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Caregiver Training Blog

Caring for Difficult Parents: Caregiver Help

Lady_pointing_fingerWhether you've always shared a challenging relationship or his or her personality has changed with age, dealing with a difficult parent can make caregiving incredibly hard. While you can't change them, you aren't powerless in this situation. Instead, consider these six tips to help you provide the best care in the most comfortable setting for your difficult parent. Caring for difficult parents is not easy - but knowledge and understanding can help.

1. Think It Through

Assuming the role of caregiver won't magically wipe away years worth of conflict. Before agreeing to become caregiver for your parents, give yourself time to think it through. Are you the right person for the role? Can you manage the daily demands of caregiving in light of your personal dynamics? Would this be better if handled by a professional?

2. Listen Up

One of the major causes of crankiness in seniors is lack of communication. Growing old is hard, and there are many valid reasons why emotions may run high. Try to put yourself in his/her shoes. Is there a specific reason for the change in mood? If so, is it within your reach to defuse the situation? If it's not, have a talk with them about the issue, and what you can do to make it better. You may feel like there's nothing you can do, but there is always something: listen well and show compassion. Some seniors just want to know that their voice is being heard.

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Hearing difficulties can lead to irritability and crankiness.

3. Mix Things Up

Negative behaviors can quickly become habit. Identify these patterns and head them off by introducing a new or different activity.

Sometimes a change of scenery can point things back in the right direction. Get out of the house if you can and go on a nature walk, stroll around the neighborhood or a drive in the car. Or consider starting some kind of joint activity such as a puzzle or a craft project. Changing the venue can work wonders on turning a negative attitude around. 

It is possible to reverse your aging loved one's outlook, but not without effort on your part.

4. Make a Change

Perhaps you have tried everything and they just can't change - remember, that doesn't mean that you can't. Consider your own reactions and behaviors. Are there any which seem to trigger or exacerbate your aging loved one's mood? If so, try a new response instead.

Also, make sure you stay cool even in trying situations. If you are dealing with someone who is rude, hateful or insulting, a strong response may be exactly what they are looking for. Diffuse the situation by keeping calm and changing the subject. It's a hard but necessary part of moving forward.

That said, under no circumstances do caregivers deserve to be abused: make it clear that if the behavior continues, you will have to explore other caregiving options. Be prepared to follow through.

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Is your body language helping the situation or making it worse?

5. Focus On the Positive

Things may not be sunny now, but you likely have a lifetime's worth of memories with your mom or your dad that you are caring for and hopefully many of which are are positive. When you're struggling, focus on the happier times. Share these memories with your  to try to prompt a mood change.

And be sure to give yourself a pat on the back every now and then: the caregiver's role is an important one, and you're providing invaluable help during a time of great need.

6. Don't Go It Alone

Identifying areas where you need help and asking friends and family members to pitch in can give you a much-needed break while removing some of the daily pressures of caring for a difficult loved one.

Also, there are plenty of resources designed to help lighten the load of caregivers. Your local Area on Aging is a great place to start, as are community senior centers, hospitals and churches, many of which offer support groups for caregivers. 

Also, be sure to check in with your loved one's physician, who can help you determine whether any underlying medical causes, such as dementia, are causing a personality change.

While many caregivers hope for the best when taking on the role of caregiver, the truth is that some arrangements are going to be rocky. By following these six tips, you can develop a smoother caregiving dynamic that works for you both. If you enjoyed this video, please share it with someone else who would find it useful. For a full range of caregiver help materials on dementia, aging and other help for caregivers, visit mmLearn.org.

If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.

mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. family caregiver guide download