Taking Care of a Difficult Elderly Parent

They say that as our parents grow older they will be more like our children, needing our care and attention. This role reversal often becomes a daunting task for those taking care of a difficult elderly parent.
WellnessKeen Staff
Communicate with Elderly Parent
A difficult elderly parent has a behavioral condition that is deep rooted in the human tendency to feel wanted. For most parents, generally, life has always centered around bringing up their children. When the children grow up to be adults and begin to lead their own independent lives, parents often begin to feel insecure regarding their purpose for the rest of their life. In addition to the mental stress of not being "wanted" by the child anymore, parents often find themselves in age-related conditions that aggravate their anxieties. They are unable to instantly cope with these anxieties. There's a certain amount of guilt and stress that comes with accepting the fact that their children would now also be caregivers.

A difficult elderly parent is one who is:
  • Attention-seeking
  • Demanding your time
  • Unnecessarily hostile and irritable
  • Complaining about being left alone all the time
  • Extremely critical of everything you do
  • Refusing to take medications for illnesses
  • Constantly blaming you, inducing guilt and frustration on a regular basis
With such a person around the house, you have your task cut out for you. Let us see if we can provide some measures to overcome these challenges and effectively handle a difficult elderly parent.

Ways to Deal With a Difficult Elderly Parent

We can add a dash of sentiment here and end the matter with one statement. Your parents took care of you, raised you from when you were a helpless baby and made you what you are today. So it is only fair that you develop infinite patience and bear with them in every way no matter how difficult they get. Well, it does seem to be the logical reason why you should put every effort into caring for your parents but you do not live in a time and age, where parents can become the absolute center of your lives. Mostly likely, you have a family of your own, issues of your own and a job that you have to hold on to among a multitude of other responsibilities. It is therefore, necessary to have a coping strategy in place while dealing with a difficult elderly parent.
  • Communicate: Are your parents just whiling away time and waiting for you to get home to start the nagging and blaming sessions? Well, chances are you're not spending enough time with your parents or having conversations with them, leaving them feeling abandoned. They might even feel like they're being a burden on you. Ensure to genuinely involve yourself in their life and make them feel cared for. Regular and genuine communication will make your parents feel secure and you will come across as being very approachable. Go for family outings as often as you can with them or arrange for them to be around other loved ones if you cannot. Inquire about their health on a regular basis. If you're at work most of the time, ensure to call your parents regularly and keep in touch. Remember, that these conversations need not be very long. It's just a gesture to let them know they mean a lot to you. In case of extremely difficult behavior, you might need to seek professional counseling to begin a line of normal communication. Do not procrastinate seeking assistance for dealing with your difficult parent as you'll be wasting precious time in restoring normalcy to your relationship. Accept the fact that your parents have now aged and your subtle clues and body language communication (which they could read when you were younger) are not as clear to them anymore.
  • Learn to Negotiate: Remember that difficult scenario at the workplace where you had to negotiate your way to success? Or that time you negotiated terms while purchasing your home or your car? All these situations where you used your persuasion skills to arrive at a win-win scenario are great examples of stepping out of your comfort zone and giving in to certain demands of others (sometimes total strangers) while standing your ground on certain other terms. Well, if anything, parents are much more precious and negotiation could be an effective way to bring both of you on the same page. Adopt this technique each time your parent makes unreasonable demands. Ensure that you keep your promises.
  • Set Boundaries: Your parents need to know your other priorities. Sit with them down over a casual conversation and give them subtle hints about important things you need to do over the next few days, which might keep you away from them. It is always better to let them know in advance, whenever possible, instead of surprising them by suddenly taking off on an official tour or any other engagement where you'll be gone for a long while. Similarly, if you need time for yourself on a regular basis, let them know that you would like some time alone. You may encounter criticism (they may call you selfish or irresponsible) at first, but gradually they'll get used to the idea. In fact, if you keep yourself involved in their activities on a regular basis, even for a short span of time, they will not mind you setting boundaries for your own time and space.
  • Compensate for Your Absence: If you anticipate that you'll not be available for quite some time, invite a close relative to keep your parents company while you're gone. Again, this will demonstrate to them that although you need to be away, you also care about their well-being. Such thoughtful acts go down very well with elderly parents and they will not be driven to attention-seeking behavior.
  • Appreciate their Contributions and Show Respect: If your parents provide any kind of help such as financial contribution or help around with domestic chores (like picking up kids from school, running errands, etc.), ensure that you recognize their effort and appreciate them. Taking elderly parents for granted can often backfire and they are left feeling "used". If you ignore their efforts over a longer period of time, they may even consider living separately or living in homes for the elderly etc., to escape what may seem to them as ungrateful behavior. Give due respect to them as individuals and do not treat them as dependents. Do not always assume they will want to help you out with whatever you need just because you think they have free time. Always speak to them before assigning a responsibility and ask for their consent. This will show them that they still have a say in how they want to live life although they're really dependent on you on some level.
  • Extend Tender Loving Care: Elderly parents might fall ill frequently or suffer from health issues due to the onset of old age. They may require constant medication and caregiving. Be sensitive to their condition and do not make them feel obligated in any way. During episodes of sickness, they may become irritable and argumentative. Try not to respond by flying into a rage and recounting the things you're doing for them. This will only escalate tensions and parents might end up feeling hostile although you have really tried your best to care for them. Stay rational and handle such situations in a way that settles the argument. Do not respond with justifications and counterarguments. If it is not possible to take care of your ailing parent, do not feel guilty to employ professional help. Taking care of them is important, it doesn't matter if you're not always the caregiver.
There's no guidebook with a finite number of steps that can guarantee smooth interaction with your difficult parent. Your coping strategies must center around addressing attention-seeking behavior. Well, you were at the center of their attention for many years of your life and now it's their turn. Do not simply approach your difficult parent with a dutiful attitude, try to reach out to them and make a place in their heart for yourself all over again. Chances are that they will place you on a pedestal and feel proud, all over again. Difficult or otherwise, parents are not going to be around forever. So go on and build the bridges to their hearts and make great memories to remember them by. Hope the above tips along with some patience and love will help you cope with your difficult elderly parent.