10 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Aging Parents

By on May 1, 2014
angry old man

Family care givers/ care partners are dealing with difficult aging parents every day.

Here is a scenario that could play out in every home in the US or other parts of the world…

Henry, at 89 years of age,  is sitting in his recliner chair, wearing his oxygen to help with his breathing. He has declared to his family that he and his wife,Helen, at age 92, are just fine. They are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

Behind that facade to the gruff and grumpy old man, is your father. He may have been a very nice man in the past, but. all you see is a man fighting for ever last bit of independence. He is most likely just afraid to die and mad as hell that he is sick. He is most likely sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I hear this from so many of my clients and in my  senior caregiver forum.  I also know after dealing with so many seniors, they have selective hearing when it comes to some issues.  You want what is best for them, and you are trying to be a good adult child. You may be acting out of a sense of love or a sense of duty.  What ever the reason, dealing with difficult aging parents is just plain hard.

I know from personal experience as a Register nurse and a family caregiver, behind that sweet , frail helpless person lies a stubborn, uncooperative adult child when they are discussing issues getting older.  Most aging parents know just the right buttons to push to get you going. Some, enjoy the family drama.  Many seniors act out, create drama, push buttons so, that , you the adult child and family caregiver will back off. This does lead to crisis management in the future.

The first tip and most important tip to dealing with difficult aging parents is to put yourself first.

Here is a checklist of the 101 things you wish you knew before caregiving. This list is for dementia caregivers, but, as I looked over it, this is a list that all family caregivers should read. It is enlightening.

It is hard to think that putting yourself first would be beneficial to dealing with your parents, but it is. You may be an only child, a reluctant caregiver, or a family member that is offering help out of guilt. It is best for all involved if you do not sacrifice your own sanity to provide care. It is important to try to delegate as many responsibilities to others. If you are dealing with a Narcissitic parent, you should read this article first. 

It is also important to remember, there is life after caregiving. You want a life to live when your parents are gone. That means nurturing and giving relationships, friendships attention as well.

#2 Know your boundaries and limitations.

Providing care for another person is hard work. Not everyone is cut out for this type of work. It is time consuming and can be emotionally taxing as we watch our parents decline. Providing care for our parents can be a very long commitment time- from a few months to many, many years.  As a person declines, they will require more and more help with things that some may feel are unpleasant. Bathing or cleaning up after a person has been incontinent of bowel or bladder may be things you will not want to do. Admitting to yourself what you can and cannot handle is not only healthy, it is necessary when communicating with your aging parents.

#3 Do not expect praise, appreciation or even gratitude for your efforts to provide care.  When you are providing or even just offering help, do it because you want to do it, or because it is the right thing to do. Parents that have dementia or are dealing with the loss of independence will lash out  at those closest to them. Do not take it personally. Just realize, if you need your parents approval, this is not a time to expect it.

# 4   Understand your parents point of view. Your parents may feel uncomfortable or even angry with the role reversal. After all ,you may be coming across to them as the protective parent and treating them as if they were helpless children. Be aware of not talking down, or in a demeaning way. When you change the dynamic to ” OK, so how can I help”  can often change the dialog to positive. It puts the responsibility for their life and decision back on them.

dealing with difficult aging parents#5  Give yourself points for trying.  Your efforts are not always going to succeed. Face it, they are being difficult. It does no good to feel guilty or even angry at your parents. Denial is a strong coping mechanism that many aging seniors use to make sense of their ever changing world. You must continue to love your self and not take any rebukes to your efforts seriously. This is a long road ahead, and for many reading this, you are just starting your journey.

#6  Don’t let one difficult parent refuse help to the detriment of the other parent.  One  of your parents may be more frail than the other. They are reluctant to make changes or seek help. Sometimes they just don’t want to face the truth. There are times when you may have to ignore the difficult parent to protect the other. This is never easy, but, when extra care is needed, it is time to be firm. You may require intervention for the primary care physician, religious leader or close family friend to intervene.

#7   Develop a family caregiver contract. I cannot stress enough how important this is as the aging population grows. There are always situations where uninvolved siblings create such family drama it affects that health and well being of the primary caregiver. I strongly recommend that a family caregiver put a caregiver contract in place, early in the caregiving journey. This will not only protect the caregiver, but give clear, up front expectations for all parties involved. This alleviates unrealistic expectations, feelings of guilt, anger and resentment at uninvolved siblings or family members. If you have parents with any kind of assets, this is often the cause of jealously and anger that gets unleashed on the primary caregiver, by those uninvolved family members. A family caregiver contract is just a way to protect yourself from allegations of abuse, financial gain from predatory family members that go after you once your parent is deceased.

#8    Never take anything said to you personally. Try to remember that what your parents might say to you is driven by fear of change and loss of independence. For some they may have some dementia, as well.  Good or bad, your parents feel safe speaking their minds with you.

#9 It is not unusual to find that you are struggling with family secrets or unresolved issues. A family crisis may cause these emotions to the surface.  What ever the issues are: childhood abuse, neglect, etc., don’t be afraid to get professional. It may be too late or even possible for you to clear the air with your parents. You, do, however  deserve to put those issues at rest and move on with your life.

#10 Learn to manage caregiver stress. We get so caught up in taking care of everyone else, work, family , parents etc we lose ourselves. Chronic stress kills. Get support online with a closed group such as the one we developed on Facebook. This is a place where you can post and not be judged and where everything said in the group, stays in the group. This is helpful when you are dealing with difficult aging parents, uninvolved siblings or just need a place to vent. You will find that there is someone else in the group that has already experienced your situation, or is going through it too. Realizing you are not alone is a big step to stress relief.

Providing care for difficult aging parents is no walk in the park. Acknowledge that you are doing the best you can. You are doing whatever you can to make their lives manageable. I find many caregivers do this so they have no regrets when their parents are gone.

To learn more about family dynamics and communications click here

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 Caregiver Relief Stress management cd 

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