How to React With Patience and Understanding to Frustrating Situations with the Elderly
by Kurt Kazanowski
Have you ever had to continuously repeat yourself to an elderly person? These situations can not only be frustrating, but also stressful and emotional. This is especially true if that person is your parent or loved one.
Anyone who has ever cared for or spent time with the elderly knows the frustrations that can arise. Simple things that most of us take for granted can turn into monumental tasks that must be repeated over and over again. What are the best ways to handle these situations?
The first thing you can try is to take a deep breath and try not to get overwhelmed by emotions. While you may feel upset or annoyed, try to put yourself in their shoes. If they begin to struggle or forget something, try to react with patience and understanding. Always look them in the eye and speak clearly and loudly but avoid having a harsh or irritated tone.
Here are some other tips to try:
Don’t say: “How can you not remember that!?”
Say instead: “See this sticker? Dad, if the car isn’t inspected before the end of the month, we could have problems.” Place a few post-it notes on the dashboard, fridge, and bathroom mirror. Add a smiley face to keep the tone light. If you still think your parents might forget, make the appointment and then call your dad that morning to remind him.
Don’t say: “You could do that if you really tried.”
Say instead: “Let me watch and see where you’re having trouble so we can figure out how this can get done together.” Or if you live out of town: “Ask (So-and-so) for help.” Seniors, like everyone else, want to maintain their independence. But, if a project is truly beyond their capabilities and they either don’t know anyone who could help (or won’t ask), you might want to try to find someone who can lend a hand.
Don’t say: “I just showed you how to use the remote control yesterday.”
Say instead: “The blue button on top turns the TV on and there’s one set of arrows for changing the channel and another for the volume. I’ll show you again.” Better yet—ask your parents’ cable or satellite provider to recommend a senior-friendly remote control with a simple design, or purchase one at a local electronics store. Or, if they’re okay following instructions, you could write or print out step-by-step directions in large, legible type and leave it near the remote.
Don’t say: “What does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”
Say instead: “I was telling you about the game last night. It’s okay if you want to chat about something else.” If the subject is important to you, try to bring the conversation back on track without pointing a finger at your dad. And to avoid suppressing genuine anger or sadness, gently explain why the conversation was important to you. Another option: Say nothing and just listen.
Don’t say: “You already told me that.”
Say instead: “No kidding? And don’t tell me that the next thing you did was . . . .” Yes, you can make a joke out of it—but only if your parents won’t feel hurt. Best-case scenario: Your mom or dad will feel amused and relaxed enough to join in.
Don’t say: “You’re too old to drive!”
Say instead: “I would love to drive you instead. How about we try walking and enjoying the fresh air instead? Your eyesight isn’t what it used to be—I want you to be safe.” It can be a difficult feeling knowing that you’re beginning to lose your ability to drive, which is a symbol of freedom for most people. Try to encourage them to consider alternatives and prioritize their safety.
Don’t say: “I should be in charge of your money.”
Say instead: “Would you be willing to let me help you with your finances? I’m no expert, but a lot has changed over the years and I might be able to help you figure some things out with your budget.” Don’t be too pushy, and make sure they understand you only want to help them, not take control of their life.
Don’t say: “You smell bad!”
Say instead: “Hey dad, can you get in and out of the shower ok?” Over time, it can become difficult for elderly people to get in and out of the shower. It may be time to look into getting a senior-friendly shower that is easier for your parent to get in and out of without pain. Don’t hurt their feelings, but stay firm and productive when it comes to their health.
Don’t say: “You have no choice but to take that medicine!”
Say instead: “Please take your medication, dad. I know it’s annoying, but I want you to stay healthy.” If the medicine is making them sick or causing detrimental side effects, consider taking them to a doctor and discussing any medical issues. Sometimes, people just don’t want to take their pills. Try to make it a positive experience by doing something fun afterwards, like having ice cream. You can’t always be there for them, so try to set friendly reminders and encourage them as much as you can.
Don’t say: “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Say instead: “I’m not so sure about that, but I can look it up on the Google machine if you want!” If it’s more serious, say something like “I appreciate your wisdom, and I know you’ve been through a lot. Maybe we should talk about this in more detail.” Again, sometimes it may be better to just be silent and listen. Try not to get angry, just provide them with emotional support as best you can.
If you feel like you need help dealing with frustrating situations with your elderly loved one, you have some choices. Consider contacting resource centres for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and senior care. They should be able to provide you with professional advice and make recommendations on how you can actively support your elderly loved one.
Try not to get too discouraged with the elderly, even if they appear to be stubborn and set in their ways. Be as respectful as possible, even if the frustrating situations keep reoccurring. Yelling or being harsh may only push them away further. You want them to feel as comfortable as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for professional medical assistance if it’s needed. Stay strong, and don’t give up on them.
Kurt Kazanowski is a homecare, hospice, and senior care expert. He is author of A Son’s Journey: Taking Care of Mom and Dad. Visit asonsjourney.com and kurtkazanowski.com.