MODULE 4. The importance of staff-family relationships

Watch the video and come to better understand the family, the benefits of good staff-family relationships and how to build them.

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Brenda’s Story

“About seven years ago Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Mum had been having memory problems for a while - forgetting what things were called, people’s names, directions and that sort of thing. Still, it was a shock when she was diagnosed, and I was devastated. Mum had always been my best friend. We used to talk about everything, especially since Dad died.

At first I cut down to part time work to help mum manage things around the house. She was struggling more and more with things like laundry, cleaning, cooking, and the garden. She stopped going out and stopped using the telephone to call people she used to stay in touch with. I just wanted to give her some company and keep an eye on her. My sister and I used to take turns taking her shopping and to appointments. For the first couple of years we managed OK, but then my sister moved interstate and Mum's dementia started getting worse. She couldn’t manage meal preparation anymore and really struggled looking after herself. She needed help with showering, dressing, even going to the toilet. She began to do things like put the plug in the sink and leave the taps running until the sink overflowed. A couple of times she forgot to turn the gas off, and I realised it just wasn’t safe to leave her alone, so I quit my job and moved in with her.

I had always had a great social life with lots of friends, but the longer I cared for Mum and the more her needs increased the less time and energy I had to go out. Mum would often wake up in the middle of the night and wander around the house calling out for Dad until I got up to comfort her. Earlier on, my friends used to still invite me out for dinner or a movie, but after a sleepless night and a full day looking after Mum all I wanted to do was lie on the couch. Gradually, they stopped inviting me, because even when I did go out I had nothing to talk about except what I did looking after mum. They didn't understand what I was going through. How could I explain to them what it was like to have to clean Mum up because she couldn’t go to the toilet? Although Mum and I still had many good times, filled with laughter and cuddles, she continued to deteriorate. Eventually, I had to give up playing tennis and going to French classes as well. I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving Mum alone in the house, and I didn’t trust anybody else to keep an eye on her. Instead, I spent most evenings sitting alone in front of the television after helping Mum to bed, exhausted and crying. I felt angry that my life had come to this, and I resented Mum. At the same time I really missed her – the person she used to be. Even though there were moments where she would astound me with an observation or insight, for the most part it was like she was already gone.

I tried to explain to Mum that I thought we should sell her house and downsize to a smaller flat. Mum didn’t understand and just yelled abuse at me and accused me of trying to steal from her. It was so hard for me, to hear my gentle kind mother yelling abuse like that. I begged my sister to come home to help, but she had two little kids and wasn’t keen to leave them. She told me I should put Mum into a nursing home. I was horrified. How could I do that to Mum? What kind of daughter was I for even considering that? I felt so guilty. Mum was very particular about things. Nobody knew her like I did or could look after her properly. I couldn’t leave her with other people, especially a bunch of strangers.”


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