Does this scenario sound familiar? After spending the day taking your elderly mother to the doctor, dropping off her dry cleaning, helping her with her grocery shopping, and tidying her apartment she treats you with disrespect, is demanding, and seems almost impossible to please.
Unfortunately, you are not alone as 77% of adult children believe their parents are too stubborn to take important advice or accept help with their daily tasks. This can manifest in a number of different ways including sharing their negativity, refusing to take their medication or in extreme cases even rejecting food.
As the primary caregiver, you dedicate many hours each week and your suggestions are constantly being met with challenges and push back. This could even become emotional, verbal, or physical abuse as seniors can begin to lose their filter and their understanding of what type of behaviour is reasonable or appropriate.
In many of these situations, it is crystal clear to you and everyone around you that mum is just not coping on her own. Her eyesight is no longer 20/20, her balance seems to be deteriorating, and she is showing early signs of dementia. However, she insists she is competent and capable of managing on her own.
Like in other aspects of our lives, our natural tendency is to respond to this behaviour and stubbornness with logical explanations about how mum’s health has fallen apart, what activities she is no longer capable of, and why she needs to shower more often or requires a carer to assist with daily tasks.
Generally speaking, this tactic will not be successful and will likely make matters worse. For elderly people, they are often not able to think and rationalise in ways that might make sense to their carers, children, or family members.
The best practice for dealing with this type of behaviour is working to address the symptoms of it. One effective method for this is to find a quiet place with minimal distractions in a calm and controlled environment and have an open and honest conversation about what might be triggering these actions or reactions.
One common cause for stubborn and aggressive behaviour is the seniors’ resentment of their inability to accomplish certain tasks that may have been simple for them in the past. Instead of asking for advice, they become demanding and impossible to please because they are frustrated that they are losing their independence. If they are pushing back on bringing in a professional carer, they may feel like their family is abandoning them or feel embarrassed that they require help.
Or, the behaviour can be caused by completely external factors such as a diagnosed illness, communication challenges, memory loss, vision impairment or other similar ailments that start to affect individuals as they age. Often older people lose their lifelong partner or struggle financially which causes added stress that they are unable to properly manage.
It is difficult to be the primary caregiver for an aging relative or friend if you are not able to provide yourself with self-care and the chance to recharge your batteries to be fully present. If necessary, take a break which will provide you with emotional and physical space that you require. This will allow your parent to realise the value that you bring and hopefully encourage them to modify their behaviour when you return.
Central to self-care is ensuring that you have your own support network of family or friends that provide a listening ear for you to vent and share some of the challenges that you are facing and help you brainstorm viable solutions to them.
While important in any situation, getting exercise and spending time outdoors helps calm you down and allow you some downtime to release energy.
Finally, do not neglect your own family. Older seniors can often be needy, and it is important to balance time with them and spending time with your own partner, children, or friends.
Once you are able to get a better understanding of their motivations behind their stubbornness, this understanding should lead to enhanced opportunities to create solutions. Some practical and helpful solutions to address the problems above are varied and sometimes it might take some trial and error to find a solution that works. For other tips for caregivers, feel free to visit our Facebook page.
Don’t take it personally
While this can be difficult since the stubbornness or anger is directed at you, it is important not to take it personally or let it affect you.
Reframe the challenge as your problem
Parents never want to be a burden on their children and often refusing help is a manifestation of this. One strategy is to help the senior understand that the opposite is actually true. In fact, their stubbornness and refusal to accept help is becoming a burden on you because you are concerned about them and have difficulty sleeping because you wonder what the repercussions would be if something did happen to them.
Make sure they are involved in the decision making
Especially with something that can be as intimate as personal care, it is important to involve the senior in as much of the decision making as possible around any changes that are affecting their life. This could include attending interviews with potential carers, visiting retirement residences that they might move into or even helping decide what day or time they would like their carer to visit.
Involve a counsellor or friend
Since emotion is involved in family relationships, involving an outside person to help make difficult decisions can be helpful. This person could be a spiritual leader, mental health professional, or even a friend that both you and your parent respect.
Suggest alternative options
If the senior is being stubborn about showering because they are scared they are going to fall, then suggest purchasing a bath seat or railing that will make them more comfortable in the bath.
If going to the doctor brings up difficult memories or is connected with receiving more medication, suggest having the doctor come to their home to create a more personal and comfortable experience.
As they say, patience is a virtue, but the rewards definitely outweigh some of the challenges or struggles associated with stubborn parents.
While a parent’s stubbornness can be frustrating at times, never forget the bigger picture and the reason you are helping them. They fed you and diapered you as a baby and there is now an opportunity to assist them as they age.
Old age also comes with wisdom and helping to care for an older person allows you the benefit of learning from their years of experience to better yourself and society.