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How to Provide Care for a Difficult Loved One

Woman Providing Care to HusbandAs a caregiver, you provide support to seniors when they need it most. Whether your client or loved one is dealing with illness, injury, or simple aging, sometimes they can be a little tough to deal with. Irritation, depression, anger, and frustration are the most common and difficult emotions when caring for the elderly yet we still have to provide quality care. No matter how difficult a senior can be, here are a few tips to help caregivers provide excellent care to the more challenging seniors.

First, Decide If This Out of Character

As people get older, it’s not uncommon for the personality to change over time. Difficult behavior can develop for a number of reasons; therefore, it’s important to decide if their behavior is out of character. If your loved one is typically a mild-mannered person, their incomprehensible behavior may be the result of a sudden loss or subtly developing depression. Dramatic personality changes can also be a sign of developing mental or medical condition. You may consider consulting with their primary care physician to rule out a urinary tract infection, dementia, or other emerging conditions. Old age can have a tendency to bring out inherent personality characteristics that may be unpleasant. Whether your loved one is sick or simply a difficult person, there are a few suggestions to help you cope with their behavior.

Acceptance and Empathy

Truthfully, growing older is hard. Chronic illness, declining independence, increasing isolation, and the loss of friends or a spouse are all commonplace for seniors yet many overlook the stress and pain they endure. Unlike sympathy, empathy means imagining how it feels to be them instead of merely acknowledging that they are upset. It’s important to realize how much seniors go through, for yourself and your loved one. Being able to recognize the difference between their anger over loss of independence and irrational anger due to dementia will ultimately help you to decide how to cope.

It’s important to recognize that you can love someone very much and still not enjoy caring for them. Although their actions and words can be hurtful, caregivers will benefit most from: learning to expect these behaviors, accept the situation, and use understanding to combat frustration.  This is especially true when seniors are struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. When you hit a road block, realize that having a caregiver means less control and power in their decision making. Offer options and ask for their opinion, instead of straightforward solutions, to give them a sense of control and involvement.

Try Not to Take It Personally

There are countless tales of caregivers enduring aggression, verbal abuse, and sometimes even physical violence. This can be especially upsetting when you’re caring for a family member. Truthfully, old age has a tendency to bring out irrational or illogical thinking so it’s best to avoid taking things too personally. Remember that people often reserve their worst behaviors for those they love. Many seniors feel comfortable lashing out against loved ones because they know, at the end of the day, that you will be there to care for them. 

Often, negative emotions have no rational basis. More often than not, seniors become upset or frustrated about something and choose a safe target to vent their frustration. Imagine yourself wearing an emotional suit of armor that blocks their negativity while allowing you to focus on what is important. This personal shield will prevent you from reacting emotionally so you can focus on meeting their basic needs and providing necessary care.

Maintain Boundaries

An important step in caring for difficult people is to establish boundaries and maintain them by standing up for yourself. Regardless of the relationship, boundaries protect everyone involved. Senior caregivers sometimes endure abusive behavior in fear of losing their job or upsetting a personal relationship. No matter how uncomfortable you are speaking up, doing so immediately will save you countless unpleasant hours trying to prevent an outburst.

You don’t have to walk on eggshells to provide care to an otherwise difficult person. Setting solid boundaries in the moment prevents you from resenting them over time and better establishes what is considered unacceptable behavior. When boundaries do not work, consider bringing in a temporary caregiver or enrolling them in adult daycare. A temporary change can demonstrate the importance of your role and the seriousness of your displeasure. Honestly, your loved one may or may not change their perspective; either way you get a much-needed break.

Make Self-Care a Priority

No matter how you choose to approach the situation, the most important thing to consider is self-care. It can be too easy to get wrapped up in taking care of others while overlooking your own physical and emotional wellbeing. Remind yourself: you cannot provide quality care when you haven’t cared for yourself. Depression, sadness, exhaustion, frustration, and anger can deplete emotional reserves and prevent you from properly coping in the moment. The best advice overall is to develop a personal plan for coping with stress.

Each person has their own ways of handling stress yet there are a few suggestions that work for most. Start by creating a network of support for yourself and for your loved one. Designate a friend you can call to vent about your experiences. Unlike family, friends can provide a non-judgmental ear without feeling the need to intervene or involve themselves. You can also create a network of neighbors, family members, and other temporary caregivers that can help when things become overwhelming. When you find yourself having a hard time in the moment, stop and take a few full breaths of fresh air. Try to calm your mind by calling a friend, mediating, or taking a quick walk around the block.

It’s important to think of coping in the moment, as well as long term. Outside of caregiving, consider individual counseling or a support group to share your experiences. Some caregivers had strained relationships with their loved one before they became caregivers, these venues will help you work through any issues or emotions that arise. Caregiving is an enormous responsibility with physical and emotional consequences. Take time to relax, enjoy hobbies, and schedule time to have fun!

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