Caregiving to the Worlds Worst Patient



You know who he is. That old man in your guest bedroom who refuses to go to his monthly check up. The elderly woman who complains about every meal you make after putting in a full day at work. He or she is your parent, the world's worst patient.

How do you cope with an ornery parent living in your home? Short of 24/7 respite care, the first step in survival is to understand where he or she comes from. Here are some hints:

  • It's hard to give up control. Remember, your parent has been the boss of you for many years. It's hard to take orders from a caregiver when you spent several years changing that person's diapers.
  • The old brain ain't what she used to be. As the brain ages it deteriorates. Even if your caregiving charge does not have dementia or Alzheimer's, you may find him or her to be more difficult than ever. It is common to become stubborn, excessively dependent, depressed and demanding. Mood swings, loss of mobility, and other physical disabilities can add to and intensify these traits.
  • Letting go isn't easy. Chances are a lot of major changes have taken place in your loved one's life recently - loss of loved ones, loss of independence, loss of his or her comfort zones.
  • Skeletons in the closet. We all have them. Chances are there are some issues you and your loved one haven't discussed, have buried deep in the recesses of your inner emotional core. They come to the surface easily if you spend day in and day out caring for your aging parent (on both sides!).

But really, do you need to be berated when you are late from work? Do you have to share every intimate detail of your day? And how many times can you force an elderly parent to bathe in a week when he or she doesn't want to? (Not that I'm speaking from experience...)

When dealing with a testy love done, I try to remember these three strategies for coping:

  1. Negotiate. And don't be afraid of bribery. As childish as it may sound, negotiating a little of your day gives your geriatric charge some control in his or her day. The key is finding the right balance and not losing out on (too many) negotiations.
  2. Stop and Listen. You may think you listen all day long, but really, how much time do you spend sitting, actively participating in the conversation and nothing else? Devote 20-30 minutes a day to actively listen and engage.
  3. Don't Lose Your Temper. Easier said than done, but getting a rise out of you may be the most excitement in your irritable loved one's day. Stay calm and reasonable, and take breaks often.

And when all else fails, ask for (or hire) respite care assistance. Try to remember your loved one's diminished capacity, changes in life style and loss of dependence, and reach out to us for support. We're here and ready to listen!

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--Kim Thies