Dealing With Difficult Family Members Requires Positive Approach and Skills


Dealing with others while caregiving a senior is practically unavoidable. Aside from the senior who requires other caregiving staff, caregivers often must contend with family members. In most cases, family members are simply concerned about their loved one. That does not mean communicating and working with them is easy. Here are five ways to work with difficult family members when you care for a senior in assisted living.

Listen carefully

Many people have trouble articulating themselves well every time. Listening carefully and showing how carefully you listen gives family members the space to be heard, even if you advise against their recommendations. You both have the best interests of a senior uppermost and the best way to making the best decision is to listen carefully.

One way to show you are listening is to repeat what someone has said to you, like: “I hear you saying you are concerned with your dad’s level of physical activity. Is it fair to say that you think he should get more exercise during the day?” Phrasing it this way shows that the family member has an opportunity to correct misunderstandings without judgment and to hear their words expressed as solutions for their loved one.

Another technique is to display listening with your body. While the family member speaks, position your body facing them and make eye contact. Notice their body and facial expressions until they finish speaking. Nod, add small noises or words of understanding such as “I see”, and do not interrupt. All this indicates respect and active listening, both of which can deflate anger in a tense situation.

Learn the things that trigger difficult behavior

Most people do not lose their tempers and become obstinate for no reason. Most persons are difficult for several reasons at once. Keep track of when a family member shows signs of difficult behavior. When you can, provide support and warnings for triggering experiences. This could be emotional distress, such as seeing a loved one who has Alzheimer’s on a bad day. The solution is to have them call before they visit to see if their loved one is having a good day or to warn them before they arrive that their senior is struggling.

Not every triggering situation can be avoided, but just as you can notice triggers, you can see the soothing techniques. Many family members feel powerless as their loved one ages, especially without them present. So, consider having them help with some caregiving tasks, such as feeding. Ask them to attend a fun activity, such as a movie night or a picnic. Involving them helps stave off feelings of distance and powerlessness.

Pick your battles

Caregiving is a series of decisions. Sometimes, a family member wants something for themselves or their loved one that you may not think is best. Unless the health or safety of the senior in your care is at risk, consider simply letting them have their way. This can de-escalate tension and show that you compromise when you can.

Gather a team or at least some allies

Find other caregiving staff and family members who can help you cope with difficult family members. Some people have the ability to make anyone laugh. Consider finding that person on staff and letting them chat with the family member during a visit to the facility. Find the family members who never loses their temper and develop a strong relationship with them. They might stick up for you or advocate better treatment if they connect with you and know that you have their loved one’s best interests at heart.

Keep your cool

Always maintain a calm demeanor with family members. This keeps your actions professional, which helps you keep your job, but it can help others stay calm as well. Those with quick tempers should consider calming exercises to keep your blood from running too hot. Consider counting to ten before responding to keep your voice level. Or, let issues settle before responding to an inflammatory comment. You may find it useful to communicate by using “I” statements, such as “I feel frustrated when you bring sugary treats into the facility because it interferes with my responsibility to monitor your aunt’s blood glucose level. It could negatively affect her diabetes, and put her in danger.” Centering your observations and statements on your feelings and observations helps you remain impartial, polite, and unassuming of others’ motivations.

Family members are valuable contributors to a caregiving team. Doing your best to soothe their anxieties and remain on the same side—that of the senior under care—creates a more functional team. Although it often takes a measure of patience and empathy, maintaining good relationships even with difficult family members serves the best interests of all involved. Following the tips above helps you achieve that.



Boudreaux, Arlene. “Keeping your cool with difficult family members.” Nursing2010, 40:12, December 2010. Available at Retrieved February 25, 2017.

Sopher, Michael. “How to Deal with Difficult Caregivers.” Rendia, November 5, 2015. Available at Retrieved February 25, 2017.

Weber, Steph. “Dealing with a Patient’s Disruptive Family.” Physician’s Practice, December 15, 2014. Available at Retrieved February 25, 2017.