How to Cope with Difficult, Aging Parents

Figuring out how to balance guilt and obligation in caring for aging parents.

© iStockphoto/ThinkstockNot all caregivers are happy to be in that role, nor are they all grateful for the opportunity to give back to someone who cared for them. In the case of an abusive relative, many families are trapped between guilt, a sense of obligation, and a host of other difficult emotions when it comes to difficult, aging parents, unsure of how to care for the individual without being hurt. Here are eight steps to take to proceed safely and compassionately:

1. Evaluate
Ask yourself the following questions: How deep is the hurt she caused? Had you dealt with the damage prior to her need for care? Has he always been an abuser, or is the behavior rooted in anger about his declining health and loss of independence?

2. Assess
How dangerous is the situation and/or the abuser, either to you or to herself? If the physical, emotional and mental ramifications are too great, consider other options that don’t place you in the role of primary caregiver.

3. Research
Know your options outside of what you would provide at home or in theirs—assisted living, for example—and what you or your elderly relative could afford. Talk to an elder law attorney about your rights and the individual’s rights. These professionals will be able to walk you through the complex legal aspects of caring for an abusive senior and make appropriate recommendations (i.e., appointing someone else as guardian or health care proxy).

4. Investigate
Is the abusive behavior triggered by dementia, another illness (urinary tract infections can cause paranoia and other dementia-like symptoms in seniors), or by medication abuse or misuse? Read the side effects and fine print on the individual’s medications closely. Schedule an appointment with a primary care physician to determine whether there is an underlying cause to the volatile behavior that could be easily treated.

5. Connect
Whether you choose to take on the role of primary caregiver or remain as the point of contact for the care facility, get help. Connect with others. Seek out a therapist, join a support group, call a local or national domestic violence/abuse hotline, read books or blogs about the subject, and surround yourself with supportive, understanding people.

6. Protect
Guard yourself against further hurt and abuse by being careful not to overextend yourself. If you choose to provide care, don’t neglect the individual in any way but don’t feel the need to go beyond the basics.

7. Release
Free yourself from guilt. If you decide to make care arrangements in assisted living or somewhere other than your home or theirs, be at peace with the decision and move forward.

8. Focus
Concentrate on the caregiving tasks at hand, rather than the individual or the difficult past (or present). Don’t seek revenge in providing care — or in selecting an outside setting or professional caregiver—but simply meet the needs as best you can.

Popular Videos

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest