Caregiver's Home Companion Caring for someone who has trouble hearing the phone?

Posted August 18, 2007

Ask An Expert

Elderly Care: Dealing with a Bad Attitude

Q. I am taking care of my 94-year-old grandma (I also work days full-time). She burned up a tea kettle for fourth time this year, so I had my dad remove the knobs on the stove and we bought electric kettle with automatic shut off. Grandma is very upset and wants the knobs back on -- and my dad has been considering it.

Then, the other day, she refused to have her Foley any longer, and she refuses to wear Depends.

I am looking for any help to deal with her orneriness and what can I do to help her understand we are not doing this to be mean?

Sharon, Kent, Ohio.

A. There are really two issues at play here. The first is that your grandmother’s behavior is changing, and this changes the overall situation. This frightens and upset both of you. The second is finding ways to manage your responses and hers in this new situation.

It makes sense to have a doctor look into the behavioral changes your grandmother is exhibiting, if this hasn’t already been done. And, as hard as it is to think about, the time has come for you to look into alternative care solutions for her. Think about it this way: If you or other family members are starting to make decisions that could be dangerous to your grandmother and others (such as putting the stove knobs back on) simply because she is upset by the decision to remove them, then the time has come to begin thinking about changes in her care situation.

The nurses at your grandmother’s doctor’s office are a great source of information about home care and services. A geriatric care manager could assess your grandmother and help you figure out what kinds of services she needs. This can be helpful because having a professional talk with her removes you from the position of having to deliver news that is hard to hear, and it allows her to feel like she is still part of the decision-making process. The main thing is that it’s all right to ask for help, and the time has come to do so.

Naturally, it upsets you to see your grandmother upset or angry with you. It helps to understand that the potential loss of her independence frightens her, and this is why she gets upset. Take her by the hand and sit with her quietly. Tell her that you are worried about what is happening, that you love her, and that you want everyone to be safe. But you must be firm, and not allow the fact that she is upset by your actions change what you need to do.

This answer is provided by Melissa A. Goodwin, with years of experience working with volunteer caregiving programs that help seniors and family caregivers. Goodwin lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and can be reached at

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