There's no question that being a caregiver for a difficult loved one can have its stressful moments. When that person is a parent or another person close to use, your stress levels can easily rise as you deal with emotionally fraught situations you may never have anticipated. Plus, old age and poor health or disability aren't likely to improve your loved one’s disposition.
The good news? There are many strategies to deal with a difficult aging loved one that can ease your stress while helping to guide them more smoothly through the activities of daily living. What follows are some practical tips to help you cope.
1. Put yourself first. It seems counter-intuitive that putting your own needs first would be helpful in dealing with a difficult loved one. But it's crucial that you don't sacrifice your own sanity to provide care. Putting yourself first means delegating as many responsibilities as you can to others. Nurture your own relationships and friendships to maintain your own well being. The healthier you are, the better care you’ll be able to give your loved one.
2. Know your limitations. This tip also relates to delegating responsibility, because caring for a difficult aging loved one can be extremely time-consuming. Trying to do everything by yourself is admirable, but certainly not practical. There's nothing wrong with saying "no" when you need to. Knowing what you can and cannot handle effectively is important for your own health and your loved one’s health.
3. Don't expect praise. This is particularly important if you're caring for someone with dementia. The cognitive impairment your loved one is experiencing may mean that he or she is no longer capable of appreciating your efforts. Instead, their behaviors may include hostility, accusations and suspicion - behaviors that they never exhibited before. It’s important to accept doing a good job for your own sake and because it's the right thing to do, and not for your parent or loved one's approval.
4. Try something different. Take a closer look at the interactions that are consistently negative and decide if there are less stressful ways to spend time with your loved one. Find other activities, like reading a book together, asking him or her to talk about their past, or even creating a photo album together. If sitting together often results in an argument, then volunteer to do a cleaning project, or to cook a special meal.
5. Take breaks. It's easy to get so absorbed in caregiving, jobs and family obligations, and the stress of daily life, that you can forget how much time you're putting in for others. Take time to nurture your spirit and soul in ways that ease your burden. You can take a peaceful walk by yourself, listen to soothing music, meditate, enjoy a hobby, or anything that helps you re-focus mentally.
6. Be proud of your efforts. Sometimes your efforts will fail no matter what - and how hard - you try. Self-doubt can creep in, and it's easy to feel guilty or get angry at the loved one who is being so difficult. But take pride in the knowledge that you continue to do what's best for your loved one's quality of life and that you're doing it with a sincere heart. Admire your own bravery and persistence.
7. Bring in experts. There are situations where bringing in a professional, such as a geriatric care manager, is necessary. You may not have family support, or the relationship has become too explosive and complicated. Whatever the case, a professional can provide support and advice, as well as coordinate care if you live far from your loved one.
8. Set boundaries. Setting and maintaining boundaries is important for anyone in a caregiving role, and especially important if you're dealing with a difficult loved one. Be clear about how much you can do (and are willing to do) and this will leave you less vulnerable to manipulative behavior and guilt trips. It's not a bad idea to set boundaries about how much abusive behavior you'll put up with, as well.
9. Communicate. It's important to discuss situations as soon they arise, when possible. Talking things through with your parent or loved one without getting defensive can make a world of difference. Try using "I" statements instead of accusations or "you" statements.
10. Understand their point of view. A parent or loved one may feel frustrated with the role reversal in your relationship now that you’re taking care of them. This may make them uncomfortable and feel less like a parent and more like a helpless child. Change the dynamic to "How can I help?" which helps put the responsibility and decisions back on them.