When your parents, grandparents or loved ones get old, it can be a tricky process, especially if they develop a certain health condition or are no longer as mobile as they used to be. What’s more, if an assessment determines that that person needs additional care, this is often a difficult and distressing time for the whole family. In the worst-case scenario, your loved one becomes irrational and will not accept that they need some extra help.
In this article Lottie looks at how to deal with irrational elderly parents, offering tips and advice for how to sensitively and carefully handle certain situations. Read on to find out more…
The first step towards dealing with irrational elderly loved ones is to try empathising. After all, getting old can be both scary and frustrating. Not only do you start losing the ability to do things you once found easy, but it can also be humiliating that people have to help you do them, which makes you feel that you have lost your independence. When you add on the fear that comes from certain health conditions and the fatigue from everyday aches and pains, it’s no wonder that old people can be grumpy, moody or upset.
Here are some key questions that it might help to consider while dealing with frustrating elderly parents:
By putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand the reason behind their behaviour, you can come up a solution that works best for them.
Although lots of older people naturally seem more irrational, grumpy or anxious, sometimes there may be an underlying cause to a change in behaviour. Chronic pain, the grief of losing friends and family and memory issues are all unfortunate side effects to getting older - so if your elderly parent has changed in the way they act or behave, you should first determine whether there is a reason behind it.
For example, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can cause anger, confusion, hostility and anxiety, leading to irrational behaviour. Although this is hard to witness, remember that elders typically reserve their worst behaviour for their loved ones. Try not to take this behaviour personally - more often than not the person will not have full control over their words or actions.
If you are worried about your parents’ health or memory, a visit to their GP can determine whether your parent might have dementia or another health condition.
When you need to have a conversation with your parents about their care, find a quiet place to talk, away from other people or distractions. Make sure your parents are calm and relaxed and try to limit the number of people present - your relative may feel as though they are being ganged up on otherwise.
Try to focus on the positives where possible and allow your loved one choice when it comes to their care. This will help them to feel as though they are still independent and have control over what happens to them.
Do voice your own worries and concerns, as this will help your parent understand that you are coming from a place of love, but also let them have plenty of opportunities to speak as well. The conversation should be a two-way street and everyone should be given the chance to talk about how they feel.
Although it can be difficult not to police your elderly parents’ every move, such behaviour can actually make the situation worse; even if you think you’re acting in their best interests. No one likes being nagged, so stop insisting your parents join a lunch club, start using a meal delivery service or hire a gardener if they really don’t want to. Of course, if changes need to be made to make your parents safer, that’s a different story and should be prioritised.
Rather than nagging, try to encourage open conversations, where everyone is comfortable and free to express their own opinions, without your parents feeling as though you are constantly haranguing them.
When your parents get older, it may at times feel as though your roles have reversed and you are effectively parenting them. However, it’s really important to remember that an irrational parent is not the same as an irrational child. Patronising, threatening or punishing is unlikely to do much good in the long term - you’re much better off approaching them calmly and rationally if you want a positive result.
Similarly, hanging over your parents constantly to monitor their every move is also likely to end in tears. Like with a young child, although it may be tempting to try to help your parents with every small task and protect them from potential dangers, this behaviour is stifling and may do more harm than good. Try not to infantilise your parents and continue to treat them as adults - although you are only trying to look after them, at the end of the day they are grown-ups with autonomy over their own decisions.
If your parents have been assessed as needing care, this is a significant change in both their lives and yours, so it’s important to take things slowly. If they become angry or irrational at the mention of care, arrange for your parents to meet their new caregiver in a neutral space first, such as a café.
Starting out with someone coming to the home once a week to do a few tasks, then gradually increasing the frequency of their visits will enable your parents to build trust and hopefully they will become comfortable accepting additional help.
Caring for ageing parents is not only hard for them, but it can be really hard for you and your loved ones too. Anxiety, stress, fear and guilt are all common emotions to feel when dealing with irrational elderly parents. Make sure you take time for yourself to relieve stress - and find someone to talk to if things get tough. This could be a partner, friend, sibling, therapist or even an online support group. Frustration, stress and anxiety can all build up over time and can even affect your mental and physical health if not dealt with properly.
By respecting your parents’ autonomy and feelings while still seeking the advice of professionals, you can make assisting elderly parents who resent or refuse help much less stressful for everyone. Sometimes you may just have to accept the situation, no matter how frustrating or difficult it is - your parents are still adults and should be given control over what happens to them and their care. It won’t always be easy, but it will enable you to make the best decision for them.