Has dealing with your elderly parent become an encounter with Oscar the Grouch? If so, you certainly are not alone. However, as their child, it can help to view these encounters from an entirely different perspective.
For a person who has always been independent, athletic, and able to recall many details, losing these faculties brings many underlying fears to the surface. Feelings of both helplessness and hopelessness can overtake their thought processes. It is important to remember that anger is often an outward expression of inner fears, and that while the complaints may seem to be hurled in your direction, it often has little if anything to do with you. Be patient, be kind, and reassure your loved one that he or she can talk to you. Understand though that no matter your age, parents generally do not want to place excess burden on their children. If your mother or father is uncomfortable expressing their innermost feelings with you, perhaps arranging sessions with a professional counselor will help your parent to truly process those raging emotions.
It’s important for adult children to really assess the situation thoroughly–and honestly. For instance, some individuals always see the glass half empty, regardless of the circumstance. If your aging parent was always negative, illness will not bring out the best in them. Complaining personalities generally remain negative, complaining personalities… and sometimes you, as the caregiver, must be honest with yourself about this. Also, most people are more irritable when they do not feel well.
But, there are some elderly individuals who feel that by virtue of their years on this earth, they have somehow earned the right to “not hold back”… and some will use it with a vengeance! In this case, there may be a glimmer of hope for change in circumstance.
When your loved one begins taking a new medication, it often can wreak havoc on the body. This is further exaggerated by negative interactions between multiple drugs used to treat symptoms. If you notice a recent change in behavior or attitude that seems to coincide with a new prescription, a pharmacist or your loved one’s doctor can often help you get to the root of the issue. Personality changes can come on quickly and strongly in these scenarios. Bladder infections can also cause severe shifts in mood and personality.
Cognitive decline (such as that found in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Pick’s Disease) can trigger severe levels of frustration. That is due, in part, to the inability to perform certain tasks that have been routine for years. These disorders cause a person to lose the ability to recognize objects or to remember things and people that are very familiar. It’s a tough time for both the individual as well as their family members; the frustration can spark the types of personality changes that surprise even those closest to the individual.
Addressing personality changes brought on by medical challenges is easiest to deal with; simply get your loved one to a physician for treatment. These types of personality changes can disappear very quickly with medical attention or a change in prescription.
However, if your parent was always the “Debbie Downer” type, or if he or she had tendencies toward verbal abuse (or worse) in the past, you have to establish reasonable boundaries so that you, as the adult child and caregiver, do not walk away hurt, frustrated, and disrespected constantly. If that still doesn’t work, you may also have to distance yourself from your parent, assisting on a limited basis. If you cannot find a workable solution on your own, you may need to speak with your local Social Services office to find a reasonable solution for everyone involved.