Tough Love Helps Protect Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

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by Ray Burow |

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Loss accompanies Alzheimer’s disease and may create animosity between a caregiver and the person receiving care.

A parent or spouse receiving care may become frustrated with their loss of independence, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere that lands resentment squarely upon the caregiver.

Adult children who care for aging parents often find themselves switching roles, and parenting their own parents. It is a difficult transition that sometimes requires tough love when resentment rears its ugly head.

What is tough love?

Any parent knows that tough love can be, well, tough. When necessary, tough love requires a parent to discipline and place constraints on their children. This might include disciplinary action to curb poor behavior and encourage a child’s positive growth into a responsible adult. It is for the child’s own good, but it isn’t fun.

As the old parental adage goes, “This is going to hurt me more than it’ll hurt you.” That tends to be true, though no child ever believes it.

Tough love extends to caregiving, too, but it is even more complicated and heart-wrenching. It is the caregiver’s responsibility to devise constraints to protect the person within their care. Those constraints are defined by the losses that people with dementia face, and they’re not easily accepted. This is where tough love must reign for the purpose of safety and protection.

Conditions that may require tough love intervention

A person with dementia may view an intervention as an intrusion. After all, they’ve always made their own decisions and may not understand why the caregiver is suddenly stepping in to interfere with their personal affairs.

Just like a parent who steps in for a child making poor decisions, a caregiver must step into the fray with their own parents. One must risk hurting a parent’s feelings (as gently as possible) to protect them from what could turn into a disaster.


Targeted by scammers, seniors are bilked out of billions of dollars each year in the United States. According to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, seniors are financially exploited to the tune of $2.9 billion per year. A person with dementia is especially vulnerable.

If you’re providing care for your parents, speak kindly, but firmly with them about including you in the financial decision-making. They may be more apt to approve of your involvement if you include a professional financial adviser to support your position.

If a third party isn’t involved, set up a meeting with your loved one to discuss the risks to their financial well-being.

Protecting your parents from financial ruin could involve tough love and the intervention of an elder law attorney. Speak with your mom or dad about giving you power of attorney.


Having a license to drive a car is closely tied to independence, which is why losing the privilege is so painful. However, driving presents a risk to people with dementia who may not have the cognitive ability to make sound decisions.

Getting lost is a risk, but there is also the risk of becoming confused with the motion of driving, momentarily losing the distinction between the brake and the accelerator, for instance. This could cause a deadly accident.

Seniors ages 75 or older in the U.S. have higher incidents of deaths related to driving accidents. This is not to say that every senior in this demographic should stop driving. Caregivers have to help make that determination.

Expect resistance, but stick to your guns if a parent or loved one diagnosed with dementia expects to continue driving. Exact tough love and take away the keys. It could save their life or someone else’s.

Using a walker 

Seniors sometimes balk at using a walker, which causes them to fall. Falls account for more than 32,000 deaths each year among seniors in the U.S. Some 36 million falls involve about one in four adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five of those falls results in a broken bone, and 95% of hip fractures are caused by a fall.

Refusing to agree to use a walker when it’s necessary can, and most often does, have catastrophic results.

If you’re caring for a parent, exercise tough love by insisting they use a walker. Refuse to physically pick them up from the floor or to call someone other than the fire department when when they refuse to use a walker and fall. Don’t make it easy for them to continue to fall.

Paying for a service to pick them up from the floor or facing a firefighter may be enough to convince them to agree to a walker. It sounds harsh, but dying from a fall that could be prevented is worse.

Make them as comfortable as possible on the floor, keeping them warm and safe until the paramedics arrive. Explain to them why you’re waiting. They must use the walker to avoid this scenario. You can’t risk hurting them or yourself by struggling to get them up.

Tough love hurts the caregiver more than it does the person for whom care is provided, but it is a better alternative.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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