Caring for an elderly parent is difficult for many reasons. Your roles have changed, for one. You’ve gone from being the child who sought their guidance to parenting your adult parent. If that’s not difficult enough, many seniors experience personality changes that result from medical conditions like having a stroke or a dementia related illness.
Most people act differently when they’re stressed than they do when they’re on vacation. Our personalities fluctuate according to our circumstances. This is true even more so in the elderly as they face their own mortality, grieve the loss of their independence, and experience the frustration of no longer being able to do things that once came easily. Keep this in mind when you’re contemplating how to handle elderly behavior: they’re struggling with the changes, too.
Be On Their Side
It’s important for your elderly parent to know that you’re on their side. You may be advocating for them behind the scenes as you talk to insurance companies, doctors, and financial institutions, but there is great value in speaking your support to them. Even if they forget you said it as soon as you leave the room, remind them often that you want what’s best for them. The personality change they’re experiencing should not turn them into your enemy, no matter how difficult it is to interact with the “new” person. A personality change that results from a health condition is very different than a bad attitude that develops when one doesn’t get one’s way.
There is no cookie-cutter method for dealing with an elderly parent. Everyone has unique needs. However, there are some basic principles you can employ as you work to diffuse your elderly parents’ bad behavior.
Practice compassion. If you have children, imagine how you want them to treat you in similar circumstances. Your parent is experiencing something life-altering. It only makes sense that behavior and emotions reflect such changes.
Learn to listen reflectively. Don’t just listen to the words your parents speak; try to understand what they really want to communicate. This is especially true if your parents’ language abilities have been impacted by their illness. When they shout that they don’t need your help, are they really trying to say that they wish they didn’t need your help? Don’t assume your interpretations are correct; ask! This allows your parent to correct fallacies and shows them how intently you’re listening.
Similarly, try to understand the emotions behind the words. When an elderly man with dementia refuses to receive his medication from you, saying, “How do I know you’re not trying to poison me?!” resist the urge to take offense at his comment. Instead, look beyond the words to the fear and confusion he must be feeling and address that. Logic rarely works in highly emotional situations.
Finally, acknowledge that you may need to adjust your parent’s environment to fit the personality changes they’ve experienced. A mom who was once a social butterfly may need more silence and fewer visitors to reduce her confusion. A dad who becomes aggressive may need a more structured environment so he doesn’t become startled at change.
It’s not easy. There will be good days and bad days, but these techniques will help you to navigate them. If you need an extra set of hands, we’re here to help.