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Posted: May 14, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Whether Mom or Dad, Caregiver Headaches Abound

My mailbag is brimming with mail from readers, many of them concerned about their relationship with their mother or father, whichever they are caring for.
Alicia and Juliet are typical of the situation. Each wants a better relationship with their care-receiving parent, but they aren't able to achieve it. That's why they've written me, hoping I can help. Let's see if I can.
Dear Jean:
I'm currently living with my Dad. I am 41 and am the youngest of 8 children. I get so upset about Dad’s crankiness and grumpiness. My aunts and uncles are that way and most of the older parents of my friends are too. I’m trying to not let it bother me, but it does. I just don’t understand why sometimes most old folks get more cranky and more grumpy as they age. Can you explain it?
Alicia M., Henderson, Nevada
Dear Alicia:
I don't know why older people get cranky, but I have some ideas. Each person is probably different.
First, they may be in pain and reacting from that. Or their mind might not work as well as it used to work. But I think the main reason is that they see their life coming to an end and they don't want it to end, knowing there's not much they can do about it.. They want to continue on the way they did for years, but they can't. Their body won't let them. It’s an awful situation to be in.
I know it seems their main concern is "me." Try to recall how you feel and think when you have the flu. You can’t do anything you want to do. You are weak and feel just plain awful. Your main thought is about yourself and how bad you feel. Now, think about what it would be like to feel that way and know that it will never end until you die. That may give you a better understanding of how an elderly person feels as their health deteriorates. It would be very frustrating and difficult to handle.
If the elderly could regain the health they had and not have any pain, they might not be cranky. In fact, if that could happen now, they would probably start appreciating every minute of every day. But that won't happen in most cases.
I hope this helps you understand your father’s feelings and helps you be more patient with your father. He doesn’t want to be cranky and grumpy. It just seems to go with getting old.
Hi Jean:
I need help with my relationship with my mom. She has lived across the street from me for several years. We got along quite well until the last six months. She makes me so angry. All I want is to find a way to get along with her.
My aunt was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago and probably has 5 years left to live. She and Mom have always been very close, and the diagnosis did seem to be a huge blow to Mom. She cried about it for days, but that ended and she went on with her life.
I don't want to be angry at Mom all the time. I want to enjoy spending time with her the way we used to. But I can’t, so I spend less time with her.
She plays bridge every week and goes shopping with her friends. She seems to have become very sensitive and gets her feelings hurt very easily. Then I get angry because she acts out with me.
Please let me know if you have any suggestions for me.
Juliet C., Cleveland, Ohio
Dear Juliet:
There may be several reasons for your mother’s change. The first thing to do is get your mother a complete physical examination. I don’t mean the normal checkup where the doctor asks if there are any problems. I mean the one where they check everything possible, even if your mother isn’t experiencing any symptoms. Your mother may have had a slight stroke, heart attack, her blood counts may be off, or there could be any number of things that have happened and are affecting her mood.
I’ve been emailing with a wonderful lady that didn’t have any apparent symptoms of anything wrong. She had a complete physical exam and they found she had cancer of the bronchial tube (it’s rare, and they think she had it for years) that spread to her lungs. At the time they diagnosed the cancer, they thought she may have only a year left to live.
Even though your mother may not discuss it, she is probably grieving the loss of her sister. It might help if you can talk to her about it. If she gets upset when you bring it up, switch the subject and don’t talk about it again unless and until she brings up the subject. With her sister’s health problems, she may also be facing thoughts of her own death, even thought it may be years away.
Perhaps your mother’s memory is getting worse. If it is, she probably realizes it and doesn’t want anyone to know. In this case, she is likely frustrated and afraid of developing Alzheimer’s disease or some other cognitive problem. Mom did a terrific job of hiding Alzheimer's for several years. She just got upset and touchy, and we didn’t understand why, which made us frustrated and upset. It’s a vicious circle.
Good luck, and please write again.

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