Dilemma: my stepdaugher won't speak to her father

Katharine Whitehorn / 06 September 2016

A reader writes to agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn because her stepdaughter is refusing to visit or even call her father, who has dementia.



Dilemma: my stepdaughter doesn't want to deal with her father's Alzheimer's

My husband has been suffering from Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia for the past 10 years and now has had to go into full-time care. 

He is in a good care home but the thing I’m finding so hard is how his daughter deals with this. I suggested she might like to talk to him on the phone (she lives 100 miles away), which our son does, but there are always excuses, and she has only been once to visit him. 

When I ask if she is worried about seeing him as he is, she says no. Even though I know he won't remember any conversations he has with her I would still like her to make an effort, and I fear that if anything should happen to him she will so regret not visiting him. What can I do to make her visit or call him?

Katharine Whitehorn's advice

Your stepdaughter may not be clear herself about why she dreads talking to her father, but many people do find coping with dementia almost unbearably difficult. 

You say your husband is in a good and caring home, and would, almost certainly, not remember for long after a telephone call that it had happened, so you are probably right in thinking the real risk is that your stepdaughter will feel remorse. 

She might, however, be helped to cope with the situation if she read – or at least dipped into – a book called Contented Dementia by Oliver James. A reader recommended it to me, and it’s excellent, because it explains exactly what the afflicted person can cope with and why. 

It might go a long way to take the dread out of your daughter’s feelings and help her to contact her father, even if it only made a small amount of difference for him.

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