Alzheimer's art

Many children struggle with caregiving decisions regarding a parent or parents with whom they have had complicated relationships, especially if they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused.

Most families can claim some dysfunctionality, but abusive environments should never be considered normal or irreverent. Longstanding wounds from childhood can carry over into adulthood, making relationships with parents tenuous at best and very uncomfortable. It is such an untenable position for a child to be placed in a situation in which he or she must manage the care of that parent, especially on the arduous journey of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the August 2015 volume of The Gerontologist, social worker Jooyoung Kong and researcher Sara M. Moorman reported that children who were abused are more vulnerable to depression when tending to their abusive parents. Hiding and/or ignoring memories and feelings — and the many physical, mental and emotional complications they can trigger and aggravate — can cause great stress, anxiety and depression.

The study also indicated that caregivers with a history of maltreatment should be aware of the risk they are taking, in that they themselves may be prone to become the abuser, who perpetuates a tragic, damaging cycle.

Setting clear boundaries, calling on others to help and recognizing when it is time to let someone else be the frontline caregiver, either temporarily or permanently, are all ways to stop the cycle of abuse.

It’s important to get support and talk with others about your feelings and caregiving experiences. More than likely, accepting your past and getting over the hurt and resentment has been difficult as you take on managing the day-to-day care of your parent. The wounded-child-turned-adult caregiver who is carrying guilt from not wanting to take care of the abusive parent or who faces additional distress from reliving past experiences may need to consider some professional counseling before assuming the role of a full-time caregiver.

Some children of abusive parents are pressured into caregiving because of society’s expectations that they are responsible for their parents’ care. Understand that you always have options, and that there is no shame in finding peace and stepping aside. Outsourcing a parent’s care may be an option to consider as there are numerous health care providers that are available for contracting. Appointing a legal guardian could be another possibility, but keep in mind your parent would have to be legally proven incompetent for guardianship to be granted.

All caregivers should prioritize self-care, so set aside time for tending to your physical and mental health and well-being. Though past damage cannot be fixed quickly, and some things are simply unforgiveable, perhaps you can make your way to forgiving your parent and move forward to a healthier relationship.

Being aware that your parent is a human being with flaws and imperfections doesn’t negate what he or she did, however, it might help you on the road to acceptance, healing and a deeper understanding of his or her personhood and past history.

Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at