feel guilty that they aren’t sure what they are doing or that they aren’t doing enough. They may simply feel guilty that they are tired and need a break and can’t provide the care their loved one needs.

  • A Shift in Priorities. Because of the changes that Alzheimer’s disease causes, priorities will shift from everyday activities and move to your loved one’s care. This means that a caregiver potentially may need to give up their full-time job, free time and hobbies.

  • Changes in Emotions. Caregivers are not the only ones who face difficult feelings. Consider how other family members are feeling. Are they being kept in the loop enough? Do they know what’s going on? Do children and teens understand why their loved one is acting this way? How are they feeling through all of these changes?

  • A Growth in Uncertainty. As if life wasn’t uncertain enough, Alzheimer’s steps in to make it worse. You may find that plans you had may have to change and that you won’t know what each day will bring, which will make planning in everyday life much more difficult.

  • More Disagreements. If you and your family members don’t quite see eye-to-eye on how to best care for your loved one, it’s important to work those disagreements out and try to see each other’s point of view. It may be helpful to seek assistance from a professional if you cannot get past certain conflicts.

These feelings are normal and it’s important to realize that you are not alone in this. If you need help – ask. Whether that means talking to friends and family, taking a break to do something for yourself, or asking family members to do a few things for you . . . anything can help.


In order to cope with the change in dynamics, it’s important to face everything as a family with open communication, understanding and compassion. This battle is different for everyone, so it’s important to do what you can to help one another. To help you navigate the changes, keep some of the following points in mind.

  • Adjusting will not happen overnight. Just because you now know about the disease and have a plan in place doesn’t mean you know everything there is to know. Alzheimer’s disease affects families and their loved ones differently, so your “normal” may change multiple times through the course of the disease. Take time to adjust and give yourself – and other family members – some grace.

  • People generally work better in numbers. If you or another family member need help with caregiving tasks, ask for help or step in to help. Is a family member having an emotionally hard time dealing with the diagnosis? Reach out and help them. Are household tasks getting put on the backburner? Take some time to help them clean.

  • Make sure everyone is on the same page. Again, communication is key. If your loved one is getting worse, tell your family. If there is something they need to step up and do, ask your family to help with it. If you learn something that makes your loved one with Alzheimer’s feel better, share that with other family members. Be a team and communicate to be better caregivers.

“If you and your family are having trouble coping with your loved one’s diagnosis, reach out for help and support,” says Peggy. “Joining support groups, talking to a counselor or pastor, or seeking out options for care can help to make your journey through Alzheimer’s disease easier.”


Lions Gate, located in Voorhees, NJ, offers a continuum of lifestyle and care options rooted in Jewish traditions and values. Whether you are in need of Independent Living,Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing or Rehabilitation Services, Lions Gate has you covered.

Our mission at Lions Gate is to enrich the lives of those we serve through quality and compassionate care consistent with our heritage and values. We strive to provide programs and services that inspire well-being, as well as social, cultural and spiritual independence.

As a full-service community rich in wellness programs, meaningful experiences and educational opportunities from Lions Gate University, Lions Gate allows residents to connect with those who share their interests and cherished traditions. Our goal is to provide residents with an active, worry-free lifestyle filled with ways to connect with others, pursue their passions and be engaged in everyday life. While we focus on Jewish customs and traditions, we welcome people of all faiths to the Lions Gate family.

Through our affiliation with Jewish Senior Housing and Healthcare Service, we also offer three senior living communities for those with limited incomes.

To learn more about Lions Gate’s unparalleled lifestyle and community services, contact us today!